STRATEGY for handling the IAS-UPSC MAINS EXAM While preparing for GS Mains, you will be also preparing for History, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science, Sociology etc. It will help you in deciding your interest in a particular optional subject properly.
Rather than selecting an optional without having knowledge of other subjects or without knowing your own writing and presentation styles and thinking patterns, it is better to delay this decision. It will prove more informed and rational decision afterwards.
Preparations for the Civil Services Mains Exam should start along with those of Preliminary exam. This is because there is much common ground for study, and there is little time for the mains exam if one waits for the results of the Preliminaries. It is a long haul and preparations should be done with persistence, over nine months to an year.
To study current affairs, it is essential to read one national newspaper and The Competition Master. When you are studying the roundup of national and international affairs, efforts should not be merely taking up the information but also to understand the issues involved. Go into the background of events. For example, the recent Lok Sabha elections threw up many issues. Get to know these issues and be clear about them so that you can answer questions on them.
With regard to other topics, the books published by the NCERT are the best source of study. Take up the text-books for classes IX, X, XI and XII. However, just reading these books will not serve the purpose. What is essential is that the person taking up self-study must pick up past question papers and write down the answers to questions asked therein. A practice in writing is what is required to attempt the paper. Many students make the mistake of studying for hours but have no practice in writing down the answers, which costs heavily during the exam. The skill required is that of organising the arguments and making a coherent answer from the diverse material. One more thing that must be kept in mind is that the answers must be a little different from others and must have some extra bit that is missed out by others. This is not difficult if one has understood the issue in depth.
One important aspect of the Civil Services Mains Exam is that the questions do not ask for more information as a reply, but seek analysis backed with arguments from the candidates. Usually, one gets the impression that one knows everything but thoughts do not flow out naturally as one puts pen to paper. Hence, writing down the answers is an important aspect of the preparation. Another thing is that the candidate must carefully read the questions in order to make out what the examiner is asking. Having done that, it is important to organize one's thoughts before writing and the sequence of the answer should be from the most important/potent aspect to less important aspects.
If you do not have someone to show your answers, keep them away and after a gap of some time, read them again. You will discover many mistakes, which earlier you could not. Analyse the answers in order to improve them. This exercise of re-analysis of answers improves the ability to be precise. One of the important requirements of the Mains exam is that the answers should be crisp and to-the-point.