Narendra Shah had scored 86th rank in UPSC Civil Services exam 2015. We are sharing his video/speech with you. In this video, Narendra Shah shares his strategy and importance of Answer Writing Practice.
This video is also important because – for all the aspirants, right attitude (persistence and hard work) is crucial.
Narendra Shah has improved his rank over the past few years through his perseverance and hard work.
More About the Topper
- Narendra Shah is the first person to clear CSE from Singrauli(small town in Madhya Pradesh).
- He did his B.Tech in Civil Engineering from IIT-Mumbai.
- Narendra has also worked as a Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow for a year. In his first attempt in civil services examination, he got selected in Indian Information Service.
- His ForumIAS id is GreyMatterRules.
The post is contributed by Aishwarya Raj, AIR 28, Indian Forest Service
While I have gained a lot from the discussions and daily current news sections, I would want to contribute my bit by sharing my strategy/booklist for UPSC CSE/IFoS Prelims since could score a fairly decent 150+ in CSE Pre 2016.
Following is the Strategy to Score high marks in UPSC Prelims Exam:
Here is the strategy and book-list for UPSC Preliminary stage (1st round) of the UPSC / IFS examination ( will come up with next stages soon). I am sharing this as beginning contours for you since I could score in the range of 150-160 out of 200 in GS paper 1 (Cutoff range expected 110-115 for CSE , 132-138 for IFS ). But eventually you will have to end up having your own unique plan, depending upon your strengths and weaknesses (post taking atleast 10-15 Mock tests). I had devoted 3 months fully to Prelims last year , and with June 18 being the date of exam this time, you should be up to speed already by now. Remember here you are competing with close to a million folks, so stakes are much, much higher than Mains and Interview. In prelims, UPSC will brutally reject candidates, reducing them from 1000000 to 15000 , so get the drift that daily Mains answer writing can wait a bit for now . While Prelims is more knowledge-based and Mains focuses on testing your critical and social-thinking, that doesn’t mean UPSC will always keep it that way ;). So be prepared for any scenario, is what say the wise !
After analyzing the past few years’ papers (if not please do so, atleast from 2010 onward), you would have realized that current-affairs based questions have spread to even “Static topics” like History and Geography. So smart study and Googling would be of great help while preparation. eg. if you read an article on drought, connect it to historical, indigenous water-related solutions basis harvesting, baolis, tankas etc.
Remember these key ideas all the time:
- Minimum sources, maximum revisions. To give an idea, revising THRICE whatever you have read is essential for retention and assimilation. So minimize the sources, else it will be chaos at the end. And PLEASE don’t fall prey to the millions of “Must Read” Booklets in the markets that are released 20 days before exam to scare aspirants all over ! Trust yourself.
- Spending more time analyzing the mock tests than the actual time spent on taking tests !
- Critical thinking and ‘joining the dots’ . Try to enjoy the learning process. In my case, making fortnightly visits to National Museum / National Gallery of Modern Art / Humayun Tomb / Old Delhi/ nearby sanctuaries etc were welcome and refreshing learning tours .I credit National Museum majorly for understanding and completing substantial portion of Art and Culture + Ancient India syllabus !
- Coaching dilemma ? Well , to each his own. I didn’t do any coaching for GS or optional subjects, but registered for Online Test Series.
My Booklist for each topic :
I) Current events of national and international importance.
- The Hindu, Indian Express ( pick up only those things which are not covered in Hindu). Also, I avoided note making for papers,
- If you end up being lazy some days, fret not ! Just put those backlog papers aside and read ForumIAS Daily Current Affairs summary online.
II) History of India and Indian National Movement.
- Ancient India – Old 11th NCERT + BBC Documentary on Story of India
- Medieval India – Old 11th NCERT . Would suggest don’t fret much here. Remember concept of ROI ?
- Art and Culture – 11th Fine Arts book is a treasure trove. But don’t make the mistake of reading it just once or twice. Each word is crucial. To be read 4-5 times and related aspects googled (esp the monuments, and it is interesting too) .
- Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania old notes ; New one is a lot more bulky, so I avoided it. Also , a visit to National Museum if in Delhi would be useful .
- Indian National Movement – Bipin Chandra’s Struggle for Independence + Spectrum for Revision. Gave “Plassey to Partition” a reading but can easily say you may avoid it.
III) Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
- Class 11th and 12th New NCERTS (old ones seemed very depressing, I skipped completely)
- GC Leong for Physical Geography
- Your wall should typically resemble this:
Consolidate trivial information into one or two pages maximum ! Sample below – Rivers of India and their tributaries ( This helped me get 2 questions right )
IV) Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
- Laxmikanth as the primary source
- DD Basu for specific topics like local governance, scheduled areas, salient features etc.
- Download any Constitution app on your phone. Glance through in metro rides or with relatives around !
V) Economic and Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
- Economic Survey. But please do read it once fully before using any XYZ summary notes .
- Budget 2017-18 Summary ( I preferred listening to Mr. Jaitely’s speech and taking down notes :D)
- Class 12th NCERT for Macroeconomics basics . If not, refer to Mrunal.org ppts
- Investopedia/Arthpedia for understanding any economic term you have issues with
- Yojana – 1 to 2 chapters from each month’s copy. Others get repetitive.
Other books Kurukshetra etc etcAVOID.
VI) General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change –
- Google “Environmental organizations” and open the Wikipedia page. The list there from A-Z should be casually read over a period of 2 weeks . Be curious. But don’t go overboard.
- Ministry of Environment Website. It has crazy amount of information. But quite useful. Be wise and have an eye on previous year questions to know your limits of searching !
VII) General Science
Google Alerts on Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology ! Rest don’t waste much time here. Trust your common sense.
That’s that viz book-list .
I think what works for anyone has to be a blend of hardwork, smartwork, presence of mind and some calm.
The 2016 UPSC Prelims paper was highly current affairs based but had covered most of the subjects. Consider a question which asked the meaning of eripatti about which I had no clue. But it clicked that since eri as a water management structure in TN was mentioned in a Yojana piece, and patti relates to land, the statement given was correct. Many questions also required basic common sense even if we had no clue before. Eg the inland port question, AP and Karnataka were easy to eliminate as they are coastal states, while Chattisgarh’s topography would make it tough to have a navigation connected to sea, therefore answer should be Rajasthan (which was correct) ! And yeah, even movie review buffs were gifted 2 marks with the question on Hollywood flick based on Ramanujan !
Some General Observations and Suggestions:
1) Integrative study has to be the way forward, since no silos exist between subjects now as well as current affairs.
2) For basics, ‘N’ number of materials won’t work. Same holds true for current affairs.
3) Economic survey is compulsory beyond doubt. Neem-coat statement was a direct ripoff. And almost all economy questions found a basis in this survey . All schemes asked in the exam (the objectives i.e) were mentioned as one liners here which were asked.
4) Meditation helped. And it always does help. Waking up on 7th August with a 15 minute meditation/yoga had the highest ROI. Not to forget picking tenets of being a Karma Yogi through Bhagwad Gita ?
5) Test series are a must, but again unless atleast 15-20 papers revised, wont really stick on. Here , I maintained a diary of errors, wherein all my errors/ doubtful questions were jotted down. Last one week before exam, my work was only to revise that one diary ! Sample below:
6) Structured Timetable-making is necessary. But even more important is “Mid policy reviews” of the same ? ; I had 7 iterations for July 2016. Because I missed out something or the other in the first 6 each time !
7) Having faith in your efforts. Somewhere, someone is watching your efforts ! I had zilch previously and struggled at 100. This time scored >150 !
Finally, make sure the people who care for you are given their due importance even when you are studying. Avoid the naysayers and those ‘suggestion-based’ people who love to make off-the-tangent remarks, but make sure meeting close family and friends does not stop. They will be your support and strength while sailing through this long-arduous journey ?
Run, laugh, smile and be happy. It will all be fine someday , if not today ! And that is when the sweet smell of success will be truly of worth. Public Servants ought to have the quality of patience after all ?
