Kunal Aggarwal, Rank 130 UPSC Preparation Strategy

Hello everyone! I will be writing about my strategy and things that worked for me. These may or may not work for you. I recommend that you plan your studies according to your own self and style.

Brief about me

I graduated from IIT Hyderabad Computer Science in 2013 and joined Goldman Sachs. I worked in Technology Division for software development till March 2016 and then left job for preparation. This was my 4th attempt since 2016. I did not clear prelims in 2016, did not get into final list in 2017, got 211 in CSE 2018 and 130 this year. I am current in IRS IT and will mostly continue in the same.

I am a person who can not study more than 9-10 hours a day. It is hard for me to continue study beyond 9 PM and without any breaks. I always needed my breaks and took them on weekly basis.

I will skip certain basic details on books as that is available from others also and it is mostly same. However, I would like to add here that one should stick to books you have been reading. All books have same content and finally it is your understanding and thinking on that content that will get you into the list.

Answer Writing Strategy

In my strategy, I would like to discuss majorly on Answer Writing. Answer Writing in my opinion is one of the most part of preparation. I have seen many of my own friends and knowns being in problem due to last month delay in practicing answer writing. Mains paper is about Structure, Speed and Knowledge.While knowledge can be gathered at any stage of preparation, structure and speed takes time. It takes a disciplined effort to cultivate the habit of structuring answers and completing paper.

I recommend that practice for 4 months daily 4 questions a day can show drastic improvement in quality of answers. I have done that and found change in my own. This practice can be started after 1st reading of subjects and during first revision. While speed is easy to understand and everyone can focus on that, structure is something that takes little more time.

We have a huge amount of information on every topic. Without structure, it would become difficult for the evaluator to read it. A good structure also allows us to

  • Complete it in time
  • Avoid repetition of content
  • Make it diverse
  • Be brief and to the point (Not beating around the bush)

How to structure answers?

We would understand it with a question from Mains 2019 GS 3: Q16. How can biotechnology improve the living standards of farmers? (Answer in 250 words)

  • Read up the question and understand it in depth. Try to find out the ultimate core of the question.
    • The above question is about biotechnology. But it is not biotech in general but about farming. Now, farming is not just agriculture but also animal husbandry, fisheries etc. The question is about living standard improvement. So, the points we mention has to be connected to the improvement in living standard. If you do not connect it, that would be major missing link.
  • Introduction
    • Introduction is the opening statement to your answer. I generally preferred writing it in such a way that it highlights how that topic is important.
    • In above question, it could be
      • How the living standard of farmers remain poor and how they suffer?
      • How biotechnology has become a major change in farming? You could use an example.
    • Writing about their contribution to GDP, their total numbers is useless and would only consume space here. Hit to the point.
  • Body
    • One can structure answer by dividing it in Agriculture, Dairy, Fisheries etc.
    • Another way to structure could be based on the time of usage of biotechnology i.e. preparatory phase, during farming and after harvesting?
    • One can also divide it on the basis of use such as seed biotechnology, pest management, quality management, increasing yield etc.
    • Examples would be very important – yield of cotton has improved, ZBNF, HYV seeds etc.
    • Now, one can not just keep writing benefits all the time. We should think of whether this may not lead to improvement in living standards? Has it always helped? Is there an inequality like in case of Green Revolution through HYV seeds? What else would need to be ensured along with biotechnology to improve living standards of farmers? This would enrich your answer before conclusion.
  • Conclusion
    • You don’t summarise here.
    • I generally would try to keep 2–3 keywords for this part of the answer (since the beginning)
    • It is the positive, futuristic writing where you reflect your stand with the topic.
    • In this case, Biotechnological advancements offer opportunities in yield improvement, loss reduction, income increase for farmers. However, it is not a panacea. It requires multi-level coordination among governments and a participatory approach to bring equitable improvements in living standards of farmers. (Remember to touch and discuss these points in the main body)
    • You should not add new things in conclusion.

In mains answer writing,

  • Keywords are important to be used
  • Facts and examples enrich the answer. Over time, you would start remembering them. Please don’t overburden yourself in the initial phases of preparation itself. These can be mugged up slowly.
  • Stay connected to the question
  • Grammar and sentence formation is important. It is not your notes. The way I see it, you are going to be an officer and you should be able to write your thoughts in simple but correct sentences
  • Diagrams are not always helpful. You need to pick and choose.
    • In Geography and IR, maps would be helpful
    • Flowcharts, graphs etc are helpful but not always. We should not over do it.
    • Avoid doing it forcefully.

All these points develop over time. Thus, practice becomes important. As written earlier, mains answer writing must start in the second phase of preparation. A 4 month stint of 20 questions a week would ensure the quality improvement. Read the earlier post for details on this.

Thanks for reading. I hope it helps.