IAS Topper's Interview - Akshat Kaushal (AIR 55, CSE-2017)

Watch IAS Topper Akshat Kaushal (AIR 55, CSE-2017) Interview

Akshat Kaushal secured All India Rank 55 in the 2017 Civil Services Exam. Akshat along with his Sociology teacher Praveen Kishore Sir was interviewed by NeoStencil Team and in this interview session, he shares how Praveen Kishore Sir has guided her for Sociology Optional and also, he provides valuable inputs for aspirants preparing UPSC Civil Services Exam.

In this interview session, Akshat Kaushal narrates how to prepare for UPSC examination. He gives some important tips on How to prepare for Prelims exam and Mains exam.

2017 IAS Topper Akshat Kaushal Interview

Kush: Hi friends! Today we are sitting with Akshat Kaushal who has secured AIR-55 in UPSC 2017 examinations. And also, with the Praveen Kishore Sir who has mentored and taught Akshat for sociology subject. We are here to interview Akshat and ask his preparation journey and will also ask Praveen Sir that what difference he found when he taught Akshat and other students? What are his tips for the students who are preparing sociology for the next year UPSC examinations?So Akshat, many-many congratulations for your success. Praveen sir is so proud of you. This has been a great achievement.

Akshat: Thank you, sir.

Kush: So Akshat, first of all, tell us something about your education, your background and your parents. How has been your preparation journey?

Akshat: I come from a very typical middle-class family. My father in most of his life, worked in bank. My mother works in central government. I have younger siblings, a brother and a sister and both of them are twins. In education, I have done my engineering. I did my graduation in electronics and communication, after that I did my post graduate diploma in English journalism from IMC, Delhi. And then from 2010 to 2016, I was writing for a business newspaper (Business Standard) and then simultaneously, I was also giving my attempts and this year I finally cleared my exam.

Kush: What exactly did inspire you to write this exam and became an IAS officer?

Akshat: The primary motive was the need to act. As a journalist, I was exposed to that how a government works, what is people s perception of the government and what are their grievances and what more do they want from the government. After having seeing the function of the government at a level from the ground to the top. I began to wonder that essentially being a journalist I was doing three things. Either I was reporting on what is being done, reporting on what is not being done or what you know as editorial writing, your advice that this can be done. But the act of doing, I felt as a young man was slightly missing. So being in the administrative force if I see something is not right and it can be set right. I meant that with some intervention it can be corrected. And sir, being in the service, I will be able to this. So this was the primary motive to start preparing for these examination.

Kush: So, there is quite a move from business standard journalist to public service?

Akshat: Hmm, even though it might look like a big shift but inherently what the ultimate objective of both the profession is same. What is the role of journalism in society? It is essentially, to inform people, to educate people with the ultimate goal of becoming better citizens and country going forward. It is also the work of administration to serve the public with the ultimate goal of taking the country forward. There approach might be different but their ultimate end goal is same. So, I never found that I was doing something totally different, I thought that I was changing my way of approaching a problem.

Kush: How has been your IAS preparation journey as this was your fifth attempt? Where do you think that things went wrong and what correct you did this time?

Akshat: Yes, my journey has been long. A joke can be cracked that it coincided with the twelfth 5th year plan. It started in 2012 and ended in year 2017. But yes, at every stage, the unique thing about this exam is that it will force you to correct your mistakes. And if you don t correct your mistakes and don t recognizes that this is something you don t know then the exam will stop there and the only remedy is either you recognize or you drop out. So, at every stage, I was able to notice that this is my weak area and I had ignored it perhaps earlier in my school or college life and now I read to correct it. Essentially correcting my weaknesses by first identifying them is how I cleared it.

Kush: What were the subjects that you found that you were legging in and not giving you enough score to be a finalist for the exam.

