Monday, 10 December 2018

My Journey to Success - Aranyak Saikia - IPS, UPSC 2017, RANK - 148

Aranyak Saikia
Rank in Civil Services
Roll No.               
Marital Status
Total attempts in UPSC (including this one)       
Optional Subjects
Service preferences Top – 3 (IAS, IPS, IRS etc.)
Service Joined
Schooling Medium (English/Assamese/Hindi/Bengali)
College Medium (English/Assamese/Hindi/Bengali)
Medium chosen for Mains answers
Medium chosen for Interview
Home town/city
Work-experience if any


% in class 10
% in class 12
Graduation course and %
Economics, 88%
Name of college, city, passing out year
St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, 2015
Delhi School of Economics, Delhi, 2017
Any other professional courses
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements
Reading books especially popular science, writing short stories and papers in journals and newspapers like DNA, EPW etc, playing football, badminton and tennis.


Daily hrs spent on online platforms for predicting cutoff / syllabus change / age-attempt limit change and other “peripheral-discussion“ related to civil services.              
I spent only 2-3 days immediately after the Prelims, going through online platforms to predict the cutoff and my score.
Daily hrs spent on WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram study groups
I was not part of any study group.
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep/mock test
For prelims, about 2-3 hours. For mains test series, about 3-4 hours
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile  
Laptop and tablet


Did you use highlighters / sketch pens in your answers?
No, I just used a blue pen for all my answers
Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in Geography) If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?
I did draw diagrams for my Economics Optional papers. Used pen only
Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?
No, I did not use rulers. Made it by hand only.
You wrote the answer in blue pen or black pen?

1.        Tell us something about yourself, your family, when and why did you enter in this field of competitive exams?

I was born and brought up in Guwahati. I did my schooling till class 12 in Don Bosco School Guwahati. I had science stream in class 12. I then joined Economics (Honours) in St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and completed my Masters from Delhi School of Economics (DSE). When the results were declared on 27th April 2018, I was doing my MPhil in DSE. Apart from reading and writing short stories, I’m very passionate about football and hockey. I come from a family of civil servants.

My father is an IPS officer, and currently the DGP of Assam Police, while my mother is in the IRTS. I have been reading the newspaper since class 5. Plus, the six years of economics opened my eyes to the myriad problems faced by this country. Being the son of civil servants, I have seen very closely how the civil services provide the right opportunity to deal with these issues. At the same time, the prestigious services provide a great chance to interact more closely with the people around me. It is probably for these reasons that I decided to enter the Civil Services Examination (CSE). I did not have an intention to enter the field of competitive exams per se. The only other exam I planned to write was the Indian Economic Service (IES) exam. If I failed to secure a rank in either of the two, my plan was to do a PhD and enter academics.

2.        In recent times, there is spur in electronic material- blogs, sites, pdfs, RSS-feeds. Many aspirants feel bogged down by this information overload. So, how do you balance this i.e. electronic material vs. paper material (Books, newspapers)

Electronic material is extremely important. Apart from daily reading of the newspaper, most of my other materials were electronic. While there is an overdose of materials, the idea is to stick to a limited set of sources which are reliable, like Vision, Insights on India, etc. (I had specifically referred to only these two websites)

3.        Do you maintain self-notes for revision of optional? In which format- electronic or paper? What is your style of preparation and notes making? 

I did not make any notes in CSE 2017. And that is my biggest regret. I just read the newspaper and read the Current Affairs Booklets of Vision multiple times. While this strategy is helpful for prelims, it is not advisable for mains. In mains, one needs to cover various dimensions and write short-crisp answers, and note-making is very helpful in this regard.

For optional, I referred to notes of Gaurav Aggarwal, Abhimanyu Gehlaut, Tejaswi Rana and Riju Bafna. However, this was only for Paper II. Paper I is theoretical and involves mathematical and diagrammatic models which need to be done from some standard textbooks like Ahuja, Salvatore, Froyen etc.

4.        What was your approach in the exam? (I wrote all, I only focused on the questions where I could answer perfectly, I just not to high quality points to reach the word limit etc.)

I attempted every question in every paper. Of course, there were about 4-5 questions which I didn’t know properly. Here, I used my intuition and common sense to write a paragraph or two. But I did not ‘make-up’ an answer with filler lines. Eg: There was a question on the Juno spacecraft. All I knew that it was headed for Jupiter to study its atmosphere. I wrote just that. But question wanted much more- about how it helps our study of the earth’s origins. I didn’t write anything on that, for I didn’t know.

