UPSC Topper Ananya Singh shares her UPSC preparation strategy _ AIR 51 — CSE 2019

Suman Samal
17 min readNov 11, 2020


one, I’m an announcing and I have secured all India ranked 51 in the UPSC civil services exam, 2019. I was a student of the main guidance program at Fordham Mayaguez. I’m here to share with you my journey in the course of the preparation for this exam. And I hope it helps some of you in, uh, streamlining your own strategies.

So I tell you about all the three stages and what was the strategy that I followed. This was my first attempt. So this strategy kind of worked for me and I hope it helps you as well. Uh, but before that, I’ll give you a brief introduction about myself. I come from the city of . I have done my schooling, uh, in that city.

After that I pursued economics honors from Shiram college of commerce and economics was my optional subject in this exam as well. Uh, so, uh, when I, so I was very clear that civil services is what I have always, uh, like this is the part that I have always wanted to take, but once I joined college, I was, um, I gained a lot of exposure to the corporate opportunities.

And that was the time when I had to take the decision about how strongly I want to do this. But since I was very short, I decided to give this exam a short in the very first attempt or right after college. And, um, A combination of luck and hard work favored me and it worked and I could crack it in the first attempt.

So now coming to the three stages of the exam, uh, we’ll start with brilliance. So brilliance, according to me was one of the most challenging stages of the exam. Of course, every stage has its own unique things that you need to do for it. Um, the preparation for me, uh, more or less was integrated for all the three stages.

Uh, of course, some months before each stage, you have to wholeheartedly devote to that strategy for that stage. So brilliance has two parts, as we all know, general studies and sees that and general studies, we can divide into static and current affairs. So for the static part, all of us are more or less aware about these standard books, like luxury con spectrum, so on and so forth.

So firstly, when I started the preparation, it seemed like a lot of things to do. A lot of resources, a lot of different strategies by different people. So the first thing that I did was I prepared my own book list. And I decided that I will take off the books that I do in the first reading, because that would give me some amount of confidence that I am, uh, you know, moving in the right direction.

So far. My first advice to people who are starting right now is that make a book list and devote your energies to that rather than going all around and trying to read every material. Because that is something that I also tried to do in the beginning that I started reading the bulky books like. India since independence and so on and so forth.

But then I realized that I was literally remembering nothing. And in the exam hall, if you do not remember the things that you’ve read, there’s no point reading them at all. So I would say that. Limited resources and multiple revisions to the thing that we all have heard from different people. And even when I first heard it, I thought that, um, this, this might not work and you for this exam, you required a wider reading, but then I realized that it doesn’t matter if you don’t remember.

So I just talked to those basic sources and revise them as many number of times as I could. And literally the exam is so unpredictable that till 3rd of August, tonight, I was studying for prelims. Um, the moment my study stopped was the morning of fourth when the results came. So, and even after means I was, uh, again, preparing for answer writing if I have to appear for the main exam again, so limited resources.

And the other thing for prelims that really helped me was previous year questions. So whenever I, uh, studied a topic, um, I, uh, like a subject, even in the first reading, I decided to open the previous your questions for the static part. Because in the second reading that would engineer my mind to read the subject in that direction, that, which are the topics that are most important from the UPSC perspective, like in luxury conch topics like elections or political parties or the committees for prelims may not be that important.

The most important parts are the fundamental rights, parliament judiciary, all those things that are in the first half of the book. So, uh, that way it helped me to realize what is important from the exam perspective. But that ended after the first reading, after I completed the first reading feed subject, I went to the previous year questions and then I have gained it the second reading with that perspective in mind.

So that is something that really helped me now coming to current affairs, current affairs for me was a little scary because they’re very multiple approaches to do current affairs. And it’s literally like an ocean because. Every day you’re coming across new facts and new, uh, articles. So, uh, firstly of course, newspaper is indispensable.

You have to read it every single day, um, because it helps you, uh, not only for prelims, but also for, from framing, your opinions, uh, coming across different opinions. And even for interview, a newspaper is indispensable. So literally for each stage of the exam, newspaper is something you cannot discard apart from the newspaper.

Or read three, four newspapers a day. It’s not possible. So if you go through those summaries, it can help you. Although to be honest, I don’t could not be consistent with this because I’m in the three months between Williamson means I could not follow this at all. Uh, but if you can follow this consistently, I feel that it can really help you because.

