CSE Physics Optional Strategy

First of all I must thanks the giant of UPSC Physics preparation – D P Vajpayee sir. He has made it possible that I am writing this blog today. I took coaching for Physics from DIAS in 2014 and appeared for test series in 2016.

Secondly, my sincere gratitude to previous years toppers – Supreet Singh Gulati Sir (2007), Abhijeet Agarwal Sir (2009), Kashish Mittal Sir (2012), Divyanshu Jha Sir (2013), Manish Bansal Sir (2013), Rishav Gupta Sir (2013), Vishu Mahajan (2016) and Prateek Jain (2016). I have immensely benefited from their strategy, notes and guidance in past 4 years.

Book list – I stuck to just one book for each topic except for Paper 2 where Resnick and Eisberg helps in covering some topics in Modern Physics.
  • Mechanics
    • JCUpadhyay
  • Optics
    • Ghatak
  • Electricity and magentism
    • Griffith and SP
  • Thermo
    • Garg, bansal, ghosh
  • Resnick and Eisberg
  • Quantum
    • HCV
  • Atomic and molecular
    • Rajkumar and ban well
  • Nuclear and Particle
    • SBPatel
  • Solid state and digital electronics
    • Puri and babbart

Other sources

  • I came across Hyperphysics very late in my preparation. It is immensely helpful for notes making as well to understand certain concepts. You will find a whole of easy to draw diagrams on this.
  • Abhijeet Sir’s notes – available on his blog cited above – use it for in depth study only if you have time.
  • Rishav Sir’s notes – available on his blog cited above – They should be your primary source. He has covered almost all the topics succinctly
  • Brilliant Tutorial Notes – They are usually available in photocopy form in ORN or Ber Sarai market. They are beneficial to cover previous year questions. Also topics like Solid state and digital electronics can be covered from them
  • DIAS classroom notes – If you are not able to attend the classes then get the latest notes from one of the students attending them. All your other notes would be structured around them.

Test series at DIAS

  • You must write all the test. And on time
  • Many opt for test series by correspondence. I would advice against that. There is no way you can simulate that environment sitting 2000km away. The experience of giving the test series at the centre is very different

Answer writing – This is a highly important part in preparation. You need to practice this well. You can get 50-70% marks for a correct answer (taking into account scaling etc)

  • Best way is to prepare model answers for all your tutorial sheets. Get model UPSC answer booklets from market and start writing answers for previous year questions from tutorial sheets. Tutorial Sheet, Previous Year Papers
  • Make it a habit to add a line or two in the beginning and end of the answer. This could be related to the physics/definition of the concept asked in the question or a comment on the answer (like for HUP – you can write that such value of answer make it improbable to witness it directly). You can also write real world application for the concept asked or some meta data like who is the discoverer or which experiment led to the discovery of the concept
  • Draw diagrams as far as possible.
  • Use a different coloured pen (black if you are using blue for writing) for diagrams and underlining
  • Be very neat in your presentation. Reduce the cutting
  • Most critically, choose the questions carefully. Prepare at least 3 topics out of 4 in each paper thoroughly so that you can attempt 90% paper.
  • You can have a look at these model answers by Supreet Sir – Model Answers by Supreet Sir

Notes making – You should ideally take notes in Vajpayee sir class on one side of A4 sheets. Leave the other side blank to add further notes from books or other sources

Revision – Prepare revision notes (summary sheets – 3-4 pages for each units). Cant emphasize the importance of this. If you don’t have these, you’ll be overwhelmed just before the exam by the sheer size of the notes. Have a look at Prateek Jain blog for these flash notes.

I got 303/500 last year and 327/500 this year. On the other hand my preparation last year was much better than this year. But you never know what works in your favour.

All the best!





