Comprehensive guidance from Abhishek Agrawal – Rank 27 – IFoS

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Hola amigos !!!
We hope you are keeping yourself mentally and physically safe in these trying times. Today we bring you the experience of Abhishek Agrawal – Rank 27 – IFoS 2019. In this article he shares his strategy for every stage of the IFoS examination and was gracious enough to answer all the questions we threw at him. Here is a shout out to Abhishek for being a sport. We thank you Abhishek from our heart.

Here is his strategy



Hi i am Abhishek Agrawal. I was born in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. I am 26 years old. I had done my scholling from Raipur itself and did my undergraduation at IIT roorkee with CGPA of 9.21/10. This was my second attempt at Indian forest examination with Optionals Civil Engineering and Forestry.

Strategy and booklist for Preliminary examination

Q. Since you cleared IFoS, you would have pretty good marks in Prelims. Please mention your strategy and books/notes did you referred to for General Studies and CSAT?

A. Following is my strategy and booklist for GS/GK


History AncientOld NCERT by RS Sharma {prepared from mains point of view}
History MedievalNo Separate preparation, Test papers only
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)Spectrum [Read cover to cover]. Tables at the end are useful.
CultureIndian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania selective reading e.g. Cave architecture, Stupa, Temple, Painting and Music
A lot of part got covered with the Ancient History by reading old NCERT.
Polity (static + current affairs)Laxmi Kant for the static. Yearly current affairs compilation for Current.
Economy (static + current affairs)Indian Economy by Sanjiv Verma (Can be skipped if person has a background in economics)
Macroeconomics Class 12 NCERT = Selective reading
Mrunal Lecture Series on EconomyIndian Express Explained Section
Read Economy sections from monthly compilation of Vision IAS
Science (static + current affairs)Static = Did not prepare separately
Current Affairs = Read 2 compilations, instead of depth focus on coverage, most questions could be solved by word associations
Environment (static + current affairs)Shankar IAS book, NCERT Biology 4 Chapters for static
Vision PT 365 + Insights Revision Module
Since the topic is very broad, solved as many sectional/subject test papers of different institutes
Geography(Physical + Indian+ World)NCERT Class 11-12
Physical Geography = G C Leong
Indian Geography = Mahesh Kumar Barnwal
World Geography = Mostly Map based on current affairs
Current affairsVision PT 365

Following is my strategy and booklist for CSAT (strategy and books)

STRATEGY: I had done no Special preparation for this section. But i did solve the previous years papers for last 3 years to get enough practice.

Q: Which test series did you join? How helpful do you things such test series are?

A: For sectional tests, one test series is sufficient. Full tests should be taken as many as possible.

I believe Test series are beneficial for testing subjects like Science, Environment, Art and culture, World Geography. It ensures that preparation is well laid out. At times, one can find same/similar questions in the exam too!

 E.g. Forum IAS Simulator 6, Qno 86 Set A “Right to choose a life partner in India is a ______ Right?
UPSC CSE 2019 Prelims Qno 56 Set “ Which Article safeguards ones right to marry a person of one’s choice?”

Q: How Many questions did you attempt in GS? How many did you get right?

A: I attempted 83 questions.

Q.What do you think is the optimal number of questions to attempt in prelims? Do you advise accuracy or maximum attempts?

A.Higher the attempt, better are the chances. One must try to find an optimum number for themselves.

Q: If you had to prepare again would you change your strategy in any way?

A: I would have tried to be regular with newspaper. I would have prepared topics like Reports and Organizations, Basic Economic Statistics like Export Import Trend, Crop Production by states etc.

Q:If this wasn’t your first attempt what mistakes you think you made in the previous attempt in prelims?

A: Preparation was focused more on certain topics for e.g. National movement part in Modern History or Climate in Physical Geography. Also, I had given more time to current affairs and neglected Static portion.


Q: How did you prepare GS/GK?

A: The preparation of GS for CSE Mains was sufficient. I did Additional reading on Medieval India and of Science

Q: How did you prepare English?

A: Attempted Previous Year Papers.

Q: How did you cover Current Affairs for Mains?

A: Read PT 365 compilation of CSE. (Current affairs questions are limited in IFoS GK paper).

Q: What’s your optional subjects and why?

A: Civil Engineering – I choose this subject as I had done Bachelors degree in it.
Forestry – Since Material is easily available it was a no brainer.

