Learn priority based preparation method for IFoS by Anuj Aggarwal Rank 20 IFoS + MGP copies

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NameAnuj Aggarwal
Place of BirthPanchkula, Haryana
Schooling·  10th– Bhavan Vidayalaya , Chandigarh – CGPA 9.6

·  12th – Bal Niketan School, Chandigarh – 89.6%

CollegeB.E(Hons) Computer Science & Engg , BITS Pilani, Rajasthan – CGPA 8.1
Which attempt at the exam2nd attempt at IFoS.
Work-experience if any


Software Developer at Amazon for around 1 year.
OptionalsMathematics & Forestry


Tell us something about yourself and your Tryst with UPSC.


I had planned starting UPSC preparation after my graduation. But having got an opportunity to work at Amazon, I decided to explore the field of software development more closely to take an informed decision later.

As my parents insisted, I gave my 1st attempt while working. Couldn’t clear prelims. After around one year, I decided to prepare full-time. This time I missed Prelims cutoff by 4 marks.

By this time, I had realized that Prelims is 2-month/3-month affair  a full 1 year exam. It doesn’t mean that one starts preparing from May/June itself. What it means is that the preliminary stage of exam deserves few dedicated hours every day.

So with this in mind, I gave this attempt. It helped me crack AIR-20 in IFoS’19.

Preliminary examination

GS (strategy and books)

Strategy that I followed

 For IFoS prelims is a tough nut to crack. No matter how hard you work or practice, your performance on the examination day could go in any direction.  This uncertainty might seem insurmountable at first but can be very well minimized.

I did this by clearly demarcating my priorities . They are listed below in descending order of their relative importance in prelims.

  1. NCERTs
  2. Standard books like Lakshmikanth
  3. Current Affairs
  4. PYQs
  5. Practice Tests

Role of test series in my prelims preparation:

I think a Test series serves three functions.

  1. Developing an understanding of how questions are framed from a given text
  2. Time management
  3. Improving accuracy in questions where we end taking ‘calculated risk’.

While the first two objectives can be easily achieved, the 3rd one does require some practice.

So Initially, I attempted all 100 questions & analyzed my performance separately in questions where I could eliminate 1, 2, 3 options & also questions where I went for a wild guess altogether. I gave only 8 tests & could see my performance improving in first 3 categories consistently but not in questions where I randomly guessed. Thereafter, I saw no point in giving more tests. So I stuck to this strategy & went for more revisions.

This is exactly how I attempted finally in UPSC prelims (attempted 94 questions)

Booklist that I followed

HISTORY[If someone has severe time constraints, covering Sriram’s history book would be a wise option. It covers entire history in < 150 pages. Also it’s much better structured than Spectrum ]


Ancient & Medieval –  Left this almost entirely

·  #ScoringTopics :  Buddhism, Jainism, Mughal Administration

Modern History

NCERTs + Spectrum + Sriram’s History book

CultureCovered only painting, dances, festivals & few such minor topics only
Polity·  Lakshmikanth


Economy·  SRIRAM’s economy book


Science Class 9th & 10th NCERTs.
Environment·  Shankar IAS

·  CLASS XII BIOLOGY NCERT: Only Last four chapters of this book.

Geography·  NCERTs

·  Sriram’s classroom notes

Current affairs·  VISION-IAS monthly compilations. ( In 2019 Prelims, atleast 6-7 questions were directly picked up from this)

·  Insights current affairs quiz compilations

Value Additions



I mugged up the following lists. From my perspective, these are essential for an

IFoS aspirant.

· List of PVTGs by state

· List of Wildlife Sanctuaries & National parks by state.

· Ministers in interim cabinet & 1st Govt of India.

· Subjects of Union/state/concurrent list which are in news.

· Geographical indications

· Permitted FDI in major industries.

· List of rankings/indexes

· List of military exercises, important weapons/missiles

· Diseases in news

· Geography – dams, lakes, rivers etc.


CSAT (strategy and books)

Strategy that I followed

I had solved 2 previous year CSAT papers. As I was comfortable in it, I didn’t practice it more.

Mains Examination

How did you prepare GS/GK?

There is hardly any role of answer-writing in GK exam. It’s purely knowledge-based. End-to-end preparation of this exam is extremely time consuming but disproportionately rewarding. Hence I prepared only History & Science & Technology sections.

How did you prepare English?
      • It is pretty straightforward but can’t be taken for granted.
      • English Grammar – High scoring & so my effort was mainly directed towards it. I practiced last all PYQs of English Grammar section & mugged up a list of idioms.
      • Comprehension – one should try to answer all questions crisply & to the point without beating around the bush.
      • Precis writing – Make sure you meet the word limit exactly.
      • Letter, Report writing – same class XII board level
Please share your strategy and booklist for each of the optional


Optional 1 Mathematics


Maths is a laborious optional but rewarding like no other.

