Optimising your time after Mains – Preparing for the Interview & More

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“The sweet smell of freedom. And it wouldn’t have been possible without you, neywan, thanks!” – she chuckled. On the evening of the final UPSC Mains examination.

A year back, after the Mains, when we first ( almost ) spoke, she wasn’t exactly sure about how her paper had gone. She wasn’t alone. There were 10 other people, and we brainstormed on how to make the best use of time post Mains.

Because that is one thing, I never did.

So on the lines of Pascal’s wager ( who said that it is more profitable to believe in God, than not to ; read on it  ), we thought, a good way would be to do two things

  • Prepare for the next exam cycle immediately after Mains, joining a Test Series for the discipline
  • Ensuring that Interviews do not go bad, by doing two things – the newspaper and the hobbies/DAF excel

So here I am, writing for @TheBigDaddy, who quit a job paying a few million rupees in the Big 4 consultancy companies,  and @anjus the brave girl who decided to appear for Civil Services after a huge gap and after fulfilling family commitments. And of course other friends on ForumIAS. ( You guys too , @yo yo , @IWRA and @Drking )

The time between the Mains and the Interview / next Prelims – depending on how you end up – is much like the unknown vacuum between adolescence and adulthood – you have no idea what to do! And before you realise, its over!

So here are some rules.

#1 Don’t dumb down in the next three months beyond redemption level

If you have been slogging for the past three months, the immediate thing you are most likely to do is , leave the newspaper as well as everything else.

So at the end of three months, you will be the person you chose to become. You know nothing – not even politics, leave alone International Relations, Economy or even demonetisation. Since you dont stay at home, you dont even have access to TV, so you are not even aware of prime time debates.

The UPSC board members, on the other hand, come back early from work, spend evening reading the newspaper and watching TV, keeping themselves aware of all that is happening. Winters have shorter days , don’t you know?

So that they can prepare for the Interview you are going to appear for.

And in next few months, you are going to be an uneducated version of yourself. The thoughts that flow so easily now because of tons of reading that you have done, will stop. And when you can’t think, you can’t speak. And can’t give a good interview.

Some people, almost become dumb in these few months. So here is what to do to not be dumb.

#2 Read the damn newspaper. Here is why.

“Why was the the blade-runner in news?”

“Ma’am he is accused of murder of his girlfriend.”

“Good. And why do they call him the blade-runner?”

The above was an Interview question asked sometime in 2014. And if you think that you can cover this through the Dision IAS monthly compilations, which have rescued in Mains, there are only two things I can tell you

  • either you are grossly mistaken
  • or they are not compiling the right news

So the point is – Read.The.Newspaper. And cover at least 2-3 articles ( opinions ) on every topic. So that your grey cells still work by the time you appear for the interview.

#3 But I am not confident of getting an Interview call

Do not glorify yourself.

First, there is something called the checklist. If you do so and so thing, you crack the Prelims. Every year.

Similarly, if you do the so and so things in Mains, you do get an Interview call. And if you have done so and so things, you may get above average marks in the interview and some rank.

Getting IAS, the cadre of your choice, or a life partner of your choice in LBSNAA ( or outside of it ) needs some luck. 

But Interview call, mostly comes if you done the checklist and your optional has not been penalised.

And every year you meet the same known faces in the Interview in the UPSC hall before the interview, before the medical test and before the forms submission. A few hundred people appear for the Interview at least for 2-3 years. You will meet them, and you will see how the excitement of the interview is totally missing. Don’t be them. Crack the very first interview itself.

So my point is, you don’t need the confidence of clearing the Mains. You just need to ensure that you don’t screw up were you to clear the Mains. This is called hedging.

Do current affairs really well and expect a current affairs interview. Or dont do current affairs and pray to God, the Interviewer does’t ask anything from current affairs.

And if you do not do the newspaper, do not expect to have the same knowledge / views that you have right now. The time given for interview prep is so small, you will compromise of current affairs by all means. And if you have a doubt, ask @ Abs on the forum who has been the first candidate in the first half in last two interviews.

#4 What else apart from the newspaper? The DAF excel.

@kammo on the Forum, the IIM A guy who was an early top scorer  ( 220+, I think ) in Interview on the Forum, shared his secret . ( Don’t ping him, he is happily settled now 🙂 )

He had this huge excel of all possible questions from every word of his DAF. He had framed all possible questions, and then possible answers for it. And continuously augmented it by taking inputs.

So frame questions on hobbies, extra curricular and be a genius in that. If diary writing is a hobby, you ought to have read the secret diary of a Anne Frank. Or at least the theme.

Or choose not to read it and say No Sir, I haven’t read it. Your call.

So prepare for everything on your DAF. It will hold you in good stead, in whichever year you appear for the Interview.

#5 But Interview is a Personality Test. Not a test of your knowledge.

My father recruited HODs of a certain AIIMS. The perks of being a Secretary.  He was a history honours guy, who maintained this little book, which had names of common medicines and diseases. And any doctor who didn’t know them , was not a good doctor, but a bogus one. A lot of top AIIMS Delhi doctors couldn’t make the cut. The kind you would line up to meet post retirement, if they left AIIMS and did private practise instead and didn’t fall in the official hierarchy.

