How to crack IAS in first attempt by Pratyush Pandey – AIR 21 + MGP Copies

Cracking IAS in first attempt is no mean feat. Pratyush Pandey, has secured Rank 21 this year in CSE 2019.

Pratyush was a student of ForumIAS Academy and was part of the MGP Program.

We asked Pratyush to share his strategy, and his story. And here it is.


  • Your Name:  Pratyush Pandey
  • Place of Birth:  New Delhi 
  • How old are you? : 24 
  • Schooling done from Name and City and score?:  Sanskriti School, New Delhi, 10 CGPA (Class 10), 97.4% (Class 12) 
  • College from which City and Gpa:  IIT Kanpur, 8.9/10 
  • PG (if Any):  IIM Ahmedabad 
  • Your attempt at the exam( 1st, 2nd, 3rd): 1st 
  • Who else is there in your family?:  1 Brother, Parents 
  • Work-experience (if any): 9 Months 
  • Optional: Sociology 

Hello everyone, I am Partyush Pandey. I graduated from IIMA in March 2019 and had decided to appear for the exam this year itself. I didn’t have a mentor so I had to spend a lot of time reading about the process through online blogs by previous year toppers. When I left college, I had a slightly better understanding of how to proceed, and that greatly simplified my preparation. I believe UPSC is more about understanding the path you will take – walking along the path is the easier part. 

 Preliminary examination

Please mention your strategy and books/notes did you referred to for General Studies and CSAT? 

GS – same strategy I use in life. Look at the cost and look at the benefit – spend as much time as you can in high benefit low cost area, then move to high benefit high cost, then move to low benefit low cost, and only then if you feel you need to study more then go to low benefit high cost. You must see past year papers to know – subjects like environment, Science and Tech, modern history, and topics like Buddhism, Jainism are very high benefit.

Similarly world map and monetary policy (conceptual question), and even national parks/wildlife sanctuaries – at least 1 come almost every year. These must not be neglected.

Things like dykes, sills in geography, or random ocean currents I hadn’t seen in papers in last 5-10 years, and personally always found boring – low benefit high cost for me, so I skipped. I never studied for 200 marks for prelims, only to qualify – prelims won’t give you a rank.

Nothing for CSAT, didn’t feel any need, but I’d advise giving a mock test if you’re unsure, and if you score <100 then you might want to spend a little time. 

GS (strategy and books) 




Topic Resource 
History Ancient Old NCERT (brief 
History Medieval  Old NCERT 
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) Spectrum 
Culture Nitin Sangwan notes 
Polity (static + current affairs)  Lakshmikant, News 
Economy (static + current affairs) Only News (Eco was my favourite subject in college) 
Science (static + current affairs)  Only news (Science background) 
Environment (static + current affairs)  Prelims – IAS4sure compilation & Nitin Sangwan notes 

Mains- News compilations + NCERT Disaster Management + Previous Year Papers + Googling important laws, acts 

Geography(Physical +Indian+World)  NCERT – for very limited topics like Disaster Management,  

World Map, India Map for prelims, for resources around the world, PMFIAS for slightly complex topics like earthquake, volcano  

 In addition, ForumIAS created a document with handwritten notes ( Current Affairs Classes ) on important topics some weeks before Mains – I found it relevant, it covered many topics in a short space.

Which test series did you join? How helpful do you things such test series are? 

ForumIAS MGP and Lukmaan IAS for mains, TriumphIAS for sociology. Test series are as useful as you make them – what you get out of them depends on what you put into them, how you think about and act on the feedback. I think I spent as much time writing test series as I did on revision – it’s a generalist exam and frankly, you don’t need as much content as it seems you do. 

How Many questions did you attempt in GS? How many did you get right? 

Attempted 93 or 95 or so, I don’t recall. I made a lot of mistakes that day, more than I ever did, somewhere around 30 wrong (don’t recall exactly, I never live in the past – give the exam and move on). 

What do you think is the optimal number of questions to attempt in prelims? Do you advise accuracy or maximum attempts? 

You need to figure it out for yourself; one size never fits all. Whether you go for the accuracy or maximum attempts, you must practice that strategy in the mock tests you give before prelims. I barely “knew” 20-30 questions for sure, I always went for maximum attempts; very rarely did I not attempt 100/100. It worked for me; I usually got 120ish in mock tests; though a lot of guesses went wrong on the day of the exam, I’d attempted so many that the right ones compensated for it and I probably cleared with a 5-10 mark margin. Which is what I wanted – prelims doesn’t get you a rank, and I spent as little time as I could on it. 

If you had to prepare again would you change your strategy in any way? 

