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Trial and Error: Saima Khan’s Road to UPSC Success

Saima Khan cleared UPSC CSE 2023 with AIR 165 in her fourth attempt She took Sociology as her optional subject To read her journey, read the article
Indian Masterminds Stories

The coveted UPSC interview room wasn’t a straight shot for Saima Khan. It was a four-year odyssey paved with failures, triumphs, and an unwavering spirit. Her journey, from a wide-eyed sociology graduate to an All India Rank 165 holder, offers inspiration and practical advice for aspiring civil servants. 

In an exclusive interview with Indian Masterminds, Saima shared how she alone started her journey, faced multiple failures, and then conquered CSE with a good rank. 

FIRST FAILED ATTEMPT

Fresh out of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, in 2017, Saima, like many, found herself diving headfirst into the vast unknown of UPSC preparation. Lost in a sea of information, she devoured YouTube videos and blog posts, piecing together a study plan that lacked structure and direction. Unsurprisingly, her first attempt in 2018 ended in disappointment. “The syllabus felt like an endless ocean,” Saima recalls. “I was completely alone, with no real guidance.”

Trial and Error: Saima Khan's Road to UPSC Success
Trial and Error: Saima Khan’s Road to UPSC Success

SECOND FAILED ATTEMPT 

The first time Saima failed, she was devastated. But it made her realize that just working hard wasn’t enough. So the next year, she worked even harder. She spent lots of time studying, taking detailed notes, and reading many books. But she still didn’t succeed.

This second failure taught her something important: passing the UPSC exam wasn’t just about working hard, but also about smartly using knowledge. “Mere mugging up wouldn’t cut it,” Saima acknowledges. “This exam demands smart work, a solid strategy, and limited resources – all fueled by an unwavering spirit.”

A SHORT-LIVED VICTORY 

Two attempts down, two years seemingly lost, but two invaluable lessons learned. Saima understood the importance of a competitive environment – a space to gauge her progress and learn from others. So, she opted for a break and enrolled in coaching for her 2021 attempt. This decision proved pivotal. The structured curriculum, expert guidance, and camaraderie of fellow aspirants provided a much-needed framework and the motivation to push forward.

The year 2021 saw a breakthrough – Saima cleared the prelims for the first time. However, the happiness was short-lived as the Mains exam remained unbreached. Yet, this experience further fueled her determination. The next year, she meticulously reviewed her Mains strategy, plugging the gaps in her knowledge base. Finally, in 2022, she aced both the prelims and the mains, setting the stage for the final interview in 2023.

FINAL ATTEMPT AND VICTORY 

The year 2023 saw her face the final interview with the same grit and determination that had brought her this far. The result? An excited phone call confirming her All India Rank 165. “I didn’t believe it at first,” she recalls, “I kept checking the official list—my name, my roll number—it was surreal!”

Saima Khan with her grandparents and cousins

The moment wasn’t just hers. Her parents, particularly her mother and grandparents, were overcome with emotion. “There were countless moments,” she admits, “where giving up seemed easier. Doubts about my decision, and the thought of becoming a doctor,, as my parents suggested, all crept in. But a flicker of hope always remained, pushing me forward.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF COACHING 

Saima’s journey underscores the importance of coaching in the context of the UPSC. While her initial solo attempts yielded little success, joining a coaching institute in the later years proved instrumental. “The competitive environment and proper guidance were crucial,” she acknowledges. “Good coaching can provide the direction you need to navigate this complex exam.”

WISE WORDS 

For the aspirants who are preparing for UPSC CSE, Saima offers a message of unwavering optimism: “All the very best! Work hard, for it takes time, but the wait is worth it. Remember, UPSC will test you in every way possible, but never give up.”


Indian Masterminds Stories

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