11 Suggestions for getting started for Mains 2024
A Simple Framework for Making Better Decisions
Posted on
Article Image

Leo Tolstoy in his book Anna Karenina famously writes

“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking”

The Answer key by several coaching institutes isn’t exactly a beloved. It is June 29th, and we have reached a point where the incessant madness of looking at the answer key every now and then has to stop.

Until the day of the Prelims, 16th June had to be an important day. But after that, it should not matter.

Irrespective of your score, if you want to clear this examination – the most important step is to get started. And here are 11 suggestions for you to get started for this Mains.

11 Suggestions for getting started for Mains 2024

#1 Write your first test at the earliest. If possible, today. If possible, when you receive this email. Look, I interview kids who are to appear for Civils Interview. Some of them score really well. And the one mistake people will make in their Interview preparation is that they will take a mock interview when they are ready. And sometimes they are ready like 15 days before their interview. What happens is that the kid has prepared for his personality test in a completely different direction, and what needed to be done was completely different. But by that time it is too late. So sometimes that interview attempt is wasted in learning that lesson. One mock interview – however pathetic it may be – could have helped the candidate better align.

Similarly, if you do not know where to begin, begin by writing your first answer, first test as soon as possible. Those of you who are part of the awesome Answer Writing Focus Group initiative, must not miss the 2PM test writing slot in both online and offline mode.

#2 Within 3 weeks of the Prelims , you should have done at least 50-70% of your optional – at least one paper. If you are not doing it, and are worrying instead – better get back to your notes , pen and copy and just write down all your optional notes in rough. Writing on paper is like writing on your mind.

#3 Get over the prelims guessing game. We’ll be either writing the Mains this year or next. Make sure your actions are such that when you do end up writing Mains, you do not regret the time wasted in this short duration.

#4 If you have cleared prelims before and written Mains, unless you have done a major blunder, you are writing Mains this year too. What is most worrying is that people who have written Mains before, even appeared for the Interview are worried about the prelims result – in a year where the paper was a tad easier than the last year.

#5 The time squandered will not come back. Some students I meet have moved from the zone of hysterically matching answer keys to guessing the future to the point that they have nearly reached the zone of  astrology or future / fortune telling.

#6 Write your first essay in the next 10 days. You are wasting time because you think you have plenty of time. And when you will actually sit down to work you will realise you do not have the imaginary time that you have been expecting. This year the time is particularly less because of delay in Prelims examination. Make sure your write your first Essay in the next 5-7 days and discuss it with a Mentor. Then write the next essay test. Essay anyway does not need additional preparation.

#7  Do things at the right time. I have witnessed a lot of bright and diligent students around me over the past decade. One of the things that separated successful students from the ones that do not get success without tons of struggle is that sometimes the struggle is almost foreseeable – for one simple reason – not doing the things at the right time. So for example you are supposed to write your AWFG test today and you do not do it today. And sometimes you do not do it not because you had less time, but you are just anxious. Now what was a 1 hour exercise, will accumulate for the next day and now you have two hours worth of test writing. Miss it for another day and now you need 3 hours  or more to finish the tests – until you reach a point where no matter how much time you give, you have a backlog. Backlogs create stress. They are not worth it. Do today’s work today.

#8 Perfect is the enemy of good. A lot of people want to be so good at writing answers, they want to win the Nobel peace prize for it. There are two things I have to tell you. One, You become good at answer writing by doing it, making mistakes and learning from them and then again doing it. Not by dreaming about it. Two, when you start to write an answer properly, you will realise the “art of answer writing” is overrated. What you need is content and ideas. And there isn’t a prize for it.

#9 If you are not able to figure out where to begin, start with writing GS 2 and GS 3 answers. They are low hanging fruits, and you will probably be able to write some answers without much preparation. Plus they help you get started. Let go of the Inertia and start today.

#10 If presentation is queen, content is king. A lot of people come down to me and say they did not find anything special in the topper copy. You could have said that before the Shruti Sharma era – who I believe kinda raised the bar for content density in the answers. A lot of people want to just do presentation – which has now become a baseline and a lot of people are ignoring content. Do not make that mistake. If you are inspired by a topper copy – ask yourself, is only the presentation good, or is the content also plentiful. You have your answer.

#11 Do things the old way. This is a very conventional examination. You do conventional things you clear the exam with a Top rank. Stay old school in some matters. For this exam, make notes, take classes, write tests, take feedback and you are sorted. Execution is the key. Not wasting time is the key.