Uh, monthly combinations, all of us do, but then if you are daily following the news, then monthly compilations will be easier for you to remember. Another thing that, uh, is a frequently asked question is how to make notes for current affairs. So personally, I did not resort to a lot of notes making, because I feel that if other people are doing it for you in the form of monthly compilations, then why to do it yourself.

But apart from that, when you are following the daily summary, then, um, Oh, you can smartly gauge that if a topic is a recurring multiple times and it’s very important, then probably it will be covered in the monthly compiling, but certain small facts like same. Those should, you will, uh, have a particular animal which are dual.

Does it fall it into a wildlife protection act or say the IOC and status or geographical indicators? Things like this small things, which might not appear in the monthly magazine. It’s helpful if you make a note of that. So I kept a small diary where I tried to know down all these small facts, which, um, may be, would have been skipped by the monthly magazine and maybe picked up in the actual exam.

So if you can do that consistently, it will really help you a lot. Other than that, um, prelims basically is, uh, dealing with MCQs and dealing with MCQs of a very unexpected nature. So if you do the daily quizzes or even if not daily, weekly quizzes, then it helps you to deal with MCQs, which are unexpected.

And, um, because it’s, it’s not possible that in the preliminary exam, we will know, say 80% of the questions. We will know one answer for them. It’s always going to be, you’re confused between two options and so on. So you have to understand that, how do we deal with that? How do we eliminate the options? How do we get smartly and all of that?

So, um, Prelims for me has been these three things, basic books, multiple revisions, um, previous your questions, newspaper, current affairs. And for C-SAT I feel that we need to assess that where like everybody has a, is at a different, uh, platform when it comes to C-SAT. So it’s better. If we give one paper randomly and then check our score and understand what, uh, what are the areas in which we need to work on.

For example, So I started the seaside preparation two months before the exam, like weekly. I used to give on Sunday. I used to give some time to seize that. And as the exam approaches, I tried to solve more and more questions because even though it is qualifying, if you do not qualify, C-SAT, it doesn’t matter how much you studied for years.

Um, but the most important thing for brilliance is practice. Now, practicing more tests, um, Is, uh, important because of two things. So first you have full length mock tests and the other is the subject specific mock tests. So whenever you complete a subject, now this will be close to the prelims. When you are done with multiple revisions of a subject, then you will pick up the subject specific markers here.

It is important not to focus too much on the score, because say in a subject like quality or economy, you might be scoring very high out of 200 and in a subject like art and culture or science in technology. Uh, which you haven’t covered that many sources, you might not score that well. And also, depending on what your background is, so do not fret too much about the scores and subject specific tests.

But one thing that you need to do in them is focused on the explanation to the answers, to the questions that you do not get, go to the answers and try to highlight them, or try to remember them as far as possible, because. These questions have been made from the sources that you might not have referred.

As we said that we cannot read very widely because of the paucity of time and because of the capacities of our brain to remember a lot of things, but these mock tests cover a lot of sources. So those bulky books, which we haven’t been able to read, some questions are from there, maybe the most important parts of that book.

So if you directly, uh, try to remember these answers, it might help you in the long run. Now the full landmark, is that important because it helps you assess the number of questions that you should attempt. Uh, what is your target like? What, what is the risk benefit ratio that you can take? Or normally it’s, uh, advisable to attempt 85 to 90 questions in the exam because, um, uh, so if you try to save God your 40 easy questions, then you can take the risk to expand your score and, uh, attempt a number of questions that you might not be sure of.

So those 40 questions are the most important and those 40 questions will come from your standard books. So, which is why it’s important to revise multiple times the same sources because you have to save God those number of marks so that you can take the risk and attempt other questions. Uh, so this is about prelims, uh, broadly now coming to means, um, First things first means syllabus is very important.

The syllabus itself runs into several pages and you have to keep the syllabus handy when you’re preparing for mains, because you have to read everything from that perspective. When you read the newspaper from that perspective, when you have those topics in mind, say social issues or the specific topics of economics security, international relations, and then it helps you to read the newspaper in a more efficient way.

Automatically you can filter out the less important news from the more important news. Uh, second thing is that the basis, same as prelims, and there are certain specific topics like security, ethics governance, which you have to cover for means, uh, when I say the basis, same it’s because mostly the Booklist, if you see it’s more or less the same for the, for the core subjects.

