Rahul Sharma (CSE 2016 Rank 76) UPSC Topper’s Interview: Couldn’t Clear Prelims in the first 2 attempts; IAS in his Third!

Rahul Sharma IASWhat would you do if you fail to clear the first stage of the UPSC Civil Services Exam, ie Prelims – the first two times? Will you feel disheartened? Not Rahul Sharma. He cleared Prelims, Mains, and Interview stages in his 3rd chance and finally landed up in the coveted IAS (Indian Administrative Service)!

The name Rahul Sharma is already familiar with ClearIAS.com readers. Rahul, after his mains/interview, has done a lot of analysis and had prepared a lot of quality study materials for the readers of clearias.com. Through this toppers interview, Rahul further explains his strategies and preparation methods. Let’s welcome Rahul Sharma to the “UPSC Toppers Interview” at www.clearias.com.

Brief Bio- data:

  • Name: Rahul Sharma
  • Age: 26
  • Name of the Exam and Year: CSE 2016
  • Rank: 76
  • Roll number: 0137125
  • Category (General/OBC/SC/ST): General
  • Graduation Background and College: B.E. (Thapar University)
  • Work Experience: Organization and Duration: IBM (1 year)
  • UPSC Optional Subject: Political Science and International Relations (PSIR)
  • UPSC Mains Medium: English
  • UPSC Interview Medium: English
  • The number of attempts taken to achieve this feat: 3
  • State and Place of Residence (Permanent): Punjab
  • Percentage of Marks in 10th and Board: 93.2 (CBSE)
  • Percentage of Marks in 12th and Board: 91 (CBSE)
  • Percentage of Marks in Graduation and Board/University: 7.34/10 (Thapar University)
  • Service Preference (Top 5): IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS (IT), IRS (C)
  • Cadre Preference (Top 5): Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, AGMUT

Background + Inspirational Journey So Far:

Rahul Sharma Rank 76

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

No, it was not a childhood dream. I thought of preparing for this exam during the final year of my graduation. The impact which this service can create on our citizens motivated me to pursue towards civil services.

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?

When the result came, I was studying for the next prelims and my friend called me to inform about my name in the list. I was happy on seeing the result. The feeling cannot be described in words. It was a proud moment for my family and everyone was happy.

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

I am from Amritsar, Punjab. My father is a Principal in Hindu College, Amritsar and mother is a lecturer in a government school. My parents have motivated me a lot in this phase of preparation and have always guided me to go in the right direction and meet my targets. They supported me a lot during my struggle days. I have done my 10th and 10+2 from DAV Public School, Amritsar. I graduated from Thapar University, Patiala as Electronics (Instrumentation and Control) Engineer. Then I worked as a software engineer in IBM, Noida for one year. Afterwards, I resigned from my job and started preparing for this exam with full dedication.

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?

I think each phase of person’s life teaches him/her an important lesson. Engineering teaches you how to work smartly in a shortest possible time. Similarly, job grooms you and you become professional. These have definitely helped me in my entry into civil services.

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?

The competition level is definitely on the rise in civil services since it is one of the most prestigious services in our nation and lakhs of students appear for this exam. But it should not be seen as the final destination of Indian youth. There are other opportunities available in other sectors as well.

Study Plan

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

Hard work, consistency and perseverance. The strategy is to revise again and again. Make short notes of newspapers which are easy to revise later on.

During prelims and mains, I studied everything in the syllabus and made short notes on different topics. These help you in the revision later on. I used to write the things which I didn’t know in tests and then studied that topic in detail later on. I organised and consolidated my notes.

For the interview, I focused on my DAF and current events. I gave some mock interviews as well.

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 3 years for this exam. The number of hours in a day were not fixed but on an average, I took 8-9 hours. What matters is the quality of time rather than quantity. For time management, I used to have one diary where I made short term daily plans.

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

I prefer studying alone.

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?

  • Vaji Ram for general studies and optional.
  • Vision IAS for mock tests of general studies.
  • Coaching only give you guidance but what matters is self-study.

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

  • prsindia.org
  • arthapedia.in
  • idsa.in
  • ClearIAS.com
  • Iasbaba
  • mrunal
  • insightsonindia

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

It is a good website with in-depth analysis of topics.

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.)?

Technology is a double-edged sword. It depends on you how you use it – for entertainment purpose or for study purpose. I was active on Twitter for UPSC preparation. I had followed various scholars, think tanks of international relations on Twitter.

I didn’t use any note making software. I used to write my notes on paper.

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?

