The 10 Crucial Tips to Clear UPSC Mains Exam

The UPSC civil services mains exam is just around the corner with the (written) papers scheduled to be held in the month of September this 2020. The mains exam is vastly different from the prelims exam and it requires an exclusive strategy to clear and move on to the next round, i.e., the UPSC board interview. This article talks about the top ten tips that can help you crack the seemingly indomitable IAS mains exam.

Ten Critical Tips to Clear the UPSC Mains Exam

#1: Systematic strategy

The first step is to know that the mains is a completely different ball game as compared to the UPSC prelims. Even though you have less competition when compared to the first round, the challenges are greater and tougher. Here, you will have to study multiple subjects for nine descriptive papers. Each subject requires a dedicated strategy to be dealt with. Check out the UPSC mains syllabus here. In the prelims exam, luck might have had a say in your fate (the negative marking scheme notwithstanding), but in the mains, you should create your own ‘luck’.

#2: Be familiar with the syllabus

In the IAS exam, the syllabus is supreme. Toppers often advise aspirants to learn it by heart as it makes preparation a smoother affair. You should ideally know the syllabus from top to bottom so that you can fine-tune your current affairs preparation accordingly. Most of what is asked in the exam is directly from the syllabus. What is important is to make notes on current affairs which can be linked to the syllabus.

Must See | Dissecting the Newspaper to Crack the UPSC Civil Services Examination

#3: Current affairs is crucial

To continue from point #2, current affairs is the next pillar of the UPSC civil services exam. Even though the UPSC asks questions from the prescribed syllabus, the questions all have current affairs embedded within them. For example, take a look at the following question asked in the 2013 mains exam.

  1. Q) Growing feeling of regionalism is an important factor in generation of demands for a separate State. Discuss.

This was asked in the light of the Telangana agitation which was going on then. In your answers, apart from concepts and theories, you should also incorporate the latest news and events. This is why it is so important to keep track of the daily news for current affairs.

#4: Rigorous writing practice

In the mains exam, you have to actually write answers as opposed to just marking the correct choice as in the prelims. You should know that there is a world of difference between knowing an answer and writing one. You should be able to express in words on paper your knowledge and views given the space and time constraints. This requires practice because in the exam, you will have only about 8 minutes per question. In these few minutes, you should be able to write a correct, lucid and neat answer. So, ignore answer writing practice at your own peril.

#5: Concentrate on the compulsory papers

Many candidates tend to ignore or side-line the compulsory papers of English, Indian language and the essay in their bid to comprehensively cover the general studies and the optional papers. But this move could backfire because all the papers are important for the final result. The essay paper, no doubt, is general in nature but ignoring it can prove fatal to your IAS dreams. In the final score, every mark counts and a single mark can make a huge difference. The language papers are only qualifying but unless you are absolutely sure of your skills with respect to these papers, you would be ill-advised to neglect their preparation. You must ensure that you qualify. So, give each paper its due.

#6: Understanding optionals

The first step in this regard is to choose the ‘right’ optional. Click here for more on selecting the right optional subject. Preparing for the optional subject needs a different approach from the GS papers. The optional subject papers test your specialised expertise. So, you should go deep into a topic unlike the GS papers where width and range are more important.

#7: Practicing with mock test papers

This is one of the most important tips you could get. To taste success in the USPC exam, you should take mock tests regularly. They serve many benefits and can take your civil services preparation a notch up. Check out BYJU’S comprehensive All India Mains Test Series and read about how it can help you in your IAS pursuit.

#8: Revision is advisable

Revision should be a regular part of your IAS preparation schedule. It is impossible to remember and reproduce in the answer booklet whatever you have learnt of the vast UPSC syllabus unless you reinforce it through timely revisions.

#9: Keeping calm

Amidst all the noise surrounding the IAS mains preparation, it is of utmost importance that you remain calm and composed. Do not panic as it leads to confusion and potentially jeopardise your attempt. Have a clear head throughout. A systematic approach right from the beginning will help in getting clarity and also peace of mind during this rush. Take small steps at a time and focus on the task at hand.

#10: Staying focused

The last tip is for D-Day. Everything boils down to what you do in the exam hall. You must not doubt yourself at this juncture. Stay positive. Get tips on how to perform to the best of your abilities on the exam day by avoiding stress.

For more UPSC related preparation tips and articles, visit the links given in the table below:

Related Links

Daily News IAS Eligibility UPSC Current Affairs Quiz
UPSC 2021 UPSC Syllabus UPSC Current Affairs
UPSC Monthly Magazine NCERT Notes for UPSC IAS Coaching


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  1. Thanks for all this.