Q: 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 for all your support and guidance throughout the journey. I want to express my wholehearted gratitude to you. Basically, what happened was that I lost my father when I was 7 years old and by the age of 10, I was made aware of what life was actually; so the maturity hit me very soon. I’ve completed my schooling from St. Pauls High School, and that phase of life was very difficult for me to cope with, both in terms of financially and emotionally as well as in every possible way.
I give all the credit of my success to my family, friends, teachers, and relatives who supported me throughout the entire journey. After that, in the year 2013, I decided to pursue diploma in Mechanical Engineering, where I scored very well in the academics. Being honest, since my school days I wanted to bring a large-scale change to the society and the key to it was through the government examinations.
It is believed that these changes can be made only by the government, whereas others argue that an individual can make a difference and eventually change the society. But, if individuals are working with the government, together they can make important changes in society by enforcing the law and conducting the awareness seminars. Hence, the natural attraction was towards the UPSC. After completing my diploma I appeared for the Diploma-CET, the Common Entrance Test, which provides the lateral entry to the engineering colleges and I secured first rank to the Karnataka seat; so that was a big career booster for me.
I originally hail from a small village in Karnataka, where people never had the privilege to have a sight of what an IAS officer actually does. During that time, there were not many people who were truly inclined towards UPSC. So, I dropped the idea of UPSC for a while, thinking of doing it after having completed my engineering. I got admitted to the mechanical branch of R.V. College of Engineering in Bangalore, Karnataka.
I was very good with my academics, which was the only way out for me. I didn’t even have a very good financial background, on which I could rely upon. There wasn’t even any other career opportunity for me, so I had to study very hard to achieve my goals. Education was the only key. I worked really hard; I had put the habit of sitting in a place studying, and be very discipline when it comes to having a goal than achieving it. After completing my engineering, I got a golden opportunity to work with Cisco, Ltd., and during my fourth day I realized that this is not what I had really wanted to do in the long run. I asked my family about the same and they were very accommodative and helped me throughout the journey, even though we had financial issues.
I shifted to Delhi and joined the Vajiram coaching classes, which helped me a lot along with the online resources. I chose geography as the optional subject even after listening to certain negative responses from different people. Actually the thing is that there is a lot of uncertainty with geography. So, my natural integration was very much in case of geography and I sought after an administrative answer for the questions that caught my attention, such as:

  1. What is the land that you’re living off?  
  2. How are the people living off the land? Their interrelation?

Q: That is great! This brings to my second question, 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: When it came to the prelims, I was very clear with the NCERT concepts. If you’d ask me anything from the NCERT, I’d be fairly able to eliminate things. What I did next was I’d solved the previous years’ question papers just to understand the nature of the questions and their probability of appearing in the exam.
I prepared for the duration of 2 months and during that period, I solved a lot of mock tests and the best thing was that the textbooks would teach you 10 things, while the mock tests would be teaching you 10 completely other things. I remember that I solved around 70 mock tests.
Whenever I solved a mock test consisting of around 100 questions, no matter how much the difficulty level of the questions used to be, I always got 54 questions correct. So, this thing came with practice and revision is the only key behind the success to prelims.
Q: How did you prepare for the essay paper?
A: For essays what I did was that I’d joined Shabbir Sir’s coaching class and I’ll be very honest about it. Firstly, he was very rigid with his opinions and he’ll never accommodate with what you have to see and that is something I disliked. So my strategy behind preparing for the essay was like I used to choose a topic and analyze it from every single way possible. I targeted to collect as many points as possible within a certain time period so I can construct a good essay. My emphasis was on covering as many dimensions as possible. By dimensions I mean social, political, legal, constitutional, economic, historical and other aspects. I concentrated on making the beginning section attractive, by making it up to the mark. What actually happens while including all the points is that the essay becomes directionless, hence, just focus on making it particular so that the reader doesn’t get confused. The other strategy was being familiar with certain topics before appearing for the examination.
Q: What was your strategy behind choosing the optional?
A: The reason was administrative; I didn’t see that the fellow aspirants were scoring good marks by choosing geography as the optional subject I never sought after the opinions in extremity. Scoring good marks or marks in it was never my concern. My only concern was that if at all I would be able to put on with the subject throughout the time or will I fall out even before appearing for the exam. People mostly referred to the physical geography while preparing for the optional. I opted for a textbook with in-depth information about all of the aspects in geography. Also, I wanted to be different with my paper. I reviewed the answers on my own, whenever I used to get some time. Geography is basically an uncertain subject but it can be certain if at all you work very hard.
Q: What according to you is important, preparing by means of online resources or offline coaching classes?
A: A mix of both, I’d say.  A candidate who is comfortable with the online resources can explore a larger content than what the traditional ones can. Thus, it’s an added advantage if you want to have.
Q: 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, which was scheduled on 3rd April. He asked me the reason why I left my job at Cisco. His second question was from where I had taken the coaching. He’d already assumed it that I’d gone the traditional way. He then asked me about geopolitics and the role of geography in it. Basically, I belong from Belgaum; so he asked me about the regional disputes. It was mostly an opinion-based and a personality oriented interview, where they studied me as a person. It wasn’t a difficult one and I was very comfortable while giving the interview. What I believe is that you should not be faking your personality; be real, and your true self will reflect from within.
Q: 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 and discard immediately that won’t work 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. 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.

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About the Author

Akshay Palande

Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.

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