“Staying Focused, having eagle eye on goal and immersing myself in preparation are the secrets of my success.”
“Pratiyogita Darpan” arranged an exclusive interview with Shri Akshay Agrawal who has been selected in Civil Services Examination, 2018, conducted by UPSC. He deserves high appreciation and our heartiest congratulations on his splendid success. This important, thought-provoking and highly inspiring interview is being presented here in its original form.
PD—Achieving top slot in the coveted Civil Services Examination is no small feat; accept our heartiest congratulations on your splendid success.
Shri Akshay—Thank you so much for these kind words.
PD—Give the basis of selecting the optional subject.
Shri Akshay—My advice to all future aspirants would be to choose a subject that they can study at graduate level; it is like preparing the three- or four-year degree course in one go. Hence, one must pick up the subject that one can easily understand, follow for at least two years, and also, for which guidance and test series are available.
PD—What preference in services have you opted for and any particular reason for that priority ?
Shri Akshay—My preferences were in the order thus : IAS, and then IFS. IAS has always been my preferred career choice since it gives the most diversity of work. Also, the career and promotional prospects are brighter in IAS.
PD—‘Success is sweet’; were you confident of your success with top ranks and how did you react to this news ?
Shri Akshay—Success indeed is sweet. This was my first attempt and this is the Mother of All Examinations. Given the tremendous competition, no one can be sure of success with top ranks and neither was I. But when I got the news from my friend about my result, it seemed surreal. It took some time to sink in. I was elated and phoned my father to give him the good news.
PD—Today, IAS Toppers are icons and lots of media coverage makes them popular. Before your success, what was your opinion about these toppers ?
Shri Akshay—Yes, I agree that previous years’ toppers inspire many future aspirants in a big way. Toppers give a peek into the minds of the people who have cleared this exam. We can learn from not just success but also from their bitter experiences of the failures. Also for those who prepare from a remote location, toppers’ talks and strategies help a long way in demystifying the confusion about resources and booklist. I was influenced by the success stories of Ms. Vishwanjali Gaikwad, Mr. Gaurav Agrawal, and Mr. Abhimanyu Gehlaut, all of whom I used to follow a lot.
PD—Can you recall the exact moment when you realized the importance of Civil Services ?
Shri Akshay—It was when I was in Singapore. I studied and worked in Singapore. I was working with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy as a researcher and I happened to meet many Indian Civil Servants there who had gone there to do their mid-career trainings. Interacting with them made me realise the excellent work they have been doing and the amount of good work one can do for the society in civil services.
PD—Finally, at what point of time did you make up your mind to make career in ‘Civil Services’ ?
Shri Akshay—After I finished my postgraduate studies in Singapore, I was always inclined towards civil services but never gave it a serious attention. But after my masters, I made up my mind and decided to give it a try.
PD—Was CSE your planned decision or your parents’ wish ?
Shri Akshay—I had a bent towards civil services since high school and my father helped me. It was ultimately a collective family decision to give civil service exam a good shot.
PD—Did you keep in mind some time-frame for the examination preparation and number of attempts ?
Shri Akshay—For me the opportunity cost of leaving a good-paying job in Singapore for attempting civil service exam was huge. So I had given myself maximum of two attempts.
PD—‘Time Management’ is a key factor while making preparations as well as in writing examination papers, be it Prelims or Main Examination. How did you manage things ?
Shri Akshay—Yes, most important ! since this exam has Himalayan syllabus. I was working in Singapore for the first six month of my preparation. I made use of each and every minute I got to study. I had cut on all my outings with friends, especially over weekends. This is how time must be utilised very judiciously since this is the most valuable resource in the preparation.
PD—The first step is the most difficult; from where did you get the right advice ?
Shri Akshay—Yes, as I said, one must first see the syllabus and what all books and resources the toppers suggest. Take some time to understand the demand of the exam and let it sink in your mind completely. Then prepare your own reading list and make a timetable. About optional, one must pick up the subject that one can study for at least one year at graduate level. I got the right advice from many toppers of previous years and also my friends who have been preparing for this exam for last 3-4 years.
Father’s Name—Shri Sunil Agrawal
Mother’s Name—Mrs. Lata Agrawal
Date of Birth—August 29, 1992
10th—2008, Maharashtra State Board, (90·67%)
12th—2010, Maharashtra State Board (93·17)
B.Tech.—2010-14, Machanical Engineering, College of Engineering Pune, CGPA 9·7/10, Gold Medal for Academic Excellence
M.Sc. in Economics—2015-17, National University of Singapore, CGPA 5/5, Gold Medal of Academic Excellence
Previous Selections : Indian Economic Service Exam. 2018, AIR 4.
PD—What was your approach towards Paper-I (General Studies) and Paper-II (Aptitude Test) during Preliminary Examination preparation ? How long time and how much effort did you divide for each ?
Shri Akshay—For GS Paper I (General Studies).
