Motivation & UPSC IAS Topper NANDINI K R’ s Strategy
NANDINI K R
Rank – 1, CSE – 2016
It gives immense pleasure to pen down this article. As the saying goes, “Tiny drops of water make an ocean”, I have been benefitted from the guidance and inputs of many noble souls. Hence, I deem it my yeoman duty to share the strategy that worked for me. However, I firmly believe, in case of CSE preparation that “every journey is unique” though the destination is same. When we have 1000 candidates cracking the exam it means that we also have so many different strategies and approaches .Thus, for CSE preparation, one size doesn’t fit all.
Hence, I request you not to blindly follow me, but formulate your own strategy keeping in mind your challenges, strengths, capacity, aptitude and situations in life.
In the write up that follows below I would try to give a brief account of my 4 years journey, the purpose of the write up will be served if the take away is
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal;
It is the courage to continue that counts”
Budding of IAS dream
I hail from nondescript village Kembodi in Kolar district of Karnataka. In the formative years of my personality, my father used to take me to literacy awareness generation camps. Where in I got an opportunity to stay and work as volunteer in the remotest villages across the district. During this time, observed the potential of district administration to solve grass root level challenges and bring about improvement in standard of living of masses. This was when seeds of civil service were sown.
Fruition of IAS dream
During my engineering studies I used to commute by bus from Kolar to Bangalore. This was the age of germination of lot of ideas in me. During five hours of daily travel, my thoughts, perspectives and orientation towards society crystallized. Being an extrovert, interactions with fellow commuters helped me visualize different faces of society we live in and the challenges various sections of society face. Thanks to society for being my inspiration.
Wandering bark in search of lighthouse (First Attempt-2013)
Beginning of my preparation was akin to searching for a hidden treasure without any map or compass. Without proper guidance and preparation I took exam in 2013. I missed prelims cutoff by near margin. I was not disheartened but realized that if I prepared well with proper guidance, my dream would be easily realizable.
When every penny counts (Second Attempt-2014)
Every aspirant reaches a stage of life where his/her peers start earning. It is the age when one feels shy to continue to seek parents’ support. I also underwent all these. Hence, though financial constraints were not very acute I decided to join as assistant engineer (AE) in Karnataka public works department (PWD) provide stability and financial support. Incidentally, it also helped me in understanding administration challenges at work. (I think financial hardships should not lead to compromise in goal setting, rather should make us more firm, hardworking and goal oriented)
I started my second attempt preparation with the reading of basic books, NCERTS, newspaper. With respect to my Optional Subject (Kannada Literature) preparation, I understood the needs of CSE; tuned my strategies accordingly. Thanks to my passion for Kannada Literature, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. This helped me develop strong command over my optional subject.
Choosing right optional subject
Optional subject, in my experience should be selected based on interest, passion and aptitude one has towards a subject. In my case reading Kannada literature was akin to relaxation amidst vast general studies syllabus. It has been even my hobby since childhood. Further, it has played an important role in shaping my personality.
Hence, I strongly recommend you to choose the optional which gives you happiness. At this juncture, it is apt to recall the statement of Confucius: Choose the job you love and you need not have to work for even a single day.
Mistakes in second attempt
Despite hard work, even the second attempt slipped away from me. This was because of the following mistakes committed by me:
Compromise in preparation plans: Due to paucity of time and other challenges at work I could not execute my preparation plans to the fullest extent. Adding to that revision of topics could not be done in the manner I had planned.
No writing practice – I had not practiced full length test papers. This cost me heavily in the exam. Even though I had covered syllabus, worked hard, knew answers to questions, I had to come out of exam hall without answering many questions due to mismanagement of time. I had not practiced essay writing also.
Number of questions left unanswered in each paper in 2014 attempt:
Paper1—6 out of 25
Paper2—8 out of 20
Paper3—6 out of 20
Paper4—2 case studies 25 marks each.
Optional paper1—1question (50marks)
Optional paper2—1question (50marks)
There was a change in pattern, candidates were asked to write 2 essays in 3 hours instead of one, in 2 hours I finished one essay and I could write only a half on second topic within time limits.
My Scores in CSE-2014
|General Studies – 1||86|
|General Studies – 2||70|
|General Studies – 3||72|
|General Studies – 4||99|
|Optional Paper – 1 (Kannada)||146|
|Optional Paper – 2 (Kannada)||134|
When the results came, I was not very unhappy about it, instead I was not satisfied with my efforts. I decided to work on my shortcomings in this attempt. I had the same feeling that MS Dhoni had when he was not selected for National Team for the first time (Courtesy – MS DHONI – The Untold Story movie). I told to myself that this failure taught me my shortcoming – lack of writing practice.
