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TOPPER’S STRATEGY: Pruthvik Shankar, Rank 211 (CSE-2017), Optional – Public Administration, Insights Offline Student





Pruthvik Shankar, Rank 211 (CSE-2017)

Optional – Public Administration

Insights Offline Student


Hi all, I’m  Pruthvik Shankar. By God’s grace, I have secured All India Rank 211 in 2017 Civil Services Examination in my second attempt. My optional subject is Public Administration. I would like to share my journey of preparation for this exam.

The initial thoughts

Becoming an IAS officer was definitely not my childhood dream. My parents probably had one such desire. But it was all wishful thinking. I joined B.Sc when I had a decent score and a rank after XII to pursue either medicine or engineering. I really had no idea of what I wanted to do for a profession in life at this point. One of my seniors went to Delhi for IAS preparation back then. Seeing this, after my second B.Sc I decided to try for UPSC not having any idea about this exam.

My parents and my brother wanted me to go to Delhi for preparation soon after B.Sc. But I joined M.Sc. for want of a career backup. During my M.Sc all I did was reading toppers’ articles in as someone had mentioned to me about this blog.

My stay in Delhi

I moved to Delhi in May 2015. It was sweltering hot and experiencing 45 degrees made me extremely home sick. I still have second thoughts on whether I should have gone to Delhi. I joined Vajiram centre for both GS and optional.

Is coaching necessary ?

The question of whether coaching is necessary is a contested one. I personally feel if one has proper guidance from those who have cleared and a good company to study with, one can make do without coaching especially for GS. Many toppers from Insights have actually done that. But those who need some sense of direction and who find it difficult to comprehend few subjects can join coaching. But I suggest classes for optional if you choose a subject different from that of your graduation stream and are finding it difficult. But going to Delhi is not critical to one’s success in this exam. In fact, my stay in Bangalore and my association with Vinay sir and Insights played a bigger part in my success than my stay in Delhi. I was not comfortable in Delhi because of extreme weather, pollution, cost of living and distractions among other things. Others might disagree though.

While the necessity of coaching is disputed, there is unanimity on the need for good test series. So test series is vital to one’s success in both prelims and mains.

My first attempt

Prelims 2016 was on August 7. There was lot of anxiety. 3-4 days before that I developed viral fever. I couldn’t study much during this period. I had given up hope on this. As luck would have it, GS paper that year had greater share of current affairs questions. When I checked answer keys, my score was in the range of  114-118. It was an area of uncertainty to be in.

After prelims I moved to Bangalore. I wasted a lot of time on choosing test series. I didn’t join Insights mains test series by having a misconception that only core students could get their answer scripts corrected by Vinay sir. I didn’t get enough writing practice and also the quality of answers weren’t as good. But I cleared mains and managed to do so because of good essay score and not so bad GS scores. My mains score was just 5 marks above the cutoff. I attended interview and got low score in interview i.e 151. The final results came on May 31 at about 7:30 pm. I missed the final list by a huge margin of 45 marks.

The trauma of not having cleared and prelims exam in less than 18 days. Not too much time to grieve. I started for prelims on a serious note.


Bottom line of my grand failure

It was too naïve and ambitious on my part to expect a rank worthy of IAS with such a performance (yes, I harboured such thoughts of getting IAS in the very first attempt). I had not completed any of the GS papers and had only answered about 18-19 questions in each of them. Optional score also was less. I had not done sufficient writing practice to improve writing speed and quality.


Second attempt

After prelims 2017, my score estimates were again in the “zone of uncertainty” so to speak. Nevertheless I started studying for mains seriously. This time I joined Insights mains offline test series for GS under the guidance of Vinay sir. He personally emphasized to me on the importance of writing frequent tests for improving both speed and quality of answers. The test series comprised of well planned tests designed to complete the entire mains syllabus thrice in a span of over 70-80 days. There were at least 2-3 GS + Essay + Ethics tests every week interspersed with timely essay tests.

I attended and wrote most of these tests. Vinay sir reviewed my essays as well as few GS questions and gave vital inputs. He asked me to make necessary amends in my answer writing to improve my presentation and also conclusion part. Thanks to him I could improve my mains score by almost 90 marks.

Marks in 2016

Pruthvik Shankar IPS

Marks in 2017

Pruthvik Shankar IPS

I could also complete all the questions in all GS papers. I would like to clarify a thing or two about Insights mains offline test series. Firstly the fees charged is very nominal. Your papers are not corrected wholly. But the most important thing is writing these tests regularly and getting to know our mistakes through feedback. Vinay sir makes these tests very unconventional. Repeatedly writing these tests helps you overcome the inhibition of writing surprise questions. That way you can answer any question whether fully known or totally strange ones in about 8 minutes. Later we can study the synopsis thoroughly and see what could have been better. Also you can discuss the answers with a good group of peers(not more than 4-5) and compare with them. You can show 1-2 answers to Vinay sir and get them reviewed. We will come to know our mistakes and can adopt the feedback for other the answers. Correcting mistakes is more important to improve our scores. 