Akshat: Last year, I got very less score in Essay. My score was 91. The reason I had gotten low score in Essay was, that I had gone with view that since I was already writing, I would be good in Essay. So, this as I was saying that you might have a perception of yourself but UPSC has a tendency to tell you that actually it is a wrong perception. And I realised, that when initially my score came, I thought that maybe I have become very unlucky and some examiner may not have evaluated my answer correctly. But I have a friend who gave me a brilliant advice, he said that the kind of score you have gotten it s can t be because you have not been lucky otherwise you would have gotten 10 marks or 20 marks, you have written something which they haven t appreciated. So, you have to relook at your whole strategy of writing an essay. And then I completely changed my outlook of how to approach an essay. Even though I haven t my score right now, I hope, I would have gotten better marks. This is one way of illustrating that you have to identify your weakness and improve it, not attach motive you know that I didn t got this because of x reason or y reason because this will again make you unsuccessful.

Kush: Being a generalist, you would not have been expecting low marks.

Akshat: Yes. There was an element of overconfidence.

Kush: What were your subjects? How did you prepare for various subjects? What were your mode of learning?

Akshat: So, my optional. I had consistently maintained sociology as my optional. From the day I begin preparing, I am with sociology. I chose sociology because I like this subject. Writing and talking about society have always interested me, so, that s why I picked sociology.

Kush: What role did your teachers played in your success? As there can be many peoples behind your success, your family, your friends, people who supported in your journey and contributed in your success?

Akshat: Yes, as this is my 5th attempt. So, sustaining for this long on my own was not possible. You need this institutional support in form of friends, family and teachers. So, all of them had played a very important role in my success. Like, sir is sitting next to me, and I am not saying this because he is sitting next to me, but when I approached him for guidance is sociology, I had liking for this subject, I knew I can do this subject very well but there was some X factor which was missing in my preparation. And I knew, you know, if I don t fix this X factor then I won t be able to perform to my optimum. So, when I came to him, he gave me something which was fulfilled the void in my preparation and then I was able to become much more comfortable with my optional.

Kush: This is question for you Praveen Sir. When you were mentoring and tutoring Akshat, how different you found Akshat as compared to other students? What was the differentiating factor that Akshat had?

Praveen: As far as this exam is concerned, the one thing which is very much necessary is seriousness of the student and their inquisitiveness of the student. As far as Akshat was concerned, I found him different from others, he was serious, humble and at the same time inquisitive. He used to ask question after the class and improved his writing after each test. So, this way I found him different from others. Like, he was not the mute expatiator, he used to listen lectures carefully and if he had issues than after class he used to come to me and discuss the same. And in his next writing, I found him that he had amended his ways.

Kush: Not only Akshat but you had mentored Anu Kumari also the AIR-2? Were Akshat and Anu were from same batch?

Praveen: No, Akshat did in 2016 and as you are saying that he got good marks in sociology which is 270 but he got only 91 in essay. But this year I hope that sociology marks are better than last year and also, he must have improved in essay. Anu Kumari attended sociology test series in 2017 that is the current batch and it was technically her second batch but actually, it was her first attempt, first serious attempt.

Kush: So, friends just for information, Praveen Sir had also mentored Anu Kumari AIR-2 who hails from Haryana. She has a four-year old son. Anu and Akshat were both mentored by Praveen Kishore Sir.

Kush: Akshat back to you. How it used to be the typical day of your preparation? How many hours you used to study, hanging out etc.?

Akshat: I had a slightly different kind of day. What I usually do is, let say if I wake up at 7 O clock, I have a tendency to immediately sit on my table and I start studying and I will tend to study in slot for about 4 hours. I will read newspaper and I will keep reading it till I am exhausted in that one slot. So, usually my first slot is my best slot and minimum I will be able to take out 3 to 4 hours there. And after that, I will have my lunch and then again, I will study for 2 to 3 hours and at night I would again study for about 2 to 3 hours. So, usually I would be studying for about 8 to 10 hours. There would be day when you would not be willing to study and that is a very normal thing. But if you have to clear this exam then on an average you need 8 hours for study at some point of preparation. Once you have done it and back to job, then you can manage with less hours but at some particular point of time you need to put an average of 8 hours.