When things doesn’t fall in line (Third Attempt-2015)
I started working on my writing skills, correcting my past mistakes, learning to write within time limits. However, I couldn’t write mains as I got unwell because of dengue and also due to some extraneous reasons. All my initiatives in every sphere had to face lot of road blocks and obstacles during this time. The Almighty tested my patience and perseverance to the core. But this attempt gifted me beautiful life lessons in the form of principle of EQUANIMITY- taking success and failure equally. It made me realize that FAILURE is nothing but a First Attempt in Learning. It’s during these difficult times that emailed Insightsonindia to seek guidance for the next attempt.
Working for one’s own satisfaction and giving ones 100% (Fourth Attempt 2016)
As I had submitted technical resignation to my previous job I joined IRS (customs and central excise) training in December 2015 with a thought of giving an attempt during training. For first two months I did prepare for exam after packed schedule of physical training and classes. But I was enjoying neither training nor preparation. I firmly believe that it is imperative to love whatever we do.
This is when I thought that I should once again give my best efforts to realize my aim mainly because I should not suffer from pain of regret. At this juncture my friends at academy nudged me towards taking EOL (extraordinary leave). However I took some time to weigh the pros and cons of the decision. Just before taking decision I called my parents. They said “we will be with you in all your decisions and endeavors but be happy and enjoy whatever you do and don’t bother about results, just work for your satisfaction”. These words reverberated throughout my preparation. My friend suggested me to go to Bangalore and prepare under the guidance of Insights.
I decided the following,
- My entire preparation will be based on self-study.
- I will study at home
- I will focus on writing practice by taking tests and personal feedback
Insights test series in Bangalore suited all my above requirements. Thus, I moved to Bangalore and stayed nearby Insights institute.
I followed offline prelims test series of Insights and also, prelims cum mains integrated study plan that was given to core batch students. I scheduled my day in accordance with the test series timetable. (please make your own timetable which suits you the best. In my timetable I ensured 8 hours of sleep one hour of sports and 5 minutes break in between. Make a realistic timetable which is practically possible to implement, set achievable targets and be honest to yourself in following it).
I had promised myself that I shall finish the syllabus of each prelims and mains test, revise it and write tests without fail.
Though the schedule was slightly hectic (by the time I joined prelims test series already half of the prelims tests were finished, so I had to catch up that as well), I enjoyed the process of learning not just from the books but the lessons that journey had to offer.
The responsibility of writing tests made me more efficient in time management. I improved my speed of writing. This was one of the reasons why I had lost marks in my previous attempt. I focused on improving both quality and speed. At Insights, we had to answer ten questions in one hour. Initially, I struggled to answer 5-6 answers. But, I was pushed to answer more and more at Insights. In the end I could easily answer all 20 questions in 3hours without diluting quality of answers. Writing so many GS tests also improved my speed in optional subject.
After every test I used to check answers and read answer key in detail. Solutions given by Insights were detailed and helped me understand a topic in –depth. More importantly, research on the allied topics (through links provided in test solutions) helped me a lot (being inquisitive in learning pays one day). For instance, question on sea-level change had link to a website which had many interesting articles on current environmental issues, I read them out of interest though they were not important for prelims. These articles helped in answering many questions asked in GS-1 (environmental issues, allied topics of geography) GS-3 (disaster management). So, please make an integrated study (keeping all three stages of exam) and utilize the knowledge of one subject in other.
I used to score 130+ in Insights offline prelims tests. In CSP-2016, I could score 141+ in paper-1 due to extensive revision of these tests.
I had finished all the static part of mains before prelims itself thanks to prelims timetable. So I mainly focused on current issues after prelims. I used to pick and choose general studies questions that used to appear on the insights website and answer them selectively.
Correlation among topics of various subjects helped in answer writing. For instance, for a question about Krishnadevaraya as a patron of literature (GS 1), I utilized the knowledge of culture, medieval Indian history, and my optional (kannada literature) though all three are from different sources.
I improved in essay and GS answers by getting personal feedback at Insight. I practiced many essay and re-wrote many essays based on feedback given at Insights.
Presentation: A few things which I followed are as follows:
Explain in simple terms and in your own words but make answer illustrative
For example, for the question on air mass in GS 1 diagrams should accompany the explanation.
According to the demand of question one can use paragraphs, flowcharts, or bullet points.
Give an account of both conceptual (theory) part and current aspects asked in a question
Justify every statement with illustrations, facts, figures or examples from newspapers (this was the important lesson I learnt at in this attempt through feedback)
Revision helped in reducing time to recollect during exam and is a must
Revise all the basic books and have a clear understanding of concepts. Instead of reading many books for a single topic read one book many times and have good understanding of that.
