RANK 60: Atul Vats, 1st Attempt, Sociology Optional, Detailed GS and Optional Strategy

Atul Vats has secured Rank 60 in Civil Services Examination,2015. This was his first attempt at the coveted exam.

He has been associated with forumias.com since the last one year and has been an active member throughout. He has inspired many with his timely advices, comments and now, with his success.

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.



Atul Vats, 1st Attempt, Sociology Optional
Atul Vats, 1st Attempt, Sociology Optional




Your Name


All India Rank in Civil Services Examination


Your ForumIAS User Name


Which attempt was this at Civil Services Examination?


Your medium of Instruction in School?


Your medium of instruction in college?


Your medium of writing the Mains?


Where do you hail from?

Sonipat, Haryana

Tell us something about your family background

Father – Defense Personnel (Retd.) Mother – Homemaker One younger brother

Your graduation or early education

Metallurgical Engg. from PEC Chandigarh


First, tell us something about yourself!

“Engineer by graduation, a sportsman & sociologist at heart, in hope to don the cap of an approachable and helpful administrator”


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

 Basic books for all subjects:
1. polity – laxmikanth
2. economy – sriram economy + eco survey
3. history: ancient from NCERTs & modern from spectrum + ncert
4. geography: 11th & 12th ncerts + notes of Vajiram
5. Environment: Shankar IAS + Mrunal.org
6. Art & Culture: Nitin Singhania ji’s notes + CCRT
7. S&T: from vision ias current affairs + NCERTs of 6th till 9th.

Also solve a test series from an good source…your score should touch 95 approx. in test series. I used to compare with fellow forumias members, asking them what their marks had been and then assessing my progress. Also, my roommate, Gaurav Chahal, helped a lot as we both used to discuss the questions  afterwards.

Please prepare a question bank, subject-wise, of the questions that you find a bit technical, or good. You may do a whole book and still no question may come from it, and it may happen that from the question bank that you prepared, there are 10 questions. Believe me, even if there are 4-5 questions from it, you will sail through, as it gives a lot of confidence in those crucial minutes.

As of today, around 80 days are left, so utilize your time very efficiently. Use 2 hrs daily for current revision, 4 hrs for one subject and 4 hrs for other, i.e. revise 2 subjects in a day. Club them like one according to your liking and one a little tough. Like economy + art&culture, environment + history. Please plan your schedule and assess your progress. Prelims is the first hurdle and trust me, an attempt goes waste if you are ineligible for mains.

While preparing for prelims, do not let even an ounce of negativity come near you. Everyone has tough times and this preparation is a way to learn how to ignore what is irrelevant and how to focus on necessary. Always keep in mind that prelims will be cleared, no doubt in that. Don’t be overconfident either and you can maintain a balance, if you assess yourself regularly.

Revision is the key to success; your question bank should contain 400-500 difficult questions. While you maintain one, write options along, so that afterwards you know why a particular option was removed and a particular selected. This helps in tackling tricky questions.  

How many questions did you attempt in GS in Prelims?

Around 70, I can’t remember exact.

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?

I had decided upon the number of questions beforehand and varied them acc. to difficulty level. There shouldn’t be any incorrect answer in basic fundamental subjects like polity or economy. Strengthen your strengths and work upon your weaknesses.

What was your score in UPSC Prelims?

112 in GS 146 in CSAT

How much was the variation in your official Prelims score in comparison to that of coaching keys?

I had expected 120+/- 5. Seems like one more went wrong


When did you start preparing for Mains Examination?

It was an integrated preparation. In fact, I started with mains prep (answer writing) after revising my basics.

How did you cover Current Affairs?

Newspaper Self notes on paper, keeping important articles in books themselves and VisionIAS monthly booklets.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 1

GS1 can be said to be comprising of 3 parts basically – History, Sociology & Geography

For History

a) Art & Culture can be done from Nitin Singhania Sir’s notes and CCRT printouts.  Please read Sir’s notes first and then CCRT, not the other way round. It may appall one a little in the beginning, but one should be patient. please do not try to memorise everything in first reading itself.

b) Modern History (including freedom struggle) should be done from NCERT and Spectrum. For Mains, one should be thorough with the last chapters of spectrum, like the economic impact one, the evolution/freedom of press one etc as from these the probability of making analytical questions is more.

c) World History: here one can make a choice between NCERTs or VisionIas booklet or as recommended by Sh. Gaurav Agarwal ji, Balyan Sir’s World History handwritten notes. Personally for me, as I could take only a cursory reading of NCERTs before prelims, I decided to go with Vision as the matter here is short and concise. Apart from them, one needs to use internet for a few topics, with an eye on what has been in current affairs, for example WWII anniversary type (70yrs in 2015) etc.

