UPSC Mains Preparation Strategy after Prelims

Prelims exam is the first hurdle in UPSC Civil Service. Hope you did well and expecting your roll number to be shortlisted for IAS Mains exam.Now, this is the most critical and crucial period in your entire preparation process - many aspirants either wait for their Prelims result, or some assume they won't clear this year's Prelims and start ignoring their further preparation. To address such issues, in this article we will guide you on how to plan and strategise the next 100+ days after your Prelims exam so that you prepare well and write good answers in IAS Mains exam.

IAS Mains Preparation Strategy

Take a Break

The first thing you need to do after your Prelims exam is to take a break from your exam preparation. Since you have been preparing for the last one year or so, you need some relaxation - both mentally and physically.

You can take a break for 7-10 days to refresh yourself. During this period, involve yourself in activities like hobbies, watching movies/TV, spending time with your friends/family, going on a vacation or anything that makes you happy and relaxed.

Apart from this, try to spend one hour or so for next three months, planning a strategy and analysing your Prelims paper.

  • if you feel that you are in the safe zone, then prepare with full confidence
  • if you think you are in 50-50 zone, even then you need to prepare for your Mains exam
  • if you scored low marks and you're sure that you won't clear this year's Prelims, then focus and rework on your strategy for next year peacefully

Here we are providing you with the detailed study plan for your Mains preparation after your Prelims exams are over.

Detailed Study Plan for IAS Mains exam

We repeat, don't take a break for more than ten days, start your preparation without much delay.
For example, 2018 Prelims is on June 3rd; you should resume your preparation at max before June 13th.

You will get 108 days for your Mains exam, so plan accordingly.
What we would suggest is, in fact, what many toppers have followed - having a detailed:
  • Monthly plan
  • Weekly plan
  • Daily study plan

In the monthly plan, set the broader goals, like covering GS Paper 2 and 3, along with Optional subject Paper 1 syllabus completely.

Post Prelims - Monthly Target-UPSC-Mains

And in the weekly plan, break your monthly target syllabus and plan accordingly. Finally, in the daily plan, schedule the topics you need to cover on a given day and assign the time for each of these topics.

Remember, always set realistic and pragmatic study goals, so that you can prepare accordingly.

Post prelims - Weekly and Daily plan UPSC Mains

If you have achieved your daily target and still have time at hand relax - you don't need to stress yourself. In the same way, if you are not able to achieve your target, try to cover it up within the weekly target and work accordingly.

Time-Period for Preparing Each Paper for IAS Mains Exam

The most important thing in planning and executing is knowing how much time is required for each subject and allocating the time accordingly, depending upon the importance and your understanding of the subject.

Here we are providing the sample period for each subject, and it may vary accordingly depending upon each individual.

S.No Subject Time-Period
1. GS Paper 1 10-15 Days
2. GS Paper 2 15-20 Days
3. GS Paper 3 15-20 Days
4. GS Paper 4 15-20 Days
5. Optional Subject 35-40 Days
6. Essay Weekly 2 Topics

UPSC Mains Writing Practice and Test Series

In UPSC Mains exam, the most important aspect is understanding the demand of the question and writing your answers within the word and time limit. To achieve this, you need a lot of writing practice apart from reading and preparing.

For that, we would suggest spending one hour daily for your answer writing - choose four questions two from General Studies and two from Optional paper. Once you start writing more answers, it will improve your answer structuring and presentation abilities.

As you are aware, the final list is based on your Mains exam score and Interview score, thus, every answer you write and every mark you score will be crucial for your selection and cadre allocation. So, practice on a daily basis.

Also, join a test series as per your wish for both GS and Optional papers. Once you join test series, you can assess your performance based on the expert's/teacher's feedback on the tests.

Every feedback will be helpful for you to improve and streamline your answer writing skills once you have joined the test series.

Regarding essay writing, write two essays every week and get it evaluated by experts, teachers, friends or peers to improve your essay score.

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UPSC Mains Preparation Strategy for GS Papers and Optional Subject

After the Mains exam pattern's change from 2013 onwards, the key to crack Mains exam mostly relies on GS Paper 4 (Ethics), Essay and Optional Subject. This is because GS Paper 1, 2, and 3 are common for all, and on an average, most of the aspirants get a similar score in these papers.

So, here we are providing paper-wise preparation strategy for these 100+ days to secure good score in IAS Mains exam.

GS Paper 4 - Preparation Strategy

Ethics paper provides an opportunity to score more than 120+, and also if you make any mess in the paper, it can also backfire and you end up with a sub-par score, thereby, spoiling your chances of selection.

Let us put it simply - to score good marks in ethics, be honest!

In this paper there are two parts, Part A deals with theoretical aspects, and Part B deals with case studies.

While preparing for Part A, emphasise on important ethical concepts and meaning. Apart from that have a good understanding of the Aptitude, Attitude, Emotional Intelligence, Civil Services values etc.

But the questions asked in this section will test your understanding and approach. For example, 'What does happiness mean to you?' So for such questions, there are no bookish answers - you need to write based on your experience and knowledge.

While providing examples, try to offer real-life examples or any incidents which happened in your life. Do not give ivory-tower or 'to-good-to-be-true' examples. Please respect the intellect of examiners as they have sufficient experience to filter out realistic answers from those which are made-up.

If you approach Ethics paper in this way, you will get a good score in this section. Apart from that, try to join one test series and for static portion refer Lexicon textbook as reference material.