Not really. I spent quite a lot of time deciding my strategy before I actually prepared because I didn’t want to have this regret that I could have changed my strategy and succeeded. So I’ll say – sharpen your axe for 4 hours, then you’ll only need two hours to cut the tree. Otherwise, you’ll find it takes much longer. 

Mains  examination

How did you prepare GS? 

Have listed the books on my blog. The most useful thing I found was a blog by Gaurav Agarwal (Rank 1, 2013) – GS is a generalist paper, you DON’T need to know a lot to write great answers. This sounds very simplistic, which is why I’ve written in great detail on my blog about it (it would be too long to repeat here) 

How did you cover Current Affairs for Mains?

Would read editorials, newspaper at breakfast on my phone or while cycling in the gym. I referred to popular monthly compilations for Mains. If you understand how you need to answer questions in the exam, you can read much faster (again, explained in blog with example of an article on EIA changes). 

What’s your optional subject and why? 

Sociology, partly because I had interest since I’d taken a couple of courses on it in college, and partly because I didn’t have time and could find useful material easily. And I wanted something new, not the same subjects I’d learnt in college. Though I’ll say sociology didn’t live up to my expectations – I’d mostly read Marx and Weber before, and no one else came anywhere close. 

Please share your strategy and booklist for SOCIOLOGY optional? 

Optional 1 

STRATEGY: This is a paper mostly about the six thinkers. Interlink each of them – for example, use Parsons/Weber/Husserl to criticize Marx if the question is about Marx. It’ll become much easier, you’ll have lots more to write. I gave as many names of sociologists as I could, and some examples from news wherever I had any. Rest, I felt the paper very similar to GS. 

 BOOKLIST: Referred IGNOU books, Tusharanshu notes, 

Optional 2 

STRATEGY: Two distinct parts in this. One is the Indian sociologists, you need to know about them. The other is very GS type – feminism, caste, poverty etc. Point is this is a SOCIOLOGY paper not GS. So I always threw in as many names as I could in all my answers. I would say “According to Veena Das/ Dipankar Gupta” before my point – otherwise it would just become a GS answer. Also tried to use current affairs examples wherever possible – so questions on youth/women would have Greta Thunberg, Nadia Murad, questions on SC would have Bhim Army and so on. 

BOOKLIST: Tusharanshu notes, 

Did you join any classes for your mains preparation? If yes then how useful did you find them? 

Did not join, always preferred studying by myself. Had referred to Current Affairs Class Notes of ForumIAS which they released before Mains 2019. 

How important is answer writing? What was your style of answer writing?

 Answer writing is everything in my opinion  you’re only judged by what you put on the paper, not what you know. I read Gaurav Agarwal’s post for answer writing (it is hands down the best thing I found in this exam) and spent some hours studying Anudeep Durishetty’s answer sheets. In a nutshell: Go wide,  – give more dimensions and fewer, shorter points. My answer writing strategy literally WAS my preparation strategy – I’ve written on it in great detail in the link I’ve shared, I think it might help. 

How many questions did you attempt? What strategy did you follow for mains examination in the examination hall? 

Attempted all questions – I never leave any. It’s hard to say how many were right – I didn’t know quite a lot of the questions – I’d never heard of CyberDome project, never come across overground workers specifically, and some questions in GS 2 were the size of a paragraph and made little sense in the exam – but I always wrote answers, using a framework I’d developed. 

If you had to prepare again would you change your strategy in any way? 

No, not too much, maybe wouldn’t have used some of the books I first referred to, but I think this is something you find out for yourself only once you begin. Don’t get bogged down by the mystique and aura around this exam -I’ve always believed in thinking for myself, and there is ALWAYS a simpler way if you’re willing to look for it. I’ve elaborated in my blog.  

I joined ForumIAS MGP. Very very professional. It was impeccable. – I never had to waste time asking for my copies, they came right on time. The feedback helped me a lot – Mains is all about answer writing when you come down to it.  

I made significant tweaks as per the feedback in my answer writing, which frankly I think is the key.

Sharing some of my Answers ( which  I kept improving upon )



I didn’t particularly follow the blog, but I have read some of Neyawn’s articles and enjoyed them. Not the usual clichéd content you see far too often, he shares ideas of his own. That helped.


How did you prepare for the interview? Did you attend any mocks? 

I was working after mains so didn’t have too much time, I attended 4 or 5 mocks on the weekends. Mocks can help you as a rehearsal for the main event, especially if you’ve not given interviews before. But you still need to apply your mind, not just blindly follow everything you’re told. 

I faced R.N Choubey Board.

