UPSC AIR 2 Animesh Pradhan interview: Detailed insight into his IAS preparation strategy and much more - Hindustan Times

UPSC AIR 2 Animesh Pradhan interview: Detailed insight into his IAS preparation strategy and much more

May 29, 2024 08:42 AM IST

In an interview with Hindustan Times Digital, AIR 2 Animesh Pradhan gave a detailed account of himself and how he prepared for the UPSC civil services exam.

In his first attempt, Odisha boy Animesh Pradhan secured All India Rank (AIR) 2 in the UPSC Civil Services exam 2023, the results for which were declared last month. Born in the small town of Talcher, Animesh completed Class 12 from D.A.V. Public School, M.C.L. Kalinga area. He joined NIT Rourkela and graduated with a B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering in 2021. He then joined the Indian Oil Corporation.

Animesh Pradhan of Odisha cracked the UPSC civil services exam in the first attempt. Now he is preparing to join the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie. (Handout image)
Animesh Pradhan of Odisha cracked the UPSC civil services exam in the first attempt. Now he is preparing to join the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), Mussoorie. (Handout image)

In an interview with Hindustan Times Digital, Animesh provided detailed information about how he prepared for the exam, the books he read, the problems he faced and much more. Here are excerpts from that interview:

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Did you expect to bag All India Rank (AIR) 2?

It was a surreal moment for me. I had never dared to imagine such a high rank. Even in my most optimistic daydreams, I could only envision my name on the final list or perhaps a double-digit rank. The reality of securing Rank 2 was beyond my wildest dreams. The journey was not without its share of ups and downs. There were moments of self-doubt and anxiety, especially after the Prelims. But I learned to stay focused and not let the pressure get to me. This experience has taught me the importance of perseverance and self-belief.

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What led to this kind of success?

Looking back, my success was not just the result of two years of preparation. More than that, It was a culmination of my upbringing, schooling, college, and the environment I was immersed in. My father's role as a political science lecturer and my mother's passion for history shaped my intellectual curiosity. Dinner table conversations about politics, the economy, and current affairs were regular. My experiences as a debater and student journalist at NIT Rourkela equipped me with the skills to navigate the preparation challenges.

The Civil Services exam has three stages: Prelims, Mains, and the Interview. How did you navigate through these hurdles?

The Preliminary exam was undoubtedly the most challenging. My main focus was on minimising errors and increasing accuracy. My score remained in the 90s, which was neither exceptional nor disappointing. The 2023 questions had a significant change in pattern, which added to the complexity. Maintaining composure and calmness during those two hours of the exam was crucial. I felt I had performed poorly when I walked out of the examination hall. The questions and answers were perplexing. I even wondered if I would clear the CSAT paper. However, it turned out that my accuracy was so high that I had a comfortable qualifying score.

For the Mains, I prepared rigorously for three months. I was comfortable writing answers because I had prepared for 11 months. The exam was physically and mentally tiring. Writing nine papers in two weeks is taxing, but Mains was fun because it's an empty canvas on which you can express your ideas freely.

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The interview was different. I was excited about it, having pictured myself in that setting. I had limited time to prepare, as it was held in the first week of the schedule. I took a couple of mock tests and thoroughly prepared about my background, places I’ve been, my hobbies, and other aspects.

Many students find UPSC interviews tricky. What is your opinion? What kind of questions were you asked during the interview?

I probably had one of the lowest marks in the interview among the toppers, scoring 175, which is average compared to this year's toppers. So, I don’t have much credibility to advise on interviews.

The questions usually revolve around your education, academics, job profile, background, and places you have visited. In my interview, most questions revolved around current affairs and national and international happenings. The board was highly cordial, and I had a fun experience, even though I felt my performance in the interview was average.

Your performance in the Mains was exceptional. What should students keep in mind while preparing for the Mains?

I read books primarily to clear the exam and gain knowledge. Before picking up or revising a book, I reviewed previous years' questions to see what was asked. This subconsciously trained my mind while reading. So, being in the examination mindset throughout preparation is crucial.

