I took up physics as an optional because she had always been my first love. Though my subject in college was Computer Science and Engineering and even though I didn’t have any definite UPSC plans back then, I still took as many Physics electives as I could during my time there. Being an almost half graduate in Physics by the time I passed out( ūüôā ), it was a natural choice even though I had heard not very encouraging things about science optionals from seniors. The other optional was the “popular” public administration. More on that one later.

My preparation for physics had a few major components

  • Books – I did an indepth study of all the study heads in the syllabus from the original books. Initially I relied on foreign authors for their lucidity and clarity as well as presentation but ultimately came around to the Indian authors who focus on exam writing styles and detailed derivations.
  • Senior’s notes – I cannot thank Abhijeet Agrawal enough for his help to his juniors. His blog at¬† is a MUST for all physics aspirants. Although his book list might make even the most seasoned¬†tayyari waala¬†think again for a moment, but his online notes are priceless! Absolutely priceless! Mr agrawal, thank you so much!
  • My own notes: After my first haphazard failed attempt, I sat down to make my own notes collecting(and discarding) material from AA’s notes as well as all the books I had read. Although lacking in heft, they were colorfully done and remain the only example of any sort of effort that I might have shown during my preparation. I will try and possibly upload them in a month’s time following in the footsteps of Mr AA. However, please note \my notes are far far inferior to his. (No, this is not false humility)
  • Test Series/Coaching – I had joined Vajpeyi Sir’s classes in my first attempt but was unable to attend many classes as my preparation had started falling behind and I was unable to leverage the maximum out of the classes. However, in my second attempt I gave all the tests and sat for discussion classes and learnt a lot on answer writing styles, need for speed and accuracy required in the exam.
  • Before Exam Day – The physics paper requires a level of practice that is staggering. The questions are never difficult and given enough time, every single person sitting for the exam can solve it completely. But thats the crux. We aren’t given enough time to breathe, let alone think the steps for derivations and proofs. Which means that all the processing has to happen beforehand. Its a must that every single major proof/derivation should be reproducible at a moment’s notice. Unless one reaches that stage for 6-7 syllabus heads, she/he is not ready for the exam. Its a very soul killing exercise(well, most of UPSC preparation is) but something that has to be done, even if that kills the beauty of physics as a subject
  • Exam day – A lot of things come into play – the questions you will choose to write( I tried to focus on the ones no one would attempt but only if I am sure that I knew how to do it), the possibility that You might get stuck(never a good idea, it wastes time and lowers your confidence especially if this happens early on), the size of the bench( UPSC tables are the best ūüôā ) , and realizing mid way to a question that its wrong and being stuck with just half a page to do it right again. Unlike humanities, there are right and wrong ways to do a question, and with limited page space we have to be extremely careful and certain before even starting a question
  • Tutorial Sheets by Vajpayee Sir as well as question papers from previous years (CSE as well as IFoS) were a constant comapanion to keep practicing from. The weekly tests also helped revise the syllabus heads one by one and kept the preparation on track till mains happened.

Books that I used

  • Standing on shoulders of Giants,¬† and¬† and¬†
  • Mechanics – Kleppner and Kolenkow, D S Mathur, a bit of¬†Goldstein, Relativity from Resnick
  • Waves and Optics Ghatak* and Hecht* are more than sufficient.
  • E & M – Griffiths* and satyaprakash(also, relativity from here)
  • Thermal – Zemansky and Dittman, Callen, Sears and Salinger*(Love this book), satyaprakash
  • Q& M – Satyaprakash, Griffiths*
  • Atomic and Molecular – Resnick and Eisberg*, Banwell*, Rajkumar*, S B Patel
  • Nuclear and Particle – S B patel, Pandya and Yadav, Resnick and Eisberg, D C Tayal
  • Solid State and Electronics – Did not prepare electronics at all except for basic logic gates, Puri and Babbar, S O Pillai

For some topics of general interest, notes from the internet can be prepared. Even otherwise, AA’s notes are incredibly helpful in all stages of preparation.

A major component is going to be answer writing. Answers must be supplemented with as much “differentiators” as possible – elements like diagrams, definitions, boxes etc that differentiate your copy from the rest. Proper steps in derivations, definitions, diagrams are important for scoring higher.

