UPSC CSE AIR 17 - Sarthak Agrawal says, “self motivation and confidence” helped to crack the exam
Sarthak is inspired by late B.N Yugandhar, Sarthak Agrawal wants to emulate the late civil servant's humility, academic scholarship, and commitment to the poor. He further says that the UPSC CSE exam can be cleared with self-studies, only if the candidate has the motivation and self-confidence.
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During the preparations, UPSC IAS 2020 topper Sarthak Agarwal was flexible with his time and didn't focus on the hours he was putting in. He stuck with a strict schedule, and started the preparations in July 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak. He adds that the pandemic motivated him to serve the country and improve ground-level public service delivery mechanisms.
While preparing for the UPSC CSE exam, Sarthak Agarwal followed an internet-driven preparation strategy and relied on a few books. He didn't prepare notes and only used flashcards app to memorise important facts and figures, that too 6 weeks before the mains. Read the full interview of UPSC IAS 2020 topper Sarthak Agarwal as he talks about the various phases of his life, how the pandemic affected his preparation and how his job helped him in the optional subjects. Check the complete strategy of UPSC CSE 2020 AIR 17 topper Sarthak Agarwal.
Careers360: Tell us something about yourself; your academic and family background?
Sarthak Agrawal - I grew up in Delhi with my parents who are self-employed and run a hospitality business in Gurugram where we now live. I have a BA (Hons.) in Economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce and an MPhil from the University of Oxford. For the latter course, I received a fully-funded scholarship called the Oxford-Weidenfeld Hoffman scholarship. I interned at the World Bank in Washington DC in 2018 and have been working with its Poverty and equity global unit for the past 7-8 months. After completing my education at Oxford, I joined a research institute in London known as the Institute for Fiscal Studies where I was involved in improving tax policy and tax administration in developing countries.
Careers360: What is your rank overall and category rank and how many marks did you score in the mains exam and the interview.
Sarthak Agrawal - My overall rank is #17 - I scored 822 in Mains and 195 in Interview.
Careers360: Who and what inspired you to take up the UPSC Civil Services exam? Please elaborate.
Sarthak Agrawal - The understanding that my skills, knowledge and experience can be better employed while serving on the ground in India. I am keen to transition from research to development administration so that the insights academics have developed over a number of years can be usefully employed in improving lives. At the same time, working in the field can generate several new avenues for research and writing that I am excited to explore.
I am inspired by 'scholar administrators' like the late B.N Yugandhar and would like to emulate his humility, academic scholarship, and commitment to the poor.
Careers360: What were your options for the prelims and mains exam and how did you prepare for them?
Sarthak Agrawal - For Mains I chose Economics as my optional. For the theory paper (Economics-I) I prepared very little and only revised the books and readings we used in Delhi University in our undergraduate course.
I prepared more comprehensively for the Indian economy (Economics-II) paper and skimmed 100+ academic papers from Economic and Political Weekly and other scholarly journals. Very shortly I will be sharing the links to these papers on my blog for the benefit of other candidates. I prepared no notes or summaries so you'll have to go through the grind if you want to make the most of this resource!
Also read other articles of UPSC CSE:
Careers360: Have you taken any coaching? If yes- From where? How did it help? Do you think one can manage to crack the exam with self-study?
Sarthak Agrawal - No, I didn't take any coaching, nor did I feel the need to at any stage.
Absolutely - this exam can be cleared with self-studies provided you're able to muster the necessary motivation and self-confidence.
Careers360: How many attempts did you give for the UPSC exam?
Sarthak Agrawal - This was my 1st attempt.
Careers360: What are the best books and study material that one should consult while preparing for the GS and the optional ones that you have taken?
Sarthak Agrawal - The best sources are those available online. I freely consulted Hindu and Indian Express' archives, including the explained column in the latter, along with the following resources: Live History India, Down to Earth, IndiaSpend, The Diplomat, PRS Legislative Research, and ORF publications. Newspapers of all stripes, including international ones like the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and the Harvard Business Review (for ethics and leadership related topics), were very helpful too.
As regards books, I went through Laxmikanth's book on Indian Polity, Spectrum's modern history, GC Leong's Geography book, and Uma Kapila's Indian economy compilation for Economics-II in detail.
Careers360: When did you start your preparation? How did you prepare for the exam since the UPSC IAS syllabus is vast? How many hours did you put in per day?
Sarthak Agrawal - I started preparing diligently around July 2020 without thinking too much about the hours I was putting in. Rather than sticking to a strict schedule, I was flexible and freely decided how much time I wanted to devote each day depending on how motivated I felt.
