Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet, Age, Biography, Notes

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Biography

This is Utkarsh, AIR 55 in CSE 2020. 322 in Maths (highest), 121 in Ethics (top 10).

The post focuses on Maths and Ethics for mains, and interview.

My background:
Originally from Bihar, I was born and brought up in Hazaribag, Jharkhand.

My parents are both govt employees. My father serves as a junior engineer in Jharkhand PWD, while my mother serves as PGT teacher in +2 Zila School Hazaribag. As a middle class family, we’ve had our fair share of challenges. But the experiences and my parents’ decisions embibed a respect for education, hardwork, spirit of service.

I did bulk of my schooling from DAV Hazaribag. I was a shy introvert kid who spoke little, and had few friends, but was generally treated well because he was good in academics. I occasionally got a top 3 position in class academics, but that wasn’t the norm. However I participated enthusiastically in various olympiads like by SOF and coaching exams. I bagged AIR 8 in BITS class 10th (Brilliant Tutorials entrance), and another rank in 20s in FTRE (FIITJEE entrance).

Because I enjoyed Maths and problem solving, I gravitated towards JEE preparation. With some hardwork, passion, and good guidance and peer group, I landed an AIR 5 in IIT JEE Advance 2013, and got admitted in IIT Bombay Computer Science.

If my school time developed my academic curiosity, my time at IIT Bombay developed my personality. A hitherto introvert kid who had never participated in extracurriculars and leadership experiences, I decided to focus on my personality development. We participated in literary club activities, bagged 1st prize in an ad making competition (engg candidates might find this hilarious https://youtu.be/ogySuflnAxk), played lots of card and board games (mafia, settlers of catan, dominion – anyone?). I also got a chance to work in large teams for college festivals and hospital council. We went trekking frequently in the nearby Sahyadris, a habit that continued even in Bangalore later.

As internship coordinator, I coordinated with companies and universities for opportunities for students. I also enjoyed serving as Teaching Assistant. The experiences improved my communication skills at level of small and large groups, organisational skills and even leadership skills, apart from meeting small pocket expenditure. And I enjoyed that so much that I served as TA for 5 out of my 8 semesters! I was sought out by professors for TAing, and appointed head TA for 2 courses in my final year.

We also participated in competitions like Microsoft Build the Shield (cybersecurity), Capital One Dataquest. This is apart from industrial exposure at Xerox, American Express.

Something that stayed with me though was a desire for service. Civil services was a natural fit for that. But I landed a work opportunity at Goldman Sachs Bangalore and decided to work before preparing. It gave me corporate exposure, more teamwork experience and opportunity for many other events like Oxfam Trailwalker. It also provided me with financial independence so I wasn’t fully dependent on parents once I quit.

My experience at GS strengthened my resolve towards civil services, and I took a drop after 1 year.

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper Sharing his learning from 1st Experience

First attempt

Before quitting GS, I had been preparing for approx 2 months – newspapers and some NCERTs. I took a 3 week leave at home before moving on to Delhi in July 2018. The reasons for moving to Delhi were to join a coaching to provide roadmap and content, an effective peer group and an atmosphere dedicated to study.

Studying at Vajiram saved me from drowning in the ocean of content, and provided me some dedicated friends like Priyanka Godara and revived connection with Harshal Mahajan. The classes can be non-interactive due to 300-600 students in a class, but I studied well and usually had 5-7 questions in every class. That helped me develop a rapport with teachers while also acting as motivation to study harder. An X-factor was also excellent personal rapport with Satvik Bhan sir. He would provide feedback on my GS and essay answersheets promptly (usually coachings take 7-15 days), apart from acting as a mentor.
By Nov though, I was more selective in attending classes, covering content from Vajiram’s yellow books and reference books instead.

I also joined Vajiram for Maths but my experience wasn’t great. And I stopped attending classes midway, while covering the topics from Vajiram notes. The first iteration was done by Jan 2019. Further 20-30% syllabus wasn’t covered in those notes, that I needed to cover post prelims from IMS notes.

As a result, I couldn’t balance GS well. And I wrote very few answers, merely 10 GS tests.

Although I managed to get an interview call, it was by the barest of margins. Some of my working friends took mocks to begin with, that helped me open up to directed conversations. I gave 3 mocks and had a generally good feedback. A stellar 193 in interview couldn’t get me through after 331/1000 in GS.

My marksheet for first attempt follows below.

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet
Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet

As you can see, I got a good 193 in interview and acceptable 303 in Maths.
But essay was below par and GS was unacceptable at 331/1000.

At this point, I want to highlight that I recognised Maths as my area of strength. A score of 340-350 was difficult but feasible.

I also felt reasonably confident about interview with 180+.