The Hindu and Indian Express. I think it’s not about hours but the subject matter. Sometimes it may take greater than 2 hours and sometimes less than 1 hour. For newspaper reading and note making, one needs to learn the syllabus first and read past year question paper. Then only you will get an idea which news is important for UPSC exam.

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

I used a mixture of both.

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

There was not a fixed timetable. I used to study during night time and slept during the day.

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

You need to have strong will power to succeed in this exam. Stay focused on your goal and do not get deviated. What matters is inward motivation and how you pursue the challenges in life. I used to talk to my parents, friends whenever I felt low.

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: Spectrum’s Modern India, Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania, Tamil Nadu Board’s History books for Ancient and Medieval India
  • Books/Study materials for Geography: NCERTs of Class XI and XII, GC Leong
  • Books/Study materials for Polity: Laxmikant, prsindia.org
  • Books/Study materials for Economics: NCERT, Economic Survey, Budget, online resources like arthpaedia.in
  • Books/Study Materials for Science and Technology: NCERTs, Google the latest inventions
  • Books/Study materials for Environment: Shankar IAS, Google
  • Books/Study Materials for Current Affairs: The Hindu, Indian Express
  • Books/Study materials for General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT): Did not prepare, practised past UPSC papers

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

One should read basic books like NCERTs first. Then move towards advanced books. UPSC is asking general questions where basic knowledge is required. Also rather than reading more books, it is advisable to read one book multiple times. Factual information should also be remembered for Prelims.

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 particular book is required. One should practice writing essays.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 1 (Indian History, World History, Indian Society, Indian Geography, and WorldGeography): Same as mentioned in prelims section. For World History, one may refer to old NCERTs of History.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 2 (Constitution, Polity, Governance, Social Justice, Foreign Relations, and International Affairs): Same as mentioned in prelims section. For IR, read newspapers.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 3 (Indian Economy, Biodiversity, Science and Technology, Internal Security and Disaster Management): Newspapers and online resources.
  • Books/Study materials used for General Studies 4 (Ethics + Case Studies): Google the terms given in the syllabus. Practice case studies.
  • Books/Study materials used for Optional SubjectPaper 1: ShubhraRanjan’s Notes, Political Theory by Andrew Heywood
  • Books/Study materials used for Optional Subject Paper 2: ShubhraRanjan Notes, Global Politics by Andrew Heywood. For IR-read Hindu, Indian Express, Observer Research Foundation think tank, IDSA, Brookings etc.
  • Books/Study materials used for Regional Language (Compulsory): None
  • Books/Study materials used for the English Language (Compulsory): None

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 my own notes from newspapers and used to refer various online resources for answer writing. One should not procrastinate in writing newspaper notes. Also, avoid cutting of articles from newspapers as you end up with loads of cuttings later on.

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

  • 2nd ARC-Ethics in governance and summary of other reports.
  • Economic Survey, Budget

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:

Blue pen. Pilot V7

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

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?

Practice essay writing. There is no fixed strategy for essay writing. One must write in simple English and cover all dimensions of the topics-historical, geographical, political, economical, security etc.

I wrote following essays:

  1. Need brings greed if greed increases it spoils breed.
  2. Cooperative federalism: Myth or reality?

I did not use any subheading/ points/ graphs in the essay. I started my essays with quotes and ended with a poem.

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

Revise the topics from one source rather than reading from multiple sources. One must practice answer writing.

What are your suggestions to aspirants for improving the score in the theGS2 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?


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.

You can google the terms given in syllabus of Ethics paper to understand their meaning. Ethics paper is just an aptitude paper. It tests how you will respond to the situations where conflict arises. In the case studies, I first talked about all the stakeholders involved and then gave the options which may arise along with their merits and demerits.

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.

My optional was Political Science and International Relations. Make short notes of all the topics. They help in revision later on. I had consolidated all thinkers in 5-6 pages. In optional, you need to quote thinkers and scholars while writing answers. So one must remember their names along with their works.Practice answer writing. International relations is mostly dynamic which can be studied by following newspapers and all the sources I have written above.

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?

It was a mixture of both. One has to attempt maximum questions without compromising the quality of answers.

UPSC Interview

Rahul Sharma IAS Topper

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

I prepared my DAF thoroughly. I framed all the questions which were possible from my DAF. Then you also have to prepare your education background, optional and current affairs.

Yes, I attended mock interviews.

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:

Reading fiction, writing blogs, chess, jogging.

ClearIAS.com: What was your interview dress?

Formal black coat, pant.

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

Mr Chattar Singh. 25-30 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.

