Roshni Thomson (CSE 2014 Rank 98) UPSC Topper’s Interview – Part 2

In the first part of the UPSC toppers interview, Roshni Thomson – all-India Rank 98 in UPSC Civil Services Exam 2014 – shared her background and study plan. In this part, she explains the strategies and study materials she used for UPSC CSE Prelims and Mains (General Studies and Public Administration optional). Roshni did exceptionally well for mains scoring 414 marks in GS papers.

UPSC Prelims 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:

Books/Study materials for Geography:

ClearIAS Prelims Online Test Series

Books/Study materials for Polity:

Books/Study materials for Economics:

  • NCERT – “Indian Economic Development” class XI
  • Economic Survey
  • “Indian Economy “ – Dutt and Sundaram
  • Pratiyogita Darpan – Extra Issue on General Studies, Indian Economy

Books/Study materials for Science and Technology:

  • NCERT – school science up-to class XII.
  • News paper, Science Reporter
  • Note: Most important – be curious about the day to day science you see around.

Books/Study materials for Environment:

  • NCERT – Class XII biology – portions on environment, ecology, pollution and biodiversity

Books/Study materials for Current Affairs:

  • News papers
  • Any one magazine – civil service chronicle / civil service times etc.

Books/Study materials for General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT):

  • Any book on Quantitative Aptitude (like R.S. Agarwal)
  • UPSC previous years question Papers
  • Test series from any institute Any tips/pieces of advice especially for UPSC Civil Services Prelims?

It’s better not to guess and end up getting a lot of negatives in paper 1 of prelims. Paper 2 is all about practice. Some have a fear of aptitude. The civil service maths is the simplest of all. With practice anyone can ace Paper 2.

Roshni Thomson

UPSC Mains 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:


Books/Study materials used for General Studies 1 (Indian History, World History, Indian Society, Indian Geography, and World Geography):

(materials mentioned below are in addition to those mentioned under prelims)

Indian History

  1. ICSE History text books 6th to 10th
  2. India’s Struggle For Independence – Bipan Chandra

World History

  1. NCERT- Contemporary world
  2. Hyderabad Study Circle notes
  3. Selected IGNOU material on Renaissance, Development etc

Post Independence Consolidation

  1. India since independence – Bipin Chandra

Colonization Decolonization, citizen’s charter, Land Reforms

  1. IGNOU material

Sociology – Women, Globalization

  1. NCERT
  2. IGNOU material
  3. Half Mantr website – material on Indian Society, Urbanisation etc
  4. NCERT text book on Social Change and Development in India
  5. Justice Verma Committee Report
  6. Prime Ministers official website for his speeches
  7. Articles by Zoya Hassan, Aparna Basu


  1. NCERT , Vajiram Geography optional material
  2. Paper on Sea Level Rise – Anne Cazenawe
  3. EPW on recent geographical phenomenon

Books/Study materials used for General Studies 2 (Constitution, Polity, Governance, Social Justice, Foreign relations, and International affairs):


  1. Evolution of Constitution – Chronicle special issue
  2. RTI Act (the original act)
  3. Representation of People Act (the original)
  4. G.K. Today material

Role of civil services, E- governance, NGOs

  1. Indian Public Administration – Goyal and Arora
  2. Towards Improving Governance – Paper by Transparency International

Citizen’s charter, Land Reforms

  1. Ignou material

Foreign Relations

  1. Mrunal Site
  2. Paper on Indian Diaspora by Ashok Rao
  3. website of the ministry of External Affairs
  4. EPW articles, vajiram notes

Books/Study materials used for General Studies 3 (Indian Economy, Biodiversity, Science and Technology, Internal Security and Disaster Management):

Environment and Agriculture:

  1. Geography optional material – vajiram
  2. Dutt and Sundaram – for Agricultural subsidies, Agricultural Marketing
  3. Economic Survey- Pricing Policies, Subsidies


  1. Investment models – Vision IAS material
  2. Economic Survey

Disaster Management

  1. ARC report on disaster Management

Cropping pattern, irrigation, MSP, Land Reforms, Farm subsidies, PDS

  1. Dutt n Sundaram

Contribution of Indian Scientists, e-technology etc

  1. Gktoday online study material
  2. TERI policy Brief

Internal Security

  1. Vajiram material
  2. Internal Security Material by Hyderabad Study Circle
  3. epw articles

Books/Study materials used for General Studies 4 (Ethics + Case Studies):

  1. ARC report on ethics
  2. Blog –
  3. Ignou material on ethics
  4. Pub ad – Goyal and Arora (corruption)
  5. A Manual of Ethics – Jadunath Sinha
  6. Civil Service Conduct Rules
  7. National Anti-Corruption Strategy

Books/Study materials used for Optional Subject Paper 1:

  1. Vajiram notes and Material
  2. Mohit Battacharya
  3. Contemporary Debates in Public Administration – Alka Dameja
  4. IGNOU Material
  5. IJPA articles, ASPA articles, Public Administration Review articles
  6. Prem Sir’s Classes and Test Series

Books/Study materials used for Optional Subject Paper 2:

  1. Vajiram notes and Material
  2. Prem Sir’s Classes and Test Series

Books/Study materials used for Regional Language (Compulsory):

Some books on Essays in Malayalam, high school Malayalam language and grammar books (from my own school days)

Books/Study materials used for English Language (Compulsory):

 None (if I do not count general reading of books as a hobby) Did you prepare hand notes or participated in mock answer writing before mains? What was the strategy for preparing current affairs topics in general?

