“Don’t think if you will crack the exam or not, just give your best shot” – IAS Topper Sanjitha Mohapatra says


Hello Everyone, My name is SANJITA MOHAPATRA. I am an old ForumIAS Community Member with the username “BeTheChange”. I was born in Rourkela. I have done my schooling from Chinmaya Vidyalaya (E.M), Rourkela, ICSE Board. 

After that I had done my college from my graduation from College of Engineering and Technology, Bhubaneswar, 2012 batch passout. This was my 5th attempt at Civil Services, but my second serious attempt.

Before this, I had secured 2nd Rank at OPSC (Odisha Public Services Commission)  and had got State Rank 2. I am from a middle class family with my father who is not working anymore, mother who is a housewife.  My elder sister Sarita Mohapatra is presently Manager in BHEL, Bangalore.  

I myself have been working as an Assistant Manager in Rourkela Steel Plant ( SAIL ) from 2013-2018.

I took Sociology as an Optional.

The Civil Services Examination was a Childhood dream for me. Started preparation while in college with baby steps. Reading newspapers. After joining job started with basic NCERT books, polity, geography. Gave 2 attempts while in college with no preparation. 3rd attempt did not revise. 

First 3 attempts could not clear prelims . 4th attempt failed in mains . 5th attempt I have been successful. However, I would not advice this long path to anyone. It is better to have your first or at least second  attempt as a prepared attempt. My fifth attempt was my second prepared attempt.

My Prelims Strategy

I have been focussing on building up the foundation by repeated revisions, covering basics from NCERT . Also what is important that 2 months before Prelims no answer writing practice should be there. I did solve  numerous test series for Prelims 

Weekly twice I used to solve the daily quizzes on various online platforms  

 My Prelims Booklist 

Topic Resource 
History Ancient NCERT 
History Medieval  NCERT 
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) NCERT + SPECTRUM 
Polity (static + current affairs)  LAXMIKANT + THE HINDU + INDIAN EXPRESS 
Economy (static + current affairs) NCERT(basics)  + Ramesh Chandra + HINDU 
Environment (static + current affairs)  SHANKAR IAS + WIKI 
Geography(Physical +Indian+World)  NCERT + PMFIAS NOTES 

The Mistakes I made in previous attempts

This was my 5th attempt and 2nd serious attempt . I did not qualify Prelims in 3 attempts, 4th attempt failed in mains. 

The first 2 attempts I gave while I was still in college, so I had basically zero idea about the UPSC examinations. In my 3rd attempt I did not revise well for Prelims. Fourth attempt could not complete the mains paper. This year I was able to manage things better. 

In my earlier attempts , the notes I made from editorial were too huge and I couldn’t revise them completely before mains. Also I had numerous sources and did not stick to the syllabus. There was also lack of revision. This time I tried to fix all these issues.

My General Studies ( Mains ) Approach

For GS. my constant companion was newspaper. I religiously read The Hindu and Indian Express certain editorials and Explained page 

I had 4 copies (GS 1,2,3,4). I arranged all editorials most relevant under those copies. Wrote the editorials in very crisp, revisable manner, which can be read for mains revision. This note-making was the key of my preparation. Whenever new value addition would come, you can always staple a page to add up the content. 

I was not very regular with Monthly current affairs.

I made notes for every topic mentioned in the syllabus. The notes could be handwritten, digital, bookmarked sites, but my aim was that when I sit for revision I don’t struggle for sources. I should have everything at one place. And then value addition as and when new topics or CA arises 

I had joined ForumIAS Current affairs class for Mains 2019. I personally found it very helpful because of the teaching way of Sir. I think that for the first time I realised how to prepare a topic and summarily and make it concise. If I had known about it three years back, I would have been in a much better situation. 

The Concise notes of the class helped in quick last minute revision. That was the icing in the cake. 

Answer Writing is Important

Answer writing is irreplaceable and of utmost importance 

I started writing answers from December 2018 for mains 2019. People can start even earlier.

I wrote answers in bullet forms. 

I used two inks for heading and main content. I have this habit since childhood from school so it has stayed. 

My exam hall strategy for GS Mains

Out of 80 questions of all GS, I attended nearly 78. Some question I dint know, so wrote half a page kind of thing. For optional this time I completed the paper . Strategy was to complete the paper anyhow. 

I start writing answers from Q1. In first one-hour finish 8 questions (10 marks) 

In 2nd hour 7 questions (from Q11 – 20 markers), 3rd hour rest. Focus was to follow this as much as possible. 

My Interview Preparation

I studied Economic times for a while to gain a different perspective. I gave in total 5 mocks before interview.  I had gotten Sujata Mehta ma’am  Board.

My interview was on July 23rd. So it was very different with mask, shield and all that. It was alarming at first.

I belong to Odisha so many questions were focused on the same like issue of migration in Odisha and how to tackle it like

  • Olive ridley turtle 
  • How to make Puri a global tourist destination 
  • Questions on child labour and its reason for persistence 
  • Women issues in Odisha 

couldn’t answer maybe 20% of the questions. 

They were mostly factual details about Odisha and politely replied I’m unaware 

Qualities that are being tested in Interview

I am not an expert on it so I can’t say it exactly. But my focus was to be “ME” not fake myself, staying composed, saying NO politely to something you don’t know .

They actually try and test you in-depth knowledge about an issue. The questions except for the factual ones are always answerable. They want to understand your mindset. 

Do you thing marks in school or college and the job experience can impact one’s score in the Interview? 

No I don’t think so.  

How was the interview experience? Was it predictable? How much did your preparation help? 

It was unique and different. I had not predicted anything. I went to the interview with an open mind. It was cordial and a great discussion 

My preparation helped in correcting many of my mistakes. I used to talk very fast, I did not think before responding, I was too lengthy in answering. These are things that I had fixed.

How much internet did you use for your preparation? How much value did it add 

I completely relied on internet as I did self study 

Starting from collecting sources my own notes, to solving online quizzes, CA I was completely dependent on it.

Did you make notes? Why yes or no? Did you find them any useful (if you made them).

Yes I made self notes. I completely relied on them for my whole preparation. 

My revision was based on the notes which acted like my one-stop destination

What do you think is the most essential quality/qualities needed to clear this exam?

  • Patience, Perseverance, Consistency and above all Hard work ( it should be smart as well ) 
  • Couldn’t think of one… they form an inseparable group. 

Did you join any offline and/or online coaching? What relevance do you find of coaching in preparation of this exam?  

  • I joined Upendra Gaurs’s 3 months course for Sociology which made my foundation very strong.  
  • I joined ForumIAS Current affairs class post prelims which helped in quick  wholesome revision of CA

What is your advice to the young aspirants who look up to you? 

  • Hardwork has no substitute and Consistency is the key. 
  • Stay focused 

What is the best advice that you have received? 

Don’t think if you would crack it or not, just give your best shot 

What did all hurdles you face while preparing for it? And how did you tackle them 

Depression and helplessness. Feeling that I am not good enough. Self-doubts. But I think that this is something that we face in every walk of life when we are not able to get what we want. 

Self-reflection on what motivated me in the first place to choose this career path, self-motivation, talking to friends was how I tackled it.


Sanjitha Mohapatra
Rank 10, CSE 2019



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