I don’t recall all questions exactly, will do my best – C = Chariman, M1,M2,M3,M4 are members, my answers are in italics, and in brackets I’ve added any comments I have now, looking back at it) 

C: What are you doing currently?  Working as a Risk Analyst (seemed to make a good impression when I mentioned my role and firm) 

Why is it not mentioned in the form? I joined immediately after my exam, I found I couldn’t simply sit at home. (Again it seemed to make a good impression, I think because I meant what I said) 

C: What is your work? What’s the role, what do you do, how is it usefulGave the big picture – identifying customers at risk of defaulting on loans, predicting in advance which segments of customers are likely to face high stress in repayment, 

C: How do you do that? Isn’t there a credit score already known? Mentioned about insights generated from the firm’s internal metrics that go beyond simple credit scores 

C: Don’t you think AI can replace you? I don’t deny it can take over many of our functions, but I think that, at least in the near future, it cannot. The broad strategy is laid out by humans based on their goals, not by AI. And there are always outlier events – take the pandemic, which has triggered a recession and led to huge defaults. So I think AI couldn’t replace humans completely just yet. 

C: You are just saying that because your job depends on it. Just smiled, didn’t answer – I don’t think it was a question. 

M1 (only female member): So you must have heard of the Nirbhaya case (it was March 20, day of the hanging of the convicts) – what is your opinion on capital punishment? (I’d expected either violence against women or capital punishment. Interview isn’t like Mains – don’t quote committees or blindly parrot answers. I also don’t believe in giving the same bland answers especially if you don’t agree with them so I didn’t say we should abolish it or just answer “rarest of rare”). Many countries, especially those in Scandinavia have abolished capital punishment (CP). But I feel that our circumstances are different, we have a less stable neighborhood, so we cannot simply imitate them. For example, in the Kandahar hijacking, hostages were used as a bargaining chip to secure a terrorist’s release – in these cases, CP could be justified. And, there are some crimes, such as the Nirbhaya case (that was the Question, after all), which are so barbaric as to be a crime against humanity- this is the rarest of rare, where I believe CP may be the most just punishment. And I feel our judicial process has a lot of safeguards to prevent a miscarriage of justice. 

Something about violence against women: I don’t think it’s as easy as changing attitudes; attitudes are hard to change and that will take a long time. Security and deterrence, along with providing women the independence to stand on their own feet, are as important, especially in the short term, while also working on reforming mindsets in the long term. 

M2 (I think he was from the Air force): You mentioned terrorism. Why do you think India hasn’t been able to eradicate it in seventy years? (Rather surprising, didn’t have a ready-made answer – you might have to think on your feet in the interview). I think that, for a long time, we focused on attacking the symptoms and not the root cause. We only worked on defending against the aggression of our neighbours. That has changed in the recent past with the air strikes conducted – we’re no longer simply defending against the symptoms but attacking the root cause. 

Is that all? It doesn’t help that we have a hostile neighbourhood, with one neighbor committed to attempting to bleed us through a thousand cuts and another supporting it. I think it’s not reasonable to compare India with other countries, say in the West, which have a far more peaceful environment. 

M3: What would you do to develop a district? Tell me 3 things you would focus on. (I never give big, fancy answers in these questions – I’ve seen too many presentations, all those ideas remain on paper. I only say what personally would do). I’d concentrate on education. Quality control is much harder when schools are scattered, and many schools have very few children and teachers. I’d work to consolidate these schools into one large institution, where I could ensure high standards. Then I’d focus on healthcare, following a similar approach, to aggregate and automate purchases and bring down costs while raising quality, perhaps leveraging e-consultations and retired medical personnel who could be motivated to volunteer. Third thing would be employment…I think that, if we handled education and healthcare, employment would take care of itself. To get good teachers and doctors, you have to provide good roads, good houses, good facilities – so only through this would education and healthcare be improved, and once it was done, we would see investment coming of its own accord. 

M3: Have you heard of ___ scheme in UP (don’t recall the name)? No, sir. I haven’t heard of it. 

M4: What is organic farming? What do you think of it? I described it simply, as farming done without the use of chemicals in fertilizers/pesticides, with natural inputs as far as possible. (I sort of got a bit carried away then) First I mentioned about Zero Budget Natural Farming that had been quite popular in the media and in some states. But I went on to say that there have been allegations that the yields are low, that it requires a very high labour cost, and that it’s an unscientific and unproven method not backed by any studies. So I ended by saying that in my opinion, the decision should be left to farmers – we’ll support them by subsidizing a new technology and then allow them to choose if they want to adopt it. And that I believe a pilot based approach would be best – carry out scientific estimates in a few areas, and if the results are favorable, scale it up. 