And a word on luck. My preparation for physics last year was a magnitude better than this time and yet, it worked out in my favor this year. There are things that are not in your control. Work hard for the things that are and it will eventually work out in your favor.

Best of luck,



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General Studies

I had hoped that I would have reason to deal with the 4 papers separately but given the remarkable and very disappointing scoring in the GS papers < i am going to restrict myself to the list of sources I used for preparing for this year’s syllabus. These are mostly books that I have prepared from. THe ones with an asterisk mark are sources which I couldn’t read or revise to the extent I wanted but which I believe are good sources to study from.

GS Paper I

  • Art and Culture – Didn’t focus much on this as the Return on Investment seemed to be a bit adverse, lots of area to cover with not as much score to show for. Read mostly NCERTs and Spectrum. Still, cannot endorse any source as really satisfying.
  • Indian History till 1947 – The Trinity of Bipan Chandra, Sumit Sarkar, B L Grover. Have heard good things about Sekhar Bandopadhyaya’s From Plassey to ¬†Partition
  • Post Independence Indian History – Bipan Chandra and Ramchandra Guha, however by the looks of it, they aren’t sufficient and need to be supplemented by extensive research on wikipedia
  • World History – Read lots of sources. Ultimately enjoyed Hobswamn and B V Rau*(from exam perspective) and Baliyan’s notes(well structured). Try to minimize sources in this. Oh, and NCERT is a good introduction. Norman Lowe focuses on post 1913 scene but eminently readable. Hobswamn is dense. Probably not very productive to pick up tomes like Europe Since Napoleon(Thompson). Jain and Mathur is an utter waste of time.
  • Indian Society Prepared notes on my own using IGNOU’s sources. Ultimately, made notes on the topics mentioned from IGNOU as well as some general brainstorming
  • Geography ¬†– Read Khullar’s India, Mrunal’s Notes on Resource Distribution, Goh Cheng Leong. Also tried reading Savinder Singh and revised a bit from magazine’s special issues. In hindsight, it would have been better to stick to fewer sources and revise them more

GS Paper II

  • ¬†Polity- D D Basu, Laxmikant and PM Bakshi. S Kashyap’s book on Parliament (selectively), Used Sriram’s Notes on Polity as well as Synergy’s for revision. For the uninitiated, I hate revising from a single source, although I did read D D Basu more times than I care to remember. Hence, my model of revisions used to be reading the same thing from multiple sources. Its a terrible idea but the only way I could keep things interesting enough.
  • Institutions and Governance structures – Relied mostly on ARC reports, websites of regulatory bodies, NCRWC and ECI websites for electoral issues, as well as Punchi Commission* for centre state relations etc. ¬†A lot of this part is dynamic and notes must constantly be made on the relevant topics from newspapers etc.
  • International relations – Read Sumit Ganguly’s book on Indian Foreign Policy. Wanted to read AF’s Indian Foreign Policy brought out by the Foreign Services Institute but never got around to doing that. Mostly, focused on online sources(see earlier post) and newspaper coverage.


  • ¬†Indian Economy – Uma Kapila’s¬†Indian Economy since independence, The emerging giant (panagariya, too technical and ideologically narro, but for those who have the time), Uma Kapila’s 20 years of reforms, also benefited from reading Amartya Sen’s books Development and participation, ¬†Development as Freedom, An uncertain Glory(even the Argumentative Indian in GS IV ūüėČ ) Dutt and Sundaram – its quite difficult to separate the chaff from the grain, but a good reference to keep for certain topics. Bought and read ramesh singh in the last month, decent for a recap as it it written from an exam based mindset.¬†Planning Commission FYP
  • Science and Technology random sources
  • Internal Security Internet PDFs from idsa and satp


  • Bhagwaan bharose
  • Read The Idea of Justice by Prof Amartya Sen, Michael Sandel’s What’s the Right Thing to do, IGNOU , some random Rajinder Nagar material for definitions etc but mostly was improvising on the spot in the exam hall. Rank 3 se poocho, bhagwaan jaane kya likh diya usne! 142! ūüėÄ

Next blog on answer writing.Cheers.


