The Inspiring Story of Himanshu Gupta – Rank 27, Philosophy Optional, 1st Mains + Interview

I first met Himanshu sometime at 8AM when he was writing SFG Tests early in the morning. I saw him again at Forum Essay classes and then again at GS 4 classes, smiling – sitting in the front rows. He always smiled, no matter what.

( He and Reecha Ratnam- the Hindi Medium Topper this year. )

( The early ForumIAS classroom, picture taken at 5AM, with temporary halogen lights and earthen flooring. We used to sprinkle water at 6AM, so that people could write Tests at 7AM without having too much dust around them. It was a disaster)

It was embarrassing for me given that there were some parts of the syllabus which I repeated in these classes.

What will he think of me“, I said to myself, as I repeated some concepts which I had been repeating in every class.

So after the Mains, and when he came for the Interview this year, we formed a group. I thought to myself – “I don’t wanna seen him in a classroom again!”.

We formed Interview groups like we did last to last year. Peer learning – I believe is the single best teacher for anyone [#1]

From the little Interview group we had, Himanshu got 27th Rank, Gunjan got 16th Rank and Rishi got 1st Rank in IFoS.

Words are powerful.

I asked Himanshu to write his story. And here it is, in his own words.

Name : Himanshu Gupta
ForumIAS Community Username ?  nightHAWK
Place of Birth : Delhi
How old are you : 25
Schooling done from Name and City and score : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi – 94% class 12.
College from which City and GPA: Delhi Technological University (Formerly DCE), percentage (SPI) : 77.5
PG if Any : NIL
Your attempt at the exam : 3rd
Other Exams : Gave Interview for UP-PCS 2018 on 28th Result awaited
Family Members : Father, Mother and Elder Brother
Work-experience  : Chip-Design Engineer for 1year and 7 months at Qualcomm India, Bangalore.
Optional : Philosophy
Contact details : @nightHAWK23 ( FourmIAS Profile )

Hello, World!

Hello Everyone, I am Himanshu Gupta. I have secured Rank 27 in CSE 2019. Pata nahi kaise.

I have flunked 2 times in Prelims (2016, 2018). But cleared all stages Pre, Mains and Interview in 2019 attempt.

Its been a long journey.

I started preparing for the exam in 2015 (4th year of college). Gave the 1st attempt in 2016, graduated fresh just out of college and few days after I had relocated myself to Bangalore for a job at Qualcomm.

I failed in prelims miserably. Got around 80 Marks.

I realized that preparing along with a hectic job would require a lot of efforts. So I skipped my attempt in 2017 and prepared for the Mains exam and optional subject keeping a long-term perspective.

In the mean-time, I shifted my job location from Bangalore to Noida (I thought I could study more being at home). But after a few months, I thought of going full-throttle and took a calculated risk of resigning from the job in March 2018.

That year I joined the 1st ever batch of SFG program and the Current Affairs classes of FORUMIAS. I toiled, toiled hard to remain in SFG and not slip back to RLG (reserve list). We used to attempt papers in the open-park, the under-construction building, at 7AM in the chilling winters!

I remember @Neyawn saying, “you need to reach your peak on the day of exam, not before, not further.” In 2018 prelims, my peak probably came too early. I was burnt up. At the time of exam, I was so exhausted that I took a lot of time on every question.

I had too many questions to solve for the 2nd iteration with less than 20 minutes left. In panic, I attempted 97 questions out of 100, without thinking too much and literally making wild guesses. I scored 90.

This 2018 attempt was an eye-opener. I realized I needed a comprehensive strategy – not only for Pre, but also for the Mains exam. I needed to study in an integrated manner, not in silos. Inspite of the prelims result, I continued with Dipin Sir’s CA classes. I joined MGP and Essay programme for 2018 Mains. Next year when the time of actually giving the Mains came up, I had a lot of things ready at hand for me to just revise/update myself.

For the next prelims of 2019, I was able to clear the cutoff for both CSE and IFoS. This time, I tried to rectify a few mistakes of 2018 attempt:

#1  Reach the peak of preparation at the right time.

This time the intensiveness of my preparation increased gradually, till it reached the peak on 2nd June.

2. Distribute prelims preparation over the course of entire year.

In my previous attempts, I used to directly study just the yearly compilations for prelims. But this time I made up mind to at least read and revise prelims specific news DAILY as well. Monthlies also came up for the first time. And when the time was up for pre-only mode (mid-March), I also picked up yearly compilations.

In fact this year I had download Epic monthly, and was studying it for this years attempt, before results came,

{Tip: I made a whatsapp group of which I was the sole-member :p (you may google it). I used to keep all screenshots/stuff you require and TAG them for future revision purpose. Ensure regular revisions.}

#3 Don’t write too many test-papers

Don’t write too many test-papers at the cost of actually studying. In 2018, I had written around 80 test-papers. But this time, I wrote very few tests. It was because I realised tests should be written to get the knack of eliminating options, to get one’s heuristics right, and to revise stuff.