Uh, and apart from that, the fact that you have learned in prelims, you can use that in your main senses to enrich them. Uh, for example, uh, this, in this, uh, years, uh, GS one paper, there was a question on coral reefs. Now I remember the fact that I had studied for prelims that, uh, there was a certain species, which was, uh, which was extinct in the great barrier reef.

And it was the first species to be extinct due to human activities. Now, I mentioned that in the paper and also the Mark sheets around, but I’m sure that, uh, that could have lent a differentiating factor to my answer. So the preparation is integrated in terms of sources and in terms of the fact that you can use your brilliance information, very smartly means.

Then the other thing is reading from means perspective, the same books, for example, luxury count. When you read it from the prevalence perspective, you focus more on the articles and the revisions, but when you read it from the main perspective, then you focus more on the committee reports on the South Korea commission on the constitution review committee.

And so on. So the perspective of reading the book also changes when you’re studying for prelims and when you’re studying for means the other, other, another thing is statistics and reports. So there are a lot of, um, reports that we have, like beneath the IO report, the three-year agenda, the seven year plan, uh, the ARC’s, uh, et cetera.

So if you are able to quote these reports in your answers, it is going to be beneficial. However, um, in this exam, the most important thing is your cost benefit ratio. So you cannot devote your time. You cannot devote days and months reading entire report. But when you read your current affairs, normally when you’re reading the monthly compiled patients, then you will have certain, uh, statics to statistics quoted from these reports.

And you can make notes out of that, which can be used in the main exam instead of going through entire reports. For example, in ERC also be known that there are specific chapters, which are more important, like ethics and governance, and, uh, you know, these chapters, which are more coated, which are more relevant to the examination.

So focus more on these parts rather than going through the entire report and not being able to reproduce it in the end. Uh, another thing is answer writing. So however much we have learned and studied. If we cannot present it in a proper manner, then it does not mean anything, which is why answer writing is very important.

Uh, for answer writing, you have to rely on a test series, uh, in the test series. Again, your focus should be on improving your score, but do not get de-motivated if you get low scores, because generally the marking in test series is, is relatively conservative. But, um, the most important part is the feedback, uh, the feedback and the mentorship that you get to during the test series is something that you have to use, uh, efficiently.

Uh, you have to read the model answers and, uh, manage your time very well because it is really important to complete the paper. Um, it’s, it’s, it’s almost like if you, um, if you can even get one Mark for a question that you didn’t probably know, for example, In our paper in GSP, we talk about the cyber dome question.

Most of the people didn’t know it, but if you can talk about cyber security in that question, I remember attempting it in the last five minutes of the paper and if it would have fetched me, even one market was worth it. So it’s very important to complete all the parts of the paper. And that is something that you learn that in the test series by managing your time.

Well, Another thing about means is that you have to connect the static portion with the current affairs portion, uh, because that, uh, represents to the examiner that you have a wholesome understanding of the topic. For example, if we talk about this year, I can give you the example of the representation of people act question that came.

So it was a direct question from the textbook that what are the disqualifications and what are the remedies that are available. So here, um, any normal aspirin would be able to write what the disqualifications were. Uh, however, if you also mentioned in this certain recent example, Or if you could mention in the conclusion that there are certain other disqualifications that have been recommended that can be included, then it makes your answer a little different to the examiner and it can fit you certain bonus marks.

So, um, so in the IPA, you mentioned that there was a case where in Delaware, the Emily’s were disqualified because they were appointed as parliamentary secretaries or any such contemporary example. If you can put over there, I feel that it can lend a differentiating factor to your answer, and it can set you those two extra marks.

Which can make a difference in you being in the list out of the list, which can make a difference. Yeah. You having a ramp, not having around getting your desired service and so on. So all these small things really mattered a lot. Uh, another thing that I would like to talk about about his, the essay paper, because, um, essay is something that I have always seen as an opportunity to up my main score, because whatever said and done the range in the GS papers is relatively narrow.

But in the essay paper, we have a where, uh, some people get marks, uh, uh, you know, from 110 to say 160. So this 50 marks is a very big range to play with. So SAP is something that should not be ignored. Uh, we should definitely, uh, you know, focus on this, the Fordham material for you. I say paper will come from your general studies.

So if you start practicing essay from day one, um, of course it’ll help you in your writing practice. But the quality of the essay cannot be, uh, expected to be the same as it would be after you have covered a considerable portions of the GST syllabus. And you’ve read a lot of current affairs. So the Fordham has to come from that.