I think the idea is to attempt all the questions unless you know nothing about it. There can be no ‘perfect’ answer and it’s unlikely that a perfect answer will fetch spectacular marks going by the very little variations in the GS marks. But one mark here and one mark there from the questions attempted can make a difference of 4-5 marks in the total.

5.        Did you write answers in bullet points or in paragraphs? Did you follow the “introduction-body-conclusion” format?

I did try to maintain the intro-body-conclusion format as much as possible, but not for every answer. Not all questions demand the same approach and I don’t think just writing all the points that come to your head will fetch you enough marks. I feel, one needs to understand what the question demands and then approach accordingly.

I tried to give bullet points in as many answers as possible. But then again, not every answer warrants bullet points, especially in Ethics and Economics Paper I.

6.        What’s your optional subject and why did you chose it and not something else? If a new aspirant wants to pick your subject, would you advice for it or against it? First the essential book/resource list. (Also mention which one is the “Base book” for covering the theory?

My optional was Economics, as I’ve done my graduation and post-graduation in Economics. The book list is very long, as both Paper I and Paper II require a different set of books. 

I recommend browsing through the following blogs/websites to get a better idea:

  • - Click Here
  • - Click Here
  • Click Here

Economics, unlike social sciences, is a fairly technical subject involving mathematics and diagrams. Fortunately, the UPSC syllabus relies less on maths and more on diagrams. Therefore, any person who has a fairly high interest in the subject or has done some elective economics course can opt for it. However, for them, it may take about 3-4 months of intensive preparation to get a full understanding of the concepts.

I don’t think the optional should be chosen based on the scoring potential. UPSC standardises the papers across the various optionals, to reduce the divergence in marks. It’s better to choose the optional based on interest or expertise.

7.        What are the books you studied doing your preparations and your list of recommended books? How much of internet-research / current affairs is necessary for this optional? OR can one simply rely on the books and be done with this subject?

I have already mentioned the relevant links in the previous answer. While Paper I is theoretical and needs to be done from textbooks, Paper II deals with the Indian economy right from pre-independence to the current. So, Paper II is a mix of static and current topics. The links mentioned above provide the necessary notes and materials to deal with Paper II. The Economic Survey is another important document.

8.        How many months did it take to finish the optional syllabus?

It took me about 1.5 months. I started preparing for my optional only after my prelims. But this is partially because I already had a 5-year base in Economics.

9.        Did you attend any ‘mock tests’? Do you think they’re necessary for success? How many days/ weeks before the exam, you started answer writing practice papers?

Yes, I did attend online mock tests of Vision IAS and Insights on India for both prelims and mains. I think they are absolutely necessary to not only get a sense of the potential level of difficulty of the exam but also to gauge one’s preparation.

I wrote my first answer somewhere in the 3rd week of July (the actual exam was on 28th October, 2017). I scored a poor 69/250. Over time, it improved to about 95-100. I wrote about 8 question papers.

10.    If you are made the UPSC chairman, what other reforms would you initiate for the civil service exam?

The exam is a year-long process. The time can be cut to complete the exam within, say, 6 months. Optional should be removed to provide a level-playing field. The focus of the exam should be more oriented towards analytical and original thinking and less towards mugging up information.


1.        How did you prepare for the interview? – (for college grad, hobbies, place of origin, current affairs at national and international level)

My interview was on 22nd February, so I got about one month to prepare for the interview. For most items on the Detailed Application Form (DAF), I made notes from the Internet. For current affairs, I did not make any notes, and relied on pure newspaper reading.

But I would discuss the issues with my parents. I would note down the questions they came up with, on any particular issue. And then prepare answers to them. This can be done with friends or fellow aspirants too.

2.        Did you attend any mock interviews by coaching classes? How were they similar / different than official interview? Do you believe it is necessary to attend such mock interviews?

I attended only one mock interview in Vajiram and Ravi. I found it to be very different from the official interview, and therefore, to be of not much help. The questions in the mock were straightforward while those in the actual interview were analytical and required a lot of critical thinking.

Thus, given my experience, I do not think more than one mock is necessary. Attending one mock interview can boost confidence and prepare a person to face eminent personalities who have a lot of experience over a variety of fields. But not more than that.

