TOPPER’S STRATEGY (PRELIMS): Muthu Somasundaram, Rank 23 Indian Forest Service (IFoS) 2019, a regular follower of IASbaba

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  • April 30, 2020
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TOPPER’S STRATEGY (PRELIMS): Muthu Somasundaram, Rank 23 Indian Forest Service (IFoS) 2019, a regular follower of IASbaba


Hello Fellow Aspirants,

I’m Muthu S and I have secured Rank 23 in Indian forest service exam 2019. I graduated in Industrial Biotechnology in 2015 from AC Tech, Anna University,Chennai and have since been preparing for UPSC CSE. I have given 4 attempts and managed to clear all four prelims. This was the first time I cleared forest service prelims and fortunately cleared the whole exam.

One note of caution is that I don’t have any separate strategy or method to clear forest service prelims. I have been following the same set of books and question paper solving strategy for all my attempts.

2019 question paper had a lot of Biotechnology(5) and anthropology(3) questions which gave the extra edge for me, to cross the forest service prelims cut off. Any other day, any other paper, it may not have happened. But the CSE Prelims strategy I have been following since 2016 prelims, has worked for me every year. Each person’s style of studying and revising is different. I’ll explain my strategy briefly. Please don’t take it at face value, compare it with yours, apply and see and then use it if it feels right for you.

Here, is my Prelims Marks-

Year Cut off Marks
2016 116 117.34
2017 105.33 113.34
2018 98 106
2019 100-102 118-120 

(IFS cut off was 116)


As you can see, except for the first attempt, I have got at least 7-8 marks above cut off. But minimum three questions are always usually controversial when the answer key is prepared by institutes and getting those 3 questions wrong will take you out of the race. This fear was there with me every time, expect this year. This cat on the wall situation makes us anxious, confused, and restless. After making the mistake of not preparing till the prelims results came in my first attempt, I learnt the lesson(did not clear mains in 2016) and prepared for mains in the subsequent attempts even if I was in the doubtful range(went to interview in 2017 and 18).

With the corona pandemic showing no signs of remission, a typical scenario which would play out in the minds of aspirants right now is –

Will the prelims be conducted on time? No no, there is no chance!

Will it be in June, July, August? What if they cancel this year’s exam itself? Why should I prepare now with no clarity on when the exam will be?

But I had a perfect plan to study for 100 days for prelims, what to do with it. Maybe I should just prepare my optional and wait for the update from UPSC.

Next day – Oh God, what if the exam happens on 31st may, why the hell am I preparing for mains now? That’s it Mr X, you have wasted all your time today thinking uselessly while all others would have finished the syllabus. It’s pointless to study now.

The Following Day – let me see, what updates I got about the exam in a random forum or group. Looks like everyone is expecting it’ll be months away. I’ll devise a new plan now.

This overthinking will go on endlessly without any actual preparation and finally when UPSC gives an update on the date, we may have too much cover in too little time.

The main thing is that, everybody goes through this anxiety and restlessness due to the fear of uncertainty, clouding the clarity of our mind especially when we need it to be sharp and clear. It’s normal, you are not the only one going through it. Every aspirant and every person who cleared this exam must have gone through it at some point of time for sure. The only currency we have in this exam is Time and no one can afford to waste.

All you need is clarity on,

  1. What all you have to cover (unfinished portions)
  2. Which books to revise
  3. What current affairs booklets to follow 
  4. How many question paper solving target you have.

Once you have a written list of the above, all you have to do is trust it and go ahead studying. It’s impossible to cover every current affairs. There’ll always be better static books than the one you read. But one constant among all people who clear prelims is that, they follow a limited source material, revise it multiple times and finally trust that what they have covered would be enough.