Answer writing for CSE Mains

I’ve improved my marks  from 394/1000 last year to 471/1000 this year in GS papers. I feel that improving my answer writing skills played an important role in this. There was no new addition of content as such besides the regular current affairs. So in this post I will try to jot down my two cents on this topics

Directive words – Please try to understand the difference between tailwards. Not every question demands pro and cons.  A better understanding of these tailwords will help you in writing relevant content and give better structure to the answer. I am attaching  two pdfs  from which I benefitted for your perusal

Structuring – Use diagrams, double underlines, pragraphing, sub headings, bullet points etc to give structure to your answer. There are no rules on how you go about this. This can come only by practice

  • Draw borders around your diagrams
  • Use double under line for your subehadings
  • Dont strectch a paragraph beyond 3-4 sentences
  • You can us directive words as sub heading in certain cases

I found this document immensely useful for diagrams – IAS4Sure material – for presentation and diagram. 

I ALSO use to analyse answer booklets of each year toppers as well as best copies for the test. Used them to get ideas on presentation and diagrams

Practice –

  1. If this is the first time you are writing answer then go for InsightsonIndia Secure inaitive. It will help you in gradually improving your answer quality. You will see what other candidates are writing, improve your content and strcutring, learn about difference between tailwords.
  2. Join a test series once you are able to do 4-5 questions from insights in an hour.
  3. Never sit for more than 3 hours during a test. Many aspirants have the habit of taking time beyond the permissible limit. I feel this does not help you prepare psychologically which is much needed in mains exam.
  4. Use Previous year Questions for practice

Some of my answer booklets

Wishing you all the best



Notesmaking in Evernote [Online Notes]

I consider this as a skill which lot of aspirant doesn’t give much thought to. Usually what happens is that as soon as one start preparation, they start making notes in some manner – either jotting down important points in a copy, or scribbling in the book or highlighting it. And as they progress,  they are stuck in that particular manner of making notes since one has already invested some time in

In my humble opinion and experience of last 4 years, you need to be constantly on your toes to improve your efficiency in notes making.

There are certain priorities that one should keep in mind

1> Notes should be comprehensive in a way that you don’t need to refer to other sources while revising or in subsequent attempts

2> Try to combine materail from different sources/books/coachings at one place for each topic. Otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed before final exam. For example if you have basic notes on SHGs from M Puri sir’s classes then keep on adding to them from current affairs for any SHG related news.

3> For certain books especially Lakshmikant for Polity, Spectrum for History etc- it is impossible to make notes. Don’t try to do that.

My strategy for making notes

I had both online and offline notes for each topic. This was because I felt that it would consume lot of my time to convert all offline notes to online.

For online notes, I used evernote. It is easy to use and dedicated to note making.


  1. At the top level I created a stack for UPSC..
  2. Under 4 different notebooks for GS1-4. They contained notes for each topic in syllabus
  3. Notebooks for different subjects – Culture, History, Geography, Society, Economics, Polity etc.  These notebooks contained notes for topics which weren’t directly part of syllabus or demanded separate notes
    • Tags like gs1-4, essay for overlapping topics like Governance (GS2, GS4), Corruption, Poverty etc
  1. Evernote provides a functionality to create table of content based on a list of notes – so you can use that
  2. Collection of Datapoints, Quotes, Anecdotes

I use to copy whatever I found useful from online sources to my main notes. Also for all the tests (both prelims and mains) I use to gather solution PDFs so as to copy important content from there to my notes. Later I created Revision notes for each subject so that it becomes easy to revise just before exam.

Ultimately my goal was that before the exam I should not be having 500-700 pages to revise. It becomes overwhelming when you have to revise all of it in 1 day.


Prelims Strategy for CSE/IFoS

I am of the opinion that Prelims is a test of temperament and not of knowledge. Let me explain.

There are at least 50000-60000 aspirants who deserve to clear prelims each year. This number is based on getting an estimate of number of candidates who took coaching and number of attempts they are giving etc. All of these have achieved a certain knowledge level which is sufficient to clear Prelims on their good day. Now what matters is their temperament i.e how they manage the paper on the D-day.  Do they sweat after seeing that the first 10 questions are about topics they never heard of? Do they start getting panicky? Or are they able to maintain a balance state of mind for those two hours and come out with flying colours?

