What we are going through right now, is something similar to the unknown vacuum between adolescence and adulthood.
You are no more a child, and yet you are not grown up either.
Its like a steep rock climbing, when you have climbed half the height. You have come too far to go down, and yet climbing above looks risky and full of uncertainty.
With the looming pandemic, it is expected that the Prelims exam will be postponed., the Commission has rightly postponed the Prelims.
Like last year.
This calls for a renewed preparation strategy.
But this post in not only about an exam strategy.
It is also about things more important.
I lost my father to Covid last year. They called it the first wave. It has been five months now with sleepless nights and terrible mornings – where I keep asking myself – if I did everything I could to save him.
Till this date, I never knew the pain of people who had lost a parent. The question of why me – kept knocking at my conscience.
Until last week I lost a friend and neighbour – a jovial man with two kids – 2 years and 6 years old. To the second wave.
Just when I thought my pain was more than everyone else’s on the planet, I saw a six year old performing last rites of his father, whom I last spoke on 21st of April, about three weeks ago.
He had told me how he was planning to get his kids admitted to a nearby school once things settle down.
It is for nothing that they say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
So today, I am not going to tell you to study hard to become an IAS.
Today, the first thing I would tell you – is to take care of you. And your family.
It was Mrs Dorothy, my English teacher – who taught me as a kid at St Xavier’s – a small school surrounded by hills on one side and the Ganges river on the other – that the Child is the father of the man.
What she didn’t teach me was that as our parents grow old, they become more child like. And we are supposed to be the adults to take care of them.
Whether we choose to take up the baton, or live in ignorance is a choice we have to make.
Sometimes, we err, not because we are humans, but because we don’t know any better.
Adults are but children who act as if they have figured things out.
The most important thing I would share with you today – right away – is to ensure that you and your family is safe.
Absolutely nothing in this world is worth not taking care of yourself and your family.
As grown up adults, make sure that you get yourself and your parents vaccinated. That has to be the No.1 priority, no matter how busy you are – or how much you lack faith in the vaccines.
#2 The Prelims is likely to be postponed.
#2 The Prelims has been postponed. Thats a call for action.
Last year, we had the Prelims in October, a delay by 3 months, given that the Interviews were 2/3rd done before the lockdown.
This year, the Interview of the previous year have not even commenced, and we not only have a lockdown, but a deadlock.
We have reached an impasse so as to what and how things will happen from here.
The one thing we can be sure of is that the Prelims will have to be shifted at least to October, or later.
Prelim has now been shifted to 10th October, ( but thats a tentative date too! )
What we have to ensure is – that we benefit from this arrangement.
So unless you ( and I ) have worked on your capacities, done some hard work, and have some clear-cut strategy, chances are, you are not likely to benefit from it.
Being granted a resource does not ensure wise utilization of the resource.
Some people screw up more if they have more resources. Some people perform better when under a resource constraint.
Social scientists call it ‘resource curse’ and use it to explain the poverty and backwardness of Africa – the world’s richest continent otherwise – given her natural resources.
Having extra time is not enough. Using it to achieve something tangible is more important.
#3 The One mistake not to make right now.
A very pertinent question that needs to be asked at this stage is what should be our strategy at this point. Should we go for Mains preparation? Should we continue with Prelims preparation? Or should be do both?
Let me explain.
Right now, the easiest thing to do is to quit preparation for Prelims.
And prepare for Mains.
I call this the even-if-I-clear-prelims-i-wont-crack-Mains-so-let-me-focus-on-Mains syndrome.
The people who are hugely affected by this syndrome, usually never write Mains. They focus on Mains, and do not write Mains.
Whether you need to prepare for Mains, or continue with prelims – depends on who you are.
It’s not the same for everyone.
( Even though business logic tells that every mentor / coaching should ask students to prepare for Mains )
Let us get it straight. June – July for Mains. August – September for Prelims
With a change/ fluctuation of +/- 30 days depending on your comfort level for Prelims.
#4 Who should still prepare for Prelims?
Let us take the SFG for benchmark. If you have been doing SFG or some standard test series, and if you are scoring less than 30% marks, chances are you are nowhere close to preparing for Prelims – leave alone cracking Prelims.
So in SFG if you are getting less than 30% marks ( or in the bottom (20% of any standard test series )
you are not on the path to cracking Prelims.
Not even if the gods wanted to.
I am sorry but you still need to do the basics and focus on prelims. Because you are simply not in the game.
Not even close.
The extra time you have gotten this year should be divided between Prelims and Mains preparation – but skewed in favour of Prelims preparation as far as your case is concerned.
Accidents are failures we cannot comprehend.
You will need to give at least 1 – 1.5 months ( and as many hours ) extra more than your friends who are scoring in the top 30% tile or getting above 50% score in their tests or SFGs.
Whats the good news then?
The good news, is that if you quietly, secretly, stealthily prepare for your prelims, you will be in the top 30%tile.
Not only that, you will clear the Prelims, and write the Mains, and if you play your cards right through the 70 odd days that we are likely to get for Mains – you will clear Mains too with flying colours.
You just need to give it enough time.
And that means (a) either going for Prelims through May, and taking up Mains from June 1 OR
(b) going for Mains right away and getting back to Prelims latest by 30th July.
So, you may choose to give an extra month to your Prelims preparation. With all dedication and perspiration. You can have this extra month either right now ( because you are in the flow ) or before the Prelims ( over and over the month that everyone needs to give. We are talking ‘extra’ pal! )
#5 Who should prepare for Mains?
If you have ever written Mains, or if you are scoring anywhere above 50% ( or even 70%tile ) in your tests ( assuming you are writing one – you must, by all means go for Mains preparation.
How to proceed?
#6 Surgical Strike for Mains
Before you commence with Mains preparation remember five things that you have to take care of.
First, once you decide to prepare for Mains, have absolute clarity with what you are going to do and what you are doing to cover. Much like the MARCOS of the Indian Navy, when they plan a surgical strike.
That means, you get down, you do stuff, and you exit. You don’t stay there. No lingering. No procrastination.
Second, you must not mix Prelims and Mains stuff. