Categories’s interview of Nandini Maharaj (Rank- 42/ CSE 2018) [History Optional]’s interview of Nandini Maharaj (Rank- 42/ CSE 2018) [History Optional]

Profile of the Candidate


Nandini Maharaj

Rank in Civil Services Exam 2018


Roll Number




Total attempts in Civil Services Examination (including present one)


Optional Subject


Medium for History Optional


Marks in History Optional 

141 (Paper I), 149 (Paper II)

Home town/village


Any past Work-experience

Dancer (first with The Danceworx Academy, then started my own studio); Educator with Unacademy since December 2016

Were you preparing full time or working and preparing?

Working – but my work was from home and I made my own schedule 

Your place of preparation


Details of other success and failure in competitive exams

Details of coaching/ test series/ study material of any coaching used for History Optional

Self study history notes and test series (extremely helpful)

Educational Background


Percentage marks in class X

9.6 CGPA

Percentage marks in class XII

89% (best of 5)

Name of the subject in Graduation course and percentage marks

BA Hons History – 70.2%

Name of college of graduation and place

Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University 

Passing out year 


Post-graduation if any

MA in Applied Human Rights, Sheffield Hallam University 

Did your educational Background helped in History Optional?




Questions Related to History Optional

Why did you choose history as your optional subject?

Interest and undergraduate degree. I had excellent teachers in college who truly helped me understand the subject and cultivate a genuine interest in it. 

Mention positive and negative about the History Optional for those who what to take history optional?

Positive – simple, interesting and very useful for GS Prelims and Mains. The questions from it are very repetitive so PYQs are an excellent guide to prepare it. The sources for study are easily available. 

Negative – very very vast, map work is a real headache, time consuming

Mention booklist and sources which you followed for History Optional.

Ancient: IGNOU, Upinder Singh and DN Jha (not full books)

Medieval: IGNOU

Modern India: Shekhar Bandopadhyay and selfstudyhistroy 

Modern World: Ranjan Chakraborty, Norman Lowe and selfstudyhistory 

Supplemented with wikipedia and college notes whenever needed. 

My detailed booklist and preparation strategy is available here:

How did you prepare for Map Portion?

I really struggled with this portion. In the first attempt, I did not prepare it at all and that showed in my marks. Had I prepared it,  I would have got a call for the interview. So definitely recommend not leaving it out. 

For my second attempt, I knew I had to do the map work but I kept delaying it. So finally in March and April I hired a friend of mine. She prepared the maps for me and came over every day to make me practice them. We studied that sites, revised them, and then she took tests. It was wonderful preparing with her, and an amazing break from the daily routine. 

Then before mains I revised the maps and weekly gave 4-5 tests 

How much time per day you used to give the history optional during your preparation (both before and after prelims)?

1st attempt: prepared modern India and ancient India thoroughly between prelims and mains. Took 1.5 months. Little bit of medieval and world history for 2 weeks (not enough)

2nd attempt: revised first half of modern India before prelims (2 weeks, 3-4 hours a day) 

Did map work in March April – 1.5 hours daily 

Then did optional for 2 months between Prelims and Mains. 6-7 hours daily

For students who have not done undergraduate in history, I would recommend more effort. 

Did you do answer writing regularly? If yes, what amount of time you devoted to it and how did it help you?

I did answer thinking regularly – I complied a list of PYQs topic wise and thought about how I would approach each question. Writing practice was slightly lesser – wrote about 20 independent answers, and 6 sectional tests from self study history. 

The answer thinking was highly helpful, as it helped develop my critical and analytical abilities.

I had faith in my writing speed, hand writing, and language, therefore I did not prioritise actual writing so much. Other students my need to write more tests and independent answers. But I highly recommend active thinking and not just timed answer writing. 

Did you join any test series? If yes, kindly name it? How did it benefit you? 

Self study test series – very good feedback was given! 

Did you maintain self-notes? If yes, how did it help you?

I made notes for topics which did not have a consolidated source – eg 19th century socialist philosophers 

Sometimes if I found extra information, I would add it  into the original books I was studying. 

Have you solved previous years papers of history optional? Did it help you in the examination?

This is what my basic preparation was based on. The PYQs are an excellent guide and question bank. Do the previous 5 year question papers minimum, and can even go back to 30 years. But start in a reverse order – ie start from 2018 papers, then 2017, then 2016 and so on 

In your views, how the nature of questions asked in history optional changed in recent years?

Interpretations of quotes by historical figures and historians has increased. To prepare for such questions, I would not recommend reading many sources. I would still recommend learning facts and chronology and analysing the happenings, then connecting your knowledge with the question. 

Did you take any help from If yes, upto what extent it helped you. 

Yes! A lot! It is my absolute favourite site for history optional. The notes, the PYQs, the maps, and the test series – I used them all! 

Click here for Answer Sheet (History Optional) of Nandini Maharaj [Rank 42/ CSE-2018]

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