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Kush: Did you at some time tried to make distance from social media and friends, so that there is less deviation from what you are focussing on?

Akshat: Yes, I rarely used facebook, twitter I deleted, I deleted my whatsapp and actually I used to carry a very basic phone. Even then I realised that I was not being very particular, I was waste my time on internet because it has a tendency to eat you time. I thought that the only thing I can do is that to not buy an internet pack.

Akshat: So, I stopped buying internet pack only that now there is not distraction any more and I can only study the text books. When I needed internet, I used to buy a pack which gave me a very minimum data, so that I can t watch any video, I can t do anything else but just read an article.

Kush: How many days before examination you started answer writing practice of optional and GS?

Akshat: My answer writing practice was a continuous process. What I used to do was, that I used to pick up previous year questions and would start writing them. Through the previous year questions, I used to find my weak area. I am not able to write an answer then I used to see the original text. And if I have written an answer yet I know that it is not a very convincing answer then I will again go back and see the original text. So, I used to study like this. Practice answer writing and also read sociology in a reverse order that you pick a test series or a previous year question paper. When you do this, what happen is your preparation is align to what they want rather then what you are comfortable with.

Praveen: Akshat, I would like to ask you a question at this point of time. What I suggested in the classes that helped you as you said that it was game changer?

Akshat: Before I approached Sir, what a general expression that I had was for an optional you need to read your class notes and you are done. But what happens in that is you lose the creativity. You can t think out of the box. If a question shifts even slightly, you will find that it was not in my notes. But if you will read the original text because the examiner will read the original text you will able to understand that actually what he is asking. Praveen sir often used to say that- don t expect me to force feed you. You have to go and fetch what you need yourself. I can only suggest you that these are the books. Actually, I must also say that I had given two serious attempts before I came and joined your test series, and actually I didn t knew most of the books. But in your classes I discovered that for sociology that these are some of the standard textbooks and once I started reading them then it become a very easy process. Because these books are very well written, very well edited, they give you much broader understanding of the subject and you don t need to worry that I have forgotten.

Akshat: this name, I have forgotten this diagram. Because it s no more dependent on that, you have the whole picture in front of you. So, you can menu work.

Kush: So, Akshat on your preparation, how important do you think notes making in general was?

Akshat: This was none of the mistakes that I did correct. When I begin preparing, I used to make notes but they were very elaborative, learning through these elaborate notes is good but doesn t serves the ultimate process. This was the change I made in my subsequent attempts. Let me explain this. The main objectives of note making is two, one is you are able to collect information and two is that you should be able to revise that information. So, your notes should be structured in such a way that you should be able to revise them at a day notice. If you are able to do this then your marks would improve substantially. What I did was, I started making notes on my computer, so, I had a folder for GS-2, a folder for GS-3 and I had a folder for Essays and then I had a folder for sociology paper-1 and paper-2. And objective of making notes was simply this that, I will keep putting information in this and I will keep removing information from this. So that the day before examination I don t panic and I am able to revise all broad things. So, if there is a question on corruption and you read an article 6 months ago which said that in 800 words this all which is need to be done to remove corruption. You wrote 7 words in your notes from that 800 words article and you read it a day before the exam. You put those 7 words in the form of a graph in the paper, the expression that examiner gets is that this candidate has fairly well read, he knows his subject. And you will also be able to come up with factual information in the paper, like ranking. Okay, let me illustrate this in an example form. Last year there was a question on transparency, since I had my notes, I had drawn a table where I had put ranking of India in transparency perspective index, in terms of ease of doing business index. A thing read a day before examination and on the next day you start your answer with these figures. Otherwise, while writing the answer you will think that this might be the rank but as I am not sure, I am not writing the rank. But the examiner will think that if the candidate knows the rank then he will have fairly good idea of what he is talking about. So, the note making is the important thing but, making notes in correct way is more important.

