Gearing up after the Prelims – Winning the CSE battle + Preparing ahead


The pity party over the Prelims has to end.

Someone has to say it. So let me be the fallguy.

So, here is the first.

The Prelims was tougher than last two years. This is the kind of paper they asked in 2010. They do this every five years. From easy Current based papers to static, difficult and conceptual paper.

So a lot of millennials who banked on the toppers ( who are not absolute toppers, but only relative to the year they passed in ) advice of Current, Current, Current and only Current did face a tough time.

However, most people who would usually study hard, usually score well in a Test series, would normally get through.

Since we don’t know the cut off yet, if you pass the test above, you are safe.

And here is the second.

The Cut off will reduce by about 10 marks.

I am not declaring or predicting a cut-off, so Mrunal , forgive me for that.

I am merely stating an opinion based on how almost everyone’s score has fallen compared to last year.

This is not scientific, based on data, but merely on some rule of thumb.

I have something to tell you.

Its you who passes the exam.

If you have worked hard in 2016 and passed 2016 with a margin, and if you again worked a little hard in 2017, and were doing the things that you were supposed to do ( reading basic book five times + 2-3 revision of current affairs = annual approach no matter how the pattern is ), you will make it.

Now, the Action Plan , The Framework Convention and the Inner Peace Accord , so that you can prepare for Mains 2017? Or CSE 2018, as per your position.

Here it goes.

0# Prepare for Mains

One sure shot way to clear these two exams :

  • Mains 2017
  • Prelims 2018

is to prepare for  the Mains Examination.

It is very typical of people who fail ( or who think they will fail ) in Prelims is that keep preparing for Prelims year after year.

There are two reasons for it

  • They will, out out of a misplaced sense of enthusiasm or revenge , start preparing for Prelims 2018 from right now. Will join a Prelims Test Series for 2018, start making newspaper notes and all that.
  • When the actual exam comes near, they will usually join an Optional Test Series, like in December – Jan and again study for Optional till two months before the Prelims. And flunk Prelims 2018.

People who crack Prelims annually , do it because they study throughout the year, for Prelims, then for Mains and then for Interview.

Thus their knowledge widens with the three stages of the examination on an incremental basis.

But those who do not clear Prelims, they exhaust their energy right now – only studying for Prelims, and when the exam comes, which requires 3-4 months of intense study ( the period immediately before the exam ), they start studying for Mains.

So right now, study for Mains.

It will help you in Mains 2017 (obviously ) as well as Prelims 2018 too.

Depending on how you end up.

#1 Start Writing Answers. Today.

I met @louislitt last year. He is tall and intimidating at first, unlike his ForumIAS profile. Until he speaks. When he is very humble.

He had wasted his  first attempt thinking that we won’t clear prelims.

Wasted 70 days for results. He is not alone.

@sandy on the Forum, did the same last year and on the day of GS Paper , he was on a call with me saying he didn’t write the exam because he didnt prepare well for Mains.

So did @vivekJ2, who did not write his first Mains because he thought he wont clear the Prelims.

So when we met,  Loiuslitt  asked me what is one thing that he should be doing to ensure that he gets an Interview call at least.

“I have failed twice before.” he said.

I said there are just two things one needs to do

  • Know how to frame your answer well, even if content is not adequate
  • Hone this skill by writing answers. Even to questions you don’t know.

That all the checklist for clearing Mains.

And getting an Interview call.

The bad thing about giving good advice is that if someone implements it, they will end up beating even you in the game 😛

He did well, and you can see him smiling here with rank 87.

#2 If you have not cleared your Mains in more than 2 attempts, seek help

In the famous TV series, Grey’s Anatomy, there is a man, who had a small ulcer in his stomach. He notices it, and yet does not go to the hospital.

Until the ulcer grows big, develops into a tumour and within the next 2 years, the tumour grows so big, that he has to be operated as it is no more benign.

The doctors ask him, what took you so long to seek help? He said, I was afraid to goto the hospital.

They could not save him.

A lot of us know we have problems that we are incapable of fixing .

We have done our best, and there are no signs of it getting fixed. When you reach that point – Seek help, guidance, direction from outside.

The best person to guide you is the person who has most recently written the exam and has improved over the years.

If you don’t have that person, find someone on the Forum and seek help. Show your answers to someone, ask them what they think, and get an objective assessment. Once you know what to do , implement it.

But don’t  sit over your problems , waiting for it to get solved on their own. Be proactive at solving problems.

If you don’t understand World History, watch John Green’s Crash Course in World History (He is a personal role model for me – he is an author, vlogger, writer, producer, actor and editor ).

For example, If you think too  much time is wasted in Current Affairs, take some classes.

If you think you are bad at Case studies, get some new material or download Topper’s Copies and see what they have done and identify a pattern. Then make changes to your own style.

But do something.

As quoted in Greys’s anatomy :

A couple hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin shared with the world the secret of his success. Never leave that till tomorrow, he said, which you can do today. This is the man who discovered electricity. You would think more of us would listen to what he had to say. I don’t know why we put things off but if I had to guess I’d say it has a lot to do with fear. Fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of rejection…Sometimes the fear is just of making a decision because what if you’re wrong? What if you make a mistake you can’t undo? Whatever it is we’re afraid of, one thing holds true. That by the time the pain of not doing the thing gets worse than the fear of doing the thing, it can feel like were carrying a tumor.

