Acing the Prelims 2021 – 19 Suggestions for the nervous times!

Next Sunday at this time, we will be done with the GS and CSAT Paper. Our Prelims preparation and exam cycle will come to an end.

And at about 4PM, the outcome of almost a year of hard work will be sealed.

This sounds frightening at first.

I even had goosebumps typing this out.

But there is nothing more important than not being afraid at this junction.

It was not for nothing that amidst the Great Depression, Roosevelt famously said – We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

As the new week – the prelims exam week sets in from Monday, I want you to know that you are good to go. Your feelings may range from anxiety to fear – and sometimes to indifference  – but then everyone else is also going through  similar feelings.

Feelings are ephemeral – like the life of a wave. They come and go. I mean you could at the peak of the confidence curve by evening, and may feel like crap the very next morning. Simply because you woke up too late.

In the last week, it is not so much about studies, as it is about emotional intelligence – and knowing, identifying, and naming your feelings.

There are three things about feelings I want you to know

One, they are feelings, they come and go
Two, they may have no co-relation with reality. I mean, you could be doing kick ass and may be screwed up in the head. And vice-versa, you could be screwed up with your preparation, and may still be on the top of mood curve.

Three – and this is the most important – our feelings have little co-relation with reality – but have the potential of having real life outcomes.

So do not let your feelings interfare with your performance or deviate your from the task at hand.

 

 Photo by Tapan Kumar Choudhury on Unsplash

So in this week, as we step, here are 17 suggestions for you – to make sure you get your priorities right, and have the right mental framework to win this preliminary round.

#1 Stop thinking about yourself or how you will perform on the D-Day. If anyone thought about themselves as much as you do, they would be screwed up in their heads too, much before they would screw up in the exam. Relax, take a deep breath, and you will do fine.

#2 Keep your tasklist simple. Do not try to do too many things. This exam has been cleared by people who have revised the basic books ‘n’ number of times and have done PYQs revision thoroughly, and practised a few mocks. And then revised them again. This year too ( and the next year too ) people will clear the exam by doing the same. If you have too many things on your plate, perhaps you are greedy.

#3 Revise the old instead of picking up the new. In the decade or so since I created the first version of ForumIAS , writing nearly 5000 comments, I have always seen that people flunk not because they could not solve a question on Kharai camel, but because they got a basic question of Indian Polity long. The reason? Sir, I made a silly mistake? And why do we make silly mistake? Because we do not revise?

#5 Stop evaluating yourself. At this point, self evaluation is pointless. You are getting a good score in your mocks? Fine.

Not able to score well in the mocks? Conquer the paper where you are underperforming. Let the Commission decide your performance, not you yourself. Your job is to study and write a good paper. The Commission’s job is to assess your suitability. Don’t mix up the Job Descriptions.

#6 Anxiety will be at the peak now. Its my suggestion that you STFU and study. Not because studying now will help you crack the exam, but because not studying caused anxiety, and this anxiety will bring more anxiety. It is a self-perpetuating monster. So Put your head down and study. Why? Because it will take the focus away from the thoughts about – OMG Am I going to make it?

#7 If you think your love life is dependent on this exam ( and you can fix it up by doing well in the exam – and in fact the sole reason you are doing this exam is to fix it -) , chances are that it does not exist in the first place.

With the benefit of hindsight and having experiences hundreds of success stories and dozens of failed love stories around me, in the past decade, I can assure you that what is meant to be, will be. And what is not meant to be, won’t be.

Not even if you clear the exam with a top rank. Let no one fool you with anything else.

#8 Revise till the point you do two things. One, you are reading the pages almost vertically – not word by word, but scrolling vertically. You almost know all the areas from which questions can be asked. And two, you are thorough with the page such that you are only turning the pages and taking mental notes that this page has this, this , and this point and so on.

#9 If you are sick of reading, and black font on white paper makes you sick, or puke, try revising through some online classes or videos. Adding audio-visual element helps. Just listening also helps, given that the mind stops to register anything. This does not mean you binge-watch Game of Thrones last season. First, the last season is crap and two, when you are done with it, you are more likley to be scared of the exam again

#10 Your life should have very little quality at this stage. All you do should be study, sleep, eat, walk/ exercise a little. When you are tired of static, solve 25-50 questions. When tired of it, sleep for like 20 minutes. Then do CA. Bored of CA? Do static. That’s all to life that is at this stage. All the pretty men and women you see in LBSNAA have done this, and looked terrible at this stage of the exam. Its perfect to not have taken a bath, not combed your hair or not changed your clothes/bedsheets for a while. Not brushing is not okay though, seriously!

