Avneet Punia (CSE 2016 Rank 356) UPSC Topper’s Interview: 23-Year Old Clears IAS Exam in his First Attempt!

Avneet Punia

Thank you so much ClearIAS for all your support and guidance throughout the journey. Now, while waiting for the final results, let me express my wholehearted gratitude to you as ClearIAS was the first UPSC preparation app I downloaded on my phone and I needed no other online help after that. Thank you so much ClearIAS.

With due regards, Avneet Punia, Roll No. 0007598

The above words of a 23-year old UPSC Civil Service Exam 2016 Topper – Avneet Punia – are taken from the mail he sent to clearias.com just before UPSC results were announced. Avneet, the son of a farmer from Rajasthan managed his time so well, that he prepared for the IAS exam even while doing his post graduation and emerged successful in his first attempt.

Let’s welcome Avneet Punia to the “UPSC Toppers Interview” at www.clearias.com.

Brief Bio-data:

  • Name: Avneet Punia
  • Age: 23
  • Name of the Exam and Year: CSE 2016
  • Rank: 356
  • Roll number: 7598
  • Category (General/OBC/SC/ST): OBC
  • Graduation Background and College: B.Sc. Honours Mathematics, Hindu College, DU (2011-14)
  • Post Graduation Background and College (if any): M.A. Geography, Delhi School of Economics, DU (2015-17)
  • Work Experience: Organization and Duration (if any): NIL
  • UPSC Optional Subject: Geography
  • UPSC Mains Medium: English
  • UPSC Interview Medium: English
  • The number of attempts taken to achieve this feat: 1
  • State and Place of Residence (Permanent): District-Jhunjhunu, (Rajasthan)
  • Percentage of Marks in 10th and Board: 94.33% (CBSE)
  • Percentage of Marks in 12th and Board: 92.16% (CBSE)
  • Percentage of Marks in Graduation and Board/University: 91.53%, Hindu College, University of Delhi
  • Percentage of Marks in Post Graduation and Board/University (if any): Result Awaited. Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.
  • What’s unique about your profile: Along with academics, I also hold NCC ‘A’ certificate. Participated in CBSE clusters in Volleyball. Member of Hindu College Volleyball team. Special interest in music and musical instruments (harmonium and dholak). Special interests in Horse Riding, Swimming, Cricket and Roller Skating. All these activities were part of our school curriculum. So, I would like to credit my school for broadening the horizons of my overall personality. I was also the school captain. Also was the Minister of Sports in the Hindu College Student Union.
  • Service Preference (Top 5): IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS (IT), IRS (C&CE)
  • Preference (Top 5): Rajasthan, Haryana, MadhyaPradesh, HimachalPradesh, Uttarakhand

Background + Inspirational Journey So Far:

ClearIAS.com: Hearty congratulations from ClearIAS.com for this exceptional achievement!  We are happy that your efforts are finally rewarded, that too in grand style! Let’s start from the beginning. How did you come across the idea of writing UPSC Civil Services Examination? Was it your childhood dream?

ClearIAS Prelims Online Test Series

Yes. It was a childhood dream. But a serious thought was paid to it only when I went to DU for my graduation. It was here during my graduation. I came across the craze for this exam – among my fellow friends here. And I began my preparations as soon as I completed my graduation in 2014.

ClearIAS.com: How did you feel when you came to know that your name is in the toppers list? Can you share the moments of happiness with our readers?

Seeing my name in the final list was a big surprise as I was never sure of the success in the very first attempt. Over and above that, securing Rank 356 was beyond my own expectations. I was at home when the results were announced and were informed about it by a friend over the phone. Everyone at home was extremely happy and so was I. It was a dream come true as the hard work I invested in the last one and a half year had paid off.

ClearIAS.com: Can you share a little bit about your background? (Family, School, College, Work etc.)

Family: We are a joint family comprising of my Bade Papa and Papa. My father is a farmer and mother is a housewife.

School: I went to Nimawat Public School, Fatehpur, Sikar (Rajasthan), a boarding school, when I was 5. I completed my entire school education from this school (1st-12th).