Thus it is extremely important to not loose hope or get too excited after seeing the paper. Temperament building is important once you attain a certain level of knowledge. You can do this by giving as many mocks as possible in exam conditions i.e. by going to a coaching centre/library and sitting for 2 hours to solve the paper and fill the OMR sheet. Would be great if you can do this in morning hours between 9:30-11:30 – the time when actual exam happens and thus your brain would gets accustomed.

Paper -1

Let us cover the sources by topic

Current events of national and international importance.
  • Vision current affairs for previous 12 months
  • Wizard compilation for awards, honours, medals etc
  • India year book
  • Yojana + kurushektra
History of India and Indian National Movement.
  • – Spectrum Modern India
  • – Tamil nadu board 11th History
  • – NCERT 11th fine arts

Indian culture – I combined notes from 3 sources –

  • Notes by Nitin Singhania Sir (Handwritten)
  • GK Today notes
  • TN Board 11th history
Indian and World Geography -Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  • – 11th and 12th new Geography NCERT
  • – G C Leong
Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy,Rights Issues, etc.
  • – Laxmikanth
  • – NCERT 11th and 12th
Economic and SocialDevelopment – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector ini- tiatives, etc.
  • -Sriram IAS notes
  • -Economic survey
General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialisation
  • – Shankar IAS notes
  • – NCERT 12th Bio relevant chapters
General Science.
  • NCERT 9th, 10th

Other sources

  • IAS parliament (Shankar IAS) compilation on Schemes, International organisations, different reports and indices
  • GS Score India Year book compilation
  • Insights exclusive compilation on Environment, Polity, Economics etc

Note making for Prelims

I use to make all my notes on evernote (following Gaurav sir – rank 1 in 2014).

Here’s the link to my Prelims notebook. And here’s the link to Table of contents for the same

I use to read newspaper online via RSS readers like Feedly. My mains source of current affairs were daily reading of newspaper+vision IAS current affairs. I use to copy whatever I find useful into my notes (Although you will find that my Prelims notes lack content as those topics are exhaustively covered elsewhere in my Mains notes)

After each mock test I use to analyse it. I use to highlight in solution PDF important things and later copy them to my evernote. At times I could segregate topic wise and other times I couldnt.

Paper -2

This is a graveyard for lot of candidates. Due to “andolan” which happened few years ago, Paper 2 was made qualifying. Many thought that now it would be a cakewalk for almost everyone as getting 33% in an analytical and reasoning papers is easy. But it appears after 3 years that is not so. I know many aspirants personally who are failing in prelims just because of this. There are two reasons for this –

1> Candidates have underestimated the paper setting ability of UPSC. Although the paper has become qualifying, its difficulty level is increasing each year. There was a time when engineers used to get 180-190 easily. Now even they struggle to cross 140. This has made life difficult for those very people who did andolan and thought that by virtue of being qualifying paper, it would become irrelevant. Moral of the story – UPSC is not dumb to ask 5-6 lac people sit for 2 hours for an irrelevant exam. They will extract something out of it.

2> Candidates have tendency to not prepare seriously for this paper. They think it “ye toh ho hi jayega”, “4 din padh ke kar lenge”.

To address these issues – it is important to first get your mathematics fundamentals (like percentage, ratio and proportion, time speed problems, profit – loss etc ) clear. Secondly you must practice 2-3 months in advance to check your level. If you are crossing 100+ already then good enough but if you are stuck below 100 then it is about time to start practicing. How? Get few mock papers from market and start giving them in exam conditions – 2 hours in afternoon between 2:30-4:30.

Even when I was confident of getting good marks in this paper,  I used to solve important questions from a book called Last 17 years CSAT paper (by Disha Publication) 3-4 months before each prelims in last 4 attempt. I had marked these ones in my first attempt and in subsequent attempts used to have a look before exam. You need to know the tricks for certain questions. And there is no guarantee that paper wont be “leak se hatkar”.
So better to be prepared and not take chances

Revision strategy for Paper 1

This is a very critical part which lots of aspirants forget to plan about. So you must have a robust revision plan which could be like

