UPSC Courses

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


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.
  12. 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.

Paper 1 Essay Writing 250 Marks
Paper 2 General Studies – I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World, and Society) 250 Marks
Paper 3 General Studies-II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International Relation) 250 Marks
Paper 4 General Studies-III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-Diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management) 250 Marks
Paper 5 General Studies-IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) 250 Marks
Paper 6 Optional Subject Paper-1 250 Marks
Paper 7 Optional Subject Paper-2 250 Marks
Sub Total in the written Test 1750 Marks
Personal Interview 275 Marks
Grand Total (For Merit Calculation) 2025 Marks

For a detailed strategy for the Prelims exam, read here.

IAS Exam Pattern for Personality Test

  • All candidates qualifying the Mains examination will proceed towards the Personality Test.
  • This would include the Psychometric Test, Assessment Test as well as the Personal Interview.
  • The objective of the interview is to assess the personal suitability of the candidate for a career in public service by a Board of competent and unbiased observers. He will be asked questions on matters of general interest.
  • The test is intended to judge the mental caliber of a candidate.
  • IAS Mains is further divided into two types – Qualifying Exam and Merit Exam. It is compulsory to appear in both.
  • In broad terms, this is really an assessment of not only his intellectual qualities but also social traits and his interest in current affairs.
  • Some of the qualities to be judged are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, balance of judgment, variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion and leadership, intellectual and moral integrity.
  • This test will be conducted in the language of choice.
  • The interview will be graded for 275 marks. The total marks of the UPSC exam, considered for rank calculation are 2025 marks.
  • Candidates will be ranked on basis of the grand total.

The civil services include three types of services namely, the All India Services, Group A and Group B Central services. The services that come under each of these types are mentioned below:

All India Services:

  1. Indian Administrative Service (IAS)
  2. Indian Forest Service (IFS)
  3. Indian Police Service (IPS)

Group ‘A’ Services:

  1. Indian Revenue Service
  2. Indian P & T Accounts & Finance Service
  3. Indian Customs and Central Excise Service
  4. Indian Audit & Accounts Service
  5. Indian Ordnance Factories Service
  6. Indian Defense Accounts Service
  7. Indian Postal Service
  8. Indian Defense Estates Service
  9. Indian Civil Accounts Service
  10. Indian Railway Account Service
  11. Indian Railway Traffic Service
  12. Indian Railway Personnel Service
  13. Railway Protection Force
  14. Central Industrial Security Force

Group ‘B’ Services:

  1. Delhi and Andaman & Nicobar Islands Civil Service
  2. Delhi and Andaman & Nicobar Islands Police Service
  3. Central Secretarial Service
  4. Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service
  5. Railway Board Secretariat Service
  6. Custom Appraisers Service
  7. Pondicherry Civil Service

The prescribed UPSC exam eligibility criteria is that the candidate should be a graduate and must have attained 21 years of age. There is also an upper age limit and number of attempts restriction based on the candidate’s category. Generally, the upper age limit is 32 years, but the commission gives age relaxation for OBC, SC, ST and PH candidates.

As we saw above, there are various services candidates can get into after clearing this exam. But the service allotted to the candidate depends on his/her preference indicated while applying for Mains, vacancy in that service for the particular category and the candidate’s rank . Commonly aspired services like the IAS, IFS and the IPS need a high rank.

The UPSC also conducts various other exams apart from the civil services. A few examples are Engineering Services Exam, Combined Medical Services Exam, Indian Forest Service Exam, Combined Defence Services Exam, Indian Statistical Service, etc.

Candidates should know that the civil services and the Indian Forest Services have a common prelims exam. While applying for prelims, candidates should indicate whether they are taking both the exams, or only one of them.

The UPSC Civil Services Exam is tough. This is a fact. But it is also a fact that this exam is not insurmountable. With a systematic approach, hard work and dedication, you can come out with flying colours and land your dream job.

Post Feed
one hour two newspaper
Newsletter Subscription
SMS Alerts

Important Links