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Inside the Minds of UPSC Toppers: Essential Skills and Traits for Success

The key skills and traits that UPSC toppers possess to succeed in shaping the nation's future. The article is authored by Abhishek Gupta, CEO of Rau’s IAS Study Circle
Indian Masterminds Stories

Have you ever envisioned yourself in a position where your decisions could affect the destiny of a nation? Are you a leader, a proponent of change, or a formulator of measures that impact the lives of millions of people? If this is the career you have always wanted, then the UPSC Civil Services Exam is what you need to pursue. If successful, this test leads to high-status jobs in the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service, and other central services. Being at the top, however, takes more than just hard work; it requires a unique combination of abilities and qualities, which the UPSC Civil Services Exam 2023 toppers demonstrate.

1. Sense of purpose

Having a clear sense of purpose provides meaning to our efforts. It is often associated with an intrinsic desire to achieve anything. People with a purpose strive independently with true enthusiasm to meet their specific targets, rather than being compelled to work by external causes.

Nitila Priyanthi, from Tamil Nadu, secured AIR 143 in UPSC CSE 2023 in her maiden attempt. Her medical internship, during the covid lockdown, wherein she was actively involved in organizing vaccination drives and conducting awareness campaigns, exposed her to public service and the crucial nature of general administration. She then switched from medicine to focus all her energies to cracking the civil services exam.

While Aditya Srivastava, an IIT alumni, secured AIR-1 in his second attempt after leaving his well-paying position at Goldman Sachs in Artificial Intelligence to prepare for the civil services examination. To work towards the country through the civil services was his childhood dream.

2. Strategic preparation

Strategic preparation and intelligent study are key for anyone cracking the UPSC Civil Services Exam, given the volume of the syllabus and the fierce competition one faces. This is achieved by ensuring that you understand the concepts rather than focusing solely on rote learning, study effectively, reduce your pool of sources, prepare in alignment with the syllabus, and solve previous years’ question papers.

Several toppers also recommended how their strategic approach helped them ace the UPSC exam. PK Siddharth Ramkumar, from Kerala, AIR 4, emphasized on the importance of selective preparation and reducing content overload from multiple sources. Throughout his preparation journey, Sidharth focused on resources like Rau’s IAS QIP, DNS, and Compass magazines, contributing notably to his success in the mains examination.

Kashish Bakshi, AIR 54, advises that students should not overly focus on current affairs initially but should build a strong foundation in core subjects.

3. Analytical thinking

The UPSC exam tests your ability to interpret, analyze and synthesize information. Critical thinking is essential, not just for clearing the exam but also for effective decision-making in administrative roles.

Kunal Rastogi, AIR 15 in UPSC 2023, quoted that the UPSC exam is all about testing aptitude, general knowledge, and common sense. It can be viewed as a test of our wisdom and mind’s analytical abilities. This exam, in more simple terms, would consider how one applies the fundamentals they have learned to various situations. It is rigorous in evaluating how different topics can be inter-connected and applied in real-life situations to generate effective solutions.

4. Consistent Dedication and Discipline

UPSC preparation is a marathon and not a sprint; it requires both qualitative and consistent preparation.

Shrishti Dabas, secured AIR 6 in first attempt, full-time working in the HR department of Reserve Bank of India. In an interview at Rau’s IAS, she had shared that preparing for the IAS examination, along with working, increased her efficiency and infused more confidence in her. She utilized the little time she got – daily after work and on weekends—qualitatively and consistently.

Abhimanyu Malik, AIR 60, encourages UPSC aspirants to embrace a disciplined approach to their studies, focusing on consistent preparation. Malik emphasizes the importance of dedication and serious engagement with the course material, suggesting that those aspiring to clear the exam should fully commit from the start without contemplating quitting midway.

5. Resilience and Perseverance

The journey to becoming a civil servant is often fraught with challenges and setbacks. Resilience and perseverance are what distinguish successful candidates.

Hemant, AIR 884, is from a very humble background where his mother was working under MGNREGA and his father was a ritual performer in a village in Haryana. He started preparing for UPSC exams with very meager resources available free of cost online. His journey was marked with a lot of learning and taking guidance from seniors and successful candidates. Overcoming financial constraints and educational hurdles, Hemant utilized Rau’s IAS-free resources, like the Daily News Simplified (DNS) classes on YouTube, to self-educate and stay updated on relevant information. Hemant’s determination and effort paid off when he successfully cleared the UPSC exam, achieving his goal and significantly altering his and his family’s socio-economic status.

Aswin Mani Deep Kakumanu, AIR 148, started his UPSC journey in the year 2019. The boy who had failures early in his journey, be it the failed attempt in his first prelims or other lows in his personal and professional life. His perseverance through repeated attempts saw gradual improvement in his scores across prelims, mains, and interviews. This journey of his is a perfect human testament of how much tenacity is needed for someone to be successful.

6. Ethical Integrity and Moral Judgment

Civil servants hold positions of power and responsibility, where ethical decision-making and moral responsibility are paramount. The UPSC Ethics paper and the personality test heavily focus on testing a candidate’s moral judgment.

Jaswant Malik, from Panipat, and a topper of HAS, secured AIR 115 in UPSC IAS 2023. In his conversations, he emphasizes the importance of maintaining ethical integrity in not just preparation for the exam but as a guiding principle for a career in administration.

7. Adaptability and Open-Mindedness

In a country as diverse as India, a civil servant must be adaptable and open-minded. Not only in performing the job right, adaptability and open-mindedness are crucial traits for candidates aiming to clear the UPSC Exam. Many toppers have noted that adaptability helped them to adjust their study plans according to their strengths and weaknesses, as well as adapt to new exam trends.

Chhaya, AIR 65, stresses on how adapting to new situations and being open to different viewpoints is essential for effectively managing the varied challenges and opportunities that come with civil services.

Each of these toppers’ stories is unique, but the common thread is their mastery of these essential qualities and skills. Aspiring to join their ranks requires not just hard work and intelligence but a balanced development of the above skills.

Also, a genuine interest in learning about a wide range of subjects, from History and Geography to Politics and International relations, is vital. The syllabus is vast, and intellectual curiosity can make the learning process more engaging and less tedious.

If you are planning to take the UPSC Civil Services Exam, consider these qualities not just as requisites to clear the exam, but as lifelong traits to cultivate for a successful and impactful career in the civil services. Are you ready to embark on this challenging yet rewarding journey?

Abhishek Gupta, CEO of Rau’s IAS Study Circle
Abhishek Gupta, CEO of Rau’s IAS Study Circle

All the above mentioned UPSC Civil Services Exam 2023 Toppers are students of Rau’s IAS Study Circle.


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