Countdown to Mains 2019 + Making the most of last days

Countdown to Mains 2019

First, the bad news. This year has been extra hard , at least in the past ten years of Civil Services Examination history. Thanks to the most productive session of the Parliament since Independence, and an active Prime Minister who tours as many countries in a year as the Lok Sabha passes Bills.

The good news, however, for oldies is that most bills passed have not seen any major changes, so if you have read those before, there is not much change. Yet again, since the bills have been passed en mass, we do not have too many editorials and opinion pieces on them . Since too many things have been happening at the same time, columnist ( and bloggers ) writing on the issues, realise that by the time they have written an Op-Ed, the issue is rendered irrelevant, because something new has come up.

But at this ungodly hour, precisely 2AM, when I write this, I am not going to rant about things we have no control over. So put your glasses back, and get some coffee gochi[1] tea, and here is some last moment things you could probably do ( and thank me later :) )

#1 Be young, not old.

Last year, I had a curious case of a couple of kids, who had been selected for Indian Administrative Service and Indian Foreign Service, and had decided to not take up their respective services and planned to get an under 100 rank.

The problem? They had gotten selected more than once, and I myself had seen people get into IRTS, IRS, IPS, IFS, IFoS and so on, until they finally got a service which they had to not take up, if they wanted to further write the exam.[2] ( You can read their comments from my blog posts of 2016, 2017 and 2018 to see them. )

Usually, the person who has studied 4 years of Hindu newspaper - I was afraid - was not a person you could train. I mean a person ( and all such persons ) who have been in preparation for like four years ( and four Mains[3] ) , probably have witnessed previous years questions as "current questions" and fairly knows what the exam demands.

And yet, let me share my major grievance with you. Older candidates, who have written Mains before ( or studied hard enough ) reluctantly may attend some classes, ( because you toldthem to ) - and because they know something about everything - will end up writing what they are taught - what they know from before. This, in effect, (a) nullifies the hours spent in a classroom trying to build better content (b) leads to falling in no-increment-in-marks trap. And they may end up blaming you for having no increase in marks.

This is an easy to detect problem - you can ask them to sit in a class and / or read a particular notes, and ask them to write an answers on the same topic(s) - and you will see that none of the things taught in a class , or written in the fresh notes - are reflected in their answer.

To make matters worse, whenever I asked an older candidate[4] to make fresh notes on a topic - they ended up writing down things they already knew in that note - without any fresh content.

And this is where younger candidates do have an advantage. Since they are reading the freshest notes, they write better answers and more relevant ones.

I can give you an example - on the reasons behind recent agrarian crisis - all older candidates will write about the APMC Act as the first and foremost , while a candidate with fresh notes / first attempt is likely to write - farmers not getting remunerative pricing/ collapsing farm prices, global prices slump, surplus production, disguised employment ( where 10 tillers of the land watch one tractor do their job, and there is not much work to be done left by men ) . While all answers are correct, some answers are more correct than the others. Just like some men are more equal than the others.[5]

And having a ten year experience with Civil Services Examination now - especially at a time when all the major reforms took place, I can tell that while in humanities, everything is right ( you can't flunk at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, even if you wanted to - thats how they do humanities ), there are very small differences between what is right and what is more right. For Science/ engineering students, this gap is sometimes so small, that they fail to comprehend and prepare for it. And it is for those extra ten marks in each paper that all the difference arises. Those 10 marks in each paper add up to 70 marks in sum total, but don't look too big individually. So you have to fight for every mark, and unlike the sciences and maths, where things are in binary, humanities, will require you to put herculean efforts even for 10 marks. Or half a mark in every question.

Thankfully, breaking the average-marks-cycle-every year and i-will-attend-classes-and-read-new-material-but-write-what-i-read-in-2017 is a solvable problem. And here is how you can solve it.

#2 Make the Dirty Notes.

Ladies & Gentlemen, brace yourself - for now we have reached a point where you need to make those dirty notes. I call them the last momentiya[6]# revision notes.That is - identify 30, 50, 70 topics which according to you are important - and have ready made content on it. If you are unlucky, between 5-7 questions will come from there and you can write above average to good answers. If you are lucky, between 12-15 questions can come from them, and you can do a great job.