I had done this already in 2018 (special thanks to Forum’s SFG and simulators). Tests are useful only when you are not compromising with studying and revising. My toils for 2018 prelims bore fruits for the 2019 attempt. I just needed to revise more, without bothering about giving so many mock tests.

#4 Mock Test Analysis

Thanks to a friend who taught me how to analyse prelims test-papers. I had made a custom excel file solely for this purpose.

I used to categorise my MCQ attempts into 4 categories

  • 4: completely sure,
  • 3: almost sure but still confused in two options,
  • 2: only 1 eliminated, and
  • 1: no idea at all).

I had set a target of accuracy for each of these categories. (for eg. Category 4: 100% accuracy, Category 3: 75% accuracy, etc.).

This helped me track and shape my risk-taking appetite. Attaching a small example snippet here:

My Booklist for Prelims


History AncientRS Sharma + TN board book + new NCERT + AL Basham (for Buddhism and Jainism) + wikipedia
History MedievalTN Board book + new NCERT + compiled keywords and their meanings through internet
History Modern (Freedom Struggle)Spectrum + a few chapters from Bipin Chandra (which were missing in Spectrum) + New NCERT class 12 + Forum’s static revision classes + Internet
CultureClass XI NCERT + Nitin-Singhania notes (not book) + a visit to the National Museum, Delhi + Internet + Baliyan Class-notes from Market
Polity (static + current affairs)Laxmikanth (static) + Prelims compilations (CA)
Economy (static + current affairs)Class 12 Macro NCERT + Shankar-Ganesh book + Mrunal Lectures
Science (static + current affairs)Class 12 Biology last 3-4 chapters + Pre compilations
Environment (static + current affairs)ShankarIAS + 2-3 Chapters from Savindra Singh Physical Geography + Pre compilations for CA
Geography(Physical +Indian+World) Class XI and XII NCERT + PMF IAS notes
Current affairsCA Class-notes, compilations – monthly and yearly

I did not join any Test Series for prelims. Gave many open-tests (vision, forum,  etc.).  Bought test-papers from the Market and solved them at home. I had already solved SFG Test papers and was thorough with the basic book reading.

I attempted 92 question in Prelims. Around 70 were right. I think the optimal number of questions to attempt in prelims should be above 85 seeing the present trend of prelims exam.

My Booklist for Mains


Dipin Sir’s CA Class-notes and some other class-notes were my base-material. I revised them multiple times.

In the last few days before mains, I made the notes of these notes (again @Neyawn’s suggestion). Tried to brainstorm over every value-added content that where all it could be utilized in exam.

This “notes-of-notes” register was my carry-along for all the GS papers outside the exam-centre. I even tried a technique of recording my audio of reading aloud these “notes-of-notes register”.

I’ve listened to my recordings more than 10 times now.  I’m glad I was able to utilize a lot of this content in the mains exam.

For example, the UNESCO question  – I quoted the preamble of UNESCO in conclusion and related it well to the theme of the question.

Eg. Hunger-Poverty divergence question  – Quoted Utsa Patnaik (republic of Hunger) and Angus Daeton’s “nutri-puzzles” and again related all of them to the context of question.

Comment from Neyawn : Yeah, I am telling you this will be a permanent point all poverty questions from now onwards.

Optional Preparation

My Optional Subject was Philosophy.

Primary reason was interest. I tried to read a few books, watch crash-course philosophy playlist, other youtube videos, etc. to see whether I like it or not.
Later, I researched about the PYQs, the strategies of toppers, guidance-availability, etc to make sure that it is a viable optional.

STRATEGY for Philosophy Paper 1

(This is for those who do not have background in philosophy. Moreover, all this worked for me in my circumstances.)

  1. Be intense. Leave no stone unturned to gain as much marks as possible in optional. Do not come into the trap that the syllabus is very small and static. Every optional can be studied in as much depth as the others.
  2. In philosophy, many concepts are interlinked. For conceptual clarity, do not hesitate to go a bit beyond syllabus. Though questions are asked from within the syllabus, but you may answer it by going even beyond it (but not too much and without digressing from what is asked).
  3. For Indian philosophy, try to use Sanskrit word in phonetic language. Use Sutra’s (given in CD sharma book footnotes) for value-addition.
  4. Quote thinkers, books, etc for substantiation of arguments.
  5. Try not to make arguments by yourselves in the exam until and unless you have actually studied about it somewhere. Sometimes people tend to think themselves as philosophers.
  6. Since you have to write lesser number of words in 3 hours as compared to GS, try to answer in a more neatly. You may use pencil for diagrams (if at all required), black-pen for underlining, etc.