Secondly, I wrote an insane amount of answers. I appeared for time-bound answer writing tests every Sunday for 11 months, from February 2022 to December 2022. These half-length tests, which took 1.5 hours, made me comfortable writing answers on any topic by the time the Mains came around.

How did you get questions for these tests?

I enrolled in a test series program called Samachar Manthan by Civilsdaily, which provided weekly PDFs of current affairs. The questions were based on those PDFs. Initially, I struggled as I didn’t have enough content to write, but I remained disciplined. I wrote answers at home, scanned them, sent them to the coaching team, and received feedback in a few days.

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Who is the inspiration behind your success?

For me, this is a story of tragedy. Both my parents dreamed of seeing me become an IAS officer, but they are not here to share this success. I lost my father when I was in Class 11. He was the one who ingrained the idea of civil services within me. My mother battled terminal breast cancer during my prime preparation years and passed away a month before the results were declared. My preparation effort seemed trivial compared to what she was going through. She always sacrificed herself for my victory. Today is her victory, and I am celebrating it.

There is much discussion on how many hours per day are required to crack the examination. What is your opinion regarding this?

I didn’t take extended leave for UPSC preparation as a working aspirant. I could only devote 5-6 hours on weekdays and 8-10 on weekends. Quality over quantity is essential, but it’s not that 1 or 2 hours are enough. I studied for 5-6 hours daily, but it always felt inadequate. You need to put in a decent number of hours, ensuring the quality of that time is excellent.

Do you think some subjects are more suitable for clearing civil services?

It’s not the subjects that matter but your interest in them. Sociology was my optional subject, and I had no background in it. I come from a computer science background but had a deep interest in sociology, so it never bored me. Interest in a subject is crucial as you must devote much time to it.

The second important factor is the availability of resources, test series, and guidance in that subject.

How did you prepare for your optional subject, and how much time did you devote?

I studied sociology throughout my preparation, except four months before the preliminary exam. I referred to the notes of a previous topper, Neha Bosley, who ranked 15th a few years back. Her detailed and elegant topic-wise notes addressed the exam's demands. I added value from books like "Essential Sociology" by Nitin Singhania and took two test series, one before and one after the prelims.

Would you like to recommend some must-read books for Civil Services aspirants?

There is consensus on basic books like M. Lakshmikanth for Politics, Spectrum Publications for Modern History, and PMF’s book on the Environment. These are standard books everyone follows. What’s important is to stick to limited resources and revise them extensively. There’s no hard and fast rule; free resources, animated videos, and YouTube content can also be helpful. Keep your resources limited and be flexible enough to refer to free, internet-based resources.

You mentioned you took help from educators and used free resources. Could you elaborate on that?

Yes, I took a lot of help from educators at Unacademy and their free resources. I also signed up for their interview program. Mrunal Patel sir, Sudarshan Gujjar sir, and Vivek Singh sir were particularly helpful. I started by watching Mrunal sir's old videos on YouTube, which are freely available. For the economy, I referred to Vivek Singh sir's economy books and his 550 important MCQs for prelims, which covered the subject thoroughly for me. Sudarshan Gujjar sir's geography content on YouTube was beneficial. Geography is a technical subject with scattered resources, but he compiled everything in one place and presented it in a way that made it fun and easy to revise, which helped me overcome my initial fear of the subject.

So this was mainly for the Preliminary exam?

It was for both the Preliminary and Mains exams. The content remains largely the same, and there is a lot of overlap between the two stages. However, for prelims specifically, these educators provided much-focused help.

What do you think about social media? Were you active on social media during your preparation?

I was active on Instagram but had self-control, so I used it judiciously.

What message would you like to give to aspirants planning to take UPSC?

Firstly, this exam is highly subjective and involves a lot of luck. Spend your energy, resources, and time on the things you can control- purely hard work.

Secondly, you will want to quit every alternate day. In those moments, always think about why you started. If your reason and intent are solid and honest, your chances of success are much higher.

Thirdly, the journey will get more challenging as you progress. Keep a support system intact, as you will want to lean on it every alternate day.

You will experience more failures than successes in this journey, and it’s not fun. Keep your mental health in check, and remember, there’s no substitute for hard work.

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