[Strategy] Delhi Boy Gaurav Kapoor, ForumIAS Test Series student, Rank 190, Geography Optional, Third Attempt, General Studies & Geography Optional Strategy and Booklist


Rank: 190

Roll No: 0007126

Optional Subject: GEOGRAPHY

Hometown: DELHI

Role of ForumIAS

My ForumIAS username is @padteraho. I followed ForumIAS prelims test series, daily editorial articles and interview transcripts on ForumIAS. I also followed 9pm brief. 

ForumIAS Prelims Test Series 

It was a good test series with some questions of high difficulty level. Quality of questions were good and quite different from traditional coaching papers. ForumIAS Test Series helped me prepare for all types of difficulty levels which might come in the actual exam.

Interview Initiative of ForumIAS 

I attended one session by Ayush sir, in which he took my DAF in the class as sample for everybody. His suggestions were really helpful, and I worked upon that. This helped me prepare comprehensively for the interview.

Interview discussions on ForumIAS and interview transcripts of users 

It helped me a lot. In fact, it is the one stop point of reference both for potential aspirants who will appear later and those appearing for the same year.

ForumIAS 9 PM Brief 

The 9 PM brief contains the important current affairs of the day. I used it to save my time on newspaper reading, especially during months before Prelims and Mains.

Editorial Articles of ForumIAS 

Editorial Articles of ForumIAS contains high quality analysis, gathered from multiple sources. As mentioned, it helped me in saving the crucial time, cover the critical analysis of an issue and even to have a different perspective on topic of discussion. It’s a good source to compliment one’s own current affairs coverage.

Neyawn’s motivational articles 

It goes without saying that UPSC battle, for many of us, is a long drawn struggle with many ups and downs.

In this arduous journey, motivation is one thing which helps us to push forward. Thus, inspiring stories, toppers’ experience, Neywan’s article, really helps one to keep up the momentum. So, cheers to the team for such great initiatives!

 Inspiration for CSE Examination

Since childhood, my parents, uncle exposed me to this fascinating field of civil services and from them I heard many stories about how an IAS can revolutionize the lives of people, how an IPS plays an integral role in ensuring peace in the society, etc. These images created some inclination in me towards attempting civil services at some point of my life.

After completing my B.Tech, I got the wonderful opportunity to join the prestigious organization ISRO and was posted as Scientist SC at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. My stint at ISRO was really enjoyable and it taught me a lot. However, somewhere deep, I felt an urge to try my childhood dream ofcracking this exam. Finally after spending little over 2 years, with support, well wishes of family and friends, I left the job in 2015 and came to Delhi to prepare seriously for the exam.

Prelims Preparation 

Prelims is the first stage of this exciting UPSC journey. The fact that you only need to pass this exam and its marks won’t be counted in final marks tally, calls for a different approach.

My journey:

I gave my first attempt in 2014 and was not able to clear the prelims.


  1. Lack of revision
  2. Lack of coverage of syllabus
  3. Not enough practice

Hence these points should be kept in mind so as to avoid mistakes I committed in my first attempt. I focused on my weak areas in subsequent attempts and was able to qualify both 2015 and 2016 prelims.

The booklist:

AncientOld NCERT, PD special issue on ancient
MedievalOld NCERT, PD special issue on medieval
Modern HistorySpectrum, Bipin Chandra
CultureGk today module, Class XI new NCERT-the best book!
EconomyRamesh Singh-though not much good, Class XII NCERT
ScienceBio NCERT-relevant chapters, TMH relevant chapters
EnvironmentGk today module, Erachbarucha
GeographyMy optional
IRMagazines, idsa.in
SchemesMagazines, prsorg.in

One should keep in mind that Prelims preparation requires a wide horizontal expansion of your coverage. So do not keep yourself limited to just standard text books, but make exhaustive use of internet, telegram channels, etc so as to expand your coverage.


I never used any special book for CSAT preparation but went through ample number of mock test papers. Given the fact that one needs only 33% ~ 67 marks in the paper to qualify, there is no need to attempt the entire paper. I never finished the paper, but ensured that high accuracy was maintained in whatever question I attempted. Hence, attempt only those questions for which you are very sure.

The Strategy

Before Preparation

  1. The dedicated Prelims preparation should be started at least 3-4 months before the exam.
  2. Keep all pre related books at one place and make list of them which need to be read and revise.
  3. I used to make an excel file like this: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4uTdW1RYSJFLWwxVnFwbER3Mk0/view?usp=sharing

During preparation

Divide preparation into 3 phases:

  • Phase 1: for 1.5-2 months each week complete a subject which should be followed by a test on last day of week for the subject covered.
    Also whenever possible practice questions of previous subjects covered whenever some free time available while the ongoing subject
  • Phase 2: when all subjects are complete, do comprehensive tests throughout the day, 3-4 tests. This should go for first 15 days. This will tell you where you need to improve. How much your guess work paying dividend
  • Phase 3: In last 15 days, keeping 2 days per subject do quick revision of covered subject + give at least 1 test per day.

