Post Mains [How to utilise time between October to December]


In my opinion the time of Oct - December is most crucial given that after January, everyone will nearly study for Prelims till June and between June - September people study for Mains.

So far, I have only people who are ( usually ) bureaucrat kids or have an elder sibling in services study during this time. Also only people with good guidance or good peer group study diligently at this time - given that this is the only time you get to make improvements.

How you should plan it will totally depend on where you stand in the preparation stage.

#1 Those who know they will get an Interview call

I have already met a few people getting 130-140 in Interview more than once. So those of you for whom the Interview is the missing link in the preparation - get started with the Interview Preparation. I mean if you have appeared for interview 2 times - you will usually get a call the third time too.

Interview Prep has to begin with three things 

  • First, writing down your Interview Transcript of last year. Most people who score less in Interview are so traumatised by it that they do not write down their interview transcript. The first step to identifying where you went wrong is looking at what you actually did or said in the interview.
  • Second, read the damn newspaper - daily. When people get interview call, they are completely out of touch with current affairs. If you are fed of Hindu, read the Time of India. But Read something - not for building opinions, but for knowing what is happening. Since interview is half about confidence, not reading the newspaper does ruin your interview day for lack of confidence. 
  • Start a Evernote / Physical notebook and write down questions from your DAF on it. Ask your friends, family and other people to supply you questions. make a questions database. And prepare the questions well. Last year I remember at this stage, two kids - Ankita , who later secured Rank 14 or so had a register full of questions . When the interview came close, we were discussing the best answer for "Why Civil Services". There was another doctor kid, who began with a . very poor preparation, but changed course ( radically and marvellously, and honestly, I have seen very few people turn around their fates that way! )  - and ended up with 201 score in her first Interview and a Rank 81. I will ask her to pitch in with some tips too!

Unless your write down things, you wont improve. So get a interview notebook and get started.

#2 Those of you who have known lacuna in Mains / have appeared for first Mains

You guys are the most in need of the right advice. This is because, if this is your first Mains, you do not even have a fair assessment of how you did. 

First, of course you should get started with reading the newspaper so that at the end of 3 months you are not ignorant of the world that has passed by. October - December quarter is the time when world leaders will have most meetings  - so that they do not miss their deadline of having one meeting a year. This will generate lot of IR news. ( Just like June - September you have lot of Polity news because of Monsoon Session of Parliament ). So follow that. 

You need to be a decade old to realise that, and I am now a decade old ( but not out of touch - I did write the whole Mains Paper myself to keep in touch. Will shortly share my notes as well. )

Secondly, identify where you are weak at and start working on those weak areas. That has to be done. Whether it was Kabira ( who got a Rank 2 in IFoS and Rank 10 in Civils ) or Deepanshu Khurana, who secured Indian Foreign Service , were working their hardest during these months. I remember because I was around when they were around.

Third, take some classes somewhere. Nothing beats that, because you get discipline, a vibrant peer group and develop a schedule. Otherwise you are going to just sleep away these months. If you have the self discipline, you can make do without classes too , but if it doesn't work, don't ruin three months.

Get started with an academic schedule. 

And those of you having fitness issues, must use this time to to reclaim your health. If outdoor exercise is not an option in Delhi due to poor AQI, try something indoor. The Mains tales a toll on us - and there could be no better time than this to reclaim it.

#3 Those who have not cleared Prelims and planning for CSE 2020

Get your act together and finish at least Optional  Paper 1, GS Paper 1 and Paper 4 before December. After December the sole focus should be on Prelims and Prelims alone. Then GS Mains. The the Optionals. The people who don't clear Prelims 4 times in a row always study Optional . Till February. Annually. You could do a survey around yourself if you are one of those people.

If you gave not cleared Prelims - the best you can do is finish Mains Tests by December - at least 50% of it. And from Jan focus on Prelims & parts of Mains Test Papers that have common syllabus with Prelims.

Lastly, just because you cannot do something 100% does not mean you should not do 70% or 50%. Let not your aim for perfection make you miss regular improvements.

A lot of people don't write tests because no way they can finish all the tests. And just because they cant finish 100%, they wont attempt 70%. Thats a poor choice. It is good to be ambitious, but better to be realistic.

Take up things that you deem right, make good use of time and don't sleep till December comes. 

Feel free to ask questions and initiate a good debate!

Thank you Sir. Your suggestions are full of wisdom. These help us from doing things wrong and later regretting. Learning from other’s experience and avoiding doing a mistake is what ultimately transforms into a success. 

@Neyawn , I have a question : Since we have MGP(B) tests till Feb 15,16, should we be focusing on these tests during Jan/Feb instead of Prelims, or Do Prelims + These tests or Leave them altogether and give them after Prelims ? What is your take ? (Given that I couldn't clear prelims this year)

I am available here in my personal capacity and do not intend in particular to represent an organisation. 

Here is what I would do, and what I have seen good candidates do.

