I was allotted Prof. Chalam’s (written below as CM) board for the UPSC Interview, in the afternoon session. There were four other members in the board (written below as M1, M2, M3, M4, where M3 and M4 were ladies).


– Why did you opt for civil services after leaving your professional line?

– What is more important – public services or improving public services?

– What was your degree all about?

– What is the difference between a mobile phone and a computer?

– What is the difference between IT and ICT?

– Which Indian invented the chip?

– Why do Indian engineers/IT professional mostly go abroad in the Silicon Valley?

– Why is India not doing well in Hardware?- What do you know about e-governance in Punjab?


– The UNSC recently passed  a resolution to impose a no-fly zone on Libya. What is India’s reaction to this, and what is you say on this matter?

– Tomorrow they may do the same in Kashmir at the pretext of misgovernance, or violence by the Govt. So is the UNSC resolution right? Or is it wrong?

– Is India only worried/concerned only because of the civilian casualties in Libya?

– Have you heard about the ongoing piracy by Somalian people?

– Even after so much military and naval power in the world, why is this Somalian piracy still continuing as a global menace?

– Have you heard of a country called Myanmar?

– Why is India not concerned about democracy in Myanmar?

– Suppose you are on a train, rushing for your UPSC interview, but you do not have a ticket. You give the Ticket-checker some money to let you ride the train (w/o ticket). Do you support this action? What is your say? What would you do?


– You have an interesting name. What is the meaning of your name?- What does the word ‘Punjab’ mean? What are those five rivers?

– How many Indians have won Nobel Prizes so far? How many categories are the Nobel Prizes awarded for? What are these categories? Which Indians won in these categories?

– Why don’t many Indians win Nobel Prizes? Why wasn’t Mahatma Gandhi awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?


– What work was CV Raman awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for? What is Raman Effect?  What apparatus is used in Raman Effect?  How does spectroscopy work?

– What is Archimedes’ Principle?

– What work was V. Ramakrishnan awarded his Nobel Prize for? Which molecule did he work on?

– What is Proteomics?


– You have filled Hindustani Classical Music (HCM) as your hobby. Do you just listen to it or have you been learning sometime as well? From whom? Have you performed somewhere?

– What is your view on the status of Hindustani Classical Music today? As an artiste yourself, how much do you feel that the young generation is absorbing/being influenced by HCM?

– How did you manage Classical Music practice with studies at IIT?

– Who is/are your favourite Classical Music exponent(s)?

CM: Thank you, you may go now.

The Interview lasted for about 25 mins, and I was awarded 195 marks. I will update with my answers soon.


The UPSC Personality Test/Interview is the most crucial portion of this examination process, and is the last pedestal before you are finally selected for the Services. It is often said that your Interview depends on your overall Personality which has already been shaped in the last twenty years or so, and cannot be moulded overnight. I second this statement, but I strongly feel that a person can do a lot of work in those 3-4 months available before the Interview to polish his/her personality.

After a break of a couple of days after the Mains Exam and in the hope that I would clear it, I chalked down how I would go about to prepare for the interview. I divided my upcoming UPSC interview into two kinds of possible questions:

1) Questions whose answers I must know
2) Questions whose answers I should know

The first category of questions (must know) are basically those which are related to me. This includes my education background, optional subjects, region/state, personal details, hobbies, sports, achievements, family background, etc. There is a very good exercise via which one can generate almost all questions possible in these areas. That is, I sat down with my friends/family members and gave them a copy of my Mains form each (which had all my personal details, and whose copy would be there with the Interview board too), and we brainstormed on all kinds of questions which can be generated from my form. I listed about 400-500 such questions and exchanged the list with my friends who were also preparing for the interview, which helped in extending the list further. Then I set down to find answers for these questions by extensive thinking/searching/discussions/etc. I also practised answering them in front of the mirror many a times.

