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TOPPER’S STRATEGY: Akhil Mahajan, Rank 213, Fourth Attempt, Geography Optional (289 Marks)



Akhil Mahajan

Rank 213

Fourth Attempt, Geography Optional (289 Marks)


Hello, I am Akhil Mahajan s/o Rakesh Kumar Gupta hailing from town of Jammu. I have got 213 rank in UPSC 2016 in my 4th attempt. I have done graduation in B.Tech. in ECE from Jawahar Lal technological university Hyderabad. I got campus placement in Microsoft , ECE Telecom and Cognizant as well. I however did not join any of these as I was motivated to expand my dads business. Though within a year i realised i have to give back to the society and work for my country. That time i set my goal onUPSC.  I was not aware of what to read and what not. I just packed my bags and left for Delhi. I joined some institute and after 2 months I realised it was mere waste of time to sit in class. Moreover the only thing coaching helped me was in proper guidance. As my mother says- kismat se zyada aur samay se pehle kuch ni milta.

I cleared prelims in all my 4 attempts.  I scored 560 marks in 1st Mains ( cut off was 564); did not qualify Hindi compulsory paper in 2nd mains; and in 3 rd got 865 when 877 was final cutoff for general category. This year my luck happened to be my side with my hard work and I have scored final marks of 1021 marks.
This exam actually needs 10000 hours of your life (roughly 416 days scattered over 3 years). Now the first hour of  10000 hours of your preparation decides what attempt it would be. Some start from college, some after college etc but this exam needs minimum 3 years so don’t be disheartened if you don’t succeed in 1st or 2nd attempt and so on. Just work hard consistently and leave rest to the god. God helps those who help themselves.
I plan to share my strategy so that many like me who belong to business family or have no one to guide can save their time a lot.
This year (CSE 2016) I have scored 441 in general studies and I am expecting around 140 to 145 in prelims.  So  I would love to share my books list.
  • I have been an ardent follower of Insights for the essays and the mains everyday questions.
  • I read two newspapers with complete Hindu and only editorials of India Express ( don’t give more than 2 hours to it as i have seen people reading it for 4-5 hours which is unnecessary)

  1. Laxmikant for polity ( read and understand every line of laxmikant) 

  1. History – ncert plus spectrum. ( read every line of spectrum).
  2. Economics sri ram book with use of internet for specific terminology.( investopedia website)
  3. Geography- 11 and 12 th ncert. ( new plus old one) 
  4. Ancient history and medieval history- ncert 11th old ones.
  5. Hindu plus indian express( dont waste more than 2 hours)
  6. Environment- shankar ias
  7. Art and culture- nitin singhanias book plus ncert of art 11th class
  8. Science 11 th and 12 th ncerts ( read them only if you have got time to read or your basic concepts are not strong enough)

I have tried to recall all the books which I found useful. Other books include GC Leong, governance in India by Laxmikant, 11th class old biology includes some topics for environment.

These days I have seen newspaper classes emerging or current affairs classes emerging. Please read newspaper yourself and supplement it with INSIGHTS daily current affairs. Solve Insights test series papers regularly.

Tip– try to solve more than 80-85 questions in prelims. Now one thing will come to your mind that how to do it if you don’t know these many. 50-55 questions you can do in 1st reading if you have read the books. For next questions use elimination strategy where by neglect those options which you are sure of that they will never be correct. Because even if 3 out of 4 questions you attempted of which you are not sure goes wrong, one correct out of 4 will cancel the negatives so you don’t lose anything.


Coming to Mains, the preparation for is UPSC Mains is multi-pronged as you are preparing for mains when you are reading newspapers in addition to reading textbooks .  My marks increased in almost all GS papers this year ( 408 total in 2015 mains to 442 this year). I followed same answer writing style but enriched them with diagrams wherever needed. 

Genera Studies 1 ( I scored 123 marks this year and 110 last year)

Starting with history portion– read Bipin Chandra both books ( before and since). Since Independence book has to be read selectively neglecting the unnecessary chapters. For world history I read vision IAS notes supplemented with Baliyan world history optional class notes. I read old NCERT of world history but I did not like it much from exams point of view. Art and culture I did from Niting Sighania’s and TATA McGraw hill book.

Geography portion– I had optional geography so it wasn’t much of a deal for me. But follow NCERT 11 and 12th along with GC Leong.