With those scores, an average essay (120+) and GS (380+) would have been enough for a top 50 rank.

This is a strategy that I think can be applied by other Maths aspirants, tweaked to meet individual needs.

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper Sharing his learning from 2nd Experience

Second attempt

My UPSC marksheet told me many things: my maths preparation was on right track, my personality seemed suitable for civil services. It also told me I needed to focus on GS. That became the goal.

Fortunately my interview was done before lockdown was imposed. I used that lockdown period to practice Maths well. When the results came on Aug 4, 2020, I was heartbroken, but had Maths ready.

I prepared for prelims for 2 months and was reasonably confident. Yet the paper took me by surprise, I had to mentally calm myself down a few times in the exam hall, telling myself that the paper was tough for everyone. I was sure about barely 40 questions, and had to guesstimate others, attempting 90+ questions. It’s an art that develops with practice, and is essential in an exam as uncertain as UPSC prelims. I remember coming out of exam hall after first paper and jokingly telling Papa that there’s little point attempting CSAT paper. The final cutoff of 92 attests to the difficulty.

I think the difference between my first and second attempt was how efficiently I used the period between prelims and mains. Because I was ready to write tests in Maths, I could freely work on GS. And that I did.

I made more detailed notes, added more value addition notes (quotes, committee reports, data etc). And I practiced more. Forum’s AWFG (Answer Writing Focus Group) answer writing was very useful – they upload 1 hour question papers 4 times a week. I also joined Shankar IAS mains test series, and wrote 1 test per week.

I wanted to focus separately on ethics, and joined Lukmaan Ethics test series. I also referred extensively to Forum’s Red Book for ethics. That is wonderful in ensuring coverage of concepts, points and relevant examples.

Those 100 days were the busiest period of my life till now. I would write half tests of past Maths test series daily, IMS test on Sunday, Lukmaan ethics test and Shankar mains test weekly, essay test fortnightly, and AWFG every alternate day. Well over 25 GS tests, 35 maths tests, 5 essay tests.

I also attempted open tests of Forum and Shankar for GS, and open test of Aryabhatta Ashram for Maths.

I was satisfied with my GS1, GS3 performance and less satisfied with GS2, GS4. My Maths was quite good – I attempted 440/500 correct attempt (estimating conservatively), finishing P1 in 2h 15m. That would normally have meant 335+.

With 2nd wave, there was ample time for interview preparation. My DAF was largely unchanged, so I used a lot of notes from last year. But I had the time and hence I appeared for many mocks and discussions: Drishti, Shankar, Unacademy, KSG, Vajirao and Reddy, iAnugrah to name a few.

My interview day wasn’t the best. Smita Nagraj ma’am went a bit aggressive, and that affected my confidence. One member had apparently served in my district Hazaribag, and I couldn’t meet his expectations. I told people I would be fortunate to get 170+.

The results speak for themselves. My GS saw a huge jump from 331 to 386, my Maths improved from 303 to 322. Surprisingly, I scored higher in GS2, GS4, contrary to my perception. The interview saw a sharp dip to 171.

It’s all well that ends well.

My essay remains below par, and so did GS1, GS3. I under-performed in the interview, so 171 is justified.

What pulled me through was Maths, and Ethics. 322 in Maths seems to be highest, while 121 in Ethics seems to be top 10 this time, with highest seemingly Arth Jain at 124 Divya Mishra at 129.

I would be sharing detailed strategies soon, with specific focus on Maths and Ethics.

Maths Optional strategy by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

Maths strategy

Cover IMS notes religiously. They’re enough for 80% questions that you may see in the exam. If the need is felt, you can refer to books followed by other toppers (Divyanshu Choudhary mentioned some in the IMS seminar shared in a previous message). I didn’t.

Focus on understanding the concepts and practising the solved and unsolved problems in your notebook. There will be some things that you’d need to memorise – reduction of 2nd degree equation to conic, real analysis tests for sequence and series convergence, Charpit’s method etc.

Try to do proofs where possible. You can skip proofs that seem complex or not important in first iteration. But try and widen your coverage each time you revise from notes.

Note the problems where you get stuck the first time. Both from IMS notes and any books and test series you solve. I’ll share my problem sheet below (you’d note blank spaces after each question, those are hints).

I didn’t make notes out of IMS notes because they are already so concise. I used to solve all problems and prove all theorems each time I revised from notes (can skip repetitive problems but do everything else).

Ensure you solve the PYQs, they’re your radar for preparation and a validation that you’re doing the right things. Also ensure you join a test series after you complete the syllabus. Writing tests in 3h is quite different from solving while revising.

A good rule of thumb is to have Maths well prepared before prelims, and focus only on practising tests and light revision after between prelims and mains. That would free up time for GS prep, often hard to balance for us #Maths candidates.

To get a good practice in Maths tests, I advise solving test series for past 2-3y apart from ongoing test series. You can also look at problem sheets prepared by Mahitosh sir of Aryabhatta Ashram. They’re on the difficult side but can help round up your preparation, specially for theorems and proofs.

Please also ensure you’ve practised solving 2 tests a day to build the stamina (not always, but definitely 3-4 times).


My friend Divyanshu Choudhary (AIR 30) has kindly agreed to share his Maths booklist on the request of some of you. Those of you who want more practice can solve them. Questions often end up repeating from those sources, so these maybe worth solving. But keep IMS notes as your first priority.

Linear Algebra – Notes

3D – PN Chatterjee

Calculus and Real Analysis – Krishna series, NP Bali, Malik Arora

Statics – Krishna series

Dynamics – Notes

Vectors – Notes

ODE, PDE – Raisinghania

Modern Algebra – Notes, Krishna series

LPP – Notes

Complex – Notes, Krishna series

CP & Numerical Analysis – Notes

Mechanics – PYQs (Notes are heavy so didnt do)

Fluid Mechanics –  PYQs (Notes are heavy so didnt do)

UPSC CSE 2019 Interview Transcript of Utkarsh Kumar

Transcript from CSE 2019 (first attempt)

Board: Sujata Mehta; 18th March afternoon
Computer science engineer, IIT Bombay
Work experience: Goldman Sachs
Hobbies: mountaineering etc

– Introduce yourself, mentioning education details and work experience
– Goldman Sachs: a well paying job; how did you leave it?
– What did you do at Goldman Sachs?
– Why do so many IITians end up in finance sector?
– Allegations of bias in data analytics? Should govt be cautious about adopting AI in governance?
– Did you study social sciences at your college?
– Are social sciences important for governance?

– Nelson Mandela and his governance model?
– Why do lots of tourists visit Egypt?
– How old are the pyramids?

– Avalanche during trekking -> how would you react?
– Why do avalanches occur?
– Why is density of ice higher than water on mountains?

M3 (aggressive, specially on govt bailing out Yes bank; chairman and M1 were nodding while I was answering M3 on that)
– Role of Goldman Sachs in 2008 financial crisis?
– Corporate executives earn huge salaries but are irresponsible; should we cap their salaries? (Jet, Yes bank)
– Why should govt take responsibility for their mistakes? (Yes bank etc)
– Credit Rating Agencies malfunctioning? Solutions?
– Where is Strait of Hormuz? Significance? In recent news?
– Chabahar port?

M4 (smiling throughout)
– Difference between climate change and global warming?
– Strait of Hormuz violence -> China’s response?
– Feasibility of Kra isthmus project? (I mentioned it in above answer)
– FATF? What can India do to push Pak into blacklist?
– Analysis of IBC?
– Economic stagnation due to Corona; your reaction?
– Should govt fund AI projects?
– Aadhaar PAN linkage: benefits, criticism?

– What does GDP miss? (I mentioned caregiving role of mothers and growth != development; she wanted something very specific that had been in debate recently)
– Anything else you want to tell us?

Comments: focused on diverse current issues, broadly linked to DAF areas (mountaineering, computer science, Goldman Sachs); it went rapid fire like (26 questions in 30 minutes); no facial responses from panelists but I was able to present most of my content. Result 193/275.

UPSC CSE 2020 Interview Transcript of Utkarsh Kumar

Transcript from CSE 2020 (second attempt)

Board: Smita Nagraj ma’am
15th Sept 2021, forenoon session
Relevant DAF pointers: computer science degree, Goldman Sachs work, mountaineering, Hazaribag district, Jharkhand
My responses are in brackets for context.

– Why leave Goldman Sachs? Did you feel you couldn’t succeed in corporate world?
– Will a person successful in private sector necessarily be successful in civil services? What qualities lead to success in the two fields?
– How to measure civil servant’s performance? (I mentioned people’s feedback along with CAPAR)
– Isn’t populism for politicians?
– Why companies engage with students on IIT campuses? (DAF mentioned a few events organised by corporates)
– Aren’t Indian companies active on campus? Did you not participate in their events?
– How many of your batchmates are currently in core computer science sector? How many in Indian companies?

– Oxfam report says $11T unpaid caregiving work by women globally, does that number sound right to you? Reasons for such large number? (Oxfam mentioned in my DAF)
– How to fix?
– How to fix the societal side – attitudinal change etc?
– Bitcoin: is it possible to enforce a complete ban?

