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B. Fouzia Taranum Rank – 31, How She Managed To Get Top Rank While Working

We are happy to know that our website was helpful to Ms Fouzia Tarannum during her UPSC civil services exam – 2014 preparation. She wrote to us: “Thanks for your contribution in the form of your website. Was very helpful especially as I didn’t have any group/preparation peers this year.” She was also very humble  enough to personally meet and thank us in Bangalore. She is an IRS officer and is currently working as Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax in Bangalore. In the below article she shares her experience/suggestions.

B. Fouzia Taranum, IRS, ACIT, Circle 5(2)(1), Bangalore

Rank – 31, CSE – 2014


I do not know how helpful this brief write up is going to be, but since many had asked, and I have benefitted from similar write ups of seniors, here goes.

I started preparing for UPSC in December 2010, having quit my job as a Business Analyst with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. In CSE 2011, I cleared with AIR of 307, thereby joining the IRS (IT). The attempt in 2012 didn’t see me improve my rank/service. I was under training in NADT, Nagpur, and decided to go ahead and settle into the service, which I was beginning to like, understand and enjoy.

However once posted, from June 2014, I started feeling the difference in service – IAS and IRS – and the job profiles. I felt that I should try one last time for my dream service, and give one last attempt. So a few weeks before the prelims of 2014, I jumped into preparation mode. It helped that I was posted at my hometown, so I had the support of my parents in this venture. In fact, the result was a surprise to my family/relatives/friends, as not many people other than my parents, sisters and my IRS batch mates knew that I was giving another attempt!

I reread the standard books, along with the sources available online like Insights on India. I think a big part of the improvement in rank to AIR 31 this year was due to me growing as a person, becoming more mature, having seen more of this world, and a creeping sense of practicality and realism in approach, compared to an over-idealistic one earlier. UPSC is actually looking for more rounded personalities with problem solving approach and an analytical mind. The UPSC journey should be looked at in this light, and not merely reading of books.

Work + Study

It was very important for me that I do not compromise on my present work, while I gave this attempt. I had to be more than justifying the salary that I was taking home.

At office, I would concentrate on work, and at home on preparation efforts and personal obligations. While it was difficult and often tiring, I hope I did justice to both, my aspiration to be in IAS through my preparation efforts, along with the requirements of my job as an Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax.

The balance came from management of time. There will never be enough time, rather we have to make time for everything.

General Strategy

  • No leave before prelims (no proper study before prelims either, thanks to strength in CSAT)
  • Focussed preparation after getting a fair idea that I will clear the prelims (having checked with various answer keys available online)
  • 30 days leave before mains
  • 5 days leave for interview
  • Studying atleast 2 hours a day (working days) – depending on my work day either early morning or late night – August to December 2014. Also managed to take a few Fridays off after the prelims results, so as to get 3 days of continuous reading done, or to compensate for the days when I had not prepared due to obligations at work.
  • Finishing weekly newspapers (piled up) and studying for about 4 hours a day (during weekends/holidays)
  • A general study, unlike the crazy detailed study of 2011-12
  • Focussed on revising my strong areas (economy, geography, etc) and re-preparing for my weak areas (history, culture, sociology, etc) along with preparing for the newly introduced topics.
  • Focussed on current events and ensured that connected GS related gyan was revised (e.g: LS elections were on – read up all election related polity).
  • Chose Sociology as optional because pub ad wasn’t performing too well, socio takes lesser time to prepare in comparison and enjoyed reading this subject more, even though I have never studied this subject academically.
  • Didn’t read too many books, so as to not feel lost at the end of it all – stuck to the books (or the particular sections in the books) that I really enjoyed reading.
  • Use of YouTube videos for World History, as this was newly introduced.
  • Ethics – GS Paper 4 – Just read up a few solved papers on the Vision website and realised that our “UPSC orientation” is sufficient – Looked up definitions on all the terms used in the syllabus and made short notes. Didn’t read anything beyond that. Scored 113/250, and was largely just giving “true” answers to most situational questions/case studies.
  • Couldn’t practise writing due to lack of time – I know that if I had, I could have really upped my game.
  • Gave many examples in my answers, and tried to keep them interesting to whoever was to read them.

Use of Time

There is a dire need for short, productive periods of reading through the day. For instance, reading up the news feeds after returning from lunch at office, listening to the news/saved videos while travelling to and from office, etc. Such reading of 15 minutes in short bursts 4-5 times a day really adds up and contributes immensely to our efforts.

Also, I used to take up a subject I like and enjoy when I felt like I have a lost cause in my hands and was feeling depressed. This really helps make our efforts more productive. However, we need to be cautious that we do not let other subjects suffer from neglect. Be judicious in the time you allot to various “sub-subjects”.

Writing style

  • Short, to the point, bullet points, covering as many dimensions and aspects as possible
  • Didn’t focus on word limits too much – some answers I looked for more space and for some I just jotted down half a page
  • Didn’t really fill pages, wrote as much as I knew
  • Interlinking of topics
  • Use of diagrams/charts
  • Underlining of important points as I write
  • Points in the margin (like a summary box, to help me and the evaluator)


GS (scored 405):

  • History – Bipin Chandra, Spectrum
  • World History – Norman Lowe, YouTube Videos, Online resources
  • Geography – NCERT (11th and 12th), G C Leong, Atlas
  • Art and Culture – Insights on India questions and answers, NCERT History pdfs online
  • Polity – Lakshmikanth, Online resources
  • Economy – Newspapers, Frank ISC Economics (11th and 12th), Economic Survey
  • Environment – Newspapers, ICSE Text book, Online/Wiki for all the various protocols, committees, etc.
  • Ethics – Just read up definitions online and read some answer scripts put up on Vision IAS website.
  • Current Affairs – Newspapers, Insights on India Daily Current Events (daily + revision 2 weeks before Mains), Vision IAS monthly Current affairs notes, Sriram IAS summary Current affairs notes, general reading online on relevant topics
  • Newspapers – The Hindu, Times of India, Editorials from Economic Times
  • Magazines – None this year due to paucity of time (used to read Frontline and Wizard in 2011-12)

Sociology (Scored 257 L)

Paper 1

  1. C N Shankar Rao – Intro to socio
  2. Crack IAS notes – ppr 1
  3. Haralambos – very important book according to me (understood Mead thanks to this book!)
  4. IGNOU BA Notes – selectively. (Did all units on thinkers thoroughly)
  5. Ritzer for Thinkers
  6. Upendra Notes – for thinkers and introduction only
  7. Collins Dictionary for Sociology – for concept clarity

Paper 2

  1. C N Shankar Rao – Indian socio
  2. Crack IAS notes – ppr 2
  3. IGNOU BA Notes  – selectively
  4. Nagla for Indian Thinkers
  5. Upendra Notes – for movements only
  6. Nadeem Hasnain – Tribal India selectively
  7. Ram Ahuja – very few topics
  8. Year Book for programmes/schemes
  9. Spectrum History – for national movement
  10. Online resources for few topics
  11. Newspaper articles/editorials on social issues

In conclusion

A lot of resources available online, have a look and settle for what works best for you, but don’t waste time on the internet unnecessarily.

Never lose focus, never lose faith. Stay consistent in your efforts. Believe in yourself! Don’t forget to keep learning and to keep improving!

Though a certain amount of luck is required, hard work does pay! I have not studied in big “Ivy League” institutions, nor do I have any civil servants in my family. I come from a very simple, ordinary, loving household, where education has never been very important. Still thanks to my parents’ support and my efforts, I could make it. So can anyone who sets her mind to it.

All the best for Prelims 2015 and the journey ahead! I hope you realize all your dreams.