Mains – Where to start and How

Firstly, congratulations to all those who cleared prelims. You real task has just began.

Getting high score in mains helps you greatly with the rank in final list. My belief is that you should score as many marks as possible in mains itself and not depend on the interview. Interview should be just a formality.

So, how do you start with mains preparation? Few suggestions here

  1. Take a break for 5-6 days after prelims and start fresh and rejuvenated.
  2. Since target is more about maximizing marks. I advise you to spend more time on subjects in following order
  1. Optional Subject
  2. Essay
  3. Ethics GS 4
  4. GS 3
  5. GS 1
  6. GS 2
  1. Before you start anything, Go through the answer sheets of toppers and previous good test papers. You can get them on websites of institutions. See several papers and understand how they have presented the answers and how they approached entire paper.
  2. Join a test series which gives you flexibility with the tests. Try to attend tests as per schedule, especially for optional.
  3. Focus more on presenting the answers instead of reading more content. Try to develop your own style of writing. Learn from mistakes in each test. Analyse each question paper with the model answers, toppers paper, and friends suggestions.
  4. Don’t hesitate to write answers, like many people fear that they might not get good marks or they cannot write well. Only when you start writing you actually realize how well you can write. Write freely with open mind.
  5. Don’t worry about marks in the first few tests, like 3 tests for GS and 3-4 tests for Optional. Focus more on presenting right content in right amount of space and time.
  6. Even when you read a topic, try to read in a structured way like try to identify some opening, subheading and few points in support and other in against, then few suggestions, and some suitable conclusion.
  7. When you attend a mock test, try to cover all syllabus and then attend the test. Once you leave something for later, in all probability you will leave it forever. So attempt each test as final test and in simulated mode
  8. Don’t leave the exam mid –way. Even if you don’t know any answer, try to present the general trend of the issue in a structured way. Even the UPSC notification says that they are not looking for information and memorizing facts, but would see general understanding of candidate.
  9. Most questions you can approach with common sense. Even if you don’t know much about question. Appreciate the fact that for last 1 year you have read so much. so something or other about that question will be in your mind. Try to recollect that, if not write very general answers like an educated person.
  10. Try to bring more dimensions in each question. Scope of increasing the marks is high if you can connect the static subject part with current affairs and examples.
  11. Write in a simple language. like you should be able to present your case to a lay man also. Don’t worry about hand-writing and beauty.  It should be legible and readable
  12. There are some topics, from where questions come too regularly like SHG, NGO, World History, Colonization – Decolonization; Urbanization etc… prepare ready-made conclusions and openings.
  13. Most importantly don’t lose heart even if there are few low scores and poor tests. Go on with preparation.
  14. For those who think they cannot complete 20 questions or full paper in time.


My strategy for attempting General studies papers:

