Friday, 21 December 2018

My Journey To Success - Dr. Munmi Saikia - ACS 2018 (APSC 2016 – Rank 2)

Dr.  Munmi Saikia
Rank in Civil Services
2nd [ACS]
Roll No.         
Marital Status
Total attempts in CEE (including this one)
1st attempt
Optional Subjects
History and Education
Service preferences Top – 3 (ACS, APS, ALRS etc.)
Service Joined
Schooling Medium (English/Assamese/Hindi/Bengali)  
College Medium (English/Assamese/Hindi/Bengali)
Medium chosen for Mains answers
Medium chosen for Interview
Both English and Assamese
Home town/city
Morikolong,  Nagaon
Work-experience if any
3 years as Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF) under Ministry of Rural Development, GoI.


Loyola, Nagaon ; 82%
Cotton College Guwahati; 67%
Graduation course
Dentistry BDS, 65%
Name of college, city, passing out year
MRADC, Bengaluru 2012
Master’s in Development Practice from TISS, Mumbai
Hobbies & Extracurricular achievements
Baking and cooking


Daily hrs spent on online platforms for predicting cut off / syllabus change / age-attempt limit change and other “peripheral-discussion“ related to civil services.
Zero hours.
Daily hrs spent on WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram study groups
1 hr approx.
Daily hrs spent on online for exam prep/mock test
2 hrs approx.
Primary Device for online study: desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile
Mobile, laptop


Did you use highlighters / sketch pens in your answers?
Did you draw any diagram in any paper? (e.g. in Geography)If yes, Did you draw diagrams with pencil or pen?
Did you use ruler to draw the lines in diagram? Or did you just make it by hand?
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?

         My parents, Mrs. Padma Saikia and Late Putu Ram Saikia, were both employees at the establishment of the Deputy Commissioner, Nagaon. I have two siblings. My husband is a banker.
I practiced Dentistry for a year and half before I got selected as a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow. I was posted in Karbi Anglong for 3 years. The whole experience as PMRDF at the grass-root level opened my eyes to the poor state of development in the district and changed my perspective of rural development. As the fellowship was for a period of 3 years, after its completion I decided to continue my career in the development sector and hence appeared for the APSC CCE 2016 exam.

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)

I did not join any coaching institute for preparation and so I was heavily dependent on online sources for guidance and study materials, especially current affairs. The key is to choose only a couple of quality websites to suit one’s preparation needs and regularly follow them instead of scouting various sites for hours on end.

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? (E.g. I continue making notes no matter what I’m reading, I just read multiple times but don’t maintain notes, I make mind maps on computer, I use xyz software etc.)

I made notes only for topics that were not detailed in the textbooks. Reading and re-reading the same books, instead of multiple ones, help in thorough understanding of the topic and thereby facilitates recall. Whatever notes I made, it was in the form of bullets or short paragraphs to make revision easier.

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.) Because the civil services aspirant Community is divided over what counts as a ‘good’ paper. Some experts claim you should attempt all- even if it involves “making up” an answer with filler lines, some claim attempt only those questions you know perfectly. Where do you stand on this? [Based on your experience and of your seniors/buddies]

In the Main exam, 3 points to be noted are-writing good quality answers, sticking to the word limit and completing the paper. All 3 are equally important. I attempted all questions, gave to-the-point answers and stuck to the word limit.

5.        Did you write answers in bullet points or in paragraphs?            Did you follow the “introduction-body-conclusion” format? Some aspirants (who cleared mains and got interview call letter) claim that they wrote entire paper in bullet points, so it doesn’t matter, whether examiner is asking ‘examine, comment, discuss or xyz’ simply write in bullets and points. Because some mains-qualified candidates claim they simply wrote the points they could recall within the time, instead of bothering with proper introduction and conclusion.

I wrote in paragraphs and used bullet points, where necessary. For 2-4 markers I used bullet points and for others, I wrote in paragraphs. I did try to follow the intro-body-conclusion format wherever I could. When I was short to time, usually towards the end, I just wrote in small paragraphs of 2-3 lines or used bullet points.

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? + Whatever comments you’ve for a particular book e.g. “my seniors said read xyz book but I found that ABC book was better”.  “Xyz topic not given properly in this book, so prepare from xyz website or book…” OR and so on.)

