An IPS Officer’s Strategy To Crack UPSC CSE

IPS Officer’s Strategy To Crack UPSC CSE

My name is Rishav Kumar Jha. I am from Bihar. My father is a professor and my mother is a teacher. I have two siblings and both are working in private sector. I got AIR 162 in Civil Services 2015 and I got IPS, borne on Jharkhand cadre.

I did my graduation in Electrical & Electronics engineering from NIT Karnataka, Surathkal in 2014 with 6.7 CGPA (it’s bad, I know). I didn’t sit for on-campus placements because I was pretty sure about what I wanted to do right from my 1st year in college and also knew I was really bad at engineering and so I didn’t want to make fun of myself by sitting for placements and then get rejected. I had always been in awe of Civil Services, and I always wanted to do something which could change as many lives as possible. Also, my father was always a motivating factor for me and he started pushing me to sit for Civil Services since the time I didn’t even know the full-form of UPSC!

So, I started the basic preparation for Civil Services since my third year in college to get a feel of what I was supposed to do to get through the Civil Services Exam. After I passed out of my college in May 2014, I stayed home for 3 months and appeared for Prelims in August. Although I missed the prelims cut-off by a whisker, I consider that attempt as a successful one as I got a glimpse of what was to come ahead and also because the tight deadline pushed me to study like a maniac during those three months and I managed to finish the basics within a short span of time. Then I moved to Delhi and joined a popular coaching centre for my optional subject.

I chose to opt for Maithili as my optional subject (why I chose it as an optional and how to choose an optional is a topic I might touch in another article). I didn’t join any coaching for General Studies and I only took test series for Mains answer writing. I would like to point out here (at the cost of diverting from the topic) that the environment in coaching centres has deteriorated drastically and it is highly advisable to stay away from negative people who come to Delhi on 5-year or 7-year plans and end up wasting their youth and their parents’ hard-earned money for nothing, if you choose to stay there. I took prelims in August 2015, Mains in December and interview in March 2016. I got my final result on May 10, 2016 and left the serene environment of the coaching for good.

I will start here with my Strategy for Clearing UPSC CSE Prelims. I had scored 148 out of 200 in General Studies and 165 in CSAT in prelims 2015, which was quite a good score and more than what I had expected before taking the papers. How to clear Mains and Interview is a topic for another day.

Before starting, I would like to make one thing very clear here. Clearing UPSC Civil Services Exam has infinite number of possible ways. Every successful candidate has his/her own unique path to success in this exam. Let’s compare it with any other exam, say JEE (because I am familiar with this only being an engineering student). Almost 99% of students study H.C.Verma for Physics and it is a tried and tested formula for success. But it’s not the case in Civil Services. There are hundreds of sources, both good and bad. You have to chart your own plan according to your strengths and weaknesses.


Firstly, I will mention the resources I used during the preparation for prelims:

1.      Aptitude for Paper 2(CSAT) This paper has been made qualifying since 2015. So one needs to score just 66 out of 200. For those even mildly comfortable with Maths and English, this paper shouldn’t be a problem at all. For others, CSAT manual by McGraw Hill can be sufficient. However, I would advice everyone to get some practice through a few mock tests.
2.      Current Affairs GK Today current affairs, The Hindu, Vision monthly booklets, PIB, Official ministry websites
3.      History a)      Ancient- GS manual by McGraw hill
b)      Medieval- GS manual by McGraw hill
c)      Modern- GS manual by McGraw hill, India’s struggle for independence by Bipin Chandra
d)     Art and culture- Nitin Singhaniya notes, CCRT
4.      Geography NCERT books for 11th and 12th (total 4) and Goh Cheng Leong (for concept clarity)
5.      Economic and social development Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh, Mrunal for basics, RBI website, The Hindu
6.      Indian Polity and governance M. Laxmikanth (it may be taken as the bible for polity from the prelims perspective; you don’t need to study anything else for this segment.)
7.      Environment and ecology Shankar IAS book
8.      General Science GS manual by McGraw hill, Official websites of ministries for topics like defence, space, nuclear energy etc.


I will now mention the strategies I used before the Prelims exam. Choose whatever suits you best and discard the rest. Since preparing for UPSC Civil Services Exam has inculcated into me a habit of writing everything in points, I will use the same format here as well.

