Important Points Mains

As you start reading the books I mention here for GS mains, please keep the following points in mind: (Feedback 2017 AIR 1 Anudeep)

  1. Along with these books, get a printout of the syllabus and read it carefully. Your final aim must be: for each topic mentioned in the syllabus, you should have enough content to write a 250-word answer.
  2. Go through the past five years’ question papers to understand the breadth and depth of questions UPSC usually asks. It’ll give you a good perspective of what’s important and what’s not.
  3. Use the internet extensively, especially for topics like Science and Tech. Your target must be to gain knowledge, be it through books or through the internet.
  4. For all subjects, you have to superimpose current affairs over it, especially for GS-2 and GS-3. For both these papers, current affairs form the nucleus. You will inevitably do a lot of reading on the internet, so use Evernote to organise and highlight content like this.
  5. Give adequate time for revision. Without it, you will not be able to recollect whatever you may have read. So please dedicate enough time to it, whether you are giving a mock test or the actual exam.
  6. Many aspirants commit one fundamental mistake: they read and revise, over and over, but never practise. Remember that the examiner checking your copy will have no idea about the number of books you’ve read or the number of hours you’ve slogged. Your answers are all that he has to judge you. So it makes sense to learn it, practise it and perfect it.
  7. Mains exam demands not only our memory and intelligence but also endurance. If you lack prior practice, writing relentlessly for 6 hours a day and do this for 5 days will cause both mental and physical fatigue. The only way to overcome it is to practice enough before the final exam.
  8. General Studies demands only a peripheral understanding of an expansive set of topics. So it’s important that you try to gain minimum sufficient knowledge over a diverse set of subjects rather than obsessively focussing on one topic. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to read World History for three months at the expense of all other subjects. Always maintain that fine balance between all the topics and don’t get imprisoned in one.
  9. In GS, there will be very few questions where you will have absolutely no clue. Even if you only have a vague idea, write those generic points. For instance, in last year’s GS-1 paper, for the question on Malay peninsula, I knew no specific fact except a vague idea that Singapore had a partition story similar to India. So I just wrote a generic answer comprising of problems such as ethnic strife, insurgency, and economic collapse. The examiner checking my copy might have given 2-3 marks for it, which I am sure any aspirant would gladly take.
  10. You must develop the skill to speed read a committee or an organisation’s report on your computer (reading online saves you a lot of time) and highlight important lines as you read along. In the second reading, this highlighted portion is what you need to revise. It should look something like this.
  11. In GS papers, map of India is your most effective tool for illustration. For example, I drew India maps and labelled relevant parts for questions on river linkage (GS-3), North-East insurgency (GS-3), Inland navigation (GS-1), India’s 18th-century fragmented polity (GS-1) etc. Practise it enough so that you are able to draw and label it under 60 seconds.
  12. If you are taking a test series, please give those tests with all the seriousness of the final UPSC exam. In the mock test, if you take 10-15 additional minutes to finish the paper, you are cheating no one except yourself. Observe strict time limits.
  13. You will never feel content with your Mains preparation and there is always a nagging tendency to just keep reading and procrastinate writing answers or skip an upcoming test. You have to overcome this reluctance through conscious effort. Suppose before a mock test if you were unable to finish the syllabus, you can postpone your test by a day or two, but don’t skip it altogether.
  14. Perfectionism is your enemy. If you keep referring to countless sources to make that “perfect notes”, if you keep postponing your mock tests in order to write “perfect tests”, this mentality will bring you to ruin. Getting a good score in Mains is about attempting all questions to which some answers are excellent, some good and many above average. So instead of waiting for that elusive perfection, start imperfect and then keep improving.
  15. When you are buying coaching material, always ask yourself: “what new is this material adding to my preparation?” If you can’t answer that question convincingly, then the material probably isn’t really useful.
  16. Just because I am AIR-1, it does not mean that my notes are the best or that this book list is the last word. If you have been studying some other material, that’s fine, too. To succeed in this exam, the source of material is not important. What’s important is you to understand the concepts, memorise the facts well and have a firm grip over the entire syllabus.