I am Rajat Pant, AIR 90 (CSE 2018). As the mains examination is near, I am back with my mains strategy this time. This is the point in the timeline of this examination where all the aspirants can be divided into 2 categories. First, are the ones who could not clear prelims this year (Me in 2017). Second, are the ones who have cleared it (Me in 2018). Trust me; both of you are in an equally good position to crack this examination at most by 2020. I say it because I have been there in both of the above situations during my UPSC journey.
Failure: A blessing in disguise
After my first prelims, I was in the first group of
aspirants. Though disappointed at first, facing the failure staring at me with
fierce eyes but later I realized that it was a blessing in disguise. Although,
I could not clear prelims, but I knew I had learned a lot of polity, geography,
economics, history, in the last days of prelims preparation. So knowing that I
have a whole year at my disposal, I came to terms with the fact that it would
be almost impossible to read more of those subjects that are primarily static in
nature and had taken a toll on me. I read many mentors as well as successful
candidates say that even if one is not clearing pre, one should prepare for
mains as if one is going to appear for mains that year. Personally speaking, I
could never fool my mind into preparing for mains, with the required intensity,
knowing I am not in the race that year. This understanding of reality, led me
to venture into the new realm of practicing answer writing for mains.
At this time, I came across the Insights Secure initiative,
of which I had read a lot from previous year’s toppers articles. At the onset
of preparation, a new candidate is always perplexed to see the vast ocean of
information where one finds himself/herself lost like a small boat without GPS.
One doesn’t have any idea on how to make notes, how to understand what is
important for Mains etc. I was also one such aspirant who had no idea about the
art of making notes. I read many topper’s strategies to get the idea of how to
start making notes, but none satisfied me. In an attempt to try a few, I
downloaded Evernote (as suggested by many) to make notes. But it didn’t work
for me, or putting plainly, I was not able to work on it. So I decided to make
hand written notes. For the source, I stuck to Insights Secure and two
newspapers that I used to follow consistently. I didn’t touch any magazine like
Kurukshetra or Yojana.
How to start answer writing
I started the practice with writing daily answers to the
questions being uploaded on Insights website and then compare my answers with
the best ones. As I am a person not good with following routines, I could
barely continue the practice for a week. Having been fed up with my
incompetence and inconsistency to follow the daily targets, I came across the
monthly compilation of secure initiative. I went to the nearest shop in Old
Rajinder Nagar to purchase January’s secure compilation. Seeing a bulky, more
than 300 page notebook was definitely not a love at first sight experience. But
its ordered compartmentalization of sections into GS 1/2/3/4 with separate
index for each, questions covering various news sources (EPW, The Hindu,
Livemint, etc.), the model answers loaded with different recent facts,
examples, government schemes and also a lot of basic points on each and every
topic, made me slowly fall in love with it.
At first, I acquainted myself with Secure by just, reading
the material without writing any of the answers. I simply read it as one reads
a simple NCERT book. I underlined the important points in various answers and
marked subsequent answer in the index section. Now instead of doing 5-6
questions daily online, I used to read about 20-35 pages of Secure daily. This
helped me in giving more time at a stretch to the secure questions. In this way,
I could complete my first Secure in about 20-25 days. The reading of secure
helps in two ways. Firstly, it gives a type of outline about how to approach an
answer. Secondly, you get some basic content on numerous topics to start with.
The Art of Making Notes
Once I finished reading the complete secure for a month, I
made notes out of it of the basic fodder material for different topics. These
topics include poverty, unemployment, gender inequality, agriculture issues,
waste management etc. I made notes on loose sheets of paper that I attached to
a file in which I arranged the topics according to the mains syllabus. While writing
the basic points about the topic like ‘What is the problem’, ‘Reasons for the
problem’, ‘Solutions to the problem’ etc., I would leave a marginal space at
the right hand corner for any future addition of information related to the
topic, to be picked up from the newspapers. Henceforth, I got printouts of
Insights Secure compilation for the next 3 months and started writing answers
for few questions in a notebook.
After my first attempt
(in which I read only one newspaper), I decided to read two newspapers (The IE
and The Hindu), as I had enough time. If one is not able to read newspapers daily,
one can definitely read newspapers on alternate days. Because the place where I
lived, newspapers used to come once in 2-3 days. So sometime, I used to read four/six
or even eight newspapers in a day. Here the only thing that you need to make sure
is that you do not skip even a day’s newspaper. I used to underline the
important news stuff and kept the underlined newspapers aside for note making
later on. These newspapers helped me to make considerable add on to my notes of
various current events as well as different concepts like a scholars
perspective on secularism, globalization, education, health etc.
