Madhubalan.L AIR 71 UPSC 2017 – Toppers strategy and Book list


Q1. How did you ever come to know about Civil Services?

Since my childhood I have been hearing my elders talk about IAS and IPS. But I was too young to understand why so much was talked about them . In my college days , I would see that every year when civil services results are declared , newspaper and TV channels would be flooded with names and interviews of toppers. This triggered my curiosity towards civil services. Further when I found that one could be of so much help to the society by being in the services I was ecstatic to be a part of it. 


Q2. When did you start the preparation and did you go about it?

I started reading newspapers in the final year of my college. My preparation got a true perspective after college ended and I had decided not to take any other job. I did so because I did not want to have any Plan B and I could focus wholeheartedly on my preparation. 

I began with NCERT’s but never wasted time reading NCERTs of lower classes such as 6th 7th 8th etc., I focussed only on class 11th and 12th NCERTs and I think I made the correct decision. Then I moved to some of the well known standard books once the NCERTs were on my finger tips. 


Q3. What are the standard textbooks you followed?

I followed specific books for each part of the syllabus and made sure I read them multiple times.

Here is a link to the list of books I followed click here


Q4. How much time did you spend everyday for studies?

It’s not the number of hours that you sit with the books but it’s all about the quality of information that you imbibe. I never studied for more than 6 hours on any given day but those six hours had my undivided attention and focus. The rest of the day I would relax, read articles and sometimes watch motivational movies and videos. 


Q5. What was your strategy for prelims?

After having missed the cut-off by 2 marks in my 1st attempt I knew that I would be able to clear it only if I reduce the number of wrong questions.and I started working on it aggressively.


My strategy for prelims is as follows :



  • Finding the ‘type of questions’


I went through the previous year question papers and noted down what type of questions were asked . For example : 

Prelims 2014 question was 

The Ghadr was a 

a)Revolutionary association of Indians with headquarters at San Francisco

b))nationalist organization operating from Singapore

c)militant organization with headquarters at Berlin

d)communist movement for India’s freedom with headquarters at Tashkent


This question can be brought under the type ‘ Important organisations/associations during Freedom struggle’.

When I found the question types it became so easy for me to find the focus areas in the textbooks. 



  • Reading the standard text books multiple times


Once I have marked the focus areas , now I read them 3 to 4 times. 



  • Taking tests


The preparation should be supplemented with tests so that we remain exam oriented throughout. I put up a table in which I noted down my marks. 

Subject Portions Test 1 Test 2 Test 3
Economics ………… 79.32 81.2 97.6
Arts & Culture ………….. …… …… ……
Modern History …………. …… …… ……
Physical Geo ……………. …… …… …….


This table not only helped me to analyse where I stood in different subjects but also remained an indicator of strengths and weakness within a particular subject. 



  • Introspection


Continuous introspection by analysing the marks in the table and taking tests to cover my weaknesses made me comfortable in all the subjects. I took around 50 sectional tests and 20 full portion tests before preliminary examination.



  • Current affairs for Preliminary exam


Its advisable to follow the current affairs compilation of any one institute. The important thing is to revise them 2 or 3 times. I also maintained a separate notebook where I noted down significant facts from ‘The Hindu’ newspaper. 



  • Revision


I made sure I revise each subject topic wise and immediately take a test on that particular subject. I would try to increase the no. questions attempted out of 100 and at the same time reduce the negative marks in my results by avoiding silly mistakes and wild guesses. 



  • CSAT


CSAT Paper 2 should not be entirely ignored as I have seen people failing to get the required 33% marks in the paper to qualify. Questions being asked in paper 2 are of good level these days and one should practice a good deal of questions to get a hang of CSAT paper 2 instead of taking any sort of risk. 


Q6. Your strategy for Mains?


  • Developing ‘Unique’ content


During my preparations I used to maintain 4 set of notebooks one for each of the GS papers. I used to write the part of the syllabus, important points relating to the syllabus and leave a few pages before writing the next topic.


For example : In GS paper 2 there is a syllabus portion ‘ Issues related to poverty and hunger’ . During the course of the preparation if I found any new information about ‘Poverty or hunger’ in some book or newspaper or magazine or on the internet I would immediately update my notes. 

So at the end of the year I had a good collection of unique information on different topics for revision. 



  • Improving vocabulary 


 I maintained a small note for this purpose where I wrote down 3 new words a day – their meaning , usage in a sentence. A good vocabulary can make your answers rich and to the point. 



