InsightsIAS OGP-2018 Student
All India Rank Rank 26, IFoS Topper, Interview Marks 186, Second Attempt
I am AGRIM SAINI. I have recently secured AIR 26 in Indian Forest Service Examination 2018. I am writing this article to share my experience. I hope it helps people who are preparing or aim to prepare for this exam.
I have done Dual degree BS-MS from INDIAN INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE EDUCATION AND RESEARCH (IISER) PUNE in Biology with a MS thesis in Evolutionary Biology. I graduated in 2016 and since then I have been preparing full time for both IFoS and CSE exams.
In the final year of my graduation I got attracted to Civil Services as a career option due to sheer amount of diversity that this career provides and its potential to positively impact the society.
I already had a strong theoretical and practical knowledge in Ecology and Evolution as these were my focus areas in graduation. I saw IFoS as a career option where I can combine Science with administration and it was something aligned to my academic background and interests.
I gave total two attempts
I started my preparation in June 2016 and till Nov 2017 I prepared from home relying on Insights website mainly the Prelims Online Test Series and Secure. I scored 119.34 in the 2017 prelims but missed the IFoS cut off by around 2 marks.
In Dec 2017 I came to Bengaluru and joined the Insights Offline Guidance Program (OGP) 2018. In 2018, I cleared the prelims for IFoS as well. I am expecting around 117 marks (Prelims marks will be released mostly in April after the Civils result).
Finally, I secured AIR 26 in IFoS 2018. Following is the marksheet for IFoS Mains. My two optionals were Zoology and Forestry. Zoology is the subject of my graduation and also my optional in CSE. Forestry was the new optional that I prepared on my own.
The prelims stage is often the deal breaker in case of IFoS as the cut off for IFoS goes 10-15 marks higher than the CSE cut off. I followed the standard sources which are very well known and hence I wont repeat that part. I would like to mention certain things that helped me in both my attempts.
- I consistently read The Hindu and made hand written notes from it. I revised these notes multiple times (same day before sleeping – weekend – month end and finally before the actual exam). Moreover, any thing that I did not understand in the paper, I googled it and read about it. These extra points also entered my notes. This increases the temporal coverage of news and will allow one to answer questions on contemporary issues as well.
Consistent reading and multiple revisions also help in guessing probable questions as certain topics are repeated and this frequency is an indication of their chances of coming in the prelims. Moreover, one ends up memorising factual information without any extra effort. Ex. FRBM, IRNSS, GM Mustard, PSLV – GSLV etc in 2018 prelims.
Here I am not suggesting that only The Hindu should be read. One can pick any source of current affairs (newspapers and/or magazines) but the key is to be consistent and revise the notes made from it in a rhythmic manner. Also, I believe being genuinely curious about things in general helps a lot in this exam. It helps one to google about the things that are relevant to the syllabus but not mentioned properly in the source one is reading. I would like to share an example here to exemplify the point being made. Sometime before the 2018 prelims a news came about National Biodiversity Authority warning the Government about the threat of invasive species in India. This was said to be the first time such a concern was raised officially. I felt it was an important news. As a result, I simply googled the major invasive species in India and in that I encountered Prosopis juliflora. Luckily, it was asked in 2018 prelims. Here the example is not important but the approach of going beyond what is there in your news source and predicting the questions from that particular news item. When one googles anything on its own, it is more likely to stay in one’s mind. One can also argue that googling additional stuff can be never ending but an aspirant who has thoroughly studied the past year question papers and understood the syllabus will be able to be selective in this exercise.
- Insights Test Series. In my both attempts, I relied heavily on Insights test series both online and offline versions. I read the solutions multiple times and here as well I did google searches on things that I did not understand or things that I felt could be asked. Moreover, I checked the sources of the questions which resulted in effective coverage of ministry websites and PIB selectively. It also helped me in revising NCERTS. I took the print outs of all the solutions and then wrote all the extra stuff I googled regarding each test on these printouts for quick revision of the entire test. The reason I preferred Insights Test series is because of the myriad sources from which questions were formed. Thus, it acted as a depository on which I could focus based on my discretion. Also, I found the Insights Test Series closest to the unpredictable nature of the prelims paper.