Kush: So, an important tip that came out of the Akshat s advice is that you prepare notes which you can revise in one day.

Praveen: Refining Akshat s advice. The notes should be synoptically prepared.

Akshat: This is the type Praveen Sir used to use in class.

Kush: So, Akshat had prepared sociology notes in such a way that he can revise sociology in 24 hours. So, that s a kind of crisp notes. So, Akshat I am coming back to sociology. What was the reason that you chose this subject as optional?

Akshat: While taking optional, you have to remember that nature of examination is such that you might end up studying a subject for a prolonged period. Like in my case, it took me 5 attempts. So, I need a subject to which I can stick this long. So, I need to have interest in that subject, I also need to ensure that sufficient guidance is available for this subject, it should not ideally be an isolated subject, because then a lot of energy will go in finding resources for this subject. So, interest, availability of material, sufficient guidance, also there is an element that what kind of evaluation UPSC is doing of that optional in recent years. Otherwise, there will be too much of information that this optional is not doing well and there will get distracted. If you keep these things in mind then it will be good.

Kush: Considering the fact that we have a very diverse society in India, fragmented and different cultures, do you think sociology will help you to become a better administrative.

Akshat: Sociology is essentially the study of society. When I began studying sociology, I had a particular view

Kush: What was the reason you chose sociology over other subjects?

Akshat: I chose sociology because, one I had an interest in this subject. When I went through the syllabus, I realised that this is the subject which I will be able to study even if I take more than one attempt. Also, there was sufficient guidance available for this. Also, I also noticed that lot of people clearing the exam with this optional. Broadly because of these three factors I chose sociology. After picking the subject I found that knowledge I was getting was not limited to the optional, I can use that knowledge in my GS paper-1, I can use that knowledge in my GS paper-4 in ethics paper, I can use my knowledge in Essay, also that knowledge helps in interview because there you are able to give more practical response. So, in that way sociology is not limited to the optional but it helps you to lift your overall score.

Kush: Considering the fact that India being a fragmented society and there are so many sects and culture everywhere, do you think learning sociology and taking guidance from Praveen Sir will help you to become a better administrator?

Akshat: Yes. Definitely. As an administrator, we will be working in the society. So, sociology gives you a better understanding in perspective of society. Tomorrow, when you will be in the field, you will be able to more educated and informed judgement. Because you will not be taking decision from the point of view of ignorance. You have a knowledge which you require about the society and now you will be taking that forward by your decisions. So, in that way, I feel that since I have studied sociology, I will have better understanding as an administrator.

Kush: Praveen Sir, do you think that sociology helps to become a better administrator?

Praveen: I think, you can t say this only about sociology, you can say this about other subjects also. But after other subjects, there is formal training after you enter into a job. As far as the sociological aspect is concerned, that is not taught in LBSNAA. So, when you opt for this optional before handling itself, you get equipped to understand the society. For example, there is a thinker called Max Weber, he says sympathetic understanding in his verses, in which say that put yourself in the position of the actor and anticipate all the situation. So, an administrator has to take decision for others and unless and until he is able to position himself into other s position, the judgement will not be proper. So, in that way for an administrator, understanding of the society, understanding the nitty and gritty of the society of very much essential and sociology definitely helps.

Kush: So, it means feeling of empathy and compassion for others.

Kush: So, Akshat, NeoStencil as you know is a platform to get connected with Praveen Kishore Sir and lot many teachers, where we are solving the problems of the students who cannot afford to relocate to connect with teachers like Praveen Kishore, either someone might be working or can have some other issues like females are some not allowed to relocate to other city, there is also problems of access to top teachers. Do you think this is the right way? Or learning online is good? Any comment for us?

