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Toppers Talk

Toppers Talk – Sagar Kumar Jha | AIR 13 , CSE 2017


Congratulations from the Study IQ Team for your exceptional achievement. We are ecstatic that your efforts have been rewarded in a grand way.

  • Let us kick start by asking when did you decide to prepare for India’s toughest exam?

While I was working with Samsung Research India in 2015, I felt the urge of joining Civil Services. It was then that I decided to prepare for the same.

  • Was it your childhood fascination and dream to be an officer?

It was not exactly a childhood fascination but I was indeed inclined towards government jobs since long.

  • How did you react when you saw your name in the toppers list?

My Friend Prakash Chandra Shukla, me and my brother were together while we started searching for my name in the list. My reaction was one of disbelief in the beginning. The rank was way above what I had expected for myself. We shouted at the TOP of our voices. We hugged each other. We thanked God. And then the spate of never ending calls began.

  • Could you tell us something about yourself, your background like your family, school, college, work, etc.

I come from a middle class family based in Saharsa, Bihar. I have done B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT BHU, Varanasi. I worked at Samsung R&D Bangalore as a Software Engineer from August 2015 till January 2016. After leaving Samsung, I started the Civil Services Preparation. Meanwhile, I qualified UPSC CAPF Assistant Commandant 2016 with AIR 1.

  • What according to you makes civil services such a trending exam with the youth despite the proliferation of lucrative private sector jobs?

Getting an identity early in life to build upon later was my motivation behind becoming a civil servant. I come from a middle class family. I had limited aspirations to begin with. I was initially happy with the job of a Software Engineer in Samsung Research India, Bangalore.

Though it was a well-paying job, there was a struggle for identity. We had 5k employees working in a building. I was one among them. I wanted things to get better and a little more challenging. I wanted things to be a lot more happening. I could not wait for 20 30 years to assume larger responsibility. I thought Civil Services is one career option that provides us the leverage of administering a district at a tender age of 25 which is unparalleled. That was the prime motivation for joining Civil Services.

About the strategy

  • How was your typical day while you were preparing for the exams?

I would wake up at 8 am. Meditation was a part of my daily routine. I read the newspaper The Hindu regularly. Then I would devote the remaining time to General Studies and Mathematics Optional. A balance has to be maintained in studying GS and Optional.

  • What was your method and style of preparation? What was your methodology of preparing notes as note making is an extremely crucial step in preparation?

Limited study material and more of revisions and mock tests was my style of preparation. I made short notes for the topics mentioned in the syllabus and revised them multiple times. I refrained from making notes of standard textbooks like Laxmikanth for Polity and Spectrum’s book for Modern History etc.

  • We saw numerous candidates complain about the GS paper being tougher especially in the past two years, what do you suggest to the aspirants preparing for Prelim-2019? How should they prepare for the GS paper?

First finish the standard text materials. Then cover the Current Affairs from 2 or more sources. For Prelims, solving more and more mock test papers holds the key. It is important to keep one’s eyes and ears open. Surfing the net helps in increasing awareness.

  • Completing the paper on time especially the comprehension portion become a tough job for many aspirants this year, Kindly provide some words of wisdom on tacking the speed and managing time to the aspirants.

Practice more and more mock tests. Attempt the tests in exam like conditions.

  • Do you think that the mock tests are necessary for success?


In 2015 I did not solve Pre-test papers at all. I failed by 11 marks. In 2016 I solved only 4 or 5 test papers of Insights Test series. I failed Pre by 7 marks. In 2017 I solved the entire papers of various Test Series. I cleared Prelims with a margin of 15 marks.

Bottom Line: The more the better.


I was confident with answer writing in terms of structure, language etc. I gave 8 Full length Tests. That’s all. I had Math’s optional. I strictly followed the timelines of  Test Series.

Bottom line: There is no rule of thumb with regards to number of Test Series. Some write less, some more. Just know your need and prepare accordingly.


  • How did you prepare for the paper on essay?

I did not enroll in any Essay Test Series. I just wrote 5–6 essays on my own, self-evaluated. Learnt some quotes. Read some topper’s essays.

  • Which two essays did you write during your exam? I wrote essays on:

Farming has lost the ability to be a source of subsistence for majority of farmers in India. Fulfillment of ‘new woman’ in India is a myth.

  • How did you prepare for General Studies Paper 1, 2, 3 and 4?

