Interview with IAS-2014 RANK 18: CM Saikanth Varma

Saikanth cracked the Civil Services exam with his first attempt in 2014, achieving the All India Rank of 18. An alumnus from IIT Madras, he hails from Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh and his optional was Mathematics. He was kind enough to share the details of his journey into the Civil Services with us, and here are the salient points.

Why the Civil Services? 

Mainly two reasons:
– Our generation is in a unique position where, by the time we reach our sixties, India shall no longer be a developing nation, but rather a developed one. And I want to be a part of this significant transformation.
– The career prospects are extremely promising.

A brief overview of my preparation

I started my preparation for Civil Services in June 2013. I joined Analog IAS for optional (Mathematics) and RC Study Circle for GS, both in Hyderabad. But I did not find the GS classes, except History and Geography, to be very useful.

For Maths (optional), I did the following things:
– Focused on finishing the syllabus, including for Paper II.
– Stressed on Paper II as the scores in it have historically been were higher than in Paper I.
– Continuous revision and practice.

I have started writing a blog about my preparation and strategy, which can be found here.

Writing Tests

For Prelims, I joined CareerLauncher test series – Paper II was very good and Paper I was bad.
For GS Mains, I joined Sri Chaitanya Test Series (@Hyderabad) and took tests of “the-most-famous-test-series-of-Delhi” at my home itself, by taking the question papers and model answers from one of my friends. I found both of them to be extremely useful.

Specifics about the Prelims

What books and materials used specifically for the Prelims?

For GS, I feel my preparation was very limited.

For CSAT, I did not study any books per se. CareerLauncher Test series was very good for Paper II. I solved about 40 test series papers.

How many questions did you attempt in Prelims?

Absolutely no clue, as I didn’t assess my attempt after the exam.

Do you think attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims?

I only attempted those questions in GS which I was more than 50% sure of (i.e. absolutely sure or stuck between 2 options).

Specifics about the Mains

What books/notes/materials did you use for GS Mains?

The number of sources is too big to explain. I will deal with them in great detail in my blog here.

For current affairs, I read 2 newspapers – The Hindu and Indian Express (online).
Magazines I read are – Frontline (online), DownToEarth (online), Yojana (selectively), idsa (selectively). Made online notes (on Google Docs).

For optional (Maths)

– Finished the whole syllabus
– Over emphasized on Paper II (I think it backfired on me a little bit – now I think both papers should be given adequate importance).
More details on my blog.

About Coaching

Classes I joined

Analog IAS for optional (Mathematics) – Hyderabad
RC Study Circle for GS – Hyderabad

Do you think coaching is necessary in the preparation?

I think it isn’t of much use. For GS, in my case, except for History and Geography, coaching didn’t help me at all for other subjects. After I found them to be a waste of my time, I stopped attending the classes.

About the Interview

Board: Kilemsungla

The interview experience

It was very cordial and lot more informal than what I had thought and most of my mocks. It was more like an informal discussion at a lunch table. Most of the questions were related to my background.

My Interview Transcript is here.

What qualities  do you think that are being tested or being looked for?

If you’re not comfortable with a particular question, you should be able to clearly state that, explaining why. This was a mistake that I’ve made in my interview, which you can find in my interview transcript also.

What magazines and newspapers for Current Affairs?

Newspapers – The Hindu, Indianexpress, Livemint and TheHansIndia (for my state news).
I continued reading the magazines – Frontline and downtoearth to continue the preparation for my next attempt.

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

Not at all.

Impact of the Internet

Use of the internet in your preparation

Most of my learning was from the internet. UPSC has made the exam so dynamic that the internet has become indispensable. This is also defeating the coaching institutes.

How did you use ForumIAS in your preparation?

Although I did use to visit ForumIAS to know about the exam result dates after mains, but the rumors and the fake news scared me off. I think that there should be greater monitoring to keep the fake news and rumors away. Also the members must act and post responsibly because it is an open forum and it is not practically possible to censor each and every comment made by the members.
I still remember this particular event vividly, despite the best efforts of the moderators to regulate post on probable result dates for mains. One of the members posted that the results are being uploaded that very moment. It was a very tense moment for me and I waited for several hours refreshing the UPSC website. I think that the members, themselves being civil services aspirants, should refrain from posting such irresponsible content.

Any other websites you visited?

I read all my newspapers (except Hindu) and magazines online.

To sum up

Any message for IAS aspirants who look up to you

Test series is extremely important. Only 50% of learning comes from reading, remaining 50% of learning comes from writing tests. More than writing one answer per day, it would be much better to write a full exam (20-25 questions) within 3 hours.

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