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When reading 14th-15th-16th Century [William Shakespeare’s King Lear and The Tempest ] the following questions are very important, and would be useful across both texts. [this is not an exhaustive list].
1) The Renaissance – most important movement, although Shakespeare doesn’t necessarily show renaissance traits in his plays [which are better represented by Christopher Marlowe], but the context will help appreciate how, contrary to authors writing morality plays and miracle plays etc in the 14th century,
Shakespeare’s heroes are human figures, not gods or sons of gods, or gifted by gods.
Their only superpower is their will power, ambition, jealousies etc. Just a hint.
2) Look at Reformation – for understanding the growing positive sense of the human intellect and of human capability
3) Language/failure of language/pressure on language to contain vast emotions about society, [although sonnets not mentioned here, neither by Shakespeare not by others but it’s a good idea to look at them and know why suddenly, contrary to epic-length studies of the previous centuries, authors suddenly turned towards a mere 14-line poem.
4) Elizabeth’s reign – its problems, wars, rivalry with Scotland, absence of an heir, a growing, old, ageing queen with no heir, a sense of fear, apprehensions looming large on nation’s fate, the drifting apart of Catholics and Protestants,
Parliament beginning to display its independence which was very new to the English court [especially, if you Know Spenser’s court poetry where knights subsumes all their devotion to the kings and queens, kings and queens were supposed to be chosen by God to rule over people, Shakespeare shows how human agency resigned to accept that willingly, or at least uncomfortable with this passivity.], and population growing to an unprecedented level.
5) human love creating discord in society, an attempt to maintain, keep stable the social order, but in comedies like The Tempest, this social order gets restored. And that is why they are comedies.
In Shakespeare’s tragedies, on the contrary, even when the plays end, one is left with the idea that there is a gap by author’s forceful ending of the play by closing the action by positive/negative ends, and the complex human feelings and hideous desires of ambition, jealousy, hatred etc that motivate people in the first place.
One is alarmed at the human capacity to be a “bad” person. But if you look at Hamlet kind of plays, they make you realize that this pressure to decide, to act, to take revenge etc is something human beings cannot escape.
One is meddled with this constant pressure to decide – something which was not there in the previous century plays where people knew that God will bring peace to everything.
In Shakespeare’s tragedies, there is no respite from Gods. So, it’s like human beings are left to themselves, with no assurance, no help, no recourse to god’s comforts etc. Just imagine, how helpless one would feel in that sort of world.
Shakespeare, that is why, is called one of the earliest modernists.
6) Questions about leadership, frailty of order to control a vast population/kingdom, challenges to leadership,
7) The role of women – Look at different types of women in Shakespeare’s comedies as well as Tragedies – they are hardly puppets.
They are capable of having ambitions much like their men counterparts, or sometimes even more.
Call it sexist, call it feminists, women of Shakespeare’s plays can play men like anything: with their beauties, with their disguised games, with their “overflowing” femininity, or, for that matter.
Although these women show conventional hierarchies of white women/black women, courtly lady women/commoner women, “good women like Ophelia in Hamlet who are just too good/ bad women like lady Macbeth, but the very diverse range of women we encounter in Shakespeare’s plays is amazing. Something we don’t see in previous plays. Also remember- in Shakespeare’s time, boys were playing women’s role, so look at that angle as well how women were not supposed to do certain things in public.
So the entire public/private, political/domestic debate, Shakespeare complicates them. He brings the interiority of domestic issues interlaced with political issues such brilliantly. Personal is indeed political.
8) Apart from that psychological development of characters. I guess is a very important angle to look at. Characters are hard to know from their inside.
They are hardly flat or two-dimensional. So, Shakespeare’s character making is a good point to explore.
Now, let us come to 17th -18th Century.When reading Metaphysical Poetry by John Donne (The following poems mentioned in syllabus: Canonization, Death be not proud, The Good Morrow, On his Mistress going to bed, The Relic), keep in mind the following things most importantly.
1) John Donne’s life – look at that – he was a poet and a court person [several duties], so an imaginative writer taking an interest,
in fact, active interest in the public life of the Nation.
