GS Mains and Prelims Strategy by Rajarshi Raj Varma, AIR 120 (CSE 2016)

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  • Name: Rajarshi Raj Varma
  • UPSC rank(s): AIR 120 (CSE 2016); AIR 295 (CSE2014); AIR 351 (CSE 2013)
  • Roll No: 0428674 (CSE 2016)
  • Optional Subject: Public Administration
  • Home town: Ranchi

Role of ForumIAS:

I used to go through ForumIAS posts and few other initiatives. In particular, I was benefited by Mains Marathon and Interview Initiative. Mains Marathon is a very useful tool for practicing answer writing for GS (Mains) while Interview Initiative helped me to go through various interview transcripts and prepare for my interview accordingly.

When did you decide to write the Civil Services Examination? Who/what inspired you to write the CSE Examination?

After completing my graduation in Economics from Kirorimal College, Delhi University and PGDM (Rural Management) from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, I worked in the development sector for a year. While CSE was at the back of my mind since the college days, it was during my Rural Management time and subsequent stint in the development sector, I realized the profound role that civil services play in the development of our country. Finally, in 2012, I decided to take the plunge. I left my private sector job and started full time preparation for Civil Services Examination. I appeared for the first time in 2013, qualified with an AIR of 351 and was allotted Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS). I reappeared in 2014, again qualified with an AIR of 295, however, I decided to stay in IAAS (since I was interested in AIS only). I got third time lucky in CSE 2016 with AIR 120.

How did you prepare for Prelims?

The preparation for prelims and mains needs to be done simultaneously in an integrated manner. I never prepared specifically for prelims. To begin with, it is important to build a strong foundation by preparing the fundamentals of History, Culture, Geography, Polity etc. These fundamentals would be common for prelims, as well as mains.

May be one month before the prelims, one can focus exclusively on prelims by going through relevant current affairs, govt. policies and programmes etc.

In prelims, it is important to master the art of elimination of wrong options (since you won’t know the exact answer for majority of questions) which can be done by practicing test series on your own.

Your Booklist for Prelims:

  • Ancient and Medieval History: Old NCERT
  • Modern History: Old NCERT (for portion before 1857) and Spectrum (1857 and after)
  • Geography: NCERTs (class 6th to 12th); Goh Cheng Leong (only specific chapters pertaining to different climate types)
  • Culture: Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania; Spectrum
  • Polity: D.D Basu and Sriram’s material
  • Economy: Economic Survey, Budget, Sriram’s material
  • Environment: Shankar IAS book
  • General Science: NCERTs (class 6th to 10th; select chapters of class 11th and 12th Biology)
  • Current affairs: ForumIAS


How did you prepare GS Paper 1 (Mains)? Include Booklist/ Sources

This is the most time consuming paper in the entire GS. Questions are mostly static for which notes can be prepared. This would help in last minute revision.


  • Indian History and Culture, Indian Geography: same as prelims
  • World History: World History by Ankur Sharma (It is a Competition Wizard publication. Although, it does not cover everything in detail, but it is concise and UPSC oriented. Those areas which are not covered in detail, I used to look up on the internet)
  • Post independence: India after Gandhi (Ramchandra Guha)
  • World Geography and resource distribution: NCERTs
  • Indian society, role of women, poverty, communal-ism, regionalism, globalization etc: Nothing specific; used GS knowledge, internet, newspapers etc

How did you prepare GS Paper 2 (Mains)? Include Booklist/ Sources

Given my optional, Paper 2 has been my strength (although it has not been fetching marks as compared to other GS papers).


  • Polity, constitution, governance etc: D.D Basu, 2nd ARC reports (these are very useful)
  • IR and other current affairs: Newspapers, internet, ForumIAS etc

How did you prepare GS Paper 3 (Mains)? Include Booklist/ Sources

This paper is the most dynamic and current affairs based.


  • Economy: Economic Survey; Budget; 12th plan document (although the figures might have become dated now but it is a quality document and helps in developing an understanding of different sectors of the economy; now, Niti Aayog’s vision documents can be referred to); newspapers, compilations by ForumIAS
  • Disaster management: 2nd ARC report
  • For all other topics (security, cyber related issues, money laundering, environment etc), I referred to the internet, newspapers.

How did you prepare GS Paper 4 (Mains)? Include Booklist/ Sources

This paper is all about the heart and not mind! It is advisable not to write too much of theory/jargon (teleological, deontological etc) which would make the answer look mechanical. Instead, for Part A of the paper, I prepared a list of examples from my own life as well as from the lives of great leaders, pertaining to honesty, integrity, leadership, compassion, empathy etc which can be quoted in different answers. For Part B (case studies), practice is the key. I prepared 2-3 standard templates, which can be used in different case studies.

How did you prepare the Essay Paper? Include Booklist/ Sources

I did not prepare specifically for essay as such. The content for the essay has to come from GS knowledge. However, to make the essay interesting, one can pre-decide 2-3 formats in which introduction can be given. For instance, using anecdote (I believe this is a very powerful tool), quotes, newspaper items, current examples etc. The body of the essay should cover as many dimensions as possible (historical, constitutional, social, economic, political, geo-political, environmental, moral etc), with focus on contemporary examples. The conclusion has to be optimistic and futuristic. Also, one should focus on solutions rather than just explaining problems.

Any message for ForumIAS Users?

This exam is more a test of temperament, patience and consistency than pure knowledge. The candidates should use this preparation phase as a learning experience without thinking too much about the results. If one is sincere, results will come automatically. Even in the worst case, in case you do not qualify (god forbid), your knowledge base gets so enhanced that you will do well in whichever field you work.

Any message for Team ForumIAS?

You guys are doing a great job. In recent times, you have started a number of new initiatives, which are very useful for aspirants. Online platforms like ForumIAS have helped in bridging the information asymmetry and have facilitated interaction between aspirants, which has reduced the need to go to Delhi and prepare. I hope you keep up the good work. Let me know if I could be of any help in your endeavour.

My Marksheet:


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