Simple Answers to some Frequently Asked Questions

Many of the questions I get have no good answers. I've tried to explain why I usually avoid answering them.

For some reason, I find this memory to be very tragic.

When I’d gone to give a mock interview before my UPSC interview, I recall a student at the center, giving some test, coming up to me. He was extremely impressed to see someone who’d cleared the first two stages of the exam – that alone seemed a great achievement. He asked me for some tips before I left.

I remember thinking, “What can I possibly say in 5 minutes?”

So I asked him whether he’d seen the past year papers.

“No, they (the coaching) haven’t done them yet.”

I asked him whether he’d finished the higher weightage subjects.

“No, they hadn’t covered them yet.”

I couldn’t help but wonder, “How can I possibly help someone who won’t help himself?”

This isn’t just about UPSC or clearing exams, but achieving any goal in general.

There are so many ways we go wrong – either because we don’t know we’re going wrong, or because we know but don’t want to do anything about it.

Ignorance or lack of will.

Can I/ Will I – make it?

A very common question I’ve received is this: “I’m not from IIT/IIM – can I clear UPSC?”

I don’t understand how to answer it, or why it’s asked.

If I said no, would the asker give up and stop preparing?

If I said yes, would the asker assume that the “Yes” means that he or she will clear it?

So the question seems pointless, unless it’s one of those pseudo-motivational ones where you just want to hear a yes because it’ll make you feel good.

Same reasoning applies if you replace “can” with “will”.

Will I clear UPSC / IIT / anything? I can’t answer because I’m not an astrologer.


Which books should I use for UPSC?

Should I read the newspaper?

Should I join coaching? If yes, which coaching?

One thing common to these questions is that thousands of people have already answered them.

There’s no point asking them again because every possible answer (Some variety of: Yes, No, It depends) has already been made.

You only waste a lot of time if you ask me or anyone else these questions, waiting for a response.

I too don’t feel like I’m adding any value at all by repeating what thousands of people have already answered already, and what I’ve written down here.

It’s a lose-lose situation.

It’s much better to Google these questions, read a few blogs by toppers, and make up your own mind.

Making Your Own Decisions

The second thing in common to such questions was written in bold above- make up your own mind

There is no “best” or “correct” answer to questions like:

When to start answer writing?

Should I read the newspaper or a monthly compilation?

When should I start to prepare? When did you start?

If you ask ten different people, they’ll give you a whole range of answers based on what worked for them.

If you blindly copy someone, you will probably not clear the exam because you don’t know if what worked for them will work for you.

It’s just a way of avoiding thinking for yourself, so you want someone else to feed you a readymade answer.

It’s actually much easier to say “Read XYZ book” or “Start preparing exactly X years before the exam”. I get done quickly and the asker is satisfied.

But I also know that there’s a very low probability that person will clear, and I know that there’s at least some hope, no matter how small, that if something in this rant goes in someone’s head, they might save themselves a lot of time.

So, for subjective questions, it’s usually much better to pick a few trusted sources (almost always, these already exist, so you rarely need to ask someone to give you a personal answer) and try out what they say.

But you should have the confidence to doubt their wisdom, and if you feel their way doesn’t suit you, abandon it. Pick what works for you, even if others say it isn’t the “proper” way to proceed.

Personal Mentors

A lot of people believe personal mentors help. It might be so.

This section is for those who don’t have any such “guides” and think they’re at a loss because of it.

You aren’t.

I receive quite a few requests for personal guidance and connecting via phone.

I assure you that I’m not such a genius that a short conversation with me will drastically transform your destiny and help you clear UPSC or any other goal. Nor do I know anyone of such calibre that a single conversation with them can transform your life.

The only thing that will happen is that you’ll realize how ordinary most of the people you look up to are. And life will go on, just as it was.

I’ve written everything I could possibly tell about this exam in this blog, and many others have done the same.

Instead of spending your time searching for guides, you could spend it on studying and do better.

No Heroes

Among the most common questions I receive:

When did you start preparing?

Which books did you use?

Which optional did you take?

These are questions to avoid asking and questions to avoid answering.

Each person who clears the exam will have his or her own answers.

There are hundreds of answers to these questions already existing. Adding another data point is of no use.

These questions reveal a mindset that is a detriment to solving a problem.

You shouldn’t even be thinking in terms of “What did you do?”

That almost takes for granted that the person asking the question intends to copy the answer he gets.

Think in terms of “What should I do to achieve X?”

So, the answer to “Which optional should I take?” need not be the same as “Which optional did you take?”

What I or anyone else did is of no relevance to you; what you should do is of relevance to you.

