IAS RANK 38: Abhimanyu Gahlaut, 1st Attempt, Economics Optional

Abhimanyu Gahlaut has secured Rank 38 in Civil Services Examination,2015. This was his first attempt at the coveted exam.

Abhimanyu has been associated with forumias.com since the last one year.

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

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


Your Name

Abhimanyu Gahlaut

All India Rank in Civil Services Examination


Your ForumIAS User Name


Which attempt was this at Civil Services Examination?


Where do you hail from?

Bahadurgarh, Haryana

Tell us something about your family background

My father retired as a Sub Divisional Engineer with the Government of Haryana. My mother is a headmistress at a primary school in Haryana.

Your graduation or early education

BA(H) Economics from SRCC (Delhi University); M.Phil. Economics from University of Cambridge

Your Optional Subjects


Your medium of Instruction in School?


Your medium of instruction in college?


Your medium of writing the Mains?


First, tell us something about yourself!

I’ve worked as an economist in Rwanda and Bihar for the last 4.5 years. In my second job (in Bihar), I seriously started thinking about what career can keep me motivated for the next 30+ years. After a lot of discussions and research, I realised that the IFS would be a very exciting and dynamic career. I gathered all the relevant material in December 2014, and started studying from January 2015. I didn’t quit my job to prepare. I moved to an apartment very close to my office to avoid spending too much time traveling, and I started studying for around 6-7 hours everyday.


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

Too long an answer. I’ve written a detailed blog on the booklist and notes: https://reluctanteconomistblog.wordpress.com/

How many questions did you attempt in GS in Prelims?

87 (I think)

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?

Yes, I think one needs to attempt a fair number of questions. No, I don’t think there’s an ideal number of questions to attempt. For me, the rule of thumb was to at least get down to two options from four – if I was 50% sure of being correct, I would attempt the question. No wild guesses.

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 expected between 110 and 118, based on different keys. Not a huge variation.


When did you start preparing for Mains Examination?

January 2015

How did you cover Current Affairs?

I read The Hindu and Business Standard everyday, and made notes in MS Word. I also regularly consolidated these notes with information from current affair updates on insightsforindia.com

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 1

I first prepared for the three GS papers sequentially. It took me about 2 months (January and February 2015) to complete the syllabus for GS 1. Amongst the four GS papers, I spent the most time on GS 1. However, at this stage, I hadn’t made many notes. After I finished GS 2 and 3 around mid-May, the notification was out, and CSAT was scrapped. I had to then pay much more attention to GS, and I spent the rest of the time till prelims primarily revising GS (so I could clear prelims), at the cost of studying my optional subject.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 2

I started this in March. I found DD Basu and Subhash Kashyap interesting, yet somewhat dry. I had enjoyed studying for GS 1; I couldn’t say the same for GS 2. To avoid becoming demotivated, I started splitting my daily study time between GS 2 and GS 3. By mid-May, I had finished my first round of preparation for GS 2 and GS 3.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 3

See above.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 4

I did very little preparation for Ethics. When I first went to Jawahar Book Shop in December 2014 to buy books for UPSC, they handed me a fat book for GS 4 (I don’t remember now which one). Not knowing any better, I bought it. I tried to study from that, but gave up midway through the first chapter because I found it extremely boring and too general to be useful.

Then, I tried reading topic-wise links given on Insights for GS 4. Again, here as well, I thought that the readings were extremely dry, and I remember dozing off after the first couple of pages of the first recommended reading.

After these two attempts at reading something for Ethics, I thought maybe it would be better to see what kind of questions UPSC asks. I printed the GS 4 papers for the last two years, and took two timed tests. After writing these, I was confident that there is no need to study anything at all for GS 4. The paper is extremely general, but one needs to have good writing speed. So, in the end, my preparation for Ethics was simply writing 6 timed tests in total, 2 of which were past year UPSC papers, and 4 were from the Vision IAS test series.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of ESSAY

I practised 10+ time-bound  essays, all after the prelims. I wrote about 6 essays for the Vision IAS test series, and I requested friends to review the rest. I wanted to maximise my score on the essay paper, and throughout, I was confident that I  had somewhat of a comparative advantage here. Still, I didn’t neglect practising essays.