The second category of questions (should know) is much wider than the first and it includes all the happenings going on in the country and the world in the recent times. To tackle this section, I resorted to the following sources:

  • Newspapers: Newspaper editorials help best in this part of the UPSC exam, i.e. the Interview. As I had a lot of free time, I used to go through the editorials and important news of 3-4 newspapers (The Hindu, Times of India, Economic Times, The Tribune, etc.), which are also available on the internet.
  • Magazines: I went through selected articles of magazines like Frontline, Chronicle and Yojana. While reading newspapers and magazines, one has to be cautious of the left/right alignment of these publications (e.g., the left tendencies of Hindu, Frontline, etc.). This is important as your answers in the interview should be logical and unbiased, listing the pros and cons of any argument you give.
  • Video (Talk Shows/Interviews): This is by far the most important source which can help you in grasping both knowledge and the ability to speak like an administrator. I used to extensively watch talk shows on Lok Sabha TV, NDTV (available on their website too), and interviews of reputed people including administrators, diplomats, scientists, etc. I consider this as the single most helpful exercise which helped me transform from the “Written Exam” mode to the “Interview” mode.
  • Interaction: I also met a couple of officers who had gone through the whole process successfully, to take guidelines from them. This helps boost your confidence and gives you first hand knowledge on how to go about giving the interview, and I believe that any serious candidate can meet up atleast a couple of such people, once you get the Interview Call.
  • General Studies (Mains):  I gave one revision of the GS (Mains) subjects also, as this is important to brush up one’s basic minimum knowledge and facts.
  • Books:  Having free time at hand, I went through certain books which helped widen my outlook and knowledge:
    – Indomitable Spirit, APJ Abdul Kalam
    – Facets of Indian Culture, R. Srinivasan
    – India in Turmoil, Ved Marwah
    – I Dare, Kiran Bedi
    – Perspective on Indian Police, Sarolia & Saroliya
    – Culture of Punjab, Govt. of Punjab Publication.
    – Civil Services Interview (How to Excel), Madhukar Bhagat, IRS

I also took coaching from the following institutes – Abhimanu (Chandigarh), Vajiram & Ravi (Delhi) and Samkalp (Delhi). Giving some mock interviews helped me learn what all mistakes I was committing, what were my strengths/weaknesses, where did I need improvement, and how could I improve my conduct, expression and presentation.

Though I think that there have been many candidates who have performed much better than me in the GS Mains and Essay, however for the sake of completeness of this whole effort, I am putting down how I went about tackling these papers and what more could have been done.

General Studies Mains

The sources for my study of GS Mains have been quite similar to that for GS prelims:

  • Took coaching from Vajiram and Ravi and studied their notes and books multiple times. Especially, their Current Affairs material and the notes/books they give before mains is quite beneficial.
  • NCERT books for classes XI and XII (History, Geography, Polity, Economics, Sociology and World Politics). I also attempted the questions at the back of each chapter to improve retention and answer writing ability.
  • Other books for General Studies –
    – DD Basu (Introduction to the Constitution of India)
    – Constitution of India (Bare Act)
    – Economic Survey (Selected Topics)
    – Familiarity with the Atlas
    – Manorama & India Year Book (Selected Topics).
  • Newspaper – The Hindu. In this section, I think I could not give due justice to newspaper study due to paucity of time, as I had to devote much of it to Mathematics and Physics. What I could have done had there been more time available, was maintaining a register and noting important news/current issues under various heads (National, International, Polity, Economy, India & World, Social, Sports, etc.).
  • Magazines – Important articles from Chronicle, Yojana & Frontline. Here my focus was the main articles of Chronicle and Yojana which are quite helpful in covering important current happenings/issues.
  • I did not take any Tests for General Studies, which can be taken if time is available.
  • For any topic of General Studies, especially Current Affairs, Internet (Wikipedia, etc.) can prove to be a valuable source of background information.
An Insight: Keeping in mind the changing trend of the GS Mains paper, I think command over four things can really help a candidate in doing well in GS:
  • Answer writing ability – Can be improved by making short summaries of whatever you study in Newspapers/magazines/GS coaching material/NCERT books. This also helps in retention of the content and in your ability to present crisply what is specifically asked in a question.
  • Analysis – The analysis of whatever major happenings take place in the country/world is very important as the GS paper is getting more opinion based. Relevant editorials of newspapers like The Hindu, Times of India, Tribune can build your opinion regarding important issues. Yojana magazine is also quite helpful in this regard.
  • Subjects – Direct questions from subjects like Geography, Polity, History, Economics can still be expected in plenty. Therefore thorough study of these subjects from coaching material & NCERTs can make you attempt these questions quite well.
  • Current Facts/Happenings – Though this is an infinite reservoir of possible questions, still important happenings in the recent times can be prepared to attempt such questions as they are still asked to a considerable extent. Magazines like Chronicle and coaching material helped me in this regard, though this could have been supplemented with notes from newspaper study. Further, it is important to cover major decisions in Govt. policy which can be covered from Economic Survey, Yojana, India Year Book, Press Information Bureau (www.pib.nic.in), etc.


