The Story of Abhinav Gopal, CAPF+IFS+IAS, Sociology Optional

I first met Abhinav, about 4 years back in Old Rajinder Nagar. I was doing a couple of talks that year. It was the first time, that Forum people were meeting and there was a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd.  Some of the people who came to attend those sessions and kept in touch are happily settled now.

It was one of these sessions when I was walking out, a tall and slim guy came running after me. “Neyawn” he shouted, “can you tell me how to prepare for Sociology, I have no idea.”.

That was the first time I met Abhinav. This year, as he wrote 6th Attempt ( he qualified for both Civils and IFoS before ) , he wrote a BIG Thank you note to me!

I kinda waited four years for it myself, given that I saw him slog every year, making improvements every year. His name was on the selected candidate’s list already – more than one year – as far as I remember.

He was also a favourite given that he was from the very first class of ForumIAS.

Here is his thank you note. And his story.

Hello Everyone, 

My name is Abhinav Gopal.

My journey has been a little longer than usual, so hold your guns as I have a little more to say than the usual stuff.

I am from Prayagraj, UP. I did my graduation from IIT Madras. I had qualified CAPF in 2017, IFS in 2017 as well as CSE 2017.

However, it was only in this attempt, that I managed to get a rank that would get me IAS.

In my last attempt, I was a working professional, so working professionals can take a cue from my story too. Here it is:

Personality/Profile
  • Your Name: ABHINAV GOPAL
  • Place of Birth : PRAYAGRAJ, UP
  • How old are you?: 29
  • Schooling done from Name and City and score? : MPVM Ganga Gurukulam , Prayagraj   88%
  • College from which City and Gpa :IIT Madras  7.69/10
  • PG if Any :IIT Madras
  • Your attempt at the exam( 1st, 2nd, 3rd)  :6th
  • Did you write any other exam? :Qualified CAPF 2015 exam;  IFS 2017 exam; CSE 2017
  • Who else is there in your family? : Father, Mother, wife and 1 sister
  • Work-experience if any :Indian Forest Service since December 2018
  • Optionals :SOCIOLOGY in CSE; ZOOLOGY & AGRICULTURE in IFS Exam

Are you a working professional? If yes then please tell us how did you manage preparation with your job?  Detailed Answer will be appreciated

BALANCING TRAINING WITH PREPARATION – LAST ATTEMPT

I gave my 2019 attempt while I was in the National Forest Academy, Dehradun. I had decided not to give the exam after my shocking failure in 2018 Mains exam. Push from family and friends convinced me to give it a last shot.

I knew the task was going to be very difficult. With classes, tours, games and Physical Training and multiple exercises, it was going to be a humongous task. I started afresh. I remembered a poem in my class 12th about empty spaces.

I looked for those empty spaces before, during and after classes. Deepak (My study partner, AIR 48 CSE 2019) and I used to wake up 5 am in the morning before my Physical Training at 6:15 and revise whatever we can for prelims. I used to get 1-hour lunchtime.  I used to finish my lunch as quickly as possible and revise with Deepak for rest of the time.

Time between classes and games, games and dinner, post dinner was utilized as extensively as possible. My roommate and batchmate Vineet Kumar (Andhra Pradesh cadre) was kind enough to let me speak and discuss in the morning and night. During summers in the night time I used to sit with heavy application of Odomos on my body to study outside the room doing discussion with Deepak for prelims. I was lucky to have very supportive and understanding batchmates. I could solve the mock tests during breaks and sometimes during classes. I didn’t take leave for a single day, that was my sheer determination and discipline developed overtime or my inner sportsperson which rose from ashes like a phoenix.

I was 5th time lucky. I was writing my 5th consecutive Mains. After prelims, we had the Hill Tour (part of Forest Service training) for 21 days. It meant no studies for the next 25 days because this tour was the most exhaustive of all the tours. We travelled over road to Leh, Jammu, Himachal and Haryana in Tempo travelers. Only thing which I could do was a discussion with Deepak. I couldn’t write answers every day but I used to make a framework and jot down points for ‘Secure’ questions. This was 4th consecutive year that Deepak and I had continued writing answers from Secure initiative. I hadn’t even started my optional till the end of June. I was left with 2 and a half months i.e. July, August and half September. We had our line ministry and Parliamentary attachments lined up in July. We were having regular classes, Physical Training, games and various cultural and sports events. I took the Delhi attachment as an opportunity to give mock tests (both GS and Sociology) and wrote as many tests as possible. Morning to evening we used to have lectures in different ministries. I took these lectures as a revision of various government schemes as well as sources of statistics to be used in exams. After these lectures, I used to write mock tests. Weekends I used to write minimum of 5 tests. Delhi attachment ended in the last week of July. September was a game-changer for me as classes were scheduled in the academy and I managed to clock 6-7 hours daily and revise my optional. On weekends I used to travel to Delhi for giving mock tests.