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Pretty dismal. I don’t think I am at all qualified to post on how to prepare for General Studies. Pulled through on the basis of interview, physics optional and essay. And half decent marks in GS paper III and IV. Paper I and II, which I used to pride myself on, have let me down completely. Very depressing. Here’s the break up

Essay 135 (Wrote on Gross National Happiness)

GS 66 66 100 92

Physics ~130 120 Total 250

Written Total 709

Interview 198 (David Sir’s Board)

Total 907

Kya hi hai. Do din ke baad agla post hoga. Really hoped to get more in paper I and II.

UPSC ki leela.


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Current Affairs II

  • Online Sources

A very crucial component of my current affairs preparation was a regular online (almost daily) survey of a few websites. These hosted well researched articles written with a longer term perspective than newspapers and were also slightly more technical.  Here is a list

  • prs Legislative research

Its a fantastic site, beautiful summaries on legislations as well issues. Read the older pdfs as well as parliamentary statistics.

  • pib

I tried my best to be up to date with the pib alerts but once the parliament is in session, it became incredibly tedious sifting through all the parliament questions asked . Still, they were often a starting point from which I backtracked to cover bigger topics, especially those related to govt schemes, flagship programs. With practice, it gets easier to get through them quickly

  • idsa

An excellent repository on defence, national security and international affairs. Besides the regular updates, also read the longer reports esp LWE and terrorism in South Asia and North East insurgency

  • cpr india (Centre for Policy research)

A collection of editorials from various sources by some of the best contemporary writers.

  • ORF Observer Research Foundation(Credits: ISG)

Again , some very good articles on national security, governance and international affairs

  • Accountability Initiative

Works on decentralized governance, accountability related issues and corruption

  • The All India Radio Spotlight/News Analysis

Used to cover a lot of topics over a period of a year. Not all its broadcasts are good, but the ones that are help in marshalling facts together in a simple, understandable style

  • South Asia Analysis Group, South Asia Terrorism Portal, Council on Foreign Relations
  • BBC newscasts (not a regular follower though)

Reports and Committees and Commissions

Reports by Commissions, committees and ministries are often the most informative (if a bit establishmentarianist sometimes) and great repositories of information as well as policy frameworks for general issues like health and education. Given below are the ones I found useful

  • The Planning Commission Five Year Plan

The single most useful singular source in this attempt. Its entire chapters are worth making notes from and for someone who thinks she/he has enough time, I recommend reading it through and through and understanding its policy positions well.

  • The 2nd ARC

Immensely useful for polity/pub ad based questions in paper II. I had read and made notes from about 10 of them and wished that I had read the others as well. An excellent resource with direct questions coming in. Law and Order, Citizen Centric Governance, e Governance, Local Governance – absolutely fantastic.

  • Punchhi Commission

I am still sore about not having read the seven volumes completely. I barely even finished one, but I think it should be read from extensively for polity. Anyhoo, now that I have the time, I will go through it at least once.

  • Budget – General and Railways

A sine qua non. Nothing more to be said.

  • Ministry Reports and websites

Worth mentioning are the Ministries of Social Justice, HRD, Health, Agriculture, Consumer Affairs , CAG(fantastic pdfs) , planning commission working group PDFs ūüôā

In general, reading on topics related to schemes or government programs should start from a definitive pdf from the concerned ministry/department. It lends authenticity as well as a central resource.


Some great chapters on electoral reforms, fundamental rights. There are others but I didn’t go through that completely. Adds a lot of value to Polity answers

  • INDIA YEAR BOOK SUCKS! Just sucks. Entirely. Not one redeeming feature in its 500 pages. IMHO.

However, a word of caution. These are bulk documents running into hundreds of pages. Except for FYP and ARC, which I believe should be read in their entirety, the others should be glanced through quickly, taking what you need and leaving the rest. Be sure you know what sort of things UPSC wants in its answers rather than blinndingly noting down facts and figures from them. Focus on ideas, plans, strategies, policies, frameworks etc rather than annual budgets and numerical details.

All the best. Next post on Paper I.



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Current Affairs I

The current affairs component of CSE was the most crucial in my preparation. Though very haphazard in my first attempt, I hit my sweet spot in my second attempt and kept at it even after the results came out. I will be dealing with this in two posts, the first one concentrating on the way of reading the newspaper and making notes, and the second will deal with commission and committee reports and other sources of current relevance.

