UPSC Mains GS Strategy for Beginners – Civil Services Examination

UPSC Mains GS Strategy for Beginners – Civil Services Examination

UPSC Prelims Exam is just a qualifying stage  (Prelims marks are not counted in making final merit list) but UPSC Mains is most important stage for any Civil Service Aspirant. Remember, UPSC Prelims Examination have Multiple  Choice Questions, while UPSC Mains exam have Descriptive Questions. Thus besides knowledge, your writing and presentation skills are also tests in UPSC Mains Examination.

All India Ranks in Civil Services Exam depends on performance or marks in UPSC Mains and Personality Test and this UPSC ranks determine the service one gets.

UPSC Mains GS Strategy for Beginners – Civil Services Examination

Look for keywords in questions

  • For example, every question would have a question tag such as “critically analyse”, “discuss”, “elaborate”, “comment”, etc. When it says, “critically analyse”, one should mention positive and negatives about that topic. When it says, “discuss”, it is required to discuss the given statement in detail.

Second, read every single line of the question.

  • For example, if a question says, emotional intelligence is very important for a Civil Servant, and the next statement says ‘in your opinion, what is the role of Emotional Intelligence in the course of service of a bureaucrat’ – Emotional Intelligence is the keyword here, and the first line of the question says emotional intelligence is important for a civil servant.
  • This question may thus be answered by explaining this statement in the introduction part of the answer.
  • The second part of the question becomes body of the answer. It can further be divided say into three parts – again structuring coming to rescue.
  • The structure could be, for instance – one, at the level of public dealing; second, when dealing with colleagues; and third, when dealing with the political masters.

Develop Writing Skills

  • How do you develop good writing skills? Writing skills cannot be developed overnight, but over a period of time.
  • Practice writing on a daily basis. Pick up an editorial from a newspaper and rewrite it in your own words. When we give writing assignments in class, attempt them and get them evaluated by the professor.

Practice Tests

  • The Mains exam is lengthy and it is imperative to manage every second efficiently. There might be candidates who have a very slow writing pace, and might be looking for ways to tackle the same.
  • Practice tests come in handy for such candidates. These practice tests not only help all candidates – be they fast or slow paced, in preparing for the mains, but also help in learning time management.
  • Initially, even fast paced candidates with good writing speed might not be able to complete the practice tests within stipulated time, but eventually they learn to manage time, and thus begin to learn and attempt in full. Also, many ignore this aspect of mains preparation, while it is really important and helps in mental preparation for writing the exam.

Word Limit

  • The practice tests also enable one to give appropriate consideration to the word limit i.e. not attempting one question in great length, while falling short of time for others. Practice with as many answers as possible, or as many practice tests as possible.

Read & Read Again !!!

  • It is not possible for anybody to memorise the book after its first reading.
  • First reading should be a reading to familiarise with the topics,
  • Second reading should be a recollection, and,
  • Third reading will help one to remember the concept.
  • Each one has a different pace when it comes to memorising, and thus learning must happen at an individual’s specific pace only. As shared earlier, since one full preparation for the Mains must be done before the Prelims, the period after the Prelims must be devoted more towards revising the concepts. Read the same piece of content again and again, go through the notes and revise all that one knows already.

Writing the Exam – Mains

Attempt all questions in the paper

  • Attempt all questions in the paper. Do not get de-motivated if a particular answer is not known in complete.
  • At least attempt all questions– based on whatever is the best understanding of that particular topic.
  • The secret to being able to attempt all questions is to focus on each aspect of the syllabus. If the syllabus is not covered thoroughly, notes not prepared, one might not be able to attempt all questions with ease.

The Answers

  • Always structure the answers. Learn from the model answers to the many questions provided by SecureIAS in Question and Answers Section.
    All toppers would have a common thing is that they structure their answers: They give an introduction, a body, and a conclusion to their answers.
  • Open the answers with a brief background of the topic or keyword identified. Always provide a context for the answer in this section. The answer to the specific question being asked then makes up the body of the answer.
  • Also add multiple dimensions to the answer, by dividing the question into parts. And the conclusion should always be optimistic, a forward-looking conclusion. If there is a question on women empowerment, one can always quote that the new initiative of the government that is the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ is the right step in the right direction.

Paragraphs Vs Points

  • This depends on the comfort level of each candidate and there is no rule of thumb, as such.

Name Dropping Technique

  • Try to answer questions in a manner that it is easier for the examiner to check. Drop in terminologies in the answer and highlight them. For instance, when solving a case study on leadership, one might drop in terms such as ‘motivation’, ‘empathy’ etc. and highlight for them to be easily discoverable.


Underline – Underline important things. This makes the answer more readable and understandable for the evaluator, making the task of answer checking effortless. The Mains do not offer the relaxation of changing pen or to use green pen, blue pen, etc. or to even hold a pencil. Only the simplest thing which can be done is to underline the important things, with whatever is in hand.

Flowcharts & Tables – If there is shortage of time, instead of going for text-based answers, opt for flowcharts. One may easily sum up the entire answer, in a flowchart. Similarly, tables also come in handy when presenting any kind of data. Instead of putting data within the text and making it difficult for the examiner to locate, add-in tables – making the answer more presentable.

Diagrams – Make diagrams, but only where they are necessary. For example, if there is a question on air mass – it could be well represented using a diagram. Do not make a repetition of what you have already indicated in the diagram. Use the text for providing additional information. Diagrams can also be used when there is less time or when less content in the form of text is available for a given question.

Summing up the main points of Mains Preparation

  • Revise and practice all the time
  • Continue reading newspapers and making notes
  • Give Practice Tests – as many as possible
  • Prepare your answers well – Structure them
  • Work on the presentation aspect of answers
  • Learn to manage time
  • Focus and concentrate

UPSC Prelims Notes


UPSC Mains Notes

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