UPSC Preparation Strategy

50 Days to Mains – Do your best

A year back, about 40 days from the Mains examination, @greymatterules sent me a PM, saying –  “Bhai, its normal to be a little depressed before Mains, na”?

I probably told him what I really think is the truth – Its okay to be slightly worried. You sign up for these things when you are required to write the Mains Examination. Especially when you have spent more than a year preparing for this exam. @greyamtterrules had spent three.

The key is acceptance, I told. You can either worry about being worried, or you can STFU and study.

The truth, as Christ said, will set you free. The exam is stressful, and don’t spend energies fighting the stress and anxiety. Just let it pass. And as I and @tejaswani often joke – This too shall pass.

So as we inch closer to the Mains Examination, I thought of writing for friends on the Forum and outside. So it is @yoga123, Navneet, @gloomydespair @kek @andysai  @drkingschultz ( who should study more )  and our other friends on the forum.

I wrote last year right before the Mains examination, and thankfully, it did work for @proust, @matrix_reloaded , @battletank and even @holymojito ( who secured IFS), who turned out to be my junior from School!

So here is the gyan

# 1 Your worst enemy right now is anxiety. Here is how to win.

The syllabus is your second worry. You will conquer the syllabus ( or half conquer it) anyway. But the one thing that you need to understand is that anxiety will make you flip from one book to another, perhaps from one site to another, and one subject to another.

So when you are studying Culture, your mind tells you it has low RoI and you should be doing Essay instead. If you are doing Ethics, you want to move to Current Affairs. Don’t do that.

Write down your goals, like Choti Singh does ( you are still doing it right? ) and stick to them. If you have written down to cover World History, don’t change plans. Stick to the plan. Finish World History.

In short I want to tell you two things

  • Minimize the time you take to make decisions and then rethinking on those decisions about what to do and what not to do
  • Once a decision has been made, stick to it. Indecision is worse than wrong decisions. At least as far as UPSC preparation is concerned. No flip flops.


# 2 Finish off your Test Series as soon as you can.

If you have done a Test Series from any decent place, you must finish off your Tests. Writing Tests  in itself has a therapeutic effect and gives a sense of accomplishment. Helps fight anxiety. And most importantly – realigns you to the need of the exam. Every time you write a test.

Everyone wants to get the syllabus done  two times yesterday.  And write all mock  Tests just the last week before exam – all 16 of them – two Tests a day.

Life doesn’t work that day. If you are one of those, who has been collecting things to do for the end, ( just  like  fat people who eat all the untasty things of meal  in the beginning , so that they can eat all the tasty things at one go – in the end ) you are not going to enjoy how things turn up at the end.

You won’t finish anything in the end. So write Tests even if you do not have an evaluation. Just do your part.

# 3. Your Success depends on doing your part right.

Your  success, like everyone else’s,  depends on doing your part. Not on your teacher doing his part. His success depends on doing his part

I am not aware of anyone who failed because someone else did not do their part. Usually. So live under no illusion. Do your part well, and thats all we can do.

So when RxIAS asked me he has been collecting all Test so that he will do them  in the end, I told him – This is the end. There is no other end

# 4. Follow any one source/site / blog.

In the movie adaptation of one of my favourite books – The Life of Pi by Yann Martel  (partly  because my father was assigned a name by his school headmaster, just like Piscine Pi’s name was, in the novel ) the conversation goes between Irfan Khan and Pi goes like this

Santosh Patel: Piscine, you cannot follow three different religions at the same time.
Pi Patel : Why not?
Santosh Patel: Because, believing in everything at once is the same thing as believing in nothing.

If you follow everyone, you end up following no one. So follow one and do things. And do not have this feeling of being left out at all.

So no matter how much some websites, forums or blogs make you feel you are missing out if you are not a part of them, follow one. ( or two ) depending on your attention spam. And be okay with letting go of things you cannot follow.

I asked @proust why he did not do answer writing practise elsewhere last year. He said, Sir, I knew my time was limited, so I decided to just solve questions posed on ForumIAS threads in my notebook. That gave him a 400+ score in GS and 43 rank. Thats a good rank.

# 5 Distribute time near equally  among your subjects

If you are a first timer, a great measure of time would have been spent on covering GS Paper 1 – doing the new things – like World History and Post Independence History

If you are NOT a first timer and have not joined a Test Series, a major part of your time would be spent probably NOT STUDYING.

And if you are one of those who joined a Test Series, your major time would and should be spent in doing just one Test Series right.

So, in the end it is scary if you have spent two months studying one single thing ( like an optional )


Because Its a slippery slope. You end up doing more of what you are doing. Do not fall for it. If you have spent two months doing only paper 1  of your optional , this should be a wake-up call for you.

I have invariably seen that in UPSC the dictum of “Savadhani Hati, Durghata Ghati‘ applies .

