Rank 12 – IFoS Topper Neha Srivastava’s Success Story

Neha Srivastava has secured Rank 12 in the Indian Forest Service Examination 2015. She cracked IFoS in her first attempt. Hailing from Hazaribag in Jharkhand, Neha chose Zoology and Botany as her optionals.

Neha completed her B.Tech in Biotechnology from DY Patil, Mumbai

Neha is an avid ForumIAS members and joined the ForumIAS family two years ago. Presenting before you Neha’s success story.

 First, tell us something about yourself!

I did my early schooling from RK Mission, so ‘Jiva is Shiva’ was impregnated in my mind when I was just 8. Since then I wanted to be a civil servant in a true sense.

For me there is just one universal truth- Law of karma. And this dictates my life a lot. Maybe this is why I am inclined to get into civil services where I can do ‘good karma’ in broadest manner possible.

Your medium of instruction in school,college and in the Mains Examination?


How did you get started for preparation for All India Services?

After my B.Tech, I wanted to get into some decent B-school, become financially independent before getting into civil services preparation. So I was already preparing for aptitude. Meanwhile my uncle who himself is a civil servant was guiding me for GS. I was motivated by him and I decided to drop my MBA plan. I started my full pledged preparation 6 months before prelims.

How did you tackle GS/GK Paper?

I was already preparing for aptitude during final semester as I was preparing for GRE, my plan was to go for civils after PG. But then I decided to give civil services at least one try. So I gave my first prelims in May 2013, I picked up the Hindu and NCERT books in Jan 2013. I was guided by my uncle who himself is a civil servant and has teaching experience of over 10 years. He taught me what not to study instead of what to study. And with his guidance I was able to clear CSP 2013. Also I am not a kind of person who can study for 10 hrs a day, follow a proper timetable.

As suggested by my mentor, I limited by booklist. And strategy was to read the same book again and again instead of reading different books on the same topic. And it paid off, it helped me to clear prelims in first attempt in very less time. So prelims exam is toughest stage yet it is conquerable with the right strategy.

How did you prepare Zoology Optional?

My major optional is zoology, many topics are similar to my graduations subject, but initially troubled me a lot. Being unconventional subject it is not very easy to gather the sources of studies. But I love this subject so I went for it. I have habit of notes making. Notes helped me to compile the topics together. It is a time consuming process but it ultimately helps a lot in revision especially for topics like economic zoology, genetics which can’t be covered using one book.

I have habit of note making and I make proper notes from 2-3 sources with coloured diagrams etc. it is a time consuming process however for me it is one time investment. Also, the topics are not available in one book. They are quite scattered especially in genetics for example if Mendel’s law is given well in Griffiths, cloning is explained well in TA brown.  Because it is always easy for me to revise from notes written in my own handwriting. It is never possible to complete the syllabus and it is not wise too. My strategy was to complete one section of each paper. For example in paper 1 section B with ecology, ethology, economic zoology is easier to complete and is more scoring than section A I.e, taxonomy. And ultimately one need to attempt only 5 out of 8 questions.

How did you prepare Botany Optional?

My second optional was botany. It has many overlapping topics with zoology so I prepared them well. And for rest of the topics I went for selected studies like plant physiology which is easier than taxonomy. Biotechnology portion is scoring. IGNOU notes helped me a lot. My strategy for optional was to finish one section of each paper completely because ultimately we need to answer 5/8 questions.

Since you cleared IFoS, you would have pretty good marks in Prelims. What books/notes did you refer to for General Studies and CSAT?

I made my booklist and then decided no matter how tempting any new notes or book look, I am not going to buy them. Just 2-3 months before prelims when it became clear that CSAT will be qualifying, I locked my all books(to avoid traumatising myself unnecessarily) except those mentioned in my booklist.


History- Ancient India: old NCERT 12th, medieval india- skipped, modern india- old NCERT 12th + TMH Md.Tarique

Culture- CCRT

Geography- New NCERT 9-12th, old NCERT 6-8th

Polity- DD Basu, BK Sharma

Economy- Sriram’s note + Sanjeev Verma + 9th, 10th NCERT, 12th NCERT macroeconomics

Ecology- 11-12th NCERT biology (selected chapters), E.Baruch UGC book.

Current affairs- The Hindu, Vision IAS Current Affairs booklet.

Science- NCERT

How Many questions did you attempt in GS?


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?

This year the fate was to be decided by only 100 questions of GS, and definitely attempting maximum number of questions was the only option. Luckily, I could manage almost 80 questions and then guesswork for rest. One should know when to stop. Cost-benefit analysis is must. One should first attempt the question which one is sure about. Then take the risk for other questions.


When did you start preparing for Mains Examination?

I had already appeared for CSM earlier so my one optional was almost prepared. I was preparing for GS till prelims result came out. And when I found that I am eligible for IFS mains, I focused on the optional. And reserved last 10 days for second optional.

How did you prepare GS/GK?

GS for IFS is more or less factual. I only added Yojna to my prelims booklist. GS of IFS is a different than GS of CSE. It is more factual and trend is that usually the hot topics are asked like this year Nepal earthquake, Greece Crisis etc. were asked. If one is following news properly GS can be easily managed. My booklist was same that I used for prelims just added Yojna for better analysis.

How did you cover Current Affairs for Mains?

The Hindu + Yojna+ vision notes. No other magazine or newspaper. Even covering this was not too easy for me (I have a bad habit that I don’t read newspaper daily and I collect them for later. And later never comes, but vision IAS notes helped me to compensate this however there can be no substitute to newspaper, so it is not advisable)


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

I had joined Vision IAS mains test series but appeared for only 3 tests.