College: I was again a hosteler in the Hindu College Hostel. I opted for B.Sc. Honours in mathematics as I was really fond of maths as a subject then. My stay in the Hindu college was a big boost to my personality in terms of confidence level and helped me discover various aspects of my personality and to grove them.

ClearIAS.com: How can you correlate you graduation background, work experience (if any) and entry into civil services? Can you brief us your thoughts, views, and ambitions when you climbed each position in the ladder of your life?

My graduation background (maths) was not directly of much use in my civil services preparations because I had decided to opt for a different optional subject (geography). But the study of maths in graduation enhanced my analytical abilities and gave an application-based route to my civil services preparations. I was confident that I would succeed in this exam but making it in the first attempt itself was, frankly speaking, a distant dream.

ClearIAS.com: Do you feel that the competition level of UPSC Civil Services Exam is on a rise? It seems that there is an increasing trend of candidates from IITs, IIMs and AIIMS attempting and clearing this exam. Is Civil Service the final destination /ambition of Indian youth, in this age of lucrative private sector jobs?

It is evident that in the recent years, an increasing number of candidates are aspiring to go for civil services which are visible through the increasing number of forms being filled up for the same. This, no doubt, indicates towards the increasing competition. Also, an increasing number of candidates from IITs, IIMs and AIIMS are going for the civil services as a career, which according to me is a positive indication in terms of more field experts entering into the administration. But at the same time, we must remember that not all the young people engaged in the private sector go for civil services. So, it will not be apt to conclude that civil services are the final destination of Indian youth. But again, more youth in the services is a positive sign for the country’s administrative machinery as it shows that more and more youth are willing to serve the nation and its people with full devotion and dedication. 

Study Plan

Avneet Punia Interview

ClearIAS.com: What is the secret of your success? How did you approach this exam? What was your strategy in general (Prelims, Mains, and Interview)?

There is no secret to my success other than the consistent hard work. Complete dedication towards the exam for over a year has made the dream come true. And the preparation strategy for prelims and mains was not isolated from each other. Since almost all the syllabus of prelims overlaps with that of mains, so I followed an integrated approach for prelims and mains. And the specifically prelims oriented preparations began only 3 months before the prelims.

ClearIAS.com: How long (Years/Months) have you been preparing before you gave this attempt? Also, on an average how many hours did you put on a daily basis? How did you manage time?

I prepared for one and a half year before I sat for the prelims. And I studied for an average 8 hours a day. I had to manage time for the studies as I was also simultaneously pursuing my masters in geography from Delhi School of Economics. But at the same time, the facility of a world class library in DSE helped me a lot as the material was easily available in both offline and online format. Also, as many of my friends and seniors in the library were also preparing for this exam, they helped me a lot in tackling various doubts and problems.

ClearIAS.com: Were you a person who studied alone? Or a person who favoured the combined study approach?

I prefer studying alone but at the same time discussing the studied concepts with friends helps in further broadening the knowledge base. Also, once you discuss the concepts with your friends, it is easy to remember these concepts for a longer time and also easily recalling them when you need them.

ClearIAS.com: Did you attend any coaching institute or subscribe to mock tests for prelims or mains? If yes, can you provide the details for each stage (Prelims/Mains/Interview)? How helpful were the coaching institutes?

I took coaching for GS and optional (geography) from Vajiram and Ravi in 2014-15. I thought being a student of science background, it would be difficult to deal with the GS subjects such as history, polity, economics among others. So I decided to go for coachings. Also, the way Shabbir Sir taught geography optional in Vajiram proved to be very beneficial and made the concepts look very easy to handle. So, I think coachings helped me.

ClearIAS.com: What websites (online preparation websites or government websites) will you recommend for future aspirants for UPSC preparation?

Since there is excess of information available in the market. And in the age of technology, availability of quality online information has a crucial role to play to keep oneself updated with the available information and at the same time not investing too much time in such sources. So subscribing to a few quality online sources is needed. I personally preferred PIB’s website, ClearIAS website, InsightsOnIndia website and gkToday website.

 ClearIAS.com: What is your opinion/feedback about the ClearIAS.com website/ClearIAS app?