– What should be our goal in next 50 years? (mentioned private sector while discussing goals for innovation)
– Why leave private sector then, you could make more impact there?
– Why Jharkhand not growing post bifurcation?
– You were born in Jharkhand, schooled in Jharkhand, how were you awarded Bihar Gaurav? (native place and domicile)

– Which is the annual award in mountaineering by GoI? (Tenzing Norgay adventure award) Why is it awarded on a specific date annually?
– Despite rich coal, mica reserves, Hazaribag didn’t develop industries? (he answered connectivity himself)
– How would you develop industries as Hazaribag DC? Give me specific steps.
– In Hazaribag, girls used to go to Mount Carmel, boys go to St Xaviers, and there’s St Columbus college – all Catholic institutions setup pre-independence. Why growth of education institutions slowed after independence? (I politely pointed out multiple institutes developed after independence, but he didn’t seem convinced; seemed to be looking for a specific reason)
– What steps would you take as Hazaribag DC to promote primary education?

– With more people using internet, cybersecurity has emerged as a concern. How to tackle the challenges?
– How to use computer science in healthcare?
– How to use computer science in diagnostics?
– MRI scan frequently recommended to Covid-19 patients. What are its negatives?
– What is CADD? (it was Computer Aided Drug Design)

Chairperson again
– You lived in Jharkhand most of your life. Why do you have Bihar domicile?

Comments: the interview remained aggressive for most part (Chairman, M2, M3), seemed more of a scrutiny than conversation; I felt I remained on backfoot for most time and couldn’t present all that I could. M3 had an in-depth understanding of Hazaribag (district of residence) and I couldn’t meet his expectations. 171/275 seems justified.

25-30 min total

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper Booklist

My booklist for GS and interview

– ancient: NCERT (RS Sharma), Tamil Nadu NCERT, Vajiram yellow book
– medieval: NCERT (read multiple times, didn’t make notes)
– modern: History of Modern India (Bipin Chandra), yellow book
– post independence: yellow book
– world history: Ojha sir’s notes, yellow book
– geography: NCERT (physical geo, Indian geo), yellow books (physical geo, Indian geo), PMF IAS (g)
– art and culture: above books on ancient and medieval, fine arts NCERT, Nitin Singhania (selective: architecture, sculpture, coinage and other historical sections), test series, lots of Google

– polity: NCERT, Laxmikanth for static, CA, Drishti IAS (g), Google important acts and their sections (WPA, EPA etc), Vajiram class notes
– governance: CA, Drishti IAS (g)
– IR: yellow book for static, CA

– economics: NCERTs, yellow book, CA
– science and tech: yellow book for static, CA, Google new terms
– security: CA, yellow book (light reading)
– environment: yellow book, Shankar IAS (can be read later, too bulky to be first source), DownToEarth (g)

– Vajiram class notes (Brijendra Singh sir, Pathak sir)
– thinkers: yellow book, lots of Googling
– Lexicon (not very useful, but worth a read)
– Forum IAS Red book (excellent compilation for CSE, but recommended as latter source)
– Pavan Kumar’s notes for case studies

(g) indicates preferred source after Googling, yellow book is Vajiram study material

Current affairs (CA)
– daily newspaper: The Hindu (made notes only sporadically)
– Vision IAS monthly magazines (religiously, read twice, notes made for mains and for prelims)
– lots of Googling

Other sources
– reverse learning from prelims and mains test series, interview transcripts
– PYQ compilations for prelims and mains
– PIB year ender for ministry wise schemes
– Drishti summaries for budget, ES, ARC2, other documents
– NITI Aayog Strategy @75 (light reading)
– Vision PT 365 (if time permits)
– can read like a novel out of interest: India After Gandhi (post independence), Prisoners of Geography (IR)

Interview sources
– Indian Express
– Hindustan (Hindi), state Economic Survey for state issues
– Wikipedia articles and extensive Googling on DAF linked terms and associated current issues
– Samkalp IAS sessions by civil servants
– selective reading of annual reports (or commentaries thereon) of associated institutions: IIT Bombay, Goldman Sachs, ABVIMAS
– own experiences related to hobbies (eg: mountains climbed)
– prepared answers till 2nd/3rd depth

Rule of thumb is to do 2 levels of study: NCERTs first and one step higher (coaching material, reference books etc). Your reference books can vary from those listed here, but stick to something many successful candidates have used.

Augment this heavily with current affairs in GS2, GS3.

How to study GS for UPSC CSE by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper ?

NCERTs (level 1)
Read first because simple and concise. Often class 6-12 recommended, but I did class 11-12 and that was enough for me. Recommend underlining in 2nd/3rd iteration so that it is more selective. Notes can be made on 2nd/3rd iteration too.

Reference books (level 2)
Given that NCERTs are done, basics should be in place. When reading these, try to connect to what you read and noted from NCERTs. As you also look at mains PYQs, your notes would over time reflect structure of mains answers. Try to understand and visualise things to the extent possible, and memorise what else remains important.

Try to also form basic structures to understand things. History and art-culture can be seen from themes (architecture, literature, coins etc) over time, and chronologically (kingdoms and associated features). Challenges and solutions to railways can be seen through financial, operational, governance angles. More on this while discussing note making. The more structured your content and understanding would be, the easier and lesser the need for memorisation.

It’s alright to feel a bit lost at this point, but revise multiple times and try to understand and remember more with each iteration.

Focus on maps, diagrams, flowcharts from books too. These add value to mains answers.

Current affairs
Read one newspaper daily – TH or IE. Try to identify news that seems relevant from CSE perspective – can skip political, regional, entertainment, sports. Newspaper builds a familiarity with popular issues and exposes candidate to opinions of experts (eg: Suhasini Haider and C Rajamohan for IR, C Rangarajan for economics, retired IPS officers on law and order and policing, MK Narayan on security etc); try spotting repeated names of authors when you read the paper. Thus it shapes attitude and thought process of candidate.
Again try and connect what you read here to your static reading from books. Eg: connect budget with budget proceedings (polity) and taxation, deficits, current and capital accounts (economics).

I hardly made notes from newspapers, they’re too detailed and specific for our purposes. But occasionally an article and its reasoning and arguments make sense for CSE – those can be noted down (eg: ex DGP Prakash Singh recommended linking central grants on law and order to police reforms implementation – that can be kept as way forward on police reforms).

Newspapers can also provide excellent examples for essay and Ethics (I used Kashmir’s WhatsApp based healthcare initiative as introduction in social media essays).

The bulk of my current affairs in GS2, GS3 was driven by Vision IAS monthly magazines – they can be relatively dull to read but are comprehensive and precise for our requirement. I used them to form structures of my GS notes and the content. I would read them twice underlining/highlighting and then make notes in my words.

In my 2nd attempt, I tried something different. I would look at the heading of the article in magazine and write on paper all that I thought was relevant, before reading the article. That provided instant revision, confidence in my knowledge and differential learning (learning only the difference) from the topic in magazine.

Other sources like ARC2, NITI Aayog strategy @75, Economic Survey etc can be covered once basic curriculum is covered. These sources provide good points in some areas, and can be used to round up the content. They also provide quotable commentaries (ARC2: “RTI is masterkey to good governance”; “citizen charters should not remain pious statements of noble ideals”). These are not replacement for primary sources.

Learning from tests and others’ answersheets
Would be covered in another post

Wishes to students by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

All the best for the prelims exam. It’s alright to know only 35-40 questions right, but confidently try to work out the rest. Your hardwork over past few months will pay off in better intuitive guesses.

PS: solve the CSAT paper seriously, have seen engineering friends (even from IITs) struggle to clear it

PPS: provide enough time for filling OMR, and avoid making mistakes there

How to make notes for UPSC CSE by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper?

Your #GS notes represent your thoughts and your knowledge. It’s where your learning from different sources (static and current affairs) comes together to create magic.

Mains exams are so designed that there is little time to think on the spot. You have 10-15 sec after reading the question before you begin writing. Good notes ensure you’re ready with content to be put on paper. You only have to tailor it into right format for the question demand. In that sense, it’s a game of guesswork of which dimensions are likely to be useful.

Different people have different styles of note taking. Some have in-depth notes, often with reports and screenshots gathered. Mine are summaries and points written after reading the source in detail, tailored to exam requirement.

1. My notes evolved organically over last 3 years. My earlier notes were a rehash of books and newspaper reports, and diverged from exam requirement. I rewrote them 6-7 times as I came across more knowledge and better answer structures. This is why I preferred online media for note-making (I used Notion, but you can also use Evernote, OneDrive etc). That also came handy when moving from Delhi to Hazaribag during lockdown (fewer books to carry).
2. My notes are structured with dimensions that reflected exam requirements. The goal is to transfer dimensions/sections from notes as it is to the mains answersheet. For 10 markers, 2-3 dimensions make up the answer; for 15 markers, it is 3-5.
3. I kept my notes brief and precise. That way I could revise them multiple times, and the habit of brevity reflected in my answers too.
4. I identified value addition points in different sections. These could be committee reports, relevant data, case studies and best practices (eg: Beed model of crop insurance), quotes (eg: “role of judiciary should be that of alarm clock, not timekeeper” for judicial activism), judgements (Mulgaonkar principles for contempt of court etc)
5. Ideally your notes should contain all that you know and you should know all of your notes. Once this synchronous state is reached, it’s easier to do new sources for differential learning (learning only the difference). This is how I read Forum’s red book on ethics.
6. Bring in flowcharts and diagrams aplenty in your notes. Specially in GS1, GS4.

