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Mains Strategy: Sooraj Ben, Rank 321, CSE-2018, Insights Core Batch Student


Mains Strategy

Sooraj Ben, Rank 321, CSE-2018,

Insights Core Batch Student


Hi everyone,

I am Sooraj Ben, Rank 321 in CSE 2018. This was my second attempt at UPSC civil service Exam. Last year, I reached till the interview stage but failed to clear the cut off for the final list.

So, 2019 prelims is done and most of you must have checked various answer keys. I hope all of you took some time off to reenergise and rejuvenate for the most crucial part of this exam, the mains. Mains is that part of this exam which can either put you in the list or send you out. So it’s important to leave no stone unturned when it comes to your mains preparation. Here is my two cents on this:

  1. Don’t be disheartened if you find your expected marks lower than the cut-off predictions. Nobody can predict the cut-off precisely and mistakes can happen. Also, many keys might have mistakes. I have personally seen this happen. Last year I saw someone who calculated his expected marks to be 91 as per a (supposedly) very reliable key, who went on to get 110+ in reality and wrote the forest services mains. I also saw someone who ‘believed’ that he will not qualify for mains after checking a few keys and went home, only to realise that he wasted precious time for mains preparation, once the prelims results came out. So unless you got a very low marks in your prelims, just start preparing for your mains. If you get in this time, then voila; you made an excellent decision. Even if you don’t, you are still one step ahead of all those students who do nothing but mourn for their failures all this time.
  2. Now, many asked me won’t it be a ‘wastage’ of time and energy if, in case we continue our GS preparation and doesn’t qualify prelims. If you strongly feel like that, then prepare your optional subject and static syllabus of the GS. Fill your gaps in optional preparation, focus on your answer writing there and make and learn notes for static mains syllabus. Trust me, even if you don’t qualify, your future self will thank you for doing it.
  3. If you are someone who know for sure you won’t qualify, and have no immediate plans for writing other exams (or getting married or anything else), a great way to keep you motivated is to start writing a mains test series. But, do it diligently and sincerely, making sure you try to improve with each passing test. Joining a test series and following it religiously can help you in two ways- one, these few months are the most lethargic period for aspirants who lost out on prelims; you can instead use the time productively; two, you can write these tests without the extra pressure, hence focus on your content, your structure and answering style and speed, hence improving it manifold.
  4. For those who consider themselves in the brim/ those who know they will qualify, once you are done with taking a break, (which should ideally be over by this weekend), start preparing in full throttle, and don’t look back. Your prelims results won’t change just because you worry; what is done, is done. These 100 odd days to mains is simply THE most important days of your preparation. How you strategise, study and write in these 100 days will decide if you will be in the list or not. Take this from someone who still regrets wasting time during this phase in my first attempt; give in your everything to these 100 days.
  5. I would suggest you to join a test series, as a), it helps you plan your preparation, keep it in track and evaluate your progress ; b) it helps you to learn how to complete your paper in time (I myself improved from 12 questions in 3 hours to 19-20 questions in 3 hours by writing a test series and working on my speed) and c) It helps you experiment with your answers and bring in an X factor to make your answer more appealing/ scoring. Now nothing is ‘absolutely essential’ in UPSC which means there are aspirants who got in without writing any test series, but I would strongly recommend you to do so.
  6. Don’t just join a test series, but make sure you write the entire series in time. I have seen a lot of aspirants skipping tests because they haven’t completed the syllabus. The fact is that you can never be fully prepared for a test. Even the top rank holders would have never felt so. But isn’t UPSC exam also like that? No matter whatever you have prepared, there is always gonna be bouncer questions – like the question about Bose- Einstein statistics in GS 3 or the question on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in GS 1 last year. And the way you tackle such questions really plays a great role in your selection. So it’s always better that you write tests where you have to face such bouncer questions and what better opportunity to do that than when you feel under prepared?

        Once you start skipping your tests, you will keep finding reasons for skipping more and more tests, and before you know it, the test series will be over with you having less than adequate writing practice. This also goes to people who believes ‘ I will study well first and then write tests, what will I write without sufficient knowledge?’. See, the fact that you qualified prelims means you are a good candidate. Now you may not have learned specifically for your mains, but you have more content that you believe you do. Yes, you may perform poorly in the first few tests, but that’s ok! Better to fail now than in the real exam, plus you will learn how to tackle those bouncers. So in short, write every test with full energy and enthusiasm.

  1. Now, a very important advice, especially to beginners. Last year, when I got in through my first prelims, I haven’t even thought of what to do for mains till then. I know there are many like me who are in similar situation. For you guys, I will try to explain how to prepare for mains. See, unlike prelims and interview, the mains syllabus of UPSC is very precise. 60 odd topics in 4 GS subjects. There are two golden rules on how to study these: 1. ‘Google it’ – it’s as simple as that. say, you want to learn investment models, a part of G S 3. Just google the keyword along with terms like UPSC or civil service. There are lot of open source materials available online, which you may use well. 2. ‘Just ask’ – if you don’t know how to prepare for a particular topic, ask someone- your mentors, a senior or maybe someone having an optional close to the topic. You will find a lot of help if you ‘Just ask’. Preparing for mains is not as difficult as it seems to be, I mean, you have a clearly well defined syllabus, and question papers with predictable patterns to guide you. Just don’t lose heart while preparing. A first timer is as good as any other person in this exam. So keep pushing till you get your desired level of excellence.

Now this article won’t be complete without telling how insights has helped me in my nearly 3 years of journey. When I started, I had zero idea on how to start my preparation, I had no seniors in this field, no contacts with any winners and zero knowledge in humanities subjects. So I joined  for coaching. Within a month, I realised that I was getting too tired after the classes that I am not able to study well. Around the same time I came across a website called insights, who announced a year long prelims test series starting 2016 July. The test series was so well structured covering all NCERTS and standard books along with relevant websites. For the next one year, two of my friends and me diligently followed the test series without any external help, slowly building our base. This helped me in clearing my first prelims   Comfortably.

After my first mains, I understood that I need a strong support system which focused on answer writing ans self learning and insights was the first choice, so I went on to join their core batch in 2017 December. The fact that I had my close friends in their OGP was also a good motivation. From that point, till my next mains I was sitting in Insights library at Vijayanagar and attended both their mains and prelims test series. Insights’ plan of having a mains test every 3-4 days really kept me on my edge and the extra number of tests gave me enough space to experiment and fine tune my answer writing skills. Vinay sir has always been a positive motivation and always an approachable resource person for me during my stay at Insights.

So with a thank you note to insights and all those who have helped me in this journey, I’m signing off.  I really hope you all will start your mains preparation with full energy and enthusiasm very soon and come out with flying colours. Wishing all my fellow aspirants all the best. Keep fighting until you win. Success is meant for those who chose to remain in the game, no matter what.