So yeah, I say will improve as, and when you study mode, so it does not have really a separate preparation. The preparation is the same only your writing has to be improved. Another thing in essays that now that we have read so many things in GS, and we know so many facts, we tend to overburden our essay with these facts.

But see, at the end of the day is a piece of writing. So it has to be reader-friendly and it has to be interesting. So it’s tough to strike this balance, but this has to be done where your essay has to be factual. It has to be informative. It doesn’t have to be empty, but at the same time, it has to be interesting to the reader.

The reader should not get bored, that, you know, he’s being bombarded with facts and he’s losing the sense of the topic. So it’s very important to strike this balance in the SAP book. Apart from that term in essay, the usual preparation can be that when you read the newspaper, there are certain anecdotes.

There are certain inspiring stories in the newspaper. There’s certain quotes, uh, with regard to topics that are relevant, always like say gender issues or. Um, some ports are some things about equality, justice, so on. So you can make a note of this. I separately made a diary for the SAP paper and I used to write down all these things there.

And then in the end, when I went back, I already had certain amount of material that I could fall back on, so that can help in the SAP people now coming to the last leg of the examination, which is the interview. So, uh, personally for me, interview preparation was the most enjoyable part of the examination because, uh, firstly, when you qualify means you already, it’s a very big confidence booster.

You feel like you’re going in the right direction and you feel really excited for the interview. So, um, interview has to be taken with a lot of positive energy. Uh, for interview, there are three things, mainly one is your detailed application form. Um, you have to know every word of your desk. Uh, and it’s a reasonable expectation to have that the panel members would want to, would want you to know about your own journey, right?

So they would want to know you and from your background, the schooling, the city that you come from, the state that you come from, all that. So you need to know that it is your hobby or interest. So it’s obvious that you should, you should know about that. Second thing is the current affairs. Um, so here, the difference between means and interview is that, uh, When we write a main Sansar, we try to balance it out.

We write the pros and the cons of a policy. We code committees and thinkers, et cetera. But in the interview in that room, they would want to know what you think of an issue. They would sometimes put you on the edge to take a stand. And that is where your own opinion matters. So interview is must is much more based on what you think personally than what say the AARC recommends or the Supreme court says, et cetera, course, you can quote it and it can lend or.

Uh, you know, uh, it can make your answer sound better, but at the end of the day, it’s about, if you think in the interview, another thing is optional. So fuel optional is the dynamic subject. It is contemporary. Then, um, you can expect questions from there in the interview, for example, uh, my option was economics and I can easily say that one third of the interview, uh, was, uh, about economics.

Uh, the current affairs revolving around economics. So, depending on the options object, you have to be well prepared for, with that, because that is your area of specialization. Mostly the interview checks the confidence and honesty in a candidate. So even if you do not know an answer, it’s best to be honest and tell them that you do not know about it, and you will find out about it because the collective experience of that board is much more than the number of years we have lived.

Right. So, uh, No, it does not help to beat around the Bush. You can directly say that you do not know. And I don’t think that it’s taken against you. So all in all interview is about confidence, honesty, uh, DAF, current affairs and optional. So, uh, with that, I have covered all the three stages of the exam. Uh, in the end, what I would say is that, uh, for me, what, uh, my basic mantra was is that consistency matters a lot.

So, um, even if you are not studying for say 12 hours a day, if you’re studying for eight hours a day, it doesn’t matter. It’s more important that you do it every day. So every single day, uh, right from when I started my preparation, I started in 2018 when I graduated from college and that year I wasn’t eligible to give the exam.

So I took my first attempt in 2019 and I use the CR uh, starting from May, 2018 to third, August, 2020. And I can say that, uh, there has not been. They have not been many days when I have not studied or when I have not devoted a certain number of hours to this preparation. So consistency is very, very important in this exam.

The larger picture sometimes seems very intimidating, like the number of people who are giving the exam and the number of people who get selected the success ratio so forth, so on. So I think, um, my focus was to detach myself as much as possible from these conversations and focus only on my daily targets, my weekly targets and make sure I’m achieving them.

Because once you achieve those targets, it motivates you to study more and to study better. So I would wish all of you all the best half patients and, uh, put in a lot of hard work because at the end it will differ. Thank you.



Suman Samal

career counseller, who helps students to choose the right career option. i do write blogs too.