Strategy:Himanshu Gupta, AIR 27 (CSE 2019)

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Hello Everyone, this is Himanshu Gupta, AIR 27 in UPSC CSE-2019. It was my third attempt (2016, 2018, 2019), but the second serious attempt for the CSE. I wasn't able to qualify the Prelims paper in the first two attempts. My optional subject was Philosophy. I will be allocated the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), since it was my first preference. Here, I would be sharing my entire journey and a comprehensive strategy for the UPSC-CSE, including all notes, answers, optional papers, etc.

This page is a work in progress. I will be updating and adding a lot of stuff in due course. For all updates, pdf documents, notes, answer-copies, etc., you may join my Telegram Channel: https://t.me/himanshug27. My twitter account : https://twitter.com/hguptadtu, Email: himanshugupta.dtu@gmail.com. 
Please go through the contents section and switch to whatever part you need to read. Otherwise it might become a long read :)

Disclaimers

My strategies worked out for me in the end, based on my capacities and circumstances. It may or may not work out everyone. Its a request to every aspirant to listen and read about others' strategies, but do not try to imitate them. Try and apply (or maybe tweak a little) those aspects which are relevant to one's own particular context and circumstances.

No strategy is perfect, including mine. Everyone has a patchy preparation. After probably an year of sincere studies, do not worry about the gaps in your preparation. That time would never come when you will be completely prepared for the exam.

My Journey

I've mostly lived in Delhi, from where I completed my schooling as well as graduation. I completed my B.Tech. in Electrical Engineering from Delhi Technological University (Formerly Delhi College of Engineering) in 2016. I have also worked as an Front-End Design Engineer at a private MNC called Qualcomm India for 1 year and 7 months. The idea of preparing for the Civil Services came into my mind when I completed my internship at the end of my 3rd year in college (2015).

Its been a long journey. I gave the 1st attempt in 2016, graduated fresh just out of college and few days after I had relocated myself to Bangalore for a job at Qualcomm. I failed in prelims miserably. Got around 80 Marks.

I realized that preparing along with a hectic job would require a lot of efforts. So I skipped my attempt in 2017 and prepared for the Mains exam and optional subject keeping a long-term perspective. In the mean-time, I shifted my job location from Bangalore to Noida (I thought I could study more being at home). But after a few months, I thought of going full-throttle and took a calculated risk of resigning from the job in March 2018.

That year I joined ForumIAS's SFG and Current Affairs Classes. I toiled hard for that attempt, probably solved more than 80 mock tests. In 2018 prelims, my peak probably came too early. I was burnt up. At the time of exam, I was so exhausted that I took a lot of time pondering over every question. I had too many questions to solve for the 2nd iteration with less than 20 minutes left. In panic, I attempted 97 questions out of 100, without thinking too much and literally making wild guesses. I scored 90.

The failure at Prelims 2018 (My 2nd attempt) became a blessing in disguise for me. I realized a lot of things. I needed to study in an integrated manner - for both Prelims and Mains. Inspite of the prelims result, I continued with my Mains classes and even joined some Mains test series, classes and even optional foundation course between August 2018 to Feb 2019. Next year when the time of actually giving the Mains came up, I had a lot of things ready at hand for me to just revise/update myself.

Strategy for Prelims

For the 2019 Prelims (which was the only one where I qualified), I was able to clear the cutoff for both CSE and IFoS. This time, I tried to rectify a few mistakes of 2018 attempt:

My DNS screenshot repository

1. Spread out the Prelims preparation over the course of Entire Year

In my previous attempts, I used to directly study just the yearly compilations for prelims. But this time I made up mind to at least read and revise prelims specific news DAILY as well. Monthlies also came up for the first time. And when the time was up for pre-only mode (mid-March), I also picked up yearly compilations.

I religiously watched (with concentration) Rau's IAS DNS videos. (It was the 1st thing I used to do every morning after waking up).

{Tip: I made a whatsapp group of which I was the sole-member :p (you may google it). I used to keep all screenshots/stuff you require and TAG them for future revision purpose. Ensure regular revisions.}

2. Quality of Prelims Mocks are more Important than Quantity

Don’t write too many test-papers at the cost of actually studying. In 2018, I had written around 80 test-papers. But this time, I wrote very few tests. It was because I realised tests should be written to get the knack of eliminating options, to get one’s heuristics right, and to revise stuff.

I had done this already in 2018 (special thanks to Forum’s SFG and simulators). Tests are useful only when you are not compromising with studying and revising. My toils for 2018 prelims bore fruits for the 2019 attempt. I just needed to revise more, without bothering about giving so many mock tests.

3. Prelims Mock Test Analysis

Example of analysis of one of my pre mock test

Thanks to a friend who taught me how to analyse prelims test-papers. I had made a custom excel file solely for this purpose.

I used to categorise my MCQ attempts into 4 categories

  • 4: completely sure,
  • 3: almost sure but still confused in two options,
  • 2: only 1 eliminated, and
  • 1: no idea at all).