Mrs. Razni Rajdan, former UPSC member had her own geography notes. She would ask you difference between Fohn and Chinook. Names of recent cyclones and typhoons. The things you do for Prelims. And if you didn’t know, you don’t deserve to be an IAS. Even if you didn’t have Geography Optional.

Mr. Purushottam Aggrawal asked you that if reading Hindi poems is your hobby, you should be able to answer some Hindi Idioms. And the idioms he would ask wouldn’t be in those Hindi books you have read in class 10. Or in any the Hindi poems you have read.


Thankfully, the above old men are not taking Interviews anymore. We have a more rational board. While its okay not to know a few things, its not okay to NOT prepare for them.

And there will be exceptions.

A close friend, lets call him @Dev, the guy who designed the ForumIAS logo always got 210+ marks in his Interviews. If you were to ask him , an NLS graduate and a great debator, he would say the Interview doesn’t require preparing.

But then he would not prepare for the Mains or the Prelims either. ( He is in service, and in NOT-IAS, so don’t ask what happened to him )

So that’s some genius + luck ( because he usually got elite board members, by which I mean IFS and  other sophisticated members to whom his fluent English would appeal and cut ice. )

But apart from that, the guys in my company, who got Rank 9, 35, 37, 39 or 65 or 80 something  and a few dozen ranks – all did prepare well. Very well.

Registers full of answers like – How will you solve the annual flooding in Patna if you were made the DM of Patna. ( The female who shared that answer and her register, did serve as ACUT, Patna and is likely to serve as DM Patna too in a few years)

So, unless you think you are very lucky, prepare well. Because, if your Interview is based on DAF ( the other is Current Affairs based ), you can predict almost all questions.

Because others will prepare. And a lesser candidate, but a more prepared one, will deliver a better answer than you who decided to go impromptu.

9 out of 11 times.

#6 But what if I don’t get an Interview call?

If you are very keen on IAS, you will use the register, whenever you get that Interview call. It will be one of your best investments.

At least it will set the direction of preparation. Once for all.

#7 Thats for the Interview. My Mains haven’t been too good.

If there is one piece of good advice I did not have,it is this.

Use your Decembers and January’s wisely. Don’t squander it. The people who make improvements – and I am talking radical improvements – like rank improvements, service improvements and marks improvements – are the ones who actually study even in these months.

It is just that most aspirants do not know about it. 

Let me share something that is not in public domain and shouldn’t be shared. Out of the 100 or so people who joined even the ForumIAS MGP 2017 within 48 hours ( an almost-secret-test-series-program-until-today ), 4 of them are already in service – the ones who should be getting a better rank this year itself. That is surprising even for me. What a waste of money!

So what is it that makes them study now, when they have ranks from CSE 2015 and have written Mains 2016  just ten days back and have a hectic schedule at the IRS training. ( The IRS training isn’t hectic, but thats not the point here )

Maybe they are very keen on IAS. Or maybe they have reached so far by not being lucky and studying throughout the year. I don’t know.

My point is – Study. Join a Test Series and get some discipline. Or read some good books related to the syllabus but not so much boring. Like the Homo Sapiens . Or even A L Basham. or Poor Economics.

If you can’t buy one, I will probably gift you one. Drop me an email.

Do something. December isn’t about watching TV series. Or playing Poker.

Since I do get lot of emails, I can tell you that some people did bad in their interview just because they ended up blabbering a line from GoT or Breaking Bad.

In their defence, they said they had just watched it and it was the only thing they had read ( as subtitles ) in past 4 months.

And they said they were unlucky to get an Interview call that happened in the first week itself. See the irony here?

A lot of you outside ORN or Student areas or those who stay at home in the love and care of their parents may not relate to the above, so apologies.

#8 These tips work for 9 out of 11 people

So here is the story of  11 people whom I mentioned in the opening lines. They decided to study instead. The girl who chuckled in the opening lines of this article, did take classes in December, changed optional, prepared hard for next attempt.

She did get under 300 rank with her old optional last year itself, but studying in these months, did help her as she wrote the Mains again this year. Plus she managed 200+ in the Interview too.

( I asked her if she could do a session on Interview prep, but still being in prep cycle, she didn’t want to jinx it. Since I believe in jinx too, I didn’t insist. )

So out of the 11 people , 2 got into IAS and IFS and did not write CSE 2016. So studying was indeed a waste for them. And maybe they were unlucky to have studied in vain. You decide.

( I will get one of them to do a session sometime  – he did well in Interview too and got Indian Foreign Service. A very active ForumIAS member last year, about whose success no one knows , because his stories weren’t published anywhere and fun fact : his name has a cocktail in it  🙂 )

Out of the rest, 5 got into allied services, and 1 did not get an Interview call and 2 did not get into the list after appearing for the Interview. But they wrote an awesome Mains this year.

But all of those who prepared and appeared for the Interview, did manage 190+ score in Interview of 2015.

So buckle up. Your journey isn’t over yet.

Because winners are always decided in the last lap of the race.

And three things ( in ascending order of importance ) which are actually *life changing* – The Service you get, the Cadre you get and Who you marry 😛 – will actually be decided by the efforts you put in the next 2 months.

Until next time,

With ❤


Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and do not represent the views of ForumIAS.com

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