With a timeline, I would focus on writing as many tests as possible , writing a test every 3-5 days till January end. Would finish off GS Paper 1 and 4 and parts of GS 2, 3 exclusive to Mains, make notes.

At about Feb, latest, I would focus on the prelims. I would choose Prelims over everything else when I have to make a choice.

An ideal situation is to manage both, but if you are not able to, choose one and excel in that one, given that ideal is difficult to achieve.

Thank you for helping. Your advice & perspective is always beneficial :) @Neyawn 

Do you sometimes feel you are God, @GaneshGaitonde :P

Just asking.

Yet to watch Season 2. :P

@Neyawn What advice would you give to somebody who's failed 3 prelims in a row. Having stuck in this cycle, I feel I am so lagged behind the mains preparation that even if I clear prelims, I won't get through mains anyway. 

Edit: I think I know what I need to do. I will ask for your mains advice only after clearing prelims. 

There is something called the building blocks of Mains. These are called Notes. Make notes in own handwriting at least for 40-60% of the syllabus.

It should be done in 3-4 months and not in 3-4 years. Sit down and make them in your own or take classes. But do something. 

I met a guy just last week, and since I was meeting a lot of people who had not made notes and were just writing tests , without studying. Stereotyping, I asked him to make notes/ take classes. 

He insisted he was all prepared. I asked him a few questions which someone writing Mains should know and he knew it. I was pleasantly surprised. So you have to have some reading or at least a reading and notes making plan if you plan to write Mains.

Also in case you are flunking Prelims, latest by Feb , only focus on Prelims. And if you are in Delhi, close your eyes and join SFG.

@Neyawn Sir I wanted to ask that how to make notes and prepare for mains as I've joined a test series and not able to give the tests ,I feel that I am not prepared now.I dont know the right way ,how to prepare for the mains syllabus espeacially covering the dynamic part of the syllabus .Please guide me . I pick a topic from syllabus and feel that the content that I am preparing regarding the topic might not be relevant .How to overcome this

@aditibaghel21785 That will depend on (a) any classes you have taken so far (b) what has been your UPSC experience so far ( like written Prelims, Mains, how many times ) .

The easiest and the quickest way out is to take some classes and make notes in own handwriting. That will hold you good stead when the exam comes. In case you are reluctant or not patient enough to do that, you can take some class notes and write what you understand in your own handwriting.

That should provide you with a locus of the syllabus. Then try attempting questions.

Lastly, if you do not have the patience to do that either ( because it takes 3-4 months to do so for the Optional and 3-4 months for GS , that is when you are studying as if you are attending classes ), then you can follow the below strategy.

Follow the Test Series Schedule religiously. List out the topics that need to be prepared for that test and prepare it from any one of the sources that your test series recommends. Make notes out of it. Make sure that your notes address questions that are likely to be asked. For example, the sequence of battles in World War is not important ( as per existing trend ) , what may be important is why they occurred or how far was the policy of appeasement responsible, what were the outcomes on polity, society, etc. From that perspective.

Even if you are able to do 3-7 questions out of twenty, you may be just fine. You can also see the paper and see what topics questions have been asked from, then prepare those topics and attempt the paper - without looking at your notes ( as in when you write answers / attempt a test, dont copy paste ). Write in your own language, as per your understanding.

Feel free to create new questions to ask new doubts. I think others can also pitch in by sharing suggestions.


@Neyawn - Hi sir...I have given my 1st mains [in 4th attempt] this yr but not able to complete the papers, hence I feel I won't be able to clear mains. I think my prep was decent cos prep digital notes of 90% syllabus & as you said made 3-time notes of Dipin sir. After analyzing this year's mains, I felt that I have sufficient content for most of the questions.

Now, the issue is: 

1] I'm not sure whether to give another try for UPSC provided its unpredictability & confused whether to switch career by going for an MBA 
2] Even if I decide to go for UPSC, is it advisable to prepare it along with any job.

Sir, kindly help me arrive at a sane decision...Thank you. 

II don't know who you are ( and thats good, its kinda bias free ) but,  it makes no sense for you to have written your first Mains and give up on it at this point. Firs thing you should do is if you have made notes on each topic of the syllabus or not. That is the first thing to check.

Second is, that if you have done note making on each topic ( not just current issues ), then you should work on the Optional subject and probably make it strong. Also, make sure that things that decide your final selection - like Essay and GS 4 are prepared by you very well.

You are writing your first Mains and this is the point from where your journey actually starts. I am not sure what is pulling you back from investing your full energy into this? Is it fatigue, financial condition or just fear.

If it is fear then thats a good thing, because probably now you are in the race.  Get started from here. Do not back down. And if you think you have done everything that could be done, read some books that will help in UPSC.

Last but not the least, it is likely that you are having these feelings because of exam fatigue and its not a rational decision. If by any chance after the results - whatever they are - like 99% of the people - if you plan to write the exam again ( in case of all scenarios where you get anything except IAS or IFS ) - then its better to utilise this time now.

