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


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:

Paper 2014 2015
Essay 154 124
GS 1 70 94
GS 2 85 66
GS 3 64 93
GS 4 112 99
Commerce paper 1 89 124
Commerce paper 2 142 123
Total 716 723
Personality test 165 206
Total 881 929


Prelims marks:

Paper 2014 2015
Paper 1 92 122
Paper 2 134.18 102.96
Total 226 224.96