How I Cleared IAS? Inside Story of an IAS Topper

Each year, thousands of students wait with bated breath to find their names in the final merit list. While the success stories of all the toppers serve as an inspiration, a few stories make chills run down the spine. Here is one such incredible tale of resilience. An inside story of an IAS topper – Mohammed Ali Shihab. Read on for more on his story of how his life came full circle, from growing up in an orphanage to being the Deputy Commissioner of a remote district by clearing the IAS exam, and becoming an IAS topper.

Mohammed Ali Shihab Background

Shihab was born in Kerala’s Malappuram district. Tragedy befell his life when his father passed away, leaving behind five children and a wife who was to fend for the whole family. Soon after, Shihab was sent to an orphanage where he spent the next 10 years of his life. From an orphanage, to become an IAS topper, is indeed an amazing feat.

Education and Background

Shihab started working as a primary school teacher after his pre-degree. Meanwhile, he tried his hand at many jobs. He cracked the exams for the selection of clerks, peons, jail warden, forester and railway ticket collector. He also got a BA degree in history by writing exams as a private candidate.

Journey to the IAS

Shihab then decided to become an IAS officer and serve the underprivileged. He joined an institute as he did not have a lot of time to spend on trying new strategies of preparation. “But for the coaching, I would not have made it to the Civil Services,” Shihab says. Life yet again posed a challenge for him. His daughter was born with paralysis of the arm. During his studies for the civil services exam, and during exams, he had to shuttle between hospitals and home. He had to drop out of the institute and continue the rest of the preparation at home.

He took the help of a faculty of a Civil Service training institute in Kerala to streamline his preparation. Sailing through all the challenges that came his way, determined to serve people like him, he finally cracked the Civil Services Exam in 2011.

In 2011, the IAS toppers was Dr. Shena Aggarwal. You can read more about her IAS success story here. You can also draw inspiration from the UPSC toppers 2018. They are mentioned in the table below.



Optional subject


Kanishak Kataria



Akshat Jain



Junaid Ahmad



Shreyans Kumat



Srushti Jayant Deshmukh


Shihab’s entry into the civil services shows the importance of IAS coaching in clearing the UPSC exam. Coaching gives a direction to the IAS preparation and helps make sense of the large amount of data one has to ingest. It also helps to understand how to go about covering the vast IAS syllabus.

Shihab’s Optional Subject

Initially, Shihab took Geography and History as his optional papers for UPSC IAS Exam. He got coaching for both optional subjects. But later, he found Geography difficult and opted for Malayalam Literature as his optional Subject for the Civil Services Mains Examination. Know more about Malayalam Literature optional subject – pros and cons, book list, etc. at the linked article.

Malayalam Literature Syllabus:-Download PDF Here

Success Factor in IAS

Shihab owes his success to the discipline he was taught while in the orphanage and the guidance he got while preparing for the exam without which he could not have realised his dream. Despite the limited facilities and lack of time, he studied hard. “Be stronger than your strongest excuse”, says Shihab who now has the power to change the fate of many people like him and works for the betterment of a remote village. His life is an inspiration for many underprivileged youth in the country today. If Shihab could do it despite all odds and limited resources, what is your excuse?

Find an excuse to clear the IAS exams. Kickstart your UPSC 2020 preparation now!

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  1. Sir, I am bsc students from maths.I am lot . financial problem so I can’t join the institute for IAS preparation .can I prepare all topics at tome?

    Mujhe sir mains ka syallabus nhi
    Samajh aya can you help me plz?

    1. Hi Kishan
      Yes you can prepare for UPSC Exam at home. You can refer to our Free IAS Prep page to start your preparation.

  2. Sir, iam an aspirant of IAS ,but due to lack of money, coaching in an institution is not affordable to me,can I prepare from home and I need a help to understand completely about IAS syllabus

    1. Hi Muhammed
      It is totally fine to prepare at home for UPSC IAS Exam. Check the below links to help you in your preparation:
      1. Free Ias Prep
      2. UPSC Syllabus 2020
      3. UPSC Notes PDF

  3. Reetu Singh Nain

    Hey gd eveng sir. I m preparaing for IAS. Ihave never read or learn sociology subject in my school and college. butt i want to opt this subject for optional subject. Can i opt or not ??

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