In the assessment of an essay, the content, structure & flow of ideas, and your ability to hit directly at the requirement of the topic are the factors which are taken into account.

I feel that if a candidate has prepared GS well (keeping the above points in mind), he is automatically prepared (to a considerable extent) to write the Essay in Mains. However to make a proper mindset to write the Essay I listed down the topics which had been asked in the past 10 -15 years.

Going through the list of past year essays, I clubbed these essays under various heads – Environment/Climate, Judiciary, Media, Democracy, Gender and Child issues, Women empowerment, Youth, Indian Society, Education, Health, etc. Even if one can sit down and write one proper essay for each topic mentioned above, it can give a candidate the practice to write reasonably well in the exam (I could do this for only 4-5 topics).

To know the various aspects of these topics and the social/legal/historical/govt. background of these topics I arranged the Yojana magazines of about the last two years, which holistically covered almost all of the above mentioned areas. The editorials of newspapers can also help in collecting relevant data in learning how to build up & structure an essay (Introduction – Background information of the topic – Various aspects/dimensions of the topic with analysis – Any suggestions, if possible – Conclusion on a positive and optimistic note).

Proper theory building, writing style, problem solving ability and accuracy are very important to score well in the UPSC Physics exam.

The books I referred for Physics are as follows. Here the books I did thoroughly for a particular topic are underlined, while the non-underlined books are those which I used to cover any remaining sub-sections of the topic.

Paper I

  1. Mechanics:
    Mechanics by D.S. Mathur
    An Introduction to Mechanics by Kleppner and  Kolenkow
    Classical Mechanics by Goldstein
  2. Waves and Optics:
    Optics by Ajoy Ghatak
    Optics by B.S. Agarwal
  3. Electricity and Magnetism:
    Introduction to Electrodynamics by David J. Griffiths
    Electromagnetic Theory and Electrodynamics by Satya Prakash
  4. Thermal and Statistical Physics:
    Heat and Thermodynamics by Dittman and Zemansky
    Thermodynamics, Kinetic Theory and Statistical Thermodynamics by Sears and Salinger
    Thermodynamics, Statistical Physics and Kinetics by Satya Prakash

Paper II

  1. Quantum Mechanics:
    Quantum Physics by H.C. Verma
  2. Atomic and Molecular Physics:
    Atomic and Molecular Spectra by Raj Kumar
    Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser
    Quantum Physics by Resnick and Eisberg
  3. Nuclear and Particle Physics:
    Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser
    Quantum Physics by Resnick and Eisberg
    Nuclear Physics by D.C. Tayal
  4. Solid State Physics, Devices and Electronics:
    Principles of Electronic Materials and Devices by S O Kasap
    Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser
    Quantum Physics by Resnick and Eisberg

[Making use of availability of choice in the exam, I covered the first seven topics mentioned above completely, while for the last topic (Solid State Physics, Devices and Electronics) I skipped the Devices & Electronics portion. This portion is extremely lengthy and can be skipped if you cover all other topics well and if you are not from Electrical/Electronics Engineering background.]