Also, it is very crucial to solve regularly and monitor one’s progress. It is important to know how our intuition works. Also, one should try to find out the frequency of wrong answers. This is very important in deciding how many questions to attempt in the paper and how much risk to take. For example, after solving so many papers, I knew my range of wrong answers and the number of questions I should ideally attempt. This is also important because the wrongs one will make in the actual exam will be mostly higher than the wrongs made in the test series. I used to make 16-18 wrongs in test papers but in the actual attempts I have made 21-23 wrongs. Thus, solving test papers allows one to know all these things which is crucial to make a personal strategy.
- NCERTS. The importance of these books cannot be undermined at any cost according to me. These books allow one to stick to syllabus and helps a lot in intelligent guessing too as these books are the foundation and we are supposed to consider their content as the truth for the purpose of this exam. Each and every line is important according to me and UPSC does make questions from them directly or indirectly. One statement in the Santhal Tenancy Question of Prelims 2018 can be eliminated if one remembers the caption of the image of Santhal Revolution in 12th class History NCERT. Similarly, the question of desert plant adaptions in 2018 prelims is from Science NCERT.
- Rigorous analysis of past year question papers. This is also a very important component of preparation. This made me realised how tough questions are made from lower class NCERTS. Also, one understands the type and depth of questions asked in each subject. Tributaries questions in Geography, National park/Ramsar sites in Environment etc. National parks/Ramsar sites are routinely asked and linked with their geographical features. Hence, I read the first two para of the wiki page of major national parks and Ramsar sites. In prelims 2018, Pakhui and Kodiakanal questions were related to tiger reserves and Ramsar sites respectively. Hence, careful analysis of past years questions helps in selectively googling additional things.
I believe that the above-mentioned things allow one to be prepared in such a way that any surprises by upsc can be handled in a relatively better way. This is crucial for IFoS as here one needs to clear prelims by a significant margin. Hence being curious in general and sticking to the basics is the best way to move forward. With each passing year, prelims is becoming more and more based on practical observations rather than mere bookish knowledge. Increasing numbers of questions are being asked which one will neither find in static books nor in standard current affairs sources but in the world around us (like future Buddha, Aadhar, etc questions in 2018 prelims). In this context being genuinely curious about the world around us becomes important.
The competition at the mains level is increasing especially because now the gap between Civils Mains and IFoS mains is around 2 months and IFoS mains is happening after CSE mains. Hence much less absentees unlike pre-2017. I would encourage everyone to check the increasing mains cut off to understand this point. Also, due to ample time now available, people can sufficiently prepare two new optionals too.
IFoS mains has 6 papers, 2 papers of two optional each (200 marks for each paper), 1 GK paper of 300 marks, and 1 English paper of 300 marks.
In my case, Zoology was a common optional and Forestry I prepared in the intervening period between CSE and IFoS mains. Forestry is one of the most common optional subjects taken by aspirants in this exam. However, since the competition is increasing it is not advisable to solely rely on Manikanandan and Prabhu. Surely, this book needs to be read for holistic understanding but it needs to be supplemented with other forestry books as well. In case people are interested in Forestry strategy, I can write a separate piece explaining the same.
IFoS has a General Knowledge paper of 300 marks which is the combination of GS1, 2, and 3 syllabi wise and unlike CSE it also has ancient and medieval history. Due to technical nature of the service, there is increased focus on Science and Tech questions. Here one needs to write more content (300 marks) in same allotted time. Thus, answer writing practice is equally important here as well. This is easier for aspirants who are simultaneously preparing for CSE as well. I was regular in writing Secure answers since the start of my preparation and also took Insights Mains Test series both in 2017 and 2018. Hence no special preparation was needed for the GK paper apart from quick revision of the ancient and medieval history NCERTS and current affairs.
IFoS mains has a 300 marks English language paper which is counted for final ranking unlike CSE. Hence, if prepared well, English can fetch good marks especially in the grammar section which is scoring. English paper includes an essay, a report writing, a letter writing, reading comprehension, precis, and grammar. Solving of past years questions paper is to best way to prepare this paper. Moreover, grammar questions should also be prepared from online sources based on the types of questions present in the past years question papers.
One thing to note is that in case of IFoS, the difference between the mains cut off and the final cut off is huge (237 in 2017 and 235 in 2018). Thus, it is crucial to score marks in mains well above the cut off in order to become part of the final list. That is why papers like GK and English should be given proper attention along with optional papers.
