IAS Target

Abhimanyu Gahlout

Year : 2015

Rank : 38th

Topper Story - ABHIMANYU GAHLOUT Background
Hello, My name is Abhimanyu Gahlaut. I was ranked 38th in the 2015 UPSC Exam and this was my first attempt. I am writing this blog to share my UPSC preparation strategies.
Name Abhimanyu Gahlaut
All India Rank 38
UPSC cleared 1st attempt
UPSC Prelims 113.34
Home State Bahadurgarh, Haryana
Father Retired Sub Divisional Engineer with the Government of Haryana
Mother Headmistress at a primary school in Haryana.
  • BA(H) Economics from SRCC (Delhi University);
  • M.Phil. Economics from University of Cambridge

Optional Subjects – Economics

I've worked as an economist in Rwanda and Bihar for the last 4.5 years. In my second job (in Bihar), I seriously started thinking about what career can keep me motivated for the next 30+ years. After a lot of discussions and research, I realised that the IFS would be a very exciting and dynamic career. I didn't quit my job to prepare. I moved to an apartment very close to my office to avoid spending too much time traveling, and I started studying for around 6-7 hours every day. I think one needs to attempt a fair number of questions. No, I don't think there’s an ideal number of a question to attempt. No wild guesses.

Mains Preparation

I read The Hindu and Business Standard every day and made notes in MS Word.

Full Preparation (for GS 1)

I first prepared for the three GS papers sequentially. Amongst the four GS papers, I spent the most time on GS 1. After I finished GS 2 and 3 around mid-May, the notification was out, and CSAT was scrapped. I had to then pay much more attention to GS, and I spent the rest of the time till prelims primarily revising GS (so I could clear prelims), at the cost of studying my optional subject.

Full Preparation (for GS 2 and GS 3)

The Conquering of GS 2 started this in March. I found DD Basu and Subhash Kashyap interesting. To avoid becoming demotivated, I started splitting my daily study time between GS 2 and GS 3.

Full Preparation (for GS 4)

When I first went to Jawahar Book Shop in December 2014 to buy books for UPSC, they handed me a fat book for GS 4. Not knowing any better, I bought it. I found it extremely boring and too general to be useful. Then, I tried reading topic-wise, again, here as well, I thought that the readings were extremely dry. After these attempts at reading something for Ethics, I thought maybe it would be better to see what kind of questions UPSC asks. I printed the GS 4 papers for the last two years and took two timed tests. After writing this, I was confident that there is no need to study anything at all for GS 4. The paper is extremely general, but one needs to have good writing speed.

Full Preparation (for Essay)

The Conquering of ESSAY I practised 10+ time-bound essays, all after the prelims. I wrote about 6 essays for the Vision IAS test series, and I requested friends to review the rest. As luck would have it, an essay was the first paper, and I was stressed out and under-slept during the paper. As a result, I did a bad job of handling my nerves and messed up one of the essays. I was quite dejected after the exam, and I was sure I won't make it to the list. After speaking to friends, I calmed down and geared up for the next day. In hindsight, my assessment of my performance was correct - I got only 108, which is a below-average score - but I'm glad I didn't take the rest of the exams as if I'd already lost the battle.

Full Preparation (for Optional subject)

The Conquering of Optional Subject I had an economics background, but it had been around 5 years since I last touched an economics textbook. After CSAT was scrapped, I didn't feel like I had covered GS in enough depth to clear prelims based solely on it. I started studying Paper 2 of economics (Indian Economy) for 2 hours daily in May (did this for about a month), along with GS.
However, I was still nervous about the unpredictability of prelims, and I didn't prepare my optional in any depth before August. After prelims, I focused almost exclusively on my optional (90-95% of the time). I was fine with this because by now I was confident of my GS preparation. I had spent a lot of time meticulously covering the entire GS syllabus point by point for prelims, and consequently, I was sure that I could perform decently in the mains.

Questions attempted in Mains exam

GS – 1 20
GS – 2 18
GS – 3 20
GS – 4 20

Essay wrote in Mains–

  • Lending a hand is better than giving a dole
  • Dreams that should not let India sleep
Made a flowchart in a poverty-related question in GS 1, I think. Otherwise no. I carried a stopwatch with me to time myself exactly. I was very strict about only allocating 7 minutes per 10 marks, even if there was a lot more to be written for any particular answer. I don't think Coaching is necessary at all.


I initially joined Career Launcher to practice CSAT, but after this was scrapped, I stopped appearing for their tests. For the GS paper in the prelims, I became confident in my preparation only a few days before the exam, so I never had the time to take practice tests.


For GS and Essay, I took Vision IAS online test series and I think it's useful. Every Sunday, I wrote two timed tests for GS papers. This helped me become disciplined about writing rapidly and concisely. Do get your answers checked by Vision IAS, but please don't fret too much about the marks or ranks you get. No test series for economics. Didn't have the time, and didn't know of any good ones. The Hindu and Business Standard daily. EPW for economics optional.


It started on a bad note, because I didn't expressly wish the lady member, and was reminded to do this by the Chairman. But I apologized, and the board didn't fret about it. In questions that I didn't know, I didn't try to make things up and simply said that I didn't know. Overall, I just tried to have a good conversation and didn't worry too much about being a certain way. If you slip up somewhere, move on quickly, and don't keep thinking about your mistakes. I attended a mock interview at Samkalp and Vajiram. Both were useful, but the only mock I had at Vajiram was chaired by an ex-IFS officer. My first preference is IFS, so this mock turned out to be the most beneficial because the chairman grilled me on a lot of IR topics in great detail. As things turned out, there were no IR-related questions at all in my actual interview.

Use of Internet for Preparation

Over 80% of my GS preparation was from the internet. Similarly, I studied for Economics Paper 2 almost exclusively from the internet. Although I never posted actively on the ForumIAS, it was extremely beneficial to know that there was a big, and easily accessible, community of people who are taking this exam.
  • insightsonindia.com for current affairs,
  • mrunal.org for reading interviews of past toppers.

Message to IAS Aspirants who look up to Abhimanyu Gahlout:

Work hard, work smart, but most importantly, remember that luck plays a huge role in this exam