  • Completion of entire syllabus 1 month before exam. You should have given 3-4 full length mock tests (and all the sectional tests) by now.
  • 1st revision in next 15 days with 3-4 more full length mock tests
  • 2nd revision in next 8-9 days with 1 full length mock test
  • 3rd revision in last 4-5 days with no mock test

How to make the most of mock tests

  • I joined Prelims test series only once at OreintIAS in 2016. I gave free open mock test at VisionIAS and ForumIAS a few times though. Otherwise I just use to get paper from market and solve it in library
  • One need to spend 2-3 hour in analysis of a test to make the most of it. It includes analyzing which questions went wrong despite you knowing them and why, what are new topics that you haven’t covered till now, any new piece of information that should be part of your notes and filing it subsequently.

Exam strategy for Paper 1

  • Attempt questions that you are 100% sure – around 45-50 mins
    • Mark those questions which you have no idea with a “X”. Leave them
    • Mark those that you might want to guess as “?”. Also mark the possible choices or write down your thoughts next to the question. Will reduce time spent on it when you come back to it later
  • Revise – 25-30 mins
    • Make sure that the questions already attempted are correct
    • Guess work for “?” marked questions
  • Fill the bubbles. And stay calm
  • Try  not to attempt more than 85-90

Exam strategy for Paper 2

  • Attempt questions that you can straightforward solve confidently in one go – including all English comprehensions – around 70-80 mins
  • Fill the bubbles.
  • Try to solve the questions which you couldnt in first go
Other pointers for the day of exam
  • Take a water bottle
  • Take two black ball pens
  • Take cardboard
  • Take a watch
  • Have data pack on mobile in case you want to google something about at last moment

Prelims is the most difficult stage in the examination. The competition is cut throat and a single question can make or mar your attempt. So don’t take chances. Put all your effort. Stay calm and you’ll do well. I wish you all the luck.

-Abhishek Surana

PS – I appeared for 4 Prelims (2014-2017) and wrote mains each time. Appeared for IFoS twice in 2015 and 2016.






IFoS Interview Preparation

Here’s a article that I wrote for IFoS interview prep on ForumIAS blog a few months back (http://blog.forumias.com/strategy-ifos-interview-preparation-by-abhishek-surana-ifos-rank-2/) –

First of all, hearty congratulations to all of you who have cleared the IFoS Mains Examination.  This time UPSC has broken all records by declaring the results in 21 days. About 301 candidates have been called for, from which 110 will be finally selected.

I appeared for IFoS in 2016 ( last year ) and was able to get a humble rank of 2 in the final list. I am writing this for fellow aspirants who are scheduled to appear for the IFoS Interview in the coming week. In my opinion, the Interviews will commence soon and wind up within a week , before the Civil’s result comes and CSE Interview starts. So you have lesser time than usual, and hope that you make the most of this time.

I am assuming that you have been doing Current Affairs / newspaper well. Here is my experience

What happens?

  • It is a 20-25 min interview with 4-5 board members.
  • The chairman starts the interview and after 4-5 mins asks one of the members to carry on.
  • Usually 2 board sits for forest interview which means 22-24 people get interviewed in a day
  • From my own experience and of few others, there is usually one senior IFoS officer (could be retired) in the panel. He asks few questions related to forests and environment
  • There may or may not be a psychologist. One can’t guess

What to prepare?

