IAS RANK 198: Shilpi, 2nd Attempt, Mathematics Optional

Shilpi has secured Rank 198 in Civil Services Examination,2015. This was her 2nd attempt at the coveted exam.

Shilpi has been associated with forumias.com since the last two years and has been an active member throughout. She has inspired many with her timely advices, comments and now, with her success.

ForumIAS would like to congratulate her for her spectacular success and wish her all the best for her life as an officer.

Given below is the transcript of her interview with forumias where she describes her journey, experiences and preparation strategy. We hope that it would be of immense help to everyone.


Your Name


All India Rank in Civil Services Examination


Your ForumIAS User Name


Which attempt was this at Civil Services Examination?


Where do you hail from?

Gurgaon, Haryana

Tell us something about your family background

My father has a pharmaceutical business in Gurgaon and my brother works in a private sector bank. Mother is a homemaker and we, the family of four, live in our humble abode in Gurgaon. πŸ™‚

Your graduation or early education

Mathematics Honours from Delhi University

Your Optional Subjects


Your medium of Instruction in School?


Your medium of instruction in college?


Your medium of writing the Mains?


Any initial preparation?

I began preparing soon after my college ended in June 2013. I was pretty directionless at the time but still finished basic books before i joined Weekend Batch of KSG in October 2013.
This move of joining Weekend classes was a strategic one (after remaining directionless for 2-3 months after college). I wanted to have only basic guidance with full thrust on self-study. Weekend classes helped me in maintaining this delicate balance. it left me with time to study my optional as well.

First, tell us something about yourself!

I belong to Gurgaon (Gurugram to be exact :P), graduated from Delhi University. I am a self-motivated individual with only little push required from outside sources to achieve my goals. β€œCivil Services Dream” was handed to me by my father after I aced 10th Board exams. Soon enough, I made it my own dream and entered here soon after I finished my graduation.
I believe that one should see the larger picture, concentrate on bigger goals and this is how smaller issues take care of themselves. by now, you must surely now that i indulge myself in philosophical stuff ! πŸ˜€


What books/notes did you refer to for General Studies and CSAT for prelims?

Basic books that everyone knows about. some special mention i want to make here though.
For Art and Culture, I made online notes out of CCRT, I supplemented it later with NIOS and NCERT. Then Current Affairs were added too in these notes. This gave me closure preparation wise.
For environment, I did not refer to Shankar IAS material initially. I wrote sub-topics under Environment (like Climate change, pollution, biodiversity, national and international bodies) with the help of previous year question papers. then i looked up these topics from MoEF , IUCN websites, etc etc. this strategy paid me well as i was able to go beyond what’s available in market material. (although it’s a lot of gadha majdoori, to be honest!). Then i read Shankar IAS material just for the sake of competitive edge.
I would be happy to share my notes but I don’t have them readily available in online format. they’re prepared in a pretty idiosyncratic way :/

How many questions did you attempt in GS in Prelims?


Do you think attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims? Is there an ideal number of questions one should attempt? How did you decide to attempt those questions which you were not sure of?

From my number of attempt in Prelims, one can see that I don’t think “attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims”. I go for accuracy attached with reasoning.
Here is my reasoning during two hours of writing GS for Prelims:
“Paper is tricky (several very easy questions + several very close type options) but in any case, cut off can’t go beyond 110 come what may. i am doing 65 questions about which i am 100% sure, but even if luck goes against me and i have 5 of them wrong, my score won’t fall behind 115. i should comfortably clear. so, no need to become Khatron Ke Khiladi today, just mark 65 and get the hell out of here”.
This worked out pretty well for me. I got 64/65 (going by my marks 127.34)

What was your score in UPSC Prelims?


How much was the variation in your official Prelims score in comparison to that of coaching keys?

I never checked my answers from coaching keys. Kuch kaam UPSC ko bhi karne do haha (Let upsc also do some work :P) )


When did you start preparing for Mains Examination?

Preparation for both Prelims and Mains was done simultaneously, can’t pin-point an exact time reference πŸ™‚

How did you cover Current Affairs?