Yes, I prepared hand notes for most topics, as a tool to revise that topic easily. Notes were written with the sole purpose of compressing data and making it easy for revision. I did many test series before mains. I got them evaluated both for content and for structure of answer. Current affairs were mostly prepared from newspapers, magazines and websites. I made notes topic wise and classified them in each topic so that all notes relating to one topic would be together. What are the government reports that aspirants should go through, before giving Mains Exam?

The government reports I went through have mentioned earlier under sources. What was the color of the pen you used for writing mains (Blue Ink/ Black Ink)? Also, the company and brand name of the pen used:

Please do not give unnecessary importance to issues like colour of pen etc. In prelims where the OMR has to be filled in black ink for the machine, we need to take care of it.

In mains, no matter what colour we write in, no matter what brand the pen is, unless you have content in the answer, it’s useless. Similarly, if one has content in his answers, all he needs to look for is a pen comfortable enough to keep writing continuously for 3 hrs. What were your writing style in GS and optional subject? Bullet Points/ Essay style or a mix of both styles?

GS : – tried to stick to the pattern of Introduction, body and conclusion as far as possible. Introduction was always direct and contained my core point or argument. I never gave any vague or general introductions, rather my main argument was my introduction. Body elaborated on that with supporting data or information (including examples, diagrams, statistics, etc) which were most of the times in points. (body was in points alone when I ran short of time). In conclusion, I tried to present a synthesis of 2 aspects of the question (if it was a discuss or analyse question based on opinion) or the result of the steps suggested etc.

Optional (pub ad): pattern followed was intro, body conclusion; mostly essay style, unless the question specifically asked for points. Used case studies, examples and quoted cases where relevant. 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?

The most relevant aspect in essay paper is our language ability and the talent to put an idea into words with clarity and consistency. Essay paper should not be taken lightly and we should prepare sufficiently by writing essays. Its useful to take feedback on essays from someone who is knowledgeable not just about language but also has exposure to national and international developments.

I wrote one essay on “Pen is mightier than the sword” and the other on “Tourism”. In the first essay, I used only fluid prose. In the second essay I did use headings and points to give a definite structure to my arguments. In both essays, I maintained the introduction, body, conclusion format. But in the second essay, the body was further structured into sub headings and suggestions etc.

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

GS 1 is more static in nature, yet UPSC is coming up with very imaginative questions even in history. This requires us to understand things, have information and then correlate this with many current developments.

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

Answered along with next question.

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

GS 2 and 3 are very dynamic and almost entirely asked related to current affairs. But just knowing the current developments will not be sufficient to answer the question. We must know the background to the issue and should take the pains to read up the issue in detail and understand it before coming to a conclusive opinion regarding it. Topics of Paper 2 are more opinion oriented at times, whereas GS 3 is mostly about hard core knowledge in that issue. What are you suggestions to aspirants for improving the score in GS4 paper (Ethics paper)? Can you brief on how you attempted the Ethics paper? Strategies and writing style for Ethics case studies?

Having a good command over language helps us in GS 4. Beyond that, in ethics, we need logic and continuity to the ideas that we put across. As the questions are very general in nature, we tend to write out our thoughts without any particular structure to the answer. I think, rather than this, having one or more definite arguments and stating it in a logically consistent manner will help us score better. In the case studies, I tried to form a structure to my answer in the following steps 1) understand and state the background and facts of the ethical problem at hand. (ie, define the ethical dilemma) 2) enumerate all the options available to the actor 3) analyse the ethical pros and cons of each course of action. 4) take a decision 5) justify why this course of action is the best available.

I wrote the paper in paragraphs. The case studies were written in points. 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.

Optional: Public Administration

Reasons for choosing optional:

  • 1) Interest in the subject.
  • 2) My preparation of Pub Ad in the previous years were good enough to give me a strong foundation in the subject


Read standard text books plus coaching material notes. Then focused on solving previous years question papers. This opened up many new sources to me like international journals in the subject, new scholars of the discipline, recent developments and conferences in the discipline etc. This both widened my knowledge base and gave me a sneak peek into the examiners’ head.

In paper 2, I tried to relate the question to a current development and so state the context in which the issue discussed in the question becomes relevant now. This not just gives us a context to answer a general question, but also gives us an opportunity to show that we know something extra regarding the topic. 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 tried to complete answers even at the cost of quality.

Read: Roshni Thomson (CSE 2014 Rank 98) UPSC Topper’s Interview – Part 3

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