Apart from these notes on various topics I also used to make
point wise notes of various current Facts & Figures, Examples that could be
used in Mains answers. I got these from regular reading of newspapers and
answer writing of Secure. The only thing now you need to do with your notes is
to just add any current example, facts like government/international
organizations report, any government scheme related to the topic which would
come in newspapers. For example, once I had made notes on waste management like
problem, solution, way forward, Swacchh Bharat, WASH initiative, Waste
Management Rules etc., then later I added an example of Alappuzha being
declared as one of the 5 ideal cities in the world for decentralized solid waste
management by UNEP.
I never posted any answer online. Instead, I relied on self-evaluation
by comparing with the model answers. In total, before January I had read and
written answers to around 3-4 months of insights secure and made notes out of
it. Yes, I did not solve Secure for all the months. In the course of
preparation, I realized that the around the year most of the questions are
weaved around few basic topics like poverty, unemployment, education, health,
development etc. Therefore, once I collected around a page or two of basic info
on a particular topic, I usually tried exploring new topics.
In addition to practicing Secure, I also downloaded copies of
selected candidates from Vision IAS website, GS Score, write answers and
compare it with them. I also noted down any committee name or recommendation,
fact, example used by them. This helps one to understand the practical details
of answer writing and how to present oneself.
During the last few days from Mains examination, I also made
a handy compilation of Committee recommendations, Supreme Courts cases etc., in
a single notebook (I have attached the notes below).
Importance of Answer Writing for
If someone asks me which is the most important aspect of
Mains preparation. I would always without a doubt say, “Answer Writing
practice”. It is often said that this exam is full of unpredictability. By
seeing some out of the box questions in recent years, one can imagine Forrest
Gump saying, “UPSC Mains exam is like a box of chocolates, you never know
which questions you are going to get”. Therefore, to tackle uncertainty of
this level, the only thing that can guarantee you certainty of some sort is
your competence in writing answers to each and any kind of question that you
are going to face in the examination. You cannot leave answer writing on
chance. The more you practice, the more you will be familiar with different
types of questions that can be asked.
I started writing answers since November 2017 but was not at
all regular with it. From January onwards I focused on prelims till June. After
clearing the prelims examination in 2018, I made four separate notebooks for
each of the GS papers. With the help of one of my school friend, I used to do
questions from Secure. He used to send me 7-8 questions daily, with different
days allotted to GS 1/2/3/4/case studies. In a span of 1.5 months, we covered
Secure for 3 months (Of course, we didn’t write each and every question). We
both used to exchange our answers via mail and compare. We also referred Case
studies from the test copies of selected candidates that are easily available
on the internet. At weekends, I used to go through the model answers given in
the secure compilation.
How I used write an answer
I usually preferred writing in points, but also wrote some in
para format. In most of the answers, I tried consuming whole of the given space.
For this, I enlarged my handwriting a bit to fill the given space completely.
As it is very much necessary to complete the paper also, so it becomes an
imperative to write points in short, with proper headings to catch the eye of
the examiner as well as save time.
For example, rather than writing, ‘India spends less amount
of its GDP percentage on education’, one should write, ‘Low spending on
education’. The other most important aspect is to substantiate each of your
points in an answer with a fact/example/committee recommendation/ARC/NITI
Aayog/Law Commission Reports/Economic Survey/Scholar suggestions etc. For
example, ‘Low Spending on education (3% of GDP, While Brazil/South Korea=6 %of
GDP)’, or for giving solution, ‘Increase spending on education (NITI Aayog 3
year action agenda)’ etc. You need to make sure that none of your stated point
is unsubstantiated. Always back your point with an authenticated source. You
can develop this habit of writing this way by writing anything or any fact,
which may not even be true, while practicing. Suppose you write, ‘Low Spending
on education (1.3% of GDP)’. Then when you review your answers, try to find the
correct stat from the internet. Then once you get the correct data make it part
of your data compilation. This way you will inculcate the habit of writing
facts, as well as create a repository of most important facts like spending on
various sectors, percentage of farmer suicides, bad loans data, unemployment
rate, literacy rate etc.