  • I always focussed on attempting all the questions 20/20. Irrespective of me knowing or not knowing. I believe that in my 2 year preparation, I have some or other info about the question. So its only about bringing the relevant info to the question. ( exceptions do exist)
  • The other idea was – I didn’t believe and didn’t want my first question to be 10/10, and by last or 20th question be like 1/10. I wanted to maintain consistency in my answers. I would any day take 6/10 for all 20 questions. I always targeted for attempting all questions in at least average type. If I get good questions I will try to improve the level from average to high, but average level of answer is bare minimum.
  • I do not agree with the idea that people attempt 16 -17 questions and consider they have done perfect answer. Because in this exam and after seeing last few years questions, I find for most questions u don’t have direct answer and are open ended. So there is every chance that the believed best answers might not fetch high marks.
  • There is lot of subjectivity in what is good quality answer.
  • I had put a limit on time. This time for 10 marks 8 min. and 15 marks 10 min. irrespective of whether I finish answer or not I would wind up in this time. Time your every answer right from the practice tests.
  • I never focused on filling up the pages. In most cases the question has 3 pages given. I used to write mostly 2.25 pages for most 15 marks and 2 pages given for 10 marks I used to write 1.5 for them. This saved time and attempt all questions
  • You can use flow charts and diagrams for saving time and catching examiners eye.
  • Other most important thing is that – my every question has perfect structure. Every answer has 3-4 lines introduction + side headings as per question + 5-6 bullet points + other side heading + bullet points…+ conclusion.
  • This standard template I followed for every question, even if I write 1 page answer or 3 page answer. Structure is a must
  • I also didn’t go for that approach – where people say choose easy and, questions where u know best answer first and then attempt them. Less known questions u attempt last. Rather I used to start attempting each question from 1 to 20 without seeing and prioritizing the question. This would save me at least 5 min. because I have already decided to attempt and so no point in reading question paper. I would straight away go to attempt 1 question and so on so forth.
  • While writing bullet points, I used to keep them limited to 2 lines or less. So this gave scope to cover diverse areas.
  • I used to underline then and there with the answer. My idea was that even if examiner would read only underlined words, he should get the message and content of what I wanted to tell him.
  • I used one single color pen all through paper, no different pen for underlining or side headings.
  • Don’t under-estimate the writing part. Try to attend good number of practice tests in simulated manner. Time your answers, analyse each of them, your writing style, flow-charts etc. Knowledge again everybody will have, even if one doesn’t have he can get by reading books, but how to present the answers in better way determines your marks.
  • Share your paper with your friends, seek their opinion and try to put best.
  • I strongly feel even today, there are many people who are knowledgeable and with good content. But I can confidently say I would present the best answer in those 8 min. or those 10 minutes.
  • I wrote about 15-16 GS tests in simulated manner. I would say my score of 490 in mains was direct result of this practice tests

So spend more time to write answers. You can stop this once you identify your speed, writing technique and get confidence on the subject. Good thing with mains is that it is not as harsh as prelims where results will be decided in single questions and few points. Mains exam gives flexibility to recover from a bad answer and score well. So use this advantage stay motivated and focussed- score more.

(I will write detailed paper wise plan in next articles)

All the best ….



11 thoughts on “Mains – Where to start and How

  1. Hello sir..pls guide me pertaining to the prelims paper 2018 what would you suggest..whether following only the hindu would suffice?


    1. Daily Hindu will be sufficient.
      Along with that read any current affairs compilation /monthly magazine of any coaching centres like vision, vajiram , insights , srirams, Shankar or anything…

      Do these repeatedly

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank u for ur valuable write ups!!!
    I will write this mains ..but I can’ t go to delhi…planning for online test series ….and writing at home other GS papers of. Which solutions become available on internet….this is my 7 th attempt…not getting good marks in Anthro…this yr 213….I think I m not able to revise it despite having good understanding abt it … many times revision should be there? Plz suggest for anthropology strategy.


    1. Hi Mahesh, Share me ur number, we will discuss a bit detail about this. BTW I am writing strategy for anthropology as well


      1. Thank u sir…my no 09643276740.


  3. Hii Harsha
    2017 was my first attempt and have appeared this in the interview and missed the list by 4 marks . Need some suggestions for GS. Could I have a talk with you?
    Mob 8810353279


  4. Sir iam mahender naik I haverage given my first attempt in 2017 and 2nd in 2018 but could not qualify both the prilims .so I want to prepare both for prilims and mains as well. How should I start of practicing answer writing Sir. Can u give the strategy please sir.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Since you have sufficient time, for next few months you can join in some test series and practice writing. To start with you see the toppers copiers, you can get them from vision ias website or any coaching centre website. You will get an idea of how to write answers


  5. Which one is more important in answer writing..A gud content or a gud presentation…In GS paper 4 what should be best strategy..


  6. Jalluri Raghu Veer July 7, 2018 — 3:32 pm

    Sir plz upload ur anthropology paper 1&2 notes


    1. What ever available I have uploaded. Will try to provide details of others also. It will take time


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