Ashish Kumar cleared the UPSC Civil Service Examination in 2019 in his second attempt and secured an All India Rank (AIR) of 53.

“The first attempt in 2018 did not end well for me. I did not make it past the prelims stage. Not clearing the examination, in hindsight, was good because it allowed me to focus more on my preparation,” he says.

The cut-off mark for the 2018 CSE was 98, and Ashish says that he missed it by just a few points; he scored 97.67 that year.

In his second attempt in 2019, Ashish cleared the exam and told us about what changed and how others can do the same.

1. Give your preparation a clear direction: “In my first attempt, I would pick up various resource materials and start studying. I failed to refer to the syllabus while preparing, and that was a huge mistake I made,” he says.

Ashish urges aspirants to study from a limited source of materials and constantly cross-check the syllabus.

2. Adopt previous years’ toppers’ strategies: “Do not try and adopt the exact same strategy as your peers since that might not work for you,” he says.

He adds that closely understanding the strategy adopted by previous years’ toppers will also help strengthen your study pattern.

3. Make notes that work for you: Ashish emphasises that during the revision stages, it would be prudent to only go through the notes and not go back to the source materials.

Having to recall points from different sources while attempting the paper is not advisable and having all the notes collated in one place is always helpful in answer writing.

4. Rote learning is not the key to success in UPSC CSE: “Do not go down the path of mugging up everything that is written in the resource material. Use reference points to create mind maps that will help you recollect everything,” he advises.

5. Attempt as many mock tests as possible: He says, “Try to solve questions which you don’t know or which you aren’t completely certain about. This will also help you develop the knack of elimination during the exam.”

6. Approach the examination with a clear mind: “Focus on the exam on hand and do not think of ‘what if’ scenarios. The examination requires you to be completely invested in the preparation and not have a wavering mind,” he adds.