Waiting for the Mountain

I’ve been hearing a lot of people claim to want to learn about “technology”, often throwing buzzwords like AI / Blockchain / Machine Learning and so on.

Ask them what they’re doing about it, and the answer is usually nothing.

I guess they mean that they want someone to come up to them and teach them, in a very simple way, requiring no effort, about this stuff.

Ditto for things like losing weight.

If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed must come to the mountain.

Today, there’s no real excuse to hide behind ignorance.

So, if you really want to learn something, be it coding or how to start preparing for UPSC, the internet is the best place to start.

Rather than blindly surf the net, just use it to find those who’ve already achieved what you’re aiming for, and learn from them.

You can learn about anything you want through the internet.

You don’t need to wait for someone to come and hand-hold you – it’s probably never going to happen.

These are just some of the things I wanted to tell those who are trying to achieve anything. And especially those preparing for UPSC, who probably make up the majority of those reading this.


Sachi Mishra

You are a brilliant exception !!! 🙂


Hi ! On a totally unrelated subject,

I was wondering on topics like Love.

Do you think Love is exclusive?

I am not seeking for answer like- You can have love for your dog, cellphone, dad etc. so it isn’t exclusive.

This type of Quora answer doesn’t fit well with the question.

The context of my question is, love for people or even the idea of one sexual partner or monogamy or exclusive relationships and all.

What do you think?


I probably don’t have enough experience of what you’re asking to give a great answer.

But in general, when I hear questions like:
Do you think X is Y?
Do you think love is exclusive?
Do you think talent is genetic?
Do you think morality is natural?

I always wonder for whom? Your idea of love might be that way, someone else’s mightn’t.

I don’t think it’s exclusive, but I know others might.

Reena Singh

Makes sense.

With little or whatsoever experience, I’d like to add- To Love someone is to be able to wish for them the best. Whether you end up with them or not, for that matter.

Else it’s not selfless but of a selfish kind. And, Love can’t be selfish.

(Clearing my throat)


When you make up your mind, nothing stands in your way.
Your perspective is refreshing, sir…!!


Every as soon as in a though we decide on blogs that we study. Listed beneath would be the latest web pages that we pick.

Reena Singh

Well, the last line.. 😅


Sir,could you give us your sociology answersheet??

Sweta Tripathi

Indeed I was also the one who thought that someone would eradicate my technical illiteracy bt I found no one bt nw I am learning from youtube and google and it gives me way more information than what I expected.

Prabhu P

Hello/Hi Sir/Bro,Thank you for being one among the many great independent thinkers including the name you often mention Mr Y N Harrari who are helping me to think for myself. I was initiated to the study of philosophy and spirituality for a few years and now pursuing a career in civil services. I write this to you humbly for the only reason to have a word of appreciation from you,which i believe will further motivate and help me. I also hope that we may have something to share in different realms of life in near future. Thank you and May God bless you with all the wisdom and health.

[…] One reason it’s pointless to ask this is that what works for you won’t be the same as what worked for someone else; you’ll have to put in the effort to figure out what floats your boat – discussed here. […]

Pruthvi Raj

Hello sir,
In one of the interviews you had said that you were not very sure of which service to choose: IAS or IFS. I want to know how you finally resolved this dilemma. You had said that your education background might be of much help in the IAS than the IFS. Apart from this reason, what parameters did you use to rule out one and choose the other? Did you use any “frameworks”? If yes, could you please share those to help me better decide?
Also, is IAS really what it is that a common man thinks of? Are you satisfied with the roles and responsibilities? Please reply sir.


Educational background isn’t a reason behind the choice, I try to avoid letting past actions determine future ones. It was only a comment probably – just because you studied something doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind later.

There’s no right answer, you just have to ask yourself whichever questions matter to you.

Some of mine were:
How important a part of your life is work – how much of your life do you want it to take up (Simply put – do you want ‘work life balance’?)
Which work would you prefer, from whatever little you know of the two jobs.
How important is it to live in a city – most of the time, you won’t get to in IAS, and I’d never lived in rural areas before.
How much importance do you accord to power, status, and wealth

You might have other considerations I didn’t care much about – travelling abroad / parent’s wishes / raising a family in the future etc. Figure them out.

Also, some of these questions pull in one direction and others pull in the opposite one.
They aren’t equally weighted either – you decide which matters how much. So even if one is really important to you it might trump every other…

To answer your last two questions:
Nothing is what you think of from outside, I think you only find out once you’re inside.
I don’t recall the last time I was satisfied with anything.

Pruthvi Raj

Guess I’m back to square one. Still it sort of gives an idea about how to go through this. And honestly, thanks for the reply.