As my graduation subject was not on the Mains subject list, I chose History and Education optional as I could read and understand the chapters on my own.  Also since these are popular subjects among aspirants, study material was easily available. I used the following books as standard and used the internet for topics that these did not cover in detail.
General Studies
1.      Indian Polity by Laxmikant
2.      Spectrum’s Modern India
3.      Assam year Book
4.      NCERT Books for Geography, Indian Economy
5.      Online sites such as Insights, Gktoday for current affairs
6.      Newspapers Assam Tribune and Indian express
7.      TMH General Studies Guide
1.      India’s Ancient Past- R.S. Sharma
2.      Studies in Ancient India- P. Maiti
3.      Medieval India- Part 1 and 2- Satish Chandra
4.      Modern India- Spectrum’s Publication
5.      World History- K.L. Khurana
6.      World History- Krishna Reddy
7.      World History-Arjun Dev
1.      Education for ACS- Dr. Sunita Agarwal
2.      A Textbook of Education- Lakshyahira Das
1.      Practiced grammar from previous question papers and the internet.
2.      Practiced writing a couple of essays prior to  exam

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?  

For book list, see previous question.
Internet was an essential part of my preparation.
Books or PDF’s- whatever the source, the aim should be to cover the syllabus and be thorough with the topics.

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

It varies from person to person.  Personally, it took me around 5-6 months to have a good understanding of both the subjects.

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?

I did not attend mock tests of coaching centres as I was short of time. I practiced writing some previously asked questions on my own, keeping in mind the time limit.
Personally, I think mock tests are necessary as they can help gauge the level of preparation. We all know practice makes one perfect.

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

The whole process of CCE takes almost 2 years from the date of applying for Prelims to the declaration of final results, much to the disadvantage of the aspirants. If I were the Chairman, I would try my best to ensure the whole process takes not more than 14 months.


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

I prepared questions from my personal and educational background. Apart from that, I brushed up the Optionals once and updated current affairs.

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 did not attend any mock interviews.
I believe attending mocks prior to the actual interview can help one to overcome the nervousness and be self-confident.

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 prepared from home (Guwahati).

4.        Who was the chairman of you interview board? How long was the interview? Why do you want to join civil service? Why don’t you continue in your graduation field? Social service can be done from private sector too.  [Since I don’t know whether they ask you this question or not. But if they had asked- what will be your reply?]

Dipak Kr. Sharma was the Chairman of my interview board. It took around 20-25 minutes. Most of the questions were based on my personal and professional background. It was less of a pressure interview and more of a conversation.
I was not asked the above mentioned questions. I switched from dentistry to Civil service because, as a person I have diverse interests and the latter would allow me to work across a broader range of issues.
Sure social service can be done from private sector too, but the public sector provides a wider platform for the same.

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

I wore a turquoise coloured salwar suit.

6.        Was your interview on the expected lines of what you had prepared or did they ask you totally unexpected questions?  Was it a stress interview, did they ask any uncomfortable questions? If yes, how did you handle it? It was on expected lines. It was not a stress interview.

It was on expected lines. Not a stress interview, rather cordial.

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

Document verification happens a day prior to the interview. However, I carried them on the day of interview as well.

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

I was asked the following questions. [The answers were spontaneous so cannot be replicated here]
1.      Cashless economy
2.      How to ensure cashless economy
3.      Famous personalities of Nagaon (my birth place)
4.      About PMRDF
5.      About my work experience
6.      About Karbi Anglong (my work place)
7.      How to ensure development in places such as Karbi Anglong
8.      Sixth Schedule of Constitution, its significance
9.      Lakshminath Bezbarua- birth place, books
10.  Sardar Vallab Bhai Patel- Why is he known as Iron Man of India?
11.  Srimanta Sankardeva- Birth place, literature.
12.  As Circle Officer, how will I contribute towards implementation of various developmental schemes in the Circle ( based on my work as PMRDF)

The Miscellaneous Ones

1.        If you were not selected, what was your career backup plan? When were you going to “execute” that backup plan

I would have practiced dentistry and prepared simultaneously.

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?

The eligibility to appear for this exam is all that matters. Fear about profile insecurity can arise at the interview stage but one has to keep in mind that such things do not matter to the Interview Board. At the end of the day, it is a test of personality.

3.        If you’re a working professional, share some tips on how to manage studies with job

Managing work and studies together is very difficult, but not impossible. I think the strategy should be to start preparing early, be consistent and cover a little of the syllabus every day.

4.        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?

Having a goal and a strong will to achieve that goal provides one with the energy to fight off distractions and keeps one motivated. Taking well deserved breaks from studying is crucial to fight off fatigue. It is also important to create a supportive environment around oneself.

5.        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? Many hardworking candidates have failed in Mains/Interview. They’re feeling cynical, hopeless and depressed- what is your message to them?

The whole process of this exam has made me value the importance of having patience in life and that there is no substitute for hard work.

6.        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? Any specific incidence that you would like to share with the readers?

My family has always supported me in all my endeavors and I am fortunate to have them in my life.

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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