  • Your DAF. Each and every word should be carefully pondered over. Prepare possible questions on it.
    •  For example – “Ambassador of Change award for social service”. Possible questions could be about ambassador car, the post of ambassador, type of changes, etc. I know I am stretching it a bit too far but you never know what a interviewer think of after looking at a certain word
    • Another example – My hobby is photography.  So they asked me “You do photography? What Kind? Why not wildlife? What equipment you would need to do wildlife photography?”
  • Prepare basic concepts of forestry and name of few trees – both scientific and common. Current affairs should also be prepared with special focus on environment and forestry.
    • For example – questions that were asked  to me in the interview were –
      • Tell me about vegetation of xyz tiger reserve.
      • Tell me about corridors of xyz tiger reserve.
      • What tribes exist in xyz tiger reserve
      • Why do we need corridors?
      • What spices do we get from forest?
      • What medicinal plants do we get from forest?
      • How can finance industry help in forest conservation
      • How can finance industry help SHG of tribals?
      • How should CAMPA fund be used?
    • Other possible questions for you to get an idea –
      • Difference between 
        • Forest cover and tree cover
        • Hard wood and softwood
        •   Forestry and agriculture
        •   Conservation and preservation
        •   NP and Sanctuaries
        •   Cheetah and leopard
        •  Teak and Sal
      • How is ‘Environment’ defined under Indian Law?
      •  What is the difference between the laws enacted before and after independence with respect to environmental protection in India?
      • Why so many environment legislation after independence
      • Are tribal responsible for forest degradation?
      • Name few forest officer?
      • which laws does a forest officer implements?
      • History of Indian forest service? Before it?
      • Situational questions: How to relocate farmers from area that has been declared as reserved forests
  • Basic knowledge about  the state of forest in India, your state, district etc. My home state is Rajasthan so the questions which were asked from me
    • Where do we find Very dense forest in Rajasthan? What is total area of very dense forest?
    • Tell me about vegetation and fauna of dessert national park
    • How do we know that a certain place had forest before?
  • General questions
    • Why do you people want to join IFoS, and what will be your choice if you’re getting IAS and IFoS and why?
  • Important topics
    • Biotechnology
    • Global warming
    • Climate change negotiation
    • State of Forest report
    • Forest rights act and its implementations
    • Tribal affairs
    • Water conservation
    • Human animal conflict
    • Poaching
    • Relocation issues
    • Agroforestry
    • Forest fires
    • New Wetland rules
    • Proposed new Environment management law – TSR Subramanium committee
    • Air pollution in Delhi
    • NGT rulings
    • CAMPA funds
    • Important personalities connected to Forest affairs in India – Hari Singh, Jim Corbett, verrier elwin, Salim Ali


  • This is a test for your personality and not knowledge. But as Ayush Sir has said in one of his videos – what may be knowledge for you may be personality for UPSC board member. For example – They may ask who is DFO of your district? What is the forest area of your district? If you don’t know answer to these basic yet crucial questions then you are in a bad soup. It reflects bad on you that as a person interested to be in public service and who is expected to be well versed with general knowledge of things around him doesn’t know even this much.
  • You are not expected to know answers to all the questions
  • Always smile. While entering, while answering, even if you don’t know the answer, while leaving. Shows a pleasing personality
  • Be humble – Like a cow. You are not perfect and can never be. Accept your weakness.
  • Be prepared to say No if you are not sure of an answer. In my opinion a No is a better answer than “I think it could be” or “I guess”.
  • Work on your communication skills- especially if you have a habit of using filler words like – “you know”.
    • You can video record yourself and analyse it

Last few words

  • People have got marks up to 220s last year and even higher before that. Only possible with a calm mind.
  • Candidates who’ve gotten into arguments with the board have seen their marks reduced.
  • Selected aspirants usually hover around 55-70%. But there are always exception.
  • Give as many mocks as possible. If possible give a mock at Forum or have at least one-on-one session with Ayush Sir.

-Best of Luck

Coaching for CSE

In last few days I was told by my friends and wellwishers that a number of coaching institutes are using my photo in their advertisement. They were curious to know if I really utilized these coaching’s services or was it something else? At the same time a number of aspirants have been asking me which coaching to join?

I will answer the second question first – There is no direct answer to which coaching to join. It all depends on what your needs are and which stage of preparation you are in. If you are preparing for CSE from scratch, may be a comprehensive GS programme would be good for you. If you have already gone though certain portion of syllabus than may be individual classes from specific teachers might be better. If this is your 3rd or subsequent attempt then you may go for test series specific coaching. Among all this your optional is different ballgame. So as you see the answer is not very clear. It will vary for person to person.

Now coming to first question – whether I utilized the services of these coaching institutes? I certainly did. 

A clarification first – I don’t know which all coaching are using my name or photo.

