TOPPER’S STRATEGY: J Snehaja, Rank 103 – Failed in Two Prelims, Scored Third Highest Interview Score (206) in 2015

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Rank 103, CSE – 2015

4th Attempt


Details of previous attempts: Failed to clear prelims in 2011 and 2012. In 2013 missed the final rank by 8 marks and got in the reserve list. Got Armed Force Headquarter service in the reserve list.

My UPSC journey started after I cleared CA in 2011. After clearing CA, I started teaching for CA intermediate students and was working in a CA firm. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a civil servant or pursue my dreams in private sector. I finally wanted to try UPSC and gave an attempt in 2012. The obvious effect, I failed to clear prelims. I lacked the necessary guidance and my preparation was totally inadequate.

After giving the attempt in 2012, I decided that this exam is something I wanted to pursue seriously and then with some help from seniors, I prepared for 2013. This time the problem was that, though I knew some answers, I wasn’t sure about them and couldn’t take a chance in attempting them. The effect, failed to clear prelims by 5-6 marks. I failed to practice past question papers and mock papers and couldn’t take a risk in the actual exam.

After seeing these 2 failures, I realized I needed a lot of practice and also some guidance to guide me in the right direction. I moved to Delhi and there I got guidance regarding newspaper reading and basic subject material from Aspire IAS institute. I gave my best this time, practiced all sorts of questions and worked on my CSAT paper well. Luckily this was the time when Insights also started prelims test series. I used to follow their question papers meticulously and it really helped me in understanding the subject and the way of answering the questions. The result was positive. For mains, I wrote some test series and was also following insights questions and compilations and worked on my optional commerce and accountancy. Once again the biggest mistake I did here was focusing on my paper 2 of the optional and being over-confident about paper 1. For commerce paper 1, it was completely CA inter syllabus and I was pretty confident I could manage and do well and failed to practice the problems. Since paper 2 was relatively new, spent more time focusing on that paper. After giving the papers, I realized I didn’t give my best for paper 1. And the net result I did clear mains but with just 89 in paper 1 of commerce whereas I could have easily scored 120 plus. I managed to go to the interview and managed a score of 165. Had my mains score been better, probably I would have ended up getting a better result but then I missed the list by 8 marks.

For this year exam, once again the prelims journey started. After understanding the books that I had to read, I focused completely on the right material. This year I didn’t even have proper time for prelims as results came on July 4, 2015 and prelims was on Aug 23, 2015. There was hardly any time and it was complete focus on prelims. Plus this year had only GS and hence each question had to be answered carefully. Once again practiced as many questions as possible and followed insights test series.

Regarding mains, as soon as the prelims exam got over, I joined La excellence institute in Hyderabad for mentorship program. Rambabu sir gave personal guidance and helped me in correcting the mistakes I did in the previous attempts. After writing few tests he gave me points on how I could improve my answers. For this attempt, I gave answers in point format. I started incorporating flow charts and diagrams wherever possible. The most important thing I gave equal attention to commerce paper 1 and 2. Once again followed insights compilations for quick revision and the various types of questions.

Regarding the personality test, I attended some mock interviews. Focused on my DAF. Instead of current affairs prepared more on current issues and tried to frame an opinion on each issue. The interview was about 30-35 mins and it was a cordial interview. It mainly revolved around opinion based questions on CA profession, my work experience and on issues based on my DAF. The trick to cracking the personality test is to remain cool and composed and being yourself and not trying to bluff or argue with the members.

UPSC has certain element of luck involved. Though I was confident that I gave my best in mains, one cannot predict how the evaluation is going to be done. I managed to improve my scores where I scored less last time and vice versa. The most important, personality test is completely subjective. Probably the same answers in a different board might not fetch me the same marks. One needs to understand that element of luck and be prepared for everything. Don’t enter into this field thinking that ill just give one attempt or 2 attempts and then leave it. One needs to keep in mind before entering that it needs 3 years of your time. 1 year of preparation is a must. One might be able to crack it in the first attempt itself and one might take some more time. However at any cost, give your best and be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Always introspect and have that self assessment. Avoid same mistakes in attempts and always try to improvise. Be ready to accept suggestions from seniors and teachers. Have a strong back up plan so that even if the UPSC journey is not successful there is something to fall back upon.

My UPSC journey was truly enriching as I really made some good friends in the process and acquired some good knowledge. Teachers have always been supportive and guiding me in the right direction. My parents, family and friends really supported me in the tough times and always encouraged me to pursue this dream. I owe this to them. Though I never met Vinay sir, I sincerely thank him for the amazing efforts he is putting in. For students who are lost in this preparation, Insights has been a true guide in the right direction. The relentless efforts in posting the analysis, questions and test series on a regular basis without fail really makes our work easier and also motivates us to attain greater heights. The regular motivation messages are really encouraging and really boost our spirits. Thank you once again team insights as this would not have been possible without your efforts.

