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Topper’s Strategy: Rahul Sankanur, Rank 17 – Insights Core Batch and Mains Test Series Student – Highest Score in Ethics paper (119)


Topper’s Strategy

Rahul Sankanur, Rank 17 CSE-2018

 Insights Core Batch and Mains Test Series Student 

Highest Score in Ethics paper (119)


Rahul S IAS Topper rank 17 karnataka ScoreSheet
      Rahul IAS with his Grandparents 🙂


Hello Everyone,

I am Rahul Sankanur. I have secured AIR 17 in UPSC CSE 18. MY optional is Anthropology.


About Myself

My father S.V.Sankanur is a retired Govt servant and my mother Savita Sankanur is a Home Maker. I hail from Hubli town of Karnataka. Due to the transferrable nature of my father’s job, I did my schooling in Hidkal of Belagavi district , Khanapur town and in Mysuru. Later, I did my Engineering in R.V. College, Bangalore. I also worked for 2 years in an IT company after which I decided to pursue studying for CSE.

Unlike most of the aspirants who have an IAS/IPS officer( or an incident) that inspired them, I had none. Factors such as simplicity of my father, secular and egalitarian outlook of my mother and overall family’s service orientation influenced me to aspire for a life based on public welfare. Also, my stay in Sri Ramakrishna Vidyashala, Mysuru and subsequent study of Swami Vivekananda literature further strengthened the resolve for public service.

 Though I wanted to do public service, I wasn’t sure how exactly it is to be done. Various options were available like joining NGO while I work in Private, CSE etc. It was only during my 3rd year of Engineering that I started thinking seriously about CSE. After graduation, the job I got was interesting. But I soon realized that I could not dedicate time to pursue my passion. Therefore I quit my job and started full time preparation for CSE.


My CSE Journey

CSE-’15 – Prelims – Mains – Personality Test – NOT IN FINAL LIST

CSE-’16 – Prelims – Mains – Personality Test – NOT IN FINAL LIST

CSE-’17 – Prelims – Mains – DIDN’T CLEAR MAINS

Got a gap of 4 months till CSE-’18

CSE-’18 – Prelims – Mains – Personality Test – All India Rank  – 17th


What went Wrong in Previous attempt?

Every success story is a story of great failures. I believe I am a good example for it. Let me dwell on the mistakes I did in my CSE journey:

Mistakes in MAINS: I had a lackadaisical approach towards answers writing and always felt I could ‘manage’ it in exams(which I never could). My writing speed was slow and handwriting was really bad(especially towards the end of paper). In Mains,the content and quality of last 4-5 answers in every paper was very bad due to bad time management.

Mistakes in PERSONALITY TEST : I followed the same strategy that I followed for Mains. I would only read current affairs magazines instead of forming my own opinion on various issues.

Though it may sound silly, another problem I faced was that, I was quite hesitant to speak in front of elders. This affected me in answering in front of panel members in Personality Test. I would not express myself openly and would give single sentence answers. This led to average scores in Personality test.


What went Right in this attempt?

In previous attempts, I was in the cycle of going through Prelims-mains-Personality Test and Failure. Therefore, I didn’t get time to improvise on the mistakes I committed. In third attempt when I didn’t get through Mains, I knew I had around 4 months time till next prelims and I had to make best use of it. The following conversation with my college friend was an eye opener.

Friend: Hey Rahul, 2 interviews and 3 mains, yet you aren’t getting into the list. What’s going wrong?

Myself: I have no idea buddy. I think I am doing everything but things are not falling in place.

Friend: okay. Let me ask you something. Tell me what is stupidity ?

Myself: !!!!!!.

Friend: Stupidity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different result.


Somehow , this statement stuck a chord. All previous attempts, I was following the same approach and was expecting that I succeed , which didn’t happen. As I had decided this would be my last attempt, I though of doing things a bit differently.   

I knew my weakness was answer writing (including handwriting). I was confident that I can manage Prelims so I took the risk of allocating only 30-35 days for Prelims.

I joined Insights test series(between Feb and Apr – 2018 – Core Batch Tests). Though the papers weren’t evaluated (it was a free of cost test series), discussion after writing test helped. I had also realised that my optional score in previous attempts were above average . So I did some value addition in time available to get few more marks.

Once Prelims was over, I joined Insights Mains Test series. Slowly, I started getting good scores in Insights tests which were evaluated on time – which boosted my confidence. Also, I tried to improve my handwriting. On those days when there was no tests, I would write 1-2 static answers from IASBaba website. This exercise enabled me to practice writing and since I wrote few questions, it didn’t consume lot of time.

For optional subject, I spent very less time. I didn’t join test series nor did I do any value addition post prelims. I was confident that with improvement in writing speed, I will get additional 10-20 marks (which I subsequently got).

