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Mains Strategy

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Mains Strategy

UPSC Mains is the most important phase of the exam preparation. It is the time for actions and the consolidation of all the hard work that a candidate have put on in the initial phases.

Since UPSC CSE Prelims is qualifying in nature, one’s score in that round will not determine the final selection. It is the UPSC Mains exam whose score will be extremely crucial in determining selection for Interview as well as rank. You might have seen many toppers qualifying UPSC CSE Prelims by slightest of margin but performing extraordinary in UPSC Mains Exam and getting top ranks. So here are the key points that they keep in mind for UPSC Mains preparation:

  1. Learn the key point of syllabus and be disciplined in your preparation.
  • It’s very important that a candidate must imprint the entire syllabus of all the three phases of the exam, in his mind. Read the syllabus for mains examination. Read it for General studies paper 1,2,3,4, Essay and Optional which you intend to select for the exams. Get a print out of the syllabus and memorize it daily.
  • One should plan for days, weeks, months in advance with pre-scheduled targets. The targets should be achievable.
  • This will also help in keeping preparation focused and relevant.
  1. Choose the optional subject very wisely
  • The most vital element of the mains syllabus is the optional subject. At the end of the exam, this is going to be the main differentiator between selected and no-selected students.
  • The choice of optional subject should be as per one’s own level of comfort and degree of interest in the subject.
  • This decision must not be misguided by any sort of false speculations of 'which is the most scoring optional'. It's not the optional subject per se, it's your preparation and presentation (answer writing) that makes it scoring.
  • So analyze the previous year paper of different optional, read the syllabus of different optional subjects, get feedback from previous aspirant and then decide your optional. However once decided , stick to your optional.
  1. Sufficient time allocation for answer writing and finishing the Mains Syllabus
  • As there is utmost paucity of time after prelims, it is advisable to begin with mains strategy in the very beginning of the exam preparation. As syllabus for prelims and mains are very much interlinked . So while preparing for mains significant part of prelims can be completed. For the remaining portion, it’s essential to devote at least 3 months before prelims completely for prelims.
  • Allocate the months and schedule your days and weeks well in advance, ensuring that by November - December, you finish the syllabus for the four General Studies papers and Optional subject. It is possible to do so smoothly if you plan your time with perfection.
  • Whatever that you read, try to summarize in your own words at the end of the day. Dedicate an hour or two each day to practice answer writing. Don’t get de motivated about writing bad answers in the beginning. Practice does make one perfect, hence practice answer writing as much as you can.
  • Enroll in a good test series for GS, optional and essay for UPSC Mains .Mock tests are important because it gives you an exam-feel, it prepares you to write your best answers in a stressful-exam situation. Don’t take these mock tests for granted. Think of it as an opportunity to understand the answer-writing process, to write brief succinct answers considering the demand of the questions. Attempt a minimum of total 20 Mock test before appearing for the real UPSC Mains.
  1. Follow daily current affairs from a limited source to keep oneself updated. Integrate Current Affair preparation in your daily routine.
  • Religiously and consistently follow one source of newspaper daily. The candidate should always be updated with all the important national and international events. Read editorial and their analysis. Pick some of the key lines that can be used directly in exams.
  • One can follow one or two magazines and government sources like Yojana, Kurukshetra, PIB, PRS, etc. These are very much helpful in framing the answers in the exam and are also authentic source of essential govt. Data. There are many compilation released for all these. You can read the compilation prepared by IAS Gyan , we are not advertizing it is one of the best available in the market for summary of all the important sources.


  1. Most important , be calm during the preparation as well as during exams. It is important to hold your nerves during exam. One or two paper can go haywire but believe in yourself and give your best.


Mains Notification says that, ‘The main Examination is intended to assess the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of candidates rather than merely the range of their information and memory. The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands’.

 ‘Mains’ assesses the quality of thoughts and  content of one’s mind. These will enter subconsciously into one’s answer sheets. 

So the question arises what is the magical mantra to achieve this?



The first most important step is to have the right study material.  If one thinks that they need to read 100s of books, browse 10s of websites and prepare notes from 5 newspapers and 10 magazines each day to clear the exam, this is wrong. What matters is not the quantity of materials one had gone through, but the quality of learning done.

The second step is to have a proper strategy in place. CSE Mains requires a SMART STRATEGY with the following key points kept in mind:

  • Learn in multiple ways
  • Read multiple subjects in one day
  • Take handwritten notes
  • Learn by association
  • Revise periodically
  • Simplify the information
  • Know what to filter
  • Read textbooks effectively
  • Don’t cram, understand
  • Cover all the topics in UPSC CSE MAINS syllabus and make sure you have static notes as well as a compilation of dynamic issues involving the topic.
  • Go through Previous years’ papers and make sure you write answers to all those questions.


Important aspects of answer writing

To begin with every aspirant should have clarity and have a plan in place regarding how much time they are going to contribute to each question (both in terms of thinking and writing down of the answer). It is always a good investment if, before starting to write an answer, one spends a minute or two to understand the required dimensions and framing the skeleton of the answer. Then one can write a logical and flowing answer in the remaining time. Few things that should be kept in mind are as follows:

  • The examiner should get bird’s eye clarity about how the answer is going to unfold.
  • There should be continuity and linkage between different parts.
  • Answering the ‘question’ rather than a ‘topic’
  • One common mistake often committed is that aspirant write too much about something or write too little. 
  • Good Answers requires neat hand writinguncluttered presentationunderlining of key content (not to be overdone), heading of sub-partsdiagrams/ flow-charts
  • Answer should consist of inter-topic linkagescatchy termsfacts and figurescase studies/ illustrations/ anecdotes
  • There should be a balance between one’s own view points on one hand and technical jargons, research studies, expert views on the other hand. 
  • Answer should be written in such a way that it concise and consists of thoughtfully framed sentences and at the same time conveys a lot. 
  • The specific requirement is indirectly indicated by a concluding word. Eg: discuss, elucidate, critically examine. The meaning of each of these words is different and each of them has a different demand that needs to be addressed.


The answer is very simple: through MOCKS!!

There are a lot of benefits of taking mocks…

  • help in overcoming the fear psychosis.
  • help in making management strategy for the real exam.
  • help in knowing ones’ strengths and weaknesses, doing self-analytics.
  • help in preparing topics which have not been covered. 
  • provide extra vital information.
  • help in developing speed, refining the thought process. 
  • help one to face tremendous competition by honing their skills .
  • help one to tackle uncertainties, boost exam preparedness and improve ones’ score and rank.