I had set a target of accuracy for each of these categories. (for eg. Category 4: 100% accuracy, Category 3: 75% accuracy, etc.).

This helped me track and shape my risk-taking appetite.

In my 2019 attempt, I attempted 92 questions. But I think the optimal number of questions to attempt in prelims should be above 85 seeing the present trend of prelims exam. But I reached this number after a lot of self-evaluation and analysis. It might vary for people who are more into accuracy.



My Booklist for Prelims

Topic Resource
History Ancient RS Sharma + TN board book + new NCERT + AL Basham (for Buddhism and Jainism) + wikipedia
History Medieval TN Board book + new NCERT + compiled keywords and their meanings through internet
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum + a few chapters from Bipin Chandra (which were missing in Spectrum) + New NCERT class 12 + Forum’s static revision classes + Internet
Culture Class XI NCERT + Nitin-Singhania notes (not book) + a visit to the National Museum, Delhi + Internet + Baliyan Class-notes from Market
Polity (static + current affairs) Laxmikanth (static) + Prelims compilations (CA)
Economy (static + current affairs) Class 12 Macro NCERT + Shankar-Ganesh book + Mrunal Lectures + Eco Survey & Budget from RausIAS + MK Yadav Sir's youtube lectures
Science (static + current affairs) Class 12 Biology last 3-4 chapters + Pre compilations
Environment (static + current affairs) ShankarIAS + 2-3 Chapters from Savindra Singh Physical Geography + Pre compilations for CA
Geography(Physical +Indian+World) Class XI and XII NCERT + PMF IAS notes
Current affairs CA Class-notes, compilations – monthly and yearly

Mains : Booklist, Note-making and Revision

  • For Current Affairs and recurrent themes, notes of MK Yadav Sir's QEP and ForumIAS CA classes were my base-material. I revised them multiple times till the point that I internalised most of it.
  • My notes were mostly offline. I had organised all of them theme-wise using staples, binder-clips and folders. I tried to consolidate a few themes which I thought were most relevant and were fragmented here and there. For eg. Electoral reforms, Globalisation and its impacts, Climate change, etc. But still most of my notes were not consolidated into single-pages notes. That's why there was a need for that "notes of notes" register for last-minute revisions
Example of my consolidated notes on Logistics Sector
  • "Notes of Notes" Register : In the last few days before mains, I made a "notes of notes" register, where I tried to brainstorm over every value-added content that where all it could be utilized in exam. The scanned PDF of this will be shared here in due course. This “notes-of-notes” register was my carry-along for all the GS papers outside the exam-centre.
  • Audio-Notes: I even tried a technique of recording my audio of reading aloud these “notes-of-notes register”. I’ve listened to my recordings more than 15 times now. I’m glad I was able to utilize a lot of this content in the mains exam.
    • For example, the UNESCO question  – I quoted the preamble of UNESCO in conclusion and related it well to the theme of the question.
    • Another Example, Hunger-Poverty divergence question  – Quoted Utsa Patnaik (republic of Hunger) and Angus Daeton’s “nutri-puzzles” and again related all of them to the context of question.
  • Using Internet and Digital Resources : I’ve used internet and digital resources extensively. I did not read any offline newspaper consistently. But I kept track of various news and editorials through digital content – news websites/apps, youtube videos on news analysis, RSTV, ORF, IDSA, etc.
  • Some Techniques I used for resource Management: In order to balance with a plethora of data and resources available, 3 skills are required:
    1. Viveka: The ability to differentiate between what is useful and reproducible for the exam and what is not. This comes with analysis of the trends of the exam – previous year questions and syllabus memorization helps.
    2. Suniyojan: The ability to effectively organize whatever content you collect – either offline or online. If I have studied some topic somewhere I should be quickly able to locate where it is stored so that I can update my notes as quickly as possible. I made subjectwise offline folders where I kept all my notes/resources.
    3. AtmaSanyam: Or Self-restraint, i.e. the ability to know when to stop collecting material/resources and start studying them. Revision of whatever you have collected is more crucial than collecting more and more data. Otherwise, everything will just go in vain.

Mains Answer Writing

  • Answer Writing is the Core of Mains. My style of Answer writing has been contextual. I try to answer it according to the demand of the question, and not just answer what I know or how I structured my notes etc.
  • An objective style question which can have several dimensions/arguments needs Point-format or diagrams. But a narrow-subjective question requires paragraph format. I’ve also used formats like inline-numbering within the paragraphs
  • Content enrichment: I’ve focused a lot on value-addition and differentiated content. Introductions and conclusions are the best places where they can be utilized to the maximum. Case studies, data, facts, figures, pie-charts, graphs, diagrams, were used extensively. But I try to refrain from mindless making of diagrams. Use diagrams only when it helps you express it in lesser words/ lesser time/lesser space.
  • Time-Management : I attempted all questions in all GS Papers and optional. For 3 GS Papers, I came up with this highly effective strategy for time-management after much thought. This worked well😊.
    • Q1-Q2 > Q11-20(all 15 markers)> Q3-Q9 (all 10 markers)
    • For GS-4 as well, it was similar – Section A Q1 and Q2 > Sec B > Section A rest of the questions.
  • Answer-Structuring: Answer-structure should be particular to the CONTEXT and the KEYWORD of the question that is asked. Structuring is not only about Intro, Body and Conclusion. But it is much more detailed. We need to understand that multiple points in the Body part can be clubbed together to make a single dimension (a Bucket as I always say). This way, one should write about multiple Buckets in the Body part, along with the sub-points within every bucket.

