Utkarsh Gupta, Rank 78, CSE 2016
I will start with two meta-things that I strongly believe:
- Everyone should give this exam, irrespective of whether one has an inclination to join or not or whether you get through or not. The exam in itself is a journey worth undertaking, it not only makes you wiser and smarter but also a better human being who knows about what is going on in the world.
- Second thing is that you should have a upper limit on number of attempts(and years) you are going to spend on this exam. (For me it was 1, I was lucky to get through J), otherwise UPSC CSE is a chakravyuh with an easy entry but a difficult exit. To this effect always have a plan B. Just to answer the pertinent question, “what happens if I don’t get through”.
As for my strategy, I would not recommend anyone to follow it as it was not at all structured and was haphazard. I did not take any offline coaching for General Studies, I did take some help for Sociology (Upendra sir and NICE IAS test series). Also, for the current affairs, since I was too lazy to make notes out of the newspapers I took some help.
This may surprise many but I never read the Laxmikant or the Ramesh Singh or even the Nitin Singhania.
I relied heavily on NCERTs and that was about it. I won’t mention the detailed book list as many seniors and batch mates have penned down their book lists and that should be enough.
Also, I think a critical thing for Prelims is writing a lot of mock tests. I had joined Insights Test series and I made sure that I did that two or three times before I went in the actual exam. I didn’t bother about completing the syllabus for each test, as I was late in joining (I started around February or March 2016) but I wrote each and every test.
The things I didn’t know in the second round, I wrote them on a piece of paper and kept them for revision in the last week. This meant that I had around 50 pages of stuff that I constantly revised.
I feel prelims is the most dicey part of the entire process given its unpredictability. If I were to prepare from scratch I would blindly follow the Insights timetable – which also has the mains part integrated into it. I would also make sure that I read the “standard books” (selectively) as some questions do come out of these. Insights Prelims Test Series is superb and I would highly recommend it. If you think you need more practice then go for any other test series.
One more thing I would like to say here is, I made the mistake of not writing more than three or four answers before going into the mains. GS 1 was the first time I wrote 20 answers :). This time I had resolved that I would not repeat the mistake.
For mains, especially GS 2 and GS 3 I did mainly current affairs. I joined online classes of Chokkalingam sir, he covered most part of GS 2 and GS 3 current affairs for one year. However UPSC being UPSC asked topics which were from two to three years ago like the question on National Child Policy in GS 2.
For GS 1, I relied heavily again on Insights Mains test series, though I didn’t write any answers but 2 questions (there were more, but I remember only 2) I distinctly remember were out of the test series, one on the role of women in the freedom struggle (it was in the form of a mind map) and the other was on the comparison between Gandhi ji and Subash Chandra Bose. I read the test series like a book, which I think was one of my major mistakes and I think I could have done much better if I would have been a bit more serious.
For my optional, Sociology, I think I needed coaching because I didn’t know how to tame the beast and I think, till now I haven’t been able to do so. Sociology for me was a very interesting subject and like in other areas of my preparation, I didn’t touch “standard books” or followed the “best practices”. I haven’t yet opened my copy of Harlambos!
I think interview is the most interesting part of the entire process, wherein I believe that you explore who and what you are. You end up answering questions which you always ran away from! I strongly believe that interview is about being cool, calm and composed, and just making conversation with 5 people who are double our age and giving them the respect that they demand. I strongly recommend http://ianugrah.com/ for anyone who is looking for guidance in filling DAF/ interview preparation. This comprises of the former CBDT, CBEC chairmen and former Telecom Secretary. They do this without any fee for people from a humble background and also help them in all ways possible.
Role of Insights
Insights has been an integral part of the journey for me, I truly respect the role Insights is playing. Especially for working candidates like me, the daily current affairs, the secure questions and the daily editorial have been a life saver. They give us a fair idea as to what part to focus on and what to ignore. Thanks Insights!
My two cents on this very long post:
UPSC CSE is an exam, treat it like one. It just demands a bit of respect and nothing else. Once you do this, I think half the battle is won. Also, last thing that I would like to mention is that have a balanced approach, do everything, hang out with friends, go for a movie, have a good cup of coffee, play an instrument, watch TV shows, do whatever you like, it is really important to not let the exam bog you down.
May the force be with you! Have fun!
Here is my marks sheet: