IAS 2017 Topper Ashima Mittal’s [AIR 12] – Motivational Journey
1. First of all, we would like to express our hearty congratulations for this exceptional achievement! We are very happy that your hard work and efforts finally paid off, that too in a grand style! Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us something about yourself and why did you choose to pursue UPSC?
A: Thank you very much. I originally hail from Jaipur, Rajasthan and completed my schooling from there itself. My mother works as a Professor in the Computer Science Department at NIT Jaipur, Rajasthan; while my father is a businessman. I’ve pursued my engineering from IIT Bombay in 2014. After my graduation, I worked with Ernst & Young in Gurgaon, Haryana, as an Associate Consultant; but I left the job after a few months since I wanted to prepare for civil services. I also hold a Master’s Degree in Anthropology, which was my optional subject in the Civil Services Examination. I have done a couple of internships in order to gain practical experience. For instance, I’ve worked with the Government of Rajasthan in Elementary Education, which had been a very good experience for me. I’ve also worked with the Government of Gujarat in Civil Administration Department. Last year I got selected in IRS-IT and my overall rank was AIR 328. Fortunately this year my rank was 12 for the Civil Services Examination. Now, I’ll be joining as an IAS officer.
2. That is great! This brings to my second question, was it your second attempt?
A: Actually, this was my third attempt. In my first attempt, I had qualified for the interview round but I could not make it till the end. In my second attempt, I secured AIR 328 and this year I secured AIR 12
3. How did you keep yourself motivated throughout the preparation for the examination, considering the time duration being over 2 years?
A: Since my childhood, I had dreamt of becoming an IAS officer and work for the welfare of the children. I was previously associated with a girl’s orphanage, which was located near my home. Actually, it’s been a while that I’ve been working for them. It’s simply my love for the children that have made me reach the position where I’m in right now. Also, I thought that there is no better platform than UPSC if at all I had wanted to do something for the children of my society. This is the platform where I can access every one of the resources, which would help the children to reach their goals and achieve their dreams. It is also a dream come true as the hard work I invested in the last three years had paid off. Secondly, my family had a lot of confidence in my capability to clear this exam. In my first attempt where I could not clear the exam, there was this feeling that maybe I was not meant for it. But my family made me believe in myself that even if I could reach up to my dream this year, the next year I will be definitely able to accomplish it. Moreover, I have dedicated my 3 years for the preparation. This was a very big motivation factor. Thirdly, the field experiences which I had, strengthened my belief. When I was working, I had envisioned all the circumstances that could be made better. All of these factors had kept me motivated throughout my journey.
4. What was your strategy in terms of prelims? Did you solve any mock tests and how important are the mock tests, according to you?
A: Revision is the only key behind the success to prelims, as the syllabus is too vast and also the major part of it is covered and commenced by the current affairs section. My strategy was to solve at least one paper every day and I went on solving the papers for almost 2 months. All in all, I solved nearly 45-60 papers during the time period. This was during my second attempt. In my third attempt, I did not have such a vast amount of time as only 18 days were remaining for the examination. Hence, during these 18 days, I could solve only 15 papers. The art of elimination is something which is very much essential in clearing prelims. I concentrated more on the basics, rather than going gaining in-depth knowledge about the subject. I had even read all the NCERT books almost 2-3 times. I was quite confident that I would crack the prelims, since solving nearly 80 papers in all gave me a positive vibe about the same.
5: According to you, are the NCERT textbooks the most preferred ones?
A: Yes, I would recommend reading the NCERT textbooks, but in case of writing answers, I would advise reading the textbooks by Laxmikant nearly 2-3 times. In case of geography or history as the optional subject, the NCERT textbooks would be more useful.
6: How did you prepare for the essay paper?
