Hi Everyone, I am Ishan Sinha. I have got AIR 234 in UPSC CSE 2022. I will share my strategy in this post.
Table of Contents
- 1 Prelims advice by Ishan Sinha IAS
- 2 Ishan Sinha UPSC CSE BOOKLIST
- 3 History optional strategy by Ishan Sinha IAS
- 4 GS1 strategy by Ishan Sinha IAS
- 5 Strategy for GS2 by Ishan Sinha IAS
- 6 GS3 strategy by Ishan Sinha IAS
- 7 Test series advice by Ishan Sinha IAS
- 8 Mapping strategy of Ishan Sinha, AIR 234
- 9 Essay strategy of Ishan Sinha, AIR 234
Prelims advice by Ishan Sinha IAS
Tomorrow is the day you all have worked for so hard for the better part of a year. Tomorrow is the day you take the first step towards achieving your goals, your dreams that you have dreamt in years past.
I have no tips to give you, because prelims isn’t a game of tips. It’s a game of confidence, of belief in yourself and your own preparation. Self-doubt will creep in now, but don’t doubt yourself. Know that you have done your best, and God always blesses you when you work hard.
You all HAVE studied, you all HAVE worked hard. Do not doubt it, even for a second. Maintain your composure during the exam, and trust me you will qualify. Don’t discuss the paper after the first shift, remember there is the CSAT paper as well.
चौड़ में जाना, गाड़ के आना।
हर हर महादेव।
Ishan Sinha UPSC CSE BOOKLIST
History optional strategy by Ishan Sinha IAS
1. Ancient history: I followed only Upinder Singh. However, you don’t have to read the entirety of the book. Follow the syllabus and PYQs – it’ll help you to segregate which portions to read.
2. Medieval history: Satish Chandra and J.L. Mehta and IGNOU selectively. Satish Chandra was the primary source. Mughal period onwards is covered extremely well in Satish Chandra. Certain topics like minting system and population in Mughal Empire was covered from IGNOU.
For Delhi Sultanate, I covered the social aspect from Satish Chandra and political aspects from J.L.Mehta (e.g. rise of Razia Sultan). Regional kingdoms also was covered from Satish Chandra. Vijaynagar (extremely important) was covered from 3 sources: Satish Chandra (political aspects), IGNOU (for society), selfstudyhistory notes (art and culture).
3. Modern history: Sekhar Bandopadhyay+Bipin Chandra. Read it selectively. Choose one topic, compare the topics in both books. Whichever book has it better, cover it from there.
Post-independence I covered completely from selfstudyhistory notes.
4. World History: Selfstudyhistory notes+Norman Lowe. This was my strongest portion. Till WW1 I covered from selfstudyhistory notes, from WW1 onwards I covered from Norman Lowe.
Extremely important. I practiced the PYQs as much as possible. However, I must confess I wasn’t as diligent in this as I should have been- please do not do this mistake. However, I used to brainstorm the questions if I didn’t write them. Practice as many PYQs as possible. History questions are frequently repeated.
I followed the same pattern as GS: introduction, main body and conclusion.
Again, extremely important. In my 2021 attempt, I got a 106 in paper 2, which cost me an interview call. This time around, I made diligent notes from every topic in paper 2, which enabled me to revise much faster. Result: got a 146 in paper 2.
When you are reading, keep a blank paper at hand. Whenever you come across the name of a historian and their statement, write it down. Use these in your answers. Always remember the historian’ statement is valued, yours is not.
I gave selfstudyhistory test series. However, I wasn’t able to join their test series in 2022 due to personal problems, and joined Shankar IAS history optional tests. They weren’t good at all. I practiced the same tests of selfstudyhistory I gave in 2021 instead.
Varied. When I was preparing for the first time, I used to give 4-5 hours to history, and another 4-5 hours to GS. This went on till 3 months before prelims, after which I stopped studying my optional. I restarted optional after the prelims, and gave 5 hours to it, while another 4-5 hours for GS. This entirely depends on you.
1. Upsc is clubbing lesser known topics with more known ones, like this year they clubbed Malaya independence with Fascism. I couldn’t attempt 10 marks because I had not read Malaya independence. Please cover these lesser known topics like Malaya independence, Latin American independence etc.
2. Post independence India is extremely important. Do not skip it at any cost.
3. PYQs. If you are not solving them, you are committing a sin. I found selfstudyhistory solved question papers extremely helpful.
4. Always keep your syllabus at hand. Don’t think you already know the syllabus by heart- believe me, you don’t.
5. Do not try to rush the syllabus, you’ll suffer badly.
6. When you finish reading, revision and making notes, and you are starting to revise for the 2nd time, begin revision from the last topic backwards. The reason for this is simple: we read the first topic so many times that it gets memorized. But the last few topics we tend to rush as we get tired when we reach it.
Read, write, revise, repeat. This is the mantra of history optional.
GS1 strategy by Ishan Sinha IAS
GS1 consists broadly of art and culture, modern and world history, geography and sociology.
If you are from history optional, please don’t think you don’t have to prepare this portion. This arrogance sunk my mains boat last year- I got a mere 86 marks. This year, I prepared history as a GS subject as well, and got 110.
a) For AnC, I followed SOMP thematic notes. I would suggest you to join their thematic course; if it is too costly, you can purchase the notes from them. It is a gem. Apart from this, my history knowledge did help me in quoting examples during the paper.
b) Modern history: Again, SOMP thematic notes. The notes were so good I actually had to refer to it for value addition to my optional notes.
c) World history and post independence: This part is relatively less important. I mostly depended on my optional knowledge for this. I did read land reforms from Mrunal Sir’s website. These notes I will share. I did not prepare world history separately, depended on my optional knowledge. If you are not an optional student, you can read SOMP thematic notes- they are good, and covers all the important parts in minimal time and pages.
a. Physical geography: NCERT Class 11-12. I made proper notes for this. I also practiced diagrams as much as possible. I will share these notes.
b. Human geography: NCERT. Again, made notes from this.
c. Disasters: This part is a GS3 portion, but UPSC has been asking questions here as well. I will cover this portion in GS3 strategy.
d. Maps: I practiced India and world maps. You should be proficient in drawing those within 10-15 seconds. World map was beneficial in explaining ocean currents this year.
Keep in mind that geography, environment and disasters tend to overlap. Don’t be surprised if you are getting asked questions of environment or disasters in GS1- it’s a pattern UPSC is following.
I covered this from Smriti Shah maam’s notes. I don’t think I can share it due to copyright issues. I think they are available on Google or telegram, or otherwise they would be available in Delhi Xerox shops.
If you can’t get ahold of this, the next best thing I’ve seen is SOMP thematic notes.
4. Answer writing:
It goes without saying that this part is indispensable. I practiced PYQs, and also joined SOMP hurricane answer writing batch. After the batch ended, I also joined KSG daily answer evaluation course- I used to choose questions, write the answers and send it for checking.
A word of advice: please don’t go for the daily answer writing stuff available for free on websites. You have an entire bank of questions available in the form of PYQs instead, practice those.
5. Test series:
I joined Shankar IAS test series. The questions were good and the papers were also checked quickly. They even called to check if all my submitted answer sheets were checked. This was in stark contrast to their optional test series which were not good at all.
My advice: join their GS test series and not their optional test series.
6. Value addition:
Value addition mostly consists of diagrams (I drew them in geography and in sociology as well) and mapping. Like I said, be proficient in India map and world map. You should be able to draw Indian map with both eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back.
GS 1 is the only GS paper with a large amount of static portion. You can score very good marks in it provided you cover it well.
Strategy for GS2 by Ishan Sinha IAS
This paper was the one I was always scared of, and yet the one in which I always got good marks. I scored 108 this year and last year I got decent marks of 104.
GS2 consists broadly of polity, governance, social justice and international relations. Will post about them separately.
1. My main source for polity was Laxmikant in both prelims and mains. In case of mains, the reading strategy was a little different. I have discussed this in more detail in Value addition.
2. For certain topics, I followed Vision value addition notes (easily available in the market). These topics include: Representation of People’s Act, comparison of Indian Constitution with others. I made proper notes of these topics.
