TOPPER’S STRATEGY & MOTIVATION: Saad Miya Khan, Rank – 25 UPSC CSE-2017 Fifth Attempt, Geography Optional

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Saad Miya Khan, Rank – 25 UPSC CSE-2017

Fifth Attempt, Geography Optional

Saad Miya Khan rank 25 UPSC IAS 2017


General studies forms the core of Civil Services  Mains Examination .The syllabus is mammoth and ever increasing. The knowledge you have gathered has to be penned down in precise and well structured answers.20 such answers in a span of 3 hours and 4 such papers in a span of 2 days.

In my previous 4 attempts my score in General Studies used to be below average but in CSE 2017 I did fairly well scoring 129 in GS-1,120 in GS-2,127 in GS-3 and 94 in GS-4. .So, Finally in my 5th attempt  I was able to climb  the GS Jal Parvat.

Scoring well in GS relies on two pillars-Content and answer writing. For developing quality content  you have to cover the static and dynamic parts thoroughly.

For STATIC part my sources were as follows.

GS-1:Culture-Ancient  and Medieval History NCERT and GK today document. World History – Norman Lowe.  Modern History– Spectrum. Post Independence India– Bipan Chandra. Geography– 9 to 12 NCERT and G.C. Leong. Rest of the topics I covered from newspaper  after getting a basic understanding about them.

GS-2: Indian polity by M Laxmikanth, Summary of Second ARC report and Vision IAS Booklets on GS2.

GS-3: Macroeconomics NCERT, selected chapters from Ramesh Singh, Economic Survey summary and Vision IAS Booklets on GS3.


However I never made any notes.

Covering the Dynamic part

In my initial two attempts I used to make notes from The Hindu however I find that this is unnecessary and very time consuming. In my third and fourth attempt I focused more on insights secure and Vision Ias current affairs magazine. However this approach makes you mechanical and deprives you of the uniqueness which newspaper reading gives you.

 In 2017 my strategy was different and sources are as follows: Reading the Hindu , revising only ias summary of Hindu editorials , visionsias  Current affairs magazine(DEC 2016 to SEP 2017),  Insights Secure– GS 3 (JAN 2017 to SEP-2017).

While reading any source Backward engineering is really important. You must be able to link the news or info you are reading to syllabus. Eg. When I read about breaking of Larsen C ice shelf  I was able to connect  it to climate change and gave it as an example in Cryosphere Question asked in GS1.


I  don’t call it Art of answer writing because Art comes naturally to you but Science you have to develop by learning from failures and by trial and error. If it does not comes easy to you than you must be ready to get it by  the Hard way . In my initial attempts I made incremental changes like writing Introduction and conclusion or giving a particular example or drawing a figure but I was able to give a holistic makeover to my answers by developing  the following process in my 5th attempt.

Now it is a well established fact that a well structured answer consists of three parts-I:B:C

INTRODUCTION-the keywords can be defined or some background can be provided.

CONCLUSION-You can write an optimistic line , provide a futuristic vision or give some solutions.

BODY-I feel  it’s the most important part of your answer. Nearly every serious  candidate can write a decent intro and conclusion but it will be the body of your answer  which can really set you apart from others. Following things have to be kept in mind.

1) Read the question carefully and address the demands of the question. Answer what is being asked in the question   by breaking it into parts and sub parts.

2) Focus on the keywords.

3) Your answers must cover multiple dimensions. Whether you are writing pros/positives, cons/negatives or providing solutions you have to cover many dimensions like Constitutional,legal,administrative,civil society,economics,environmental,international,security etc.(whatever dimensions are available for that particular question).However not all questions  can be answered  by this method sometimes the stakeholders involved can provide you the dimensions. Eg. For a question on Farm loan waivers-the stakeholders involved are Farmers, Banks, centre , states, tax payers and other sections who have taken loans from bank.

Sometimes  a particular dimension can have various sub dimensions-Eg.1)For examining functioning  of local self govt.- State Govts. not devolving functional items or formation of parasatals  are 2 administrative dimensions. 2) In case of weakening of exports –poor manufacturing, poor logistics, decrease in global demand, lacuna in export policy etc. can be economic dimensions.

The answers can be further enriched by following steps:(FFREL)

1) adding Facts 2)adding relevant Figures/flowcharts 3)adding References 4)supporting  your dimensions by some current  Example.

Eg. Climate change: Fact-sea level has been rising by ” xyz” cm per year, Figure- a rough world map showing coastal areas which will be affected, Reference-IPCC 5th assessment, Example-names of some small island nations .

5)Paper Specific Lingua: Though your answers must be in simple language but at certain places paper specific keywords/lingua can be introduced. Eg. Federalism is a functional concept(GS2), INCH TOWARDS MILES –India and China towards millennium of exceptional synergy(GS2), Indian firms facing the Chakravyuh challenge(GS3),Farm loan waivers presents a moral hazard(GS3),Mahatma Gandhi relied on the strategy of Struggle-truce-struggle(GS1).

However In GS4 I tried to keep things simple just answering what is being asked and supporting it with some current example/case study or my experience. I also visited for Gs4

To internalize the  above mentioned process  I used to frame(Not write) and make the structure of 1 answer  daily on insights and frame it  as quickly as I can so that my mind works in a way that as soon as it sees a question the frame is ready.

In my 5th attempt I gave the visionias test series very seriously. I tried to compete in the test series as if it’s the actual exam and every time I was in the top 30s.Moreover I use to write 2 tests in one day because  in actual exam that’s the situation UPSC puts you  in . To make situation more testing I use to keep a gap of 40-45 minutes between 2 papers not 2 hours. I also solved previous year GS Mains papers.

Finally,all the efforts I put up during my struggle of 5 years paid off. Every single attempt of mine was a serious one but in 5th one my level of competitiveness was very high. I really put in the time and effort, I saw 4 failures but UPSC does not care about your failures or emotions..its ruthless so should be you, hungry and cold just like a wolf.

Rafael Nadal is a person who has inspired me since I was in class 12.His autobiography Rafa-My story mentions its all in your head ,in your attitude ,in wanting more , in enduring more than your rival .You have two roads to choose from: tell yourself you have had enough and leave, or be prepared to suffer and keep going. The choice is between enduring and giving up  and I chose to endure the failures, I chose to endure being jobless, I chose to endure the criticisms, I chose to endure the cycle of pre-mains-PT, I chose to endure my  name not being in the final list and I chose to endure whatever UPSC threw at me be it its syllabus or be it its unpredictability. The entire process, I just chose to ENDURE.

Wishing you All the best,

Saad Miya Khan,


5th attempt.