Ethics Case Studies

This section is most dynamic, and you need to approach it differently from Part A - theoretical.

While you are analysing the case studies, you need to approach each case study from an administrative perspective.

While analysing and studying each case study, consider the following aspects

  • Resources involved in the case study and how to utilise it
  • Different stakeholders involved in that case study before deriving the conclusion - check how each decision affects different stakeholders etc.
  • The most important aspect of a case study is based on what ethical theory or value did you come to such a conclusion. This should be mentioned in your answer.
  • Apart from that, depending upon the case study, you should also know how to utilise the state agencies like Police, Judiciary etc.
  • Finally, as per the demand of the case study mention the relevant government schemes and quote them in your answers.
  • Take a balanced stand i.e. do not take a purely emotional stand.Try to come out with a just conclusion which is a good mix of rules, laws and emotions.

To achieve the facts mentioned above in your answer, you should practice more case studies before you appear for the Mains exam. What we would suggest is that either you can join any test series, or you can solve case studies from previous years' papers and get it evaluated from the mentors/seniors to improve your analysing skills.

GS Paper 3 - Preparation Strategy

In all GS Papers in Mains, this paper is more dynamic, and almost all the questions are asked based on current issues. If you have good command over last 1-2 years current affairs, then this paper will be a cake walk; if not, you need to work harder to catch-up on your backlog and plug your loopholes.

In this segment, we will provide some nuances in preparing for your GS paper 3 and help you score 110+ in your Mains exam.

All topics in this paper demand both conceptual understanding and also you need to aware of the recent developments on that issues.

For example, UPSC has questions on Agriculture, poverty alleviation and Food Security in 2017 mains. For writing an answer to this, you should know the historical background, government schemes and problems involved in it and finally, you need to suggest some useful solutions to overcome the issue.

To write good quality answers in mains exam, you should analyse all the topics mentioned in the GS paper 3 syllabus while you are preparing for it.

For example, if you are reading 'Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management', you should read:

  • Food Processing Industry in India and how it is evolving
  • Global best practices followed in other countries
  • Challenges and problems
  • Issues in FDI investment
  • How can we improve this segment
  • Actionable solutions etc.

When you read in such a manner, you will have more inputs on this topic. If UPSC asks a question from any perspective, then you will be in a position to answer this question without any hesitation.

To cover these topics, the best sources are Newspaper editorials, Yojana and Kurukshetra magazine, NITI Aayog and Planning commission reports, and other ministry annual reports.

To write unique and good answers in mains exam, try to use more examples, data and facts, and if possible use diagrams (in a diagram - label all the elements you have drawn).

GS Paper 2 - Preparation Strategy

GS Paper 2 is a tricky paper; if you have good command over polity and governance, then you can write good answers.
Topics you need to cover in GS Paper 2 are
  • Polity
  • Governance
  • International Relations

This paper is a both static and current affairs oriented. Here we will share some useful tips to score 100+ marks in your Mains exam.

Polity and Governance

To prepare this topic, you need to adapt and modify as per the mains demand. So far, you would have read polity by Laxmikanth with factual information. For Mains, you should prepare beyond fact-based, that means every answer you write in should be backed by constitutional values and statements, with legal and ethical backing.

The best material to read the polity section for Mains is from D.D. Basu. Apart from that, you need to write more answers before you appear for Mains exam.

Concerning governance section, you need to follow Yojana and Kurukshetra magazine for schemes and development related issues.

Develop a habit of reading newspaper editorials on a regular basis, since most of the Mains' questions are asked based on the recent debates and discussion. If you follow the editorials, then you will get diversified inputs and points from various scholars and experts. Again, please do follow newspapers!

International Relations Section

Inevitably, the questions in Mains will be asked based on current issues, but for the relationship between major countries, you should know the background and issues involved in it. Also, you should be aware of how India s foreign policy has evolved over the years from National Book Trust authored by V.P Dutt.

Once you have understood the historical background and evolution of Foreign Policy, you can understand the current scenario better. Do follow the newspaper and IDSA articles for more points and analysis for writing good answers in IR section.

GS Paper 1

In GS Paper 1 almost all the topics are static and most of the syllabus topics of GS Paper 1 you would have covered in your prelims preparation. So you need to brush-up and revise those topics once again for your Mains preparation.

Regarding Indian Society section, you can read NCERT textbooks for your basic understanding of the topic. For more, read EPW magazines to get some inputs, and the rest will depend on your answer writing skills.

Essay Preparation Strategy

As we said earlier, practice two essay topics every week and get it evaluated.

Try to write essay topics on diversified topics like

  • Globalisation
  • Women empowerment
  • Quote based Topics
  • Philosophical Topics
  • Science and Tech Topics
  • Education
  • Economy - Growth and Development Issues
  • Culture
  • Democracy etc.

Optional Subject Preparation

One of the major deciding factors for your interview call in IAS Mains exam is your Optional subject. Once your Prelims exam is done, you should spend your quality time in preparing for the optional subject.

Ideally, you should give 40-45 days for preparation and 10 days for revision. Apart from that, write as many questions as possible before your Mains exam.

Here we are listing preparation strategy for the popular optional subject for your reference.

Planning is important, but the execution of your plan is equally important. If you go according to your plan then definitely you will succeed in the exam.

Don't feel unnecessary pressure - IAS Mains is just like any other exam. It's meant to be cleared, and you definitely will!

As always, we wish you the very best for your Mains exams.

Best Wishes!

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