I covered the topics mentioned in the syllabus word by word. I made short notes for them, added current affairs elements from time to time. In all the subjects, revision is the key.

  • Could you suggest the apt answer writing strategy for mains?

Writing more number of answers at one go is key to building endurance. The focus should be on completing the set of 20 questions with reasonable content of decent quality. Always remember that there is nothing like an ideal answer.

  • What do you think about the FIXED SPACE answer sheet? How was your experience with the fixed space answer sheet?

There is always enough space for every answer. In engineering optional and Mathematics, there is indeed a risk of running out the fixed space in case of miscalculations, but it can be managed with sufficient practice.

  • Do you suggest writing in bullets or in paragraphs? How should we approach questions which ask us to ‘examine, discuss, comment, elucidate.

It is advisable to write in bullets as it makes the life of examiner easy. I never tried to bother too much about the suggestive keywords. I always tried to answer both sides of an issue and a suitable conclusion.

  • Do you think proper ‘introduction- body and conclusion’ format works better? Many students shared that due to the paucity of time they just penned down the points they could recollect rather than following the method. What would you advice to the aspirants?

Yes. If one has time, a candidate MUST follow the intro, body and conclusion format.

Mains Optional Subject:

  • What was your optional subject and why did you select the same?

My optional subject was Mathematics. I had genuine interest and a background in the subject, hence I went with Math’s.

  • What all factors an aspirant must consider while selecting for an optional?

The factors to be considered include interest in the subject, background in graduation, length of the syllabus, time required for completion, guidance and resources available, and overlap with General Studies etc.

  • Could you share the resource list for your optional?

I used the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMS) classes, study material and test series. I did not solve standard books.

  • Would you advise solving 10 years papers for the optional?

Yes, it is advisable as it worked for me.

  • Can one simply rely on books and notes to prepare for this optional or do you also advice the aspirants to leverage the internet?

Optional with dynamic syllabus unlike Mathematics require the use of the internet.

  • How many months did you take to learn and finish the core optional syllabus?

Mathematics optional is lengthy and requires a year of preparation.

  • Did you make self-notes for revision of the optional? If yes then in which format did you make the notes- electronic or handwritten?

Yes, I prepared formulae sheets for every chapter and made notes of conceptual questions.

Some miscellaneous yet often asked questions:

  • Did you draw diagram in any paper for instance in GS 1 Geography? Did you draw them with a pen or a pencil? Did you use a ruler to draw lines in the diagram?

Yes, I made diagrams whenever it was suitable. I used pens to draw them. Ruler was not used by me anywhere.

  • Did you use highlighters or markers or sketch pens while scripting your answers?

I simply underlined to highlight important parts of my answer.

  • Did you write the answers in blue or black pen?

I used Blue Pilot V5 gel pen.


  • What was your approach during the interview? How did you prepare for the interview?

I prepared a list of probable questions from my DAF, wrote answers for them and practiced them. I covered important topics like hobbies, home state, current affairs, graduation subject and optional subject etc.

  • Did you attend any mock interviews? Where the mock interviews similar or different from the official interview? Do you recommend mock interviews to the aspirants?

Yes. The mock interviews were similar in many aspects. I would recommend giving 4-6 mock interviews.

  • How did you make powerful first impressions on the panel? What did you wear for the interview?

I tried to greet the members with respect and tried to maintain positivity and cheerfulness throughout. I wore a navy blue suit, a sky blue shirt and a blue tie.

  • Who was the Chairman of your interview board?

Prof P.K.Joshi

  • How long did the interview last?

30-35 minutes.

  • What all questions did the panel ask you and what was your response to the questions asked? Did you encounter any unpleasant moment during the interview? Please narrate your entire interview.

I was anxiously waiting at the Central Hall. The ring belled. I was escorted by a peon into the interview hall. After entering the hall, I wished the Chairman first, followed by the lady member and then the other 3 members together.

Date and Time of Interview: Forenoon 28th Feb 2018. I was the 3rd candidate out of 6. Chairman (Dr. P.K. Joshi)

Question 1 :  After appreciating 100 marks in Mathematics in Xth Board, the Chairman Sir asked “How many marks did you get in Mathematics Class XII?”

Answer : Sir, 96.

Question 2 : Which force have you been allotted through CAPF?

Answer : Sir, I have been allotted Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).

