My UPSC Journey
Agam Jain, Rank 133, CSE – 2015
Agam entirely did self study for exam preparation (except optional coaching). He relied on Insights and other websites to improve his skills and fight the odds. He cleared civil services exam in his second attempt. Hope you enjoy his inspiring journey and get inspiration out of it.
I am an engineer who graduated from Mangalayatan University, Aligarh (actually 30 km away). Thus, I used to live in nearby village and that’s where it all started. In my first year, I used to go 4 km every day to teach poor children in another village. I lived in adverse of the conditions. Lack of electricity, water, cooler and other basic amenities. Even the main road was nearly 2 km away from my room. But with that I experienced something which most youth in present day doesn’t face. I saw people living together without formalities, festivals (though with many superstitions) celebrated in enjoyment, beauty of flora and fauna at their best, changing seasons to evening walks on the trails near agriculture fields. I even saw some fights and deaths, dangals as the best form of sports, people indulging in illegal activities and gender inequality.
Still, I wasn’t sure about preparing for UPSC. (Believe it or not, it was in 3rd year when I realised the real meaning of republic). But I started viewing things from different perspective. I saw the changes in seasons, development of crops, changing styles of moon more closely. I travelled a lot. I analysed people of India from many walks of life.
I even felt the inversion of temperature. (img 1).
And a burning train. (img 2).
And changing crop patterns according to seasons (img 3)
Walked on solitary paths. (img 4)
By the third year, I found that my study tactics and my desire to work for nation could meet with entering the civil services. After that I did just this in college- went to library to understand an article of Hindu – in complete one hour! Played volleyball a lot, analysed things more vividly and studied anything which came in my way. I was average student but the will power that I will do this without any help helped me a lot. I dared to make my own strategies (which I will share later in this write up). Also, I was below average student in engineering and you will soon find it when you will read my transcript of interview (given at the end of this post).
Then after graduation, I came to Delhi in september,2014. Made the timetable for complete one and half year and prepared exactly according to that.
in Delhi, I saw pollution to this extent. (img5)
and solitary festivals like this (img 6)
but still studied. (img 7)
and rarely left this 2 seater room. (img 8)
Details of Optional, Attempts, Marks
Coaching –only for optional at S. Baliyan sir.
Attempt– first genuine attempt, but gave one earlier too, just for fun. So, total Two attempts.
Pre marks– 121+170
Mains and Interview marks-
Rank – 133
Disclaimer– Not all the strategies are good for all. As I said, dare to make your own strategy. So, you may not like what I say. So, please follow according to your conscience.
Also, don’t follow many strategies if it doesn’t suit you. Read interview of few toppers, derive strategy of your own from them and that’s it. No need of any topper after that.
Short term strategy– this is for those who are focusing on this year’s exam.
- Make online as well as written notes. Online in Evernote. When you like any answer/topic from Insights, iasbaba, idsa etc, just copy (but selectively) them into your account under particular heading. These notes come handy everywhere like while travelling, sitting with some boring relatives etc.
Written in copy or cuttings in file. When you read newspaper/yojana/kurukshetra, cut the selective portion and put in file. Write when you listen to particular topic from air news, rstv programs, read any book etc.
this page summed up G C Leong book (map was self-made so there are some minute mistakes).
- Make schedule for 6 days a week. Reserve 7th day for revision of the on/offline notes. Don’t just revise them but minimise them, say from 2 pages to one and then to half by the time exams come.
- Don’t leave anything undone when it comes to prelims.(besides preparing basics from the textbooks) I sat down one day and made list of such vague things like name of national parks, rivers, GI tags, republic day tableau, international conventions and reports, recent Padma winners,UNESCO sites, programs under ministries etc. now, don’t make the list in a day. It will be hectic and can’t be remembered. Just have an eye on newspaper when something comes related to it.
- Polity gives edge in prelims. Don’t lose any mark in that portion. Read Laxmikanth as much as you can. Geography could be done easily too. You could check science monitor program of rstv for current scientific developments.
- Writing practice is must. It gives you extra margin of few seconds per question which is very important. For example, without practice, I would have written this- in AFSPA, army men don’t get any sort of punishment.
With practice, I would have written- Indian Army Enjoys Impunity Under AFSPA.
See, I shortened the sentence and used better word. Such little corrections could come only when you write daily.