I collected few basic quotes on various topics. The one thing
that helped me immensely is copies of past years toppers available on the
internet. I made no notes out of those copies, but just read it whenever I felt
bored. It helps in understanding that where, how to use anecdotes, structure of
the essay. The essay paper requires no such exclusive preparation. Just by
reading various essays on different topics, one can get some idea on tackling
vast variety of objective as well as philosophical topics. Writing an essay
depends on your comfort level on different topics- argumentative, descriptive,
philosophical etc. Thus, it is better to write an essay each from different
topics. I wrote in all around 7 essays before writing the final paper.
Essay is the only paper where feedback of others matters the
most. Moreover, the best part is that even a person not related to UPSC CSE
preparation can give her/his views. So every essay I wrote, I used to send it
to my friends and brother for an honest feedback.
Along with GS answer writing, I also carried on with my
optional- PSIR. I purchased solved test papers of Shubhra Ranjan ma’am’s last
year’s test series. As I had taken classes at Shubhra Ranjan Ma’am, the
previous year, I had those notes with me. I used to revise one topic like in Western
thinkers if I did Plato, Aristotle, and simultaneously attempt their questions
and compare with the given model answers. In this way, I revised as well as
wrote answers. The only thing required for PSIR is sticking to your sources
(Mine was Shubhra Ranjan Ma’am’s notes) and revising them relentlessly. I also
updated my notes in the span of 2 years. The update was only to the part, which
I did not understand well. I referred to various online sources like plato.stanford.edu
website, Wikipedia, YouTube etc. As it is very important to quote the name of
scholar and his/her book, I made short handy notes of scholar names and their
books (I have attached the notes below). For IR part, I relied on Shubhra
Ranjan Maam’s notes that she gives during the crash course. The static part of
international theories and theorist was already in her class notes, which I
felt was enough to write a 200-250 words answer.
If there is one thing you need to learn in optional, it is to
develop a habit of practicing answer writing. The more you practice the more
you will be able to score in the final exam. Sit with a clock and time your
answers. Even if you write one answer, just time it. Try to finish your answer
within the required time based on the marks and word limit allotted to the
question. In an ideal scenario, you should finish a 10 marker in 8 mins, a 15
marker in 10 mins and a 20 marker in 13 mins. I am stressing on time management
because I was not able to complete my Paper 1 due to mismanagement of time.
Because of it I had to leave two 15 markers (i.e. 30 marks). But clocking my
time properly in Paper 2, I could complete it.
days before Mains
I stopped giving any tests or write answers, 15 days before
the Mains examination. The only thing I did was multiple readings of Vision
Mains 365(One can read mains compilation of any coaching) and my notes, which I
have shared with you. The only thing that matters in the exam is what you have
written that day. The vast amount of knowledge in your head is of no use if you
cannot put it in 150/250 words. This requires that various examples, facts,
committee recommendations etc. be at the tip of your fingers. This can only
happen if they are fresh in your memory. Even during the two-hour break between
two GS papers, I went through these handy notes multiple times so I could print
the stuff in my brain directly on the paper.
The Clichéd Motivational Ending
At this stage (for the ones who have
cleared prelims), one thing that can let you down is the monster of self-doubt.
Questions and assertions like ‘Have I done enough preparation to write mains
this year?’, ‘Will I be able to compete with people who are more prepared than
me?’, ‘I Have not practiced enough answer writing’, ‘I will give my best next
year’, etc., will always come to your mind. The answer to all these doubts is
what Eminem (in I’m not afraid song)
says, ‘Next time, there is no next time’. Give it your best shot today and you
will never regret it. You have cleared prelims, so you know you have it in
yourself to get your name featured in the final pdf as well. At present, you
yourself must be clueless about the amount of hard work you can extract out
from your body-mind combination. This mains exam like Jamvant will surely bring
out the real Hanumanji- the storehouse of true grit, present inside you.
I tell you, this preparation time is going to be one of the
best times in your life. After clearing the exam, this is the time you will
cherish the most. Getting a positive result will surely enthrall you with
excitement. However, eventually you will surely realize, the real satisfaction
lies in the efforts you make while reaching the goal.
So work hard
and enjoy this preparation time to the fullest.
- GS Notes
- Mains Last Minute Revision Notes