I want to share my experience with writing and failing mains 4 times, hoping that it would resonate with some people out there and we can have a conversation about it.
After 2020 results, I sat down to figure out what was it that I was doing wrong. I could figure out several issues related to note making, studying habits and answer writing. But more that everything, I think it is my self esteem issues that has created extra hurdles for me. I came to the conclusion that until I work on my self esteem, my effort in other areas is not likely to yield proportionate results. Let me elaborate.
Mains exam has certain distinctive features which can generate anxiety and fear. In prelims, you are presented with 4 options. The answer is there in front of you. You just have to identify it and just put a tick mark on it. There is nothing that you are creating in the process. There is very less of "you" in the answer. Even the OMR sheet is checked by computers. There is no one who is going to look at your answers and say "you did not know even this!". Mains is the complete opposite. You have a few blank pages in front of you and whatever you write is just "you". In a way, writing a mains answer is exposing yourself, being vulnerable in front of the stranger who is going to read your answer and judge you for it. It can make you feel little, inadequate. As a result, it can generate a lot of anxiety in someone with self esteem issues like me. There have also been several scientific studies which have linked self esteem, exam anxiety and performance.
Even in toppers, we can see two types of people. One is the Anudeep Durishetty kind. You can see vulnerability in his speech, in his writing. In his blog also he has mentioned how he struggled with self esteem after failing repeatedly in mains. Then there is other kind of people who are (relatively) self assured. For them, preparation is a relatively straightforward affair.
Therefore I think that the way that one approaches preparation will have to depend on one's self esteem level. I think for people struggling with self esteem issues (myself included), preparation will have to involve more than just reading books, making notes and writing tests. These are important, I don't deny that. Doing these sincerely is also likely to help one's self esteem. But at the same time, we also have to focus on our mental health. Those who struggle with self esteem, have a little voice inside themselves, which criticizes everything they do, second guesses their every step. It keeps saying to them that they are not good enough. This raises exam anxiety and lowers performance, leading to a self fulfilling prophecy. To do one's best in such as situation, this voice has to be controlled and if possible eliminated. At least that is what I think. I would love to hear other's opinion on this.