  • Which was the last novel you read?
  • What is the philosophy of Ayn Rand?
  • Don’t you think there is over regulation of industries in India and we have not followed Ayn Rand’s philosophy?
  • Why don’t we use conductors in electronic equipment?
  • Why is semiconductor used?
  • Have you ever applied Ayn Rand’s philosophy in your life?
  • What are the problems in Kapurthala?
  • How do you describe yourself?
  • What motivates you?
  • In the era of automation, don’t you think there is fear of loss of jobs? What steps should govt take?
  • Which area would you like to work in as an administrator?
  • No teacher wants to work in rural area. How will you make sure that they work there?
  • Suppose there is a protest going on in your area like Jatandolan. As an administrator, what steps will you take to stop such protests?
  • There is a problem of Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. If you are posted there, how will you tackle the problem of illegal immigration?
  • What are your views about declaring Ganga as a living entity?
  • What is One China Policy? Recent changes by US administration in this policy?
  • Is India following Non-Aligned Movement or not?
  • What constitutes Parliament?
  • Can government also indulge in anti-competitive practices?
  • Don’t you think there is too much regulation in telecom sector?
  • What is Twitter?
  • The difference between Twitter and blogging?

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

It was a good experience. The Board was very cordial and made me comfortable.

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

Be thorough with your DAF and have confidence. Things will go in the right direction.

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 there is any relation between the profile of candidate and interview marks. What matters is how you perform during those 30 minutes. The impression you create on Board during personality test will give you marks rather than big profile.

Previous Attempts/ Backups/ Others Jobs Qualified

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

Could not qualify prelims in previous attempts.  I committed a lot of silly mistakes in the last attempt due to which I wasted one whole year. There was a lack of revision and very less practice. I learned from my mistakes and got the fruit this year.

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

I had qualified for Punjab PCS.

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

Punjab PCS

More on Work Experience

ClearIAS.com: Details of your organisation, name of the post and the duration of experience:

IBM India Pvt Ltd.

Post – Associate System Engineer

Worked for one year only.

ClearIAS.com: Did you leave the job to prepare?

Yes. I had pre-decided that I will only do the job for 1 year.

ClearIAS.com: What is your advice to working professionals who’re preparing for IAS exam simultaneously?

Learn to manage your time between job and study. Try to do smart work as you have less time to prepare. I have seen many people who have cleared this exam with a job. With proper guidance, discipline and dedication, anyone can clear this exam.

Marks – Prelims, Mains, and Interview

Preliminary Exam (Just for Qualification)

  • General Studies Paper 1 (Out of 200):  134.66
  • General Studies Paper 2 (Out of 200):  118.33


Please also indicate the approximate number of attempts in each General Studies paper and the optional paper. For how many marks did you attempt in each paper?

  • Essay (Out of 250): 141
  • GS1 (Out of 250): 118 (19)
  • GS2 (Out of 250): 108 (19)
  • GS3 (Out of 250):118 (19)
  • GS4 (Out of 250): 113 (left one question)
  • Optional Paper 1 (Out of 250): 132 (all)
  • Optional Paper 2 (Out of 250): 149 (all)
  • Written Total (Out of 1750): 879

Interview (Out of 275)

  • Marks for Personality Test: 165

Final Marks (Out of 2025)


After looking at the mark sheet, suppose if you are going to write prelims and mains this year, what changes will you make in your preparation, answer writing, and interview?

More revision and answer writing practice.


Rahul Sharma Family

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)

My parents motivated me a lot in this phase of preparation. My father and mother are guiding force behind my success. It’s the joint success of both family and me. I remember my father also used to read my books and sent me online material to save my time. My sister and jijaji have also helped in this phase of preparation. I would like to thank Gurpartapbhaiya who helped me in essay preparation. I used to write my essays and get it checked by him.

My political science teacher ShubhraRanjan Ma’am is a great teacher who has taught the concepts of the subject in the easiest way.

The list is endless and I would like to thank all my friends, relatives and teachers who have supported me in the preparation.

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?

At rank 76, I will get IAS. The reason for opting IAS is that they are more connected to people and can make a direct impact on their lives. This service provides the platform to work for the society and improve the living standard of the citizens.

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

Not much change.

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

Where there is a will, there is a way. If a person is dedicated and focused towards his/her goal, he/she will achieve it no matter what problems he/she faces.

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

Work hard and try to learn from failures. Failures are stepping stones to success and learn to be disciplined and dedicated towards your goal.

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

Stay focused towards your goal and don’t take too much stress.

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

It’s not the end of the world. Maybe you deserve something better. Never lose hope.

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *