Getting the Best out of Mains 2020 Results – and handling failure

A few hours ago, the Union Public Service Commission declared the Civil Services Mains 2020 results.

The finality of the PDF – and I can say that from my vicarious experiences if not personal experiences – take some time to sink in.

Especially if we have not been able to make it to the list.

It usually takes the next morning for the facts to sink in.

The mornings, in my opinion, are the most terrible[1].

Sometimes, its terribly lonely too.

I mean you could be at home with all your family – or your preparation city with plenty of flatmates / people around – and sometimes you are the only one who has cleared the Prelims and written the Mains – and have been some kinda hero in your rented flat – until the results come – and yet it can be very lonely.

Being teary eyed and looking at the results screen has its own set of woes. Its blurry, you can’t see a thing.

And if there are people around, you cannot even close your eyes, because then – you run the risk of your tears rolling down.

And everyone now knows you are crying.

How unmanly![2]

This is for those of you who heard that infamous ding[3] in the holy PDF that has roll numbers of students who cleared the Mains examination, and could not find theirs.

First, it’s perfectly alright if you feel terrible, feel like crying or even nauseated.

And it is also perfectly alright if you feel nothing.

Particularly if this is not the first time you have missed your name in the list.

That numb feeling.

People calling your phone and staring at your face, and yet – you feel nothing. [4]

You have relatives calling in sometimes. Asking you to fill up other govt exams instead.

The results will take some time to sink in.

Sometimes a day or two.

Sometimes a week later when you go through the Prelims grind.

Sometimes you may not feel a thing – particularly if you have been through this before. Déjà vu.

You feel numb.

And then you feel guilty about not feeling anything, contrary to a lot of people around you who might want to see you devastated.

I want you to know that it is okay to be numb. Not feel a thing.

We truly realize the implications of the results only after a few days. Not immediately.[5]

And the first implication, you have is to prepare for the Prelims again.

One more time.

I am not going to promise a silver lining for every cloud. But here is still something you should know.

One, nearly everyone happy, smiling, or cheerful with a winner smile you see there whose name is in the holy PDF have gone through exactly the same emotional turmoil that you are going through.

And at some point of time, did not find their names in the holy PDF.

You are not alone, uniquely cursed or unlucky. You are regular.

Two, If you think that success would make you happy, you have understood life wrong.

Success merely makes others feel that you are happy. Your private life nearly remains the same. But a detailed post on that one is for later times.

Third, our ability to succeed depends on our ability to sometimes assume that we are inadequate and more needs to be done to get what we want.

Nothing worth having comes easy.

Where is the glory in that!

Your assumptions could be wrong, and you could be closest to perfection – but for any progress, acceptance to some extent – that we missed the mark and there is a lacuna because of which we missed it – sets the stage for action.

Because in the absence of an action plan, we could be living at the crossroads of our lives, not knowing where to go.

And I can tell you that some of us are so indecisive that we build a home at the crossroads of our lives, and start living there.

Some of us, even put a nameplate outside.

But crossroads are meant to be decision points.

Not comfort zones.

And here are some thoughts on an action plan.

#1 First, Accept that humanities is different from the Sciences.

And there are things that you may not know.

And we don’t always know what we don’t know.

And also that you can never know everything.

One of the biggest pains I have is when I hear someone say – I have reached the end of my preparation for GS 2.

I mean I adored this kid sometime back because she never said she was finished with a subject.

She merely said she was done with Atul Sir’s notes for Ethics. Or Dipin Sir‘s 22 classes.

Or what Anudeep has posted on his blog.

Specific things.

Trackable things.

Things you could ask questions to her on, and she would answer or not answer it.

Things that could be verified to be true or false.

Please know that in humanities, every book on a topic will say different things. And while they are all correct, they may not be adequate.

The difference between humanities and sciences / maths

Humanities have three specific differences from the sciences/ maths.

Which makes the Civil Services Examination ( and our preparedness assessment a bit tricky )

One, a 10 -15 mark ( or %tage )  difference in humanities is a huge gap. It’s usually a gap between the topper and the lowest scorer.

On the other hand,  in sciences or Maths, a topper may score 99 and a person who knows nothing may score 20 out of 100.

It is always easier to separate the chaff from the grain in Sciences and Maths.

In humanities?

Not so much.

And just because the score gaps do not look very big, it does not mean that the score gap is not massive. A 10% score gap in Sciences and Maths is not huge, but the same score gap in humanities is a Big one!

Two, humanities is a collection of ideas. Nearly every teacher or book can teach you something new.

Some damn new idea, theory or interlinkages.

So while fluid dynamics in HC Verma will nearly have the same formulae as in Irodov, a book on poverty by Abhijeet Bannerjee will have quite unfamiliar ideas compared to the book by Utsa Patnaik.

And yet you need both their ideas in your answers.

Three, in Maths or Sciences, you actually want to reach a plateau in your preparation.

A Plateau is a point where all progress is halted. The good news is that once you are on a plateau –   you are no longer on a cliff.

That also means that you can relax because you will no longer roll back to the valley.

Believe me you, a plateau in your humanities paper / or civil services in general – is not good news.

A plateau in humanities means you are not getting fresh ideas. And in humanities, fresh ideas always exist. It is just that you don’t know them.

[ We all know of some senior who has been appearing for the interview for like four years. They clear the Mains with ease, and that is it. Make sure you locate your plateau and don’t build a home there. If you are not making progress, you are going back. Do not let the plateau confuse you. ]

#2 Life is not all fair, but its also not all luck either.