One simple example I can give is, recently a junior of mine asked me, which ncert would be better old or new? I have read only old one. Without reading the new one I cannot compare which is better. But I would never read the new one because I have already read the old ncert multiple times and it’s futile to read the same syllabus in a new book. Does it mean the new ncert is not useful? A big no! Many people clear reading the new one alone. The thing is you have to chose a source, trust and stick to it, if it works out properly (eg.getting the questions right in mock tests means the source you followed is enough )

Now coming to my strategy, I spent more time solving question papers than reading. I follow a very limited amount of basic books and revise it repeatedly. 

List of books


  • Indian Polity- Laksmikanth


  • Ancient India Ncert 11th
  • Medival India – TN 11th
  • Spectrum modern India 


  • India physical environment 
  • Fundamentals of physical geography
  • Past 4 years geography through maps videos


  • 12th Macro economics
  • Shankar Ganesh book 

Current Affairs:

  • Vision PT 365, Iasbaba


  • Shankar environment

Science and Technology:

  • Vision PT 365

Art and culture:

  • Nithin Singhania handwritten notes


My Mantra for Prelims – Question Paper solving 

This is one thing I never get tired of doing. I solved whatever question papers I can get my hands on, religiously follow IASbaba’s 60 Day Initiative and attend the free All India Mock Tests.

Since 2017 I have been an ardent follower of the 60 day plan before Prelims. The quality of the questions is very good and it’s a good program to hone your question solving skills as well as brush up the basics. I want to sincerely thank IASbaba for continuing it as a free initiative and maintaining the quality of the program. There were times when after one attempt’s interview the time for next prelims would be short and I used to solve 4-5 day questions together and make short notes or titbits of the key. You can never take prelims lightly even if you had cleared it earlier, and the 60 day plan was an important part of clearing prelims since 2017 for me, as I used to have sense of satisfaction and confidence if I had completed all the 60 days questions. Many like me are using this program in their own ways. 

On the worst days of prelims preparation, I would make sure I solve at least 30 questions and best days even two full-length papers. Further, I would make a note of my new learnings and mistakes of the key, because 100% I knew that I would never see the full key pdf or xerox again in the future. These short notes are the ones I revise every week as it keeps adding. Benefits of question paper solving-

  1. Your intuition develops better. Recognizing key words becomes faster.
  2. You will get to know your accuracy. For me I used to always get minimum 20 wrong even if I attend 70 questions. 90 plus I get less than 30 wrong, so the accuracy range is 20-30 and I always go for 90 plus questions. Believe me, I know seniors who clear forest prelims by attending less than 80 questions, where their accuracy is phenomenal. Again, each one is different. 
  3. Current affairs gets comprehensively covered since question papers will have CA which isn’t in your CA booklet.

Over the last 5 years, despite reading spectrum modern history over 15 times, I still find it difficult to remember many things after 7-10 days from the last revision. But economy I understood well and I can’t remember the last time I revised it from a book. It just comes to my mind. That’s how many people differ in different subjects. So it’s normal if you keep forgetting. Don’t be too harsh on yourself!

Further, never take your mock tests scores at face value. Don’t lose heart if you get less, don’t get complacent if you get above average. See the mock tests as questions and keep learning. And I very well know people in service who give less than 3 mocks and still clear. An IPS friend of mine gets terrified seeing less score in mock, loses focus for a few days at a stretch and hence his strategy is different, where he revises a lot but solves lesser questions. There is no single perfect strategy in this exam. If someone says it’s there, that’s definitely not true. What I would suggest is,  solve question papers everyday, 3 weeks at a stretch and see if your scores improve well. If it does, go ahead with solving more along with revising the basic books and CA. If it doesn’t show any marked improvement please do get back to the books.

Social distancing is nothing new to us. In fact, we can take a class on social distancing 101. That’s our natural habitat. Unless we are called upon by the government to render national service (article 51A(d)) or your district administration calls for volunteers in these testing times, keep your focus right, trust the process and keep up the pace of preparation. Remember the following quote,

If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail !

-John wooden

May the force be with you!


Thank You

Muthu S Rank 23, IFoS

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