Kannada Literature Preparation
Aspirants can refer to D.K. Balaji’s article for detailed account of reference books. The article can be accessed at
It’s important to have command over optional subject. My last attempt assured me that if I finished paper I will be getting 300+ marks (Earlier I had got 280 out of answering approx 400 marks). So I was comfortable in optional. Nonetheless, I practiced full length papers to improve speed. Things which helped me in optional were
- Usage of GS knowledge wherever required.
- Reading original texts and developing unique writing style(poetic language) which reflects individuality (this is very important in literature)
- Improving writing speed with constant practice so as to finish paper
- Trying to sail and immerse with the feel that poet/author strives to bring in the readers (it’s called rasaanubhooti in Kannada)
- Quoting relevant poems, lines from texts.
- Giving analogy and comparison with other languages literature like English, Greek, African, Telugu Tamil (poets and works could be compared). This adds to diversity and uniqueness in answers.
As it is test of personality, I tried to reflect on myself. A Few things which I did for this stage are
- being thorough with the DAF
- reading ,analyzing and developing views on current affairs
- mainly discussing issues with friends. This helped me in knowing diverse view points and critical comments on an issue.
- I also discussed questions and issues with my teachers
A Few lessons that I learnt during these four years about CSE examination are as below:
- One should not have any inferiority complex.
where we come from(rural/urban),what our parents do, our financial backgrounds does not matter much but for the fact that the challenges we face are different.
We will be successful once we find positive responses and solutions to the challenges.
(in this regard APJ Abdul Kalam ji was my inspiration. In class 7 we had a lesson on Kalamji, since then I started aiming high and dreaming big).
- Language is not a barrier
A candidate is expected to have clear understanding of issues. His/her ability to think and come out with solutions is tested – this can be done in any language one is comfortable in expressing his/her thoughts.
- Books and sources—need to be chosen according to individual’s ability to comprehend. I found NCERTS very interesting. So I read them for most of the topics. This also helped in developing a writing style similar to NCERT narration.
- Gender is not a barrier
I was told by some cynics that civil services is not for women due to responsibilities that comes with the work. However I think if one has inclination and passion for civil service then gender has no role to play. So, please motivate girls and women around you to set their goals high in whichever field they choose. I have faith in concept “He for she” and “she for he”. What is needed is to walk together for each other’s progress and in turn society’s progress.
- Overcoming self doubt and fear is essential
An amount of fear helps in pushing us towards hard work.
Fear and self doubts are like fire—if in excess will burn and destroy the individual. If one is carefree one can become over confident about one’s capabilities. If anxieties, fears are kept under control it brings best out of an individual.
Believe in yourself, anything is possible for a willing heart;
Aim high, Never give up, In fact, in every adversity lies an opportunity.
My success is not just mine
Friends of 2015 batch, motivated and inspired me a lot.
For instance, a quote in Nitish K’s article nudged me towards hard work
Quote “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
At home, my parents and brother fought against patriarchal mindset and cynicism about girls education and their potential. My parents saw their dream of education through me. thanks for their thought of giving education as asset to children and instilling a concept of giving back to society (my mother used to tell the song which has this concept ”kereya neeranu kerege challi”). Even though they had to work and earn daily wages when all children of their age went to schools, they taught me to dream big. (if any parent is reading this write up please stand with your children in their ups and downs)
My study partner:As I was a lone traveler my mother stood as study partner in all 4 years. She was the one who trained me for literature in this attempt. In fact I used to get very anxious at times due to uncertainty that exam offers (usually 1 week before prelims exam). She constantly boosted my confidence and instilled necessary personality traits in me by quoting poems she had read. For instance,
”kalanudayadi bitte sanjegadu pairahude,
Paaluntu kaalange namma krishigalali,
Velegadu maretaaturadin aduge pakkahude
Taalumeya paripaaka mankutimma”
(Will a seed sown in morning, yield sprout by evening?
Time plays a role in our cultivations;
Do the food cooked in haste forgetting time factor, be edible?
Tolerance is a lesson to be learnt—Mankutimma)
So, kindly share your trials and tribulations with someone who is positive , compassionate and supportive. This helps in trying again even if you reach rock bottom.
Insights: helped in gaining confidence. I was constantly motivated to study and my writing skills were polished through tests. I got the best guidance here after my earlier trials and errors. I could streamline my preparation and get a very positive environment for studies. My stay near Insights for 10 months proved to be very productive. Thanks for addressing queries and giving personal feedback whenever I needed them.
Society: thanks to everyone whom I have met so far, there was something to learn from everyone, everyone had a role in shaping my personality as I stand today.
Finally I would like to conclude by a quote which keeps me motivating to constantly strive for excellence in my efforts,
“woods are lovely dark and deep but I have miles to go before I sleep”