Some of the mistakes which I did and don’t want others to repeat:

  • Don’t take this exam too casually. Give it a serious thought before u decide to enter this arena and once you have decided, commit yourself fully for this exam.
  • Don’t give too much importance to one paper and ignore the other papers. Give equal importance to all papers. Don’t be overconfident about any paper.
  • Practice writing tests as much as you can. This is equally important for both prelims and mains. It’s not that these questions will come in the actual exam. The advantage of solving them is that you are able to solve them in exam like conditions, one will get an idea about time management and most importantly one can get that self assessment whether they are able to solve various kinds of questions.
  • Wherever possible write the answers in point format (excluding essay) and give a proper introduction and conclusion. Try to incorporate flow charts wherever feasible.
  • Stay cool and composed for the personality test. Avoid unnecessary anxiety and tension. Have that pleasant personality. I realized that for the previous interview, I was nervous. However for the personality test this year, I was more confident and cool and the results speak for itself.
  • The most important one. Market is flooded with material. One needs to stick to the basic books and revise them as many times as possible. Don’t waste your time in buying and reading new books. Stick to the basics.
  • Last but not the least. Usually after prelims, various keys are available and one can get an assessment about the performance. There would be a lot of speculation about cut off. However try to avoid all such discussions. Whether you are comfortably clearing prelims, or just on the border line, focus on the next task. Prepare for mains as if you are going to clear prelims. If one is successful then excellent as you are already on the right track. If one fails to clear, then also it is fine as at least you have not wasted those 2 months time. One can introspect and try to analyze the mistakes committed. However kindly don’t waste the time after prelims in waiting for the result.

Books followed for prelims and mains:

  • Geography- Class XI and XII ncert and Goh chang leong
  • History: Ancient India- RS Sharma ncert
  • Modern India- NCERT by Bipan Chandra
  • Culture- Spectrum
  • Environment- Shanker book for environment
  • Economics- Followed Mrunal sir videos and Economic survey
  • Polity-Lakshmikanth
  • Followed the Hindu newspaper regularly
  • Followed the websites such as Insights, civilsprep, GS score for current issue analysis.
  • Used to follow RSTV big picture debates.

For prelims the focus was mainly on factual information, for mains it was more on framing an opinion on issues.

My marks:

GS 17094
GS 28566
GS 36493
GS 411299
Commerce paper 189124
Commerce paper 2142123
Personality test165206


Prelims marks:

Paper 192122
Paper 2134.18102.96


  • RAJU

    Congragulations and Thank you for the motivational write up 🙂
    Please suggest me good test series to solve for prelims other than Insights and IASBaba as I followed them !!
    Thank you 🙂

    • Suniyo

      Hi do you live in Hyderabad?

      • RAJU

        No I am from Bangalore now living in Delhi ..

        • Arvind Patil

          Hello Snehaja Mam it was very nice and informative strategy given by you for the benefit of students.Mam you had told that you had incorporated flow charts and diagrams in your answers wherever possible.Mam can you please elaborate what type of flowcharts and diagrams one need to practice while studying so that it helps us in Mains Answer writing or can you please tell what are the types of diagrams and flowcharts you practiced to be included in Mains Answer writing.

    • phoenix

      Try vision IAS test series..

    • snehaja

      thank you! I followed insights and past question papers. Try to get thorough with these and in case of more practice, I think even vision has good test series too 🙂 good luck 🙂

      • RAJU

        Thank you snehaja !! 🙂

  • Suniyo

    Congratulations 🙂

  • Mayuresh Pawar

    Congrats Snehaja….I really like the humbleness in your article…..thanks

  • phoenix

    Congratulations !!

  • Narendra Modi

    Thanks for the post Ma’am. If possible kindly share your answer writing and essay writing strategy and whether you have joined any test series for Mains ?