Once I cleared Mains exam , I again wanted to change strategy for Personality test preparation . I used to spend 75-85 days for Personality test preparation in previous attempts. This time, I travelled to different places (my hobby) and spent more time with my friends. This exercise helped in becoming more composed. Also, as I spent less time in discussions with others aspirants, the ‘INTERVIEW HEAT’ didn’t affect me lot.



CSE is not a test of our intellectual ability , but a test of one’s personality. The pressures from outside is immense. To succeed, one ought to be patient and persistent and this can be achieved if one understands oneself. For instance, spending time with friends , listening to music acted as a stress buster for me . So I made it a point to have them in my routine each day.

     What I want to convey is that , each one of us has to make our own strategy based on our personality. Something(like studying in night) may work for some but may not work for others.


 Some lessons I learnt which I would like to convey:

    1. When you begin preparation, give greatest importance to understanding basics. Initially, you may not understand current affairs as your basics won’t be strong. I know of candidates who would discuss and debate on GST but didn’t know the difference between Direct and Indirect Tax. These candidates didn’t fare well.
    2. At least for the first 3-4 months into preparation, don’t attempt answer writing. Later , you can slowly start with simple conventional questions (for eg: difference between Parliamentary and Presidential form of Government )and later , questions based on current affairs.
    3. Without any inhibition, ask lots and lots of questions.
    4. This CSE journey is going to be a challenging journey. It will have its highs and lows. People will doubt your abilities. But always have your goal motivate you. Also, this journey will enable you to make great friends. You will be amazed with the dedication and hard work which you will be putting in the time to come.
    1. I can feel the pain, helplessness and frustration that is you are It is indeed tough. For me, music , spirituality, meditation, reading Swami Vivekananda literature helped. Try to identify what may help you to stay focused and positive.
    2. There should be some reasons for which you have not been able to get into the list. It may be clarity in basics, low scores in essays, answer writing or inability to express in Personality test. You need to first identify it. You may take the help of your friends, seniors or other support staff to identify it.
    3. Be open to inputs from everyone, even if coming from a person who is not doing CSE preparation. Let your ‘Seniority’ in CSE preparation not block the knowledge inflow.
    1. Paper-1 broadly has Conventional static questions and Current Affairs questions. There is a trend wherein aspirants give lot of importance to Current affairs. But if we see Prelims paper, UPSC is asking such current affairs questions which aren’t mentioned in most of Current affairs magazines. Therefore, one should give equal importance to Static questions. As we have the books from which these static question come, we should aim to make no mistakes in static questions.
    2. Generally, when we write mock tests, we tend to look only at our marks and our relative performance. Mocks will be more effective if we analyse the mistakes committed and identify why we made mistake . Was the mistake committed due to carelessness in reading or was in due to lack of understanding etc.
    3. Generally, we tend to read those subjects in which we are already good at :). it is here that we need to really identify our weaknesses and give more importance to them.
    4. Mantra to clear Prelims:-”Concept Clarity,Limited Sources,MULTIPLE REVISIONS”.

  1. MAINS:
    1. Here again, identifying our mistakes is the key. For some it may be answer writing, for some it may be basics. Some may have issue with optionals and essays.
    2. Present trend in GS is that the UPSC is asking very generic questions. When such questions are asked, we tend to give generic answers leading to average marks. It is here that we need to become creative and mention interesting examples, facts, figures to get those extra 1-2 marks.
    3. Let the answer structure be as simple as possible. You may follow the below mentioned structure:
      1. Introduction consisting of Definition/Interesting fact/Present Context
      2. Main body wherein you may write in points format. If sub-questions are asked, answer them separately.
  • Conclusion may be some recommendations/some emulative models etc.
  1. GS-4 (Ethics Paper): Let your answers be written in Indian context i.e. try to have more Indian examples, Indian thinkers etc. Also, it is recommended to give day-to-day examples for ethics answers. It will convey a message to evaluator that the aspirant has understood the question.Rahul S IAS Topper rank 17 karnataka ScoreSheet5. PERSONALITY TEST
    1. It took me 2 summons to UPSC Bhavan to realise that its not an Interview but Personality Test. What they are looking for is not a candidate who is perfect in facts but a honest and compassionate aspirant.
    2. The biggest issue you will face is not ‘knowledge deficit’ but concerns such as ‘lack of confidence, panic’.
    3. It is better to introspect on one’s personality, one’s strengths and weaknesses than spend time mugging up facts. if one is composed in front of the panel, decent marks can be obtained.



I would like to thank Pruthvik Shankar(IPS-2017 Batch – Insights Core Batch student) who guided me in the course of preparation. His guidance in answer writing helped me get good marks. Also, his energy and humility was and is ever inspiring.

My friends played a great part in securing this rank. Mention should be made of Rajavardhan K, Praveen, Naveen Kumar, Madhu, Prateek and many more who had faith in me when I doubted myself the most.

I would like to end with some Swami Vivekananda’s quotes which guided me in my preparation.


-The greatest sin is to think that your are weak.

-Conquer yourself and the whole universe is yours.

-Arise,Awake and stop not until the goal is achieved.