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Hi all! I’m Saumya Sharma, and I have secured AIR 9 in UPSC CSE 2017 in my very first attempt at the age of 23 (I was 22 when I wrote the exam). I formally started my UPSC preparation on 19 February 2017, four months before the prelims, when I was in my final semester at National Law University, Delhi. My optional was law, for which I started preparing only after writing prelims. I did not take any coaching, but I joined many many test series.

My success in this examination was not as breezy as the above paragraph may make it appear to be. During the mains examination week, I was down with viral fever. My fever was not subsiding below 102, at times touching 103. I was lucky enough to have doctors for parents who ensured I got saline drip infusion thrice a day, including in the lunch break between the papers. I remember almost blacking out during the GS2 paper, and I had to quickly eat a chocolate to get the energy required to continue writing my answers somehow. Another thing: When I was 16 years of age, I suddenly, and for causes that still remain undiagnosed, lost my hearing severely. It was extremely difficult in the initial years to cope up with the loss of one of my senses. Eventually, I accepted it and since then have been comfortable with wearing my hearing aids which allow me to hear properly.


I will be sharing my strategy for prelims today through this post. But before I do so, I want to share a few facts with you. This will ensure I do not end up misguiding anyone: (my humble apologies if this sounds like a tell-all, I just want to ensure no one gets the impression that it is easy to prepare from scratch in that short of a time)

  1. When I learned to read at the age of 3, newspapers were one of the first things I picked up to help me with my alphabets. So reading multiple newspapers for this exam came naturally to me. (
  2. I believe I had a strong base for GS papers. Reason being when I started studying history and geography, I could recall having studied all that in school.
  3. Preparing for optional post prelims was easy for me as I had studied law sincerely for over 5 years in my university. If not for my University education, the expansive syllabus of law optional could not have been covered in about 1.5 months.
  4. My graduation in law skilled me with reading everything very thoroughly. This helped immensely with prelims, as extremely specific questions are asked in prelims.
  5. I have a decent reading speed. This helped as I did not have a lot of time with me.
  6. I had cracked campus placement interviews, and that helped me a lot with my UPSC interview.


Now that my position when I started preparing is clear, I will tell you about my prelims strategy.


For General Studies, I started by studying all the standard textbooks-

  • Ancient History: Old NCERT by RS Sharma, New NCERTs
  • Medieval History: 7th class NCERT, selected chapters from Old NCERT
  • Modern History: Spectrum, Old NCERT by Bipan Chandra, India After Gandhi (had read the last one years ago)
  • Art and Culture: CCRT, NCERT 11th class book on Art, NIOS
  • Geography: Goh Cheh Leong, NCERTs, Oxford India Atlas
  • Polity: Laxmikant, DD Basu (selected chapters), Our Parliament (selected chapters)
  • Environment: Shankar’s; Down to Earth magazine
  • Economy: Mrunal’s videos, Sriram IAS material
  • Science and Tech: Arihant
  • Current Affairs: The Hindu, Insights Daily Current Affairs, Vision monthly magazine


First I covered the static part by reading the books, making my own notes where necessary. Once that was done, I joined Insights Online Test Series. I started giving tests on a biweekly basis. The test series is actually really good, the questions are very similar in their nature to the ones asked in UPSC exam. One should make full use of the test series, read the solutions properly. Don’t hesitate to google something you feel you have not fully understood. Most importantly, revise. Revision is an extremely important part of the preparation, otherwise inside the exam hall your mind will just go blank. I used highlighters of different colours to mark out things depending on the level of revision required for them.


Now, CSAT. Please do not take CSAT lightly. My father helped me a lot with CSAT preparation. My advice would be to buy CSAT books meant for SSC or BANK PO examinations. I did that, and it did help as questions in UPSC were very similar to the ones I had solved from these books.


Time management is most important. My approach was to focus on one subject at a time and move on the next only after I was sure about the first one. This allowed me to set targets to finish subjects, and that gave me a lot of control over my preparation. Another thing, time management is also very important in the examination hall. To master that, you need to give multiple tests in a controlled environment. Insights online test series allows you to do that, so solve those tests sincerely.


Lastly, never stop believing in yourself. The only obstacle is a negative attitude. Remain positive, remain honest with yourself and your preparation. Take out time to do things you love, but never forget the target before you. Every second matters, so go ahead, seize the moment! Wish you all beautiful people all the very best in your endeavours!


PS: here’s the link to my blog post I wrote after I fell sick during mains, in case someone is interested-