AIR 99 to 12: UPSC Topper Shares Tips on Current Affairs, Writing Notes For Mains

It was an IAS officer who motivated Namrata Jain to consider joining the Civil Service. “The officer mentioned in her speech how much of a difference administrators can make and that stuck with me. Even though this happened way back when I was in school, the seeds were sown then,” smiles 25-year-old Namrata Jain, a batch-2018 IAS officer.

The young girl fired up by the speech of the officer, grew up to be a strong-willed woman determined to enter the Civil Services. When her previous attempt in the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) Civil Service Examination (CSE) yielded a 99 rank and secured her an Indian Police Services post, Namrata again sat for the exam in 2018, scored an All India Rank of 12 to get her dream job of the Indian Administrative Services.

The Preparation Journey-Prelims, Mains and Interview

Namrata Jain

“I studied in Dantewada till my 10th. I must mention here that the environment there was not conducive for any learning to happen. Every few months we had some disruption, and the schools would shut down. No matter how motivated I was, given the unrest in the region, it was very difficult,” shares the IAS officer.

However, Namrata persevered, completed her Electronics and telecom engineering from Bhilai Institute of Technology, and was also offered a place with a public sector undertaking but, she had already decided to dive into CSE preparation.

Though she could not clear the Prelims in her first attempt, Namrata sailed through all three stages of the CSE and earned AIR 99.

Namrata attempted the examination again in 2018 to improve her rank and get an IAS placement and pulled of a rank of 12.

When asked what she did differently in her third attempt, she says, “For all the aspirants who are attempting the paper again, I do not think you have to do anything differently or change your strategy. If you have managed to get a rank then all you have to do in your subsequent attempts is value addition.”

“Even during my second attempt, when I secured the 99th rank, I was a Mains 2nd topper. So I knew that my mains were strong and what I needed to work on was the interview, in which my marks the second time around was low.”

Namarata analysed her strengths and weaknesses to focus on those areas that needed polishing and worked toward that end.

Preparation for Mains

“One of the things that worked for me was practising writing answers. The more I wrote, the more confidence it gave me and also strengthened my knowledge in those subjects,” she shares.

One of the reasons for her good Mains performance was current affairs preparation. “Current affairs is extremely important for all aspects of the examination – from the prelims to mains and then the interview stage. I worked intensively on it,” informs Namrata.

Notes for Current Affairs

Namrata explains her process of note-making, and the themes and topics she zeroed in on. “I got into the habit of reading extensively and also writing a lot. Any news or article I read, I took time and write what I gathered from it in a question answer format,” she explains.

Namrata would also scroll through the internet and find more articles on the same topic to gather as much information as she could.

“If, for example, I read an article with one view, I would read another publication to get a balanced view of the topic. I would then compile it all and make my own notes,” she says.

This method helped her assimilate her thoughts and the writing also helped in practising for the Mains.

After the second attempt, Namrata decided to stop making notes everyday and starting compiling her notes once every four or five days. “The second time around I started collecting the articles and then would sit with it all together and compile it. I would advise aspirants to continue making notes because it helps a great deal in writing for the Mains.”

“Make notes that make sense to you”


Namrata emphasises on the importance of writing notes in a way that makes sense, assemble them in neat points and clearly mention the additions. Cluttered notes will always cause confusion and frustration.

“One must make notes that you can look back at and understand in one reading. My notes usually consist of bullet points, flow-charts, and diagrams, among others.”

The key, while making notes, is to be innovative.

“The idea is not to reproduce the content. Also, incorporate your own views and opinions while making notes,” she says.

NCERT books – importance?

Namrata says that during her preparation she relied heavily on NCERT textbooks to get all her basics clear. “For all my subjects, I started with NCERT books and for Geography, a subject that I hadn’t done post-school, I took up the class 6 textbook, which helped me brush up on many concepts.”

For all other subjects, Namrata took up the class 9 and 10 textbooks, which helped her build a strong base.

“I did not make notes from NCERT books but instead jotted down points at the edges of the page, which helped me during revision.”

Namrata also mentions that since she chose Sociology—a humanities subject for her optional paper, despite being from an engineering background, the books of classes 11 and 12 helped her understand the concepts well.

She mentions to take time while choosing an optional paper. “Weigh all the options you have and choose the paper that you feel will be most suited for you.”

Preparation of any competitive exam is a personal thing. It is all about your will, your dream and your efforts. Clearing basics is always a good start. Even if it needs a class 6 geography book. Each book has some nugget of information so in depth reading is a necessity for the IAS exams.

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