As luck would have it, essay was the first paper, and I was stressed out and under-slept during the paper. As a result, I did a bad job of handling my nerves and messed up one of the essays. I was quite dejected after the exam, and I was sure I won’t make it to the list. After speaking to friends, I calmed down, and geared up for the next day. In hindsight, my assessment of my performance was correct – I got only 108, which is a below average score – but I’m glad I didn’t take the rest of the exams as if I’d already lost the battle.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of Optional Subject

I had an economics background, but it had been around 5 years since I last touched an economics textbook. Initially, I wanted to start studying economics in May, after I was done with my first round of GS preparation. However, after CSAT was scrapped, I didn’t feel like I had covered GS in enough depth to clear prelims based solely on it. Hence, I had to revise my strategy. I started studying Paper 2 of economics (Indian Economy) for 2 hours daily in May (did this for about a month), along with GS. Around mid-June, I thought I should study some topics for Paper 1, too. I completed one reading of a microeconomics book, which is a small part of the rather large syllabus for Paper 1. However, I was still nervous about the unpredictability of prelims, and I didn’t prepare my optional in any depth before August.

After prelims, I focused almost exclusively on my optional (90-95% of the time). I was fine with this, because by now I was confident of my GS preparation. I had spent a lot of time meticulously covering all of the GS syllabus point by point for prelims, and consequently I was sure that I could perform decently in the mains.


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

GS 1, 3, and 4: 20 questions; GS 2: 18 questions

Which Essays did you attempt in the Mains Examination?

  1. Lending a hand is better than giving a dole 2. Dreams that should not let India sleep

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?

Not applicable

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

Mix of both

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

Made a flow chart in a poverty-related question in GS 1, I think. Otherwise no.

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?

I gave some examples from current affairs.

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

I carried a stop watch with me to time myself exactly. I was very strict about only allocating 7 minutes per 10 marks, even if there was a lot more to be written for any particular answer.


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


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

I don’t think it’s necessary at all.

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

Prelims: I initially joined Career Launcher to practise CSAT, but after this was scrapped, I stopped appearing for their tests. For GS paper in prelims, I became confident of my preparation only a few days before the exam, so I never had the time to take practise tests.

Mains: For GS and Essay, I took Vision IAS online test series and I think it’s useful. As I said before, after prelims, about 90-95% of my time was spent preparing for the optional papers. However, every Sunday, I wrote two timed tests for GS papers. This helped me become disciplined about writing rapidly and concisely.

Do get your answers checked by Vision IAS, but please don’t fret too much about the marks or ranks you get. I think I never got above Rank 80-90 in Vision’s tests, among 400-500 people writing the exams. In some tests, I even got Ranks between 250-300.

Look at their model answers, they are useful.

No test series for economics. Didn’t have the time, and didn’t know of any good ones.

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

Mentioned above – after prelims wrote two timed tests for GS papers every Sunday.


Which Interview Board did you face?

Professor David R. Syiemlieh

How long was your interview?

About 30 minutes

Can you tell us briefly about your interview experience?

It started on a bad note, because I didn’t expressly wish the lady member, and was reminded to do this by the Chairman. But I apologised, and the board didn’t fret about it. In questions that I didn’t know, I didn’t try to make things up, and simply said that I didn’t know. Overall, I just tried to have a good conversation, and didn’t worry too much about being a certain way.  

What did you wear for the Interview?

A black suit, white shirt, and deep blue tie.

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?

Be honest. If you slip up somewhere, move on quickly, and don’t keep thinking about your mistakes.

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

The Hindu and Business Standard daily. EPW for economics optional.

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

Yes, Samkalp and Vajiram. Both were useful, but the only mock I had at Vajiram was chaired by an ex-IFS officer. My first preference is IFS, so this mock turned out to be the most beneficial, because the chairman grilled me on a lot of IR topics in great detail. I did well, and he told me as much. I was content with my preparation after this.

As things turned out, there were no IR-related questions at all in my actual interview.

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

I don’t think so.

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?

Not applicable.


Essay: 108
GS 1: 96
GS 2: 87
GS 3: 102
GS 4: 94
Economics Paper 1: 143
Economics Paper 2: 119
Interview: 206


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?

Over 80% of my GS preparation was from the internet. Similarly, I studied for Economics Paper 2 almost exclusively from the internet.

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)?

Although I never posted actively on the  forum, it was extremely beneficial to know that there was a big, and easily accessible, community of people who are taking this exam. Especially at the time results for prelims/mains were expected, I couldn’t help but spend a lot of time reading the speculative threads on the forum 🙂

What is the best thing you like about ForumIAS?

The sense of community.

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

insightsonindia.com for current affairs, mrunal.org for reading interviews of past toppers.


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

Work hard, work smart, but most importantly, remember that luck plays a huge role in this exam.

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