Few tips regarding writing-
- Write answer in morning and evaluate yourself in evening. Don’t evaluate immediately. In evening, check the answer with the mind-set of teacher and do strict marking. This way, you will realise what teacher wants. When I used to do this, I used to get very screwed up on myself for writing ridiculous answers. Also, take help of your friends too.
- Make list of some international conventions/charters etc. they help in beautifying the answer. Like one may write in recommendations- India is trying best to stop child trafficking.
But you can write- according to blah blah convention, India is signatory to stop child trafficking on global level.
- Make list of some short but nice dialogues. But don’t waste enough time on it. Just note them whenever you encounter them. I will share list of some dialogues in the end.
- Remember certain key points like public awareness, following worldly practices (remember few examples of Finland, Singapore etc.), political will, red tapism, environment impact etc. these points come handy to increase the length of answer. You could use such points at the end, not from the beginning. Beginning demands concrete points.
- Follow balanced approach.
- Always keep a small paper with you. At times, while reading, we don’t know something and we think that we will search it later. But later, we used to forget that. That small paper could be used to note all those doubts which are to be resolved later.
- Do something which inspire and motivate you. Like I used to have one big pen holder and I used to inspire myself by telling that I have to fill this up with empty pens before exam. I did more than that.I also made one small point on wall, over table, and vowed that I will write pages whose heap will touch that point. I managed that too.
These small things will motivate you a lot.
During initial days (img 8)
- Use YouTube a lot but with a vow that I will watch only that video for which I am opening the site. Else, first we watch video on Coriolis force and then end up with watching trailer of civil war.
- Listen music/watch videos if you ever feel down. I listened ar Rahman and used to see friends series. While listening love songs, consider books as your love and success as final destiny (I remember my first love was spectrum). It helped me to be with those books every time! I also used to watch matches of Novak Djokovic. In some matches, he not only played against Roger Federer but against the whole crowd too who considered that Roger will be winner.
- Take break once in a while. Meet friends, watch movie (I watched PK and Piku) and come back rejuvenated.
Like I went here. (img 9)
What not to do-
- There is very little difference between discussing syllabus and discussing around syllabus. I have seen many discussions which starts in good faith but end up in abhorring different coaching institutes and teachers, taking sides of political parties, praising the other one for how much he had studied etc. etc. use discussion as the last resort.
- Don’t fool yourself. At times, we watch documentaries or other war related movies and tell ourselves that we are doing something related to studies. They might be related but vaguely and consuming precious time.
- Never compare different success stories to demoralise yourself. Read interviews and strategies to boost up. Otherwise we do like this- he was very lucky. Very easy questions were asked to him. He had reservation. She had better facilities. Blah blahblah.
We have to remember that all things aren’t in our hand. We have to do what we can do.
- Don’t roam in different nagars. I remember that I went to one nagar (even though I lived in Delhi only) after complete one year when I went for mock. I never went for any notes/photo copy/magazine etc. More you will go to store, more you will get frustrated. Choose your material carefully and stick to that. If it is Laxmikanth, then don’t give damn to D D Basu. If it is Guha, then don’t care of Bipin Chandra and so on.
- Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.
long term strategy-
- Don’t just read books, inspect the surroundings and take out time to go to villages. Feel the life.
- Take out little time for spiritualism. It will help you realise that nothing is more important than your own happiness, not even rank one in upsc. It will prepare you to handle every challenge peacefully either related to upsc or otherwise. (Like I used to follow Jain spiritualism fondly).
- Read some non-fictions (not directly related to upsc) in leisure time. Like I read Pax Indica by Shashi tharoor, makers of modern India by Guha, brief history of time by Hawking etc. These will give you extra edge somewhere unknowingly. For example, I read a fantasy novel in 10th class where the jinn used to live in Golan high and guess what, that question was asked in prelims. At the least, these will help you groom as mature person.
- Try to express yourself with your lay friends. Like I used to tell my friends dilemma of International Date Line by making interesting story. Once my friend messaged that she want to read about kalamji. I took that opportunity to tell her about his PURA initiative and gifted wings of fire.
- Try to study according to seasons. Like sit in lawn and study geography, environment while it rains. Believe me all wind positions, cyclonic conditions, seasonal diversion etc. will come to stay in your mind. Similarly, winter nights are reserved for old stories. So read history then. Read how clive betrayed and dark years during gauri attack etc. and gently sleep in your quilt. Further, noon time is reserved for official work. Thus, devote it to polity and economy. (All these are just some ways. When exams come near, these strategies won’t work but these are quite fruitful for the aspirant in long run). More you are closer to nature, more you could concentrate. During monsoon, I used to study on rooftop. It gives immense pleasure.
