23 Suggestions for those Writing Mains 2023

There are less than 23 hours remaining for the Mains examination as I write this. Tomorrow at this time, we will be in the examination hall writing the first Essay Paper.

It has been 11 years since we founded ForumIAS, and it has been a wonderful journey learning from the few hundred people that I have gotten the opportunity to. And here is what I have learned, in 23 suggestions for Mains 2023.

mains 2023 strategy

The Essay Paper

The essay paper is the first paper of the Mains examination. Writing an essay, especially the philosophical one, is like making a room, and filling it up with objects. Make sure that when you write a philosophical essay, you do not create too small a room such that you cant fit in ideas in it. This means, having a uni-dimensional, single  interpretation and repetition of a single idea.

Also, make sure that you do not have a room so big that you cant find enough ideas to fit into it. In short, make sure that you are able to draw the boundaries to your essay, and explore those boundaries through ideas.

Make parts of your essay objective.

For example, if you have a quote like – “A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not where it is meant to be.” Explore the topic and lets say you come up with an idea saying man is most comfortable in his abode, but man is meant to wander and explore. Follow this up with a “why?” and come up with why exploration is necessary. You may write your subsequent points like firstly, the discovery of the new world was possible because some sea- faring fearless sailors set sail without fearing falling off the edge of the earth.. Secondly, Thirdly.. and so on.

Like the way they do in the Hindu articles.

In short, it is a good idea if between all the paragraphs that you have, there are some objective tangible points that can be counted on fingertips by the examiner to award you marks.

Write short sentences

You are already writing an essay on a philosophical, abstract topic.

And we have to write an essay in a language so simple, that a 10th class student should be able to understand your language.

Make sure that your sentences are short, such that when we read it, we are not breathless – unless we have exceptional language skills.

If you make it easy for the examiner to read it, he will pass on the gratitude with a good score.

If you make it difficult for the examiner to read your copy, he will make your life difficult!

Use Paragraphs

Break your essay into paragraphs, do not make them monolithic.  Note that every year you will have ONE person who has done well, and will say something unconventional – as below

“I studied only 1 month and cleared the prelims.”


“I wrote long sentences and no para breaks, and yet I scored well.”

They scored well, not because of the long sentences and monolithic writing with paras, but despite it.

There is a difference.

Sometime in the summer of 2021, just when we though covid got over, we had a community meet. And I asked every selected candidate to give a few words of wisdom. Of all the things that people said, I found Apala Mishra’s words very meaningful for freshers and new comers. And that was something simple, yet very profound .

Do not make an exception your role model.

State your point, do not explain your point

As a general rule of thumb, across all papers make sure you write short, meaningful sentences. Do not write things that add no value and are redundant.

A redundant statement is one which if taken away from the answer, does not reduce the content of the answer.

Such as simply repeating the words of the question in introduction.

And If you are writing phrases, make sure they are self explanatory.  Such as social audit -> leads to accountability. It is better to write assured annual social audit –> leads to administrative alertness and enhances public accountability

It is a good idea to state your point and not explain your point. Even in ethics paper, your explanations should not be very long. State things and move on.

You can be either early or late. Be early.

Every year, my blood boils ( and my heart cries ) when at least 3-5 students call up at about 10AM having missed their Mains ( not the prelims! where your attempt does not count !!) Remember, we can either be early or be late for an exam. You will almost never arrive precisely at the time. Between being late vs being early, it is wiser to choose being early.

If you have ever travelled by train with your parents, you will notice that the parents will always want to be an hour early to the railway station – and you may be like – Mom/Dad what will I do 1 hour on the platform! The reason why your parents want to be an hour early to the platform, while you only want to be 15 minutes early to the platform is that the hour preceding the departing time – lets say 5 o’ clock – the stress will start to build up. The only way to be stress free between 4PM to 5PM when the train departs at 5PM is to be at the railway station at 4PM.

Because you have less things to stress about, and your parents have more things to worry about, they want to eliminate that additional stress of missing the train. The only way to remain stress free at 8:30AM when exam is supposed to begin from 9AM is to be at the center. You have enough no of things to worry about. Let not this be one of them.

If your mind is wandering, scribble things

Make some notes of 2-4 pages containing diagrams, facts and figures, quotes, data, flowcharts which you may want to see before the exam. Things you can carry at the center and then throw it then and there. One of the ways for some people to stay calm ( read stay sane ) during the exam gap is to have something to read.

Avoid negative people

Avoid negative people from one day before the exam. Avoid almost everyone who gives you any amount of stress or negativity. Some people have a disproportionate impact on our psyche. A small remark by them, can disturb us for the day. Avoid any such persons, including the one who keep saying  Tera to ho jayega. And the landords of Rajinder Nagar.

On the day of the exam, make sure that you are carrying sufficient pens, at least 2-3 print outs of admit card, lest you misplace one ( happens ), food that fills you up and if needed some analgesic and anti-pyretic.

Look, the pressure of the actual exam is so high that many of us will end up having a high body temperature and even mild body ache after 2 days. In fact a number of us will end up having hand pain. The exam does not only require mental – intellectual rigor but also bodily stamin to stay put. If you feel a bit feverish or your hands are tired writing, do not hesitate to benefit from mankind’s one big invention – paracetamol.

Do not let one paper spill over onto another

The GS Paper 1 is a more objective paper than others. There will be some questions in GS Paper 1 where you either know or don’t know the answer. The GS Paper 1 sometimes can make you feel mauled – especially if this is your first Mains. Let me tell you this point blank  – let not Paper 1 have a spill over effect on other papers – unless its a good spill over!

