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[TOPPER’S STRATEGY] Keerthana H S Rank-167: Story of Grit and Persistence – Failed in 5 Prelims, IAS in 6th Attempt.

keerthana IAS, keerthana upsc topper rank 167

Hello friends, I am Keerthana H S – I have secured AIR 167 in 2019 UPSC CSE. This was my 6th attempt, I am 30 year old and was working full time till 2018 and as a freelancer till April 2019. I would like to thank my father Shri Srinivas H T, My mother Chandramma, My brother Dev and My husband Dilip for pushing me to pursue my dream. 

Let’s just go back a couple of years. It was July of 2017. A state PSC recruitment in which I had secured a pretty good rank got entangled in courts and there was little hope for me to rely on that recruitment. I was full of regrets that I did not take UPSC seriously for all these years (2013-2017) and wasted precious 4 attempts. I blamed myself and situations for a long time. But then I realised that I need to do something about this, I need to come out of this cycle. So I decided that I will give one more serious attempt in UPSC 2018 and for that I decided to go to Delhi. But then 2 of my good friends Mrs. Reshma Shetty, Mr. Gaurav Shetty and Mr. Baswanappa Kalshetty suggested me to meet Vinay Sir of Insights and to speak to him about the attempt rather than going to Delhi all the way from here. Perhaps I should thank them because I am writing this today because I took their suggestion seriously.

So Mr. Kalshetty sir introduced me to Vinay sir and unfortunately OGP 2018 seats were all booked and Vinay sir told me that there is no availability of seats. I still remember my reply “Sir you just give me admission and I will definitely get a rank”. Thanks to Vinay sir that he believed in me and got me admitted to OGP 2018. His trust in me gave me courage to quit the job and focus completely on UPSC preparation. Vinay sir always had kind words for dejected candidates(coz of successive failures) like me and used to boost our confidence by highlighting our positive traits. He was always always supportive, kind, wise and encouraging. I am glad that I met Vinay sir and I am grateful.

And from there my entire preparation methodology got changed. Again, unfortunately I did not clear my 2018 Prelims and I was dejected as this was supposed to be my best attempt and yet I did not clear the very first hurdle. I felt ashamed of myself!! But my family and Vinay sir motivated me to take one more attempt as I have been trying very hard for a few years. It was Vinay sir who asked me to not have any emotional attachments with the results and to just focus on our efforts. Even though I couldn’t make it in 2018 prelims, I met some very competitive aspirants here in insights like Abhishek Gowda M J, Jayanth and Tilak H K who were extremely dedicated and focused in clearing this exam. So with them I tried to keep up the pace and finally I am here. 

Now, let me tell you guys why I failed in past 5 attempts

  1. I wanted a job also as I had to support my family and wanted to clear UPSC too. And it was difficult for me to do justice for both of them and the most affected is my UPSC prep as I could hardly give time to it. So never sail on two boats*. Especially if your job is too demanding and stressful then its better to take a break of 1 year

*But there are people who have cleared while working and that depends on job nature and one’s ability

  1. Being over confident of my ability that “I have cleared KPSC in my 1st attempt so I can do UPSC too!!”. Never be overconfident, UPSC kills your confidence!! 
  2. Doing a lot of sources and complicating my preparation. I used to do research on few topics which was completely unnecessary
  3. Giving unwarranted importance to UPSC Prelims so much so that I used to have breathing problems while entering prelims exam. 

Things that I changed in 2019

  1. I had some responsibilities as a daughter n sister and they always used to take up my mental space. This year I moved out of my house and stayed near library
  2. I had quit my full time job but I took up teaching/correction so that I am financially independent at the same time I am not getting derailed from my preparation
  3. Did NCERTS but selected topics (Whichever I felt I could not understand through standard text book)
  4. Did Insights Secure diligently almost everyday till about January of 2019- wrote about 2 answers. 
  5. Took up Insights Offline test series and wrote almost all the tests.
  6. Did Vision prelims test series apart from Insights, previous year papers and took All India Level tests by coaching institutes. It helped me in gaining confidence.
  7. Narrowed down my sources and had better clarity over WHAT NOT to do
  8. Analyzing my weakness like my inability in prelims. I realized that’s due to my nature where I can explain things, analyse concepts and have a depth in understanding and I get very confused when there are options, facts and other stats part. So I worked on taking many tests in order to address prelims fear.
  9. Stayed away from social media, friends and functions!! (It was necessary as one nears 28-29 all they could see in FB is their counterparts vacation photos, marriage pics and worst case children’s birthday celebration! Oh man, that just builds so much pressure on an aspirant that there will be an existential crisis)
  10. Kept very few people around me who could just bring positivity in me and having a study circle of 3-4.
  11. Last but not the least, I attached least importance to the Prelims results!! (its hard to believe but yeah that’s the truth. I had decided that come what may whether I clear or not clear prelims I am not going to attach my other life decisions over this and this year at least I will get married :D)