I read two newspapers daily, The Hindu and the Indian Express. However, to build an unbiased view point, I tried to ideologically balance the left leaning Hindu and the right leaning Express, extracting good points from articles from both of them. Newspaper reading was done very meticulously and regularly took me 6 hours early on, and eventually reducing to 3-4 hours in the later stages as the knowledge base expanded.

I completely relied on making notes on my computer. I used the Microsoft OneNote software, making three notebooks, one International affairs, one National affairs and the last for neutral areas. International affairs used to have around 20 sections, divided geographically(individual sections fo important countries like Pakistan, US, Russia etc and for collectivities like Latin America, South East Asia and Oceania) as well as for international organizations (UN, UNFCCC, IBSA etc). Some of these had the relevant subsections as well depending on their relative importance. National Issues had around 25 sections, ranging from education, health, defence, public services to industry, agri and allied, State of the Economy. Since these were broad topics, I had dedicated subsections for eg. infra (roads, railways, telecom, Urban infra), state of the economy(fiscal aspects, monetary aspects), industry(MSMEs) etc. A very important section was Social Welfare Schemes (subsections Women and Child welfare, disadvantaged groups, Implementation status ). Thus, the entire syllabus was divided into horizontals and verticals. The thrid notebook has areas like Sci and Tech, Art and Culture from where questions of current relevance are more rare.

Once this classification was done, a major article was chosen and mentally placed in one of those brackets.¬†Towards the later stages, I used these articles as “Excuses” to revise what I already knew about the topic and create a what-why-issues-solutions framework for them. Otherwise, I added any additional information that I gleaned from the article. The updation was always done within a bulleted structuring and in my own words and involved a lot of deletions, restructuring, new headings and subheadings. ¬†This sort of detailed work up on newspapers helped in four¬†things – build up knowledge base, update the knowledge base, create a structure and revise constantly.¬†

One other thing that I did with articles which were not very informative in themselves is to work backwards and see it as part of a larger picture. For example, an article on Anti Collision Device might make me go back to the issue of railway safety and mentally revise the issues involved not just in ACDs but also recent reports, financial outlays, dimensions of Railway safety etc. This sort of structure was immensely helpful in finally writing the mains paper (Will deal with this in my answer writing post)

Aside: I will be writing “etc” a lot because I really don’t remember much from the peak months before mains. Haven’t studied much since December 8, 2013. ūüôā Only human, I believe

I had tried taking newspaper cuttings, underlining and all that. Didn’t work for me.¬†But ultimately its up to the candidate to decide what suits her/him the most. I just recommend to underestimate rather than overestimate your discipline in revising notes/cutting etc.¬†Human frailties are all too common and the last thing you want is a month long backlog ¬†of newspapers staring at you from under your study table. Special focus on newspapers during the months of June to December is essential .

Processing magazines followed a similar pattern. Chronicle had a decent coverage of month long events and acted as a decent revision source without impacting my notes since it almost completely lifts its topics from newspapers. ¬†Yojana and Kurukshetra were¬†decent enough in the starting stages but soon became tedious on account of repetition of content across articles. I also read a bit from the PD Economy special but wasn’t very impressed. All in all, magazines for me suffered from one major flaw – the lack of decent presentation and a very unacademic and uninteresting style of writing meant that I could rarely finish any of them and used them mostly to refresh things I had read earlier somewhere else rather than as sources of independent study. However, if I did find anything important or interesting, I made it a point to include it in my notes.

Next post: Online Resources and Studying Reports


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Since the aspirants would be looking for an assessment of quality of coaching taken by me, I feel its pertinent to share my personal observations and opinions on the same quickly. I, however, must beg of you not to form definitive objective opinions on this basis since I have reacted mostly adversely to institutionalized forms of instruction throughout my life , preferring independent study from books rather than made-to-order coaching. Above all, I value all teachers who have had any impact on my preparation at any stage. Even a single accidental line that impacted chains of reasoning, values and meta values, knowledge base used to make a long commute worth it. I am grateful to all of them for their help, but I hope they will understand that it is also my larger duty to give both sides of the coin to the aspirants, who for better or for worse, look up to me and my judgment. I hope that any negative points that I make against the coachings that I have been to, will be taken in the spirit of constructive criticism or evidence of my own foolishness rather than a sign of disrespect towards them. To the blog readers, I repeat that this is all my personal opinion and experiences and not a categorically objective assessment that applies for everyone.

