IAS Topper 2017, Sanket Agrawal, AIR 257, UPSC CSE 2017

The Civil Services Examination is a nationwide competitive examination in India conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.The exam is conducted for recruitment to diverse Civil Services of the Government of India, including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Forest Service (IFS), Indian Police Service (IPS) amid others.
This exam is believed to be one of the toughest examinations in India. In an interview with UPSC Pathshala, Sanket shared his experience of preparing for this exam.

  1. Why did you choose to pursue UPSC?

I completed my chartered accountancy in 2016 and got into a corporate job at ITC Limited. Although the job and pay were very good I realized that this wasn’t something I could do for the rest of my life. I needed to find a greater purpose that could keep me going. UPSC was always there at the back of my mind so I resigned from my job and started preparing for UPSC. The Prelims was to be conducted in August 2016. Because there was a lack of guidance I couldn’t clear prelims in my first attempt. Guidance is very important for this exam.
Later I brought my preparations back on track. Someone recommended me to use insightsonindia.com. So I just logged in to the website and subscribed to their test series. I think that was a very big boon for me. I took the tests very seriously and in June 2017 I could clear my prelims. After that I went to Delhi for three months for preparing for my mains exam. My optional was Commerce and Accountancy. Also I went to Delhi for a month for my interview preparations.
2. In terms of prelims, what was your strategy? How important do you think is giving tests in prelims?
My strategy was to limit the number of sources that I read and not to keep on expanding my sources. I made sure to first cover the basic NCERTs and then I moved on to the higher level books. It is very important to have a clear perspective of what to read and what not to read because there is a flood of material available in the market. I think here the online forums help us very much as you can research what is important for you to read.
I believe test series is the single most factor which is necessary for you to clear the prelims exam. It is important to apply to at least one test series no matter which test series it is, UPSC Pathshala, insights on India or Vision IAS. Stick to the schedule given by the test series. This was very helpful for me as I could keep my preparations on track and continuously evaluate myself.
3. Did you have any specific strategy to prepare for essay?
There was no particular strategy for essay. I was concentrating only on prelims and after that since the syllabus is almost same I just joined a test series. I wrote 4-5 good essays. Once you write different essays try to write them in different styles. For example you can give one type of introduction to one essay and another type of introduction to another and see how those two essays stand out against each other, what are the markings on those etc. So gradually you need to develop a whole style which is suited to you and will fetch you good marks.
Besides that, before the exam I wrote down some quotes, sayings and one liners which i used to augment my essays like some Sanskrit words. I think that worked wonders for me.
4. What would your advice be for someone who is starting new and wants to take commerce as an optional?
First of all I would recommend commerce optional only for those candidates who have a background in Commerce and Accountancy. For other candidates I would not recommend this optional .When you have chosen Commerce the first thing that you need to know is your booklist. For my preparation I joined Rankers classes in Delhi. I bought the materials from them and subscribed to their test series. I think while taking an optional one should not be swayed by public perception that this is a high scoring optional and that is a low scoring optional. Take it on basis of your aptitude and take something where you can give your 100%. It’s very important that you have interest in the subject because it’s a long journey.
5. What kind of questions did they ask you in your interview?
They asked me a lot many questions on my CA background. Recently the PNB scam was in news so they asked me about the professional integrity of chartered accountants and other professionals in general. They asked me if The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) was enough to curb the CAs .Secondly I am from the North East region so they asked me a lot of questions related to Nagaland insurgency and Assam insurgency and what are the bottlenecks in the development of north east and what we can do to better the situation.
6. There is a lot of online content these days. What do you think about it? Have you used any online content?
I think the online content is a boon as well as a bane. It depends on how you use it. If you use it judiciously then it is a very good medium. I in fact believe it is very much essential. I used a lot of online content. I was a regular follower of insights on India website and besides that I watched some good videos for world History. So whatever good content came my way I did use it but it’s important not to get distracted by the flood of online material. So be judicious while preparing.
I made daily current affairs notes from insights on India and monthly current affairs notes from Vision IAS.  Secondly I took their test series. Various platforms bring out their pilation of government schemes which are important. So these I could find out from the online platforms. I could find out the important biodiversity parks, natural parks and the various reports brought out by the agencies through online content. You can find these things in very concise and rich format in online medium rather than books. So I think the aspirants should go for online sources as far as these things are concerned like current affairs, international agencies reports, government schemes, tests etc.
7. Recently, Baswan Committee has recommended that optional subjects should be completely scrapped. What are your views on it?
I think in today’s time there are a lot of complains regarding differences in optional and differences in markings. So I think we can consider this option and move towards scrapping the optional subject and increase the weightage of the GS paper. That would give an equal competition and after the selection we can have a specialized course according to the service allotted to the candidate. We can have a different exam on respective specialized course paper.
8. For the past few years, the CSAT paper has been made qualifying in nature. What do you think about it ?
I am pretty much comfortable with CSAT. I think a basic knowledge of English and a basic aptitude for Mathematics is really important for any competitive examination. So I think it is a good move. I don’t think scraping CSAT altogether is desirable. The current system is good and it should be continued.
9. We all know that UPSC is a very unpredictable exam. If you were not selected, did you have any backup plan?
I was already a CA and I had worked for four months. I had one good attempt at UPSC. If I didn’t succeed I would have chosen Chartered Accountancy and to join some CA firm or some MNC as my backup option while preparing for UPSC exam side by side. Just sitting home idle and preparing for the exam would be hectic and frustrating. So I think an alternate option is very important.
10. What are your words of advice for our aspiring candidates?
I would say that this exam is of such a magnitude and of such a nature that there are no shortcuts to take. I have seen many aspirants wasting time on the internet searching for free content and other social media platforms instead of utilising what they have. I think hard work and discipline are the two major key ingredients that make up success.
Also since your goal is public service, there are many avenues for it. In case you don’t clear the exam, just remember that it’s not the end of the world. You can always find many other avenues to contribute to the nation. Don’t take unnecessary anxiety for not having cleared the exam or for the vast syllabus. Just enjoy the process and give your best.