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TOPPER’S STRATEGY: Atul Vats, Rank – 60, UPSC Civil Services Exam – 2015

Atul Vats

Rank – 60, CSE – 2015


Regarding Prelims:

Basic books for all subjects:

  1. Polity – laxmikanth
  2. Economy – sriram economy + eco survey
  3. History: ancient from NCERTs & modern from spectrum + ncert
  4. Geography: 11th & 12th ncerts + notes of Vajiram
  5. Environment: Shankar IAS +
  6. Art & Culture: Nitin Singhania ji’s notes + CCRT
  7. S&T: from vision ias current affairs + NCERTs of 6th till 9th.

plus solve a test series from an good source. Your score should touch 95 approx. in test series. I used to compare with fellow forumias members, asking them what their marks had been and then assessing my progress. Also, my roommate, Gaurav Chahal, helped a lot as we both used to discuss the questions  afterwards.

Please prepare a question bank, subject-wise, of the questions that you find a bit technical, or good. You may do a whole book and still no question may come from it, and it may happen that from the question bank that you prepared, there are 10 questions. Believe me, even if there are 4-5 questions from it, you will sail through, as it gives a lot of confidence in those crucial minutes.

As of today, around 80 days are left, so utilize your time very efficiently. Use 2 hrs daily for current revision, 4 hrs for one subject and 4 hrs for other, i.e. revise 2 subjects in a day. Club them like one according to your liking and one a little tough. Like economy + art & culture, environment + history. Please plan your schedule and assess your progress. Prelims is the first hurdle and trust me, an attempt goes waste if you are ineligible for mains.

While preparing for prelims, do not let even an ounce of negativity come near you. Everyone has tough times and this preparation is a way to learn how to ignore what is irrelevant and how to focus on necessary. Always keep in mind that prelims will be cleared, no doubt in that. Don’t be overconfident either and you can maintain a balance, if you assess yourself regularly.

Revision is the key to success; your question bank should contain 400-500 difficult questions. While you maintain one, write options along, so that afterwards you know why a particular option was removed and a particular selected. This helps in tackling tricky questions.    

Mains Preparation:

Essay Preparation:

No specific preparation of essay, read yojana magazine and had already guessed one essay – so completed it in 45 mins itself. What happened in the essay paper was that I thought the answer sheets will be enough (12-14 for one essay) and they were only six. So I started without counting (time crunch factor – anxiety). I realised my precarious situation after I had used 4 out of 6 sheets only for introduction. So please do have a look for the number of pages before starting your essay, and adjust your writing accordingly. The second essay was written carefully.

General Studies – 1

GS-1can be said to be comprising of 3 parts basically – History, Sociology & Geography

  1. For History
  2. Art & Culture can be done from Nitin Singhania Sir’s notes and CCRT printouts.  Please read Sir’s notes first and then CCRT, not the other way round. It may appall one a little in the beginning, but one should be patient. please do not try to memorise everything in first reading itself.
  3. Modern History (including freedom struggle) should be done from NCERT and Spectrum. For Mains, one should be thorough with the last chapters of spectrum, like the economic impact one, the evolution/freedom of press one etc as from these the probability of making analytical questions is more.
  4. World History: here one can make a choice between NCERTs or VisionIas booklet or as recommended by Sh. Gaurav Agarwal ji, Balyan Sir’s World History handwritten notes. Personally for me, as I could take only a cursory reading of NCERTs before prelims, I decided to go with Vision as the matter here is short and concise. Apart from them, one needs to use internet for a few topics, with an eye on what has been in current affairs, for example WWII anniversary type (70yrs in 2015) etc.
  5. Sociology was my optional, so I had more some knowledge in this regard.
  6. Geography: NCERTs, and Vajiram Notes on Geography. I have had a liking for this subject, so I did an extensive reading on it, through a friend’s Geo optional notes.

General Studies – 2

I expected much better marks in GS2 vis-a-vis what I have been awarded. Nevertheless, I will share my strategy. The portion of GS2 can be divided in to 5 parts.

  1. Part 1: it pertains to all the topics that are satisfactorily covered in the book –  Indian Polity by Laxmikanth. In addition, one has to go through newspapers thoroughly here, read and analyse topics and most importantly, relate them with the syllabus.
  2. Part 2: RPA Act and Constitution comparison: One can again go through VisionIAS booklets here, they are helpful.
  3. Part 3: development process, welfare schemes for vulnerable sections, social sector, poverty and hunger etc: For this newspaper is very important. I have used all 3 newspapers extensively – The Hindu (main), IE (editorials, explained & sometimes these long articles after editorial on infra, schemes like mnregs etc, rural dev.) and Business Standard (editorials and economy & public affairs section).
  4. Part 4: governance related, role of civil services: for this Lexicon helped and also, hand written notes of M.Puri are good. I went through them and after one is thorough with Lxmikanth and Newspapers, these are an easy and joyous affair.
  5. Part 5: International Relations: read newspapers and make some mental notes. One can cover this part from Vision Current booklets, that is more than sufficient.