Book list for prelims :

  • Polity – Laxmikant
  • Environment: Shankar IAS book
  • Economy: NCERT and Mrunal articles. If you don’t understand any economic concept, see videos on the same in Mrunal website. No one can make it any simpler. Though I didn’t study it, I think Sriram notes comprehensively covers all topics of economy. So one can just read sriram printed material.
  • Geography: I studied NCERTs but didn’t revise them. Instead I relied on Mrunal videos by Rajtanil mam. It was so very helpful. I made notes from these lectures.
  • Ancient Indian History: Old NCERT
  • Medieval Indian History: I didn’t study anything. But since questions on medieval terms are coming off late, do study old NCERT.
  • Modern Indian History: Old NCERT and Spectrum
  • Art and culture: Book of fine arts new NCERT and Nitin Singhania
  • Science: Just current affairs. Questions about recent scientific developments both in India and the world are being asked. Space missions of ISRO and important ones by NASA and other countries can be asked.
  • Current affairs : Insights or Vision monthly current affairs magazine. Also follow Daily current affairs summary from either gktoday or InsightsonIndia. This is necessary because of two reasons. Firstly we cant read more than one newspaper and these summaries have coverage from multiple newspapers. Secondly it will be a revision of what has already been read in newspaper or those that you have missed out reading. Since InsightsonIndia is only for UPSC Civil services Exam, it doesn’t cover sports and persons in news which is important for other government exams. For these, follow gktoday.

Solve lot of mock tests by different coaching institutions. Importance of tests can’t be overstated. Also staying ahead of expected prelims cutoff improves the efficiency of your preparation for mains.

Consequently you can perform better in mains also.

Strategy for mains

For GS 1, 2 and 3 – the book list remains same for the similar topics. There are lot of topics which find special mention in mains syllabus that we may not study for prelims. Study them properly and revise. These topics are disaster management, Industrial location(paper 1), social issues, world history, International relations, Post- independent India, etc. I followed secure Q&A + Insights mains test series. 

For GS 4 – I relied on lexicon book. I also studied second ARC 4th report – ethics in governance. Practice writing case studies and get them reviewed. Many people who didn’t practice case studies ended up not completing the paper.

For current affairs, I thoroughly studied Mains 365 and revised them multiple times.

My take on civil services personality test or interview

I strongly believe that it is more a personality test rather than a test of knowledge(it is such a cliché by now). From my own interaction with many candidates who have appeared for interview, I feel UPSC is fair at that.  To think otherwise will only affect your mindset and having such preconceived notions will definitely ruin your performance in the interview. Take my case, I scored low interview marks both the times but my score remained consistent i.e 151 in 2016 and 154 in 2017. 16-17 more marks in interview, I would be rid of this cycle. But same is the case with hundreds of other aspirants who miss the next best service narrowly or thousands of aspirants who narrowly miss either prelims or mains cutoff.. So not anything new and one need not bother about this too much. Instead we can prepare well next time.

Don’t have any predictions for interview. Go with an open mind for both the board and the type of questions.

My association with Insights

During my second attempt, Insights made a very big impact. Apart from Vinay sir’s guidance, Insights provided a very good platform for aspirants to come together. Here I made lot of friends who corrected me and helped me on many occasions. Most of these friends have secured very good ranks. Insights provided a great opportunity for me to interact closely with people who have had already secured a rank. This was not only motivating but also reassuring to me that one day I could also become a topper just like them.

Final remarks

In the very opening statement of this article, I mentioned God’s grace. Some call it luck. I was lucky to clear prelims both the times by very narrow margin(1.3 marks in 2016 and 0.6 marks in 2017). Had I got one more question wrong or answered one less, I wouldn’t have written mains, not to mention interview or a final rank. So I thank God for this.

Prelims Marks in 2016

Pruthvik Shankar

Prelims Marks in 2017

Pruthvik Shankar

Right from the beginning of my preparation, I had very supportive and helpful roommates. I would like to thank Prakash, Shabharish, Manoj, Mayur and Sachin. Whenever I doubted myself these people motivated me to work hard and believed in me more than myself.

I would also want to thank three of my seniors(who cleared CSE 2016) without whom I couldn’t have secured this rank. They are Jagadeesh.B(IRS IT), Naveen Bhat.Y(IAS) and Nimishamba C.P(IRS C&E). They went out of their way in providing their own notes, guidance and more importantly moral support.

I would also express my gratitude to Vinay sir for the right guidance and the platform of Insights.

In a short while, I will write an article on public administration strategy.

Words of advice(wisdom) to aspirants

  • Have faith in hard work and efforts. Remember the quote “Every successful person may not be a hard worker but every hard worker will definitely meet success in his life
  • Don’t get cynical about this exam and also make efforts to stay away from such people. (Remember Einstein’s quote – “Such people have a problem for every solution”).
  • We all understand that there is huge uncertainty surrounding this exam. There should also be an element of luck to succeed in this. But we must put our hard work and that luck will definitely follow. Remember Will Smith’s Quote: “The guy who’s willing to hustle the most is gonna be the guy that just gets that loose ball.
  • In this age of information explosion, there is a glut of materials available. Limit your sources of study and revise them repeatedly. Sooner you can come out of this cycle of preparation.

One particular quote that I had on my study desk throughout my preparation that motivated me was by Mohammad Ali – “ It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief and once that belief becomes a deep conviction things begin to happen”.

Thank you.