Topper’s Tips for UPSC Mains Answer Writing: Kirthi C, Rank – 14 – Third Attempt, General Studies Score – 417!
Kirthi has been Insights follower (since Day-2!) since we started answer UPSC Mains writing challenges (it was Insights which first started answer writing challenges online). You can check her first answer HERE. She encourage us by constantly interacting on our posts (HERE) and praising our efforts (HERE). We had posted here first interview (Marks 215) transcript when she got Rank 440 in her first attempt (HERE). Even after her selection she continued to follow our initiatives (mainly Secure) and benefited from them.
In the following article she shares her experience which helped her get good scores in General Studies papers.
Rank – 14, CSE – 2015
My UPSC Journey
I’m Kirthi Chekuri. I am fortunate enough to have cleared UPSC with 14th rank in my third attempt (CSE-2015). My ranks in previous attempts were 440 in CSE-2013 and 512 in CSE-2014. I was preparing for the exam this time while undergoing the training in academy.
I would try to tell what worked and what didn’t work for me. I hope at least someone would benefit from lessons of mistakes that I’ve committed and how I rectified them. These inputs I’m putting across were the ones I gathered over the course of 4 years from many friends and seniors in services. Thanks to all of them 🙂
I am a consistently low performer in Essay. I got 100 marks in CSE-2013 and 86 marks in CSE-2014. I lost in my second attempt due to essay. The mistakes I committed in these attempts were not to practice essays, over looking the importance of essay, thinking content in essay would automatically give marks and ignorance of what to be and what not be included in essay.
This year I got 125 which is again not a great score but it didn’t pull my rank and my chances down drastically as it happened last year. I brainstormed on many essay topics(introductions/conclusions and flow of ideas)and discussed it with my friends and asked for criticisms.
- We should clearly mention our stand in the essay initially after the introduction
- The essay should cover as many dimensions as possible and should have one dominant idea per paragraph
- The thought in the essay should be as simple as possible. Kids must be able to understand your essay. I used to make essays complicated which never gave good marks
- Choose the essay topic you’re most comfortable with. Don’t select the essay based on the perception of most written or least written topic. All that matters is how well are you able to do justice to the topic you’ve chosen
- Your essay should have justifications supporting your stand, also include some criticisms against your stand and end in a positive/hopeful way on how things can be bettered etc.
All of us tend to overestimate our potential and tend to neglect prelims thinking Prelims marks wouldn’t count for the exam. Neglecting prelims can prove to be a very costly mistake. Many toppers in the list cleared prelims with a margin of 1-3 marks. One can understand that 1-2 questions in Prelims can make or break your dreams.
I cleared the Prelims in CSE-2013 by 4 marks. It was a close margin. I got very lucky. In CSE-2014 I cleared prelims with a comfortable margin. My reason for low performance in Prelims 2013 was minimal practice in Quant and playing safe in Paper-1. I knew 45 questions comfortably in paper-1 and I just guessed 10 more there by attempting just 55 questions. Luckily I cleared Prelims that year but after speaking to many successful people in Prelims, I realized it was a very dangerous strategy. In prelims, one should mark the questions in which one is 100% percent sure in the first round. In the second round, one should also try to attempt those questions in which one can eliminate two options. With this strategy, I comfortably cleared prelims in CSE 2014, but in this CSE 2015, I cleared prelims only by 3 marks (110)
In my first two attempts, my mains marks were marginally above the cut-off(10 marks) I cleared both the attempts only because of my interview. However this attempt, there is a drastic improvement in my mains marks. Here are the few changes I made in my Mains answer writing approach and I think they helped me enormously.
- Diagrams: I drew a lot of diagrams. India and World Maps for geography or International Relations. Also I prepared diagrams for Geo from NCERT books which I thought I would replicate in case Geo questions come in Paper-1.
- Side headings: In my first two attempts, my answer was just a flow of paragraphs/points or a mix of both. I realized the importance of side headings for an answer in this attempt. I included side headings in almost all the answers for paper-1,2 and 3 of GS. In paper-2 and paper-3, I used Way Forward as the last side heading for some of the answers.
- Flow Charts: I drew flow charts in Paper-3. I got 113 marks in Paper-3 and I think flow charts have a role to play along with side headings. People who got good marks in paper-1 drew flowcharts for society questions
- Breadth instead of Depth: Cover as many dimensions as possible in an answer rather than covering the issue in depth with quality analysis. UPSC prefers the no. of dimensions in an answer and I guess it penalizes an in-depth scholarly answer
- Introduction: Take the key words of the question and explain them. That becomes the introduction. Eg: An introduction for a question on Cooperative Federalism would mean explaining it
Though I gathered some of these points here and there in my previous attempts, I didn’t internalize them in my preparation. I didn’t integrate them while preparing for a particular topic. This time whenever I read a topic or whenever I read a question from InsightsonIndia (I have been following answer writing challenges regularly), I give more importance to the above mentioned points- what are the side-headings I can give, how can I draw flow chart for this question, maximizing the dimensions etc. This way, I internalized this way of answer writing during my preparation for GS or Current Affairs, so I didn’t have to think afresh on the day of exam. Due to training myself well before hand, I didn’t take much time on the day of exam to draw diagrams, flow charts, side-headings etc.
One should try to attempt as many questions as you can in the GS. Unless you are absolutely clueless and can’t make an intelligent guess about what’s asked, you should not leave questions.
Please go through the question paper in first 2-3 minutes and select the questions you are good at(around 10) and attempt them first. Only then go for the other questions on which you’ll have little idea where you have to guess. In the last attempt, I started attempting questions from the beginning without going through the whole question paper and I realized I was left with all the well-known International Relations Questions in the last minute to which I couldn’t do enough justice. Do some test exams and if you’re not able to finish paper in time, you’ll have to improve speed through giving more and more tests and practicing with time limits. Ethics paper was very lengthy and many were not able to finish the paper.