Apart from this, I wrote answers on “” before switching to pen-paper format (as finally we need to write on paper) , which helped me in many ways like answer structuring, understanding the demand of question, how to balance facts, how to conclude etc. So after one is done with basics, she/he could practice answer writing – it really helps and also gives confidence. One thing that I would like to add here is that the quality of answer matters. So, initially, please do not stress on time, more emphasis should be on organization of thoughts and development of approach. For ex. in the beginning, I would write an answer in around 20-25 mins. When I read any question, my first aim was to understand what the examiner is asking and why is she/he asking this? then do some research, develop an understanding and finally attempt. Please focus on quality, time can be reduced with practice.   


General Studies -3

GS-3 is again a 4 part paper.

  1. Part1: Basic Indian economy: for this one can refer to Sriram printed Notes/Vajiram yellow booklet to get an understanding of basics. Economy is a bit technical and therefore, it was my strength. After one is good with basics, use of newspaper comes into play, especially a financial newspaper like BS. If there is any doubt in economy, is a good reference. Also, can be very useful. Government Budgeting can be done from Vision booklet, but I couldn’t do so due to paucity of time.  
  2. Part2: “Applied” economy like farm subsidies, msp, liberalization, industrial policy, inflation, monetary policy changes, infrastructure etc.: This portion is very dynamic and therefore very interesting. For this, NEWSPAPER will form the foundation of one’s preparation. Here, one needs to connect the dots, relating what is happening outside as perceived through newspaper reading and what should/can be the way to go forward. Kindly make your own notes of this part and revise them regularly.
  3. Part3: Science and Tech.: the syllabus of science and tech is vast and here one feels lost. Personally, what I did was that I bought notes from outside, made them the “bare minimum” and along with that, covered S&T from vision current booklets. Here one needs to be a little innovative too, for example, this year there was a question regarding IRNSS and If one did not have enough points on that – like remembered only 7 satellites, PSLV, divided in geosynchronous & geostationary, 1500 kms, problems faced in GPS in Kargil war, China’s Beidou etc. one could begin by saying that astronomical prowess is not new to India – Observatories(jantar mantar) in Jaipur & Delhi constructed by Swai JaiSingh stand as testimony to the developments in this field.
  4. Part4: Disaster Mgmt and Internal Security: DM can be prepared from internet and newspapers. for example, the Chennai floods that had happened in December, were accompanied with many articles on how to tackle them and why they happened in first place. similarly, the EQ in Nepal. Also, drought affected areas. Here one should not only read, but also, keep oneself in the shoes of the affected people, like imagine what will happen if the water supply to your home gets damaged and takes a week long to repair.

For Internal Security, one can get a good idea by a book which is written by an IPS officer, Ashok Kumar, it’s titled internal security challenges, if I am able to recall correctly. One should try to solve the questions, at least mentally, which are given at the end of chapter. Apart from that,  newspaper is again, very helpful.

Like GS2, I did an extensive writing practice (around 3-4 months) of this paper too. Please do economic survey fully, not summaries, and in fact, summarize them yourself. For example, the previous economic survey was summarized by me in 6 pages itself, with all necessary data and statements.  ES 2014-15 was a beautiful document – JAM trinity, wiping every tear from every eye etc…i used these statements in my answers. ES 2015-16 is nice too. For my interview, I made notes out of it, and shortened them to only 3 pages. Why the shortest possible content is being emphasized is because one has to revise, re-revise, re-re-revise these things, so that they get etched in memory. So, please focus on your summary, your notes, your short-hand, your own effort. When you summarize, it automatically leads to revision.

General Studies – 4

Ethics was my stronghold, and again, marks were disappointing. It may be due to the fact that I started paper from last question (i.e. case studies first) and then rest of the questions, and therefore the quality may have declined. So, if I had to attempt again, I’d’ve begun from the 1st question itself.

For ethics, please take a printout of syllabus and paste it in front of your study table. I referred to lexicon, and also some notes of SK Mishra Sir, and more importantly, some notes prepared by Sh. Daya Shankar ji (selected in UP PCS) which he had made by reading 2nd ARC report on ethics and extensive internet research.