3. I also separately made a separate A4 sheet with definitions of basic concepts like separation of powers, secularism etc. I could use these definitions in the introduction of answers.
1. I mostly used two sources for this: Vision class notes (bought from the market) and IAS Yogesh Patil sir’s notes on governance (available on his channel in telegram)
2. I made separate notes for certain topics e.g e-governance
1. Used mostly Smriti Shah maam’s notes for this.
2. Made notes of important topics like hunger, poverty, education and healthcare. I will share these notes.
IR consists of two portions, the static part and the dynamic part. The static part will actually fetch you marks, the dynamic is for value addition.
1. Static part was covered from SOMP notes.
2. Dynamic part was covered from newspaper editorials and articles. I used to write down any value addition material on the margins of my static notes.
a) Case laws are extremely helpful for adding value to answers. I maintained a one page note for all important cases.
b) Reading Laxmikant for mains is a little different. I focused on major topics like separation of powers (made a one page note from it), decentralisation of powers, panchayats and municipalities etc. The first few chapters like FR, DPSP, FD etc can be used for value addition to your answers.
c) For every major topic I read from Laxmikant, I also used to Google the problems and steps taken. For instance, for the topic of speaker, I googled the problems associated with speaker’s office.
d) I focused broadly on the major topics mentioned in Laxmikant: Legislature, executive, basic structure, federal structure etc. I read these chapters more comprehensively.
2. For topics like social justice, data is extremely important. I followed a book called Quantum Jump by Nitin Shakya sir for basic data. For more data, I followed Shruti Sharma maam’s notes on society (available on telegram). I followed only the data from her notes, didn’t read it for anything else but that.
3. For IR, I kept a tab on basic data, like volume of trade between two countries. Apart from this, SOMP thematic notes were extremely helpful for value addition. They had a readymade conclusion template in several topics which I could use.
4. Governance: there are certain initiatives which I used in almost every answer e.g. sevottam model, citizen’s charter, e-governance. I made diagrams of these initiatives in my notes for quick revision.
1. I followed SOMP hurricane answer writing batch for periodic answer writing.
2. I joined Shankar IAS test series for mains as I mentioned yesterday.
3. I also used to practice the PYQs regularly for proper answer writing practice. Even if I couldn’t practice writing the answers, I used to brainstorm the questions without writing them.
Keep in mind that the marking in GS2 is a generally a little more liberal as compared to GS3 and GS1. So getting 100+ in it is not as difficult as it is in the other subjects. (Please don’t blame me if UPSC suddenly goes crazy, which it is prone to)
GS3 strategy by Ishan Sinha IAS
I genuinely have no clue as to what UPSC wants from aspirants in this paper. In all my attempts, I scored the lowest in this paper, while after giving the paper, each time I felt the paper had gone well. I was also extremely well prepared in this paper, and yet never got good marks. Why, I’m still trying to figure out.
Considering my low marks, I would suggest you guys to follow the strategy of someone else who scored better marks. I’ll still post my own strategy nevertheless, but please don’t take this as the ideal way.
GS3 consists of environment, disaster management, economy, internal security, SnT and agriculture.
a) I had followed Mrunal Sir’s notes for economics. I made separate notes from these notes from a mains perspective.
b) The relative importance of pillars of economy changes when Mains is considered. Infrastructure, Mfg and services sector, budget becomes more important than banking, GDP and others.
c) The budget and economic survey is important for mains. For both of these, I used Vision IAS summary. I didn’t make separate notes for economic Survey, I simply highlighted in the summary itself.
a) I kept the syllabus at hand, and made notes of every point mentioned in it. For instance, food processing, upward and downward linkages, major crops, irrigation system etc.
b) I also referred to Mrunal Sir’s agriculture handout for government schemes related to agriculture. I used to mention these schemes in my answers.
a) I followed SOMP thematic notes exclusively for this. Didn’t read anything else. It is a gold mine as far as environment is concerned.
4. Disaster management:
a) Again, I followed SOMP notes for this.
b) I practiced India map thoroughly to draw and explain the frequency of disasters e.g. I used to draw the landslide prone areas if questions on landslide was asked.
c) I also made a one page note out of the Sendai Framework, so I could use it in answers.
