Interview with IAS-2014 RANK 86: Tushar Singla

Tushar cracked IAS in his second attempt, and obtained an All India Rank of 86. An electrical engineer from IIT Delhi, he hails from Barnala in Punjab and had Public Administration as his optional. We managed to catch up with him, and obtained tit-bits of his success story.

Why the Civil Services?

We always hear and relish the prospects of a wondrous, timeless journey paved with unlimited obstacles being more exciting than the destination to which it leads. The achievement of your destination is definitely sweeter and satisfactory if you go through such a journey. We keep on doing puerile efforts to short-charge or game the system, sometimes cheat ourselves to get momentary pleasures while in the mean time deviating from our goal. My message to you is simple: Life is too short to waste your time on trivialities.

Whenever you stand in front of mirror, ask the person whose image you see that whatever he or she is doing is worthwhile in his or her own eyes. Whether you are preparing for civil services, or beginning a start up, or doing a regular job, or pursuing any interest, make sure your heart lies in there.
Most importantly, we are at a turning point in terms of India’s position, self-esteem, growth, progress or whatever adjective you may use in current global scenario.

Yes, our personal growth is important, but my request is simple: make sure your growth converges with country’s growth. Coming years will shape whether India succeeds or not. And all sections of society have to play a role in this, be they belong to any profession, public or private sector, any region, religion, caste, creed, gender etc.

Hence, the Civil Services.

The Preparation

I prepared for the exam in patches: May 2013 to Nov 2013, but then Dec 2013 to 25 june 2014 was totally blank. I came to Noida again on 28 June 2014 and prepared upto November 2014. These last five months were the real preparation time for me.

Specifics about the Prelims

Books/notes for General Studies Prelims
I did no separate preparation specifically for Prelims. It was all combined for both Prelims and Mains. Books were mostly standard ones, as prescribed by various coachings and websites.

History: Grover, Arjun Dev, Bipan Chandra (pre and post), Quick reads of NCERTs.

Culture: Nitin Singhania notes, NIOS for literature.

Geography: NCERTs, GC Leong. (Additionally, hand-written notes of any coaching may suffice).

I read GK Today as well.

Strategy for CSAT
I’m naturally good at it, so no preparation.

On whether attempting more questions is the key to success in Prelims
I attempted 85 questions in Paper I and 78 questions in Paper II. Obviously, knowing answers to questions is key to success in Prelims, and there is no ideal number of questions to be attempted.

Questions which I was not sure of, I did attempt: I discounted the improbable options, then used calculated guess work for which of the remaining options could be correct.

Specifics about the Mains

I prepared for the exam in patches: May 2013 to Nov 2013, but then Dec 2013 to 25 june 2014 was totally blank. I came to Noida again on 28 June 2014 and prepared upto November 2014. These last five months were the real preparation time for me.

Tackling GS
I did not take any coaching for general studies right from the beginning.
But I opted for writing test series of GS from VisionIAS and Synergy both. Even though I could not complete the whole test series (wrote 4 out of 21 tests in VisionIAS, and 4 out of 12 tests at Synergy), but I read and revised every Q & A in all these tests. At the same time I followed a distinct approach for each GS paper.

GS I require repeated revisions, and satisfactory completion of the syllabus reduces the burden hugely in general studies. Even though GS I has 25% weightage in GS, but one can safely allocate 35-40% time of GS preparation to it.

GS II, GS III: There is a reason I have written GS II and GS III simultaneously. Because both require extensive reading, conceptual understanding and inter linking of issues and approaches. We don’t have to do PhD in the topics, but it is also possible to answer any question in GS II and III even if we haven’t read the topic.

Try to develop an analytical frame of mind. For example, when you come around any question related to agriculture, don’t just focus on that narrow topic from theoretical perspective, immediately link it to real world like it’s inter linkage with climate, disaster, technology in agriculture, social aspect of that particular problem in agriculture, policy approaches (be it prices or income support), agri infra, markets etc.

What I mean to say is that your preparation in GS II and III must be extensive, comprehensive and realistic so that any question from any topic may be tackled without carrying any baggage of whether I have read that particular thing or not.

GS IV is somewhat like GS I, as it too requires clarity of concepts, and repeated revisions of the short syllabus is necessary. Follow any one good book. I read and reread Arihant’s GS IV, and I found it the best among the lot. It’s written in a lucid style and easy to understand.

Besides one’s own common sense, personal morality play a huge role in one’s performance in GS IV. I hope you understand what I mean.

Tackling Public Administration

My optional was Public Administration and my marks in optional are 263 (160 + 103).  I had to take its coaching way back from Vajiram and Ravi when I was doing a job in Noida simply because of time constraints, otherwise quality and commitment of Vajiram in Pub Ad optional was highly doubtful.

My marks in my first attempt in 2013 were 172 (total) so whatever I gained in Pub Ad it was during preparation for this year.

My strategy was simple: Revision + understanding of topics both from conceptual point of view as well as in Q&A format so that whatever has been read may be written in final exam.

Now, revision in any optional is only possible (especially in context of changed pattern with so much vastness in GS) if we follow the syllabus in lucid, succinct style and essentially from 1 or 2 good sources. In this way we can not only complete the syllabus in less time but also revise and remember it much more comprehensively.

That’s why rather than following Fadia and Fadia, Sidana, Prasad, Mohit Bhattacharya, IJPA, coaching notes etc blindly, I followed Aribam’s books for Paper 1 and Paper 2 and revised them 3-4 times each, and then supplemented them with books mentioned above in whatever topic I found Aribam wanting. Now, this is related to the syllabus and revision aspects.

One good test series is absolutely necessary to supplement your preparation in Pub Ad and here Lukmaan IAS is the undisputable champion. Again here I wrote only 4 tests out of 14 tests, but the quality and flowness in Salamuddin Sir’s discussions of each test was so rewarding that it was classroom coaching-cum-test discussion-cum preparation for Q&A format in both Pub Ad and GS.

I even attended a discussion of Pub Ad on 9th December, four days before the Mains, even though I had to come all the way from Chandigarh to Delhi. Personally, it helped me hugely in gaining confidence in tackling any kind of question in both papers and also streamlining the flow of my thinking.

Sources of Current Affairs
Broad and extensive rather than intensive reading helps, in my opinion. Don’t stick to any one source, especially just not The Hindu. Follow the issues and concepts that are in your syllabus (GS II and III especially) from any source which provides good information. Be it any newspaper (Business Standard, Economic Times, Indian Express all are handy apart from The Hindu), magazine, Google News, Govt sources, reports, policies, websites etc. Basically, anything you can get your hands on.

About Coaching

On whether coaching is necessary in the preparation
I did not attend any coaching for GS, but it depends on the individual. For the optional, I believe coaching is necessary (coming from Engineering background, I knew little about Pub Ad). But for GS, writing test series is more important than coaching.

About the Interview

Board: Vinay Mittal

The interview experience
My interview experience was awesome, considering it was my first interview with UPSC. It went on for 35-40 minutes while other candidates in my board hardly spent 15-20 minutes on that day. I knew after the first 5-10 minutes itself of my interview that it was going well. At first, the view of the round table interview board was intimidating, but quickly I joined in the process with full confidence, honesty, humbleness and firmness.

FYI: I gave a total of 3 mock interviews from January to May. I did not practice for even once before a mirror, neither did I practice speaking too much English. But I prepared the content in my DAF and Current Affairs well, so my preparation was up to the mark.

To sum up

What did you think had gone wrong in your earlier attempt?

I did no revision, and did not remember even some basic concepts. That’s why revising and remembering the topics is very important, vastly more important that writing practice. 

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