This whole should end 1 day before prelims and on last day do as much mastii 🙂 as possible to relax your mind.

Just before Exam

  1. Sleep well a day before the exam, but since its difficult to sleep because of anxiety, sleep as much as possible a day before also so as to compensate in advance.
  2. Make check list of items needed on the day of exam.
  3. You can indulge in some physical exercise before the exam, e.g. Jogging, which will help you release the stress.

Words of Wisdom!

I guess the uncertainty of UPSC has become a trademark given this years’s paper and hence one should be prepared for it by keeping following things in mind:

  1. One should not attempt question by having certain perceived cut off in mind.
  2. Balance is the key: revise both current and static part of a subject. Try not to leave any part of the syllabus.
  3. Try to minimize negatives by controlling your emotions.
  4. Keeping cool during the exam and thinking that you have given your best!

Mains Preparation 

Preparation for Essay Paper

This is the paper which I think is highly fluctuating in nature and is very subjective. However, there are certain things which one should keep in mind for this paper. I focused on these points to Improve my score from 95 in CSE 2015 to 145 in CSE 2016:

1. Attempt an essay with which you feel connect and have ample dimensions, content, data to write around 1250 words (~ 8 to 10 pages).

2. Go through a number of topper’s essay which is easily available online to get an idea of how flow is maintained.

3. Practice as many essays as you can. I practiced around 15-20 essays. Even though you will hear many stories where people wrote their first essay in exam hall and got good marks, but these are exceptions and not the norm. Moreover you would not want to put your future on luck!

4. Practice variety of essays, example GS based, philosophical, quote based, etc

5. Creativity of content is more important than complexity of content or language.

6. Always allot 15-20 minutes in structuring the essay, creating flow chart before attempting. This helps you to bring a connect and flow between paragraphs.

7. There is no hard and fast rule whether to write sub-headings or not. I gave sub headings and many who got good marks didn’t. So the choice is yours to make.

In CSE 2016, I attempted following 2 essays and wrote these points:

1. Water disputes between States in federal India:

  • Intro: how recent scenes of violence in Karnataka over Kaveri is happening in India; SYL issue; how these disputes are rising
  • Water Water everywhere: I used this sub heading to focus on geography aspect of water situation in India
  • But no water to drink!: I used this sub heading to focus on environment aspect of water availability coming down
  • Then I dwelled on polity aspects of federal structure, issues, way forward, solutions and conclusion

2. Cyberspace and Internet: Blessing or curse to the human civilization in the long run?

  • Intro: here I used a speech of Jack Ma (founder of Alibaba) who said how technologies are revolutionizing the lives of us and how we use them is important.
  • It was direct essay so related cyber-world to economy, society, culture, environment, terrorism, science, etc.
  • Conc: ended in an optimistic tone to show that it is blessing if we use it properly, otherwise a curse.

GS Paper 1 (Mains) : Booklist/ Sources

TopicBooklist and strategy

Material: GKtoday module, Class XI NCERT, relevant chapters of AL Basham
Strategy: During the mains, one should develop a critical appreciation of Indian culture. Keep note of important stupa, temples, paintings, themes, etc which can come handy in enriching your answers.


Modern history 

Material: Bipin Chandra, Samkalp coaching notes
Strategy: nowadays history questions are changing pattern and they expect you to brainstorm in the exam, hence one should focus on understanding the events of history rather than just mugging


World history 

Strategy: for now not much deep questions are being asked, so for few more years one can expect easy questions in this topic


Post-independence India 

Material: self-made notes of Bipin Chandra; however I glanced at Nitin Sangwan’s Sir notes which I found very good
Strategy: same as world history, expect easy questions for few years


Indian society and associated topics 

Natures of questions under society part have till now been very general. Hence I do not recommend going through bulky coaching notes or reading Ram Ahuja, which many do. Just keep abreast with current affairs, have a look at previous year’s questions and refer to topper’s answers.


Geography and associated topics 

My optional

A general comment on geography: keep a separate notebook on diagrams, and try to search on the internet for creative and clear diagrams. These will boost your marks.


GS Paper 2 (Mains) : Booklist/ Sources

1. For Polity and Governance related portions I used Laxmikant for basics, magazines, Samkalp class notes, 2nd ARC relevant reports, made use of internet e.g forumias, prsorg.in, pib

2. For IR related portions I used idsa, orf website, current affairs, magazines, etc

For certain topics I used coaching notes and did selective reading according to the need of the topic.

I think polity paper is the most unpredictable lot among all the GS paper. An aspirant should equally focus on both current and statics aspects. For e.g, this year GS paper 2 was a shocker, as many of us (including me) went to exam hall keeping in mind previous year’s current based paper and hence comparatively performed less.