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

I prepared on my own and at no stage I felt like joining any coaching because I don’t have habit of studying continuously for 1 hr. Coaching may help to define the boundary of this vast syllabus. Current affairs of Vision IAS is really helpful but I think that there is no concept in GS that we can’t understand on our own. I did self-studies because I am not a kind of person who can sit and study for one hour continuously that’s why I never joined any coaching. Coaching or no coaching should be individual’s choice. For me it is no coaching.


Which Interview Board did you face?

Sri. Manbir Singh

Can you tell us briefly about your interview experience?

It was the very first interview of my life, I had never ever appeared for any job or entrance related interview earlier. Overall the experience was good. The first question was which newspaper I read. I replied the Hindu. Manbir sir asked me why? I said it has concise articles blah blah. But he was not happy with the answer he asked my again why? Other papers are also good still all civil aspirants go for the Hindu. I replied that I don’t know about other aspirants but I like the Hindu because it has very less number of pages. He was laughing after this answer, and remarked that this was a unique answer and he was waiting for this answer. This also eased the tensed airs of the room and then I could answer other answers well.

Further, Manbir sir asked me questions about some concepts of economics that was completely unexpected given that it was IFoS interview and I have no background of economics. However he was very cordial, he himself explained a few questions twice when I failed to understand. The other members were also encouraging me and helped me to frame the answers better when I was missing the appropriate word. One member even whispered the right answer in my ear when I could not recall one botanical name asked my other member. So overall at no point of time they made me feel that I am facing an interview. However there were no questions on my DAF, home state, graduation subject, current affairs, why ifs, hobbies. They asked anything that came to their mind.

What did you wear for the Interview?

Dark cyan silk saree

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

I think they were testing for honesty. Manbir sir asked me which newspaper do I read, I replied the Hindu, when he asked why do all civil service aspirants prefer the Hindu, I replied that Sir! I have no idea about other aspirants but I go for this because it had concise articles and minimum number of pages. He was happy with the answer, he said that it is the most unique answer.

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

Hindu and Yojana (Yojana helped a lot for mains because no matter how hard I try, most of the days I am not able to finish my newspaper)

What qualities do you think are being tested in the Interview? Some strict Do’s and Don’ts for the Interview?

Be honest and modest. One should never argue. Many times board members try to explain some concepts if we fail to answer, that time we should look interested that we are too eager to learn.

Usually there is one psychologist who will literally stare at you and will make you feel conscious and will wear an expression that ‘you know nothing.’ Just ignore him.

First of all don’t have any prejudice so it is better to not research on the background of the chairman. Because if we don’t get the expected questions it lowers our confidence. Manbir sir usually asks questions related to IR but he asked me questions only related to economics and that too in depth although I have no background in economics. So, just be honest but modest.

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

I don’t think that matters


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?

Internet is like having any info at one click. It helped me a lot especially for ecology and culture. Because we don’t have defined booklist for these.
We can’t depend on one source wholly and I think that there is no alternate for standard books. However internet definitely helps a lot to clarify the concepts.  Since I did self-studies, I relied on internet mostly when I was not able to understand anything from the books like concept of physical geography can be studied through animation.

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)?

It never made me feel I am preparing alone. Starting from prelims to cut off discussion, to interesting debates on controversial prelims questions (that eased the tension while we were waiting for results), to filling up DAF, to getting info about interview boards at almost every stage ForumIAS helped me a lot. And especially because I am a kind of person who doesn’t know many serious aspirants personally, this is the platform from where I could meet and seek guidance from experienced aspirants and toppers

It is because of this forum I never felt lonely during this journey. Apart from help at each and every stage of the exam, it gave me a few very good friends. Even the silliest of the silly query was addressed at the earliest.

What is the best thing you like about ForumIAS?

I was preparing on my own, so ForumIAS is the only platform where I could interact with other aspirants and this forum helped me to get really good friends. Best thing is queries are answered very quickly.

ForumIAS is not a forum it is a fraternity. Members are always ready to help each other. A true spirit of sportsmanship where everyone is competing,  but not competing with each other – that  is the beauty of this forum.

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

General net surfing. No particular website.

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

I think that this examination is not about how much one can study, this exam is actually emotionally exhausting especially if one is not working. Taking money from parents (although they never say no), watching friends going on vacations and we are missing even the festivals. Every time when someone asks what are you doing or why aren’t you getting married.

Every time when we have to make an excuse for not attending friend’s birthday party. Every time when we don’t see our roll number in the PDF and it feels like it is the end of the world, every time when we see our friends earning so well and living a good life while we despite of being toppers have opted this life of a sage and those low phases when we feel that can we ever make it?.

But it is also true that ‘labour can’t go unrewarded’. There may come one stage that when one actually start cursing oneself for getting into this mess, but one thing is also for sure that good things take time. In Kabir’s word -“Maali seeche sau ghada, Ritu aaye phal hoye”. So, we still fight with these odds and we keep on going- And the success is all ours!

Any other Exams you have already cleared or plan to appear for?

I have appeared for TISS Net this year and have GD-PI for HRLM scheduled in March. (It was only a career back up, so that I could become financially independent and focus more on CSE preparation)

Any suggestions for ForumIAS? How can we improve?

This forum is already doing a great job. My best wishes are always with its team.

Neha Srivastava joins the ranks of ForumIAS women members @dottydorothy ( Ira Singhal, IAS Rank 1 ) , Priyanka Mehtani ( IAS Rank 59) , Roshni Thomson ( IAS Rank 98 ) who have made a name for themselves by their sheer hard work. We wish Neha the best in all her future endeavors!

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