Society part is generic one which we read in  newspapers and if you have time then 11th class ncert sociology book should be read as it contains few good topics.

General studies 2 ( I scored 97 this year and 90 last year)
 Truth be told I read all the static parts mentioned in syllabus either through vision notes or searched them online for better and unique notes. In addition, 11th class NCERT book regarding Constitution and People has to be read for easy and crisp topics.
But for current topics insights is the best where by I did the daily question answers though i did not post them. In the end I downloaded compilation and revised the whole answers few days before exams. These last minute revisions helped me a lot when many important points got stuck in my head and I could reproduce the same in the main exam.
General Studies 3 ( got 116 this year and 104 last year)
Here also I read all static parts from vision  and internet. Moreover few chapters of Dutt and Sundaram related to agriculture, food security etc. 
Current affairs will  be helped only by Insights again. Daily current affairs and daily question answers helped me a lot. Practice them and read compilation before the final exams. It will help like anything.
General Studies 4 ( 105 this year and 104 last year)
This is a general paper. It doesn’t need any preparation through books. You have to use your own views regarding it. But the static part like definitions etc have to be read from somewhere. I followed Psychology 12 th NCERT last few chapters. This book is superb. Please just follow it and make notes out of it.
I followed few vision documents as well. 
Case study – use your own awareness level and how the situation should be solved.
I didn’t use even the words like deontology, consequentialism etc in case studies. Many people do.
Essay- ( 134 this year and 100 last year)
Few tips which I followed.
  • Didn’t use quotes in last para.
  • I prefer beginning essay with a case study.
  • Use quotes like 6-7 in single essay.
  • Prepare proper structure and then write.
  • Try to cover all aspects with examples. 
I am indebted to Insights for improving my score from 100 to 134 this year. There are like more than 150 topics in essays till day available on insights. What I did was I used to write structure for one essay daily and then see what others posted on insights on India and modify my structure as such. I used to give almost half an hour for this thing.  Every Sunday i would write two essays and then modify them also as per other people essays. One day before essay exam I had almost structure of 93 essays plus 24 whole essays. These were seen by me and one essay in exam was similar to what i revised previous night.
I am extremely happy that i followed insights for essays.
 Few tips for mains- 
Answer writing is very important. Completion plus quality both has to be maintained. 
I would start my answers with introduction along with definition of the topic which is mentioned in question. Then main body in points form, followed by positives and negatives. Concluding with how to correct the problem. This can be followed for most questions.
This year I drew diagrams, Indian maps also wherever possible eg- landslides, Indus river, Stupa, west Africa region etc.
Also use black pen for underlining the important lines.
Optional geography. ( Paper 1 – 144 and Paper – 2 – 145)
Choosing an optional is the most important decision. Whatever subject you are comfortable should be taken up. The optional can either make or break you.
Out of last 3 attempts geography was the reason why I couldn’t be in final list. This year marks increased from 190 last year to 289 this year.
Book list
I took coaching of geography from Neetu Singh ma’am. These class notes were my base. Her writing style is very professional and impressive. I crammed them so that they could be reproduced easily. These were added with  additions from Alok Ranjan’s physical geography class notes, Shabbhir sir class notes of human geography. 
I read Savindra Singh geomorphology, climatology, oceanography, environment geography. It will be best if you follow these books differently rather than using physical geography by Savindra Singh. 
For regional geography there is one small booklet of SSS by ensemble.
Then I read Majid Hussain’s human geography ( only selective topics).
For paper 2 Khullar is an amazing book. I used Majid Hussain Indian geography for few selective topics.
Answer writing- I drew diagram, flowchart, Indian map, world map, state specific map etc in almost every question. Minimum two for one question. I maintained separate booklet for above and used internet extensively for the unique diagrams. 
Tip for paper 2-  use geographers names , theories etc in paper 2.  It gives some sort of professional answers.
I have scored less marks both times. 158 by Chattar Singh sir in 2015 and 157 by Joshi sir in 2016. 
Be original there and don’t fake yourself. If you are lucky you may get good marks. Don’t depend much on interview. Give your best shot in mains.
Be consistent with your preparation and keep on doing hard work. God will give the best results when its right time.UPSC demand aspirant to not lose hope and be consistent in preparation. I hope all of those  hardworking preparing for this exam should clear the exam with flying colours. All the best and get qualified to serve our great nation.