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#UPSCSimplified: IAS Topper Surabhi Gautam Shares Tips On How To Crack The Exam

“Be extremely precise and specific about your optional subject. Remember that the difference between aspirant ‘A’ and aspirant ‘B’ actually lies in which optional subject they choose.”

#UPSCSimplified: IAS Topper Surabhi Gautam Shares Tips On How To Crack The Exam

With over 10 lakh applicants each year, and only 1000 selections – the UPSC exams can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. But it can be crossed! In ‘UPSC Simplified’, The Better India catches up with toppers to uncover the do’s and don’t for India’s toughest exam. Follow the series for all the tips you need!

Cracking the UPSC examination is a feat many candidates attempt year-on-year, but only a few manage to clear. In this series, we speak to various UPSC toppers and understand first-hand what it takes to do so.

From the way they prepared to the books they referred and the tips they wish to share with aspirants, this series will attempt to answer them all.

Surabhi Gautam, All India Rank 50 (UPSC 2016), is currently serving as the Assistant Collector at Vadodara, Gujarat. We, at The Better India, caught up with her to get some answers.

Choose wisely

Surabhi begins, “Be extremely precise and specific about your optional subject. Remember that the difference between aspirant ‘A’ and aspirant ‘B’ actually lies in which optional subject they choose.”

You could either chose on the basis of your graduation or post-graduation subjects or go for any popular optional subject like sociology, history or geography, she suggests.

Surabhi Gautam

This dilemma to decide on an optional subject was prevalent for her as well. She shares, “I chose electrical engineering as my optional subject after taking into consideration a whole host of things. If I had more time on hand to prepare, I might have considered something else. However, it was wise to have chosen a subject I had studied earlier.”

Time management

You might be spending all your waking hours studying, but qualitative study is more important than the quantitative.

Speaking about this, Surabhi says, “After spending the entire day studying for the general category paper, sitting with the optional paper might be difficult. Even after charting it all out and making a good schedule, sometimes when you start studying, it could all go haywire. Don’t let that bother you–just try and get back on track as soon as you can.”

She goes to say that one should choose a technical subject only if they are strong and confident about it.

Remain focussed. Photo Source

“During my time, I saw many of my friends who had chosen a technical subject get through their first attempt. Having said this, you must be sure of wanting it and having a good grip on it beforehand.”

“If math and physics make you happy, then opt for these engineering subjects, they will do you good. You need to be able to imagine solving an equation or problem. But if you lack in that imaginative process, do not opt for it,” are Surabhi’s words of wisdom.

Revise well

80 per cent of the studying is done when you prepare for the prelims, and after that, you start studying for the mains. It is important that you constantly revise all that you have been studying, says Surabhi.

The mantra that worked for her is – sit, write, check – repeat.

UPSC - exam - application - withdrawal
Representational Image only. Source: Facebook/News Mania Newspaper

She says there is no substitute for sitting down with a paper and pen, and writing the answers. The other reason it is important to practise writing papers is that many of us have lost touch with writing.

“I was used to writing, and therefore, it would take me less time. But it is a task for someone from an IT background who spends all their time programming on the computer. So one should be aware of these things as well,” she says.

A week before the exam

About a week before the examination, Surabhi recollects stopping active studying. She says, “I would randomly pick a topic and attempt writing an essay on it. I did not consume any new content a week prior to the exams.”

“So I would suggest spending the time revising all your quotes or statistics. These data points will help when you have to write those essays.”


Essentially, the two things that Surabhi stresses on in the week before the exam, are – do not consume any new content and revising thoroughly.

Tips while attempting the paper

1. Spend a few minutes glancing through the entire question paper. While you do not need to read all the questions, you will have a fair idea of how the sections are divided if you go through them once before you start attempting them.

2. Look through the mark allocation for each question. Do not spend more time answering a question that carries only five marks. Divide the time you will spend on each answer, depending on the number of marks it carries.

3. Once done, if time permits, go through the question paper again to ensure that you have attempted all the mandatory questions. You could also put a tick mark against the questions attempted. This will help when you are checking at the end.

With these pointers, we wish you all the best for your examination!

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

You May Also Like: Preparing for UPSC Exams? Here are 8 Ways to Fight Those Nerves!

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