Writing practice is very important in ethics. I repeat – very very important. There is a proper vocabulary of an ethics answer, which differentiates it from a normal philosophical/altruist remark. While attempting ethics’ question, one’s answer must contain words like integrity, compassion,  dedication, empathy, attitude, tolerance, objectivity etc. Initially, one has to force-feed these words, but with time, one starts using them befittingly. The quality improves exponentially with examples and diagrams, they may be simple ones. Examples come from newspapers, for instance, there was an article in the hindu about a tribal man selling his son for Rs 50 so that he could pay for medical expenses of his wife – when one reads such articles, one shouldn’t just move on to next page. One should himself be that tribal man, think about the moral, ethical dilemma and actualize and internalize that situation.

For case studies, one should have at least 4 ready-to-serve lines for any situation. For example, if there is a case study of making one a manager and a case of personal misconduct being brought before him/her – one should start like ” a manager, who is a leader, is the mirror of the organization. She/he is not just followed but is evoked and exemplified in difficult situations. Her/his conduct inspires and motivates those working alongside. Therefore……..”. Not only such an introduction gives a kick-start to your answer, but also, it improves your presentation. Prepare such intro from the point-of-view of a DC/DM, a village sarpanch, a minister, an SP, a corporate leader etc. There will be 10-15 such introductions only but they will help a lot.

My optional sociology has helped me with the thinkers part. Though i didn’t name them, I used their though-process extensively, e.g. functional, dysfunctional, non-functional – latent/manifest approach etc.

Here I would like to mention @yo_yo__choti_singh ji, from whose answers i benefitted a lot. He is an inspiration and a friend and i thank forumias for being the medium of communication! One may find his answers on too.


Sociology Optional Preparation:

My optional was Sociology and I would say that while choosing one’s optional, one needs to be careful. I had to decide between Chemistry or Sociology, and I went with the latter keeping in my mind the availability of study material, consistent performance, relevance with the career i desired, and my own internal inclination.

My initial Sociology notes from the class (Mohapatra Sir) formed the foundation of my sociology preparation. Sociology as a subjects demand devotion and writing practice. I supplemented my notes with IGNOU summaries (of BA, esp the MSO on thinkers is a must).

Also, i bought Sindhuri Ma’am’s notes, they help in Paper 2 preparation. One should buy them from the market near JNU, they are more organized there.

I expected at least 250 in Sociology, but could get only 226. What I would advise you all is to do extensive writing practice and solve at least previous year papers. Whenever a question is asked, don’t directly jump on it. Create a room by maneuvering & relating with current affairs, esp. in Paper 2. In Paper1, thinkers are as important as the other part. Prepare short notes which can be done within an hour or so. I had compiled the thinker in Socio (ED, Marx, Weber, TP) all within 10 pages, so that I could revise them multiple times.


In General Discussion!!

“Its not who you are within, its what you do that defines you”. Remember why you started this journey, and why this is important. Give this exam its due respect and be positive. Feeling low, anxious is a part of the process. Those who clear it are not from Mars, they are from this planet only. Always wear a smile, be humble.

There will be times when you will doubt yourself. Remember this was your decision. It does not matter whether you having an extraordinary IQ. What matters is whether you have an extraordinary determination. It will take time, but it will happen and at the end of the day, you are a much more informed citizen!

One must do a number of revisions. Divide Mains syllabus according to one’s strengths, prepare it in parts. I made separate registers, used to summarize newspaper articles there and supplement them with Vision current affairs notes. In the interview preparation, the editorial analysis from was very helpful. In the end, each GS Paper, especially, GS2 and GS3, must be summarized within few pages. I took this inspiration from Neha Jain Ma’am, Rank 12 in 2013, she had underscored the importance of last minute revision.

I must thank all people who reviewed my answers, I wrote with a pen name “raldhu“. Raldhu is a character which signifies for me someone who is in search of knowledge, who aspires for continuous learning, brings a smile to everyone, being a laughing stock! I congratulate all fellow insightians who cracked this exam and wish the very best to those appearing this year 🙂

“Never criticize your choices, never doubt your capabilities” – Sh. Vipin Kumar

“Respect yourself as you have the fortitude to participate in this process. Every year, around half of those who fill the form, don’t actually sit” – Sh. Sahil Garg (an avid writer on, a close friend, my first answer reviewed by him on

Do talk to your parents frequently. They help a lot in motivating you!

My best wishes to all of you!

My Marks

atul vats rank 60 upsc ias topper