IAS Rank 213 : Akhil Mahajan , Jammu Boy, 4rth Attempt, Geography Optional Strategy

Greetings to everyone!

I am Akhil Mahajan belonging to Jammu city and have secured 213th rank in my 4th attempt with Geography optional.


I belong to a business class family in which nobody till date has even heard of upsc exam. All my generation cousins, brothers and sisters are working in corporate world. I myself had no idea about what an IAS, IPS etc is and what job profile they belong to.


After the completing graduation from Jawahar Lal Technical University, Hyderabad, I got placed in a good company with a good package. However, I saw my friends work 9am to 6pm – totally secluded from the society. I then thought I cannot do such a monotonous job. So I left for Jammu to expand my dad’s business in 2011. After working for 8-9 months with him, I felt the need to something useful and do something good with my life and give dad the best retirement he deserves.


It was then that I shifted to Delhi to plan for MBA and it was there that I realized that I should go for UPSC. Truth be told what motivated me in the beginning for taking up this exam was the power, status, red beacon etc. but let me tell you one thing, UPSC syllabus is so diverse that the whole UPSC cycle changes your thoughts and perspectives about life. It changed mine – now work for society and upliftment of society is my main goal.


I cleared prelims in all 4 attempts however could not clear mains twice (once because of Hindi). I am mentioning this because I don’t want you guys to lose yourself if one person doesn’t clear in 1st attempt or so on. I have my best friend who cleared last year in 6th attempt and got rank in 150s. UPSC demands patience and wants you to be consistent.

Secondly, I was not a topper in school (used to come 5th or so), my college was good but not great, my college percentage in ece was 76 though highest was around 87%. So don’t think that upsc is not for you if you have not been good during school or college.


Forum ID – Jammu_22


I have been an active user of ForumIAS since 2014. I haven’t commented much but have used a lot of discussions in it. It has helped me in clearing my doubts etc. I have interacted with many users like md47, drking, andy etc. I still remember many vague discussions created by me but the fellow members really were helpful in solving my doubts.

Though I did not join MGP but many of my friends who got selected this year have praised it a lot. ( MD47)

Coming to 9pm brief, let me tell you two things which helped me utmost in improving my answer quality- I took print out of 9pm briefs along with the insights daily questions. It’s because of ForumIAS initiative that I could get good marks in general studies.


Coming to interview transcripts posted in ForumIAS – it makes one aware of what kind of questions are interviewers asking. What the main focus has been. It helps a lot if one has interview on a later date.


Daily quiz test helps you to solve questions and get confidence. In my opinion what is needed in clearing prelims is – 50% studies and 50% confidence.


Editorials decoding helped me in better understanding the editorial which many a times I wasn’t able to understand directly. Moreover, the extra information provided was like cherry on the top.


I really want to mention so many motivational posts and strategy posts written on ForumIAS. I am indebted to @neywan articles on how to maximize score in mains.


Thank you so much ForumIAS for being there during the preparation and helping out whenever I was either demotivated or needed some expert advice.


Regarding strategy for this exam, I have only one thing to say- different people follow different strategy. Choose one which suits you. Just be consistent and keep on doing hard work. As my mother says- “kismat se zyada aur samay se pehle kuch ni milta. So 3 mantras for success – “hardwork hardwork and definitely some luck.”

For prelims which is hardly few days away- I would suggest to attempt 85 minimum questions by elimination method. Rest my best wishes are with you all and good luck for the exam.


For mains – the problem with me in previous 3 mains was that I reached peak much before the exam was there. I always reached saturation point well before the exam so when revision was needed I could not give my best. So decide your plan well before so that the peak point reaches when it’s needed most. So in this attempt I planned everything on a small notebook of what topics to be covered before what date.


GS1 (I got 123 marks this year and 110 last year)

Starting with history portion – read Bipin Chandra both books (before and since). Since Independence book has to be read selectively neglecting the unnecessary chapters. For world history, I have read Vision IAS notes supplemented with Balyan World History optional handwritten class notes. I read old NCERT of world history but I did not like it much from exams point of view. Art and culture Nitin Sighania’s Tata Mcgraw Hill book.

Geography portion- I had optional geography so it wasn’t much of a deal for me. But follow NCERT 11 and 12 along with Gc Leong.

Society part is generic one which we read in newspapers and 11th class NCERT sociology book should be read as it contains few good topics.

GS2 (I got 97 this year and 90 last year)


Truth be told, I read all the static parts mentioned in syllabus either through Vision Notes or searched them online for better and unique notes. 11th class NCERT book regarding Constitution and people has to be read for easy and crisp topics.


I downloaded Insights, ForumIAS Compilations and revised the whole answers few days before exams. These last minute revisions helped me a lot when many important points got stuck in my head and I could reproduce the same in the mains exam.

GS3 (I got 116 this year and 104 last year)

Here also I read all static parts from vision and internet. Moreover, few chapters of Datt and Sundaram related to agriculture, food security etc.

Current affairs will be helped only by Insights and ForumIAS compilations, daily current affairs and daily question answers. Practice them and read compilation before the final exams. It will help like anything.

GS4 (I got 105 this year and 104 last year)

This is a general paper. It doesn’t need any preparation. You have to use your own views regarding it. But the static part like definitions etc have to be read from somewhere. I followed psychology 12th NCERT last few chapters. This book is superb. Please just follow it and make notes out of it.

I followed few vision documents as well.

Case study – use your own awareness level and how the situation should be solved.

I don’t use even the words like deontology, consequetionalism etc. in case studies. Many people do. I got less marks this time because I was feeling too sleepy while giving the exam. Just sleep well the day before to do well.

Few tips for mains-

Answer writing is very important. Completion plus quality both has to be maintained.

I start my answer with introduction along with definition of the topic which is mentioned in question. Then main body in points form followed by positives and negatives. Concluding with how to correct the problem. This can be followed in most questions.

This year I drew diagrams, Indian maps also wherever possible e.g. – landslides, Indus river, Stupa, West Africa region, SAARC, South China Sea etc.

Also use black pen for underlining the important lines.

Optional geography. 

Choosing an optional is the most important decision. Whatever subject you are comfortable should be taken up. The optional can either make or break you.

Out of last 3 attempts, geography was somewhere reason i could not be in final list. This year marks increased from 190 last year to 289 this year.

Book list

I took coaching of geography from Neetu Singh ma’am. These class notes were my base. Her writing style is very professional and impressive. I crammed them so that they could be reproduced easily. These were added with additions from Alok Ranjan’s Physical Geography class notes and Shabbhir sir’s class notes of Human Geography.

I read Savindra Singh for geomorphology, climatology, oceanography, environment geography. It will be best if you follow these books differently rather than using physical geography by Savindra Singh (as this year’s question on slope comparison of wood, penck adn davis could be attempted only becuase of this)

For regional geography, there is one small booklet of SSS by Ensemble. (It had thissen polygon, compage)

Then I read Majid Hussain’s Human geography (only selective topics).

For paper 2, Khullar is an amazing book. I used Majid Hussain’s Indian Geography for few selective topics.

Answer writing– I drew diagram, flowchart, Indian map, world map, state specific map etc. in almost every question.  Minimum two for one question. I maintained separate booklet for above and used internet extensively for the unique diagrams. I maintained last page of every chapter where geographers’ names were written. E.g. soil by Vavilov and Russians, soil profile related geographer etc.

Tip for paper 2- use geographers names, theories etc. in paper 2. It gives some sort of professional answers.

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