I am not asking you to have templates. All I am asking is what are the three-, five, or seven things that you will definitely put if there is a question on India- China ( 3Cs ) , Surrogacy, Basic Structure Doctrine, etc.

About a year back, when I asked Anudeep Durishetty, ( who gave us a lot of credit for success ) what really worked for him - he said - Man, it was the definitional approach you suggested, that saved me from thinking before attempting every question. When I asked Sachin Gupta, who had secured the third Rank, what did he commonly observe in fellow rank holders - he said - Sir, everyone had their 30-40-50 pages notes which would be a sort of ready -reckoner on important and repeated topics, and I think that was common to all.

Pratham, who secured Rank 5 in CSE 2017, had made notes of his Current Affairs classes notes - in about 30-50 pages. He secured 501 marks in GS that year.

So was the answer of Minal K and Varnit Negi , who secured Ranks 35 and 13 this year. And so did nearly everyone whom I asked and who had secured a Rank in Top 100 ( I may have forced them to attend some classes, given that I personally knew them for over a year ) They all invariably said - We had made short notes of the class notes . It helps us remember well.

So in these last days, please summarise things you know, and make notes keeping these in mind

  • The notes are not pretty. Only you should be able to understand it.
  • They must not be a repetition of what you already know
  • They must be keyword intensive - only keywords is preferable
  • The focus should be in covering one topic in half a page or max one page - no more.
  • Notes could be in form of diagram, mindmap ( own handwriting, don't go and dowload 501 mindmaps from some website and later blame me for increasing your workload ) . Just anything that you can recall by looking at it.

And here is what to do next.

#3 Internalise your notes

Topics that you made the last momentiya notes on, should be internalised. By all means. Make sure that you revise them 3,4,5 times, and that these notes should replace all pre-existing content that you have on topics. Honestly, do not be surprised and scurry for content if you get a question on judiciary, health, education, Self Help Groups - they come nearly every year - if you look closely. Everyone like a prepared man. Or a woman.

And again, in humanities, revision begins after the 3rd reading. So if you are planning to read something 1-2 times, you better do it three times. After that revision follows.

#4 Writing Tests or Revision - What is the key?

If you were to ask me, what should I be doing in these last days, whether revise or to write more tests, this is what I have in mind. You can have your plan here - so these suggestions are only for those of you who are not that sorted.

#1 If you have written between 4 - 8 tests , you probably know how to write answers, do not waste time writing more tests. ( Unless you still think you don't know what a good answer is ). It is time to focus on the content. This is especially true for those of you who are writing first of second Mains and have not been able to cover the syllabus well , or have not been able to revise well.

#2 If you have been studying and not written any test, please write tests until you are done with the basics of writing a test. You can try to write a test every five days. Don't go and write your first test in UPSC. While some people every year will get selected writing their first test in UPSC, that is far from desirable.

#3 Work on the weak areas. If you have not written any test in Ethics Paper, write tests on Ethics paper. If you have not written any essay - write at least 3 essays before you appear for the essay paper. While no one may be able to tell you what makes a great essay, people with some experience can tell you what is a bad essay.

#5 Don't revise. Turn the pages

In these last days before the exam, it is expected that you reviserevise and revise. You must revise so many times that you end up reaching a point where you no longer have to read every page. At worst, you read through the pages vertically - looking at the keywords and recalling what they stand for and at best - you should be just turning the pages looking at each page - focusing only on things you dont remember fully - just like maybe with a well revised book like Laxmikant.

This applies to both GS & Optional.

#6 Solve three questions. Daily

For those of you who want to focus on both revision and not miss on answer writing - here is what you can do. Solve 3 questions daily - Form a group of 2-3 people on whatsapp and write answers and share among themselves . Peer review your answers and you will know the secret to writing good answers.

Writing 3 answers daily will keep you in the flow of answer writing , if you are scared of losing the touch. And if you want to do more answer writing practice, just take any two major test series - and try to answer the questions either

  • (a) either orally or mentally
  • (b) or, discuss the points with your friends for each answer.

If you plan to discuss papers with friends, we all will have one friend, who just has one point and keeps repeating it. So in your group, keep the attitude - this is first point, what is the next, so that you can have an assortment of points.