Keep in mind that UPSC is moving away from straightforward questions on disasters. E.g. they won’t ask why floods occur and how to resolve them, they’ll ask about community participation in flood management.
a) Again followed SOMP notes for this.
b) I followed the explained page of IE and newspaper editorials for current affairs. Apart from this, I used to do value addition from model answers in case I came across a question in a test series which was new to me.
6. Internal security:
a) Initially I read a book called internal security of India by Ashok Kumar IPS. However, it doesn’t address the basic need of the syllabus, although it’s a good book.
b) I made notes out of every point mentioned in the syllabus (for internal security). This is extremely important as UPSC often asks direct questions from the syllabus e.g. they asked a direct question on the linkage between money laundering and terrorism, which is mentioned verbatim in the syllabus.
c) I read important topics like cybersecurity from SOMP thematic notes. These notes were so good I used it during my interview preparation as well.
1. Data is extremely important for GS3. Nitin Shakya’s Quantum Jump is a good book for data. Whenever I used to come across important data, I wrote it down in my notes.
2. Making notes out of topics in the syllabus is important. E.g. assume a topic like upward and downward linkages (agriculture)- I googled the definitions of both, what they consist of. Then I made notes out of each of these subtopics that I came across while reading about forward and downward linkages.
(I will share my notes.)
3. Keep in mind that geography, environment and disaster management goes hand in hand- you can use your geography knowledge to add value to your answers.
Test series advice by Ishan Sinha IAS
Shankar IAS mains test series and SOMP hurricane answer writing.
Again, I would suggest you guys to not use my approach as a blueprint. Obviously there was a mistake in my strategy, which is why I got low marks.
A few thoughts regarding test series, since many of you are thinking of joining year long test series:
1. If there is any huge ‘fad’ that has taken the market by storm, it is these year-long, or 2 year long or 10 year long test series. Let me tell you right now, those are absolutely rubbish. All of them are nothing but ways to get more money from the aspirants.
2. Ask yourself this, when do we write a test, or an examination? When we are prepared, or when we have adequate content to write in a question. In the initial days of preparation we don’t have proper content, our basics are not clear, we don’t have adequate knowledge of how to frame an answer. If you think that attempting tests will give you any of the above, then you are sorely mistaken.
3. All that these tests do is provide questions, check your copies and provide model answers. In most cases, the copies are checked after 10-11 days, by which time we forget what we had written. They never tell you or advice you as to how to clear your basics or build content – they mostly provide some extra points with respect to the question you have attempted.
They never tell you how to frame your answers better.
Also, know that model answers are not the perfect answer to a question. The main role of model answers are to provide aspirants with value addition material, which will benefit them in mains. But what use is this one year before appearing in mains? By the time mains comes, new issues will crop up, topics will become redundant and new ones will come up.
4. Tests are exhausting. When you appear for a test, you will not be able to study for the rest of the day. Also, when we join a test series, our preparation becomes targeted towards that test, and not the larger picture, because FOMO sets in.
When to join test series:
After the prelims. Full stop. If you are giving mains this year, then you can join now or after the results. If you are giving mains next year, then join it after prelims 2024. This applies to both GS and Optional.
Save your money and don’t invest it in these year-long tests. Instead, invest it in books, notes, or even a tablet (you can get a good tablet at the same price of these year-long tests)
Thoughts on current affairs:
I just read the newspapers. Neither did I make any notes from it. If you are feeling FOMO for making notes for current affairs, GT 365, BST 785, DST 995, SST 695 and whatnot all will become available before prelims.
I never read any yearly current affairs magazine like those.
SOMP thematic notes. Apart from this, newspaper editorials become extremely important. No need to make notes, but I followed a particular pattern to write down important stuff, which I’ll share.
Mapping strategy of Ishan Sinha, AIR 234
This part is the most scoring part of history optional. Strategy I followed :
1. I made proper notes of both sites and brief descriptions. Sites location took me the better part of a month, as I googled almost every site to get as much accuracy as possible.