- Don’t spread the word of your preparation a lot. It might bring extra pressure on you.
- Read various articles ranging from idsa, pib.nib, guardian, epw etc.
- Write something not directly related to upsc. I wrote many which you could check in my notes on Facebook (one got published in the Hindu (on transgender) too). It will help you to widen your thought ethics.
the Hindu article (img 10)
- This site was role model for me. I am following its answers since August, 2014, writing on the platform since Jan, 2015, commenting on other answers since March, 2015 and followed other initiatives too till February, 2016.
I don’t know anyone who are behind this work but your selfless work is an inspiration for us.
Few people asked me about how to handle Insights. Here is what we can do-
- Insights is like food. Should be taken every day but no overdose. Don’t get indulged in chatting on this platform or watching notifications in every hour.
- The first thing I used to do after getting up was reading newspaper, assuming myself what insights could ask today and thus, making up my mind for that answer. Then used to check the site and select the questions which I would write (initially I chose easier ones, later harder ones). After breakfast, I used to write those answers (8-9 minutes per answer and not more than that), post them on site. In evening, I used to check the comments and other answers (in half hour) and used to save if anything was important.
- There were always few answers which were better than mine but still I never took more time than 8-9 minutes. I tried to fight the best answers in limited time and without reading every source available (but we can read link provided by insights). This helped to keep the time in line and reading answers in evening gave me exact structure of answer as well. No compromise.
- Some asked me if they could read the insights compilation. I hadn’t done that so I can’t exactly tell. But I can feel that reading in bulk is always hectic while going step by step makes our foundation stronger. So, better follow secure initiative regularly (for that matter, any initiative of insights).
- If anything left out, do complete that on Sundays. Insights doesn’t post questions on Sunday.
- I covered nearly 20 out of 30 test series of insights during mains. It helped me to raise the bar. I even wrote 15 questions in 1.5 hours (12 full length, 3 half because of lack of time). It helped to increase my writing speed as well as fastened the thinking power. By the time exam came, I could write one point and could think the next at the same time.
- All I want to say is insights is doing great job. It’s our time now to show that we can do it without any coaching.
My father always used to tell me that work hard but never get disappointed. There are many more deserving than me who might not got selected this year. Who can we blame? What’s in our hand? I always kept this in my mind that even if I don’t get selected, I won’t go back empty handed. I will have a complete experience with me. That’s why I never read readymade notes because that isn’t true source of knowledge.
Those who have read till now obviously have the patience, otherwise nobody read such lengthy write up. But we always have to remember the corollary by Gandhiji that demanding more than the person, having least amenities in the world, is violence. We must remain contented.
In the end, it will be our character which will define us and not some rank or post. Lord Mahaveer hadn’t had any post but we remember him for his views, for his character.
My father also used to ask me this.
Son, tell me. Who is stronger? The one who follows his heart or whose heart follow him/her?
And I never answered.
Our limit is beyond horizon. (img 11)
Contact– I am very grateful to internet as it helped me a lot. Hence, if I could help anybody, it will be my pleasure. If anything is left out, comment on it, I will reply with the name of Harry or with the help of Insights, will make another article.
You can Ask me on Quora too so that many could read the answers or on Facebook (on timeline).
But if you have more bigger/personal/any other doubt, you could also mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to reply.
I will also try to review some of the answers on Secure so that we can work together to achieve success (while always keeping in mind that we are happy without it too and our happiness is not situation bound).
Disclaimer– It’s not the exact transcript. For that is known only to kevali.
-the sentences in double brackets (like this (() depicts the inner voice of mine at the time of giving answers.
-I have not written all answers. Have just mentioned the trends..
Chairman -( my interview language was Hindi but he asked in English)
Q. You are fresh graduate; tell me how you will use engineering in the administration. ((Shit. why you asked me to write as medium of interview when you still have to ask in English))
A. I could use in it many ways as it provided me with logical reasoning and concept based understanding. I could use it in implementation of e governance, digital literacy etc. ((what the hell am i speaking))
Q. I could teach a person about e governance in 1-2 months. What’s the specialty in engineer? ((Nothing. engineers sucks))
A. We would have the basic understanding of these programs so if any new challenge emerges, we would be more able to handle it.
