How To

How to Optimise Prelims Preparation – Making the most of last few days + Strategy For the Last 45 Days

In about a month and a half, we have the Prelims Examination. Unlike the Mains, examination, which some people love to write, and the Interview, which most people love to prepare and appear for – the Prelims is almost the most hated exam level amongst all the three.

Everyone hates it ( with the exception of the person who is writing it the first time ) – the people who have made it to the list, but again need to qualify it if they want to upgrade their ranks, the people who just appeared for the Interview, but did not make it to the final list, the people who cleared Prelims last time, but didn’t clear Mains and are faced with Prelims again.

Almost everyone wants to write Mains . But one wants to write Prelims again, though 😛

Because, it is also the exam, which makes us to go back to basics – read the same books again and again. And do the same current Affairs Magazine again and again.

Unlike the Mains, where everyone knows something about a question,  writes something and fills pages, and results take a really long time to come – the Prelims is a matter of you-either-know-it-or-don’t. There is no faking it.

Secondly, you almost know your results within a few hours of the exam, so if you are not scoring well, your comfort zone  ends just a few hours after the exam.

Again, unlike the Mains, where 100 out of 100 appearing candidates can claim that paper went fine, and yet only 20% will make it. But for the Prelims, you just know it. Right after writing a test. There are umpteen keys out there.

So here are a few things to keep in mind, which should make your journey for Prelims more productive, a little happier, stress-free and successful.

  1. Make the most of the Golden Hour. On a Daily basis.

And the golden hour starts ( and ends ) within the first hour of waking up. So the minute you wake up, do not get caught in the spiral of thoughts. Start studying within 30 minutes of getting up. A good idea would be to head to the washroom and come out having taken bath, all fresh and all ready to take the head on.

The point is, end procrastination before it takes over you. Nip it in the bud. And since Prelims exam does cause high stress ( compared to all other levels ) , its important to study – if not for the exam – for the confidence and for the need to feel good.

2. Do something tangible in the golden hour

The best thing to do when you wake up is to memorize things. You are fresh, the mind works best and you can quickly cover up a lot of things. And if you build a habit around it, you are all set for the Prelims Examination.

But if you are one of those who just open a book and stare at it until you sleep – try doing something tangible / measurable.

By which I mean, something that can be quantified. And seen. Having an end result. Like writing for an hour after waking up. ( How many pages did you write ? ) And seeing what you have written. The sweet smell of your cheap ball pen ink on fresh white paper. ( I use a 3 rupee pen ) Smells like heaven 🙂

At the end of the hour, you have a few pages written, and you feel good about it. Its good for a start. What’s well begun is half done. Half is good. For now.

3. Leave nothing for the end. This is the end.

A lot of times, we leave things thinking of doing them in the end. A typical case is leaving current affairs for the end ( with the misplaced goal that I-will-cover-June-News-also-and-will-know-more-than-anyone-else )

There are two truths I want to tell you

(a) First, You cannot leave Current Affairs for the end. Nor even Modern History for the end

(b) Second, This is the end.

The truth is these last odd 50 days are the end days. The last 5 days or 10 days or 15 days are NOT the end. This isn’t college exam anymore.

4. There is still time


If you clock in at least 10-12 hours a day. And if you already know what to do. While clocking 10 hours a day looks like lot of hard work, the Prelims does require this kind of studies at least once, so that you build you level. The same amount of hard work may not be required for the Mains. Or the Interview.

By hard work, I mean the intensity of effort put in per hour. Lets face it. The Mains requires you to remember few key points, and build logical opinions around it. You do not have to remember things. If you don’t remember Point A, which is factual, you can always write Point B in its place.

But for the Prelims, you have to know Point A. And Point B. And Point C , if there is any. There is no escape. You must either memorize the Wetlands under Ramsar Convention or at least go through them between 3 -5 times to be able to answer a question based on them. Your opinions don’t matter. Facts do.

5. The 3 Days – 15 Cycles Strategy

We are about 45 days away from the Prelim. So here is the plan that you could opt for in the past few days. This is also what ForumIAS Co-Founder Lingraj Panda did in his subsequent attempt when he couldn’t clear Prelims the first time – Lock yourself and just study ( This doesn’t apply to people who are doing well and are in a comfort zone ; this is for people who are close to the border, and just need to race ahead in the last few days ). Lingraj, did clear Prelims that year, got IRS and then IAS with a rank 38, in case you wanted to know.

Here is the pic.

And as ugly the room, the books, or us, may look, this is how it is, and should be, when the going gets tough – when you don’t feel like studying, or you feel under pressure.

So here is the thing. Keep a target of 3 Days – that makes up one cycle –  of finishing an entire subject – like Geography ( 2 books of NCERT ) , Environment ( Shankar IAS ), Polilty ( May take upto 2 cycles , since it’s a big book ) , Modern History ( Spectrum – 1 Cycle ) and try finishing it in three days.

And to beat the monotony, when you are bored of the static book, study current Affairs for 2-3 hours. Don’t be ambitious – just think of finishing maybe 20 pages of your current Affairs Magazine. So there you have a fair mix of Static and Current Affairs. And when you are tired and bored – solve 25 Questions of any coaching Test paper. If you are a little fresh, solve maybe 50 questions – but no more.

So here is the sum total. At all points of day, you aim to finish off 1 Static Book + 1 Current Affairs + 1 /4 to 1/2 Test paper every day. You can change the composition of the above mixture , say 1 Full Test Everyday – depending on your preparation level.

If you decide to finish one subject + 1 CA Magazine + 1 Test Paper in three days ( apart from the Test Series ), you should be able to have 15 such cycles of revisions.

And three days is a good time for a cycle. Even if you exceed, you will take maximum 5 days. On the other hand, if you keep a target of 5 days of 7 days for completing something, here is what happens

  • First, if you miss the target, you extend it to 7 days to 10 days – which is a lot of time .
  • Second, we all end tend to study in the end.  Parkinson’s Law. So if you make a target of 7 days, you are likely to waste the first three days and study only from the 4rth day.
  • Third, if you decide to finish something in 3 days and merely finish 60%, you still have another cycle to complete the remaining 40%. And meeting 60% of your target is a good number even at this stage.

6. The ground rules for Cracking Prelims

Coming to few final ground rules for Prelims, especially when you are under prepared. And they are :

A)When choosing between solving  a paper vs studying, choose studying  ( unless you have really done each of the books five times  and have nothing left.)

B)When choosing between solving a previous year paper vs a Test paper, solve the previous year paper ( if you have not done it already )

C)When choosing between  a FREE ONLINE QUIZ and a solving a test series hard copy, solve a hard copy.

You can do 500 question in each paper in Mains ( subject to weightage of Current Affairs ) , and still clear Mains, but not so with the Prelims.

If you can’t clear Prelims based on your book reading, you can’t clear it by solving free MCQs all over the Internet. You will miss it by a few marks, even if you reach close. Missing the mark is missing it still. There is no glory in it. And that applies to almost all things in life.

7. Lastly, All Adversity is Opportunity.

If there is one thing I could tell you from the lessons of my own life, and having seen the struggle of a lot of people, who shine in knights armors, it is this. All adversity is opportunity. This exam has a glory. And the glory is only because the exam tests your perseverance, patience and ability to work under stress. And the ability to develop a strong will power in your journey.

If there is one thing that cracking the Prelims exam will teach you, is how to grow through adversity. For life.

So work hard, and feel free to post your queries and doubts here if you need help.

There is no other way,

Until Next Time

With ❤


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