T.V. Anupama dreamed to enter the IAS right from her school days. In achieving that aim with glory, she has done Kerala proud.

“Aim high. There is no end to what you can achieve.” The words of T.V. Anupama, who won the fourth rank in the Civil Services Examination, are loaded with emotion and earnestness. Years of hard work to achieve her goal reflect in her words as she speaks to The Hindu-EducationPlus in her home at Maranchery, near Ponnani, in Malappuram district.

Ms. Anupama had set her goals when she was in school. Even when she joined BITS, Pilani's Goa campus, one of the premier engineering institutions in the country, her mind was fixed on the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Anything less would have left her dissatisfied.

“I certainly would have written the examinations again if I did not get IAS,” she says during an interview interrupted by the continual inflow of relatives, friends and local people to congratulate her.

Although she was sure to crack the Civil Services Examinations, she did not expect a rank so high. In that, Ms. Anupama did the entire State proud. With a well-defined strategy to reach her high-set goals, this electronics engineering graduate looks sure to inspire thousands of students aspiring to go places on our campuses.

Ms. Anupama's selection of geography and Malayalam as her subjects for the Civil Services Examination may have surprised many. But her strategy paid dividends when she cracked the IAS with ease and élan. According to her, taking engineering or science subjects for the examinations is like gambling. “I didn't want to lose a chance … because I find humanities subjects flexible,” she says. She was comfortable with geography. And Malayalam was her second language. But no subject will help you unless you have a genuine interest in it.

She advises the students never to opt for a subject without an interest in it. “You won't be able to study for a year unless you have an interest,” she says.

An avid reader of Malayalam literature, she had enjoyed reading almost all the 21 books prescribed for the mains second paper. What she needed was to strengthen her basics and knowledge about the history and development of the Malayalam language and literature. Ms. Anupama started preparing for the examinations in earnest from June 2008. Her 11 months' preparation was focussed and intensive. She took the services of three coaching institutes, all for different purposes.

Even when she was in the third year of her BE (Hons) course, Ms. Anupama attended a month-long crash course in Malayalam at a coaching centre at Pala. That strengthened her basic Malayalam.

Soon after finishing her BE (Hons), she started off with Civil Services preparations — 11 months before the preliminary examinations. “I started preparing for the mains first. Because that is where you need to strengthen your concepts,” she says.

Taking the advice of many from the Civil Service, she concentrated on the mains during her six-month coaching at ALS Training Institute in New Delhi. And in the remaining five months, she took up the preparations for prelims at the Civil Services Academy of the State government in Thiruvananthapuram.

“You don't need to mug up everything for prelims. Your preparations for the mains will automatically help you for the prelims,” she says.

The library of the academy has been of great use for her. Foremost among those who helped her were Sankara Narayanan, former Principal of Sree Krishna College, Guruvayur, and Rajasekharan, faculty member of the Civil Services Academy. When the former helped her with Malayalam, Prof. Rajasekharan helped her strengthen her knowledge of geography.

She depended on magazines for preparing for the general studies paper in mains, particularly Frontline. Apart from taking a glimpse at the local newspapers, she used to go through The Hindu from front to back. Since 2004, she used to spend a lot of time with the edit and op-ed pages of The Hindu and The Times of India. “I have been reading The Hindu completely and major articles in The Times of India,” she says.

Knowing facts are not just enough. “Not at all, in fact,” she advises the students. “You must read the comments, opinions and analyses. Then only you will be able to analyse the issues. What you need is depth, particularly when you aim high,” she says.

During the 11 months of her preparation, Ms. Anupama used to spend 13 to 16 hours a day with books and journals. She slept six hours without break, and used to take a 10- or 15-minute nap during studies.

Winning a rank is nothing new for her. She won the 13th rank in the SSLC examinations from Vijayamatha Convent High School, Ponnani, in 2002. She won the third rank in the higher secondary examinations from St. Clair's Higher Secondary School, Thrissur, in 2004. And she scored 92 per cent marks in her BE (Hons) from BITS.

But Ms. Anupama believes the real challenge is yet to come. Hopeful of getting an opening in her home State, she has set her mind on finding better ways and means of helping society.