Akshat: When I had started preparation for this exam, these types of platform didn t exist, so, many aspirants had to shift to places near coaching centres. But now I see that if such a platform had existed, there would have no need to relocate. So, I think it s a great initiative, that lot of people sitting at any corner of India can now prepare for the exam. Also, if you are working then you don t need to leave your job and come to Delhi to prepare because lot of student used to do that and you can simultaneously work and prepare for the exam by taking online courses. So, I think it s a step in the right direction.

Kush: So, once again congratulation for getting selected. Is there any message you want to give to the UPSC aspirants?

Akshat: So, the message that I would give is that. First is, device your strategy before you jump into it. What I mean by it is, when you will start preparing for this exam, you would have heard all type of things, a common thing is that you have to read many different books. So, what mostly students end up doing is, suppose their subject is constitution then they will read book of 3 to 4 authors on constitution and they will get better understanding of the subject. This is the one thing that I would say to avoid. Better way is to take one book, stick to it and keep re-reading it. Second, I would like to say that don t isolate yourself during the preparation. You would have thought that since the examination has started, I have to be alone and just keep on studying and don t talk to anyone. What would happen is if you make it in first attempt then it is great but sometimes you also need institutional support. My friends, my teachers and my family had played a great role. There were many moments when I was about to give up but because of certain friends, they didn t let me give up, even if they didn t got success but they went sure that I get success. So, don t go in this isolated approach also. Third thing that I would say is, may short crisp notes with only one objective in mind that we will be able to revise them at the moment s notice. If you are able to do this, definitely your score will improve.

Kush: Any message from you Praveen Sir for the students preparing for sociology?

Praveen: There is a kind of dilemma in the minds of candidates about the optional subject. At sometimes what happen is that they elect an optional and after that they leave it. My suggestion is, you take your time, do all the research, consult all the stakeholders, your teachers, your friends, your seniors etc. including your own orientation and interest and then decide about the optional. Once you have decided about the optional, forget about all other optional subjects. You should have fait in yourself, in the subject and you should be dedicated to that. Secondly, if this is not an optional of your graduation background, it is going to give some problem to you, in that situation, what is advised is that, you should be able to deal with the problems. Problems will come but you will solve them. A kind of commitment should be there for the optional. Secondly, what I have found that, many of the students who come in this field, at the very first time they start thinking about the score, I think that it is not proper. To score good, you need to understand the subject properly and to understand the subject properly, you need to first read it. So, what you need to do is you first get the idea about the basic books, go through them thoroughly and prepare the notes and after that use other books as reference books. Popularly, I say it as Library Approach . Because in this situation, we are doing things which are of post-graduation level and merely text book approach is not going to help you. So, this you need to do. Get the idea about the standard books, a few standard books which will cover about 70 to 75% of the syllabus and for the rest part of the syllabus, you need to be quite open minded. Definitely timing is lot in this preparation. You will always face the crisis of time. So, with that strategy you have to prepare. But don t close your mental gates, you should be able to get new ideas. There are many students who join the classes, if you depend totally on lecture then it will make you an average person because simultaneously many students are taking the same class. And if all are writing the same answer then you answer will not be the different from them. It s not like physics or chemistry where same answer fetches same marks. In social sciences, you have to be different from others, for that you need to have some extra and for that you have to step out of your enclosures. So, just don t follow the teachers and lectures, be inquisitive and try to get extra information and incorporate it in you. Next you should do is, you should try to see the previous year questions and practice it but at the same time you should also be able to guess the next level of question. If the questions which are repeated, they bring you in race. New question which you write, they provide you selection and rank. So, the questions are also in the evolutionary series. You have to think about the next level of questions that might be asked. So, you should be able to guess those questions intelligently and lastly, I would say that, playing the game is more important then bringing the game. So, play well and you will get the success.

Kush: Thank you Praveen Sir and Akshat. I hope this session will be helpful for the sociology students and the students who are preparing for the UPSC. Thank you very much.

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