I took coaching in Physics from Prof. Vajpayee (DIAS Institute), which helped in giving me a holistic coverage of the syllabus. Also, I got to learn the method of writing for the Physics exam in the UPSC.

After covering the theory and doing practice problems (from class notes plus solved examples in the books), I attempted the tutorial sheets given by Prof. Vajpayee and solved them properly on paper in the way I would write in the exam. This was a very helpful exercise as the tutorial sheets contain the past year UPSC questions exhaustively (arranged topic wise) and it gives one a clear picture of the way questions are asked in the UPSC and how one would attempt them. For solutions, I referred to Brilliant Tutorials, which provide solved problems for UPSC exams of past 15-20 years.

I also solved a few complete papers of recent years in exam like conditions to simulate a complete attempt like the exam.

Finally, as in Mathematics, I also made summary sheets for every unit/topic (~ 4 pages per unit) in which I listed the important results/formulae/derivation techniques/tips/graphs/diagrams which can be gone through a day before the exam. This is helpful as it can give you a holistic & quick revision of the entire syllabus before the exam.

In the exam, my correct attempt was ~ 290 in Paper I and ~ 270 in Paper II. My score in the exam was 184 in Paper I and 173 in Paper II. Here I felt a characteristic difference in my score versus correct attempt as compared to the same for Mathematics. The reason is probably because in a dire want of completing the Physics paper in time (as I had fell short of time in Maths paper, so I did not want to end up with time shortage in Physics as well!), I may have not given due justice to answer writing. Putting it simply, while in Mathematics it is sufficient to write the solution of a question properly without the need to write anything extra, it has been seen that for any question in Physics (including numerical problems) candidates are given extra credit if they give some background of the topic in question, make a diagram/graph wherever it can be made, give the applications if you are asked to write about a particular phenomenon, etc. Prof. Vajpayee’s classes/notes can be quite helpful in this regard, i.e., in improving answer writing.

I chose Mathematics and Physics as optional subjects as I had a considerable exposure to the topics in their syllabi from my study since classes +1, +2 upto college level.

The books I referred for Mathematics are as follows:

Paper I

  1. Linear Algebra:
    Linear Algebra by Vasishtha and Sharma (Krishna Series)
    Matrices by Vasishtha and Vasishtha (Krishna Series)
  2. Calculus:
    Differential Calculus by Shanti Narayan (S. Chand)
    Integral Calculus by Shanti Narayan (S. Chand)
    A Course of Mathematical Analysis by Shanti Narayan (S. Chand)
  3. Analytic Geometry:
    Analytical Solid Geometry by Shanti Narayan (S. Chand)
  4. Ordinary Differential Equations:
    Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations by M.D. Raisinghania (S. Chand)
    Laplace Transforms:
    Brilliant Tutorials
    Advanced Engineering Mathematics by Erwin Kreyszig
  5. Statics:
    Statics (Krishna Series)
    Dynamics (Krishna Series)
  6. Vector Analysis:
    Vector Calculus (Krishna Series)
    Curves in Space
    Calculus by Thomas & Finney

Paper II

  1. Algebra: 
    Abstract Algebra by Khanna and Bhambri
    Topics in Algebra by I. N. Herstein
  2. Real Analysis:
    Elements of Real Analysis by MD Raisinghania (S. Chand)
  3. Complex Analysis:
    Functions of a Complex Variable (Krishna Series)
  4. Linear Programming:
    Linear Programming (Krishna Series)
  5. Partial Differential Equations:
    Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations by M.D. Raisinghania (S. Chand)
    Boundary Value Problems:
    Advanced Engineering Mathematics by Erwin Kreyszig
  6. Numerical Analysis and Computer Programming:
    Numerical Methods by Jain, Jain and Iynger
  7. Mechanics:
    Rigid Dynamics Volume I & II (Krishna Series)
    Fluid Dynamics:
    M.D. Raisinghania (S. Chand)

    [Due to some time constraint, I studied Abstract Algebra and Real Analysis mostly from 12 markers point of view. However, looking back, I think I could (& should) have done them thoroughly as well.]

