While many assume UPSC Mains to be the toughest phase of examination compared to prelims and interviews, the reality is far from true. Unlike prelims, the mains have no negative marking and unlike the interview round, the questions are predictable. With a total of nine papers and 1750 marks, it can however be regarded as the most important phase of the civil services exam.
One of the biggest mistakes aspirants make while preparing for mains is that they study theories without giving value to case studies and daily writing practice. This flouts the expectation of the UPSC exam. You are given only eight minutes per question to express your thoughts, insights, and opinions completely. Few other aspirants prepare without an approach for every topic. They do not know how much knowledge they need to acquire for a topic and when they have to stop.
If you ask any topper how they have cleared UPSC CSE mains, they will vouch for an integrated approach over the instalment approach. One must never start their mains preparation after the prelims exam. Preparation for both stages must go simultaneously. In fact, it’s highly recommended for beginners to start writing at least one answer every day from the time they start preparing for UPSC.
Keep track of current affairs
When it comes to current affairs, one needs to prepare with a plan. Six months before the exam, it will be effective to make 1-2 pages notes of current affairs on every topic in the syllabus. You need to be aware of the background of any issue you come across in the newspaper. Watching RSTV debates weekly once can help you understand the developments of any issue.
Read everything of the syllabus not book
While you read the standard books for mains preparation, you need to keep the print-out of the syllabus by your side. This is to ensure that you are covering all the topics in the book. Any other extra topic not in the syllabus does npt have to be read. This way, you are saving time. Books like Norman Lowe’s World History are 1000 pages long, but the content you have to read for UPSC is only 350 pages.
Speed-reading committee reports on the internet and making notes on the go is a way of preparing yourself to think while writing in the exams as well. Otherwise, you will be taking at least five minutes to understand how you can frame an answer and ten minutes to jot it down.
Keep a daily checklist of topics
You can keep a checklist of topics you want to finish every day and tick them off as the day nears an end. Every alternate day it’s recommended to do a five-year paper analysis of the GS subjects. This will give you a good perspective of what’s important and what’s not.
Three months before the exam, it’s advisable to practice one test every day. So, if you are studying for 6-8 hours, three hours in the morning can be allocated to the mains test series. UPSC mains is not only a test of memory and intelligence but endurance as well. Nobody can write for three hours continuously for nine days at a stretch unless they are trained for it. Ensure that even in the practice test series, you complete all the questions within the stipulated time. Often times toppers take the help of a personalised mentor who will evaluate their paper and discuss with them the points they can further include to get extra marks.
Avoid perfectionism at any cost. It’s natural for any aspirant to think there is more to read up on a topic instead of being content with their preparation. This induces a sense of procrastination by skipping test series. Further, referring to multiple sources for a single topic does more harm than good. Remember, the exam is a test of averages and nerves. If you have peripheral knowledge of all topics and can attempt all the questions in 250 words (or 6-7 points), then you can comfortably pass this exam. However, having in-depth knowledge of a few topics while neglecting others can result in you giving another attempt next year.
— Authored by Sajal Singh, Founder of Civilsdaily