#12 Avoid Social Media. The biggest challenge that you have to beat right now is the information explosion that is happening on social media with too much mentorship, too much guidance, too much study plans. Remember you only need one.

If you do it right, it is more than enough.

In fact, one of the best testimonials I have ever received was from Medha 

Her story was unique. Sometime in CSE 2019 she had secured Rank 311 – sandwiched between 310 and 312. Naturally the group would join  IRTS.

CSE 2019 Results

And I saw the same group again in CSE 2020. But this time when the result came, both 310 and 312 had improved their ranks to IAS – and guess what to 27 and 28 but Medha’s name was missing.

What had happened is that Medha had gone for a last moment feedback ( just two days before her actual interview ) with some coaching which wasn’t very kind to her – and that kinda ruined her confidence for the Interview. She was shaken with a harrowing look on her face just a day before her Interview and I was a little disturbed.

CSE 2020 Results. Ranks 310 and 312 improved to 27 and 28, but Medha’s name was missing.

When the results came, both the candidates with ranks 310 and 312 secured Rank 27 and 28. and Medha was missing from the list.

I was a little perturbed. I was also concerned if we had lost her for good. When people fail to get what they want, there is a huge fear that they will stop trying. And when they stop trying, then they definitely won’t get it.

Some people ask me what it takes to succeed in this exam. I can tell you from the experience of a bunch of kids I have mentored. The people who don’t make it are the ones who disappear at the first sign of trouble. They will work hard, do things 80% – even 90% but when the pressure comes, when the going gets tough they quit – or worse – disappear.

And then ones who make it are the ones who keep doing things no matter what – even if the going gets tough. They survive the till 90% battle and then somehow slog to reach the 100%. The real battle sometimes is in doing the last mile.

Sometimes you win not because you were the strongest or the bravest, but because you were the last man standing.

A Forum user @twoface is running a thread on Forum asking me some questions, one of the last being why if someone has paid me money, why will I not give an adverse feedback – perhaps the truth – even when the exam is just near. You can read the question here

Here is the answer.

People and programs you bank on should be designed to help you succeed. An adverse feedback or a major strategy change before the exam is designed to make your student fail. Because in the end, when the competition begins, none of the gurugyan matters. What matters is what you have learned and absorbed and adopted and what you have become. And the decisions you take. Because it is you who has to play in the game, not the coach. He is out of the ring, perhaps like an audience.

In the end what will sail you through is your own confidence. Your faith in yourself.

(Not in the beginning. In the beginning a lot of confidence – sometimes over confidence will make you not work , not take help, and keep telling yourself I-will-clear-this-exam. Then after three years, you break down. )

Coaches and Programs should enable you to succeed. I see a lot of mentors, coaches and teachers doing YT videos 3 times a day providing guidance or doing sales work. We now have a marketing team which says Forum should be more Youtube friendly. Deep within, as of now I have not given in to the pressure. Because deep within I know that by making videos 10 times in 7 days, you are ensuring that those who trust and follow you – firstly, will be wasting time watching you more than needed, secondly, will fail because they followed you.

The dopamine has to come from working hard, doing things that help you succeed and not watching videos incessantly.

While it is true that mentors, coaches and programs do not and cannot give 100% results, but at the same time, they should not be inherently designed to fail those who followe them well.

For this reason, while I am excited by both education and Technology, I am disappointed by edTech. Every two years someone new will come, gain traction focusing on increasing the social media reach, but not do things that help people succeed.

Thankfully, when I saw Medha again last year after Prelims- for her Mains – as chirpy as ever- I was delighted.  Sometime during the Mock Interviews, I wasnt doing well and I was medically required to not speak for long. But I knew if there are only 5 people whom I needed to take speak to, a mock with medha was at #1 priority.

( The nature of this exam is such that sometimes you may need to stay put for an extended period of time. It has always been like that since the days of ICS. What generally goes wrong is when I lose someone good, and then meet him/her after 2 years – and often not in a great shape. This year too. )

Medha secured Rank 13 this year.

But what got me to mention her story was when someone asked her on Twitter what would be the unconventional things she did during her preparation, here is what she said – something that probably deserves more attention and shares than it has. Something simple, but very true. Here it is

You may follow her on Twitter here.

Keep things simple.

Stay connected with your mentors if you are writing Mains this year. Stay more connected in case you are not.

And If you do not know where to begin, write a 3 hour test today, and you will know.

Until next time