It is certain that almost a dozen coaching centres can legitimately claim my name as their student, so its important to note their involvement in my preparation. While I will write later on in general as to how I perceive coaching institutes, what follows is a personal assessment of each of them.

  • Synergy/ Expert Brains

My¬†longest association has been with Mohanty Sir as well as with the General Studies team there. I was a classroom student for Public Administration in my first attempt as well as the test series. Since I haven’t taken Pub Ad in my successful attempt and have generally scored fairly dismally in the subject, I will not burden you with commenting on Synergy’s Public Administration Classes until in my later blog post on Pub Ad.

The General Studies segment, I have long been a “regular” Test Series candidate. I believe that the level of questions asked in the Synergy test series are quite suitable for Civil Service Preparations, even though the checking might need a bit more standardization. The teachers there, Alok Sir, Amit Sir and others are extremely helpful and encouraging with their personal comments whenever I went to see them to discuss my marked answer sheets. I owe them a debt of gratitude for their personal attention to my doubts whenever I had them. While this year, there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the mains pattern, even then the questions were very good, analytical and forced test takers to go out of the confines of static bookish knowledge into the realm of current affairs based application of concepts in polity and economics. I will not comment on the quality of the discussion classes, since I did a cost benefit analysis and preferred to study at home. Since the discussion started from a level of basic understanding(as is necessary when dealing with a large group), I do not begrudge them the time they took to explain the answers and answer writing style.

Among the cons, I will count the burgeoning number of students who are sitting for the test series . This has meant a little decline in the standardization of checking although the teachers have tried to attend to the students doubts as much as possible.

  • Vajiram

I have been intermittently associated with Vajiram, joining their prelims test series and having bought its study material. I also joined their mock interview session this year. Through my friends who have enrolled in its main test series program, I have also gone through their question papers. Their yellow books and current affairs booklets are decent enough and cover a fairly wide range of topics. However, I did not rely on them much as I preferred my own style of preparing for current affairs. I also found the yellow books a bit uninteresting in their presentation and it was an effort to go through them. I did not regard the books on ethics very favourably either, even though they contained a lot of important stuff, it was hard to sift through the immense amount of text in a sensible manner. Structure was  a bit lacking.

I have no experience of their classroom program or mains test series. However, comparing the level of questions of test series, I regard synergy’s more favorably.

The mock interview at Vajiram was not very good. Even though there were senior bureaucrats in the panel, the elegance and sophistication of a true UPSC board was lacking. Ravindran Sir’s One on One interaction was eye opening though as he immediately noticed my inclination to be verbose in trying to hide my inadequacies and asked me to correct it forthwith. Thank you for that, Sir.

  • Sriram

My interaction with Sriram IAS have been largely informal but I am immensely indebted to Sriram sir for his personal attention to my interview preparation. He was kind enough to take a mock interview as well as allow me to sit in his current affairs primer classes for interview preparation. He was also most welcoming in his informal discussion sessions in the New Rajinder Nagar Park. I am fan of his teaching style and his clarity on issues and benefited greatly from his lucid insights on my Detailed Application Form. I have ahem… also read extensively from Sriram Sir’s material from my friends who had joined the main program(Sorry for the revenue loss, Sir). I find them a lot more concise, informative and well structured than most other sources in the market. Especially the newly added material. However, my impression of his classroom teaching must be taken with a pinch of salt since I haven’t had much experience attending them.

  • Vision IAS

I joined their test series but only managed to write a few full papers. I think my discipline in this regard was a bit lacking as there was no set schedule to adhere to. The paper checking was also not very good, but personally, I dont believe the point of test series are to really evaluate you , once you reach a particular level of understanding. But more on that, later. The questions suffer from the demerit that they aren’t as current and updated as the modules tend to age as one gets closer to the mains exam. The questions, it seems, are locked in in June and thus, lose their edge as they do not follow the news of August September and October. However, its cost effective and cover a much wider range of topics to a much greater depth than synergy because of the greater number of papers and are thus more suitable in testing depth of knowledge of a student.