2) Twists and turns of the syntax, look at their language, heavy adjectives etc. Why suddenly after the 16th century of simple sonnets [not simple, actually!], suddenly a different language?
Look at the change in the form of the poems.
3) A different kind of love – mysterious, untidy – very erotic as well [although often disguised], physical desires and spiritual dimension. It’s like wanting to have sex with the God – see, how blasphemous! Imagine what kind of torpor it must have led to!
4) Metaphysical conceits: Why would the poet employ them, why at all? The politics and meanings of conceit – explore it.
5) Role of women and sexual desires – look at how poets/period responds to this.
• The Epic
a) John Milton : Paradise Lost, I, II, IV, IX [Originally published in 1667, in ten books]
1) When looking at this book, just explore how Milton was a radical poet for his times. He engages in a fundamental political and religious re-thinking. I think if you do that, you’re done.
Use textual evidence when answering your questions. Look at Milton in line with renaissance – an absolute epitome of individuality – imagine conceptualizing a book in 12 fat, volumes – an act of human ambition and will power ready to devour even God, anything that comes in way of ambition.
2) And look at the way Milton devours classic repertoire of references for his benefit. He is extremely knowledgeable, not a passive person or mediocre person demanding an identity, he is super-prepared to demand a human identity and is willing to fight for it.
Appreciate Milton using this perspective.
3) Role of imagination – Milton became blind eventually, so sometimes people ask you how could a blind person imagine all this – which is a bullshit question, as he talks of heaven and hell and even a man with eyes won’t have access to that!
But anyway, they are the examiners and we are students, so better be prepared.
Satire [an aspect studied within neo-classicism, I divided because Paradise Lost isn’t a satire per se] and the Mock-epic.
a) Alexander Pope. The Rape of the Lock. [Originally published in May 1712]
1) When looking at this, explore the French court angle, its difference to the English court, its whims and fancies, and ladies and knights etc.
2) Their stress on moderation, decorum, urbanity – why, suddenly after the grandness of Milton etc? Explore this.
3) Again, look at the women characters, love as play, a duel to win at, no Shakespearean true “love” but a game of wit where partners need to excel at each other all the time.
This constant business class idea is a good point to explore.
The Romantic Movement
• William Wordsworth.
The following poems:
a) Ode on Intimations of Immortality.
b) Tintern Abbey.
c) Three years she grew.
d) She dwelt among untrodden ways.
f) Resolution and Independence.
g)The World is too much with us.
h) Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour.
i) Upon Westminster Bridge.
When looking at this, keep in mind the following points:
1) A sense of individuality, development of personal metaphors, personal religion, personal creed.
Not a universal god, for e.g. how the poet imagines the god becomes important.
2) Look at what kind of political social world, the poet imagines and wants. The stress on vision and imagination.
3) Most obviously, role of children.
4) the French Revolution, the sense of human agency, the Napoleonic war where England supplied things and remained involved for like twenty years.
5) Development of Metaphysics in England – an influence from Germany – Kant, Schilling etc.
Read the Previous Posts below:
Read the Previous post on : ENGLISH LITERATURE Optional Strategy for UPSC Mains
This Article is contributed by a ForumIAS User VSH_DU2015. She is currently pursuing her PhD in English at University of Leeds, UK. She joined ForumIAS a few years ago when she was an M.Phil scholar at University of Delhi and entertained the idea of preparing for CSE. But, the moment she passed her M.Phil and bought all books, she subscribed to websites like ForumIAS ?
I will show a sample of how an answer is supposed to be written in English Mains paper.
This question is from Section A of Paper I, that came in 2013 Mains. Word limit was 150.