A: For essays what I did was that I had read the essays by the toppers which are easily available on the internet and I tried to imitate some of the patterns. I noted down a lot of quotations which can be later on used in several places. I targeted to collect as many points as possible within a certain time period so I can construct a good essay. I developed my own style of writing the essay and before the examination, I wrote 15-20 essays in all. I would suggest that the aspirants should focus more on the introduction and the conclusion part of the essay as well as read a lot of previous years’ material by the toppers along with the practice. What generally happens in the exam is that once you get the topic, it becomes very much difficult to be that creative. The structure of the essay is very important; we have to create that outline of how our essay should be even before going ahead with it.
7: Why did you choose Anthropology as your optional subject?
A: I listed down a few optional subjects before going on with the Civil Services preparation and before the prelims I had only remained with the time duration of 10 months. Hence, it was not possible for me to choose a lengthy subject as my optional. So, I had to go on with a subject, which was a bit easier than the lengthy subjects, like philosophy or anthropology. Plus, anthropology has a lot of biology in it, which I’m quite fond of since my school days but I couldn’t go any further with it because I went for JEE. Therefore, I joined a Masters course in Anthropology and scored the second highest marks in the subject. I had prepared for the Civil Services Examination while I was pursuing my Masters.
8: What would be your advice for the aspirants taking up Anthropology as their optional subject?
A: Firstly, you should make a list of all the easier and less time-consuming topics and prepare content for every such small topic. Secondly, case studies and examples are essential to get good marks in Anthropology and for that, refer to the newspapers and several reports which have a lot of examples. I maintained an excel sheet and I wrote the smaller topics in every column along with the case studies which I had to use for the topics. This helped me have a lot of examples compiled together along with the diagrams and flowcharts. They really need to be attractive and state-of-the-art for adding some extra marks. Have good clarity of the concepts because what I had realised since the last two years was that you’ve to focus more on the analytical details than the factual things as the question paper level is getting more difficult in the level 2, which is more analytical. Practical application of Anthropology subject is very important in our daily lives to win the clarity. People who aspire to take anthropology as their optional subject should stay very much acquainted and interested towards it, rather than just choosing it because of its scoring nature.
9: Who was the chairman of your panel board for the interview? Can you tell us a few questions that they had asked you during the interview?
A: Former Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi was the chairman of the board for the interview. He asked me a few questions about the Common Wealth Games. His second question was about power abuse, which is taking place at an extensive rate nowadays. He had also asked me about the nature of communalism in India. There were questions on my strengths and weaknesses; as well as my perspective of being a leader or a manager along with the respective examples. What I believe is that you should not be faking your personality; be real, and your true self will reflect from within.
10: Did you opt for the online resources or the traditional coaching classes?
A: Yes, I did refer to the online resources as it has taken the standard of the examination to another level. Online resources are kind of revolution for the preparation because of the advantages you get from the online coaching mode. You can save a lot of time for the preparation, and then you can have video lectures to which you can revisit whenever you wish to. Referring to the online resources has a great future and it is also an equalizer. I had referred to the online notes by IAS Baba as well as the Insights on India and Learning Space.
11: Can a person crack the Civil Services Examination, being situated at the remote corner of the nation?
A: Well, if the question is about the availability of the material, then I’d say that the person who is located at the remote corner of the nation can crack the examination. Apart from the availability of materials, it also requires the right strategy, a lot of determination, some level of understanding of the society and the problems around us. If all of these are in place along with the availability of the study material, then definitely, anybody can crack the examination.
12: Any words of wisdom for the young aspirants who are starting to prepare for the UPSC examination?
A: Believe in a good strategy that works for you. Apart from hard work, intelligent strategy, you also need to have a lot of patience and perseverance throughout the time period. Being an aspirant, it is very important to be confident and mentally tough. Confidence and mental toughness is the key to the exam, because throughout the journey you’d be facing ups and downs. You should have balance in your emotions. Once you bring your emotions in equilibrium and maintain consistency, then it is an easy walk through. Also, have belief in your abilities and desire to work hard day in day out, then you are more likely to clear this exam. Have the right guide, trust them, follow them, and finally come out with good result.
We would once again like to express our heartiest congratulations for this grand success. Wishing you, all the very best in your career and life ahead.