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TOPPER’S STRATEGY: Rishita Gupta AIR 18, CSE- 2018 – The UPSC CSE is not just an examination; it’s a process (InsightsIAS Online Prelims + Mains Test Series Student)



The UPSC CSE is not just an examination; it’s a process

Rishita Gupta AIR 18, CSE- 2018 

Rishita Gupta IAS rank 18 upsc

The UPSC CSE is not just an examination; it’s a process. A process which is enriching, which requires optimum endurance, and which could refine your personality in a way you could never think of.

I ventured into the process in 2015. That was the year when I thought I should be writing this exam. And before I tell you my trials with this exam, I want to first share some background information about myself.

I’m Rishita Gupta, born and brought up in Delhi. I did my class 12 with one of the most dreaded combination of physics, chemistry, biology and maths. I wanted to pursue medicine and become a doctor. However, the fate always has something else in store for us. Circumstantially, I ended up doing English literature in my under graduation. It was through days, months and nearly an year later I decided to go for civil service as a career option.

So why did I bother you about my past information? Only to drive home the fact that life brings more uncertainty than any prelims question of UPSC can. So, don’t be bogged down by who you are, where you’re coming from, what you do or don’t do. If you’re willing to COMMIT YOURSELF to this gruelling preparation, trust me you’ll emerge victorious (even if you fail in an attempt or so).

Some heavy words I’ll be sharing with you. If you get time, do go into their gravity. In my opinion, these words are sufficient to define success. These are


I know, each one of you is well versed with them. The moment you actually understand their application in your life, you’d experience MAGIC.

First of all, I did give a long duration and commitment to this exam. I took coaching, prepared notes, gave test series, revised. So, anything which everyone does for this exam, I tried doing that. Some of the factors which I believe have been critical for me are-

  1. DETACHMENT FROM RESULTS- I was only invested in the task at hand. I tried not involving myself at emotional level to this exam. I studied, understood, revised and practiced. “Nishkaam karma” was probably the only mantra I followed through all these years
  2. TREATING FIRST ATTEMPT AS THE LAST- I was sure of not appearing again for the exam. I ensured to do every single thing which I thought I would do in case I appear for fourth attempt. I revised things for more than 20 times, I wrote many answers, I worked on my confidence skills, I didn’t underestimate importance of any stage/exam etc. I actually used to make list of mistakes which people could commit in initial years and I tried not to do them.
  3. STRATEGIC PREPARATION- I read a book named, “Great by Choice”. Through this book, I realised importance of luck. Luck, for sure in an inevitable factor in various outcomes, nonetheless a strategic preparation can always reduce the role played by luck. At the end of the day, all what matters is how we channelize the limited resources, energy and time towards our goals. (I personally recommend reading of this book, which has empirical details of how strategy triumphs over luck).
  4. LIMITED RESOURCES, MULTIPLE REVISIONS- I think this has become the most critical factor which is being reiterated by several selected aspirants.
  5. FOCUS ON CONCEPTUAL CLARITY- you can’t prepare for 100 questions of prelims even if you solve thousands, until and unless your basic concepts are right. This year there was a question on relation between law and liberty. It didn’t take me even a while to mark it right. Why? Am I an expert on law? NO. It was only because, I have always focussed on concepts. You can memorise anything, if your fundamentals are right. Build patterns, decode hidden interlinkages, establish concepts; that’s what this exam aims at assessing.
  6. NOT FALLING FOR RUMOURS- Public administration is one of the most bashed subjects. I still took it. People advise for study group; I don’t have even a single friend in this field. Don’t pay heed to rumours. Do what your heart says, and do a complete justice to it. That’s it
  7. INTEGRATED PREPARATION- have a comprehensive plan for not only three stages of exam, but also with the kind of service you are aspiring for. UPSC wants enthusiastic youths, who could use their intellect and vision to realise the dream of NEW INDIA. Showcase the same through your answers.
  8. EFFICIENT USE OF RESOURCES- use each and every resource wisely. Take breaks, but even in those breaks, try to form vision, watch good movies, documentaries, read good books. Outsource as much as you can. If you think you can make efficient concepts from newspaper and some other source can equip you with its notes, do that.


As far as booklist is concerned, I followed the basic generic books which everyone does. Right here, I’m sharing some sources which I found extremely helpful (other than NCERTs and standard books)

  1. Vision and Insights monthly current affairs compilations
  2. Insights daily quiz, prelims test series, revision modules (for prelims)
  3. Insights mains test series
  4. Crash course channel by John Greene on YouTube (mainly for world history, ethics)
  5. A series of Harvard lectures on ethics
  6. Big Picture and Security Scan shows of RSTV
  7. 2nd ARC reports (I read all of them and made notes on it). It helped me in almost all GS papers and Public administration
  8. Yojana magazine
  9. Some books other than syllabus- The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das; Great by choice by Tim Collins, Does Elephant dance by David M Malone
  10. Pradhan Mantri series on ABVP news channel (it was my only source for India post-independence)
  11. RSTV documentaries, CNBC explains
  12. Articles of Bloomberg, Washington Post, Economist (very seldom reading and that too on topics with high relevance and International ramifications)
  13. StudyIQ videos (Only in case of difficult news events)


Some other tricks/hacks/ideas/tips/suggestions are as follows-

  1. Improving my articulation skills by discussing important things with serious relatives/friends/cousins
  2. Leveraging my graduation subject. Although I didn’t opt for English literature as my optional, yet I tried using several skills learnt. For instance, writing speed. People from any background can make a list of technical skills learnt in the past and try incorporating them.
  3. Adhering to Introduction-Body-Conclusion pattern in ALL questions. It might take time, but you can work on it in advance. I also followed more or less a standard style of answer writing. (I can make a detailed strategy for the same)
  4. Tried stimulating similar atmosphere of exam while doing test series at my home. For instance, I gave myself a five-day spree in which I wrote nine papers of mains. I did this exercise nearly fifteen days prior to actual mains. The only aim of this exercise was to make my body, mind and soul adapt to the strenuous event.
  5. Made flash cards of the most important events, incidents, news, concepts et al before prelims, mains and interview. This enabled a quick revision of everything I wanted to grasp at the last moment.
  6. Writing atleast five to ten answers per day post prelims. This is in addition to the test series.

For those who think the preparation of this exam could be very expensive, I believe, a laptop, a printer, a good internet connection could suffice. I think I need not dwell on how this minimalism works, specially after how Insights has revolutionized this preparation.


I’d conclude this article by suggesting that this exam is indeed difficult, unpredictable, challenging. An easy, certain, simple, and doable strategy would help to get through this. If you feel low, emotionally exhausted, mentally drained; then switch off the light, turn on small lamp/fairy lights/candles, play Passenger’s songs and drink coffee. The things might seem beautiful for a while, if not easy! (TRUST ME ON THE LAST SUGGESTION IF NOT THE STRATEGY :P)