Every year I see most people start to study after results, not before. There is some change of heart. I remember one student in particular who wanted to jump to some Bangalore Job right after Mains. Thankfully he persevered. Got Rank 1 in IFoS and Rank 99 ( or so ) in Civils later.

This is all that I know.

@Neyawn — Thank u sir for your patience to read & address the query. Your suggestions are valuable & worked well for me in last 8 month.

You know me well sir [shown u my notes & many of my answer copies] but if it works better anonymously, then so be it :)

If u say so sir, I will invest one more year to UPSC but do you suggest learning a skill [have AI in digital marketing in my mind] along with the prep so that I can start something of my own if I end up on the other side.

@Neyawn  sir I appeared for my first mains this year and I'm having some trouble balancing interview call hopes/prep and improving on mains performance.

Also I joined SFG last year which was immensely useful, but I feel that it might further complicate my preparation plan if I join it this year.

Will be highly obliged if you can guide me at this crossroad. thanks

As I said with the exception of people who secure under 99 ranks, nearly everyone will write the exam again.

So strategy has to be hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

In my opinion, strengthen your GS and Optionals right now. Identify the weak areas and solve them forever. This is the time for it. The people who generally make it are the ones who are nearly planning for the next attempt.

I still remember Lakshya ( I think he got 28 rank or so this year , I am bad with numbers ) just two days before the final - he had been there throughout Mains and Interview - come and say something about planning for an exit .  Thankfully he had been studying all throughout till that time. Got IAS and UP cadre I think.

Wasting over Interview is the commonest mistake some people make. You have to be studying at this time.  The SFG can wait till Feb Batch for you. Focus on Mains content improvement right now, no matter how much you hate it. And get serious about  Prelims after Jan Feb. Take classes, make notes, read books.

In the event that you get a service, but have to appear again, it will hold you in good stead. Irrespective of your interview call or rank. These will be all wasted ( money, energy, time , effort ) if you get IAS this year. But those are problems worth having.

Thank you sir, your reply has been really insightful, it has cleared much of my confusion.thanks again

@Neyawn sir you have been insisting to make notes in own handwriting, is having digital notes a bad idea?

@ujjwal1996330 My Apologies. No, I do not think digital notes is a bad idea. However,after a long conversation with an old member kabira of forum, who had like 2000+ notes for UPSC in his evernote, I would also like to add that digital notes are best for creation, not for consumption.

By this I mean, that dont fixate on digital ways of doing things. If you ever feel that while you make great digital notes, but cant recall them, do not hesitate in taking a print out and reading and revising by using a pen.

In the end do what works for you.

@Neyawn sir you got the situation exactly right! I have great difficulty in revising from digital notes, the solution to which (after great experimentation) I found in print outs. 
Also, sir can you suggest ways of revision. I really struggle with it. After a couple of reading it becomes a big drag. To be honest, I never really had to rely on revision as much until now. I do see it as a major hurdle in my preparation.

I guess my upsc background would be helpful for you to understand my situation. I took the Coaching at vajiram and did optional from Forum IAS itself last year. Didn't focus on making crisp notes because frankly, I couldn't understand how to. After failing miserably at prelims this year I did decide to correct my mistake, completed making notes of optional and GS 4. (I also feel its not complete every time I come across content, which is making it difficult to decide what is adequate.) Recently started with GS1,2,3. But most of the time goes by in reading content and answer papers of toppers, and by the time I want to go to bed I have neither practised answer writing nor revised anything.

Request you to guide me thank you.

@ujjwal1996330  I am glad you found this useful. So I migrated to digital note making myself ( It keeps me sane ) , and had huge problems with revision aspects. It was Abhishek Surana who had cajoled me into using Evernote, and when I had this trouble I called him, like an SOS call.

I had seen people making brilliant Evernotes and failing to capitalise on it. I dint want to be that guy. Surana was travelling in a bus, some Bharat Darshan going on. Lot of background noise. While at first he said he has a table for quick revision, but deepo inside I know revsiion is not easy in tablets. I mean hardcore revision. 

Simply because in digital mode, since we consume so many things, our mind somehow does not register the importance of the text being read.

Optional notes and GS 4 notes will hold you in good stead, trust me. Try doing the same for World, Post Independence, Society, Geography ( If you can, its not easy ). Give it some time. It will take you 2-3 months, and get it done. 

I quote Surana so much because he was one of the few people who had preparation in control. As in I was expecting him to get Rank 1. And for Anudeep I was expecting a under 100. Suaran got 10, Anudeep got 1st rank that year. And they were old forum members since we started forum.

@Neyawn I am sorry I did not understand what you mean by tables for revision.

Also, should one cover post-independence and world history after prelims or before it?

@ujjwal1996330 Before Prelims. After Prelims, you have way better things to do. I meant a tablet.

@Neyawn Cqn you please elaborate what do you mean by 'Preparation in control' ? What are its elements ?