Q. The impact of the French Revolution on the English Romantic poets.
Answer: [Words:167] [Nobody counts your answers word-by-word, so 5-10 words increase/decrease doesn’t at all matter! But not substantial decrease/increase]
The classic Marxist interpretation of the French Revolution is that it constituted a change from an old feudal order to a new capitalist order and, in essence, amounted to the triumph of the middle-class over the aristocracy. Thus one can say that the most crucial aspect of French Revolution was an increased sense of human agency. Inspired by the Revolution, in the Romantic period, we encounter literature that rejected old literary conventions and tried to find new forms of expression. For e.g. William Blake welcomed French Revolution as an agent that would sweep away old exploitative patterns of social relations; The Lyrical Ballads by Coleridge and Wordsworth, marked a withdrawal from public life and celebrated the subjective insight of the poet, which aided by nature tried to bring a pattern in life. Similarly, Byron showed a desire to strike out a new path, surpassing conventional morality. Based on these examples one can say with confidence that the French Revolution was central to the English Romantic poets.
- Understanding of the main literary trends during the period with reference to the authors prescribed.
- Questions on the social and cultural background to the period.
- First hand reading of the text along with their ability to examine
literacy problems critically.
These three are most crucial points while taking English Literature as an optional. Are you already preparing?
Please stick to any one book, either Albert which I suggested in my previous post or whatever you’re already referring to. Use bullet points to divide different points but don’t use sub-headings/bullet points otherwise. Literature answers are supposed to be paragraphic. Your syllabus doesn’t mention the word limits for this exam, so just keep it within 300-500 for each important socio-political point.
I think sticking to Forum is a rather good idea as my office computer shows a pop up every time anything happens on anything I visit regularly.
All the Best 🙂
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Saketa cracked IAS with his first attempt, with an All India Rank of 14. An alumnus from NLSIU Bangalore, he hails from Hyderabad and took Law as his optional. He shared his journey towards the Civil Services with ForumIAS and here are the takeaways from his success story.
Why Civil Services?
On a personal level I have always been inspired by my parents who are both civil servants. I was amazed by their motivation levels after thirty years of serving as opposed to my motivation levels to work as a lawyer which was waning ever since I graduated in 2011.
From a professional point of view apart from obvious reasons such as public service, prestige and responsibility that comes with the civil services, I also realized that as a lawyer my ability to make an impact was limited to a particular case and by and large post-facto. As a civil servant, I would be able to make a meaningful impact at an early age and would likely to help a much larger number of people.
I followed the advice of friends who had already cleared and they were immensely helpful in streamlining my entire GS preparation. I was convinced that studying for GS Mains and Prelims together makes the most sense from an efficiency point of view. So I did both at the same time.
My preparation was on two levels : Topic wise and issue wise. One should be careful not to rely solely on a single source but a base always helps – for instance it is important to know the basic facts on pressure group-advocacy, lobbying, electioneering etc from these materials but the rest is mostly from newspapers and trying to connect the dots. It is important to connect the aforesaid topic with the Hindu editorial on activist groups and pressure groups.
For current affairs, I more or less followed the usual path of reading Hindu as base and supplementing it with Indian express editorials where necessary. I quickly realized that it is useless to track a developing story so no point of taking cuttings. What I did was to copy paste the most important paragraphs of the day’s newspaper in an MS-Word document which would be around 2 pages each day. End of the week I would sit and re-read the 14 pages of the entire week and condense it into one page which would then become part of my revision notes.
So, towards the end just before the mains I had around 100 pages long notes for each subject GS 1-2-3-4 and revised them in the last week.
Law was my Optional. Here’s what I did
Paper 1 of Law deals with Constitutional law and International law. This paper requires a good level of depth in terms of your understanding so it is important not to try shortcuts. I read M.P.Jain and Starke and again connected the major issues of the day such as NJAC, federalism etc to the static part.
Paper 2 is simply too vast to be done comprehensively so I read Dukkis for almost all subjects and used Google for the rest. Nishith Desai is a great research based law firm that prepares amazing 100 pagers on topics like: Arbitration; IP law in India and so on.
Past year questions tend to get repeated, so solving them is absolutely a must. One must be sure in the last few weeks before the exam that they can answer all the questions that have already been asked.
Again for law also, I prepared revised notes of 100 pages for Paper 1 and 2 respectively which I read right before Mains.
