UPSC MAINS STRATEGY



Just being done with your Prelims examination feels like a big relief. You feel that a lot of burden has been lifted off your shoulders. And the joy of performing well and knowing that you get to go the next stage (Mains) is beautiful. You plan to chill for a few days, but there is still that anxiety somewhere regarding Mains.


The fundamental difference between CSE Prelims and Mains is that while the Prelims focusses on recognition (of information) and requires an exhaustive study covering a wide variety of topics, Mains exam needs the ability to recall, analyse and express (ideas and information, including one’s own thoughts) properly which can only be done through an intensive study of the topic. Therefore it is very important to stay focused and cover in-depth, the topics that you have picked for Mains and in doing so you have to match your skills with the subject at hand.


Using the right approach and picking the right parts of the syllabus for intensive study will not only help manage time but also garner more marks in the end. Moreover the syllabus is open-ended and requires much analysis and an understanding of the underlying trends and ideas.


The Civil Services (Main) Examination is your ticket to your dream post and your dream cadre. The interview process has much lesser marks and is rather unpredictable. Mains are more predictable, as you face a relatively objective uniform process (notwithstanding the vagaries of your fate in the hands of the examiner). Your best shot at securing a good spot on the final list lies in CSM. Here's how you should secure it.


Your Mains strategy should revolve around

  • Concise material (static + current).
  • Notes making from Hindu + Aspire IAS Newspaper Analysis Programme notes
  • Multiple revisions of entire course content (4–5–6 revisions).
  • Guessing what UPSC could ask from a particular news and training our mind accordingly.(Refer our Guess Paper videos for assistance)
  • Optimizing time between Prelims and Mains.
  • And lastly, answer writing in tests, through Writing Skill Development Program.

How to prepare for Mains?

Preparation for mains is ideally done as an integrated process, wherein you prepare for both prelims and mains in tandem. If one prepares for mains, they can easily tackle the GS paper of prelims. However, you also need to prepare for CSAT in prelims.

The preparation process starts with a thorough study of the syllabus. The syllabus can have minor variations form year to year. You should download a copy of the notification for the Civil Services Examination of the relevant year, from the UPSC website (upsc.gov.in). Look through the pages to find the syllabi for General Studies and your Optional Subject of choice.

On guidance about how to choose your optional, click here.


  • • For mains one needs to realise that it is NOT NCERTs which make you capable of writing answers. This is where all the time spent into reading the newspaper and making its notes comes to use.
  • • For answers, understand that all the big paragraphs of answers cannot be learnt. Rather, one only needs to remember the keywords to the answer. This is what one will revise near the Mains as the material to be revised starts to pile up. So underline only the key words. Taking short notes on the sides of this would also help in quicker revision.
  • • Always remember that you need to read enough to answer a 200 word question effectively. So don’t delve into depths on all topics.
  • This is not the time to be reading something new. Value addition has to be done obviously. But do not start the preparation of a new subject now. This should be done before the Prelims examination.
  • • who can analyse situations and come up with solutions etc.
  • • Though smaller topics like Disaster Management and Internal Security can still be completed, it is always advisable to finish them before your Prelims

FOR A DETAILED EXPLANATION ON HOW TO SCORE 450+ MARKS IN MAINS, WATCH THE VIDEO BY OUR DIRECTOR SIR HERE.


The Study Method

As you start reading the books for GS mains, please keep the following points in mind:

  • 1. 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.FOR YOUR READY REFERENCE, WE HAVE MADE AVAILABLE PAST YEAR PAPERS ON THE WEBSITE, HERE.
  • 3. For topics like Science and Technology, best source is INDIA YEAR BOOK and current affairs. INDIA YEAR BOOK BATCH IS ONE OF OUR MOST AWAITED BATCHES.
  • 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. VISIT OUR DAILY UPDATES SECTION FOR REGULAR COVERAGE OF THE CURRENT AFFAIRS.
  • 5. Give adequate time for revision. Without it, you will not be able to recollect whatever you may have read.
  • 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 focusing on one topic.
  • 9. In GS papers, map of India is your most effective tool for illustration. For example, you can draw India maps and labelrelevant 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 in less than 60 seconds.
  • 10. 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.

  • FOR A COST-EFFECTIVE MAINS TEST SERIES, ENROLL FOR OUR RS. 50 TEST SERIES PROGRAM.


  • 11. 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.

How to Make Notes

Many people make a mistake while trying to get more marks. They try to jump directly to answer writing and skip notes making. You need to write 10 points and 15 points for 10 & 15 markers respectively. These points will comefrom well-made pointed notes that are revised about 5–6 times.

  • • Divide content paper wise and topic wise. Example make separate document for GS-2 IR, GS-2 Policies, GS-3 Science, GS-3 Security etc.
  • • For newspaper, you can use hardcopy or online edition and Revise your newspaper notes.

Mains REVISION Strategy

  • Revise notes at least 4-5 times during the course of preparation
  • Revise according to test series plan or create your own plan in line with a test series if you are doing self-study.
  • It is MANDATORY to write 1 test per week.
  • Make sure that you give each and every test after proper revision only.
  • As optional revision is also needed (3-4 times), concise notes shall be kept ready in advance.
  • Keep reviewing your timetable.
  • For last 15 days before MAINS, newspapers can be skipped and entire course shall be revised.
  • Revise relatively easy subjects first.
  •  Ethics shall be prepared so well that you don’t need to study it at all in last 15 days.


UPSC Mains Writing Practice and Test Series

  • In UPSC Mains exam, the most important aspect is understanding the demand of the question and writing your answers within the word and time limit. To achieve this, you need a lot of writing practice apart from reading and preparing.
  • For that, we would suggest spending one hour daily for your answer writing - choose four questions two from General Studies and two from Optional paper. Once you start writing more answers, it will improve your answer structuring and presentation abilities.
  • As you are aware, the final list is based on your Mains exam score and Interview score, thus, every answer you write and every mark you score will be crucial for your selection and cadre allocation. So, practice on a daily basis.
  • Also, join a test series for both GS and Optional papers. Once you join test series, you can assess your performance based on the expert's/teacher's feedback on the tests.
  • Every feedback will be helpful for you to improve and streamline your answer writing skills once you have joined the test series.
  • Regarding essay writing, write two essays every week and get it evaluated by experts, teachers, friends or peers to improve your essay score.

For Detailed Topic-wise assistance on how to prepare for Mains General Studies, click on GS Paper dropdowns.

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