I took a week’s leave before the exam and appeared with an open and clear mind and most importantly with no expectations (निष्काम कर्म)

I had my personality test on 28th July and I had already landed in my cadre in June. Here I balanced my field visits, office work and Personality test preparation. BB Vyas sir’s board took the personality test. It was entirely based on my DAF particularly Forest Service, Maharashtra and Bihar experiences.

 Preliminary examination

GS (strategy and books) 

 

BOOKLIST: 

Topic Resource
History Ancient Didn’t read
History Medieval  Didn’t read
History Modern (Freedom Struggle) NCERT and Spectrum
Culture Nitin Singhania notes
Polity (static + current affairs)  Laxmikant and monthly booklets of  Vision and Forum
Economy (static + current affairs) NCERT and monthly booklets of Vision and Forum
Science (static + current affairs)  Vision and Forum
Environment (static + current affairs)  Shankar IAS booklet and monthly booklets of Insights, Vision and Forum
Geography(Physical +Indian+World) NCERTs and Nitin Sangwan notes
Current affairs Newspaper; Monthly booklets of Vision and Forum; Daily current affairs of, Forum and Civilsdaily and other websites

Which test series did you join? How helpful do you things such test series are?

    • Practised Vision and Forum test series
    • Very useful as they help in recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses, number of questions to be attempted, elimination strategy
    • Helpful in revision and developing an intuition for Prelims based on inter-connectedness of subjects

How Many questions did you attempt in GS? How many did you get right?

    • 85 attempted and 69 right

What do you think is the optimal number of questions to attempt in prelims? Do you advise accuracy or maximum attempts?

    • Combination of both accuracy and maximum attempt
    • Maximum attempts vary for everyone
    • For me, optimal always varied between 78-85 depending on QP difficulty

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

    • NO

If this wasn’t your first attempt what mistakes you think you made in the previous attempt in prelims?

    • Prelims Exam was my stronghold. I qualified Prelims for 5 years consecutively with an average score of 120.

Mains  examination

How did you prepare GS/GK?

    • Topic-wise preparation of notes – topics mentioned in the syllabus and based on previous years papers
    • Static topics from static books referred in Prelims preparation and internet for definitions and fodder points
    • Newspaper notes and keywords for current affairs – emphasized on editorials and opinions for addition to my notes of current affairs
    • Daily answer writing from Insights on India Secure Initiative
    • Daily and monthly current affairs magazine to add to the static notes
    • Short keywords based notes for last-minute revision
    • Joining Mains Guidance Programme of Forum IAS for real-time experience and detailed feedbacks
    • Always came back and analyzed my answers and noted down the topics not covered and additional novel fodder points for answers in my notes

How did you cover Current Affairs for Mains?

  • Newspaper editorials and opinions (Indian Express and used feedly app); Made notes from monthly magazines and test series solutions; Daily answer writing and final short keywords based notes for last-minute revisions

What’s your optional subjects and why?

    • SOCIOLOGY
    • CHOOSING OPTIONAL – Great haste makes great waste!
    • I had chosen Sociology as an optional because I had taken a few courses related to it in my college (IIT encouraged inter-disciplinary studies). Primarily, I found the subject very interesting. Along with that, reasons for choosing it were the previous years’ scores in the subject which were encouraging, easy availability of subject material and coaching and also its utility in GS.
    • My suggestion here would be to go make the list of all the possible optional subjects you can take. Go through the syllabus and previous year papers to get general feel of the subject. Take other factors mentioned above into consideration to choose optional subject.
    • You should thoroughly enjoy the subject. You should never get bored reading your optional subject. All the subjects have their own writing style and you must understand it as soon as possible. One hack is to read the answers of the toppers to know that style. And of course keep doing answer writing and get feedbacks.

Did you join any classes for your mains preparation .If yes then how useful did you find them?

    • I joined Forum IAS MGP for 4 Mains
    • Very useful from the perspective of coverage of syllabus, current topics and most important of all, detailed feedbacks
    • I could improvise my answers and change my strategies based on these feedbacks (Highly recommended)

How important is answer writing? What was your style of answer writing?

    • In my opinion the most important factor
    • My style was Introduction – Body – conclusion
    • Points-based answers
    • Introduction – statistics, basic definition of keyword, contextual understanding of topic
    • Conclusion – summarized giving my own opinion and future suggestion in one twp lines
    • Always divided my answers into sections depending upon on question asked
    • This year I gave multiple interpretations of questions too in the answers given the subjective interpretations of questions

How many questions did you attempt? What strategy did you follow for mains examination in the examination hall?

    • All the questions
    • I wrote 15 marks questions first and then 10 markers but strictly followed time
    • I utilized diagrams, tables, flowcharts, maps for better representation
    • I always had digital watch with me to track time in minutes. I used to re-assess my situation after every hour
    • Always made sure to answer what has been asked than what I know and fill papers
    • In GS 4 attempted Part A first this time and gave equal time to both Part A and B
    • Very simplified approach in case studies – Introduction – stakeholders – question asked in parts – suggestions and conclusion
    • Extensively used Sanskrit slokas, famous quotes, examples of great personalities, civil servant best works etc in answers in all the 4 papers

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

    • Change my optional

If this wasn’t your first attempt what mistakes you think you made in the previous attempt in mains?

    • Lack of revision
    • Lack of concise and compact notes for revision
    • Lack of answer writing

Were you part of ForumIAS CGP / PTS / MGP / IGP / Current Affairs? How did they help you in your preparation? How was it different from other programs?

YES, MGP programme student from 2016 Mains to 2019 Mains

Extremely helpful in my preparation for answer writing practice, real examination hall writing practice, improvisation of answers based on detailed feedbacks given in test series

Different from other test series – personal attention is given, Those who check answers directly contact you, comparison of answers with that of toppers for improvement of answers

Did you use to follow the Blog / Community? What initiatives did you follow ? ( 9PM, Mains Marathon , Neyawn’s Articles etc )

NEYAWN’s articles were like sugar spikes to confidence before the exams or stabilizer of preparation after the main exam. They guided when I was clueless on what to do specially post Mains. They gave important inputs for simple yet effective answer writing.

9 PM initiative on days I couldn’t read a newspaper

Interview

How did you prepare for the interview? Did you attend any mocks?

    • I prepared for Interview with a retired IRS officer in the beginning
    • Learnt a great deal about the art of giving answers i.e. fact-based answers, short and crisp answers, speaking about what has been asked then what you know
    • I attended mocks for practice and identify my mistakes and weak areas for preparation

Which Interview Board did you face?

    •  BB Vyas sir in CSE 2019

Please share your entire interview like what was asked and what was your reply? Were you able to answer all the questions?

IFS Rajasthan cadre posted at Chittorgarh

Sociology optional

BB Vyas sir

Chairman –

Q. 3 economic strengths of Chittorgarh

Q. Draft IFA 2019. What were the problems?

Q. Progress of India in Kyoto, Paris and Madrid?

Q. What is Common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities

M1

Q. Why left IRTS for IFS?

Q. Design a sociological study of candidates who have come for the interview.

Q. How do you think UPSC has fared on addressing the social inequities

M2

Q. Your observations in Chittorgarh while working on the field about society and differences from UP

Q. Why did you go for internships in Bihar (govt internship) and Maharashtra (NGO) when you were in IIT Madras?

Q. What were your observations and learnings there?

M3

Q. FCA in reserve forest and FCA in National parks/WLS which one would you do first and why?

Q. You left IRTS. Why do you think frieght charges in India are high? Solutions?

Q. What is oxygen saturation level in blood? How much should be it? What is the parameter?

Q. What is the definition of Forest in FCA?

M4

Q. Do you think SC has gone for environmental romanticism in Godavarman case? Economics of Forest has been disturbed?

Q. Apply sociology in the declaration of National parks and WLS

AS you can see most of the questions were opinion based and I could answer all

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?