For Sociology

It was my optional, so I had more some knowledge in this regard.

For Geography

NCERTs, and Vajiram Notes on Geography. I have had a liking for this subject, so I did an extensive reading on it, through a friend’s Geo optional notes.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 2

I expected much better marks in GS2 vis-a-vis what I have been awarded. Nevertheless, I will share my strategy. The portion of GS2 can be divided into 5 parts.

Part 1: it pertains to all the topics that are satisfactorily covered in the book –  Indian Polity by Laxmikanth. In addition, one has to go through newspapers thoroughly here, read and analyse topics and most importantly, relate them with the syllabus.

Part 2: RPA Act and Constitution comparison: One can again go through VisionIAS booklets here, they are helpful.

Part 3: development process, welfare schemes for vulnerable sections, social sector, poverty and hunger etc: For this newspaper is very important. I have used all 3 newspapers extensively – The Hindu (main), IE (editorials, explained & sometimes these long articles after editorial on infra, schemes like mnregs etc, rural dev.) and Business Standard (editorials and economy & public affairs section).

Part 4: governance related, role of civil services: for this Lexicon helped and also, hand written notes of M.Puri are good. I went through them and after one is throrough with Laxmikanth and Newspapers, these are an easy and joyous affair.

Part 5: International Relations: read newspapers and make some mental notes. One can cover this part from Vision Current booklets, that is more than sufficient.

The quality of answer matters. So, initially, please do not stress on time, more emphasis should be on organization of thoughts and development of approach. For ex. in the beginning, I would write an answer in around 20-25 mins. When I read any question, my first aim was to understand what the examiner is asking and why is she/he asking this? then do some research, develop an understanding and finally attempt. Please focus on quality, time can be reduced with practice.    

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 3

GS3 is again a 4 part paper.

Part1: Basic Indian economy: for this one can refer to Sriram printed Notes/Vajiram yellow booklet to get an understanding of basics. Economy is a bit technical and therefore, it was my strength. After one is good with basics, use of newspaper comes into play, especially a financial newspaper like BS. If there is any doubt in economy, investopedia.com is a good reference. Also, Mrunal.org can be very useful. Government Budgeting can be done from Vision booklet, but I couldn’t do so due to paucity of time.  

Part2: “Applied” economy like farm subsidies, msp, liberalization, industrial policy, inflation, monetary policy changes, infrastructure etc.: This portion is very dynamic and therefore very interesting. For this, NEWSPAPER will form the foundation of one’s preparation. Here, one needs to connect the dots, relating what is happening outside as perceived through newspaper reading and what should/can be the way to go forward. Kindly make your own notes of this part and revise them regularly.

Part3: Science and Tech.: the syllabus of science and tech is vast and here one feels lost. Personally, what I did was that I bought notes from outside, made them the “bare minimum” and along with that, covered S&T from vision current booklets. Here one needs to be a little innovative too, for example, this year there was a question regarding IRNSS and If one did not have enough points on that – like remembered only 7 satellites, PSLV, divided in geosynchronous & geostationary, 1500 kms, problems faced in GPS in Kargil war, China’s Beidou etc. one could begin by saying that astronomical prowess is not new to India – Observatories(jantar mantar) in Jaipur & Delhi constructed by Swai JaiSingh stand as testimony to the developments in this field.

Part4: Disaster Mgmt and Internal Security: DM can be prepared from internet and newspapers. for example, the Chennai floods that had happened in December, were accompanied with many articles on how to tackle them and why they happened in first place. similarly, the EQ in Nepal. Also, drought affected areas. Here one should not only read, but also, keep oneself in the shoes of the affected people, like imagine what will happen if the water supply to your home gets damaged and takes a week long to repair.

For Internal Security, one can get a good idea by a book which is written by an IPS officer, Ashok Kumar, it’s titled internal security challenges, if I am able to recall correctly. One should try to solve the questions, at least mentally, which are given at the end of chapter. Apart from that,  newspaper is again, very helpful.