My strategy was to complete the entire syllabus, make notes of all chapters & revise them. Looking at PYQs, it doesn’t take long to realize that almost all the questions of difficult chapters are picked up directly from regular books.

So I practiced the same questions several times to build the intuitive knowledge for solving these tricky questions rather than mugging up the solution.

My booklist is fairly small.

  • For Physics topics (like Statics, Dynamics, Mechanics, Fluid Mechanics)
    • KRISHNA Series.
    • Handwritten notes by Kanishak Kataria & Atul Prakash, to understand which subtopics of these chapters to be covered.
  • Rest of the topics – IMS notes

Optional 2  : Forestry


Marks in Forestry are a function of time only. More the time you spend, sweeter the result undoubtedly.  Busy with another exam, I couldn’t devote the required time to this optional.

So I focused completely on just one book ‘Manikandan & Prabhu’. After attempting the exam, I realized that this book along with PYQs almost perfectly encircles the understanding expected from an aspirant.



My interview Strategy can be broken down into stages:
  1. Interview preparation [Short Notes]
  • DAF preparation – I pre-empted many questions by going through my DAF word by word. For instance, questions centered around my name would include meaning of ‘Anuj’, Some details about ‘Ramanujacharya’, ‘Srinivas Ramanujan’ etc.
  • Forestry & Basic environment concepts – Skimmed through ‘Manikandan & Prabhu’ & made short notes.
  • Current Affairs – Daily Newspaper reading.
  • General questions (but Most important) like personal introduction, ‘Why do you want to join IFoS’, ‘How did you develop your hobbies’ etc.
  1. Mocks
    Once I completed this preparation, I decided to go for mocks. My aim was to appear for as many mocks as possible so as to decrease ‘before-interview-anxiety’ to minimum levels & also to pre-empt all possible questions.
Interview questions (with what I answered broadly) [Rajiv Chaubey board]
  • Are you also appearing for Civil Services? What’s the status?
  • What’s your academic profile?
  • Why doesn’t Amazon outsource its software development work to other companies?
    • Because it has interests in Amazon Web Services, Alexa, Kindle etc & so it maintains an in-house team of world-class engineers for further innovation.
  • How many tigers are there in India?
    • 2967 (2018 survey)
  • Don’t you think that funding by International agencies force us to protect tigers, rather than those animals which might be more beneficial to our society?

[Tricky question, so I gave a balanced answer. The chairman wanted me to accept his statement & kept insisting it again & again. ]

  • Tiger is a keystone & umbrella species so it helps us to conserve the entire eco-system, so we can’t directly deny its importance to our society
  • It does appear that international funding distorts our national priorities but I don’t have any basis to accept or reject this claim. I believe studies should be conducted to look into this.
  • What is Van mahotsav?
  • State with least forest cover?
  • Forest & tree cover of India?
  • As a Divisional Forest Officer, what steps would you take to increase the forest cover in your state without diverting additional lands from other areas?
    • Agro forestry, Social forestry & wasteland afforestation.
  • What is Khair? Is it found in Haryana?
    • MFP produced after boiling wood of Acacia Catechu tree.
  • Issues related to education in India? Based on my answer, he asked a follow up question – ‘Can you give some examples of vocational education/skill development?’
    • Training ASHA workers to be Auxiliary Nurser Midwifes
    • Formal training of electricians etc.
  • What is ecological succession & its types?
  • Why are many pacific island countries banning sunscreens?
  • You must have heard about heavy metals like Mercury & the diseases that they cause. Can you give some examples.
  • You said that there is lack of motivation among teachers. Why do you think so? Why don’t you join the teaching profession to improve teaching quality?
    • lack of motivation due to non-teaching duties assigned like census.
  • Tell us the area of strength from where you want us to ask questions. [Tricky question. In such questions, always mention some academic area of interest. I mentioned one of my Hobbies which one should avoid.]

I answered all except one factual question. To some extent, my interview preparation strategy succeeded in pre-empting almost all questions. But still I scored 185/300 which is good but not great.

I also read about Anudeep who had great interview but still scored 176/275.

What is clear is that interviews are a little unpredictable & hence, it makes sense to give your best shot to mains.

What role did ForumIAS play in your preparation?


I had joined Main test series at ForumIAS & found it immensely beneficial. The most helpful part is their evaluation & marking of introduction, content & conclusion separately in each answer, pin-pointing exactly that part of answer where it had scope of improvement.

Do you have any suggestions for us?

I  would like ForumIAS to open offline test centre at Chandigarh so that students preparing from home can appear in exam-like conditions.


Mr Anuj Agrawal was a student of Forumias MGP- which is a mentor based mains test series . You can download his MGP copies down below.

Anuj Agrawal Forumias mains test series copy 1

Anuj Agrawal Forumias mains test series copy 2 


ForumIAS has launched MGP for 2021.You can read download the brochure here and read about it and enroll here.

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