#3 Join a Test Series to discipline yourself

Everyone wants to finish the 120% of the syllabus 2 months before the exam, and write 60 tests – 1 test every day before the Mains Examination. And top the Test Series instead.

And yet no one is able to do it. None of the two parts.

Thats because writing Tests has to be done from day Zero.

The Union Public Service Commission does not test what you have read or what you know. It merely, very narrowly tests the below :

  • whether you are able to write answers on a given set of known and unknown topics or not.
  • In a give time period
  • Not in the comfort of your home, but among competing peers in exam conditions

So if you can afford one, by all means do it.

The other reason why one should do a Test Series is to get a good feedback on writing answers, and work on improving it.

This is especially important, if you are not sure if you are writing answers well.

How to know if you are not writing answers well? If you fail in Mains more than once, its a sure shot chance that you do not know how to frame answers.

#4 Don’t Join a Test Series. Form Groups instead

If this is not your first Mains, then a good way to proceed would be to write answers and form groups. And do daily answer writing practice.

Peer review.

You could pick up any sort of questions – those posted in Mains Marathon – to the ones you cam frame yourself.

So make a good group, and get started. This is the second best of piece of advice I could  give you right now.

Note that, if you are unable to clear Mains year after year, I still recommend joining either a Test Series, or find someone to Mentor you ( and find out what you are doing wrong.

Usually it is bad structure / slow handwriting / bad handwriting or a combinatio of some or all of these ).

You will find many such people on the Forum itself willing to help you for free.

I do not think if you are sincere, recently selected people would refuse to help you.

Anyone with more experience than you, and the right intention can be your mentor and help you.

#5 Stay focused. Give up your hobbies/distractions for a bit. Just for 90 days

I once met a pretty woman, who  would do yoga for 4 hours a day.

I called her the 22nd century woman. She chuckled.

In the 22nd century, we shall have enough prosperity and democracy that globally governments would be forced to implement Universal Basic Income Scheme.

Everyone would then have enough to eat , drink and make merry. All physical and hard work would be done by machines powered by AI.

( We are already seeing the beginning, with us delegating memorizing phone numbers to mobile phonebooks. Drones being used to deliver goods by Amazon in USA.  And of course the rise of driverless cars.)

But for the 22nd Century woman to live in prosperity and sufficiency, the 21st century man has to work hard.

So, both you and I are caught living in the wrong century, where we have to work hard to earn for humanity the prosperity of 22nd century.

There is no other way.

So, if yo have any start up ideas, money saving  or money making ( like selling test series of all coachings on ForumIAS by creating new IDs ) ideas or playing poker all night – don’t waste your time. You have very limited time.

You only realize it when you have lost that time.

No matter what one says, focus is the single biggest thing required for this exam.

You need to be focused and be doing only one thing at a time . ( Unless, you are at a higher attempt level , in which case you will have to balance health, family as well as studies  )

#6 Keep the right set of people around you.

Two is company. Three is crowd. Alright, three is good too, but no more.

The people you be with , have the single most important contribution in making you who you are.

Hangout with guys playing poker, and you end up being good at Ethics Paper poker instead.

Generally it is is advisable to have a group of 2-3 and join the same Test Series and have that sense of peer comparison and evaluation.

And for those of you who do not reside in student areas, we have ForumIAS, where you could meet new people and form groups which are non intrusive.

#7 Lastly, stay motivated.

Motivation is not easy to get.

As a child, I would be motivated enough to do something, if someone offered me a kismi toffee bar as a reward ( Millenials wont get it ).

As we grow up, it becomes difficult to motivate ourselves. I still like chocolates ( and a lot of you reading this owe me one 😛 ), but it cant motivate me enough.

As we grow up, we become complex. It isn’t easy to find that one thing that could possibly motivate us.

And motivation doesn’t mean browsing the internet for inspirational quotes. ( Thought a quote on the wall helps )

Nor does it mean following every single person’s interview, and reading their struggle story.

Motivation is not an impulse. It has to be continuous.

It has to be active. And action based.

And the biggest source of motivation for you would be neyawn’s articles your own hard work and the rewards it brings.

On a daily basis.

For motivation to work, you have to accomplish something on a daily basis.

Just like a gym going person, gets motivated by the sweat, your motivation will depend on the number of pages you are writing on a daily basis.  Number of topics you have covered. Number of Tests you have written ( and scored well) in the week.

I am talking tangible outcomes. That can be shown and demonstrated.

Motivation works in a circular feedback loop.  So if you are doing answer writing practice or doing a Test Series, the tangible outcome of it – a few hundred pages of handwritten stuff  – will provide you daily motivation.

Rewards of studying, will encourage you to study more.

And if you ever, get off track, feel free to shoot me an  email at ( Actually dont)

And if you think life is difficult, remember these great lines by the great poet Rammdhari Singh Dinkar

प्रासादों के कनकाभ शिखर,

होते कबूतरों के ही घर,

महलों में गरुड़ ना होता है,

कंचन पर कभी न सोता है.

रहता वह कहीं पहाड़ों में,

शैलों की फटी दरारों में

And with the benefit of hindsight of a few hundred people I get to meet who are now successfully out of the examination process, I can tell you that when you will look back on these days, these will still be one of the best days of your life.

You just dont know it yet.

So make the most of every minute you got.

And success will be yours,

Until next time,


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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 ).