IAS Score: Which is the most difficult part of this exam and why? What was your strategy for tackling this difficult part?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: The most difficult part is identifying the right books/material/coaching centre. Identifying the same is
half the job done. This is difficult because not everyone has access to guidance by well-meaning
seniors, mentors and tend to go by hearsay.
There is no strategy as such. I made some mistakes on the way. Just choose your friends and seniors wisely.
IAS Score: How did you manage your time for both Prelims and Mains examinations?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: The results of Mains 2013 (my first attempt) were declared in March 2014. I failed. I was pretty confident about my preparation for Prelims. So, in March 2014, I started off with Mains preparation and continued with the same till around 10th July, 2014. I then started revising for Prelims 2014. After Prelims 2014, I started off from where I had left my Mains preparation on 10th July, 2014.
Having said that, I would like to make a point. Do not compartmentalize your preparation into Prelims and Mains. Some part of the syllabus is common to both exams. What is needed is a change of orientation, not change of preparation.
IAS Score: What was your strategy for covering the lengthy syllabus of General Studies for both Prelims and Mains?
Raja Gopal Sunkara:
The main topics are Economy, Modern India, Culture, Polity, Geography, Environment, S&T. You have to complete revision at least a week before the exam. For the last week, I had made a list of important topics along with my friend. I revised only those topics.
I joined an online test series in March 2014. I planned my preparation in accordance with the test series schedule. This helped me in structuring my preparation. I narrowed down my sources (books, material) to the bare minimum through trial and error. I relied on the sutra (rule) – “less material, more revision”.
IAS Score: Did you integrate your Prelims or Mains preparation or was it separate?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: As I mentioned earlier, preparation is same, orientation is different.
IAS Score: What would be the best strategy to tackle negative marking in Prelims?
In Prelims 2014, I knew the answers for around 35-40 questions. I attempted around 70 questions. So, the additional 30-35 questions were educated guesses. I ended up getting 128 in Paper I.
If your preparation is good, you can go for educated guesses. Otherwise, they’ll backfire. So, concentrate on preparation from the right books, sources.
IAS Score: GS Mains was altogether new, as current pattern is only two years old. How did you prepare for that?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: The change in new pattern hardly matters because it is the same for everyone. I used internet extensively for GS II, III and some books.
IAS Score: Have you completed the GS mains papers?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I attempted 95% of the questions in most papers. Sometimes, even 100%.
IAS Score: Can you share some idea/strategy about attempting GS paper as it is not easy to write answer of all questions in given time-frame?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: Answer questions in the order given in the paper. Some people answer questions that they know better first and others later. This method didn’t work out for me during the test series. So, I stayed away from it.
The rest is mathematics. If there are 20 questions, you have to answer 6-7 questions per hour and this comes with practice. Don’t leave too many questions to the end. In ethics, answer the case studies first.
IAS Score: What was your style of writing in the exam? How was it distinct from the general writing style? How did you develop this writing style?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I had written a brief introduction to form a context for what is coming next. It consisted to some facts or some recent news.
The questions, this year, had 3-4 sub-questions. I wrote the keywords in the sub-question as a side-heading. I then wrote 3-4 points to answer the question. I used to underline keywords.
For some questions, I included side headings like Pros, Cons, Way Forward and Measures. For other questions, I used to write a brief conclusion if the question demanded it.
I feel, side-headings give structure to my thought as well as my answer. This makes it distinct from the paragraph form of answering.It also might help the examiner in better comprehending my answer.
I experimented with this style during the test series.
IAS Score: How did you prepared for essay paper.
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I believe that we can never guess the topics. So, making a list of expected topics is futile. Our GS preparation should be more than enough. A friend of mine had taught me a structure which he had learnt in a coaching centre.
Introduction – It could either be a context (some recent news) or a narrative (some anecdote). Introduction should not be more than one sheet.
Body – I would have 4-5 questions regarding the topic. If you have good questions, half the job is done.