ClearIAS website and app has helped me a lot in keeping myself updated with quality material for this exam.

ClearIAS.com: Please mention the programs of ClearIAS which you used from the list ( ClearIAS Free Online Study Materials and Guidance, ClearIAS Prelims Test Series, ClearIAS Mains Answer Writing Practice, ClearIAS Interview Program)

I was benefitted from the ClearIAS free online study material and ClearIAS prelims test series.

ClearIAS.com: Did you use Social Media like Facebook, Twitter or other forums for UPSC Preparation? Or did you say good-bye to the social media during preparation days? Any technology-tips (Eg: Mobile apps, Note making software etc.)?

I did not use social media networks like Facebook and Twitter for UPSC preparations. But at the same time, I did not bid a complete goodbye to these social media networks and used these to keep in touch with my friends. I limited the use of such social media sites to a great extent and used them once in a while. But a judicious use of preparation apps like that of ClearIAS, CivilsDaily and GKToday helped me a lot in the course of preparations.

ClearIAS.com: What were the Newspapers and Magazines (Eg: Yojana, Kurukshetra etc.) you followed? How many hours did you devote for newspapers? Any tips on newspaper-reading?

I read The Hindu in detail daily but sometimes also read the editorial section of Indian Express. Initially, newspaper reading took a lot of time, sometimes around 2.5 to 3 hrs. But with time, the newspaper reading efficiency increased and it took around One and a half hour to do the newspaper. Before starting with the newspaper reading, it is important to do a detailed study of the exam’s syllabus so that it becomes easier to judge what all news is worth reading for this exam. This will minimise the time needed to do wrap up the daily newspaper. Coming to the magazine’s, I read Yojana and Kurukshetra but not for every month and not from cover to cover. I went only through the articles I felt were more important than the others.

ClearIAS.com: What was your preference: Reading online (Laptop/Tablet/Mobile) or reading the traditional way (Books)? Or a mix of both?

The majority of the preparation was done in the traditional way i.e. through the textbooks. But the sections from online sources and preparation apps were done on the mobile phone.

ClearIAS.com: Can you elaborate your daily timetable (When will you wake up, study, sleep etc.)

I woke up at 6 every day, went to the gym for an hour and then went to the library in my college. Then I used to attend an hour of the class of M.A. Geography in the College and spent the rest of the day in the library till 8 PM. After coming to the hostel in the evening, I used to do study from the online sources. I used to sleep by 12.

ClearIAS.com: How did you keep yourself motivated for this one-year-long exam?

For me, the motivation came from within. Also, the will to be able to service the society and nation in some constructive way kept me going on. At the same time, the will to fulfil the wish of my family was another important factor that kept me motivated.

UPSC Prelims

ClearIAS.com: Can you elaborate on your preparation strategies/approach and study materials and books used for Prelims Paper 1 and Paper 2?(Please mention books/materials used for each subject)

  •  Books/Study Materials for History: NCERT 9th-12th, Spectrum Modern India
  •  Books/Study materials for Geography: NCERT 9th-12th, GC Leong
  •  Books/Study materials for Polity: Laxmikanth, Current Affairs Vision IAS
  •  Books/Study materials for Economics: Sriram IAS notes, Vajiram economy notes,   Economic Survey, Current Affairs Vision IAS
  •  Books/Study Materials for Science and Technology: Vajiram S & Tech notes, Current Affairs Vision IAS
  • Books/Study materials for Environment: Shankar IAS notes, Current Affairs Vision
  • Books/Study Materials for Current Affairs: Vision IAS Monthly magazines, The Hindu Newspaper, Online sources like PIB, ClearIAS, CivilsDaily and InsightsOnIndia.
  • Books/Study materials for General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT): Not Prepared at all.

ClearIAS.com: Any tips/pieces of advice especially for UPSC Civil Services Prelims?

Give as many mock tests as you can. More and more mocks will make one aware of the silly mistakes one makes while attempting the question paper. Also, I preferred to keep my sources as less as possible and revised these limited sources 3-4 times before going for the prelims. Also, prelims is something which can’t be prepared in isolation from the mains. So the preparations should be Prelims-cum- mains rather than being prelims-and-then-mains.