Vision CA + EPW (for analysis) + Yojana (not very rigorously though) + The Hindu

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 1

Since GS 1 is more static (History, Geography), preparation from basic books formed a major chunk of preparation. For socio part, I made notes on each topic online with help of my friend Bharat Bhasin (whose optional is Sociology, so i used his expertise here :P).
Then, we practised lots of diagrams and figures (something i used to call “designs”) to make my answers look more appealing. We practised these for all three parts of GS 1.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 2

GS 2 and GS 3 were prepared simultaneously mainly from current sources and notes. here again, lots of diagram practicing helped. no particular book for any of these topics was used. Just made notes on different topics from various online sources and revised them again and again to get a handle at them.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 3

Same as above πŸ™‚

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 4

I could hardly say that i conquered Ethics paper! but for preparation part, I wrote many answers (again with my above-mentioned friend). However, neither of us managed to get a great score in Ethics, so sharing our strategy would be a waste of everyone’s time πŸ™

Full Preparation: The Conquering of ESSAY

In this attempt, i began writing essays (again with my above mentioned friend) in May/June. No test series, no formal reviews on essay.
We wrote about 10 essays together and sent it to each other as well as our non-upsc friends to give us feedback on flow of essay (since they won’t appreciate our upsc-type gobbledygook all that much πŸ˜› ). this helped in maintaining a good flow and at the end i think this factor matters the most since its almost impossible to differ your content from 15,007 brilliant minds who are writing that very paper too.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of Optional Subject

My optional is Mathematics and I failed to get a “conquering” score in both my attempts. People getting 320s in mathematics should be the guiding lights for this optional. I, for one, am giving up on it for Philosophy.


How many questions did you attempt in GS1, GS2, GS3 and GS4?

left 1 full question in GS 1. attempted rest of the questions in all the papers somehow.

Which Essays did you attempt in the Mains Examination?

Lending-doles; Dreams

Did you use the headings/subheading in an Essay?


Did you underline the important statements in Essay?


What went wrong in your previous attempt(s)? Which changes did you make in this attempt?

GS and optional both were below average. this time i brought GS to an average/good level but Optional disappointed me yet again (got worse from 220 to 190)

Did you write your answers in bullet points or in paragraphs?

Bullets mostly

Did you make any diagrams along with your answers in any of the GS papers?

yes, all of them

Did you give examples in most of your answers? Also did you mention any points from govt. reports like ARC, Punchhi Commission etc. in your answers?

Yes, i kept mentioning

What was that one smart move you think you made in the exam which you would like others to know.

Not going for Vajiram-Sriram type 7-day-a-week 9-10 months long coaching that could’ve put me in a very difficult situation in May-June coz I wouldn’t have studied much by myself due to rigorous schedule and there wasn’t much time left after coaching would have ended.Β 

I got sufficient time to study by myself while continuing to have basic guidance.

Having a pact with “one” friend to maintain a rhythm in preparation without having to deal with any ego issues. you hardly need a test series to evaluate you prepare if you’ve someone like that.


Did you join any coaching classes for Prelims or Mains? If yes, which one?

KSG for GS

How far do you think is coaching necessary for preparing for Prelims and Mains Examination?

necessary = not at all

Did you join any test series for Prelims and Mains? If yes, please mention the name and also how useful it was.

for prelims = no
for mains:

Byju’s – right after prelims to remain in a proper study schedule so that i don’t go soft in my weak areas like Geography that would’ve taken a backseat usually.

GS Score – after i passed prelims
They were useful in the sense that neither of them would give me marks esp GS score. Even in some of the right answers, my answer sheet was marked pretty badly. I know they aren’t there to please us, but still my answers were being marked wrong even when they had no issue.
GS Score people, pls don’t get worked up about it coz somehow your checking style helped me in GS 1 and GS 3 by pushing me to work harder.

Did you practice answer writing for mains? If yes, please mention the approach you followed.

I used to write answers with my friend on a daily basis, we used to send each other 5-7 questions daily on an alternate basis, wrote and exchanged answers and then we discussed them during night. one of those questions would necessarily be from Ethics. We used to take questions from Vision IAS Test Series (that he got from a friend), insightsonindia and IAS baba.


Which Interview Board did you face?

Mr. Manbir Singh

How long was your interview?

could be anything between 20-35 minutes.