#7 Write the Open Test on September 7 before Mains

I asked Shreyans Kumat, who secured Rank 4 this year, over why he was writing the ForumIAS Open Tests a week / ten days before the actual Prelims examination, and he said - it was a good rehearsal for the actual exam.

In case you are in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow, or any of the dozen or so cities this test is happening - do not miss it - especially if it is your first or second Mains. ( Here is the link . No pressure. )

Trust me, the experience which you shall get, will give you the most realistic experience of the examination. Writing the test on 4 days is not easy. And no matter what I say - you will develop your own understanding of the examination , including extraneous factors that matter on the day of the exam.

I am inclined to believe, writing tests for 21 hours over 4 days frees up your hand, and temporarily improves writing speed - settles your handwriting optimised for speed and all of these actually contribute to solving the one actual problem faced in the exam - leaving the paper. So visit this link and take the zeroth step to gearing up for the exam.

#8 There is always at least one reason to sulk. Or cry.

Let me share you a secret about the Solar System. It has exactly one planet with known intelligent life[7]. And nearly all 7 billion people who inhabit it - always have at least one reason to sulk and cry about. Everyone has problems. Yeah, even the dude with a Rank 1 and a girlfriend. ( probably ).

So either you can sit and cry about it - or get your feet dirty, get into the mess and clean it up. I recommend eating the frog first - that is - do that one thing which takes probably not too much time, but hangs like a sword over your head. Get done with the topics., syllabus or activity that trouble you most as the first thing. Don't keep those thing pending on your head. Kill what you can't solve.

There are always three parts of a story - a beginning, a middle and an end. This part of your story - is the middle of it. Someday, you will look back at it and this struggle - and all of it will make sense.

And right now, all you need - is laser beam focus on the exam. The big questions of life can wait. A job well done is a reward is its own right.

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve : the fear of failure.

And I can tell you this with all certainty because I have seen success grow around me, even if I have not fully caused it. So do the hard work, focus on the things you want in life. This is your life, and no one else will build it for you. Take this chance, and make the most of it.

Oh, and, for my part, I"ll make the Universe conspire. To get you what you really want.

Until next time,

?

Neyawn

Views expressed by the author are personal, written in individual capacity, and do not reflect the views of ForumIAS. You can drop the author a mail at neyawn@forumias.academy. He promises to read every email of yours, but may not reply to each of them. 


  1. Gochi tea is a fictional drink. Don't try looking for it in a nearby store. Or the Internet. Really.
  2. Rules require that if you are selected for IAS and IFS, you should not join the service if you want to write the exam again. The cool dude who took this risk, won away with a under 100 rank, and a home cadre.
  3. I believe that with 3 studious years and Mains and Interview calls more than once, a person does not need ( and possibly cannot ) benefit from a classroom coaching. However, to my utter disbelief, the people who write Mains and appear for Interview usually take more classes and coaching aid and are utterly nervous about the next attempt. The ones who don't ( and won't ) clear Prelims, on the other hand, always think they don't need classes or good notes. Its the exam that was faulty instead and that the coming year, without doing anything extra ( ordinary ) they will sail through. My readings have told me that if something has happened once, it may not happen a second time. But if something has happened a second or a third third time, it will definitely happen a third or fourth time. So any of you reading this know someone who has flunked prelims 2-3 times, you can warn them that they will most likely flunk a fourth time, unless they do something radical about it. Its painful to see extremely young people wasting their attempts at Prelims, when it is not even the real competition.
  4. Age is just in your mind, until you turn thirty. After 30, nearly everything will be in your mind. Check back on this space after you turn thirty.
  5. "All animals are equalbut some animals are more equal than others". A proclamation by the pigs who control the government in the novel Animal Farm, by George Orwell."
  6. Not inspired by popular culture, or any song from the GOW.
  7. As of August 25, 2019. Stephen Hawkins argues that with million of stars and billions of planets, life on only a single planet is highly unlikely. He also warns that search for such life is dangerous.
  8. If you have read this far, drop me an awesome thank you mail , or anything random and long ( I like to read stuff ), and I"ll post you my favourite book after the Mains is over :)
  9. This article was long pending, and a little late. It was indeed written at 2AM with red eyes, half shut. It was unpublished and re-published after correcting a lot of spelling mistakes typos.
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