  • My typical day would start around 11 in the morning and go up to 4-5 in the morning. I have always been a night owl (the rigorous IPS training here in NPA, Hyderabad has unfortunately ended this habit of mine) as I believe that peaceful nights are the most productive time of a day. I never studied for more than 12 hours on any given day and I used to study for around 10 hours on an average. You have to keep in mind that quantity doesn’t matter at all. I would try to sit for an hour and study with the maximum amount of concentration that I could conjure, and then take a 15-minute break. I would repeat this cycle many times a day. During evenings, I would take hour-long breaks, hangout with my extremely limited number of friends, watch a movie or simply take a nap.
  • Obviously, things were not as smooth and there were times when I would face seemingly insurmountable challenges. The most important challenge was trying and being consistent. There were times when I would feel that my preparation was not going as intended and I would spiral down into phases of depression. To overcome this, I started making plans- long, medium and short term. Long term plan was solely focused on first clearing Prelims and then Mains and Interviews. Medium term plans would be for the next two to three months. But the most important for me were my short term plans, where I would chalk out in detail what I needed to achieve in the next 15 days. Obviously there were days when I would achieve my target well within deadline and then there were days when I would miss my target completely. But I would take my successes and failures in my stride and learn whatever I could from them and try and improve myself. Another challenge I faced was to overcome my appetite for instant gratifications. For example, there would be days when I would want to just sleep throughout the day or roam around aimlessly or watch movies back-to-back. But then I would try to remind myself about my goal and I would conjure all the mental strength I could and get back to my work as soon as possible.
  • Now when I look back to those days, I feel I didn’t do anything special that others didn’t do. I didn’t read anything that others didn’t. Rather I tried to be consistent throughout my preparation phase and never lost sight of my target. I guess I executed my plans quite well through my short and medium terms goals. The result was that a day before my paper, I was quite sure I would do well and then, on the day of the paper, I surpassed my own expectations.

Although I had quite a brief stint with the so-called UPSC days, I learnt a lot during that phase and I would like to give some tips to the future aspirants based on those learning:

  • You have to always remember that Civil Service is all about being “Jack of all trades, master of one” (one refers to your optional subject here). You have to always keep a balance between the depth and the range. For example, when you prepare for the current affairs part and you find a piece of news about PSLV launch of ISRO, try and make a short 10-point notes about the PSLV and ISRO so that any probable question with 4 options can be easily handled.
  • Another point is regarding what to keep in mind and what not to. Don’t go after facts, barring the crucial ones, e.g. number of successful PSLV launches till date. Focus mainly on concepts and get a fair idea about the historical background of any piece of news. If the newspaper or any other source doesn’t provide you with adequate information, go to Google immediately and clarify your concepts.
  • Always maintain notes. Human mind is extremely volatile and if you just go on reading, you won’t even remember 5% by the time you take your paper. I would make detailed notes of current affairs, both online (in word files) and offline (in notebooks) depending on the source. If I would read something online, I would just copy and paste it in a word file after necessary deletions and additions. Make current affairs notes month-wise so that revisions can be chronologically correct which will help you in getting a holistic and clear concept.
  • Don’t make notes out of books like Laxmikanth which need to be read cover-to-cover as it is a huge wastage of time and energy. Compile notes out of weight-losing sources like newspapers, because if you don’t, you will end with around 350 newspapers before the exam and trust me, you won’t like the sight of it.
  • Plan, plan and plan. If 15 minutes of your day is not going into planning, you are not planning enough. Plan for the next 15 days, for the next three months and for the doomsday. Then execute your plans as honestly as you can. If you have to defer your plans for 2-3 consecutive times, know that you are out of the race and you need to pack your bags and leave. To get a feel of how tough the competition is, go to any tea-stall in Mukherjee Nagar or Rajinder Nagar during evenings and look at all the dreamy eyes. More people prepare for Civil Services each year than the combined population of Kiribati and Maldives.
  • While taking the exam, if you are completely unsure about all the four options, leave the question. But if you can confidently eliminate even one or two options, take the attempt because the probability of getting positive marks from all such questions combined is quite high. Don’t be overtly safe or foolhardy. Given the last few years’ cut-off, it would be prudent to attempt 85-95 questions in General Studies.

So this is all I had to say guys. I will repeat again that this is what I followed and this is what I think suited me best. There may be things you don’t agree with- feel free to discard them. Chart your own path to success. Keep reminding yourself why you have left a luxurious job or career and are slogging it out day in and day out. Be motivated. Study hard. Have faith in yourself and the almighty. See you in the services-ciao!


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2 thoughts on “An IPS Officer’s Strategy To Crack UPSC CSE”

  1. There is a correction in the above blog. Rishav Jha cleared the UPSC CSE 2015 exam and not 2016. We regret the error.


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