    • snehaja

      I joined mentorship program in La Excellence, Hyderabad. I have written test series for mains. Also i practiced answer writing based on insights questions.
      Try to write GS answers in point format with good introduction and conclusion. Try to quote relevant examples wherever possible. Try to supplement your answers with flow charts where necessary.
      Regarding essay, i tried to incorporate various dimensions such as socio economic, historical, political perspectives. I tired to start my essay with a quote or a short story. This is no hard and fast rule but some things like these make your essay more engaging and interesting. Try to maintain that free flow of thought and use simple words to express your point.
      Hope this helps 🙂 good luck 🙂

      • Narendra Modi

        Oh!!! Thank you so much Ma’am for replying. I haven’t expected it.
        Your strategy will be very helpful for all of us. I got really inspired after reading that how you sail it through after two unsuccessful attempts. It was really very boosting as I am also not able to crack the Prelims even after two attempts and I always remain very apprehensive whether I will ever be able to clear it or not. But your post enlightened me.
        I am really very thankful to you.
        Congratulations for the Big Feat and Best Wishes for your wonderful future ahead 🙂

  • ದಿನೇಶ ಶೇಟ್

    Congratulations maam. Would like to know ur strategy for commerce paper… thanks in advance

    • snehaja

      Thank you 🙂
      These are the books that i followed for commerce!
      Commerce paper 1
      Audit, accounts and costing- ICAI IPCC study material
      Tax-TN Manoharan book for ipcc (alternative Girish Ahuja book)
      FM- Rustogi

      Commerce paper 2:
      OB and OT- Chabbra
      HRM- VSP Rao
      I supplemented these books with Rankers notes and current issues.

      Try to practice problems and give equal attention to both papers! I used lot of flowcharts wherever possible. In paper 2 try to give answers in point format with good intro and conclusion. Try to quote relevant examples wherever possible. Hope this helps 🙂 good luck!

  • Ambarish

    Very inspiring story indeed!!! Initially I used to shiver at the thought of not clearing prelims after a year’s dedicated preparation. But it is testimonials like these have that have helped me break out of these self imposed constraints. I admire your perseverance and hard work…. Clearly a lot to learn from people like you! Best of luck for the future

    • snehaja

      Thank you 🙂 In the first two attempts, i made lot of mistakes. However I tried to correct them. Just be consistent and honest in your efforts! the results will speak for itself 🙂 good luck 🙂

  • Anil Singh

    thank you for sharing..
    It wld b of immense help if u cld plz share ur “BOOKLIST FOR OPTIONAL PAPER 1 AND 2”
    Thank you

    • snehaja

      These are the books that i followed:
      Commerce paper 1
      Audit, accounts and costing- ICAI IPCC study material
      Tax-TN Manoharan book for ipcc (alternative Girish Ahuja book)
      FM- Rustogi

      Commerce paper 2:
      OB and OT- Chabbra
      HRM- VSP Rao
      I supplemented these books with Rankers notes and current issues.

      Try to practice problems and give equal attention to both papers! I used lot of flowcharts wherever possible. good luck 🙂

      • Emanu3l

        Did you join any test series for optional especially for paper 2. I know rankers is there but I have some serious doubts about their evaluation in paper 2. It would be really helpful if you can share your strategy for paper 2 in detail. Like there were some short notes on some topics which are not there in any traditional books. Should we follow an essay approach for answer writing or just stick to the points with word limit.

        • snehaja

          Hey! I was a sincere student in enrolling for commerce test series but i never wrote a single commerce test. So may be i cannot really comment on the evaluation. Regarding paper 2, I referred to those standard books and tried to revise them. I used to give an intro and then write answers in point format and a conclusion. Wherever i could explain with the help of a graph, I used them. At least in paper 2, i didnt stick to word limit. 🙂 use relevant examples wherever possible.

  • N.KD

    Thank you…..

  • Mahi

    Hello mam congrats for the success….

  • Shushma kejriwal

    Can u please share some answers, written by you, for paper 2 ? thanks

    • snehaja

      hey! thank you 🙂 I will try uploading some of them at the earliest!

  • Meiji

    Congratulations!! Please share some answers you’ve written for GS Paper 2 & 3. As you’ve mentioned about the flow charts and diagrams, please share some answers containing them.

  • Ritu

    Congratulation ma’am. If possible please share your detailed interview.

  • Keratam Ala

    Congrates ma’am

  • Juggernaut

    Hi Ma’am,
    Can you please give one example about how to use FLOWCHART in answers

    • snehaja

      hey! For instance vicious cycle of poverty can be explained with the help of flowchart. Or else a question where you have to explain advantages or disadvantages just draw a simple diagram explaining it. In commerce paper, I had lot of questions where i could explain with the help of graphs. So tried to incorporate them! hope this helps! good luck 🙂

      • Juggernaut

        Thanks a lot for your prompt reply! Now, i got it. 🙂
        Also, i have one more DOUBT about writing answers. Consider a sentence written in 2 ways.
        Higher real wages will increase aggregate demand, which in turn, will increase GDP growth rate. (1)
        Higher real wages – increase aggregate demand – increase GDP growth (2)
        I use to write answer in properly framed sentence and it takes time (like statement 1). I have also seen many copies (also of toppers) with answers written in short-cut manner using arrows (like 2). It really saves time.
        My doubt – is it ok to write sentences in short-cut manner in UPSC answers or does evaluator wants us to write proper sentences?

