Interview with IAS-2014 RANK 9: Ashish Kumar

Hi Everyone,

I have been associated with ForumIAS for the past two years. This year I have secured an  All India Rank of 9.  I would like to share my story with my friends, colleagues and members on and of ForumIAS.

Why the Civil Services?

I got inclined towards Civil Services just because it is different from all the other jobs in hand. This difference was what attracted me. I still had my doubts initially, but after a few initial months of my preparation this attraction turned into conviction. The breadth of opportunities in this service, the diversity of work and most importantly, the quantum of change that you can bring about by putting in an earnest effort kept me motivated. Also as you start preparing, you start to change as a person. You become more aware, more sensitive to events around you and I loved this change occurring within me.

The Initial Preparation

I started studying for GS somewhere around May 2013. It was all self-study till the Prelims in August 2014. I studied the standard reference books, used internet, went through some relevant notes uploaded by the previous years toppers and some coaching notes available in the market. And of course newspaper reading was an integral part of my GS preparation. After the Prelims in 2014, I went to Delhi for GS coaching in the hope that there would be a crash course sort of thing which can teach the many topics of Mains syllabus that I had untouched. However it was more or less a waste of time and I had to do them on my own eventually.

I decided to take Electrical Engineering as my optional somewhere around August 2013. I was a bit skeptical about EE as the choice considering the huge syllabus, and vacillated a lot, but took the plunge nevertheless (and now I’m glad that I did). I started studying for it from October 2013 and completed the theory part of the syllabus by March 2014. Thereafter I practiced numericals, revised and studied some left-out portions. Barring a couple of months before Prelims, I made it a point to study my optional everyday.

Writing Tests

I joined Test Series for GS Mains and Essay in September 2014. For GS, I took Synergy Test Series in Delhi. Since this was my first sincere writing practice for the exam I learned a lot of things. For Essay, I took Test Series from Ramaswamy in Delhi. The feedback was poor and the only plus was that I got something to write on for three hours.

Specifics about the Prelims

Books/notes for General Studies Prelims
The details are here:

However for the sake of quick reference, I am reproducing them here
1. Modern History: Spectrum
2. Culture: Old NCERT, GK Today notes
3. Geography: NCERT class X, XI, XII and NIOS intermediate level notes
4. Polity : Laxmikanth and Sriram IAS printed material
5. Economy: Ramesh Singh (TMH) book and Sriram IAS printed material
6. Environment : Shankar IAS book
7. Science and technology : TMH manual, Divya Mittal Ma’am’s notes
8. Social sector, policies: , pib , GK today and internet search

Clarity of facts and concepts are both tested in the Prelims. So it is advisable to go through the books you are comfortable with at least twice before the Prelims. Revision has great benefits and is often underestimated.

Strategy for CSAT
I did not refer to any material. Went through previous year papers.

Strategies for time management

In the GS paper, I think there is enough time to go through the entire paper.
In the CSAT paper, speed definitely helps. Going through numerous passages can be a pain given the time restriction. So developing a good reading speed along with comprehension would definitely help. Since the numerical and the logical questions are relatively easier, I attempted them first and thereafter moved on to the comprehension part.

Don’t Make the mistakes that I made

One serious (and stupid) mistake that I committed was that I left the bubbles to be filled later. This wastes the time since at the time of darkening, you again tend to think about the question and whether what you did was correct.

I had to darken the bubbles in haste later on (since I had thought they are just bubbles, and it wont take much time) and ended up darkening two wrongly. Do not do this. As you answer a question keep on darkening it alongside, otherwise you might feel the pinch later on

On whether attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims, and what would be an ideal number of questions to answer?

I attempted about 72 questions in Paper I and about 66 in Paper II.

Although one should try to maximize the attempt, that should not be at the cost of wild guesses. One needs to be extremely judicious in this aspect. For questions that I was not at all sure, I did not bother to attempt them. I took a guess only when I was able to narrow down my choices to two otherwise I left the question. There is no point depleting your score with negative marking.

As far as an ideal number of questions is concerned, I would say that it is better not to have such predetermined thoughts since it starts to play at the back of your mind in the exam room. You start to try to touch that figure and in the process end up taking greater risks. So attempt the paper on its merit.

Specifics about the Mains

I started preparing for Mains Examination (for this attempt) around May 2013, doing both Prelims and Mains simultaneously. I began my GS preparation with some of the basic books like NCERT polity, NCERT Macroeconomics, NCERT books on political science and international relations, NCERT books on sociology. NCERTs are a wonderful starter and help you get into the groove and to move towards the next step of moving on to the standard reference books.

Tackling GS
Again the details can be seen at but for quick reference I am listing them here.

1. Culture: Old NCERT, Tamil Nadu Class XI and XII history book, GK today notes
2. Modern History: Spectrum, Old NCERT ( Bipin Chandra )
3. Geography : NCERT X, XI, XII. NIOS class XI and XII
4. World History : Arjun Dev’s NCERT class X and XII. Synergy class notes + internet
5. Post independence India : Bipin Chandra’s India after Independence + Internet
6. Sociology : NCERT class XI and XII, VisionIAS booklets, newspaper

1. Polity: Laxmikanth, Sriam IAS polity notes (printed ones), Vision IAS topic wise printed booklets (available in the market), Gaurav Agarwal Sir’s notes available on his blog, The Hindu
2. Social justice : The Hindu, VisionIAS booklets
3. International Affairs : The Hindu (newspapers are the only source for this part)


1. Economy : Vision IAS booklets, Gaurav Agarwal Sir’s notes, The Hindu
2. Science and Technology : The Hindu, nothing specific otherwise
3. Environment : The Hindu
4. Disaster Management : VisionIAS booklet, Gaurav Agarwal Sir’s notes, The Hindu
5. Internal Security : TMH book on security, Gaurav Agarwal sir’s notes, The Hindu

I referred to a number of notes available in the market : SK Mishra sir’s class notes, Mohanty’s class notes, Vision IAS booklets, printed case studies by Lukmaan.