Careers360: What were your stronger and weaker subjects and how did you manage to divide time and prepare?
Sarthak Agrawal - Economics, Political science, governance and international relations were my strongest bits, while I was lagging in history, geography, culture, and security. I tried to develop a basic conceptual understanding of all areas that are relevant to this exam (mainly by reading newspapers - especially the 'Explained' column in Indian Express and op-eds, both current and archives).
Also read other articles of UPSC CSE:
Careers360: Were you already working somewhere or just finished college and started the preparations?
Sarthak Agrawal - After completing my MPhil I was working at a research institute in London - and later from home in Gurgaon after the pandemic.
Careers360: What was the toughest aspect of your UPSC preparation?
Sarthak Agrawal - I started preparing around July 2020 so remaining motivated until the Mains exam was a challenge. Patiently waiting for the result was another hurdle.
I was particularly worried about the Prelims stage of the exam and I found that to be the toughest round, followed by Mains, and then the interview.
Careers360: Name some important topics that you feel are a must-read for any student attempting the UPSC exam?
Sarthak Agrawal - Nothing in particular. Anything that matters for Indian policy is fair game - it's hard to pre-empt what the examiners might ask in a dynamic examination like this one so I prepared accordingly (my sources were wide and disparate, I didn't try to develop a mastery over any topic but instead focused on understanding the basics of as many areas as I could).
Careers360: How important do you feel mock interviews and test series are and why? Did you take mock interviews?
Sarthak Agrawal - I appeared for 15+ mock interviews and enrolled for one GS/essay test series (and got 11 scripts evaluated) a few weeks before Mains.
Most of them were very useful because of their feedback, some of which I tried to incorporate. The trick is to distinguish useful advice from that based on aping the status quo, and my experience suggests that UPSC doesn't mind candidates taking risks and adopting innovative strategies.
Careers360: What did you do for leisure? Any specific activities that helped you unwind?
Sarthak Agrawal - Talking to friends and family; writing; watching sports, movies and TV shows. Although I must add that reading news in a carefree manner, which was helpful for the exam prep, counts as leisure to me!
Careers360: How did you cope up with the lockdown period? Did it hamper or boost your preparations?
Sarthak Agrawal - It was a difficult time for everyone around the world and I couldn't ignore the harsh realities of what was happening in India and elsewhere. But that phase further motivated me to serve the country and improve ground-level public service delivery mechanisms.
Careers360: Online or offline, which is the best way to study for the UPSC exam?
Sarthak Agrawal - I followed an internet-driven preparation strategy and relied on very few books. I didn't prepare any notes for the exam, and only used a flashcards app to memorise important facts and figures 6 weeks before Mains.
Careers360: What are your future plans and how will you try to bring a change to your place of work (area posted) as you will be very much involved in policy making and disciplinary activities?
Sarthak Agrawal - Although my own interests lie in education and data-driven governance, I will try not to impose my own biases in the area I am posted. Whatever is of greatest demand for the people will become my #1 priority. For example, I cannot devote all my time to improving schools when the area is plagued by teething corruption in its ration shops due to which people are demanding urgent reforms.
I see this job as one of leadership, and I think a good civil servant is one who can motivate their team to serve to the best of their capabilities, no matter what the department. However, I would like to be humane, approachable and accountable - and be someone who can reduce the distance between the government and the public, both physical and otherwise. Moreover, commendable initiatives launched by visionary civil servants are sometimes shelved after their transfer. Often this is because the new incumbent tries to impose their own preferences on the job. To remedy this, I would first try to continue the impactful steps implemented by my predecessors with full vigor, instead of chasing glory by coming up with short-lived innovative ideas.
Whenever there is an opportunity, however, I will try to use my background in economics to pilot programmes that have succeeded in other contexts and are cost-effective in implementation. Evidence-driven policy is slowly catching up in India but a lot more needs to be done. I would also like to collaborate with economists, data scientists, and academics working in the social sciences to design interventions according to the needs of the area I am posted in.
Finally, I am looking forward to using my observations and experience to indulge in the occasional academic scholarship. If I can revive even in a small way the fast receding institution of the scholar administrator, I would be thoroughly pleased.
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Questions related to UPSC Civil Services Exam
plz guide how to prepare for UPSC with agriculture as optional. and plz offer the detailed standard book list of recommended candidates for prelims and mains separately. plz also provide guidance regarding daily answer writing practice (with how to do self-evaluation).
Dear aspirant !
Hope you are doing great ! Agriculture is a good subject as an optional ,also you must work hard for it but many toppers took subject like hindi, political etc ,and you decided to take a different subject ,however I am not saying that you won't qualify with this optional I am just want to say you will find some difficulties in this subject.
