CSE GS1 Strategy

GS1 usually takes most times of aspirant as subjects like History and Culture are highly time consuming but not really rewarding. I would suggest you to not devote much time to these topics as either the questions would be so easy that everyone would be able to write something meaningful or so difficult that most of the candidate will have no idea what they are suppose to write.


  • History – TN Board 11th NCERT, Modern Spectrum, Few chapters from TMH
  • Culture – Nitin Singhania’s handwritten notes+GK Today notes
  • Geography – NCERT, G C Leong, Vajiram class notes
  • Society – Vision IAS Notes, Current affairs

I made revision notes for all material. For Spectrum, I got the summary pages at the end of each chapter photocopied and wrote extra stuff on them for last minute revision.

My evernote collection

Other reosurces


CSE GS2 Strategy

I use to think GS2 is one paper where candidates from Public Administration, Sociology, PSIR have a distinct advantage. But that’s not the case really. The paper doesnt demand in depth knowledge. Although in initial years of my preparation I was a little afraid of the content but later became confident.

I’ve relied heavily on current affairs, Vision notes and puri sir notes for this paper. In my opinion they are the key ingredient to attain a certain level of preparation.


  • Polity – Lakshmikant, M Puri sir’s class notes
  • Governance – Current affairs, Vision IAS notes
  • International relations – Vajiram’s class notes, M Puri sir’s class notes

Try and make revision notes for all your content except Lakshmikant as it is humanly impossible to do for this book.

My evernote collection

Other resources

CSE GS3 Strategy

GS3 has scored comparatively high this year. It is difficult to point out a reason for that. Usually GS2 and GS3 have scored similarly.

This paper has been one of my favorites as it contains diverse set of subjects.

Book list

  • Economy – Sriram IAS class notes
  • Security – Vajiram Yellow book
  • Environment – Shankar IAS Notes
  • S&T – Vajiram class notes+Vajiram’s yellow book
  • Disaster management – Yojana’s editions which comes once in two years or so
  • Current affaris – Vision IAS Monthly magazine, Editorials from various news appers especially Livemint, Business standard


  • I made concise revision notes for all subjects except S&T
  • I drew as many diagrams as possible in the paper
  • Kept my online notes updated via newspapers and vision magazine

My evernote collection –

Other resources

GS4 (Ethics) Strategy

Ethics is one paper which was usually considered scoring in past years but this year it suffered a blow due to strict marking (probably)

Reference Material

These are my Ethics notes from evernote – https://www.evernote.com/pub/surana90/gs4

Case study approaches

  • My strategy
    • Introduce one line with ethical dilemma involved. explicitly mention other ethical issues
    • mention stakeholders involved – mention values/decision premise – on basis on what values or ethical principles are you going to analyze the case
    • reasoning/justification
      • how the chosen option resolves the dilemmas and issues mention in the beginning using the values involved
      • how the chosen option affects stakeholder -could use table here
      • peripheral issues – how are they resolved
      • approach – base don what principles
    • merit/demrit
      • in each option give justification based on value and implication of the action
  • Atul Sir – framework for ethical decision making
    • Identify ethical issues/value concerns/ethical dilemmas
      • Sun diagram
      • Listing
    • Getting the facts
      • Relevant facts of the case
      • Avoid this due to paucity of space
    • Stakeholder ,- individual and groups that have stake in he outcome
      • Important steps
    • Various option
      • Only if asked
    • Have I identified creative options?
      • Middle path
    • Evaluate alternative options
      • Use 5 schools + leaders + emotional intelligence+ altitude
    • Decision
      • Can write some facts ,- sc judgement or constitution or society
      • Making it
      • Put it in people and society – that course of action is desired by them

Exam Paper Strategy

  • Use ethical theories, moral precedents, examples and anecdotes in reasoning for your decisions in case studies
  • Infant devote maximum time and space to reasoning – that is the area where you can really shine and create difference. Rest is run of the mill things
  • Never break the law in case study
  • Never show your prejudice of politician
  • Emphasis on exploration rather than prescription
  • Problem solving approach
    • Don’t reach conclusion in the starting
  • Personal biases need to be considered – don’t write them
  • Take a ethical stand wherever possible
  • Strict action must be taken
    • Deterrent approach
  • Avoid irrelevant information
  • Be optimistic
  • Attempt the case study with various options first – warmup
  • Quality of suggestions should be applicable to the situation and environment. Eg -Biometric system for school attendance in Bihar would not work
  • Stick to keywords in syllabus and previous year question papers
  • Don’t forget the appeal power – quintessential Indian things (ex – saat phere instead of marriage /mai-baap ) which show that you are integral part of the society
  • use tabular format as far as possible
  • don’t get too bogged down in nitty gritty. focus on the essence or theme of the question
  • Use hypothetical scenarios in Ethics answer
  • Be gender neutral in your answers. Use She/He or Him/Her
  • – Some parts of the syllabus must reflect in the answer
  • bring the language of ethics in the paper
  • – highlight the philosophy behind the answer
  • – contemporary examples
  • – Quote a thinker
  • – mention contradictory principles/values
  • In the quotes question in section a – connect it to one of the issues from syllabus in current context
  • Questions in which suggestions are asked
    • Mention ethical issue before
  • If not asked explicitly always write 1-2 line about why/reason behind the statement
  • Prepare yourself for all kind of SURPRISES IN PAPER
  • Remember the difference between eyesight and vision. Take people beyond what is minimum required.
  • Show your capacity to experience