As you write mains answers and get them evaluated, you’ll realise what you need to add to your notes, what is not needed, where you need to bring more depth. Shankar mains test asked Bentinck’s contributions; I realised my Governor-General wise analysis was shallow, and detailed it for all GGs. Consequently I answered the question on Curzon in CSE 2020 in-depth. Similarly after it asked Vijayanagar empire’s cultural contributions, I ended up noting down for other kingdoms too. This helped me in the question on Buddhism in Palas in CSE 2020.
This cycle (improve notes -> write answers -> improve notes) needs to run a few times before your notes become stellar.

I’ll share shortly some notes from GS1, GS2, GS3, GS4 that could exemplify what I discussed above. They should not be read for content, but for indication on how to organise your knowledge, and perhaps for value addition points.

Ethics strategy for UPSC CSE by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper?

Unlike other GS papers, Ethics requires high levels of application of studied concepts. It thus requires greater understanding, visualisation and practice. For the past 2 years at least, Ethics has been receiving significantly higher marks vs other GS papers, and thus deserves extra focus. 2019 saw Vishakha Yadav in extraordinary 160s, even 2020 sees Divya Mishra at 129, even as 110+ was rare in other GS papers in both years.

I practised Shankar mains test series, Lukmaan Ethics test series and Forum’s AWFG answer writing for effective practice in Ethics.

I managed 121 in Ethics, that should put me in top 10 category, and helped me secure a good rank.

1. Ethics sees a lot of values and terminology: integrity, accountability, transparency, compassion etc. These should be understood precisely and defined in own words. Examples should also be noted at personal and public levels. Also important to understand the nuances and differences – accountability vs responsibility, compassion vs sympathy vs empathy vs pity, persuasion vs social influence  etc. Further significance, challenges etc for each value can be explored.
2. Quotes are often asked. A good approach is to explain the quote in simple examples, and then discuss them in today’s context. Try to bring in governance examples, but also diverse examples from different spheres.
3. Public administration needs to be studied from ethical perspective: corruption, citizen charter (accountability), RTI (transparency). Same questions can come in governance (GS2), but are answered driven by values, socialisation, thinker theories in GS4. Corporate governance is based on understanding of different stakeholders (shareholders, management, board of directors, customers, society, regulators etc).
4. Value addition:
– committee reports (Nolan’s 7 values, Hota on civil servants, ARC2, Uday Kotak on corporate governance)
– examples of personal and public nature, specially from exemplary leaders (Satish Dhawan on leadership, M Visvesaraya on integrity etc)
– quotes to break monotony in answers (ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, FAIL BETTER)
– quoting thinkers where possible (eg: “Aquinas’ just war” on war and peace, Vivekananda’s cosmopolitanism on global issues, Gandhi’s 7 cardinal sins, CSR as Gandhi’s trusteeship doctrine)
– flowcharts to convey linkages
Quoting thinkers and usage of flowcharts are areas I still had to improve in my ethics answers.
5. Thinkers: a PhD isn’t needed, but need to identify theories and keywords associated with each thinker. Also try linking eminent leaders with values (eg: Nehru: democracy, scientific temper; Ambedkar: courage, justice). In answersheet, can elaborate on these terms with appropriate examples.
6. Recommend starting the test with case studies: scope for greater variability in marks out of 20, fresh mind, cannot be solved well under pressure. In exam, I wrote 3 10 markers in hurry (4 min each), using flowcharts to convey my arguments. But I still managed 121; this seems difficult if I had solved 1-2 case studies in 7-8 min each.

Case studies:
– practice to cover diverse types of case studies (obvious choice, dilemma, ethical analysis etc); 2020 GS4 paper saw 6 different types of case studies
– read the case study twice to ensure you don’t miss something, underlining as required
– start by summarising issue in 1-2 sentences, try linking with recent incidents (eg: migrant exodus, Tamil Nadu custodial torture etc)
– stakeholder analysis: try and mention interests of stakeholder in one line (eg: woman Sarpanch hesitant to carry out responsibilities as Sarpanch); identify ‘hidden’ stakeholders (eg: CDSCO in case of drug quality, approval)
– identify ethical issues; try to uncover underlying deeper issues too
– solutions: short term and long term (eg: upper caste villagers opposing Dalit school cook -> resolve situation in short term, tackle casteism in long run); try to leverage existing institutional mechanisms to the extent possible (govt schemes, regulatory authorities, experts like scientists etc)

