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UPSC mains exam is the second stage of the civil services examination. Candidates who clear the Prelims exam i.e. those who score above the cutoff in General Studies Paper I and more than 33% marks in General Studies Paper-II (CSAT) are eligible to appear for the UPSC Mains. To prepare for the UPSC Mains examination one must understand its pattern and syllabus first. The Civil Services (Main) Examination is a written examination and consists of 9 papers of conventional essay type, two of them are Qualifying Papers and the rest of the Papers are counted for merit.
The two language papers are easy and qualifying and its purpose is to make sure that the candidate has a grip on general languages like English, Hindi or any regional languages listed in the Eighth Schedule. The papers which are counted for merit are seven in total and descriptive. The general purpose of a descriptive paper is to understand a person’s thinking pattern, personal opinion on various social and general issues, attitudes, skills, emotional quotient, social quotient and his application of current affairs in various social-economic aspects.
The Mains examination is not just about testing your knowledge on the subjects but your way of approaching the answer, articulation of the problem, and providing an effective solution on a positive note within the prescribed word limits. Examiner will also judge your answers on various parameters like conceptual clarity, content relevance, objectivity, use of examples and illustrations, etc.
In recent years, UPSC CSE's mains paper went through visible changes. Earlier in mains question papers majority of the questions were asked directly from some of the reputed books and if a candidate had good command over those books, his/her chances of clearing that exam were maximum. However, things have changed now i.e at present, if you analyze the mains question papers of the last 5 years you can easily come across the domination of the current affair portion especially in papers 2 and 3.
To prepare for the mains a candidate first needs to understand the nature of questions and an approach to prepare for important topics of the syllabus. All the question papers contain word and time limits, therefore, the focus should also be given to time management and learning the art of answer writing which is writing as much relevant content as possible, understanding the demand of the question.
Four Important things to follow in one's preparation:
General Studies Paper I
General Studies Paper-II
General Studies Paper III
General Studies Paper IV
The syllabus includes: Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude
The questions asked in GS Paper IV are mainly to test candidates’ attitudes and approach towards problem-solving, on issues relating to integrity and probity in public life. The question paper consists of questions on theory and case studies to understand a candidate's approach to determine these aspects. The Focus areas: ethics, public service/ values, and integrity, attitude, aptitude for the civil services, emotional intelligence, the contribution of thinkers, honesty in public life, etc.
Paper IV is 25 percent of basic book knowledge and 75 percent of your understanding of the situation based on the basic books you have read and clarity of syllabus you have. Using 2nd ARC reports for this paper is highly recommended by toppers and experts.
For the first portion of this paper, you have to read some moral thinkers and their contributions and when you will solve a case study, you have to utilize that information for not only writing the good answer of that case study but you have to also develop your knowledge and understanding of values.
The most appropriate way to develop for this paper is to first understand each terminology given in the syllabus e.g. Empathy, sympathy, and the difference between Attitude and Aptitude., etc.
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How to Prepare compulsory language paper?
As the compulsory paper is qualifying in nature so before the examination just practice some of the things like grammar and basic things like ways of answering and approach of writing. Solve previous year papers of the past 2-3 years. These things will help you to easily clear the qualifying exams.
The practice of using maps for locating places while preparing for current affairs is quite useful. In answer-writing of history, geography, disaster management, security in internal and border areas, etc, map using practice has proven results and is one of the most followed strategies of toppers.
The use of flowcharts and diagrams enhances the quality of an answer, helps in explaining more in less time, and is also an effective way to summarize the information contained in an answer.
Using easy-to-understand mind maps, diagrams, and flow charts are the things that will provide you an edge over other candidates as your answer will look more catchy and soothing to the examiner.
Many times when you run out of time in the examination hall and you still have a few questions to attempt you can move ahead by writing just a diagram of the flow chart so that an examiner may have an insight that you know the question.
Q. Can a candidate write different papers for the Civil Service (Mains) Examination in different languages?
No, Either in English or in any one of the Eighth Schedule languages except the Qualifying Language papers Paper-A and Paper-B, which they have indicated at the time of filling up of their online application form for the Civil Service (Preliminary) Examination.
Q. What are the Cut-off Marks for the compulsory language Papers?
The minimum qualifying standards in each of the two Qualifying Papers i.e. English and Indian Languages is indicated in the Examination Rules, which is at present 25%.
Q. Should I write an answer in Bullet Point or Paragraph?
Q. Should I attempt all 20 questions or write 17 to 18 good answers?
Q. Should I use Quotes in answer writing?
One of the most important things you should avoid is excessive criticism of government policies and also criticizing the person and its work.
You should also refrain from writing the answer in a biased manner, as you are preparing for an administrative post that has to work behind the curtain. SO, your vested interest should not hamper the working for people and making chaos in administrative functioning.
While quoting in mains answer writing don't quote in an altered manner. It means if know exactly the exact quotation then only you should use it, otherwise, these wrong quotes reflect a bad impression about a candidate. e.g. “The Earth has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.”So, if you alter this quote and write like the Earth can serve everyone's need but not everyone's greed. These small mistakes are very drastic in marks marking schemes of things.
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 knowing other subjects or without knowing your writing and presentation styles and thinking patterns, it is better to delay this decision. It will prove a more informed and rational decision afterward.
Preparations for the Civil Services Mains Exam should start along with those of the 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 a year.