Like GS2, I did an extensive writing practice (around 3-4 months) of this paper too. Please do economic survey fully, not summaries, and in fact, summarize them yourself. For example, the previous economic survey was summarized by me in 6 pages itself, with all necessary data and statements.  ES 2014-15 was a beautiful document – JAM trinity, wiping every tear from every eye etc…i used these statements in my answers. ES 2015-16 is nice too. For my interview, I made notes out of it, and shortened them to only 3 pages. Why the shortest possible content is being emphasized is because one has to revise, re-revise, re-re-revise these things, so that they get etched in memory. So, please focus on your summary, your notes, your short-hand, your own effort. When you summarize, it automatically leads to revision.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of GS 4

Ethics was my stronghold, and again, marks were disappointing. It may be due to the fact that I started paper from last question (i.e. case studies first) and then rest of the questions, and therefore the quality may have declined. So, if I had to attempt again, I’d’ve begun from the 1st question itself.

For ethics, please take a printout of syllabus and paste it in front of your study table. I referred to lexicon, and also some notes of SK Mishra Sir, and more importantly, some notes prepared by Sh. Daya Shankar ji (selected in UP PCS) which he had made by reading 2nd ARC report on ethics and extensive internet research.

Writing practice is very important in ethics. I repeat – very very important. There is a proper vocabulary of an ethics answer, which differentiates it from a normal philosophical/altruist remark. While attempting ethics’ question, one’s answer must contain words like integrity, compassion,  dedication, empathy, attitude, tolerance, objectivity etc. Initially, one has to force-feed these words, but with time, one starts using them befittingly. The quality improves exponentially with examples and diagrams, they may be simple ones. Examples come from newspapers, for instance, there was an article in the hindu about a tribal man selling his son for Rs 50 so that he could pay for medical expenses of his wife – when one reads such articles, one shouldn’t just move on to next page. One should himself be that tribal man, think about the moral, ethical dilemma and actualize and internalize that situation.

For case studies, one should have at least 4 ready-to-serve lines for any situation. For example, if there is a case study of making one a manager and a case of personal misconduct being brought before him/her – one should start like ” a manager, who is a leader, is the mirror of the organization. She/he is not just followed but is evoked and exemplified in difficult situations. Her/his conduct inspires and motivates those working alongside. Therefore……..”. Not only such an introduction gives a kick-start to your answer, but also, it improves your presentation. Prepare such intro from the point-of-view of a DC/DM, a village sarpanch, a minister, an SP, a corporate leader etc. There will be 10-15 such introductions only but they will help a lot.

My optional sociology has helped me with the thinkers part. Though i didn’t name them, I used their though-process extensively, e.g. functional, dysfunctional, non-functional – latent/manifest approach etc.

Here I would like to mention @yo_yo__choti_singh ji, from whose answers i benefitted a lot. He is an inspiration and a friend and i thank forumias for being the medium of communication!

Full Preparation: The Conquering of ESSAY

No specific preparation of essay, read yojana magazine and had already guessed one essay – so completed it in 45 mins itself. What happened in the essay paper was that I thought the answer sheets will be enough (12-14 for one essay) and they were only six. So I started without counting (time crunch factor – anxiety). I realised my precarious situation after I had used 4 out of 6 sheets only for introduction. So please do have a look for the number of pages before starting your essay, and adjust your writing accordingly. The second essay was written carefully.

Full Preparation: The Conquering of Optional Subject

My optional was Sociology and I would say that while choosing one’s optional, one needs to be careful. I had to decide between Chemistry or Sociology, and I went with the latter keeping in my mind the availability of study material, consistent performance, relevance with the career i desired, and my own internal inclination. I have taken coaching from Mohapatra Sir (Vajiram) and test series from Nice IAS (Praveen Kishore Sir).


My initial Sociology notes from the class formed the foundation of my sociology preparation. Sociology as a subjects demand devotion and writing practice. I supplemented my notes with IGNOU summaries (of BA, esp the MSO on thinkers is a must).

Also, i bought Sindhuri Ma’am’s notes, they help in Paper 2 preparation.