  • where needed (specially in dilemmas), justify approach using ethical theories (justice, virtues, utilitarianism, deontology etc), thinkers etc
  • end on optimistic note with something substantial: DPSPs (eg: A47 on public health), SDGs, values that guide your approach (eg: integrity, courage of conviction etc)
  • if your reading speed is slow, that might affect your case studies (1 page long case studies in 2020)
  • try to bring in terms like devotion of duty, dereliction of duty, courage of conviction; they get your point across in few words; also bring in international principles (eg: WEF’s Blockchain bill of rights, Asilomar principles for AI regulation) where applicable


  • class notes of Brijendra Singh and Mukul Pathak sir: quite detailed and comprehensive
  • Lexicon: read it like an NCERT; structured for UPSC and has some good examples, but short on depth in many topics
  • Forum IAS Red book: comprehensive material for exam perspective, suitable as 2nd/3rd source (relevant points, numerous examples) https://forumias.com/post/detail/GS-Paper-IV-Theory-Red-Book-1597751101
  • Pavan Kumar sir’s notes on case studies

Shared above some sample notes on GS4, and will share answersheets in a while.

Role of coaching for UPSC-CSE by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

– initial guidance on what to study and what depth to study
– teachers to clear doubts
– possibly a good peer circle of 2-3 friends to compete with and socialise with
– ecosystem in Delhi of competition and motivation

– expensive (foundation course can cost ₹1.5-2L)
– cannot cover more than 50-60% syllabus usually
– at 300-600 students per classroom, little scope for interactions and questions
– possible wastage of time (since GS can be covered by self at own pace)

For me, the foundation course at Vajiram prevented me from getting lost in the ocean of knowledge. I was dedicated in covering the content taught in class and studying the level 2 books myself, and usually had 5-7 questions in each class. As I developed a rapport with teachers and good image, I was able to ask more questions. I found a few people who were also motivated and sincere (shoutout to Priyanka Godara and Harshal Mahajan).

I also joined a current affairs discussion course by Satvik Bhan sir (Vajiram), in a 30-40 sized class. The discussions helped me develop structures for GS answers, and ask a ton of questions. Like I have mentioned in a previous post, he was crucial as a mentor and for providing timely feedback on my answersheets.

Further, in 5-6 months, I was selective in attending approx 50% classes.

If you can afford to join a classroom course, it can save you some time and enable better preparation, but you’ll still have to do the hardwork yourself. Also worth noting that many candidates these days are cracking exam without joining classroom course (Yash Jaluka and Simi Karan ma’am come to mind).

Motivational PPost by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

The results are out. Those of you who have made it, congratulations, you’ve cleared one of the toughest prelims exams. Now there shouldn’t be an iota of slackness in your preparation. These 2 months can provide your preparation an extra boost. Hopefully you have a well functioning framework within which you’re finding your weak areas and working on them.
This period is also crucial for bringing in value addition to your answers.

Those of you who have not made it, please take a moment to rationally review your situation. If your syllabus has gaps, work on them. If substantial chunk has been covered, it makes sense to continue preparing as if you’re writing the mains. This is the time to overhaul your preparation, fix any structural problems and make a fresh attempt in 2022.

There maybe some of you who cannot continue prep full time, for financial or mental or any other reasons, this maybe a good time to find a part time/full time opportunity. Here’s a group for such purpose. Comment on this post to get link.

All the best to all of you!

Pen used by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

Pen used by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC

These are the refills I used up in the period between prelims and mains this time.

This is the time to revise your notes and attempt as many tests as possible. On most days, I used up 1 refill a day. Putting in a new refill gave me so much joy that I had achieved my mini target. That was a further motivation to write more.

This is the stage of the exam that you’re building up for. Hopefully your well oiled machinery is running well towards your mains goal.

You’ll get your break after mains, but until then, it should be the high intensity prep. This is where the UPSC marathon enters 100m mode.

Keep hustling!

Maths Optional tips by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

Some of you are asking for the order of covering Maths topics.
In my opinion, one shouldn’t worry about the order very much. I did the IMS notes more or less sequentially, and would pick up an easier topic when I wanted a less intense study period.
Just keep in mind that P2 is 60-65% of syllabus due to harder topics, and time should be allotted accordingly.

Kanishak Kataria sir has shared his order here. You can follow that too. The blog also has a topic wise strategy, that was requested by some of you earlier.

Motivational Post by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Motivation
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. Arth Jain UPSC AIR 16 applied that to his daily study hours.
Forest app grows trees for your focused time. This image is Arth Jain’s forest over the year 2020. The 3811.5 hours translates to average 10.44 focused hours per day. That remarkable consistency is partly the reason he is AIR 16.

To re-emphasise the importance of the period between prelims and mains, here are Arth’s forests for Nov 2020 and Dec 2020. Average ~12 hours a day consistently!

Setting mini goals can add to our motivation (be it growing a tree or putting in a new refill). Keep hustling!