– Newspaper reading is a must for preparation. Much of Paper-II and Paper-III is largely sourced from the newspapers.
I kept my sources limited and focused on revision.
– Writing practice is essential. I joined a test series for that and it did teach me certain things like the usefulness of writing an answer in points, managing time etc.

Tackling Electrical Engineering

Sources of Current Affairs
I followed The Hindu daily for Current Affairs. This I must have done regularly without fail since October 2014.
The usual day used to begin with the Hindu and making notes from it. I found making notes from the newspapers to be of great value. It helped me in consolidating the various information related to a particular topic of GS at one place. Thus it helped in quick revision in the end.

About Coaching

Classes Joined
I joined coaching for GS Mains in September 2014 in Synergy, New Delhi. It was supposed to be a short course of around 2.5 months where they would deal with certain pre-decided topics. I went for this since I had not covered many of the GS topics and thought that a short course could help in that regard alongside optimising on time.
However it was not a pretty experience. The teaching was slow and dragged a small topic endlessly without concern to the fact that Mains were just round the corner.

On whether coaching is necessary in the preparation
Going in for coaching is an individual choice and it all depends on the individual. For those who are total newbies to General Studies/General Knowledge, coaching might help to get started and getting a certain base. Beyond that there is no utility and can be dispensed with since then the onus lies on the individual to build on that particular base.
The absence of coaching should not be considered a disadvantage. One can do it all without coaching and there are umpteen examples. My little experience with coaching has taught me that if you have a certain base of your own then coaching will be useless since they drag on the things you already know and which you can study in a lot lesser time.

About the Interview

Board: Sh. Manbir Singh 

The interview experience
Around half of my questions were on my workplace i.e. Indian Railways and my department. They asked me about the reforms needed, about commercialisation of Railways,about the merger of departments,about safety measures, about Sagar Mala and its impact on Railways.

Then there were some questions on foreign affairs like measures to prevent nuclear arsenal from non-state actors and impact of US forces presence in Pakistan on India.
Then there were questions on backwardness of UP, research scenario in India and in IIT Kanpur.

Overall the board was cordial. The duration was around 25 minutes. Questions were largely from my DAF. All eyes were at all times on me and it seemed as if I was under intense observation.

Qualities you think that are being looked for in the Interview?
Conviction. Honesty. Desire to work. Desire to learn. Broad understanding of the issues of general nature and their possible solutions.

Some Do’s and Don’ts:
– Dissect your DAF and prepare it thoroughly.
– Be in touch with the current issues.
– Give mocks. That can be mocks at coachings or with your friends/peers .
– Do not try to bluff . Be honest and admit if you do not know something. You dig your own grave if you try to bluff.
– Do not be arrogant.
– Be your natural self.
– Do not be give a hasty reply to any question. Take a short pause after the question is asked and use this tiny pause to think and frame a reply.
– Remember all eyes are on you while you answer. Your eyes and your body should be in sync with what you say.

Magazines/newspapers in Interview preparation
For current affairs, I kept in touch with the newspapers: The Hindu and The Indian Express.

On whether college grades have an impact during evaluation
Not at all. One’s score in the interview is solely dependent on one’s performance there in those 30 odd minutes. Your background only enables the interviewer to ask questions and nothing more than that.

Impact of the Internet

Use of the internet in your preparation
Internet is indispensable to preparation. I used it intensively during my preparation. Be it for searching for sources to read, to download material, to look up for explanation, to fill gaps in the preparation, gathering more information about a particular issue and likewise.
Almost all the sources are available on the internet. A good number of books are available in the e-book format. For the current pattern there is no dearth of sources on the internet. However internet search should not become an endless activity and an end in itself.

Whether a member of ForumIAS: Yes (Username: ashes).

Did ForumIAS actually help?
The experiences of others shared on the forum did help me in all stages of the exam especially in the interview. I got to know about a lot of sources from the forum.
The best part was to go through the speculation thread and the rumour mongering. For all the three stages, it was the forum that first broke the news that the results had come.

Where ForumIAS can improve
I love absolutely everything about the forum. Any newbie venturing out here just needs to type in the query and there is help pouring out.
I would say just keep up the great work.

Any other websites you visited
3. pib and prs sites
4. blogs of previous years toppers


To sum up

Any message for IAS aspirants who look up to you
Persevere. Be confident. Have faith in your abilities and keep your motivation high throughout. Have a good support system in your family and friends to help you when you are down.

This was my third attempt, and my first two attempts were a waste since I had not studied for either of them. So if I have to talk about mistakes, the biggest mistake was giving those two attempts and wasting them. Never be reckless with your attempts.


Ashish's Scores

GS I86
GS IV109
Optional I177
Optional II161
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