The best way to prepare for this is to first be clear with all the necessary concepts that are there in NCERT books and other basic books like Laxmikant, etc. Then, one must start solving tests.
For GS paper II (Aptitude Test) : I didn’t do any special preparation for this. I just solved UPSC papers for this for 2015, 2016, and 2017.
PD—How did you manage to tackle the ‘Negative Marking’ in Prelims ?
Shri Akshay—One must first attempt questions that one is confident about. One can take intelligent guesses on questions where one has high probability of getting it right.
PD—What shift did you adopt in your strategy for Main Examination (Written) ?
Shri Akshay—One needs to have good writing speed since in this stage we have to write nearly 4000 words in 3 hours. For Main (written) examination, what is most required is the fact that you provide a comprehensive answer, covering as many dimensions as possible, and at the same time, giving a balanced way forward to any problem that may be asked in the question.
PD—Was there any special effort for effective preparation for Essay Paper ?
Shri Akshay—Only special effort I took was to actually pick up a pen and start writing essays on certain topics. Use quotes, beautiful poetic lines and phrases, try to use a bit of flowery language if you can.
PD—How did you prepare yourself for Interview (Personality Test) ?
Shri Akshay—Interview preparation must be a two-pronged strategy : one must prepare one’s DAF (Detailed Application Form) very well.
I faced Bharat Bhushan Vyas Board. My interview was on 11th February 2019. It lasted for 30 minutes. My interview was very cordial and I was asked very simple questions related to my life and the Indian economy (probably since Economics was my optional). My interview transcript is available online on my blog, ‘India Rising’.
PD—Were you preparing for other career opportunities as well while preparing for your ultimate goal i.e., Career in Civil Services ?
Shri Akshay—No, I wasn’t.
PD—While the changing economic environment offers immense lucrative career opportunities in various sectors, still what kept you motivated towards Civil Services ?
Shri Akshay—The thought of working for the country kept me motivated. Money cannot be a motivation all through the life. There is a need to be in the career where there are bigger reasons to wake up every morning and go to the work. I believe, civil service promises this.
|Favourite Person— Anyone who does his duty right. But I have been inspired by the stories of Madam Marie Curie and our own, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. I also admire Dr. Manmohan Singh a lot.
Strong Point—Keeping my targets.
Hobbies—Cooking, Teaching, Blogging.
PD—In your opinion at which Educational Level should one start preparing for Civil Services and what should be the minimum period of time required to prepare for Civil Services Examinations ?
Shri Akshay—There is no rule of thumb. But if one is decided about it as a career choice, I believe, not more than 10-12 months (around 1 year) of devotion to study is necessary for this exam. One can start full-fledged preparations in the last year of one’s degree course. However, reading habit can be and should be cultivated at an earlier stage. This helps a long way.
PD—What is your opinion regarding the general view that Science subjects have better chance to score than Humanities ?
Shri Akshay—That is the prevailing view. But this year, if we see, humanities have also done very well. So it should really not be a consideration.
PD—What is the importance of medium of examination for exams like CSE ?
Shri Akshay—It doesn’t really matter. But most people usually take the examination in English language as it is relatively easy to write answers in English since most terminologies we know are in English.
PD—Does the educational, financial and demographic status of the family of an aspirant have any impact on the preparation ?
Shri Akshay—Yes, they do, if these things continuously haunt an aspirant’s mind. Once you get rid of these thoughts, they will stop bothering you. Only regimented hard work and dedication matter in this exam and nothing else.
PD—In your opinion what role do the Competition Magazines play when you are preparing for an examination like Civil Services ?
Shri Akshay—They are a good source of inspiration for aspirants since they present many success stories. Also, they are excellent sources to cover current affairs which are necessary for this exam.
PD—How do you find Pratiyogita Darpan ? Do you find it close to your expectations ?
Shri Akshay—I used to read PD in the initial phase of my preparation. It has very nice and beautifully written articles by civil servants and academicians. Excellent source of covering social issues, economic policies of the government, and also developmental work that is going on in the country. Very useful for mains answer writing as they also present some of the data and facts which are usually not so easily available.
PD—What is the secret of your success ?
Shri Akshay—Secret of success is two things–doing little extra every day from what was planned (this small-small amounts add up to a bigger thing in the end!), and always staying focused on the goal of cracking the exam.
PD—To whom would you like to give the credit for your success ?
Shri Akshay—Almighty for keeping me in the pink of health during the entire duration of the preparation. Secondly, my family, which includes my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law, who have been extraordinarily supportive throughout. Also, my friends and mentors who have been great source of information and advice.
PD—Any suggestion/advice you would like to give to the future aspirants.
Shri Akshay—Make small targets to achieve bigger ambitions. Honour your own targets and deadlines. Do little extra every day from what you have planned. Figure out a golden mean between quest for knowledge and competition in this exam. Knowledge is a good thing but this is a competitive exam. So, ‘optimise things’. Also, keep an arms-length distance from social media.
PD—Thank you very much and wishing you all the best for your future endeavours.
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