UPSC Mains

ClearIAS.com: Can you elaborate on your study materials and books used for each topic of Mains Papers? (Please give a detailed view, especially for sub-topics in all the general studies papers like books/materials used for each subtopic like Disaster Management, Internal security, Indian Society, Biodiversity etc.)

  • Books/Study materials used for Essay Paper: No specific book. Learnt the art of essay writing by reading good editorials in newspapers.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 1 (Indian History, World History, Indian Society, Indian Geography, and World Geography): History: NCERTs (9th-12th), Spectrum for Modern India, Vision IAS Mains 365 for social issues, NCERTs (9th-12th) for geography, GC Leong for geography.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 2 (Constitution, Polity, Governance, Social Justice, Foreign Relations, and International Affairs): Laxmikanth, Vision IAS Mains 365 for polity and governance, social issues and International Relations.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 3 (Indian Economy, Biodiversity, Science and Technology, Internal Security and Disaster Management): Sriram IAS notes for economy, VisionIAS mains 365 for Economy, Science and Technology, Security Issues and Disaster Management.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 4 (Ethics + Case Studies): Vajiram and Ravi class notes.
  • Books/Study materials used for Optional Subject Paper 1: Shabbir Sir’s Class Notes (Vajiram)
  • Books/Study materials used for Optional Subject Paper 2: Shabbir Sir’s Class Notes (Vajiram)
  • Books/Study materials used for Regional Language (Compulsory): No preparations at all.
  • Books/Study materials used for the English Language (Compulsory): No preparations at all.

ClearIAS.com: ClearIAS.com: Did you prepare hand notes or participated in mock answer writing before mains? What was the strategy for preparing current affairs topics in general?

I prepared hand notes of topics that I felt were extremely important for the mains. I got enrolled in the Vision IAS test series for optional and essay but appeared only for one test in each. Through these mock tests, I realised that it was very important to attempt all the questions in the mains.

ClearIAS.com: What are the government reports that aspirants should go through, before giving Mains Exam?

I went through the summarised version of 2nd ARC Report. Also, a detailed study of the economic survey and budget highlights helped me a lot in mains.

ClearIAS.com: What was the colour of the pen you used for writing mains (Blue Ink/ Black Ink)? Also, the company and brand name of the pen used:

I used a black pen for the headings and a blue Ball pen for rest of the paper. I can’t recall the brand name as I was not very choosy with the pens that I wrote with.

ClearIAS.com: What were your writing style in GS and optional subject? Bullet Points/ Essay style or a mix of both styles?

It was a mix of both.

ClearIAS.com: What are your suggestions to aspirants for improving the score in essay paper? What were the essays you choose to write? Did you use sub-heading/points/graphs in your essay paper?

According to my opinion, coachings for essay paper makes a fixed pattern of an essay which if presented by a majority of candidates may make it less interesting for the examiner. So, I personally think that one must focus on her/his natural essay writing style and should practice hard to improve and grove the style.

One of the essays I attempted was “Development if not engendered can be endangered” and the other was related to cyber security.

What are your suggestions to aspirants for improving the score in GS1 paper (History, Geography, Society etc?

Revise the sources minimum 3-4 time before sitting in the exams. Also, use diagrams and maps in geography wherever necessary.

What are your suggestions to aspirants for improving the score in the GS2 paper (Polity, Constitution, Social Justice, International relations etc?


What are your suggestions to aspirants for improving the score in GS3 paper (Economy, Environment, Science and Tech, Internal Security, Disaster Management etc?

Revision + Use diagrams and flow charts wherever you think you can.

ClearIAS.com: What are your suggestions to aspirants for improving the score in GS4 paper (Ethics paper)? Can you brief on how you attempted the Ethics paper? Please explain the strategies and writing the style for Ethics case studies.

For ethics, my only source was the Vajiram class notes. I did not give any mock test of ethics and did not refer to any book. It is very important to be very attentive and careful while attempting the questions in ethics paper especially the case studies. My answers were completely based on what I felt was the ethically correct course.