        • snehaja

          Hey! As long as the sentence makes sense that’s fine. However tell me how much time will u lose in adding those words such as ‘will’ ‘and’ or any other preposition. Try to practice as much as possible 🙂 ps: I always wrote complete sentences!

          • Juggernaut

            Ok, Thanks! 🙂

  • Abhijeet Palod

    hello ma’am….first of all congratulations for your success. Request your guidance on following issues:
    1. Even i am CA and had taken commerce optional subject. Can you please guide me whether there is any test series for the same in hyderabad.
    2. please share your interview transcript. It will be immensely helpful for all the students in general and for commerce background student in particular.
    3. After reading your experience it appears that La excellence guidance for GS mains test series can be taken. pls advice?
    4. your warning for optional paper 1 is eye opener as even i find myself in such perception.

    • snehaja

      Hey! Thank u 🙂 there are no test series for commerce in Hyderabad. Secondly I have always enrolled for test series for commerce but never did them. So if you really want test series, u can enrol for vajiram or rankers postal test series. I will post my interview transcript at the earliest. Sorry for that delay. I have taken mains test series in la excellence for this attempt. This made me correct my mistakes. Anyways as I mentioned that u need to write tests for better practice, u can take a call. I have written only here and I did benefit 🙂 and being a ca, the first thing v do is ignore paper 1. So u can avoid doing that mistake! Good luck 🙂

      • Abhijeet Palod

        Thanks for the encouragement. waiting for the interview transcript.

  • Sanju

    Hi Snehaja mam,
    I’m Sanjeev …sitting next to you in mains exam…this time didn’t clear mains because of Geography optional (78+121)……Also got less marks in GS (GS-1:82;GS-2:67;GS-3:88;GS-4:70)…Please share your strategy in ethics??

    • snehaja

      Hey! I remember you telling that you couldn’t finish the ethics paper that day. Regarding ethics, I didn’t do much. As mentioned I did lexicon book for definitions and subba rao book for case studies. While attempting the paper, I did case studies first. Try to maintain that free flow of thought and give simple examples. I would suggest to practice some case studies writing and get them evaluated to understand how to present them better. Most importantly trying to attempt all questions with a decent answer would give you a lot of edge. Hope this helps 🙂 good luck

      • Ravi Raj

        Where can i find case studies material??
        Plz tell

    • tony dhinakaran

      Hey hi annaya is this ur first attempt

  • Anwar

    If possible, please share your strategy for commerce and accountancy as very less guidance is available for this optional in market. I appeared in last 2 mains and got only 216 and 207 marks respectively.

    • Shushma kejriwal

      216 should be good, though not enough for a top rank..
      what books are you following for paper 2 ?

      • Anwar

        No book. I’m totally dependent on Rankers notes for paper2

        • Shushma kejriwal

          I’m not sure about other sections but look for Vajiram material on IR- which Includes some labour journals

          I’m reading Chhabra for OT and OB and Aswathapa for HRM, IR as mentioned.

        • Shushma kejriwal

          how much did u score in paper 2 out of 216 ?

          • Anwar

            94 in 2014 and 101 in 2015

  • Congrats madam, thank you for your invaluable suggestions.

  • congrats!!……………………………….

  • An eye for detail

    Thanks for the write up madam. Could you please share the commerce strategy and interview script ? It would help me to stick through few sources rather than spreading across so many .

  • Krishna

    Hi madam
    Please kindly share commerce strategy. Please give a detailed article on it. Even I am done with CA. Need information about Optional paper 2 which is basically not included in CA syllabus.
    Thank you

    Somebody Please create one study circle for commerce optional on was app so that we can share our thoughts .

  • Sanket Agarwal

    Hello Ma’am,
    I am too a CA. who cleared in the May 2015 exams. In order to prepare for the exam, I left my job and now have appeared the prelims, 2016. However, the expected marks fall short of the cutoff by 10 or so. Now, I am in dilemma..should I start a job again and prepare simultaneously for next attempt or sit at home and prepare. If you could share your experience, i.e. whether you were simultaneously doing job or not, it would be very helpful. Thanks 🙂
    Also…. a big congratulation on your achievement 🙂

  • Reshmi Haridas

    Congratulations!!! Can you guide on how was the preparation on CSAT done?