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Motivation
Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Motivation

Arth Jain UPSC AIR 16 Daily Timetable

Arth’s daily routine

I tried to have a fixed schedule as far as possible. Consistency goes a long way in our UPSC Journey, and I personally believe the combination of Consistency & Discipline is extremely rewarding.

Wake up @ 5:20.
– Slot 1: Until ~ 8 AM.
– Breakfast
– Slot 2: Say 8:15 to 10:15 or so.
– Half Hour Break.
– Slot 3: Until Lunch ~ 12:30.
– Lunch + Break
– Slot 4: Start ~ 1 PM. Till 3:30.
– Break ~ Till 4:30.
– Slot 5 ~ Till 7 PM.
– Dinner + Break.
– Slot 6 ~ 8 PM to 9:30 or so.
Go to Sleep @ 10 PM.

DISCLAIMER: This is approximate. Closer to exam, schedule would be slightly intense (12-13 hrs a day or more). Away from exam, maybe 11-12 hrs or less.

Important Points to Note:
– My study sessions were small but many. I did not like doing 3-4 hr sessions which many do.
– Sometimes same subject and topic would drag across slots, sometimes change.
– Between Pre and Mains, I tried different balancing strategies. Example ~ Maths in Pre Lunch slots and GS in Post Lunch slots, was one such strategy.

A reminder not to take CSAT lightly. Some of my IITian friends too failed to clear due to CSAT.

Recommend solving at least 1-2 tests to get an idea of where you stand. Previous year papers are good place to start. Give yourself time to improve, instead of practicing 2 weeks before prelims.

Maths and logic part is on the easier side, but needs some practice. English is hard but you should be able to do the easier questions.

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet
Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet
Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet
Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Marksheet
My prelims marksheet for CSE 2020.
My prelims preparation has been driven by repeated and consistent practice.
After covering syllabus from booklist (available in a previous post), I practiced many many tests. I did complete test series of 3 coachings – Vajiram, Vision, Forum.
Such extensive practice improves guesstimate ability, and exposes gap in preparation. It also improves reading speed and time management. Further it’s also a way to reverse learn (you come across a new organisation -> you Google it or read the summary from answer key).
While solving, I would avoid looking at options until I had read the question and figured out the answer where possible. I would also take a guess in 50-50 chances and some 33% chances. It usually came to 90-95 questions.
I would finish the first iteration in 1h to 1h15m, and then do a revision while marking answers in OMR sheet. Post test, it makes sense to identify why we missed a certain question. If it’s due to knowledge gap, study the topic. If it’s due to uncertain recall, revise it. If it’s an obscure question, don’t worry about it. And so on. If it’s a silly mistake, note it and try to avoid repeating it.
Unlike prelims champs, my scores in mock tests were in modest 90s and 100s. But I kept practicing with hope, and managed to clear cutoff comfortably in the exam.

Higher level strategies by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

Leveling up

As we give time and effort to different subjects, our strategies evolve. I want to share some higher level strategies that I adopted in my second attempt. Don’t get disheartened if you’re in early stages of prep, but can take them as ambitious targets for your prep.

1. New content in GS: look at heading/subheading and jot down all I knew on the topic, in shorthand. Then look at the new content and focus on the new portions (differential learning). I did this specially for Vision monthly magazines, and was able to do them in 2 days, and later even in 1 day. The red book on ethics was covered this way too.
2. Maths: solving half a test daily with target 4 questions in 1.5 hours. It’s hard, but attainable. Also tried to do first iteration in Maths tests in 2h15m to 2h30m, and used remaining time for revision and unsolved questions.
3. Arth used to solve GS tests in 2.5 hours. He would get 90+ in Vision tests and have buffer time for himself. That helped in the actual exam hall. (I never reached this stage, I still needed 3 hours 😅)

These are shared not to dishearten you, but to raise the bar higher. Onwards and upwards.

Motivational Post by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Motivation
Important to start early and put in enough iterations

Interview strategy by Utkarsh Kumar UPSC Topper

– Take enough time to fill the DAF II once it is out. Ensure you don’t miss out on an achievement or interest because you overlooked or thought it wasn’t relevant. When in doubt, check with others in service or coaching faculty.

– Brainstorm yourself to identify the relevant questions, further explore through past year transcripts

– you can have your good friends (aspirants and non-aspirants) take initial interviews to get yourself to open up. I did that in my first attempt and found it useful.

– Recommend attending sessions by civil servants, often organised by coachings like Samkalp IAS. They can be a motivation booster and bring forth fresh ideas and case studies for quoting

– DAF discussion sessions are usually not very helpful, but can still attend one. I found Vision’s decent.

– Ensure you space out your mock interviews, give yourself time to chew on feedback provided, take what seems relevant, ignore what doesn’t.

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