ClearIAS.com: What was your optional subject? Please give our readers detailed insights on your selection and strategies regarding your optional subject. We are sure that there will be many who take the same optional subject as yours in future.

I opted for geography optional despite having done B.Sc. Honours Mathematics because mathematics did not enthral me. So while I was confused after my graduation in terms of the optional subject to be chosen, I started my GS preparations. This was when I realised that geography was the subject which enthralled me more than anything else. So, I decided to go for optional coachings in geography from Shabbir sir ( Vajiram).

ClearIAS.com: What was your exam hall strategy for mains: attempting all questions even at the cost of compromising quality or writing only quality answers compromising on the number of questions attempted?

I preferred attempting all the questions and hence I had to compromise with the quality of a few answers. I was very clear with this strategy which helped me complete all the questions in all the mains papers.

UPSC Interview

ClearIAS.com: Can you elaborate on your approach and preparation for Interview? Did you attend any mock interviews?

I focused on the relevant issues of current affairs and prepared an opinion on all such issues. Peer learning helped me a lot here. At the same time, I also prepared my DAF in detail. I attended one mock interview each in Sriram IAS, Vajiram and Ravi and Chanakya.

ClearIAS.com: Can you elaborate a bit on the things mentioned in your DAF (Detailed Application Form) like your hobbies, extracurricular activities or prizes won:

Hobbies- Playing Volleyball, Cricket, Horse Riding, Listening Music, Playing Harmonium and Dholak, Singing.

Sports:  NCC-A Certificate, CBSE Clusters in Volleyball, Inter-College Volleyball Tournament, Hindu College Hostel Volleyball Tournament

Leadership positions held:  School Captain 2010-11, Sports Secretary – Hindu  College Hostel 2012-13, Minister Of Sports Hindu College 2013-14, a Key member of Organizing Committee of Mathematics Department Festival 2011-14 and Annual festival of Delhi School Of Economics 2015-16.

ClearIAS.com: What was your interview dress?

White Shirt, Black Trouser, Blue Tie, Black Shoes.

ClearIAS.com: Who was the Chairman of the board you faced? How long was the interview?

Chairman of the board –  Retd. Vice Air Marshal A.S. Bhonsle. The interview went for around 25 minutes.

ClearIAS.com: Can you share with our readers your UPSC Interview experience? Our readers would be really happy to hear those questions and replies in the UPSC Topper’s Interview.

The interview was mostly based on my DAF only and most of the questions were directly from my DAF. Sacred Geography was the only thing I was asked from my optional subject.

ClearIAS.com: Were you happy after the interview? Did you expect good marks?

The Interview was far better than my expectations and totally different from the mock interviews. The amicable behaviour of the board members and chairman made it look very easy. So, I was expecting good marks. But I got only 151 which was less than what I had expected.

ClearIAS.com: Any tips for aspirants going for UPSC Interview?

Be yourself and try to be honest with your answers. Do not fake anything in front of the board as they are expert enough to notice that. Try to keep a balanced view on most of the things. Prepare your DAF in detail.

Do you think that there is a relation between the profile of the candidate (age or education background) and interview marks? At a time when lot many candidates from top institutes like IIT, IIM or AIIMs appearing this exam, is there any matter of worry for other candidates from state colleges or those without work experience?

I don’t think so. The board looks for the level of maturity in handling various trick situations which they create by their situation based questions. So, I don’t think interview marks are affected by the age of the candidate.

The Same thing holds true for later part of the question.

Previous Attempts/ Backups/ Others Jobs Qualified (if any)

ClearIAS.com: Comment on your previous attempts on UPSC Civil Services Exam, if any? What have you learned from the mistakes/failures?

This was my first attempt.

ClearIAS.com: What was your backup plan in case you didn’t qualify?

I had cleared NET JRF whose result came a day before the UPSC’s final results. So, I would have pursued MPhil or PhD if I had not been able to make it this time.

ClearIAS.com: Did you write/clear any other exams (like Bank exams/State PSCs/ Private Jobs) during the preparation period or before:

I had given the exams of my M.A. Geography last semester when the UPSC results came.