    • It is a Personality test so your personality is tested. Your suitability for civil services is examined.
    • Confidence, calmness, rational balanced opinions, patience, coolness even in the most stressful conditions
    • DO’s – You should be well dressed and groomed. You should have a confident smile. Always be receptive of new ideas. Politeness and gratitude
    • DON’T’s – Over and under confidence, an argument with the members

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

    • No. They don’t impact marks
    • But yes your job experience can guide your interview as they would be intrigued to know what you did and how much understanding you have. They will look for qualities, which you showcased in your job, suitable for civil services.

How was the interview experience? Was it predictable? How much did your preparation help?

    • My experience was really good
    • Yes, I expected my interview to be based primarily on my Forest Service experiences and it did go the same way
    • Preparation, in any form, always helps. Good preparation boosts your confidence even if they don’t ask anything you prepared.
    • Your preparation helps you look at any topic from multiple dimensions. This will aid in answering bouncer questions in main interview

If this wasn’t your first attempt what mistakes you think you made in the previous interviews?

    • Losing my confidence after failing to answer expected-to-be-answered question. I realized that no question is expected-to-be-answered question. You should know the art of answering questions, you don’t know or just say you don’t know.
    • Failing to answer my strong points in a comprehensive and solid manner. If you get a length ball in cricket, you should not fail to hit a six or a four.

Miscellaneous Questions

How much internet did you use for your preparation? How much value did it add

    • Extensively used in the preparation
    • Hugely added value in form of providing questions for daily answer writing
    • Used applications like Civils Daily and feedly for current affairs

How did you balance so much resources and data? What Smart techniques did you use to manage your preparation in a better manner?

    • Be selective in collecting resources and data – have 10 points maximum for any topic
    • Used evernote, MS word for notes making – separate word files for quotations, anecdotes, statistics, examples of great personalities and civil servants

Did you make notes? Why yes or no? Did you find them any useful (if you made them). Please share a high quality sample if you made notes. Also were your notes online or offline?

    • Yes I did make notes
    • Very useful for my revision
    • Both online and offline notes – Basis was online notes mad in initial attempts but later switched to written notes
    • I extensively referred Gaurav Agrawal sir’s notes and Abhishek Surana sir’s notes

What do you think is the most essential quality/qualities needed to clear this exam?

    • Perseverance and patience
    • Smart study

Did you join any offline and/or online coaching? What relevance do you find of coaching in preparation of this exam?

    • Yes I joined coaching for Sociology optional
    • It is important if you need external stimulus for discipline and studies
    • It streamline your preparation and ensure coverage of all the static topics
    • It is individual decision to take coaching or not

What is your advice to the young aspirants who look up to you?

    • It takes 2-3 years of preparation to clear this exam with a good rank so be prepared for this long journey and be patient
    • Keep learning from your mistakes and failures. Look at failures as opportunities to improve

What is the best advice that you have received?

    • From my college senior about making frameworks in GS
    • We must have frameworks of topics like education, healthcare, agriculture, human resource development etc. in the form of supply chain in agricultre or basic essentials to run a classroom or a hospital, location factors etc. for writing comprehensive answers.  This suggestion was the most effective one which I got in my entire preparation phase

What did all hurdles you face while preparing for it? And how did you tackle them

    • Lack of guidance initially when I started preparation. I learnt it the hard way to tackle this slow start in form of multiple attempts.
    • I understood the idea of good concise notes really late in my preparation. I learnt it by hit and trial. I found my own way of making notes for revision and fast last minute revision

What role did Forum IAS play in your preparation? Do you have any suggestions for us?

    • It played a substantial role as I have been MGP student since its inception. It showed me the way when I was completely clueless about my preparation in 2016. I joined it considering the fact it was providing personal attention in answer writing of tests. Surely it justified its commitment too. After writing 16 tests with Forum in the first year, I was able to complete question paper. I improved my answers and added various forms of innovations like diagrams, tables, graphs, flowcharts etc. I understood the art of writing simple yet effective introductions and conclusions.
    • I joined MGP in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I always learnt in Forum in every test I wrote. Mentors used to sit with me with my answer copy and pointed areas to improve. They used to show me copies of toppers to make me learn what extra toppers have been doing to get good marks. This is when I learnt the art of answer writing.

Suggestions

    • Personally, I feel the quality of questions can still be improved (they are already good) looking at the competition in the market.
    • Emphasis on presentation should be balanced with emphasis on content while checking the copies. This has improved in last 2 years.
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