So I will list down, in chronological order (from 2014 onwards). the coachings that I attended and for what purpose. May be this will help future aspirants to make a better decision


1> DIAS – For Physics (my optional). I attended regular classes. Vajpayee sir has been a teacher and mentor for me in last 4 years. His was the first class I attended when I came to Rajinder Nagar. Always looked upto him for guidance.

2> Vajiram – Attended their 1 month IR module for 2014 mains. It helped in giving direction to my preparation for topics which I had no idea of.


1> Vajiram – Essay classes by Shabbir sir. Immensely helpful. I followed his strategy till my 4th attempt. Thank you sir.

2> VisionIAS – Test series for mains and essay. The question quality was best in the market but the checking left much to be desired as I felt that the feedback system wasn’t that great.


1> DIAS – Physics test series.

2> Lukmaan – GS4 and GS2 test series by Ansari sir. Enjoyed his classes. He’s a gem of a person. Thank you sir.

3> OrientIAS – Prelims and Mains test series. So my experience last year at Vision taught me that for me personal guidance mattered a lot. I went to Orient initially in May for Prelims and realized that teacher there were much more accessible. So just after Prelims I joined their GS and Essay mains test series.

4> GS Score – Attended Ethics and Essay mains test series. The competition was great and Manoj sir was accessible. Although at times the questions and case studies were totally out of the blue. But there was logic behind that too as it prepared us for the uncertainty in the real exam paper.

5> VisionIAS – Open test for Prelims

6> ForumIAS – Open test for Prelims

7> InsightsOnIndia – Joined their online mains test series for practice purpose

For Interview

1> Samkalp – For both IFoS and CSE interview guidance programme

2> CareerQuest – For IFoS mock

3> Evolution – For IFoS mock.

2> Vajiram – Attended mock sessions. 1-2-1 seating with Ravindran sir gives you quite an accurate idea about tentative marks in interview.

3> Sriram – Sriram sir is a legend. Attended a mock and a class with him. He told me that I was taking 1 step forward and 2 step back in interview. He was right 🙂

4> Chanakya – For mock interview. Good panel.

5> ALS – For mock interview with Jojo Mathew sir. It was a stress interview and I enjoyed it

6> BYJU – For mock interview

7> DIAS – For mock interview with Vajpayee sir.

7> ClearIAS – They did a wonderful DAF analysis (all online) free of cost. I was pleasantly surprised.


1> ForumIAS – Joined MGP programme after Mains. Copies were checked on time. Mentors like Asif sir and Ayush sir were always available. Although I dont know my GS marks as I write this I have a hunch that I might have scored better in GS for which a part of credit definitely goes to Forum.

2> OrientIAS – I joined regular classes for Ethics by Atul Garg sir. I felt GS4 was one area where I was lacking and since it was my final attempt I decided to go all in. Atul sir’s approach to the paper I felt was quite pragamtic. And he is never short of example and anecdotes which are much needed for this paper. I also wrote Essay test series by Kapil sir. Kapil sir’s standard for essay are quite high. It will be a challenge to match them.

3> InsightsOnIndia – Joined their online mains test series. Did not write a single test due to paucity of time.

4> Braintree Hyderabad – Went for a mock. Gave direction to interview prep in short span of time

5> Deeksha Hyderabad – Went for a mock. The best part was the candidates were asked to sit in each other’s mock which helped in finding out area of improvement.

6> NextIAS – Joined their online portal for electrical engineering notes. One of my weakest area in Interview

So as one can see, the coaching are not wrong when they say that this person has been our student. Anyone who has lived in Old Rajinder Nagar (the mecca for CSE) for 3-4 years will attest to the fact that you cant be immune to the coachingwallahs. But few important things to note here:

1> I did not attend GS Classroom coaching anywhere except for Ethics classes by Atul Garg Sir at OrientIAS (in 2017)

2> I attended mock interviews wherever possible in 2016 as I was desperate to get a rank in the list somehow.

I will write a separate post about the notes from various coaching institutes that I’ve used over the years. They are the unsung heroes in my opinion 😉

I hope it clears a lot of apprehensions and doubts. This could help aspirants in making a judicious decision before they commit themselves to a particular coaching.

All the best. May the force be with you!