  • Writing Practice


For mains there is only one foolproof strategy-It is Answer Writing Practice. Only when you’ll write answers will you get to know how well you can put the information, you’ve been cramming in your little head all this while, on paper for the examiner to judge you. The more you’ll write the better you’ll get with each passing day. Link to writing answers


There is one question you should ask yourself while checking your answers, will the examiner enjoy reading my answer script? Will he be ready to forgo any silly spelling or grammatical error that you might commit in haste because the quality of your answer is so good? The flow of information, presentation, clarity of opinion and your ability to correlate will decide your fate in the merit list. 


Highlighting important points in your answer by underlining, giving live examples and if need be making flowcharts and diagrams can be a few of the many efforts by which one can lure miserest of examiners to give you good marks.Try to maintain a constant speed and a legible handwriting throughout the examination. 



  • Taking tests and evaluation


Join a GS test series which gives you atleast 15-20 tests. Most important thing is evaluation and feedback. Work on those feedbacks and make it a point not to repeat the mistakes you made in previous tests. 


I used to write answer for a particular question – evaluate it on the same day and award marks. After 14 days, I wrote answer for the same question and compare both the answers. This way I improved the quality of presentation of answers.



  • Optionals


I finished the syllabus for optionals before 2 months of prelims. After prelims I made it a habit to spend 2 hours everyday for optionals. Every weekend I wrote a test on a specific portion. 


The marks in optional can be a game changer, so one should make sure that atleast 10 optional tests are written before appearing for mains.



  • Essays



I had made it a point to write 1 essay every week and get it evaluated from seniors and teachers. Making note of important illustrations and every day examples can add a lot of value to your essays.

For example : For the essay ‘ Social media is inherently a selfish medium ‘, I started the essay with the a inhumane incident which happened in karnataka last year – A man hit by a vehicle bleeding and begging the bystanders for help  while the bystanders clicking pictures and taking videos to be uploaded on social media. 


Create your own notes for every major topic like : Women issues , Democracy , Education ,etc and keep updating it with eye catching illustrations that you see on everyday newspaper.


Q7. Your strategy for Interview?



  • Understanding the requirement of UPSC 


Though it carries only 275 marks, one cannot afford to take it lightly , because a candidate’s selection or ranking is likely to be affected by the marks that he/she gets in it. Understanding the qualities UPSC expects from the candidate gave me a clear view .



  • Preparing the Detailed Application Form ( DAF )


Knowing in and out of the details you have mentioned in DAF is necessary. Consider DAF as your question paper. Give it to your friends and make them ask questions from that. 

For example : Since my hobby was watching cricket , I prepared a list of around 120 questions that could be asked from it. Luckily I got 2 questions from cricket in UPSC interview. 


  • Taking mocks

Minimum of 3 and maximum of 5 mock interviews can help us gain confidence and work on the weak areas. Some mocks may demotivate you. But never ever take it to your heart. The UPSC interview will always be different . 


Remember that mocks are only to make your mental frame of mind flexible and responsive to any unforeseen circumstances and not an indicator of marks that you may get on final interview. 


Q8. How was your interview experience?


The interview started with factual questions from my graduation field which I could not answer very well. But I remembered very well that they have tested my knowledge in prelims and mains already and the tough questions are not really to test my knowledge but my reaction to pressure and my behaviour under stressful situations . 


Other factual questions were :

  • What is Bitcoin? Is it legal in India?
  • What is Blockchain and explain its working?
  • Who is Mahalanobis?
  • Define Inclusive development?Steps taken by India for inclusive development?


Questions from my DAF :

  • What is the speciality of your hometown?
  • Why is Mahabalipuram famous?
  • What attracts tourists to Pondicherry?
  • How to resolve the koodankulam issue?


Also had some situational questions like :

  • You are an IPS officer. You are taken captive by naxalites and you do not have any means to communicate. How will you escape?
  • You are ASP of a district. You are given an assignment to eliminate 20 naxalites hiding in a village. When you reach the village with the force , you find that the local tribal population have surrounded the village and are not leaving you inside. How will you convince them?


And opinion based questions like :

  • Is USA a reliable partner?
  • How to improve the relationship with Gulf countries?


I remained calm and composed with an expression of peace on my face. I remained honest to the members with my answers and after the 20 mins of adrenaline rush I came out of the room and puffed a sigh of relief. 

You have to convince yourself that interview is one thing which is not in your control but your body language and attitude is. The calmer you are the better will the interview go.



  1. Links neither for book list nor for answer writing practice has given..if u repost ,would be more helpful for all the aspirants.

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