However, these locations are still not as accurate as they should be, so please cross-check the minor sites.
2. UPSC is taking a very strange pattern whereby they are giving a blank map every alternate year, and state maps the other year. My suggestion would be to practice on a blank map with your own guidelines, they can be superimposed on a state map easily. The other way around is a little difficult.
3. After the prelims, I used to give my practice maps to my father and ask him to mark 20 sites from those on a blank map. I then used to practice identifying those sites. It’s better if you do this with someone who already has history optional.
4. PYQs are extremely important as far as mapping is considered. Practice all the PYQ mapping questions from 2013 onwards. Selfstudyhistory has a compilation of this.
5. I used to practice maps as long as I was revising or reading ancient history. When I read the other branches, I did not practice it. I used to give around 30 mins to mapping regularly as long as I read ancient.
Please don’t be worried much about scoring less in mapping or being unable to identify sites. I identified just 8-10 sites correctly this year, and still got 142.
Also, I made these notes in a way so I could understand them. Never actually thought I would be sharing them to others, so pardon my presentation.
Essay strategy of Ishan Sinha, AIR 234
I was relatively comfortable with essay, as I have been writing for magazines since school. Plus, this is the only paper where you will have some time to think.
Essays are of two types: philosophical and factual. Upsc is focussing more on the former nowadays.
1. I was more comfortable with this than factual essays, because here I didn’t have to remember facts and figures. I mostly followed a pattern of intro(1-1.5 pages), body part 1(thesis), body part 2(antithesis) and conclusion (at least 1 page)
2. Thesis is the part of the body where I used to write and support the statement given e.g. if the statement is ‘Peace is better than war’ then I would give examples to support that statement in this part.
3. Antithesis is the part where I used to give the counter view, e.g. for the above statement, I would give examples countering all the statements I gave in the first part. Generally, I used to make this part conditional. E.g the pattern would be that yes, peace is better but there are issues in that too, or certain conditions need to exist for that peace to be better.
4. Examples are the king of essays. I used to give one example at least for every statement I made. Again, refrain from too many examples, limit such examples to a maximum of two per paragraph. N.B. please stop giving Gandhiji as an example in every topic. Aur bhi examples hai duniya me. Not saying ki don’t give him as an example at all, but not more than once in the same paper.
5. There were some cases where the thesis-antithesis logic couldn’t be followed. In these cases, I used to give examples supporting the topic in the first part of the body, and in the second part, I used to give the reasons why I gave those statements.
6. In the conclusion, I used to summarise my points, and then depending on the question I used to either give a way forward or give some Indian examples or steps taken.
In all my three attempts, I never attempted any factual essays in the actual paper, as my hold over datas and facts is very poor. However, I did practice factual essays in mocks.
1. Data and figures are a must in these essays.
2. I followed the same pattern as given above.
3. Writing a way forward is important in these essays. I used to write this in the conclusion part.
Please don’t draw diagrams in essays. This is not a GS paper.
I followed Anudeep Durishetty sir’s book on essays and his notes. I also made my own notes, which I’ve shared below. No need to buy the book, it’s available in pdf format for free.
Please don’t give the paper without practising essays first. I wrote 8 essay papers this year before the mains. No need to write so many, but write at least 4-6. I had enrolled in KSG for essay mock tests, where I wrote 6 and another two at Shankar.
Attempting the paper:
1. Don’t start writing as soon as you get the paper. Spend at least 20-30 mins brainstorming for points, arranging those points and thinking of examples before writing the essay. First make the structure of the essay in the rough sheets before actually writing it.
2. I used to think or brainstorm for 30 mins, after which I would start writing the essay, in both parts. Trust me, you’ll have more than enough time to complete the paper. Essays are unlike the other GS papers.
3. Quotes or anecdotes: entirely depends on you. I generally used a quote in the intro in one essay, and an anecdote in the other. Don’t be afraid of using well known quotes, they are fine as long as they are in the context of the topic.
A word of advice: avoid using quotes in the intro if the topic you are attempting is already in the form of a quote. It looks odd. You can use it in the conclusion though.
Sharing my essay notes below.
Only one way to score good in essays: practice, practice, practice!