Guide to Mains preparation for those confused about how to proceed after prelims – by Abhinay Vishwakarma (AIR 196)

Disclaimer: – This article is for people who are confused about how to tackle the mains exam in 3 months.

– I will not be able to prepare you completely for all the areas comprehensively because that requires whole one year prep, instead i will try to give damage control and fire fighting tips.

– I will be using some coaching names and sources that doesn’t mean i am told to do so, but if I were giving mains this time, this is what i would have done.

As very correctly said by many teachers and toppers the period between the prelims exam and its result ( 30-45 days) are very crucial and serious candidates must not waste it in unnecessary things. So straight point Sit and study , period of relaxation over!

Mains examination areas to prepare:

– Essay

– GS 1

– GS 2&3

– GS 4

– Optional

What to do before prelims result?

– Start revising Optional if syllabus completed. If not, complete it and make 1-2 pages notes for each topic. Try completing it before result, if not possible , allot daily 4 hours time for optional and continue.

– Complete GS 1 preparation before result.


Topics of GS 1 are mostly static, however recent trend suggest that paper 1 too has many questions from current affairs that too from topics linked to GS 2&3. Don’t worry about that anyways we will be preparing current affairs so it will be covered.

So our aim should be to complete static portion before result.

Quickly revise the basics of all subject from the books you preferred before pre.

-Spectrum for modern

-Post independence india ( vision document or forum document )

-Notes and other sources for  Art and culture

-Ncerts and notes for geography ( understand different phenomenons and factors)

-World history (2-3 questions expected this year) ( Arjun Dev NCERTs for story gist , vision document for world history is good but read it selectively ( it is a summary of Norman Lowe)

After reading the basic books for one subject we need to read question and answers, infact much of the syllabus will be covered from reading answers.

IAS baba has a TLP program every year where students write daily answers and compare with each other. Download the TLP phase 1 compilations and start reading them as reading material (this i am saying specifically for GS 1 only and not other papers) .

Reading answers of Modern history, A&C, World history , post independence and geography will cover those areas of syllabus which you might have missed from the books and also provide you with analytical view of the subjects.

Now after Prelims Result

After the results, if positive, One must join a Mains test series, Forum and vision both are good, papers checking take time however mentor feedback can be taken in forum on spot and i don’t know about vision.

Since the test series has already began and you have prepared GS 1 , quickly give GS 1 sectional tests . Even 2-3 tests in a week.

For GS 2&3

These papers have a major portion of questions from current affairs(CA). So you have two options

– join current affairs coaching batch

– prepare on own

If financially feasible, i suggest you join a CA batch ( my recommendation: Forumias CA batch by Dipin Sir, it will be worth the money) . This saves your time of self searching and making notes for different topics and gives you more time to revise.

If you join Dipin sir batch, just trust him. He will cover most topics of CA which can come in paper and also give very concise notes of 1-2 pages with many value addition materials for answers.

But don’t forget to revise Laxmikant because you will regret if you don’t.

For Science and tech read Mains 365 ( which will come later in august).

However for those not able to join CA batch due to different reasons. I will tell you how to prepare the topics for mains GS 2&3 papers.

If CA batch not Joined.

– 1st step: Select Topics to prepare, because honestly you cannot prepare everything.


Go to RStv youtube channel, search for playlist of

1. Big picture

2. Desh deshantar

3. Indias world

4. In-Depth

Go through the list and select the topics here ( from october to june)

You don’t need to watch the debates , just pick the topics and note it somewhere.

They may be around 100-150 or less.

Now just stick to these topics only and nothing else. Prepare these topics only and leave rest for God.

– 2nd Step : prepare these topics.


Sources to prepare:

– IASBABA current affairs magazines ( october to june) because these magazines cover editorials also

– editorials of different newspapers ( TH/IE/Livemint/ Business Standard)

– reports if available.

– Niti Aayog strategy document of [email protected]( this is a very good document, one must read it before mains as it is prepared very concisely with data and points covering diverse topics of governance and other areas)

What to do?

Pick one topic from the list.

Search it in the magazines ( all months because the article related to it could be in more than one month coverage)

If not in magazines , search the topic with newspaper name beside it in Google

Read two three editorial and make 1-2 pages notes of every topic.

1 pages notes should cover things as mentioned below.

This exercise will cover most of the CA for GS2&3 and don’t forget to read Laxmikant

For SnT read Mains 365 ( comes very late)

For Disaster mgt Mains 365.

Note: Don’t wait for Mains 365 because it will come very late and you cannot afford to waste time now.

How to write Answers?

Step 1: Break the question into parts by breaking the sentences or by using 5W1H technique.

Step 2: Intro with definition or facts and figures to clarify the context.

Step 3: Body: answer the question formed by breaking the question

( May contain +ve , -ve , challenges, how to overcome, reasons for challenges, prospects etc)

Step 4: give a way forward and a positive note.

Meanwhile, you have joined a mains test series. you must regularly write the tests, even if you feel ,”i am not able to write good answers as i am not prepared so why waste the papers” but believe me you will regret this the most. Trust me just write the test series with whatever knowledge you have. you will learn how to tackle unknown questions. Anyways after writing the test you will see their answers, see other good copies and compare them with your answers. Comparing is the most important task here to improve your answers.

and second thing is to revise the solutions provided as these will serve as the reading material for you.

in this way you will have short concise notes of 1-2 pages for each topic, which you will be revising before mains. Try to revise it thrice atleast and make sure that the facts and figures are collected on a single page so that it can be revised and kept on your finger tips.

Diagrams, data, flowcharts, reports these things will make your answer interactive for examiner and make your text concise in turn helping you to cover the 20 questions in 3 hours.

Now Remains GS4 and Essay.

For GS4:

First you have to understand different concepts listed in GS4 syllabus via either Lexicon book or LukmaanIAS material.

then the only key to  improve your Ethics answers is practice.

In ethics answers many times we have to justify our point by the use of examples. Now following the newspapers for more than a year we all have many examples ,only we are not able to bring it to our pen, this will come by practice.

you can use websites like Insight, iasbaba, forum or any other which give daily ethics questions.

Daily write 2 ethics questions and 1 case study and compare with others. you will see your answers will improve within 2 weeks.

also, see the answer writing styles of ethics papers of previous years toppers and try to analyse what is their state of mind while they are writing the answers.

For Essay:

First watch any video explaining how to write essays and all the minor details of it ( youtube will do , otherwise many coaching essay material is readily available in the market) this will help in understanding the basic requirement of UPSC essays.

then Second, read as many as possible essays of previous years toppers and analyse them.(read 30-40 essays before writing your second essay) . Mind here i did not say first essay but second essay.

write your first essay and see where do you stand, what difficulties you faced while writing the essays, then while reading the toppers essays try to find out how did they tackled that issue. See their rough work to find out their mind state.

then Third is Practice and evaluation.

Evaluation you will need only for 2-3 essays after that you will yourself know what is a good essay and what is a bad essay.

Same goes for Ethics answers and same for GS answers.

At the End , I would say, Just keep working without any break, have patience , and give your 100% as not many get this chance to write Mains examination. Make your attempt worth it and finally have faith in your hard work and leave the rest for the Almighty to decide.

All the Best. Jai Hind !

Author: Abhinay Vishwakarma

AIR-196 CSE 2018