IFoS interview is similar to CSE interview in almost every way. Only difference is the increased focus on environment, forest, climate change related issues. Also, here the interview is of 300 marks. The best way to prepare the interview is to study one’s DAF, prepare questions from it, show other people so that they can ask questions, and give mock interviews. I gave mock interviews and participated in one on one interactions at Insights. With each and every interaction/mock I found out new types of questions that can be formed from my DAF. I am thankful to Insights for arranging mocks which involved multiple interactions with serving and retired officers. I would especially like to mention Shri Sreemanth Kumar Singh, Additional Commissioner of Police, East Zone, Bengaluru City whose constructive feedback gave me confidence before the actual interview. Moreover, I am thankful to Vinay Sir for giving ample time and taking one on one sessions which allowed me to identify different types of probable questions from DAF and refine their answers. I also gave mock interviews at other coaching centres in Bangalore as the idea was to interact with as many mentors as possible and imbibe their valuable feedback.
Following is the interview transcript for my IFoS interview that happened on 28th Jan 2018
Board – Prof P. K Joshi (Chairman plus 4 members, all of them male)
Marks secured – 186/300
Questions asked by different members
CH – You graduated in 2016. What you have been doing since then?
CH – Have you given the CSE exam? What will you choose if you get both?
CH – Why forest service?
CH – Tell me different types of forests in the country?
CH – Have you ever been to forests?
CH – Difference between forests of Pakke Tiger Reserve and Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary? (I did a summer internship of 50 days in there two protected areas and I mentioned this internship while answering Why forest service)
CH – Rainfall in evergreen forests and Deciduous forests?
CH – Where all mangrove forests are located in the country?
M1 – What is your opinion about the current forest management in India?
M1 – What changes you will make in forest management of India if u enter the service?
M1 – Tell me 5 stakeholders of forests according to you?
M1 – What type of movies you watch? (One of my hobby is watching movies)
M1 – Recent movie watched?
M2 – Name 5 big environmental and related challenges that we are facing?
M2 – What is biodiversity? (I told about biodiversity loss as one of the major challenges in the above answer)
M2 – Reasons for biodiversity loss?
M2 – What is Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD)?
M2 – What is biodiversity hotspot?
M2 – Difference between island forests and mainland forests?
M3 – Describe the forests of Uttarakhand? (My birth state)
M3 – What is the forest cover of Uttarakhand?
M3 – Has forest cover increased in the country?
M3 – If yes, what have we done to ensure its increase?
M3 – Have you heard about Joint Forest Management? What is it?
M3 – How many National parks in Uttarakhand? Name them.
M3 – What is a protected area?
M3 – Difference between Wildlife Sancturay, National Park, and Tiger Reserve?
M3 – Tell me two other categories of legally defined forests other than the above ones?
M3 – What is Research branch of forestry called?
M3 – What is the other name of Tree outside forest?
M4 – You mentioned about a summer internship you did in Pakke Tiger Reserve. Tell me how is the interaction between forest department and tribals there as per your observations?
M4 – Why such a cordial interaction is needed?
M4 – Why it is important to include tribals in eco-tourism and how it helps?
M4 – Benefits of including tribals in eco – tourism?
Overall, the interview was mostly based on environmental issues with a mixture of conceptual, factual, and opinion-based questions. Almost nil questions were asked from the DAF. The board was very cordial.
I would like to mention that all that I have written above is what helped me and made sense to me. Moreover, I believed that this was the right approach for me. If something in this piece doesn’t make sense to anybody, kindly be free to reject it. The beauty of this exam is that there are n number of strategies to crack the same exam. I firmly believe that one should form his/her own individual strategy based on his/her strengths and weaknesses and take help of mentors/teachers/coaching/websites etc where needed. In this article I have simply written about my experiences and my learnings about this exam. I have not gone into details of sources, studying style etc. In case anybody have any specific query, feel free to ask. I will try my best to address your concerns. I hope this article, even though very long, help some of you out there who are passionate about cracking IFoS and/or CSE.
Finally, I would like to mention that SELF BELIEF is the most important thing that one should cultivate in order to succeed in any exam.