Interview with RANK 20: Aman Mittal

ForumIAS Member Aman Mittal cracked IAS in his first attempt, with an All India Rank of 20. An electrical engineer, he is a native of Delhi and took Electrical Engineering itself as his optional. He shared the journey of his achievement with ForumIAS and here are the salient points of his success story.

Why Civil Services?

Civil Services is an area where one can look up to for a career that spans almost 40 years. It provides the challenges as well as the authority to bring about effective and visible change to the society.

My decision to enter the Civil Services was consciously taken during February 2013 when I was pondering over the career options in front of me. I had an inclination to work in areas that provide diverse challenges and have a decent standard of life. At that juncture, making money did not appeal to me, and since I had time on my side I decided to focus on cracking the civil services.

In short, the consideration of a diversely challenging career and the satisfaction of job were the main considerations for me to enter into the civil services.

The Preparation

Tackling GS

Most of the guidance regarding GS papers is available from more relevant sources. I guess Ira Singhal (455 in GS) and Anunaya Jha (418 in GS) are better people to guide through this process.

On a personal note, I took classes at Samkalp for GS which were generally oriented towards the Mains examination. I am an avid reader and have an inherent interest in reading books which helped me a lot overall. In my view, the GS papers are becoming more opinion-oriented and require wide reading, a balanced approach and most importantly – great answer writing skills. In pursuance of the goal, I would suggest a step-wise approach.

I was in reading stage till about March 2014 and from June to August did the studies for Prelims, which are largely overlapping with Mains anyway.

After Prelims, the focus should always be on writing practice and shining the rough edges as well as preparing topic-wise notes for GS I, GS II and GS III. In my case, I wrote quite a few mock tests (ywo different test series at GS Score and VisionIAS).

Tackling the Optional

My optional was Electrical Engineering. It is generally considered lengthy rather than tough, and requires systematic study. In my case, I had a paucity of time towards the end but was lucky that my father is a professor in electrical engineering.

I had many weak areas in Electrical which were taught by my father in the time before Mains. The only thing that I can say is that one must properly analyse the strengths and weaknesses in this paper topic-wise and study in such a manner that all basics are covered.

Always remember that UPSC will never ask tough questions here, unlike in the Engineering Services, but will cover a broad range of areas. It is important to go through the previous years questions to get an idea of the questions and the papers.

In fact, one should go through previous year papers as soon as possible as it will clarify many doubts automatically and show the way forward for the preparation.

Writing Tests

I wrote the following tests in my preparation:
For Prelims – at GK Today
For Mains – at GS Score and Vision IAS test series

Specifics about the Prelims

Books/notes for General Studies Prelims

I went through mostly Mains materials since there are so many overlapping areas with Prelims.

I read the Mains materials sincerely, and final touches for Prelims was good practice from test papers. My specific references for Prelims were Bipan Chandra and NCERT for History, NCERT for Geography, Constitution App for Polity apart from the papers and manuals from GK Today.

Strategy for CSAT

I practised a few papers from TMH for CSAT. No other specific preparation.

Specific strategies for time management

I attempted 86 questions in Paper I and all questions in Paper II.

The GS papers are easily attempted within an hour and 15 min, because either you know the answer or you move on to the next question. For the CSAT paper, one should practice well and solve the math and reasoning questions first as they are quickly solvable. I finished the paper 15 min before time.

On whether attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims

Ideally, I think one should at least do 80% of the questions. Questions that I was not sure about, I generally left and didn’t guess.

Specifics about the Mains

I guess my preparation started about an year before the Prelims because I prepared for the Prelims and Mains simultaneously (the syllabus is largely overlapping). However, serious preparation for the Mains like answer writing and covering the topics that are not a part of Prelims started after the Prelims . The optional should ideally be done 2 months before the Prelims.

Specifically for Mains, I was diligent in reading newspapers and ensured that I read the editorials carefully. I generally relied on making a mental map of the things stated in the article, but I advise people to go for making topic wise notes of the same.

For the static part, it is necessary to cover the NCERT first hand. These can be backed up by online resources available on the subject such as Mrunal. What will be crucial is the writing practice that one does during the course of preparation.

Sources of Current Affairs

Reading the newspapers is extremely crucial for the current affairs. I generally did not rely on magazines. For the current affairs, a very useful way is to watch the debates on Rajya Sabha TV (The Big Picture).

Specifics about the Optionals

My optional was Electrical Engineering. Most of my optional was taught to me by my father. I found out my areas of strength and weaknesses and worked accordingly.

The blog posts of Prince Dhawan Sir and Prakash Rajpurohit Sir cover more than sufficiently the books and strategy needed for this exam.

On my personal front, I made a list of topics that I needed to complete before the Mains and saw a few videos from nptel to get clarity on certain topics. It is best to attempt the papers of the optional papers as the questions are more or less similar each year.

The previous years papers are also a good guide in selection of questions to be finally attempted.

About Coaching

Classes attended

For GS Mains, I had joined Samkalp classes. The notes and the teaching were quite good.

On whether coaching is necessary in the preparation

In my own personal opinion, coaching is just an additional factor and is not a necessity. If you do significant written practice and have the personal motivation to work hard for the exam, coaching is not really required.

About the Interview

Board: Admiral Dewan

The interview experience

The interview was a great experience. I was second in the order in the morning session. The room was well lit with comfortable chairs and welcoming faces.

But then the beginning was not that good and I was told to be more specific in answering. Such moments are crucial,and as I kept my composure and the rest of the interview was smooth. There were many instances where the answer was unknown.

It is best to avoid such questions by apologetically replying in negative. But in general, it is important not to be worried too much about counter questions as it will unnecessarily burden you during the process.

Qualities  you think that are being tested or being looked for

The interviewers are looking at suitability of the candidate for the civil services.

But in a short span of time, this is a very tough task and hence what is necessary is to have a good, confident conversation with the board. A

strict DON’T is that candidates should not try to be artificial or overly strained – “The people on the other side of the table just want to have tea with you, please don’t embarass them”. Be polite, humble but firm in your opinions.

Listen carefully and speak from your heart. Keep smiling.

Magazines and newspapers prior to Interview

Newspapers: The Hindu, The Indian Express
Magazines : Referred many, but did not follow anything comprehensively. Yojana may be useful.

On whether 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

Internet is probably the most important source in this examination given the focus on current events and the need for structured and in-depth knowledge. Efficient use of internet resources including websites, blogs, apps and videos can greatly help in the preparation.

Though I would be emphatic at the idea of full preparation through internet, I think there are things that need to be read from the books. But in case e-books are available, certainly electronic version of text is preferable to me because I used to read on a tab.

Whether a member of ForumIAS: Yes (Username: zom_91).

Did ForumIAS actually help?

I became active on ForumIAS after the Mains. Initially it was mainly used by me to while away the time, but I realised it is an important asset for interview preparation.

There are many serious people on the forum and it is of great help to the aspirants looking to clear their doubts.

Looking at the changed pattern of ForumIAS website, you have included many new sections that seem useful to me. But I would advise people that please do not indulge in senseless talks before Mains, and avoid those people who are not serious.

Where ForumIAS can improve

I really love your changed website. Keep the good work going.

To sum up

Any message for IAS aspirants who look up to you

The most important message to the aspirants is to have faith in yourself and to leave your ego in order to succeed.

One should be considerate in hearing other people’s opinion about yourselves and try to bring in positive changes in your life every day. I

t is always best to keep your head down and work till the goal is reached. Always remember to keep yourselves inspired.

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