Q: Please share your strategy and booklist for each of the optional?


STRATEGY: As Civil Engineering has a vast syllabus, I focused on topics based on their weightage. I focused more on topics like Solid Mechanics/Soil Mechanics/ Fluid Mechanics/Transportation as they are formula based hence better scoring. I also solved past 7 years’ papers.

BOOKLIST: Study material of IES Master (Selectively).

Optional 2: FORESTRY

STRATEGY: Due to paucity of time, I focused more on easier topics like Agroforestry and JFM. Many topics like forest surveying, forest engineering/bridges, etc. overlapped with the other optional so I didn’t focus much on them.

For Forest Management, I read standard textbook. But for technical topics like Silviculture and Tree improvement, the preparation was based on Previous Year Questions [Questions are often repeated from past years].

BOOKLIST: Forestry by Manikandan, Forest Management by Prakash Ram, For Environment part Shankar IAS book. Aishwarya Raj’s Short notes for Revision.

Q: Did you join any classes for your mains preparation. If yes, then how useful did you find them?

A: Evolution’s Distance learning for Forestry. It wasn’t of much use.

Q : How important is answer writing? What was your style of answer writing?

A: Answer writing is important to present content as per the word limit. I wrote very short sentences in bullet points to cover more content. Drew flow chart wherever possible.

In forestry papers, I drew some simple diagrams/schematics wherever I could. Gave examples of trees even when not asked explicitly.

Q: How many questions did you attempt? What strategy did you follow for mains examination in the examination hall?

A: I don’t remember the count, but I left 4 questions completely blank [ not advisable] and 2-3 were namesake. Rest, I attempted to the best of my knowledge.

Q: If you had to prepare again would you change your strategy in any way?

A:I would have given more time to GK. For Forestry, I would have focused more on Paper 1 especially the silvicultural part and Tree species. For Civil Engineering, I would have practiced small topics like Engineering Mechanics/Hydrology/CPM, a little more.

Q: If this wasn’t your first attempt what mistakes you think you made in the previous attempt in mains?

A: It was my first Mains Attempt.


Q: How did you prepare for the interview? Did you attend any mocks?

A:Previous years transcript, Shankar IAS book on environment and Local/State information. For environmental issues, referred Newspapers.
Yes, I attended mocks including one at Forum IAS.

Q: Which Interview Board did you face?

A: Shri Bharat Bhushan Vyas, IAS (J&K 1986) (Retd.)

Q: Please share your entire interview like what was asked and what was your reply? Were you able to answer all the questions?

A: They covered everything under the sun, from CPEC to Diphtheria. Besides, standard questions on ISFR 2019 were asked. Also, opinion-based questions on issues like Electoral bond were asked.

Q: Do you thing marks in school or college and the job experience can impact one’s score in the Interview?

A: Depends on the interviewer .

Q: How was the interview experience? Was it predictable? How much did your preparation help?

A: It was hardly predictable. The dedicated preparation for interview was not of much help but the Prelims and Mains preparation got me through. Less than 25% questions were related to Forest/Environment. Mostly, General Awareness and Opinion based questions were asked.

Miscellaneous questions

Q:How much internet did you use for your preparation? How much value did it add?

A:I used it as per the need. Besides, current affairs, it proved helpful in preparing for forestry (there are good websites e.g. TNAU). Also, interview transcripts of previous years are available on  Forum IAS.

Q: Did you make notes? Why yes or no? Did you find them any useful (if you made them).

A: Notes are more beneficial in mains preparation. One should invest time in preparing them.
Being from Engineering background, I was not habituated in making notes of theoretical subjects.

I instead used highlighter and pen liberally on the standard textbooks like Laxmi Kant, Spectrum, Manikandan, test papers and compilations. I also used toppers revision notes e.g. Kanishka Kataria’s notes for Art/Culture and Aishwarya Raj’s for Forestry.

Q: What do you think is the most essential quality/qualities needed to clear this exam?

A: Perseverance and Faith.

Q: Did you join any offline and/or online coaching? What relevance do you find of coaching in preparation of this exam?

A: For Forestry, I did join Evolution’s online classes. It was not of much help and I relied on self-study more.

Q: If not an IFos Officer, what career option you would have chosen for you? (Basically why this service)

A:I would have again appeared for civil services next year.

Q:What role did Forumias play in your preparation?

A: I had referred to Forum IAS Simulator during prelims preparation and joined the interview program.

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