Question 3 : Being the topper of CAPF, you could have got any force, why did you opt for Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)? Any particular reason?

Answer : Sir, SSB is tasked with guarding the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. I come from Bihar which shares a long border with Nepal. Since I am aware about the local conditions there, I chose SSB. Further Sir, my mother tongue is Maithili which is also spoken in good numbers in Nepal, hence I can engage with them better.

Question 4 : When we have BSF as a border guarding force, why need SSB?

Answer : Sir, BSF is tasked with guarding the Indo-Pakistan and Indo-Bangladesh border. The geographical conditions of Indo-Pakistan border is quite different from the Indo- Nepal border or Indo-Bhutan border. In the Indo-Pakistan case, the border is sealed while India shares a porous border with Nepal and Bhutan. Also Sir, there was a Bhatnagar Committee report that recommended for One Border Once Force concept accordingly we have separate forces for each borders.

Question 5 : Suppose you are posted as a DM in a village school and asked to address students of Class VIII- XII, what would you speak about for promoting Mathematics which students don’t like?

Answer : Firstly, I would tell them about the contributions of Indian Mathematicians and motivate them that they can bring similar or even better laurels for our nation. Secondly, I would tell them about the scope of Mathematics as a career option in future. Finally, I would tell them about the applications of Mathematics in day-to-day life.

Question 6 : Use the pen and paper to solve this question. Math’s Question 1: If a laborer earns Rs. 75 on 1st day and Rs. 95 on the next, what would be the average wage?

Answer : (After calculating on pen and paper), Rs. 85 Sir.

Math’s Question 2: If a bus goes from A to B at a speed of 40 kmph and returns at the speed of 60 kmph, what is its average speed during the entire journey?

Answer : My answer after calculation: 2*40*60/(40+60) = 48 kmph

Question 7 : Why is the answer not 50 kmph?

Answer : Sir, the acceleration is not constant in this case, the bus changes direction, hence

we cannot take arithmetic mean of the two velocities.

Question 8 : What was the type of mean you used here?

Answer : I answered, “May I take a guess Sir? I am not sure.” He said, “Please”. I said

“Harmonic Mean”. He nodded to my relief.

Question 9 : When was IT BHU made IIT BHU? What difference has it made?

Answer : It was in the year 2012. I was asked, “Are you sure?” I replied, “Yes Sir”. Then I added that IIT tag has brought the institute to the global stage. After getting recognition as an IIT, the funding from the Centre has also undergone a change.

Member 1 (Lady member)

Question 1 : What is Munger famous for? (Came as a shocker for me because I am from Saharsa, Bihar)

Answer : Madam, the soil of Munger is called Kharwa mitti, because it is rich in Potassium Nitrate or gunpowder and hence widely used for making guns. That is the reason we have gun culture in Munger. After being asked to continue, I added that Munger also has a famous Yoga University.

Question 2 : Do you do Yoga?

Answer : Yes, Madam.

Question 3 : What is the status of women in Bihar? Do you think women has been empowered in your state?

Answer : Madam, there has been an improvement in the status of women in Bihar in recent years. The state Chief Minister has taken a number of initiatives like Bicycle for  Girls Scheme, Ban on liquor in the state etc. The state government has also provided up to 50% reservation for women in Panchayats.

Question 4 : What is accountable governance?

Answer : Madam, It means a way of governance in which the government is responsible to the people for its policy decisions. It means that the governments can be held answerable for their arbitrary decisions.

Question 5 : How to ensure government accountability?

Answer : Madam, government can be held accountable by increasing citizen’s participation in governance. Currently, what happens is that the citizen’s participation is limited to voting during elections. This has to change. I think the social media has emerged as a tool to ensure accountability in governance.

Member 2

Question 1 : What was the project you worked upon in Samsung?

Answer : Sir, I was working on a project on Iris Authentication. I was working on a project in which we were trying to develop software that would automatically pause a video when the viewer looks away from the mobile screen. It was based on the idea of Authentication using Iris.

Question 2 : What is the state of R&D in India?

Answer : Sir, currently, India is spending around 0.5-0.6% of the GDP on R&D which is much lower than most of the BRICS countries.

Question 3 : What is the need of high end R&D when our basic skill needs are unmet?

Answer : Sir, high end R&D has applications at lower levels too. For example, advanced weather forecasting using Supercomputers can help in preventing crop losses. Therefore we need a two- pronged approach on R&D.

