By now you must have heard of Sarthak Agrawal, the kid who scored 99.6% in 12th boards and went on to score AIR 17 in UPSC, this year.
We talked to Sarthak about his results that made him viral and the UPSC preparation in detail. Here's what he said.
1. Did you take any coaching?
No. I did not take any coaching.
2. Why didn't you attend coaching? Would you suggest the same to other aspirants?
It's a personal decision. I felt I was comfortable studying those concepts on my own. Moreover, a plenty of resources are available on the internet. I found them quite useful.
3. What do you think about the coaching culture in India?
I feel that coaching institutes hype the exams too much. It's this hype that instills fear in students.
4. What was your UPSC preparation like?
I started my formal preparation around June 2020 only a few months before the prelims.
5. Did you quit your job for the preparation?
I quit my job for a while and dedicated my time to studies. Currently I am working with the World Bank and plan to continue working until next month when the training at the academy starts.
6. What’s your advice to UPSC aspirants?
I never let the exam become too big for me. This was the key to my success. My advice to aspirants is that stay away from the entire universe that hypes the exam too much. For example, I watched Netflix series Kota Factory but intentionally avoided watching Aspirants during that time.
Just remember your motivation to start the preparation in the first place.
7. What was your motivation to prepare for UPSC?
I have been in the research field for a long time. During my job as a researcher I felt that there's a lot of research about everything but hardly any application in real life. This motivated me to join the Civil Services and contribute to the nation.
8. What are some misconceptions that aspirants have about the UPSC?
The exam has changed a lot over the years. It's not about memorising stuff but more about conceptualizing knowledge. When I started my preparation people told me 'itne kam time mein kaise karoge' and all because it's believed that one needs a lot of time to prepare for UPSC exams.
If you have a broad general idea of how things work, you will be able to score well. Another misconception is about reading only one particular newspaper every day. According to me all newpapers are good, it's about you finding valuable articles elsewhere. I used to read news from different sources, even Google news is good enough if you know what's happening around you.
9. What are the things you had to unlearn while preparing for UPSC?
I always thought that one can master all exams and score high marks every time but UPSC preparation made me realise that you may get all the marks and still do well. The toppers here get 50% of marks unlike any other exam we've seen.
10. Where did the 0.4% marks actually go?
In reality, I lost these marks in English. But on a lighter note, these marks went into watching cricket.
11. Did your cousins suffer due to the peer pressure families often place on kids?
Unfortunately, yes. Many of my cousins came to me and asked me to ensure that my results do not reach their parents anytime soon.
12. How different was the preparation and the experience of CBSE from UPSC?
UPSC is a different ball game altogether. It doesn't test your recall but basic understanding. CBSE is more about testing one's formal knowledge as opposed to UPSC.
So yeah, the preparation was also quite different.
13. After you went viral in 2014, did you have a favourite meme?
Yes, this one still makes me laugh.
14. Which meme from 2014 describes you the best?
Honestly speaking, I am a self-confessed nerd. So, it won't be wrong to say that the following meme describes me the best.
15. If you had to go back in time and revisit the way the CBSE results played out, is there anything you would change?
I wish I got that 0.4% as well.