Can you tell us briefly about your interview experience?

It was not an interview at all. i just had a very good discussion with 5 extremely learned people in a very cordial atmosphere where they allowed me to speak my mind. I almost forgot that this is the freaking UPSC interview that we all lose sleep over.

What did you wear for the Interview?

Indian Suit

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

As there is a huge diversity in the boards, i don’t really know what to say about qualities being tested.
One Strict Don’t is don’t feel insecure of anything – be it your age, attempt, work exp, appearance, anything in the world! Having an insecurity actually helps if you know how to capitalise on it. how? it is more than likely that the board would also notice your insecurity and would like to grill on it. if you prepare a forceful and convincing answer for that insecurity, then you’ll be rewarded handsomely! You just need to be confident about your weaknesses coz your weaknesses only go on to show that you are a hum an being who despite of those weaknesses beat the odds and sitting in front of them. (usual success ratio for getting an interview call isn’t more than .6%; it is .3% for general category candidates). so pls understand that you’ve got some substance and that’s why you’re there.
so just be ruthlessly confident πŸ™‚

What magazines /newspapers did you refer to for preparing Current Affairs?

For interview, I used to go through The Hindu and Times of India app. No notes as such, just discussing topics with friends. here, special mention to Mr. Sudhanshu Dhama (AIR 115) and Mr. Prabodh Sharma (AIR 284). Somehow, our opinions wouldn’t match at all and that’s what helped me in broadening my perspective.

Did you attend any mock interview sessions at the coaching classes? If yes, were they beneficial?

Samkalp and KSG
Special Mock Interview by Mr. Sudhanshu Dhama (AIR 115)
UPSC interview was the first formal interview I was supposed to have. so mocks helped me prepare for it in following ways:
1. my interview was scheduled on 9th March (within 19 days of result) and i was grossly under-confident about it. these mocks made me realize that i had some kind of natural knack for analytical questions in interview setting.
2. also, their feedback helped in communicating better: Earlier i was in the habit of looking at one person while answering, but with 3 mocks, i became sufficiently comfortable in engaging everyone while I was answering.
3. I learnt how not to answer – how to say “I don’t know” in a manner that the interviewer felt bad that s/he even asked you that question! πŸ˜€

Do you think marks in school or college can impact one’s score in the Interview?

Not at all. Whatever marks you’ve got, you reached at least till UPSC interview with that score, so whatever score you’ve should be good right? (remember the success ratio!)

Was there any improvement in your interview marks this year as compared to previous year(s) (if applicable)? If yes, what changed did you incorporate this time?

it was my first interview.


How far did you use the Internet for your Preparation? Do you think in the changed UPSC pattern, today an aspirant can prepare wholly by referring sources from the Internet?

It goes without saying that online sources have become a must, but i take exception with the word “wholly” since one has to study history, geography and optional from books.
GS 1 socio, Whole GS 2 and GS 3 can be done exclusively from online sources. For ethics, its total kung-fu! have your own style.

How far did ForumIAS.com help you as a social network, as a sharing platform for you Prelims, Mains & Interview Preparation (and the excruciating period between the exam and results to chill out with co-aspirants and other successful candidates)?

Forumias se pyar ho gya tha! haha. i used to log in every 5 minutes (remained in the background mostly).
I came to know @masterji (AIR 115) and @Prabodh (AIR 284), can’t thank forumias enough for that. @mango_dolly (AIR 909) too became a good friend.

What is the best thing you like about ForumIAS?

people. some of them mentioned above πŸ™‚

Do you use any other websites for your preparation? Is yes, name them.

Mrunal.org, IDSA, PIB, EPW, many more..


Congratulation for making it. Is there any message you would like to give to IAS Aspirants who look up to you?

Start preparing as soon as you’ve made up your mind for this exam. never give excuses to yourself except for genuine family and financial issues. if your excuse is limited only to you, then come out of that mental prison asap.
Stay away from social media like FB that bombards you with countless pictures of your friends making quick progress in their lives. one can’t help but being a little sad for oneself even if one is extremely self-driven. Go back to it as an achiever.
meanwhile, stay in touch with your “real” friends, meet them, enjoy with them to decompress yourself.

Print Friendly and PDF