Member 3

Question 1: Should we go for making strong laws to provide security to women?

Answer : Sir, I believe that it is the certainty of punishment and not its severity that deters crime. Hence, I think strict enforcement of existing laws is more important than making laws stringent.

Question 2 : Are laws against Dowry enough? Why are they being misused? What are recent changes in Dowry law?

Answer : Sir, there are enough laws to deal with dowry. But such laws needs to be complemented by social awareness campaigns like the human chains launched by the Bihar government to spread awareness about the legal safeguards available to women. Section 498A of IPC has been misused by women under a number of circumstances due to ulterior motives. Recently, Supreme Court has held that Family Welfare Committees should be set up at district levels that would go into the truthfulness of dowry related complaints before any police action.

Question 3: Situational Question: Suppose your domestic help comes to you and  complains to you about her drunkard husband who comes from work and beats her under the influence of alcohol. What would be your step of action?

Answer : I would talk to the employer of the husband and advise to not encourage drinking at the workplace. I would advise the employer to organize sensitization sessions at the workplace to make the employees aware about the pitfalls associated with drinking alcohol. If things do not improve, I would help the distressed woman in lodging a complaint under Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and I would take stringent actions against the erring husband.

Member 4

Question 1: What was the earlier name of BHU?

Answer : I am not aware Sir.

Question 2 : Who founded it?

Answer : Sir, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Ji was the founder.

Question 3 : Who gave the money for the setting up of BHU?

Answer : Maharaja of Benaras, Kashi Naresh gave the money on the insistence of Malviya Ji and Annie Besant.

Question 4 : Who founded AMU and when?

Answer : Sir Syyed Ahmad Khan founded AMU. I am not sure of the year Sir.

Question 5 : Don’t you think that the British sowed the seeds of division by helping the setup of a Hindu University and a Muslim university?

Answer : Sir, I agree with your assertion. But I also believe that the modern education was the need of the hour.

Question 6 : Why is Varanasi named so?

Answer : There are two rivers named Varuna and Assi that flows through the city, hence the city had been named Varanasi.

Question 7 : Why is IIT BHU not doing too good? (Asked in Hindi)

Answer : Sir, while it is true that IIT BHU has seen its rank degrade in the recently released NIRF rankings. (Replied in Hindi). There are some issues with the infrastructure. But in terms of placements, we are neck to neck with the 5 old IITs.

Question 8 : Why is Kashi so famous?

Answer : Kashi is famous for the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, serene ghats of Ganges etc. Kashi since ages has been known as a place where people come during the later part of their lives to attain Moksha.

Question 9 : What is 3rd Industrial Revolution, 2nd IR and 1st IR?

Answer : 3rd IR is related to Internet.

The member interrupted by saying, “No, you are wrong!” I replied, “May I know the correct answer, Sir?” I was told that 3rd IR was related to Computers and not Internet. I thanked the member and added that 2nd IR was related to Electricity and 1st IR with Steam Engine.

Thereafter, I was told by the Chairman that my interview was over. I stood up, thanked the Chairman first and then thanked all the members. I left the room with mixed feelings. My Observations: I found the board to be cordial. I found the last member to be a little intimidating. I was asked no questions on hobbies. To my surprise, I was asked no question on Why IPS as the first preference! I was well prepared on how to handle those questions. I had read a lot about Police reforms, issues in policing etc. But UPSC is unpredictable at times. Results are out. I scored 167 in interview and secured AIR 13 in Civil Services Examination 2017.

  • How can aspirants ward off distractions? As keeping the

momentum becomes a challenge for most aspirants as they lack consistency.

An aspirant should stay out of social media. It is advisable to do Yoga, meditation etc to maintain concentration. Sports and music can also be pursued.

  • Would you like to share with the readers about the people who have been behind your spectacular performance like family, friends, teachers, mentors, etc.?

I would like to thank Pavan Kumar Sir who taught me GS Paper IV and Venkanna Sir who helped me in Mathematics optional. My parents and my family supported me a lot in overcoming failures. My father needs a mentioning here as he was the one who could sense that I would secure a rank in two digits.

  • Did you benefit from the StudyIQ platform during your preparation for the exam?

I used to watch Current Affairs videos from the YouTube Channel of StudyIQ platform. I benefitted from the same.