5 UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategies

  UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategy

How to Prepare for UPSC Mains Exam?

The Civil Services Examination conducted by Union Public Service Commission is one of the most challenging exams in the country. It is conducted in three stages-prelims, mains and interview and if one wants to crack this exam, it is important to start preparation at least before one year of prelims.

In this article, we are giving you a few suggestions on how to prepare for IAS Mains examination. Here is a general idea how candidates can plan and prepare for UPSC Mains Examination if they are starting their preparation a year earlier and have planned to take UPSC 2022 then it is recommended for them:

How to prepare for UPSC Mains?

UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategy # 1: General Preparation Plan


Start Your Preparation a Year Before
1 From Previous Year till January of current year Prepare for both Prelims and Mains
2 February to May Focus only on Prelims
3 Immediately after Prelims Exam Start Answer Writing Practice for Mains
  • Generally, prelims exam is held between the month of June and August, hence candidates should prepare for both prelims and mains exam till the month of January.
  • From February to May, it is advised to focus only on prelims.
  • Immediately after prelims, it is recommended to start for Mains Exam preparation with answer writing practice.

This is how one should plan one’s study and manage the time accordingly. Yet, at the same time aspirants should also keep in mind that there is no perfect study plan all they have to make sure is that they plan for the right one.

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UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategy # 2: Answer Writing Practice

You must be aware of the fact that the UPSC Mains exam is descriptive type. You have to write 150-300 words answer for each question. Hence, answer writing practice is a must for Mains and this can be achieved through:

  • Taking regular tests along with preparing appropriate notes
  • Mind Maps – As this will help candidates to link sub-topics in a topic and recall and remember points easily.

It is also advised that while making notes from current affairs, one should try writing around 150-300 words for each topic so that it becomes easy for him/her to write answers in the exam.

To evaluate your understanding of how to write answers in the mains examination, candidates can visit the UPSC Mains Answer Writing Practise page and get sample questions along with answers written by other IAS aspirants. This will enlighten you with the standard of answers expected in the final exam.

UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategy # 3: Mains Syllabus that overlap with Prelims

Prepare for Mains along with Prelims: The UPSC Mains Exam has 9 papers and they are as given below:

Sl. No. Papers Topics Total Marks
1 Paper A Indian Language 300
2 Paper B English 300
3 Paper I Essay 250
4 Paper II GS I 250
5 Paper III GS II 250
6 Paper IV GS III 250
7 Paper V GS IV 250
8 Paper VI Optional Subject Paper-I 250
9 Paper VII Optional Subject Paper-II 250
Total Marks for Written Examination 1750

Below given is the UPSC Syllabus for General Studies Mains Papers: Marks carried by General Studies is 250 x 4=1000.

UPSC Syllabus for General Studies Mains Papers

Here are a few areas of the UPSC Civil Services Mains Syllabus that overlap with the prelims exam:

  UPSC Syllabus - Civil Services IAS Exam

UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategy #4: Essay

The Essay Paper in the IAS Mains Exam consists of two sections A and B with four topics in each of 125 marks and a total of 250 (125×2) marks, usually, one section has topics based on ‘general quotes’ while the topics in other section would be of ‘administration related’. Candidates have to choose a topic from each section and write about the topic in 1,000 to 2,000 words within the given time of three hours.

Some tips on Essay Writing:

  • Choose the topic wisely.
  • Think about the topic for 30 minutes.
  • Write down all the points at the end of a sheet.
  • Make a structure of your essay.
  • Don’t be provocative.
  • Provide suggestions for reforms
  • Conclude

In the final selection and ranking of the candidate, the essay paper has a big role to play. This paper is all about to understand and assess the personality of a candidate through which his/her views, ideas, suggestions, values, attitude, aptitude, coordination and communication (written) abilities and other attributes are analyzed that which in particularly UPSC looks for in an aspirant.

UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategy # 5: Current Affairs Preparation

If you consider current affairs, most questions asked would be on current events during the period of June-July-August but most of the candidates tend to stop reading the newspaper during this time which is crucial from the viewpoint of Mains.

Questions based on current affairs are usually correlated with history, geography and international relations which every candidate who is aware of the question pattern would be knowing this very well, below given is some previous year current affairs question –

Current Affairs questions in UPSC Mains Paper:

UPSC 2014 Mains Question Paper

In the year 2014, June, the Israel-Palestine issue was crucial. And, many expected UPSC may ask a question based on this issue in International Relations but as usual, the unpredictable UPSC asked the question on this issue in an unusual and unexpected way linking it to the World History.

UPSC 2022

Significant UPSC Mains Exam Preparation Strategy to cover UPSC  Syllabus (Mains) and Answer Writing Practice:

  • Revise the prelims syllabus and then continue with the Mains syllabus
  • With the UPSC Exam Pattern changed, each question in the paper itself is of 50 words, If a candidate repeats the question in his/her answer then there won’t be sufficient space left to complete the answer, hence it is suggested to avoid this or take important keywords from the question.
  • Make notes on each topic and start answer writing practice on each sub-topics and topics given in the Syllabus.
  • A normal person can write 100 words per 5 minutes and it generally takes 2-3 minutes to think and gather points on what to write, so utilize your time wisely.

Also, see:

Frequently Asked Questions on UPSC Mains Preparation Strategy

Q 1. Can I clear UPSC mains in 2 months?

Ans. It is important to start preparing for the UPSC Mains exam right from the time you take a decision to appear for the UPSC Civil Service Examination. 2 months of preparation for UPSC Mains might be inadequate due to the comprehensive syllabus. Due to the tough competition, it is recommended to give more time for the mains preparation.

Q 2. How can I improve my answer in UPSC mains?

Ans. Understand the question, and try to frame the structure of the answer. The answer has to be lucid and to the point, make sure that important points are not missed out, use the necessary keywords while writing the answer. Make sure that there are no spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Q 3. Is the UPSC interview tough?

Ans. The interview will be tough as the competition is tough and UPSC will try to filter the best candidates. Knowledge on a subject matter is not the only criteria on which selection will be done.  There are definitely going to be tough questions as the panellists will have many years of experience, so it is not possible to know everything, hence maintain a calm demeanour even when you are not able to answer questions and don’t get too excited if you are aware of the answers to the questions.

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