Akshay Agarwal – AIR 43 in UPSC CSE 2018 – Journey from Quitting High Paying Job to UPSC Exam

Akshay Agarwal has done his graduation from the prestigious National University of Singapore (NUS). After having worked in multinationals, Akshay left his high paying job in Singapore and returned to India to pursue  his dream of IAS.

Full Interview

Securing AIR 43 in UPSC CSE 2018, Akshay shares his journey with us. Here are a few excerpts from his interview:

1. Is UPSC preparation a life changing event?

UPSC preparation is certainly a life changing event. It attacks your preconceived notions at the very roots. For example, earlier I viewed women empowerment as only the right of a woman to go to work. But as I studied the subject deeper, I realised that there is economic, social, cultural and political dimension to it. Woman empowerment is not just about right to go to work, it also is about right to take decisions, right to creative expression as well.

UPSC preparation broadens a person’s view about his country, society etc. It will definitely make you a great orator who can talk on views of current importance in friends, family circle.

Lastly it helps you develop managerial abilities. Even as an IAS you are supposed to be jack of all trades and master of none. This quality can help a person in any other career that he chooses even if he doesn’t get through.

2. What are your views on reading news and news analysis? How did you prepare for current affairs?

Reading news daily and analysing that news go hand in hand. You have to first read the news. Map it in the syllabus of the exam i.e. which topic can fit in which paper of general studies. This helps you take the important topics and discard the noise and unimportant topics from the newspapers.

Secondly, you have to analyse and evaluate the news. What are the positive and negative consequences of any issue. Here you can analyse the impact of any current happening from economic, social, cultural and political aspect.

Lastly, you have to develop your perspective on the same. Is the event good or bad in the long and short run? This helps you develop the ability of decision making taking all the aspects into consideration.

I would say while preparing for current affairs take this approach of Read—> Analyse—> Develop Views

3. What according to you is important for UPSC success- syllabus coverage, study planning or critical thinking?

You have to understand that the syllabus that has been prescribed by UPSC is very vast. In such a scenario, covering the syllabus is an ongoing process. For example, I was completing my syllabus till 2 days before the prelims. There is really no limit as to how much you can cover. Also, now-a-days a lot of information is available online. It becomes easy for any student to cover the syllabus because of that.

I think developing the ability to critically think on any issue is a real game changer. To understand any event and its consequences in all dimensions is extremely important. This show your real thought which is certainly not available in any book.

4. Would you tell our young aspirants that developing critical thinking ability is your success mantra?

It is part of the success mantra. Along with critical thinking a student needs to also, define the golden mean. There are two aspects- quest for knowledge and optimum studies, that the student has to balance between.

In the age of the internet every student has access to knowledge. Hence you need to put in that little bit of extra effort to get more knowledge than others. Moreover, you will need to have knowledge to tackle the questions in mains. Whether you have understanding of a subject or not is clearly visible from your answers. Having a clear, organised view of any issue helps here.

This does not mean that you develop PHD level knowledge about any subject. Afterall you have to complete your syllabus on time before the exam. The fact that UPC does not give more that 7-8 minutes per answer in mains also indicates that understanding is important and not in depth knowledge. A successful candidate can strike the right balance between the two.

5. We have a lot of young aspirants for our foundation course who start preparing in their graduation. Any advice for them?

It is always advisable to start early. As they say the earlier the better. To think of appearing for this exam in itself is credible. But only having a dream and not working towards it is a common mistake many people do. If you have such a vision for 3-4 years, then you need to develop certain skills.

Firstly develop curiosity. Whether it is reading, watching a video, the idea is to keep learning new things. This will help you during your syllabus coverage as it won’t feel like an effort.

Secondly, develop patience. UPSC is a marathon and not a sprint race. You will be preparing for 2-3 years minimum and need to ingrain consistency in your preparation. It should not be that you study 10-12 hours in one day and not study at all in the next 2-3 days. Consistently studying for 7-8 hours daily without getting distracted and demotivated needs a lot of patience.

Lastly, develop your personality from now. You cannot develop your personality in a year or two. It is an ongoing process. Your personal biases and prejudices are clearly visible in the mains and the interview. What you need to do is develop a multidimensional perspective from the very beginning. For that focus your energies on questioning your beliefs and value system.

Taking reference from the earlier answer of yours, how did you prepare for the interview in such a less amount of time?

For my interview, I had a clear strategy- prepare my Detailed Application Form (DAF) very well. I was guided by a lot of veterans in UPSC, who have service experience of 30-35 years to prepare me on my DAF.

Along with that I focused on my optional a lot. Since my optional was economics which is a bit different from regularly chosen optionals, I knew questions would be asked from it. Consequently, I had prepared for questions on Indian economy and world economy thoroughly.

6. Our Last Question would be How difficult is it to clear the exam in your first attempt?

For me it was a life and death situation. I had taken a huge risk by leaving a very high paying job and attempting this exam. For this reason I went all out in my preparation, leaving no stone unturned.

A lot of people give the first attempt as a ‘trial attempt’. I think that is a very negative approach. For starters you are the most excited about your preparation in your first attempt. Energy levels are also high. As the attempts progress, your energy levels also reduce and lethargy sets in. I would advise all to go into the first attempt with all the discipline, dedication and determination.

Thank you for your time Mr. Akshay Agarwal. I am sure our young aspirants would learn a lot from your interview. Also, we wish you all the best for your future endeavours as an IAS officer.