Q. There is one large scale integration and vlsi. What is the difference?
A. Both use integrated circuits but the quantity on vlsi is larger.
Q. How many are there in vlsi. ((Who cares))
A. Don’t know exact figure but in millions.
Q. What is micro Chip.
A. It is sort of microprocessor having its own ALU and control unit which decides output of function.
Q. Recently, Nuclear supply summit took place in USA. Obama criticised India and Pakistan. What was the matter and is criticizing correct.
A. He criticised because of more safety issues in the region regarding nuclear arsenal. The terrorist activities and ISIS are more dominating here and India and Pakistan haven’t taken enough measures.
Q. So was he right?
A. No sir. It might be said about Pakistan but India is more reliable and that’s why it had us nuclear deal. But at the same time, Russia and USA should also limitize their weaponry as those are large arsenals.
Q. No, that wasn’t exact issue for criticising. *then he explained something I didn’t understand and just said thank you sir *
Q. Heard of gagan. ((Who asks such specific questions))
A. Not exactly able to recall it but can guess about it.
A. It is something GPS related service provided for (pause) various services. ((i would laugh at myself after this ridiculous answer))
Q. Is it kind of spy satellite.
A. No. Facilitative sort of.
Q. What sort of facilities.
A. Don’t know.
Q. Heard of atc.
Q. Air traffic Control. What is it?
A. Explained in haphazard manner.
Q. Is pilot alone handling all the communications of flight. ((No. air hostesses cheer him up))
A. Black box is there to store and connect to ground.
Q. I am not asking about that. How pilot her information about where to go, altitude etc. ((ask pilot. what is making you to ask me all this shit))
A. Don’t know.
Q. If a flight is going between Delhi to Chennai. Who will give information to it. Delhi station or Chennai. ((oh come on. water is flowing overhead))
A. I think the hand off used to take place between various stations according to plane distance. (i guess this was wrong answer)
Q. *Then explained gagan a bit for my kind information. * ((as if I care))
Q. (Now in Hindi) which ministry takes care of art and culture the most in India.
A. Pause…. Mhrd. ((this was the worst answer from my part))
Q. But it takes care of education mostly. Is there any ministry of culture?
A. Yes sir. There is. That takes care of all this.
Q. Name some autonomous institutions which are helped by govt in this field.
A. National school of drama. Sahitya academy.
A. Gyanpeeth award and other states based institutions.
Q. No. On central level.
Q. Ok. Fine. You told some names. Should govt interfere in art and culture.
- explained nicely with example. ((So something is finally going my way))
Q. History repeats itself. Explain what had been repeated in modern history out of ancient and medieval history.
A. Explained nicely. ((Kindly remain on history. i could answer better and better in this field))
Q. Then a follow up question.
A. Explained nicely. ((coooooll))
Q. Your icon in history.
A. explained nicely. ((oh man. he heard my answer for complete 1.30 minute or so. sort of speech. ha))
Q. Effect of devaluation of currency.
A. *Gave one positive and one negative. *
Q. And.. ((When are your desires for more are gonna stop))
A. Pause. Then told don’t know.
Member 3 (English and Hindi mix)
Q. Optical fibres vs. wireless.
A. explained. Certain questions followed. Explained those too.
Q. Your fourth year project. ((This question falls in worst probability i could imagine of))
A. Iris recognition.
Q. What was that? ((don’t know. you got that. i purchased it just to get marks like i am bluffing you.))
Q. Any other such biometric.
A. Finger print recognition.
Q. Which one is better. ((fingers have more lines but iris also seems secured. so let’s go with the best weapon i.e. I don’t know))
A. Pause. Then told that didn’t compare ever.
Q. What was your value addition in that project to global level technology. ((are you out of your mind. you want a private institute’s average student to make a project to add value to global technology. its earth man, not mars))
A. Global available technologies are much ahead. It was just out initiative to make best out of limited resources.
Q. Which is easier? Hardware or software. ((lolz))
A. Told with merits/demerits of both.
- a mathematician goes to a class. Student asks him to tell about contribution of India in global maths. He says zero. student isn’t satisfied. Comment.
- explained. ((First time I realised that I could answer nicely even without understanding the question properly. it was a gamble and hit in bulls eye))
- why we use present numeral system and not roman numbers. ((because when we divide 20 by 10, we could literally cut the zeroes in numerator and denominator but can’t do it in roman. did you hear my inner voice?))
- answered properly.