Marks – Prelims, Mains, and Interview

Preliminary Exam (Just for Qualification):

  •    General Studies Paper 1: 117.34 (Out of 200)
  •    General Studies Paper 2: 126 (Out of 200)


  •    Essay (Out of 250): 141
  •    GS1 (Out of 250): 105
  •    GS2 (Out of 250): 95
  •    GS3 (Out of 250): 126
  •    GS4 (Out of 250): 113
  •    Optional Paper 1 (Out of 250): 140
  •    Optional Paper 2 (Out of 250): 136
  •    Written Total (Out of 1750): 855

Interview (Out of 275):

  •    Marks for Personality Test: 151
  •    Final Marks (Out of 2025): 1006


Avneet Punia UPSC Topper

ClearIAS.com: What do you think of as the main reason for your success? (Feel free to name any special help from friends, teachers, family, coaching institutes, websites,  or other sources)

First of all, I would like to thank the Lord Almighty as I think I was lucky enough at various stages of the exam which once amalgamated with my hard work produced the desired result. Secondly, I would thank my parents and family members for constantly believing in my abilities. I would also like to thank all my teachers right from Nimawat Public School to Hindu College to Delhi School of Economics for helping me out whenever I needed them. At the same time, continuous support from friends and seniors was also something which proved to be a huge positive for me.

ClearIAS.com: What preference in services have you opted for? Is there any particular reason for that priority? What are the novel ideas you have for the country, to be implemented once you get into civil services?

My service preference is IAS, IPS, IFS. The objective behind opting for civil services as a career option was always the will to do something constructive for the nation and its people and to be a small part of the overall process of transforming India. At the same time, the job satisfaction that one gets after being able to be a reason for creating a positive impact in the lives of thousands and lakhs of people is something which is beyond words and is immeasurable.

ClearIAS.com: Did your life change after success/attempt in UPSC Civil Services Exam? If yes, how?

Definitely, there has been a few changes as of now. A sense of responsibility is already being felt. At the same time, friends and juniors expect you to share some tips about the exam and to help them in need during their course of preparations. Once you are successful in this exam, I think it’s your responsibility to help all the other aspiring candidates in whatever way you can so as to help them realise their dreams as well.

ClearIAS.com: Does the educational or financial status of the family of the aspirant impact the UPSC preparation and result?

I think the educational and financial background of the family may have some impact on the course of preparations but if one is determined and dedicated towards the exam, I think success sooner or later kisses her/his feet.

ClearIAS.com: Any tips on Civil Services exam preparation and other priorities in life (Financial security, Higher Studies, Marriage, Family life etc.).

Remain dedicated towards your goal but at the same time keep yourself refreshed with help of what you love doing in your leisure time such as games and sports, music etc. This is needed because UPSC preparations is a long drawn process and many a time one feels tired of it. So to keep the interest alive in the preparations, one is advised to develop some hobbies also. This may also help you in the interview’s hobbies section.

ClearIAS.com: What is your advice to the freshers who are going to appear in this exam?

Hard work has no alternative and there is no shortcut to this exam. So keep working hard which should be a smart hard work and not blindly work day and night. For this one should understand what the exam demands. Go through the syllabus in detail before you start your preparations. Also, it is advised to keep good care of your health and take at least 7 hours of sleep each day and to take care that the preparations do not take a toll on your health.

ClearIAS.com: What is your advice to all those candidates who didn’t succeed in this exam yet?

As we all know that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. One should always remember that succeeding or not succeeding in this exam is not the indicator of one’s knowledge. I think one should always have the tendency to learn from her/his mistakes. Same holds true for this exam as well. One should analyse and evaluate her/his weak areas and try to improve upon them.

ClearIAS.com: We like to express our heartiest congratulations once again for this grand success. We are happy that you chose ClearIAS.com to share your happiness on this special occasion. ClearIAS.com sincerely thank you, on behalf our readers and ourselves, for the spirit and benevolence to find time to write answers to our detailed questionnaire. Wishing you, all the very best in career and life.

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