My strategy 

keerthana h s IAS, keerthana upsc topper marks

So this time I read the syllabus again and again, I was asking myself what am I reading, where can I apply this in a broader way and how can I link to other concepts. And I had divided my preparation into two parts. Static and Current affairs.

Static – More weightage to this

  1. History – NCERT, Spectrum Publications Modern India and selected topics which interest me from Bipin Chandra
  2. Polity – NCERT (Selected Topics) and Laksmikanth
  3. Geography – NCERT and G C Leong
  4. Environment – Shankar and Ministry website
  5. Economics – Mrunal sir’s videos
  6. Art n Culture – NCERT and Nithin Singhania

Current affairs

  1. Secure initiative by Insights – writing about 2-3 questions daily
  2. Monthly compilation by Insights or any coaching institute of your liking
  3. Prelims specific booklets released by any institute + 1 more
  4. Daily news analysis – I was listening to this while I was doing other work like eating, walking and did not dedicate particular time for this
  5. Newspaper – Intermittently I used to read.
  6. Economic survey

This was my source for GS till prelims. After prelims I enrolled in Insights Mains test series and went on giving mains tests irrespective of my preparation level. And after writing the test I used to come and look at the answers the very same day which helped me in retaining much information. Writing test series helped me in gaining speed and structuring the answer in a better way. Mains is all about writing and attempting as many questions as possible. So the timing and the presentation matters a lot. Also extra effort should be put in Essay and Ethics by writing as many essays and case studies as possible.

I should mention Vinay sir’s contribution in improving my essay and ethics writing skills. I have written almost all the essays of insights mains test series and got all of them evaluated by Vinay sir and he contributed a lot by providing valuable inputs every time. Be it my conveying method or the way I used to analyse Essay topics was not very easy to apprehend. Vinay sir simplified this by breaking down topics and various perspectives attached to the same topic and thus making my essay more inclusive, mature and interesting (I like to believe so!!) Also detailed analysis of my ethics answers was done and there was lots of value addition done. He specified on using as many ethical terms as possible in the answer and also to quote case studies generously. This made my general answer more of an ethics answer.

And for the interview preparation, I took Vinay sir’s help in drafting my DAF II. And I took multiple interview mocks at Insights where Vinay sir asked many questions about me and my DAF which made me have clarity in my own thoughts. Concentrating on DAF is of utmost importance as DAF is you and you need to be sure of who you are at least. 

Well I would like to speak about an important issue that many aspirants face. I have seen many people hesitating in stating the number of attempts they have made to crack this exam. Many say that they get embarrassed to admit they could not make it even after 3/4/5 attempts. But then I wear my 6th ATTEMPT as a badge because that shows my perseverance and passion towards clearing this exam. Also I would like to quote my now husband, then boyfriend’s statement that “Thumba jana thande taayandiru tamma makkalu degree pass madli saaku ankoltare, antadralli neenu degree madi, kelsa madkondu odkolta irodu thumba hemme pado vishya. Neenu yenu thappu madta illa so dhairyavagi hellu naanu ishtu varshadinda odta idini and I am proud of it(Pls type this in kannada sir,I could not do it in Nudi)”. To translate it in English, “There are many parents who would just aspire for their children to complete their graduation and you on the other hand even after completing your degree, working you are TRYING to study which is a something that you need to be proud of and you aren’t doing anything wrong so wear your attempts like a badge of your never die spirit”. 

So please feel privileged that out of million youths in India, you are one among few thousands who are AWARE of this exam and have the ability to prepare for it. Many of our counterparts are not even aware of such exams, don’t even have a choice of quitting their job, exhausted number of attempts or crossed age limit, burdened with other responsibilities, not having family support and worst case not even educated to prepare for this. Count your blessings, feel privileged that you have got an opportunity to prepare for such a nice exam which gives you a glimpse of everything under the sun, feel responsible for the last, least n the lost. And most importantly through this exam you will get lots of opportunities to make our country better and better.

All the very best.