Essay Preparation

For Essay, I focussed more on roughwork and planning of essays. 1 essay has 1.5hrs out of which 30mins was completely devoted to roughwork and planning.  My friends and I used to discuss over the rough-work and planning of each others' essays and then cross-evaluate them. This exercise was immensely helpful. It also improved our confidence that it was possible to brainstorm over any theme to generate points and write them in the exam.

Regarding time-management, I think one has enough time to write the entire essay. Even if one devotes 30minutes for roughwork and planning, one can find time to write a bit more legibly and neatly, underline and avoid any grammatical mistakes or cuttings.

I'll be sharing some of the Essays that I had practiced here. Barring the language and handwriting, the essays that I wrote in the Mains Exam were a bit different. Because I had done roughwork for many essays and discussed with my friends over call, some of my approaches have evolved over time. This is not reflected in any of the Essay that I'm sending here.

Overall, my focus areas for the Essay were:

1. Work on flow, i.e. every part of the essay should be linked to other. Its a lot better if one is able to even link every paragraph to the next, but I realised that this might be too tedious. However, the flow between parts of the Essay (that you would have thought of during planning) must be there.

2. Intro and Conclusions should be bigger and more catchy. By bigger, I mean that they can stretch upto 1 page (one side of a page).

3. Presentation wise, I tried to make my handwriting more legible. I even used black pen for writing introduction and conclusion.

Philosophy Optional Preparation

My Optional Subject was Philosophy. I will try to share a detailed Strategy for philosophy optional. But here is just a brief. You can also watch a youtube session that I took recently here.

Why Philosophy: Primary reason was interest. I tried to read a few books, watch crash-course philosophy playlist, other youtube videos, etc. to see whether I like it or not. Later, I researched about the PYQs, the strategies of toppers, guidance-availability, etc to make sure that it is a viable optional.

Some pointers: (This is for those who do not have background in philosophy. Moreover, all this worked for me in my circumstances.)

  1. Be intense. Leave no stone unturned to gain as much marks as possible in optional. Do not come into the trap that the syllabus is very small and static. Every optional can be studied in as much depth as the others.
  2. In philosophy, many concepts are interlinked. For conceptual clarity, do not hesitate to go a bit beyond syllabus. Though questions are asked from within the syllabus, but you may answer it by going even beyond it (but not too much and without digressing from what is asked).
  3. For Indian philosophy, try to use Sanskrit word in phonetic language. Use Sutra’s (given in CD sharma book footnotes) for value-addition.
  4. Quote thinkers, books, etc for substantiation of arguments.
  5. Always Try to Answer the WHY part of every thesis/argument that you give. This makes philosophy "philosophy".
  6. Try not to make arguments by yourselves in the exam until and unless you have actually studied about it somewhere. Sometimes people tend to think themselves as philosophers.
  7. Since you have to write lesser number of words in 3 hours as compared to GS, try to answer in a more neatly. You may use pencil for diagrams (if at all required), black-pen for underlining, etc

Interview Preparation

My Interview was on 17th Feb, the 1st day of the start of the interview itself. Since this time the results were also declared too late, I had very less time to prepare for my DAF.

I attended Mock interviews at ForumIAS, as well as other coachings. With every mock, I learnt something or the other.

My final performance was much better than whatever I did in the mock interviews. However, there were many good and bad things. There were some questions where I thought I answered well. At the same time, there were some where I thought I could’ve answered differently.

So, its quite subjective in the end about how your interview would be. The only thing you could do is enhance whatever is in your hands and “control the controllables.” I think I tried my best to do that.

Last Lines

I think that to clear this exam, there are a few things that are necessary. One is the ability to absorb things one reads, listens etc. Second is the ability to express. And third is patience and dedication, as it may take more time than you may think at first.

My advice to every aspirant would be to also enjoy the process you are in. The Journey is more important than the destination. Have curiosity to know things around you, develop a laser-beam focus, give your 100% but also don't leave behind what you like - your hobbies and interests. Do not self-isolate yourself so much that you are unable to come back again (if you wanted to ). Don't ever try to feel the preparation for this exam a burden on you.

You can change only what is in your hands. The circumstances and the final result may not be in your hands. Give your best and hope for the best.

Best of luck. Do well :)