And you will know it when you get lucky. That it wasn’t all luck.


So, I read this whole book from Zero to One and What Got you here won’t get you there – and both the bestsellers said that we cannot deny the role of luck in our success or failure.

In fact, they even argued that most successful people do not thank their good luck for their success –  in the same manner and to the same degree – as most of the time when we fail, we invariably blame luck for it.

However, to assume that it’s all luck closes the door for progress and effort. And for introspection.

We are then – only left to look at the sky – and blame it on the fault in our stars.

Let me not lie to you.

Life isn’t all fair.

Some of the most deserving people I worked with  – and whom we expected to break into Top 50 – may  have not been able to break into top 100 and have settled with ranks ( and in their lives ) in 200s and 300s ranks  – and I often wonder on sleepless nights what went wrong.[6]

( Sometimes, I kinda cold call them trying to convince them at 1AM to write the exam one more time.  [7] )

To the point that I often worry if they think I am demeaning their current achievements.

The intentions – trust me – are only in the direction of bringing the best out of people I meet – even if I don’t quite get there all the time.

#3 Mind the gap.

A lot of times, we are unable to identify the gaps adequately. So for example, when we do not get an Interview call by 2-3 marks – we think that the gap is only of 2-3 marks.

That is a very Banking / SSC way of thinking.

This is Civil Services Examination.

Our benchmark is – and should be – the top scorer, not the last man in the queue.

You have to imagine the gaps to be big enough, such that you can have an ambitious plan to make the jump. Even if the gaps look minuscule at first.

#4 Believe in the power of dreams.

Often we are too afraid to dream. The pain of failure is so deep that we are scared to dream any longer.

What if we fail?

In a popular movie of the last decade – The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne or the Batman –  is locked in a well full of prisoners.

He has to climb out of the well if he has to save Gotham. Or escape to freedom.

He has some ropes to help him out in his endeavour.

The story goes among the prisoners that years ago, a child had been able to climb out of the well into freedom.

However, after that,  none of the prisoners in the well have been able to make the climb successfully.

The well is deep and if someone reached high enough, but didn’t quite reach out of the well, the fall from that height could kill him.

This made trying to climb out of the well a risky business.

Bruce Wayne, being Batman, prides himself in saying that he does not fear death. He tries hard, taking the help of ropes, but no matter how hard he tries, he is unable to move fast enough to climb out of the well.

A blind prisoner asks him –

“You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.”

“Why?” asks a bewildered Bruce Wayne.

“How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?”, says the blind prisoner.

“I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.” says Wayne.

“Then make the climb.” retorts the blind prisoner.


“As the child did.

Years ago.

Without the rope.

Then fear will find you again.”

said the blind prisoner.

While I would not go to the extent of asking you to be afraid, I would indeed ask you to dream.

A few years ago, I met a vivacious lady. She was writing her 5th attempt, and was appearing for her first Mains. She was a working lady and her relentless effort amazed me.

She would travel all the way from Gurgaon to Karol Bagh just for writing tests and paper discussions with a Mentor.[8]

When I asked her what sustained her motivation, she shared something I would like to share with you.

The wallpaper of her mobile phone

She had edited out last year’s ranklist to put her name in the final list, when the Commission would not select her.

Until the Universe conspired, and the Commission admitted her into the hold PDF with a rank under 30., next year.

Here, take a look below

ranklist of IAS 2020


Dreams are made of these.

I want you to know that all success stories start with apparent failures.

Outside of hard work, a good plan and the will power to execute it is the key to success.

#5 Take a well deserved break Right now.

If you had been waiting for the result all these days, it is a good decision right now, to not take any decision, and take a break.

Break from studies.

Break from ORN

Break fromUPSC friends.

Break from family whom you have been staying with.

Take a trip to the mountains.  Or a trek. Or the beach, if you live down South.

Let us not make a decision about the future course of action when our judgement is clouded by our immeduate failure.

Take a week’s break. You may or may not deserve it, but you need it right now.

Get out of your mind, and just get up from your desk and go out.

The Universe will wait for you.

The exam isn’t going anywhere.

And when you are back, let us sit down and make a plan that is impossible to fail.


Until next time,



P.S. Views expressed are personal views of the author. You can reach out to the author by writing an email at He reads every email even if he is not able to reply to all of them.

[1] Especially if you are a morning person.

[2] How soft / delicate/ sensitive! if you are a woman.

[3] Ding is the stupid sound a laptop makes when you Ctrl+F your roll number in a PDF file.Holy PDF is the name given to the PDF file that declares results of the Civil Service Examination.

[4] The feeling of numbness, emptiness , strangely also surrounds you when you see your name in the final list, and you are left with no one to share it with.

[5] Your world is not over with the results. Your parents will not disown you. At worst, you may get dumped, and it’s okay to be dumped in a relationship if you are a member of the Homo sapiens species in your twenties.

The worst implications are the fact that you need to deal with the laxmikants, the spectrums, the art and culture stuff again. And the SFGs 🙁

[ 6] Some years the GS Paper 4 goes awry, some years the Essay pulls them down, some years its the Optional Paper 2!

[7] In return, I promise them that I will share the burden of the hair fall that comes with each attempt.

[8] At GGN, when we conducted an Open Test for Mains , the first time –  like five years back –  only three people turned up. It was a shabby but an expensive arrangement we had in a cheap basement.  And yet, each of them gave us a rank.

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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 ).