For the topic, “Is tourism the next big thing in India?”, I had the following questions:-
By answering these questions, I would not deviate from the topic.
Conclusion – I didn’t summarise what I had written earlier. It should be different. It should have a long term view or a futuristic perspective.
IAS Score: What were the sources of information for general reading? How did you come to know about the standard sources of reading materials?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I came to know about the standard sources through seniors as well as trial and error.
IAS Score: What should be the basis of selecting optional?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I am an Agricultural and Food Engineer who chose Anthropology. Agricultural and Food Engineering is not available as an optional. Agriculture is available but it is more of a science than an engineering subject. So, I went along with the crowd and chose Anthropology. At the same time, I know people who have taken Law, Mathematics and have done exceedingly well. So, to each his own.
IAS Score: Did you follow the myth that only so called popular optional should be opted?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: As I mentioned earlier, I did go with the crowd. But I ended up getting extremely good marks in Anthropology. At the same time, nothing should stop you from going for any optional you like but be the best at it.
IAS Score: How did you plan your optional strategy?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: My strategy was very simple. Stick to one coaching centre material/notes rather than running after many coaching centres. Read the same material again and again. PRACTICE WRITING ANSWERS. Further add value to your answers with diagrams, flowcharts, side headings, underlining, examples, statistics, etc.
Optional and Interview fetched me this rank. So, don’t leave optional preparation to the end. You should have some level of proficiency at least one month before the Mains exam.
IAS Score: How helpful are the notes? What is your advice on notes-making?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: There are two stages in note-making. When you read a text book, you condense it into a shorter version. This is the first stage. The second stage is to further condense it in such a way that you can refer to it in 5 minutes before the exam.
Prepare notes. I believe note-making calls for more concentration that underlining. Greater the concentration, greater the retention.
IAS Score: Civil Services Exam process is quite strenuous. It requires long hours of constant study. How did you maintain your tempo and what did you do to break the monotony of preparation?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: Human brain has its own limitations. During the course of preparation, there would come a day when nothing gets into your head. Take a break. Watch a movie or do whatever interests you. I used to take 1-2 days off every week.
On any given day, I used to have 3-4 things to read – Newspaper, Subject 1, Subject 2. This will help in breaking the monotony.
IAS Score: How helpful is one’s educational background in his/her success?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: Everyone can attempt civil services and achieve success. But if you are from a reputed institution, you can fall back on it in case you fail. My personality was shaped by my family, friends and college. So, that’s how my college helped in my success.
IAS Score: How did you prepare for interview?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I prepared 5-6 questions on each point in my DAF along with my friends. I tried answering them to myself. Also, my friend and I had daily Q & A sessions. I attended 4-5 mock interviews in Hyderabad and Delhi. I have a habit of twitching my eyebrows while listening intently. One mentor told me that I look tensed when I twitch my eyes. He said I should smile more. I consciously tried to implement these suggestions. I used to watch Rajya Sabha TV Big Picture everyday.
IAS Score: Which types of questions were asked in the interview?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: Questions were from my DAF. They asked about my home state, hobbies, educational background, etc. There was no question from current affairs. There was one question on disarmament which came out of the blue.
IAS Score: What is your advice to the candidates who have failed in this exam?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I have failed in the exam once. I was low for a couple of days. Then, I found a friend who was in the same situation. We assessed our mistakes. We had no writing practice. We followed some wrong sources. We joined a test series and slowly and steadily, my preparation picked up pace.
So, assess your mistakes and work on them and you’ll fare better.
IAS Score: Can you disclose your marks in detail?
Paper I – 128, Paper II – 123
Total – 251
Essay – 111
GS I, II, III, IV – 97, 79, 76, 101
Optional I, II – 142, 151
Written Total – 757
Interview – 212
Total – 969
IAS Score: What is your suggestion/advice for future aspirants?
Raja Gopal Sunkara: I’ve seen many people who cheat themselves and their parents by staying in Delhi and wiling away their time. Assess yourself. Do not put all eggs in one basket. Work hard, work smart.