M4: So you are such a person who has been to Sanskriti School, then IIT and then IIM – why are you coming to civil services? (This is the hardest question. There are 2 answers – the simple one like diversity/challenge which doesn’t require thinking and is for the consumption of others. The other is you own – it takes hours of thinking.) I spoke about myself – I’ve worked in the corporate sector, and I joined IIMA because I enjoyed learning at IIT and again loved it at IIM. That IIM isn’t just about jobs and packages – I chose courses in public policy, infrastructure development and financing and economics. And at IIMA, I interned at the Clinton Foundation in my second year because I wanted to see how it would be. Only after all this did I decide to appear for the exam. (One suggestion, if it helps you adopt it – I never spoke about civil services in Why IAS – the board knows much more about the job, what can I tell them that they don’t know? I always use interviews to talk about myself instead) 

What qualities do you think are being tested in the Interview? Some strict Do’s and Don’ts for the Interview for aspirants and Interview candidates? 

I think a personality test is basically about the Board deciding whether they can see themselves working with you – would you be a colleague/junior they would like to work with? In consulting, they call it the airport test – can I sit with this guy for 8 hours in a flight without being bored? I decided long ago I wouldn’t put on a fake face for any interview, since then all my interviews are either really good or really bad. I haven’t got my marks yet, but I’m confident they’ll be high or low, not average. Try not to be boring – the board sees dozens of candidates, if they all follow the same script no one will remember you. If you be yourself, no one else will be like you. The rest is the same – you can admit you don’t know a question, nothing matters. Dress/Manner of walking etc are tiny things- whole point of these are that no one should notice them, meaning it shouldn’t attract adverse attention – don’t get fixated on them. It’s the easiest and most fun part, don’t worry about it till you clear mains. Focus on prelims and mains first. So I can’t give you any strict Dos and Donts! 

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

Not much, what you say in those 30 minutes matters. If you make a bad impression, your marks/job will not save you, if you make a good impression, your below average marks won’t hurt you. Don’t be cocky if you’re from a good college – let’s face the truth, we just cleared one exam to make it there, and most of us in these colleges aren’t as brilliant as the outside world thinks us to be. If this sounds harsh, it’s because I’ve seen so many IIT/IIM guys think they’ll clear the exam like a breeze and failing repeatedly. One thing I want to tell all those from top colleges – I know this exam is in some ways crueler for you, you have my sympathy – if you fail, you will see surprise/malice, and if you clear, you will hear, “I’m not surprised you cleared”. It doesn’t really matter, learn to focus on yourself and not what others say, for they will always say something (if you clear, you’ll hear, “Why IIT/IIM and then IAS? Why “waste” a seat?”) 

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

Some of it was predictable, some was not. Preparation helped  – pausing before speaking to collect my thoughts was especially useful, which I had focused on in my mocks. 

Miscellaneous Questions

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

My whole prep was through the internet. Value added depends on you. There is so much harmful misinformation, I’ve created a list on my blog of what helped me. 

How did you balance so much resources and data? What Smart techniques did you use to manage your preparation in a better manner? 

Written extensively in my blog, it’s very detailed. Hope it helps someone. 

Did you make notes? Why yes or no? Did you find them any useful (if you made them). Please share a high quality sample if you made notes. Also were your notes online or offline? 

Very scattered notes, relied a lot on Google. Some online, some offline – I realized I don’t need to mug so much information, there’s a better way to learn (I’ve shared it) 

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

Think for yourself. No one can do your thinking for you, and no one will, for no one cares as much about your success as you do. If you ask me to tell you which book to read or which optional to take, you are not likely to make it frankly. DON’T expect spoon-feeding, it doesn’t help. 

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

Don’t look up to me. Don’t over-hype this or any other exam; there are far better things to life, and clearing an exam doesn’t make you great, it’s what you do after the exam that counts. I’ve never listened to “motivational” or “inspirational” stories, I want to make my own story. So be your own hero, don’t make me or anyone else one. 

What is the best advice that you have received? 

Too much to go into now. There are too many amazing things I’ve read and tried to make a part of me, I’ll share only some I can think of right now. If you REALLY understand even one of these, your life won’t be the same. 

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” Richard Feynman 

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.” Friedrich Nietzsche 

“Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous. The object of praise remains what it is—no better and no worse. Does anything genuinely beautiful need supplementing? Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by contempt? Is an emerald suddenly flawed if no one admires it?” Marcus Aurelius 

What all hurdles DID you face while preparing for the exam? And how did you tackle them 

College schedule (for all those in B-schools, you know about free-riders, I was blessed with countless study groups where out of 6 people I usually was the only one who did the project), People telling me not to drop out of placements (apparently that’s the only purpose of an MBA and IIMA). Nothing very great – I’m lucky enough to come from a financially comfortable middle class family and I know others have it much tougher. 

What role did Forumias play in your preparation? Do you have any suggestions for us? 

MGP was highly beneficial. As I have said in my video interview, it was impeccable.  No suggestions. 

Click here to download MGP Copies of Pratyush Pandey

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