BOOKLIST for Philosophy

  1. Western philosophy : VVR-IAS material (Class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + MitrasIAS + Patanjali IAS + Stanford website + IGNOU + NPTEL videos + research papers (academia, jstor, shodhganga)
  2. Indian Philosophy: VVR-IAS material (class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + MitrasIAS + CD Sharma book + Shodhganga + NPTEL
  3. Socio-political philosophy: VVR-IAS material (class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + Shubhra-Ranjan PSIR Notes (Political theory part) + Ambarish Vemuri’s notes + IGNOU material + internet
  4. Philosophy of Religion : VVR-IAS material (class-notes, pre-class, post-class) + IGNOU material + Stanford website + shodhganga

Classes I took at ForumIAS

At ForumIAS, I took Dipin Sir’s Current Affairs Classes, ForumIAS’s Ethics+, Essay  and MGP, Static Revision Classes ( conducted in 2018 ) , Prelims Simulator Tests and Interview Guidance Program.

Usefulness? I think I used them quite well. I had internalized them a lot. Though I felt everytime that I’m missing a lot of things, but then I realized there would be no end to it. Stick to whatever you have and revise them multiple times. Try making maximum use of the resources and material you already have.

Answer Writing

Answer Writing is the Core of Mains. My style of Answer writing has been contextual. I try to change it with the demand of the question. An objective style question which can have several dimensions/arguments needs Point-format or diagrams.

But a narrow-subjective question requires paragraph format. I’ve also used formats like inline-numbering within the paragraphs (again @Neyawn’s suggestion).

I’ve focused a lot on value-addition and differentiated content. Introductions and conclusions are the places where they can be utilized to the maximum.

Case studies, data, facts, figures, pie-charts, graphs, diagrams, were used extensively. But I try to refrain from mindless making of diagrams. Use diagrams only when it helps you express it in lesser words/ lesser time/lesser space.

How many Questions I attempted in GS ?

I attempted all questions in all GS Papers and optional.

For 3 GS Papers,I came up with this highly effective strategy for time-management after much thought:

Q1-Q2> Q11-20(all 15 markers)> Q3-Q9 (all 10 markers)

This worked well?.

For GS-4 as well, it was similar – Section A Q1 and Q2 > Sec B > Section A rest of the questions.

If you had to prepare again would you change your strategy in any way?

I learnt a lot more about STRUCTURING of answers, particular to the CONTEXT and the KEYWORD of the question that is asked.

Structuring is not only about Intro, Body and Conclusion. But it is much more detailed. We need to understand that multiple points in the Body part can be clubbed together to make a single dimension (a Bucket as I always say).

This way, one should write about multiple Buckets in the Body part, along with the sub-points within every bucket.

If this wasn’t your first attempt what mistakes you think you made in the previous attempt in mains? It was my first Mains. 

Interview Preparation

My Interview was on 17th Feb, the 1st day of the start of the interview itself. Since this time the results were also declared too late, I had very less time to prepare for my DAF.

I attended Mock interviews at ForumIAS, as well as other coachings. With every mock, I learnt something or the other.

My final performance was much better than whatever I did in the mock interviews. However, there were many good and bad things. There were some questions where I thought I answered well. At the same time, there were some where I thought I could’ve answered differently.

So, its quite subjective in the end about how your interview would be. The only thing you could do is enhance whatever is in your hands and “control the controllables.” I think I tried my best to do that.

Using Internet and Digital Resources

I’ve used internet and digital resources extensively. I did not read any offline newspaper consistently. But I kept track of various news and editorials through digital content – news websites/apps, youtube videos on news analysis, RSTV, ORF, IDSA, etc.

Some Techniques I used for resource Management

In order to balance with a plethora of data and resources available, 3 skills are required:
#1 Viveka: The ability to differentiate between what is useful and reproducible for the exam and what is not. This comes with analysis of the trends of the exam – previous year questions and syllabus memorization helps.

#2 Suniyojan: The ability to effectively organize whatever content you collect – either offline or online. If I have studied some topic somewhere I should be quickly abe to locate where it is stored so that I can update my notes as quickly as possible. I made subjectwise offline folders where I kept all my notes/resources.

#3 AtmaSanyam: Or Self-restraint,i.e. the ability to know when to stop collecting material/resources and start studying them. Revision of whatever you have collected is more crucial than collecting more and more data. Otherwise, everything will just go in vain.

Yes, notes were mostly offline. Most of my notes were not consolidated into single-pages notes. I tried to consolidate a few themes which I thought were most relevant and were fragmented here and there. For eg. Electoral reforms, Globalisation and its impacts, Climate change, etc.

Sharing a sample of a consolidated 1-page note

Last Lines

I think that to clear this exam, there are a few things that are necessary. One is the ability to absorb things one reads, listens etc. Second is the ability to express. And third is patience and dedication, as it may take more time than you may think at first.

Thanking you,

Himanshu Gupta,
AIR 27, CSE 2019

Print Friendly and PDF

By Neyawn

Neyawn is an anonymous member the founder of ForumIAS. He is a coder Mentor & Teacher by profession, and often writes for ForumIAS. You can buy him coffee , if you really really like his work. He has built ForumIAS - the community - twice. You can say Hi to him or ask him a question on ForumIAS, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn . You can also write to him at RxAxVxI@FOxRUMxIAS.COM ( remove the small "x" from the email ).