  • Pavan Sir’s AOPA

Attended a crash course for Pub Ad, but again, since its not a topic I was particularly successful in, I will refrain from commenting on it. However, a very important contribution (and well worth all the fees) is ¬†a single line strategy I learnt there to answer my GS mains questions “What is it? Why is it so? Issues involved and the¬†Way Forward?”. It used to help me immensely in structuring my answers.

  • I will not particularly comment on¬†ALS, Civil Service Times and others as they have largely been peripheral to my preparation with not much aid except as sources of revision. I am neither positively nor negatively disposed towards them as interactions with them have largely been impersonal.
  • For mock interviews this year, I had gone to Byju’s , Chanakya’s, Vajiram and Sri Chaitanya. For mock interviews last year, I had gone to Samkalp and Perfect IAS in addition to Chanakya. I will be writing in detail on my experiences with them in the post dealing with Interviews.


  • Vajpeyi Sir’s Physics Classes

Another constant presence in my physics preparation. Vajpeyi Sir’s encouragement after my failed attempt last year were crucial in gearing up for my successful attempt this year and sticking with physics again. Besides that, I have assiduously appeared in his test series and benefited greatly from his inputs. Because of the weekly nature of the test papers across topics , it was an excellent way to revise topics quickly and effectively. ¬†His classes are well structured and sticks to the examination pattern, giving one a complete overview of the most important aspects of the Physics paper including the importance of answer writing. I will be covering my physics strategy later on, but for now, I thank Vajpeyi Sir for his guidance and more importantly, showing faith in my abilities when I had lost mine.

In the interest of impartiality, I must add (and Sir himself have repeatedly said so) that coaching will never be enough in securing high marks. It must be supplemented by self study and practice as well as reading independently from multiple other sources. However, the classes are a very good place to start preparing in a ¬†structured manner. And given the rarity of physics as an optional, you pretty much meet and compete against all your competitors in his classes itself ūüôā








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The Blog and I

Hello Dear Reader,

My name is Divyanshu Jha and I am writing this blog for giving my two cents on the Civil Service Examination preparation process.

What this blog is:

  • My take on the preparation for the three stages
  • My strategies for the different papers
  • My comparisons over my three attempts and lessons learnt

What this blog isn’t

  • A starter kit for a random purveyor – I expect you to have a fair idea about the exam and what it means, the pattern and the type of questions asked
  • A forum to tell you why you should take the exam – that is, I believe, the prerogative of the candidate that they know their own reasons
  • A forum to tell you the books you should read – all my blog posts will categorically deal with only what “I” did, I will have a hefty disclaimer post about the perils of using my strategy

A bit about myself , since a lot of what I did are sensitive to the context of my educational background, not so much as my subjects as my philosophy towards studies. I spent my formative ¬†years moving around with my family as my dad was transferred across towns and cities before finally settling in Patna where I did my schooling from Don Bosco (10th in 2004) and St Michael’s (2006). I then went on to complete my B. Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering, passing out in 2010(sort of ūüôā ). I gave my first attempt in 2011 but failed to qualify for the interview. In my second attempt, again with Physics and Public Administration, I secured a rank of 648. In my third attempt, I opted to continue with physics and secured an all india rank of 9. In the meantime, I was not working anywhere except for a fantastic brief interlude with a social development enterprise called Samagra. Among my operational strengths, I will count a privileged upbringing and secure financial status of my family that left me unhindered in following my own calling, my ability (and enjoyment of )¬†reading books, certainty of purpose and a fantastic support system comprising of my family who were very supportive through everything. Among my operational weaknesses, I would credit my lack of self discipline in implementing schedules, my complete failure to read from the same source twice (lack of revision). The traits whose contributions remain ambiguous ( making it because of them or inspite of them, I am really not sure) is studying with music, facebook, gtalk and a hundred other distractions, sitting in small stretches (never more than a couple of hour’s sitting at a stretch) and studying alone(except for interviews) . That’s the basic overview, I think. With that context in place, I move on to my discussion of my preparation strategy. Cheers.

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