- difference between radio and mobile transmitter and receiver. ((I must have done very wrong deeds in past. I must pass through these karmas))
Chairman interrupted and asked that whether radio even have transmitter. i answered.
- anything else.
- *something struck in my mind. I answered. He interrupted in midway and passed the baton.*((finally, a good answer in engineering field))
Member 4 (again in English)
Q. difference between technology and engineering. ((do anybody bother to ask something other than engineering field. my interview is in last stage. bring in some questions where my strength lies))
*started with something but didn’t find words then took pause and then gave some definition.*
Q. what is global warming.
Q.what are chemical compounds responsible for it.
Q.from where lead comes.
Q.what sort of vehicles. ((your twenty years old ridiculous scooter. switch that.))
*tried to differentiate between diesel and petrol but at last said that don’t know.*
Q.how it depletes.
Q.compounds responsible for it.
Q. what is ozone.
Q. what are its uses. ((holy shit. am i an environment student))
Q. you heard of oxidizing agents and its process. ((ok. so this was the trouble which was left out. welcome you, chemistry))
Q. tell me three features of communication. ((this was the part where i guess i went completely blank))
*i told something (without any confidence and many pauses)*
Q. these are physical features, i am asking something else.
*something again struck and i gave the correct answer*. those were sender, channel and receiver. ((life saving answer))
Q. which of these three you like more to study about. ((are these some things to like about. grow up man))
explained nicely. ((i could make good answers out of nothing. like dhoni could make out of ishant sharma))
Q. you had English as your writing medium but chose Hindi as medium of interview. why?
Q. i didn’t see it earlier so asked questions in English. Were you comfortable with it. ((then why others asked me in English. are all of you fools?))
Q. thank you. you can go. (( one milestone crossed. I don’t care for anything now. I tried my best. had i got more days, i couldn’t have done better than this in such ridiculously designed interview.))
Statements/dialogues-(some of those which I compiled during preparation)
$ rajya sabha is the second house but not the secondary house.
$ nature determines the route of development, while man determines the rate and state.
$ The real finance minister is monsoon in India.
$ we have too much of government and too little administration; too many public servants and too little public service ; too many controls and too little welfare ; too many laws and too little justice.
$ when a Republic comes to birth, it is the leaders who produce the institutions.
$ freedom is like alcohol, it must be taken in moderation.
$ on media- only code of conduct appears to be that all is fair in love, war and breaking news.
$ “the business of business is business”-in sense that people in business just do business and not pay attention towards society. say, csr pr dhyan nahi de rahe h.
$ reform is imperative, or else a revolution.
$ MUDRA bank is aimed at ‘funding’ the unfunded.
$ India is the only country where judges appoint judges and MPs decide their own salary.-somnath chaterjee.
$ everyone has been defeated in Syria.
$ Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish, too much handling will spoil it,” said Lao Tzu.
$ web penetration in India is at 20%. Given this reality, concerns over me neutrality seem elitist.
$ Equality with superiors and superiority from equals..
$ Decriminalise selling of sex but criminalise buying of it.
$ why federalism – coz singular identities lead to ‘ miniaturisation of human being’.
$ a deficit in physical infra lowers the productivity of capital, while a deficit in social infra lowers the productivity of labour.
$ the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does. the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance.
$ for ayush- these alternative medicine is not an alternative at all but basis of health care system.
$ more than military might, the status and destiny of a nation is shaped by success of diplomatic front.
$ roots of problem with Pakistan don’t lie in Kashmir but in the multiplicity of power centres in Pakistan.
$ economic diplomacy must be focusing on ‘ peace creating prosperity’.
$ Slums – poor people’s industrial township.
$ science is universal but technology can be local.
$ federalism, niti aayog- by the states, for the states.
$ send a horse to US and it will convert into racehorse.– same should now happen with India..
$ ‘terrorists have to be lucky only once but the state has to be vigilant all the time’. The successes achieved by intelligence agencies are normally not known but their one odd failure has large-scale ramifications.
$ Anyone who finds too much traffic and too few traffic policemen; too many foreign policy issues and too few diplomats; too much garbage and too few city officials; too many stray pigs and too few pig catchers (there is only one in entire Bangalore) will attest to the fact that we actually do need more public officials
$ power flows from the barrel of the gun- by mao. for left wing extremism
$ Maoists have emerged as the protector of the rights of tribals, something that goi should have done.
$ Democracy without Justice=Demon Crazy.’)