For case studies

  • Introduce the case before coming to the point
  • should mention main stakeholder in the beginning
  • if stakeholders r not important then mention chief issues in the beginning if not even asked
  • don’t use I too much . try using indirect speech
  • Options are standalone. steps are discrete
  • course of action and justification is the main part of the answer
  • don’t give your best option as the first one- curtain raiser. arrows curiosity of the examiner
  • demerits are basically administrative challenges or limitation
  • try to list as many possible traits of leaders, reformer , administrators
  • If there are multiple stakeholder in the case study – then in your suggestion explain steps that you will take wrt each of them and their alternates if it doesn’t work out
  • Practical solution and not just vague suggestions (how to improve transparency rather than just improve transparency)
  • Also mention the most undesirable option in case study
  • Touch the peripheral issues and not just the core issues
  • Human values+Foundational values are the core of answering all case study

Things to take note

  • When gs 2 type questions are asked in paper 4
    • you have to address issues like why a particular thing is happening?
      • someone not performing their duty
      • lack of values,morals
      • role of family, society
      • it is not there empathy is not there?
    • eg  – migration case studies
      • gs2 perspective – implementation issues etc
      • gs4 perspective – deep rooted disvalues in society, some servants are not doing their duty, lacking commitment, not just systematic failure


Anything else you want to know, please post in comments.

All the best


Optional Selection

I think this is one area which gets least attention from many aspirants.

Usually a new candidate goes by the conventional wisdom of those whom he know personally. But one should also do one’s own research before choosing optional. They should look at study material of different optionals, listen to what previous year toppers are saying, read blogs, speak to teachers before deciding the optionals.

The following factors are usually considered while choosing a optional

  • Less syllabus so that it can be covered fast
  • Same subject as taken by a friends
  • Perception of being “easy”
  • Overlap with GS

Among this many forget the most critical factor that should be game changer in deciding optional is how scoring the subject is. An optional is one area where you can confidently score good marks. Because in GS it is very difficult to improve from 100 to 110 but it is possible to improve from 250 to 300 in an optional if chose wisely.

Keeping these in mind I am a strong advocate of science and engineering optional. Once they are done thoroughly you can be assured of 280+ score . This is not so with many humanities optional. Also I heard from many aspirants that they are stuck at a particular score in  mains in even after 3 attempts. And this becomes critical for their selection because it is the mains score which will take you the final list. Many just miss out from a rank because their mains marks are just not there. And optional is the main culprit here.

Thus an aspirant need to honestly think about pros and cons of choosing a optional. Yes, science and engineering subject demands a certain aptitude, inclination and interest but many just shy away from science optional because they demand hard work and take long time to prepare.

When I chose my optional, I had option of Geography, Anthropology and of course PubAd. But I went with Physics. Physics wasn’t my forte but I had a interest in it. I always wanted to study it but couldn’t during college years due to various reasons. I knew that Physics will bring diversity to my preparation as this is not a matter of 1 or 2 year because I might have to spend more time in preparation. It will help me in breaking the monotonicity of GS .Moreover it was a highly scoring subject. Many of may seniors of college (Manish Bansal Sir, Rishav Gupta Sir) had cleared the exam with this optional. So I chose Physics.

Choice is yours. Be wise!

PS – This post is based on personal experience and not any kind of data.


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.






My Civil Services Interview

Date – 03/04/2017, Forenoon Session

Board – BS Bassi Sir

  • Have you been to cancun..?! What was this competition about?
  • Don’t worry I am not going to ask you anything about greepeace. i know enough about them…
  • Where all have you travelled?
  • Have you been to Machu Picchu?
  • Tell me about Inca civilisation
  • You’ve been interested in environmental issues..Tell me what is biodiversity, what is biodiversity hotspots, and where are they in india?
  • High salary…low salary…why this cut?
  • Lot of talk about startup…but they have been facing issues…what issues?
  • What to do to help entrepreneurs?
  • Surrogacy…what do you think of it?
  • What is NSS? What did you do as NSS Secretary ?
  • You talked about commercial surrogacy..whats your opinion on it?
  • NPA…Why they are there?
  • What to do with them?
  • Lets talk about media…what do you think of it? do you think they are giving less news and more sensationalism ?
  • What do you think of media trial?
  • If there is an earthquake in the district where you are posted, what will you do?
  • What is the issue with finance bill?
  • What is a money bill?
  • Why is opposition saying that this finance bill is not money bill?
  • What is the difference between judicial review, judicial activism, judicial overreach? give example of each
  • Judicial review is based on what?
  • One example where judicial activism has been good?
  • What do you think of SC judgement on liquor ban on highway?
  • Does constitution provide for reservation based on economic criteria?
  • There was a judgement too? Mandal case…what the other name of the case…what was the verdict?
M4 (lady member)
  • What do you think of reservation?
  • Shouldn’t those communities who have benefited from reservation be now removed from the list?
  • Why civil service? You could have had a good life abroad?
  • Education…Lets talk about it…it is not making people employable..why? what to do?
  • Is there a mismatch between what engineering institution are offering and what companies are demanding?
  • How to fix this?
  • I have a problem yaar…I want a bulb outside my room..I have 3 meter wire…That one socket is there..I am using it for all out and i don’t want to use it for light…now what to do? take you time..have a good look..

Board was cordial. Except 1 or 2 supplementary, I answered almost all the questions.

Score – 173/275