If you scored very well in Optional Paper 1 last year and did not do well in Paper 2 – you need to work hard on Paper 2, but at the same time maintain your score in Paper 1. Or else this year, you will reverse your score in Paper 1 and Paper 2 – and end up with the same marks. Back to square one.

#6 Identify your bottle necks and get it resolved.

Apart from male alopecia among IAS aspirants, there is perhaps no problem that Man has not been able to solve. So if you have a problem, find a solution. If you can’t, just ask someone who found a solution and copy it. And if yo have the solution, implement it. If you have implemented the solution, evaluate how it has worked for you.

So if you have a problem scoring marks in GS Paper 2, and static part is your bottleneck, I will tell you to – do M Puri Notes ( or Pub Ad Paper 2 Notes of Vajiram ) They are good for static part. Harsh did it in 5 days and I am not sure how much it helped in get a good score, but for sure GS Paper 2 was ticked off from his To Do List. That helps reduce your workload.

# 7.  Persevere.

I often tell this story. To myself.

A cheetah can always run faster than a deer.

By that logic, a cheetah should hunt a deer every time it goes for a kill.

But this does not happen, Why?

Because with such fast speed, a Cheetah can only sustain the run for a few minutes. The speed races blood through its heart and heats up the body. Beyond a point, the Cheetah cannot sustain the speed. Or it dies of body overheat. All the deer has to do is to persevere till the cheetah gives up.

Get the point?

My questions is, will you persevere? Just a little longer?

Because thats the key.

Your last days are the most important. So no matter how you have studied in the past, it is the coming 50 days that will matter the most. If you think this is your first Mains and you are a fresher and have no chance of making it this year, speak to those in the Allied services writing this exam. They are scared OF candidates like you. It is just that you do not know it.

# 8. Your problems are not as big as they look.

If you are stressed, a lot of lives problems look magnified right now. Mole hills will look like mountains. Some relative just asking you this question – “Aur Taiyari kaisi chal rahi hai” will make you want to declares war on all your relatives.

Thats normal.

So persevere with whatever you have been doing. You will have your moments of disillusionment with people, teachers, parents and friends – and argh – the writer of this article.

Sometimes half the world will look like your enemy. The other half? That  will look like relatives back home asking you for your result.

Dont fall for this.

If you have been doing a book or a course and found it useful, dont go for something new. Complete it first.

If you have joined Chokkalingham’s online classes and he is killing you with three hours of gyan everyday,  let me tell you he will cover 3 newspapers and possibly everything that you need for current affairs. And if you are a first timer, you will never know as much as he will teach you in three hours, unless you spend 2 years reading the newspaper every single day. So do not half finish things.

And you are better than you think. So get up and get things done. You are bigger than your problems.

# 9. Write every single day from now. Start today.

Unless this is your third attempt or more, and unless you have already clocked dozens of Test Papers, you must write. Every day from today.

Because the Commission does not know how much you have studied , or how much you have given up on sleep for this exam. They only test your writing skills and judge you on that basis.

So work more on writing – because that is what will be tested.

#10. Content is King. But Presentation is Queen.

And if you have ever played chess, you exactly know what I mean.

I am not talking gender here.

Having gone through a few hundred copies, largely of people who has appeared for Mains and / or Interview before ( hence a very filtered crowd ), I have realized that after 2-3 years of preparation ( unless you have squandered that time, which usually doesn’t happen, because Mains appearing candidates have to study ) you may not have much to add to content.

And probably content is not your bottleneck. Probably your presentation , structure and ease of reading answers is. If you don’t get what I mean, click here to see what I would call a neat presentation. (IRS Dude, IPS Dad)

So your answers have to be simple, easy to read and understand and must address the question.

If you are a first timer, this is especially for you – Do not write what you know. Write what is being asked. If you have some time. If you want to know what makes a simple, to the point, answer, take a look at this Answer Booklet of an MGP student. ( 400+ Marks in Mains, and a very  had working candidate, so much so that I feel proud sometimes! )

He/She is in service  and I will get him/ her to help the community once the Mains are over.

# 11. Make the most your time left

Because your next one year depends on what you do in these 50 days. And if you think you are having a tough time , ask those who are not writing Mains this year.

Men rise to occasions. These aren’t challenging times. This are times of opportunity disguised as hard work.  Make use of it.

Make a plan. And believe it’s impossible to fail. And you shall not fail.

And if you are wondering, what happened to the protagonist of this tale @greymatterrules, mentioned in the introduction – he secured a position in the IAS last year. He told me all he did was Persevere.

Wish you a very Happy (belated) Dussehra. May the good in you triumph over all thats negative.

( Apologies for this late article, be kind please )

Until Next Time,

With  ❤ Neyawn

( If you found this article useful, consider leaving a comment or sharing it on Facebook with someone who may need it . Views are strictly personal, and do not reflect the views of ForumIAS )

Print Friendly