3.        Where did you stay for the interview? (Hotel / friend’s home …) and what books/material did you bring for the ‘revision before interview’?

I was at my home in Delhi. I just brought the newspaper (The Hindu) along with me to the UPSC. I did not get much time to go through it as I was allotted the first slot of the day.

4.        Who was the chairman of you interview board? How long was the interview?

The Chairman was Prof (Dr.) P.K. Joshi. The interview was for about 30 minutes.

I have been reading the newspaper since class 5. Plus, the six years of economics opened my eyes to the myriad problems faced by this country. Being the son of civil servants, I have seen very closely how the civil services provide the right opportunity to deal with these issues. At the same time, the prestigious services provide a great chance to interact more closely with the people around me. It is probably for these reasons that I decided to enter the Civil Services Examination (CSE).

I fully agree that social service can be done from the private sector too, but the civil services provide greater scope and variety.

I wasn’t asked any of these questions though.

5.        Describe the formal-dress worn by you on the day of your interview.

A white shirt, a blue tie, a dark blue coat and black trousers

6.        Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or did they ask you totally unexpected questions?  

It was not along expected lines in the beginning, but later the questions were comfortable (though still not along expected lines for the most part). Given that the questions were unexpected, the interview initially appeared stressful, but later it was comfortable.

7.        Any side details about technicalities like “make sure you bring xyz document or do xyz thing, or you’ll face problem”?

Do bring your original documents like class X, XII certificates etc. The set of documents required will be specified by the UPSC. Make sure that you have all of them.

During the medical exam the next day, make sure to bring your spectacle specifications if you wear spectacles.

8.        Please narrate your entire interview- what questions did they ask and what did you reply and other pleasant or uncomfortable experiences during the interview. (Earlier some toppers only tell me their question but not their answer. I would appreciate if you give both Question + your original answers)

This question will be responded in next few weeks. Please expect it by 20th November

The Miscellaneous Ones

1.        If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan?

If I failed in 3 attempts, I would have done a PhD and entered academics. I was already doing an MPhil anyway.

2.        Many candidates prepare sincerely but constantly live under fear about ‘profile insecurity’. I’m not from a big college, I’m not from English medium, and I don’t have work-experience. What if they ask some stressful questions in the interview about this? Did you suffer from such insecurities? What is your message to these candidates?

I did not suffer from these insecurities. Rather, I suffered from insecurity of another nature. Since I came from a relatively well-known college, I felt that the interviewers would have much higher expectations from me. So, I had to prepare even harder.

To be honest, based on the backgrounds of candidates who make it every year, these issues do not matter at all. What matters is how they speak in the interview and the arguments they put forward.

3.        People, most of them lack consistency in their preparation. So, how do you keep study momentum going on? How do you fight against the mood swings and distractions?

There is no particular way. Before my prelims, I was still doing my MA and had to attend classes. So, whatever time I got for CSE, I made full use of it. Post prelims, my MA was over and I began attending MPhil classes which served as a refreshment from the monotonous mains prep. I also used to play badminton daily, and watch a couple of comedy videos on YouTube.

4.        Through this struggle and success, what have your learned? What is the wisdom of life and competition? What is your message to the new aspirants? 

This exam provides a very broad view of the many dimensions of any particular issue. It not only informs us about the issues plaguing our society but builds an analytical approach to its dimensions. I think, a year of preparation has taught me this. Second, it is very likely that you might not qualify the exam, as the success rate is below 1%. But that in no way means you are inferior or dumb. You are as smart as the rest 1000 others who make it but maybe luck was not on your side. Some of the greatest people in India failed to clear the CSE. But they shone elsewhere. The only thing you need to have is hope! Humans have done great things in the worst of circumstances only because they had the hope that ‘this too shall pass’. Continue the fight, the victory will come- if not today, then tomorrow.

5.        Behind every topper are many people who stood by during those uncertain times when he/she was merely an ‘aspirant’. Would you like to tell the world, who were those people in your case?

My parents- for their emotional support throughout the exam.
My teachers- who provided me the right knowledge and learning base over the last 20 years.
A couple of my very good friends who provided me the optimism. 
My relatives- although not everyone knew about it.

Thank You for taking the effort to fill this questionnaire. Your effort will go a long way to guide someone in their preparations and fulfil their long cherished dream of becoming a civil servant.


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