And for daily writing practice as all of experts says attempt mock test as many as you can .Go to different coaching ,attempt their daily sets ,it will help you a lot .
Here is everything about upsc 2022 ,you can once visit here;
Hope it helps you!
Have a nice day!
Sir I am class 12th PCM stdent and want to pursue my career in civil services so i want to do BA simultaneously with the IAS preparation coaching please suggest me which subject did I take in BA which can help me in my IAS preparation?
In my opinion you can go for BA Hons. Pursuing BA Hons. is likely to have 4 core and 2 elective subjects in your curriculum. However, a student studying general BA has the option to select all 6 subjects.
Political and Geography.
All the best.
I want to become a commercial artist and an IAS, is it possible? and how?
Hope you are doing well ! It is not possible to do two different things at a time ,If you want to become an IAS officer also then for that you have to do a lot of hardwork and have to leave your art passion for sometime , if you become an IAS then there will lot of responsibility on your shoulder ,you will not able to time time for other thing.So choose one ,choose best!
Hope it helps you!
hi I am Faisal I want to become a IAS but strategy is low please me share the opinion and prefer the books thanks
In order to initiate your preparation, the first and most important step is to be well acquainted with UPSC Syllabus , learn it by heart as this will enable you to know what to read and what to skip.
As per the recent trends UPSC is framing Prelims questions also based on Mains syllabus, so have an integrated approach, don't segrete the preparation part thinking once you qualify Prelims you'll prepare for Mains that doesn't work.
To cover such a humongous syllabus you will have to make a timetable,set targets on a daily,weekly and monthly basis,that's the only way to complete this extensive syllabus.
Newspaper reading is equally vital part of preparation, you can start with any newspaper like The Hindu, or Indian Express on a regular basis to be updated as well as gaining knowledge which shall be highly useful to you in future exam preparation part. Put a more emphasis on editorial part, it will not only broaden your perspective but help a lot in answer writing,and make sure whatever opinion you form it should be well balanced. You can also make notes of this,it'll be very useful in answer writing.
When it comes to reading books ,start with basics, for each subject, you can do with NCERTs for this. This will build your foundation strong,as you progress, move on to other relevant books as mentioned below;
For Prelims, you can refer the following books:
NCERT Class XI and XII
India's Struggle for Independence by Bipin Chandra
For Indian Culture, refer art and culture by Nitin Singhania
NCERT Class VI to XII
GC Leong's Physical Geography
NCERT Class XI
Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh
International Relations & Polity ;
NCERT XII Political Science with current affairs
Indian Polity by Laxmikanth
Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning by RS Agarwal
M Tyra's Quicker Maths
Coming to Mains Exam, you can refer the following books for four General Studies Paper;
GS I - For History , Class XI NCERT book with India's struggle for Independence by Bipin Chandra,India after Independence by Bipan Chandra,History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra. For Geography refer World Geography and Geography of India by Majid Hussain, GC Leong's Physical and Human Geography with NCERT Class XI book.
For GS II - Polity and International Relations , refer Indian Polity by Lamikanth,India's Foreign Policy by Rajiv Sikri
For GS III - For Economics refer Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh, read ARC report along with Economic Survey and Fiscal Budget.
For GS IV - For Ethics refer a book named Lexicon by Niraj Kumar, also you can go through study material of IGNOU.
Remember to keep your resources minimal, read one book many a times instead of many a book one time, as you have to retain so much of information so rely on only limited yet trustworthy resources and revision is the only key for remembrance.
Writing mains is a huge task, for nine paper it requires immense practice along with knowledge. So, you have to start practicing answer writing in advance, even in a little way, There are many sites which provide questions on daily basis you can avail that. Try to give a holistic viewpoint while answer writing by providing political,economical and social aspect. You can get topper's answer sheet from various sites, try to analyze and study them minutely, you'll get an ideas about what to write, how to express and present viewpoint in organized manner.
Practice previous year question paper which you can get from the site of UPSC, in addition mock papers, and test series which you can get it from any of the sites exclusively dedicated to UPSC, all these will help in scaling up your entire preparation level.
i want to become an ias officer i got 94965 category rank in jee mains and 291222 crl rank should i have to take drop out or continue with the state college
It's so good see that you have already decided to become an IAS officer at this age. Now if you have decided to pursue engineering degree I still believe that you should not compromise with college so you don't need to drop an year , just go for the best college you are getting at this rank. And prepare for your UPSC CSE exam .
For your reference I am providing you with a link to predict a college through JEE Mains rank
I hope this helps!!