    While studying these books I basically attempted the solved examples. In the first cycle of my study, I read selective solved examples and tried to register them in my mind, and solved some of them on my own. In the second cycle of the syllabus I properly attempted the solved examples on paper, trying my best to maintain the quality and language of the answers as close to the solutions in the books. The way of writing a solution is very important in the Mathematics paper, and can be best learnt from the solved examples themselves.

    After that I also attempted questions from the past 15-20 years’ papers. The answers/solutions can be verified from the Brilliant Tutorials and the books mentioned above. This exercise helps in giving an idea as to what is the kind and level of questions asked in the exam, and may also prove beneficial in case some questions in the exam come on similar lines as in the past.

    Finally, I also made summary sheets for every unit/topic (~ 2 pages per unit) in which I listed the important results/formulae/theorems/tips which can be gone through a day before the exam. This is helpful as it can give you a holistic & quick revision of the entire syllabus before the exam.

    In the exam, my correct attempt was ~ 258 in Paper I and ~ 260 in Paper II. My score in the exam was 207 in Paper I and 198in Paper II. I think the accuracy in the Mathematics paper is extremely necessary, as candidates are penalised heavily for any errors in the solution/answer.

Paper I (General Studies)

The Preliminary Exam is moving on the lines of the Mains Exam since the last couple of years. That is, it is better to study topics in General Studies thoroughly and comprehensively rather than only looking out for key names and words as answers. This is because in the last couple of years, the options of any particular question in General Studies have been quite involved and only a candidate knowing the topic thoroughly can answer correctly and confidently.

For General Studies Prelims I studied from the following sources:

  • Took coaching from Vajiram and Ravi and studied their notes and books multiple times. Especially, their Current Affairs material is quite beneficial.
  • NCERT books for classes XI and XII (History, Geography, Polity, Economics, Sociology and World Politics);
  • Other books for General Studies –
    – DD Basu (Introduction to the Constitution of India)
    – Constitution of India (Bare Act)
    – Economic Survey (Selected Topics)
    – Familiarity with the Atlas
    – Manorama & India Year Book (Selected Topics);
  • Newspaper – The Hindu;
  • Magazines – Important articles from Chronicle, Yojana & Frontline;
  • I also took the Vajiram and Ravi Test series for General Studies;
  • For any topic of General Studies, especially Current Affairs, Internet (Wikipedia, etc.) can prove to be a valuable source of background information.

Paper II (CSAT)

Though this is the first time that this paper is being introduced, looking at the topics in the syllabus, the following sources can be helpful:

  • NCERT Mathematics book for Class X;
  • NTSE (National Talent Search Examination) books on Mental Ability and Logical Reasoning for Class X (any good publisher can do);
  • NCERT Class X book(s) on English language and comprehension;
  • Regular and thorough reading of newspaper(s);
  • Vajiram and Ravi new books and notes on CSAT.

Especially for students of non-mathematics background, it should be noted that accuracy in questions of Mathematics, Mental Ability and Logical Reasoning is very important. The questions may not be tough, but the absence of error would be very important to score in such topics.

There is a tremendous amount of information regarding Civil Services Exam available on the “Blog-space” on the internet. Going go through these can save you a lot of your crucial time, and can give direction to your preparation. I referred to the following Toppers’ Blogs:

Prakash RajPurohit (AIR-2, 2010)

Garima Mittal (AIR-8, 2010)

Prabhjot Singh (AIR -16, 2010)

Abhijeet Agrawal (AIR-24, 2010)

Ghanshyam Thori (AIR-25, 2010)

Shubhra Saxena (AIR-1, 2009)

Supreet Singh Gulati (AIR-2, 2008)