I always took Saturdays off throughout my preparation months. Sunday was always a test day. It would be a mixture of Prelims one weekend, GS the other, sometimes Optional and so on.
Test series for Prelims are useless if you think similar questions will come in the UPSC. But they are seriously useful if you want to know where you stand.
Try and do two mains test series the day after the Prelims. Most people waste weeks doing two things: chilling after a particular stage or wasting time speculating before the expected result date. This should be avoided.
Specifics about the Prelims
Books/notes for General Studies Prelims
Exactly what ForumIAS recommends. 🙂
Strategy for CSAT
I did one test every single Sunday from February onwards except a few weekends. Practice makes perfect.
On whether attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims
Attempting aggressively is definitely important, and even more so after this year’s changes. If you are not sure just try eliminating options and then go with your gut. Forget about the last question the moment you move on to the next because if you keep thinking whether it was the other option you will screw up the following questions. Be calm and confident.
Specifics about the Mains
As mentioned earlier, I already had 100-page revised notes for the GS papers and also my optional. Went through them and wrote tests in preparation for Mains.
How far is coaching necessary in the preparation?
Not necessary for those who are confident of their basics. Those who have no clue or are not confident about certain subjects should go for it. Do a self diagnostic test of where you are strong and where you are weak.
About the Interview
The interview experience
Faced a lot of factual questions from the Chairman. Other members asked opinion-based questions. It was around 30 minutes long. I kept my cool throughout the interview. Said “I do not know” to questions I did not know the answer to.
Qualities you think that are being tested or being looked for
A lot of people are of the view that it is not a test of your knowledge. I would like to differ here. I think it is a test of your knowledge, personality and most importantly your reasoning. They see how you deal with questions to which you may not know the direct answer but can analyse and arrive at an answer. Only if you don’t have a clue should you consider “I do not know, Sir”.
For instance one of the members asked me tell about the Malacca Dilemma. So I said while I have not heard of the exact term sir I would want to make an educated guess. And he said “Of course!” and went on to like my final answer.
° Be confident and calm.
° I had been told I come across as arrogant sometimes, so I tried my best to not lean back in my chair; I tried to look eager, smile and acknowledge the member’s knowledge of a certain topic.
° Prepare hard: For me interview was just a continuation of the Mains preparation. I continued reading two papers and re-read weekly and condensed it to create an interview revision note of 200 pages. I also went through my GS 1-2-3-4 revision notes and optional notes. Kept a special tab on contemporary events.
° Never faff: If you have no idea then acknowledge it.
° Don’t spend too much time answering your first question – allow the members to keep asking you questions and keep giving concise answers. You are marked most highly on supplementary questions not the first one so try to answer as many as you can.
° Talk too fast and they’ll talk faster and you’ll freak out.
° Avoid the temptation to jump into an answer – always take 2-3 seconds to formulate your thoughts.
Magazines and newspapers for Current Affairs
Hindu. Yojana. Indian Express editorials.
On whether marks in school or college can impact one’s score in the Interview
No impact unless there is a huge drop or they are abnormally low.
Impact of the Internet
Use of the internet in your preparation
Crucial. Every time I wanted the status of a topic I would google and search within the past year results to get the most updated information..
It can sometimes lead to a waste of time, though. Many coaching centres have done the hard work for you of creating great 20 page booklets – might as well take advantage and then supplement these materials from the internet.
Whether a member of ForumIAS: Yes (Username: aspirant255)
Did ForumIAS actually help?
It was useful. I used to follow the discussions and the suggested booklist also got me going.
To sum up
Any message for IAS aspirants who look up to you
In addition to the above, I can just give you the following tips, but please do take them with a pinch of salt:
• Always have a back up! Carefully analyse the pros and cons of giving repeated attempts and make sure you never put your life on hold for this one exam.
• Do not make this exam an ego thing and take it personally. There are hundreds of toppers/smart people giving this exam who do not make it for reasons beyond their control.
• Hard work is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. You need to be lucky as well. I am being completely honest when I say that there hardly any difference in caliber between rank 14 or rank 400. It was just someone’s day and it wasn’t for someone else.
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