The Mains Examination 2015 is scheduled on 18th December. That would be about 100 odd days from now. Today. This moment itself.
Folks, the time for celebrating How-Awesome-My-Prelims-Went and I am scoring 120+ by CL-Key is over. Or the mourning period over scoring only 77 in Gen category should also end. Get up and no matter how you feel, show up.
The next 100 odd days are going to be the most crucial days in the yet lived part of your Civil Services Preparation. Because no matter how much you have studied before, how much you scored last year, and no matter how much Synergy test series says you will score – the truth is – you won’t unless you have a rock solid plan.
And you will have to make that plan for yourself. Why would you need this article then?
This post will tell you the biggest mistakes that you should NOT make under any circumstance – it doesn’t matter if you have scored rank in 280s in CSE 2014 or you have just started off and this was your first Prelims. We’ll show you how to make that plan for yourself.
This year is a totally new game, and new winners will emerge, some will rise and shine, and some old players will fall into the oblivion. The truth is – you have to run fast, and catch up with all those who are ahead of you, and then a little faster, so that you can move ahead.
In the popular movie, Life in a Metro, the ambitious protagonist, when questioned by his boss, as to why he was in such a hurry to succeed, the protagonist says – Sir, yeh Race hai, koi Morning Walk thode hi. ( This is a race, not a morning walk.)
You have signed up for India’s most competitive examination, not the Unit Test of your engineering college , where you can make it even if you start late at midnight just a day before.
Here is the basic plan you ought to follow, if you would like to have a good shot at Interview 2015 – the sign that tells you that you did well in Mains 2015.
Capture September- October
The truth is, September & October will be your most crucial months? Why? Because there are going to three types of people:-
a) The Confused ones – still looking for which classes to join, and where to study from
b) The rock solid determined ones – Who already have a plan. They will tell you – Do I look like a guy with a plan? Don’t believe them, they have a plan.
c) The Seniors- ‘x’ times Interview appeared, perhaps selected in an allied service. They will eat up say 15% of the seats, but others still have 85% of the seats to themselves.
By now you would know which category you are in. The good news is, there is high mobility between categories ‘a’ and ‘b’. A large number of you will move from being with a solid plan to getting misdirected and misoriented on your way. And a large number of confused ones will move to the ones with a solid plan. This isn’t very difficult. If you don’t have a plan yet, try following someone else’s plan.
What you should do in September & October
Finish off your Optional first. Then the essay (yes, essay !!) and Ethics. These papers are the three most neglected papers (everyone neglects at least one paper of the optional, except say – Ira Singhal or Suharsha Bhagat or Anunaya Jha). And I can tell you with some accuracy that early time invested here will give you that edge.
These subjects have to be done now and gotten over with – finished up. At least 50%, if you have never touched them before. The other 50% could be done in the next iteration, yes.
A lot of people score very good marks in Essay, Ethics and Optional 2, without tremendous preparation. But let me tell you that all these three papers are not all luck. I have worked hard one some of them, and I have had commensurate success ever time I have put effort – like scoring 50-60% in Essay consistently when I have a) practised a few papers and b) implemented my hacks and strategies for Essay in those practise papers and c) Repeated the strategies in the Examination Hall.
Its a wishful thinking that you would implement your hacks and started directly in the Examination hall. You cannot, unless you are very very lucky. (click)
What you Should Not Do in September & October
The list is easy
- Do not wait for Prelims Result. Thats is what more than 4,00,000 people are doing. And waiting doesn’t cook rice.
- Do not spend the next two months doing World History & Indian Culture – the big abyss in IAS preparation.
- Do not wait till October end to finish the syllabus and finish all the 12 Mains Test which you have signed up for in the last 1 month before the exam, and be super awesome. That ain’t happening.
Follow an Iterative Approach – Don’t be overambitious
I met this girl who asked me – How can I complete the syllabus yesterday?
Everyone wants to complete the syllabus yesterday, isn’t it? I would say , try to do as much as you can today and this week. And a time will come for the leftovers, perhaps the next iteration or revision you make before appearing for the next test.
You have to finish as much as you can today and this week, but no more. You simply cannot and shouldn’t. Ridiculously ambitious goals are okay, but don’t be disappointed if you dont.
Don’t worry, you will finish a large part of your syllabus in the coming days, cumulatively. Its okay if you don’t make progress on some days despite your best efforts.
Get done with writing a few Essays this month, develop your strategy, tricks and hacks. Implement them in the test series or test that you write. Remember one thing – you cannot, cannot cannot implement an awesome strategy unless you have rehearsed it at home first.
You see those guys winning medals and creating World records in the Olympics in athletics ? Chances are, they have done better records in their practice , breaking the World Record many times over. Only then are they able to break records in the Olympics. So is the case with UPSC Mains.
Neglect is the Silent Killer.
If there is one thing you shouldn’t do, it is neglect any of the papers.
Neglect #1 If you are a fresher, you are most likely to do World History first, and Indian Culture – and all of this for about 30-40 days and remaining 80% in the remaining 33% of the time. This is because that is the only thing about which you have very little or no idea about. And in this process you will end up hurting other papers.
Neglect #2 If you are again a newbie, you are more likely to wait till syllabus completion and then join a test series or begin answer writing practise. Most likely you will have covered 100% of the syllabus by December 31 this year. UPSC will also have conducted the Mains 2015 by that time. Do not wait for syllabus completion. Just sign up and start writing tests.
Neglect #3 If you have appeared for Mains before and even gotten an Interview call and even converted to some rank , here is what you will do.
“I have scored 128 in Philosophy Paper 1 and only 68 in Paper 2. Let me focus on Paper 2 this time. And then most likely, you will pay little attention to Paper 1, and in the end you will probably end up reversing the score. The sum total of both shall remains the same unfortunately.
Do not neglect the paper in which you have scored well last year. Your goal should be to be good enough to retain that score and increase your score in the less scoring paper.
Covering General Studies Paper 1
GS 1 is static – well almost. And as ForumIAS moderator Neanderthal says – creativity paid for him ( He has a 400+ score in GS, and you gotta listen to him ). GS 1 is also very factual.
If you begin GS 1 now, and if this is your first attempt, you will be doing GS 1 for next two months, and even half of November and you wont be anywhere close to completing the syllabus. GS 1 has to be read once, maybe, notes made – very briefly and can be safely relegated to October or so.
You will be very scared given that everyone in the planet knows about Napoleon and you don’t (until October ), but trust me, GS 1 will take almost 50% of most people’s time- especially first timers – And its weightage will hardly be – 250/1750! And that too, most people would be stuck with World History and Culture Part . Don’t be Most People.
Covering General Studies Paper 2
This has been a bit of my forte, having scored 90+ in every attempt that I have made. GS 2 is largely current affairs, barring a few static portions last year. So the current Affairs will go as usual, try reading the Newspaper, not spending more than 90 minutes on The Hindu under any circumstance and maximum of 120 minutes if you are doing 2-3 newspapers.
But no more. If you are able to wind up The Hindu in under 60 minutes, you are a smart-ass. Note down issues, and maybe read them later.
For example, the European Refugee issue -You do not need to read on it everyday. At the end of the whole crisis, you can read and understand the whole thing through a single document. But yes, do make sure that you make a note of the issue and cover it later. By later, I mean no later than end of October.
When you read an issue on Current Affairs, I could tell you the questions that may come from it. On the EU refugee Crisis, the possible questions could be on:-
- The Causes of Refugee Problem – being rooted in both War and EU policies.
- The Refugee problem – a blemish on EU – since they have better tasted internal refugees during WW2.
- The Refugee problem – a failure of UNO (Most Likely Question).
- Connection of the Refugee Problem with Issue of Refugees on our Eastern Border (Rohingyas included, don’t just think Bangladesh).
The Current Affairs Part can be done by several ways such as the Newspaper or reading on topics of your choice. The static part has already been done by you for Prelims – almost. You just need to revise that.
For those of you who are bad at International relations, I recommend giving one full day to Rajiv Sikri – this will set up the basics of India’s Relations with most common countries.
Covering GS Paper 3
The GS paper 3 has five kinds of Topics –
1) Economic Development
4) Disaster Management
5) Security Issues
Out of these for 1) You will need to do the Economic Survey + Hindu Newspaper (or compilation) well.
For 2) Be ready for two kinds of questions in technology:
- Public Health – which is the most asked Question category in UPSC since times immemorial. Question could be on Ebola, Tuberculosis (MDR-TB, TDR-TB angles) and other related issues.
- Technology that is of or is capable of mass application. In last two years questions have been on (Digital Signature – used by IT department, 3D Printer – which was a big news etc. )Include rural technology also under this.
For 3) Environment , current notes + last ten years papers will suffice.
For 4) Do it from any standard source, and prepare questions on Nepal, Uttarakhand and any other tragedies that have happened or may happen between today and December 18. Please note that when you study Disaster management, do not restrict yourself to Natural Disasters alone, but also retain focus on man-made disasters , which expand the scope of this part of the syllabus 10x. A careful reading of the Hindu will keep you prepared for this.
Covering General Studies Paper 4
I will come up with detailed strategy on this part. Let me tell you Ethics is again a matter of clear mind – and you know this if you have appeared for Mains last year – where questions were sensitive, focussing on real world issues, and even political and casteist ones – something that UPSc had avoided all these years since Independence!
Ethics Paper will again be a matter of practise and having a sorted mind before the paper. Its easy to get tricked and score low therein.
I hope you make good use of the time at hand. Wish you all the best.
There are three things about time that you should know and appreciate:-
- Time is more precious than money. Because you can always earn more money, but you can never earn more time
- Everyone has an equal amount of it. Everyone.
- You will again have 24 hours when you wake up again tomorrow. You cannot waste tomorrow’s 24 hours today in advance. You can only waste today’s time. So the choice of redeeming yourself is always there 🙂