GS Paper 3 (Mains) : Booklist/ Sources

TopicBooklist and strategy
Economics Aspects 

Material: Class XII NCERT, Current affairs, magazines, Internet: Economic Survey-very important

Strategy: Economics is more of current oriented section and hence my preparation was issues based e.g GST, Demonetisation, NPAs etc. Try to deal with the issue in comprehensive manner and add the wisdom of Economic survey to boost your marks.


Agriculture aspects 

Material: my optional had covered a part of syllabus; internet: economic survey, current affairs

Strategy: for last few years, agriculture related topic has become quite important, so one should give a considerate effort on preparing this part.


Science aspects 

Material: magazines, samkalp notes, current affairs

Strategy: this topic does not attract much questions so an aspirant should keep the weightage in mind before dwelling deep.


Environment and Disaster Management 

Material: magazines, samkalp notes, internet search, my optional material

Strategy: this is the topic which many ignore but nowadays 2-3 questions do come in exam, so I suggest a good amount of time to prepare this


National Security aspects 

Material: Idsa monograph on internal security

Strategy: this is also another topic whose questions are increasing in recent times, so do give a serious preparation. This topic is more of current oriented but at same time knowing the basics of issues e.gnaxalism, terrorism, cyber security etc is also needed.


GS Paper 4 (Mains) : Booklist/ Sources

Material: lexicon, Subbarao book on ethics-though not much helpful, internet: lectures on ethics module, previous year’s topper’s papers, 2nd ARC on ethics in governance

Thinkers: I did not prepare any thinker as such but went through important points of 5 Indian and 5 Western thinkers; I suggest to prepare Gadhiji’s philosophy in detail which might help you out in many questions.

Strategy: This exam is unique in nature for rather than what you write, more important is how you write. I strongly recommend to go through mock papers of many toppers which will give you an idea how to handle questions of particular nature e.g quote based, definition based, case studies, etc

Nowadays the ethics paper has become relatively lengthier and uncertain and therefore I suggest that:

  1. Practice at least 15-20 case studies and understand the manner of handling the case studies.
  2. For Definition based questions, always tell what you understood by the word, give example from governance and personal perspective.
  3. Find some examples where leaders faced ethical dilemma and how they solved them.


The booklist-

  1. Savindra Singh- this is a base book
  2. P Dayal- It’s a very heavy (content wise) book so I used some selective sections of this book to compliment Savindra Singh.
  3. Rupa Made simple on Physical geography
  4. Majid Hussain’s series of books on Human Geography- I didn’t find them that much good, but unfortunately there is no replacement till now
  5. Rupa Made simple for human geog part- it does not cover syllabus entirely but it has some beautiful explanation and one should learn the writing from it.
  6. Khuller for Indian geography- it’s a base book
  7. R C Tiwari- for certain topics its better than Khuller
  8. ALS coaching notes
  9. Penguin dictionary on physical geography- this is one the sources which I found very helpful. It helped to learn geographical vocabulary and language. Given the current nature of exam it’s my strong recommendation to go through it.

Use of internet

Internet search is a necessary tool nowadays and one cannot rely totally on books for geography optional. I suggest that internet should be used to-

  1. Find out good articles on those topics which are generally not available in standard texts. Also the fact that geomorphology part has become so widen, internet search is a must do.
  2. Explore good and creative diagrams on the topics.
  3. Collection of facts, figures, data, case studies
  4. Watch some good documentary, eg BBC earth, to develop appreciation for the subject.

Notes making

Notes making is a very important task for this exam, and during the preparation, my note making evolved in stages. I think that I went through 3 stages of preparation:

  1. Beginners stage: in this stage I made random notes without thinking about the utility. I sometimes had put the same sentence in verbatim in my notes as in the book. For those going to coaching, it will be like typewriting whatever said in the class.
  2. Mature stage: as this stage, I realized the mistake, and went on to shortening the already made notes. I made them precise and omitted the information not required. I specifically covered a topic in terms of what, where, when, why and how?
  3. Advance stage: as this stage I created tailor made notes specifically for pre and mains revision. For this I used google voice to text so as to include the information only required for the specific exam. This really saved the last few precious moments. I also created separate data sheets, diagram notebook, quotes, which were also handy.

Final words of wisdom!!

Treat this exam like a sport, which you enjoy playing. Just like in sports, we don’t know the end result but we have confidence in our talent and capabilities, similarly have a same confidence here. Be happy and play this exam with full confidence.

Appreciate the difficult questions, which you will face in exam hall, in good sportsman spirit rather than feeling sad and angry that they came in exam. Learn what shots UPSC can play and master the counter strokes of your defence and offense. I played it and succeeded, I am sure you will too!!

All the very best!



prelims upsc marks


mains marks upsc topper


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