I expected at least 250 in Sociology, but could get only ~ 226. What I would advise you all is to do extensive writing practice and solve at least previous year papers. Whenever a question is asked, don’t directly jump on it. Create a room by maneuvering & relating with current affairs, esp. in Paper 2. In Paper1, thinkers are as important as the other part. Prepare short notes which can be done within an hour or so. I had compiled the thinker in Socio (ED, Marx, Weber, TP) all within 10 pages, so that I could revise them multiple times. I gave only 1 paper of the test series of PK Sir, but his discussions revise the whole syllabus. I can upload one or two answers of that paper, if required.

I have benefited extremely from the notes of Sh. Vipin Kumar, Rank-144, CSE-2012.


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

GS1 2 left. Rest all papers – full attempt.

Which Essays did you attempt in the Mains Examination?

1. Lending a hand is better than giving doles and  

2. Capitalism one

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?

First attempt

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

Paragraphs –  i thought paragraphs reflect maturity

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

In all GS papers, made diagrams

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?

Yes – they add value to your answer and also give legitimacy to what you say

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


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

For Prelims – Vajiram.

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

Not necessary at all for GS (i skipped after some time). For subject, one gets useful guidance, especially if one is completely new to the subject.

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

For GS Prelims and Mains – no test series; For Optional: Nice IAS, the test series is good, one gets to revise the whole syllabus through Sir’s discussions.

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

Yes. Already written a lot about it above.


Which Interview Board did you face?

Alka Sirohi Ma’am’s Board

How long was your interview?

Around 35-40 mins, not sure though

Can you tell us briefly about your interview experience?

The interview experience was good, the board was cordial and helpful too. You can find my transcript by the username @battletank

What did you wear for the Interview?

Black Suit – blue tie; a huge smile

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 yourself. Don’t bluff and take deep breaths. Nervousness is okay, in fact, Alka Ma’am even asked me to relax, which did calm my nerves a little. She is a very smart lady and has a brilliant presence of mind.
In the interview boards find a member who is smiling and whose conduct towards you is encouraging and comfortable and whenever faced with a tough question, like a factual one or a technical one (i was bombarded many of these by Alka Ma’am), look toward that member. She/he becomes a pillar of strength.
Kindly read Gaurav Sir’s strategy regarding interview prep.

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

3 newspapers, vision current booklets –  i had an intuition that i will clear mains, so I didn’t stop preparation (current part) after mains. This helped as my interview was on 9th March itself (2nd day, forenoon session).

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

Samkalp and Vajiram. They give you an idea of what the other person would observe from your DAF and whether you are able to verbally reproduce what you know. I am especially thankful to my PEC junior Rajat, who guided me in interview prep. He camped a number of times at my home and we held a number of mock sessions, lasting hours. Here I realised the importance of being short and crisp.

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


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?

First Attempt


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 was used a lot, but I kept a tab on not wasting my time on other things. Time is the only limited thing in this exam and must be used very judiciously.

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)?

I followed forumias for both prelims and mains prep. One can meet like minded people here who discuss their doubts, upload and share scores and also motivate each other. I developed a mentor in one of the forum users whose name I mentioned above, and he helped a lot during interview preparation. Luckily all those questions were asked which we had discussed. Along with that, its a great place to for chilling out and also, read motivating stuff. Last year, I read a lot of interview transcripts here, answers of yo_yo_choti_singh Sir, doodlebean Ma’am etc.

What is the best thing you like about ForumIAS?

The best thing is the fact that you never go empty handed. What I intend to convey is that whether you have a doubt, or you need help regarding material or some query regarding examination process, you will definitely get an answer. This makes forumias “humane”and “homely”.


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

“Its not who you are within, its what you do that defines you”. Remember why you started this journey, and why this is important. Give this exam its due respect and be positive. Feeling low, anxious is a part of the process. Those who clear it are not from Mars, they are from this planet only. Always wear a smile, be humble.

There will be times when you will doubt yourself. Remember this was your decision. It does not matter whether you having an extraordinary IQ. What matters is whether you have an extraordinary determination. It will take time, but it will happen and at the end of the day, you are a much more informed citizen!

“Never criticize your choices, never doubt your capabilities” – Sh. Vipin Kumar

“Respect yourself as you have the fortitude to participate in this process. Every year, around half of those who fill the form, don’t actually sit” – Sh. Sahil Garg

Do talk to your parents frequently. They help a lot in motivating you!

My best wishes to all of you!

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