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How to Become an IAS Topper?

To get a rank in UPSC, you need to work hard.
To get All-India Rank 1, you need to work hard and smart.

Every serious candidate who enters the UPSC journey, dreams of securing the All-India Rank-1. And, although all UPSC toppers claim that they had no idea they will secure Rank-1, the reality is they leave no stone unturned in their preparation.

Apart from maintaining discipline, parallel smart and hard work, relentless practice, a well-thought-out strategy, and time management, you need to be filled with a burning desire, motivation, and perseverance.

One must have to be aware of his/her strengths and weaknesses critically to get a top rank or any rank for that matter. Patience and an undaunted self-belief are a must-have.

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1) How Shubham Kumar (2020-21 topper) could secure an AIR-1?

Shubham started his preparation in 2017 and secured AIR-1 in his 3rd attempt. He believes in saying ''Where there is a will, there is the way". His father and his commitment to serve people were the source of his motivation.

During his preparation, his strategy followed-

  • Working on basics.
  • Batching mock tests for prelims and mains in his daily study plan.
  • A wise selection of optional (scored 320/500).
  • Newspaper reading for current affairs part.
  • Focus on revision.

He suggests UPSC aspirants believe in themselves, make a friend circle of his/her fellow aspirants stay motivated and for positive peer pressure, practice mock tests regularly, wise selection of optional subject and during revision time not to read new books.

What was different this time?

Earlier (2014), his dad had filled up his form without telling him and he had little motivation and no vision for CSE. This time (2017) he himself decided to clear this exam or in other words he had enough motivation.

Secondly, before commencing his UPSC preparation he had identified his strengths and weaknesses beforehand so as to devise a strategy that would work for him.

He also talks about filtering out the relevant information from the ocean of data available in the market and internet. After all, to get a top rank one must know what not to study.

If one could observe, Kanishak has scored a remarkable 360+ marks out of 500 in his Mathematics optional alone. He chose Mathematics as his optional because it was logical, scientific, static (with no current affairs involved) and lastly, he knew he could never get bored of Math. One can gauge that he could secure All-India Rank 1 because he chose the right optional.

How Anudeep Durishetty (2017-18 Topper) Could Secure an AIR-1?

Anudeep Durishetty failed UPSC CSE 2016.

He was absolutely shattered by his marks and blamed almost everyone except himself for his defeat. He became lethargic, timid, under confident and even dumped his books in a corner.

Who could knew, that his marks would become his only motivation that drove him to rank 1?

His marks in 2016 are as follows:

Anudeep Durishetty

If one observes deeply, one could understand that Anudeep was nowhere near the cut off (565 marks only). 

After he bounced back (after 9 months) he observed that he was not able to complete the paper in time. So, his focus was just on completing the paper in those 3 hours and not All-India rank 1. He practiced and practiced hard. Slowly and gradually, he started completing the paper on time.

And in 2017, the result came out and all the hard work paid its due.

Anudeep Durishetty Mains Marks

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3) How Tina Dabi(2015-16 Topper) Could Secure an AIR-1?

The ability to be clear about your goal in your initial years and getting ready for it in advance gives you an upper hand.

Tina Dabi AIR-1 has a very interesting story to tell. Honestly speaking, when news of her cracking the UPSC Civil Services Examination at the age of 22 in the very first attempt, broke out, many were dumb-founded and others were jealous.

So, what it took for a 22-year old young lady to crack the mother of all examinations?

The answer is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in improving each and every aspect of the UPSC CSE exam including one’s strengths and weaknesses.

After she passed and probably topped her class 10th Board exam, she opted for Science initially and possibly out of peer pressure.

But she always wanted to sit for Civil Services Exam and later after her parents counselled her, she made a very conscious decision of choosing Humanities over Science. Her mother even resigned from her highly prestigious Indian Engineering Service. Thus, began a journey which was no ordinary one.

Tina has mentioned that she used to study for 8 to 14 hours. This she did for five continuous years. This means that she must have dedicated 12,000-15,000 hours in that five-year time period to studies only. After knowing this, one can easily gauge that her becoming an IAS topper in her very first attempt was no accident!

She used to read newspaper purposively and there were days when she could complete newspaper in half an hour only instead of the regular two hours. This is because she would only hunt for topics which were in the UPSC CSE syllabus.

She also chose an optional (Political Science and International Relations) she knew she was very comfortable with.

In PSIR, she secured full marks in class 12th Board and also bagged Delhi university Gold medal.

She joined GS foundation courses in class 11th itself and devoted most of her time in reading IAS related material.

But this is also true that many aspirants devote more than 8,000 hours to studies and still can’t get through UPSC. The reason is they don’t devote the entire time in deliberately practicing for UPSC. We can open the book in front of us for 18 hours but how many hours do we genuinely study?!

The key lies in being conscious of one’s goal and continuously working on it.

One should focus on studying more honestly and to a certain extent more cunningly and be alert and aware of one’s weaknesses to clear the UPSC CSE Exam.

This was true for Tina Dabi and is true for every other IAS aspirant.

4) How you can also get an All India Rank-1 and top the list?

  • Firstly, you need to forget the thought of getting rank 1 or this cadre, that service, big house, big cars etc.
  • Know your strengths/ weaknesses/ likes/ dislikes. This will help you in formulating a strategy that works for you.
  • Devise a strategy and stick to it, unless it is not working for you.
  • Focus on the preparation part, and more importantly enjoy it.
  • Choose the right optional- one which you enjoy thoroughly, in which you can score well, which takes the saturation off you and refreshes your mood.
  • Develop tactics for each and every part of your preparation.
  • Be clear about the exam pattern, syllabus and the demand of UPSC.
  • Don’t be distracted, always be inquisitive in your approach.
  • Most importantly, don’t waste time. Even if you get 5 minutes, try utilizing it in studies.
  • Revise each and every topic multiple times.
  • Avoid unnecessary opinions of people (who give you negative vibes) around you.
  • Start your preparation and start with NCERTs- most aspirants fail to even start their preparation. This results in lot of despair.
  • Revise your class notes. If you are doing it, you are already at the upper hand.
  • Focus on both GS and Optional adequately. Give both of them ample time.
  • Calm your minds. Practice meditation.
  • Develop a mechanism to monitor you in case you are deviating from your goal.
  • Practice as much mock tests and as much answer writing as you can.

In the end, getting All-India rank 1 is a cumulative outcome of many checks and balances. You need to make sure that you’re on the right track and you need to do that often.


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