#11 Avoid the negative people in your life. They come in two flavours. One of them will always boast about how they are doing awesome, reading a new book, watching a new video from where at least 20 questions will come. And that the nexted Bhajirao who teaches on Andakemy has told him that his accuracy is so high that he has been advised by the faculty to start studying for Mains before the prelims itself.  Maintain safe distance from them. At all places – (a) Right now, (b) on the phone, (c) in the flat and most importantly (d) on the day of the exam.

#12 The second negative people are who are constantly giving you a false boost saying – “Tera to ho jayega”. Avoid the tera-to-ho-jayega types friends. In the history of writing this exam, no one I know who has gotten a top rank hung out with people who said “Tera to ho jayega”. Politely tell them that you do not like fortune tellers.

#13 Sleep for at least 6-8 hours.  A good night sleep is the key a good performance on the day of the exam. If you cannot fall asleep because your mind is tired but body is not, try to enageg is some physical activity so that your body is as tired as your mind. The vivacious Apala Mishra told me that her major break was playing badminton during the exam preparation days as a great stress buster. ( She aslo said she had a fan moment when I told her I was neyawn 😀 😀 )

#14 Do not neglect CSAT. As the scores are out for last year’s prelims, students who have done really well in GS, couldn’t clear just because the CSAT score was low. Please practice CSAT. It is a fairly good idea to give 30-40 minutes to upto 90 minutes to CSAT every day or every alternate day to ensure that you are comfortable with the paper.

#15 Filling the bubbles as you progress. Filling all the bubbles in the last 30 minute could pose few problems. First, you may tend to read the question again and may end up doing over analysis. With sufficient revision, what comes to your mind at first is generally correct.

It is fairly good to start bubbling once you are done with the first iteration and have marked all the “most sure” questions OR after 60 minutes, whichever is earlier.  Secondly, in last 30 minutes you might experience the time pressure and may fill Q15 answer in Q16. No, please don’t do that. Some people do that in a series and lost a string of questions.

And lastly, annually some students have the classical case of examiner snatching the paper while they are still bubbling the answers. Let us not have such a thread this year on the forum.

#16 One question at a time. Focus only upon the question which you are solving. Never think about the previous question nor about the next question. For example: You may know something about Question number 23 but are not absolutely sure. What you might end up doing is, while solving Question 27, your mind would still be going back to Q23. You will thus only be giving half-hearted effort to Q. 27. Please avoid that.

#17 Avoid spillover effects. This means when Commission will invariably put questions in a manner that after 2-3 complex questions, you will have a very simple direct questions. But now because you have been dealing with complex and tricky questions, you overthink in the simple question and get it wrong. This is the way the paper is set.

Evaluate each question independently. Do not carry the hangover of the previous question in the next one.

#18 Do not Imagine  patterns. This might happen with only few of you. Sometimes when you are filling bubbles and see that Q.64 has correct option “C”, then Q. 65 also has correct option “C”, then  Q.66 has also the correct option “C”.

But you may start imagining a pattern as to how can UPSC set a pattern of three straight questions with same option “C”. So instead of marking “C” in Q.66, you might go for over analysis and try to find an alternate option. Please don’t do that. One question at a time (Point number 16). Remember this. You are there to solve questions and not there to imagine patterns.

#19 Get the flavour. 

In the cult film the Dark Knight , the Joker walks into a room full of bad boys and gangsters who have handed over all their ill-gotten money to  a certain Chinese citizen Mr Lau, so that even if they are caught by Batman, or the Police, their money is safe. At this point, the Joker famously says – “Batman has no jurisdiction. He’ll find him ( Lau )  and make him squeal. I know squealers when I see them”.

Keep looking for certain number of questions from past year question papers of UPSC each day.  I call this turning the pages. Looking at the questions and their solutions. This will help you get in-line with UPSC demand. Mock tests are different. You have to appear for UPSC exam and not mocks. So getting the flavour is essential. Your taste buds must recognize it when you see a UPSC question 🙂

Lastly,

We have reached a point in our preparation where all we have to do is do our duty.

“Why should I fight this war, Krishna? For victory?” asks a confused Arjuna to Krishna, in the battlefield.

“No”, says Krishna

“Then what? For defeat?” asks a confounded Arjuna gazing at Krishna.

“Because its your duty“, says a depondent Krishna.

The coming Sunday, it does not matter whether we have prepared well or not. It does not matter we have revised as many times as we wanted or not. Nothing matters.

All that matters is if you are going to do the task that is given to you.

When you come back from the exam hall, and we hang out in the evening on this thread, we must have at least – and maybe – just one satisfaction. And that is – we did our duty well.

 

Until next time,

❤️

Neyawn

 

 

 

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By Neyawn

Neyawn is an anonymous member of ForumIAS. He is a coder by profession, and often writes for ForumIAS. You can buy him coffee , if you really really like his work. You can say Hi to him or ask him a question on ForumIAS, on his profile