Use what you know

Remember that GS 2 has major parts of polity and governance. This means having a good ready reckoner for Articles from FR/FD/DPSP will help. Articles from DPSP are useful not only for Paper 2, but also society and parts of paper 3. There are a few hundred kids who have cleared this exam in first attempt, not because they knew more, but because they knew less, and leveraged laxmikant type knowledge to their advantage.

Few months back, I had Ishita, Garima, Smriti, Mayur and Rahul walk in to ForumIAS. I had met Ishita just before the Mains. She had written a paper and had not scored as per expectation in that *one* test. I confessed that her paper was good, and she should have score of 105 in that paper.

I had also met Garima just few weeks before for her mock. I had a terrible fever that day, and I still remember the IGP team tell me Sir, she is a very promising student and she does not stay in Delhi, and has come all the way from Buxar, and is our MGP and CA Student. I somehow managed to take mock fearing passing on the fever to her!

Smriti was the chirpy and happy type. Always.

To one of the questions I asked, Garima replied was that while the basics of Laxmikant may or may not be so useful for Mains, she did use the articles, and key phrases in her intro and conclusion.

So do not forget the basics. So quoting Article 39(b) and (c) in a question on poverty, privatization, universal basic etc. may look easy, but not everyone actually does it. Remember – the game at this point is not in knowing, but in applying what you already know.

Be Data / Fact Driven in GS Paper 3

Most parts of GS Paper 3 will be checked by an economics professor. Economists love data. In the past 3 years we have seen GS Paper 3 scores dip. Mayur last year scored the highest in GS Paper 3, above 100 from what I can recall. When I asked him, what worked for him, he said – Data and Facts. Make it work for you too.

The GS 4 / Ethics Strategy

When it comes to GS paper 4, most people think that high scores are awarded in Case studies. If you really think hard enough, it will dawn on you that it is actually the Case studies which has more objectivity and it is Part A, which has more subjectivity. In fact, if you see case studies, people will generally write the same choices and nearly the same pros and cons! Where does then the score variation come from?

There are two places where the score variation will come in GS Paper 4.

One, a larger part of it comes from Part A. So make sure that the first few questions of Part A are done quite well and not in the last 30 minutes. Imagine an examiner pick up your copy and see the first 4 questions written hurriedly, with poor handwriting, not even filling up the two pages that you have for each question!


Because you started with Case studies and now you have spent 2 hours and now you need to finish all of part A in 60 minutes.

Do not make that mistake.

Instead, make sure that the first few questions of Part A as well as Part B are done properly.

The second way to score well in Ethics Paper

Last year, I wrote about the various ways to introduce your case studies. In case you did not get your hands on it, you can download the Case Studies Toolkit from this post 

We discussed (a) beginning with a quote, (b) summarizing the case study such that examiner reads the intro and does not need to read the whole case study (c) with your opinion/comment on the issue at hand (d) identifying stakeholders etc.

When it comes to the case studies, take care of these things.

One, if you have a question which asks in part (a) what are the choices before you, and part (b) analyse the choices before you – you can combine parts (a) and (b) and make a table stating  the choices and their pros and cons.

Two, the case studies part often becomes monotonous for both the examiner as well the student. The key to getting exceptional score then, in case studies is to go beyond what is asked. So for example, if there is a question of sexual harassment at workplace, it is a fair idea to write a para note expressing your views on on sexual harassment at workplace, in the conclusion. You may also do so in the introduction in one questions or two. You may write as below

“Sexual harassment at workplace is not only a moral problem, but also a economic one. It reduces female labour force participation, and the nation is unable is able to benefit from half her workforce. It repels foreign investment, and reduces diversity at workplace which is the key to innovation. Therefore preventing it, should be a national prerogative.”

You may also sum up a quote in the conclusion such as – “It is said the measure of progress of a nation, is measured by how it treats its women…”

Few years ago, I had a young man walk into Forum after securing Rank 21 in his very first attempt. He had cleared IIT, IIM and IAS in his very first attempt. He was suppose to record a Topper talk in the classroom. Curious, I wanted to sit in the class while he spoke to benefit from his wisdom. At one point, I could not stop myself and asked him ( my voice was not recorded ) – Did you not feel afraid feeling that this is only your first attempt, and you are among the least prepared candidates, given that people have been preparing for it for years?

He said something, which I want to share with you all.

He said – Sir, If I focused on my weaknesses, I would probably not even have cracked IIT and IIM, leave alone IAS. Anyone who focusses on his weakness, has lost half the battle there itself. When we are going to the battle, we have to focus on our strengths and not our weaknesses. 

So those of you who are writing the Mains tomorrow, focus on what you know, and not on what you don’t know.

And don’t worry about things that probably won’t happen.

For we suffer more in imagination than in reality.

My best wishes to you all – rashmirathi, manoj, shambhavi, Ambika, Prapti, eshani, and natkhat_balak, natahsa and to every single one you who are fighting out tomorrow.


Until next time,



P.S. For those of you obsessed over 23 suggestions, you will find many more, if you can read between the lines. (wink)

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By Neyawn

Neyawn is an anonymous member the founder of ForumIAS. He is a coder Mentor & Teacher by profession, and often writes for ForumIAS. You can buy him coffee , if you really really like his work. He has built ForumIAS - the community - twice. You can say Hi to him or ask him a question on ForumIAS, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn . You can also write to him at RxAxVxI@FOxRUMxIAS.COM ( remove the small "x" from the email ).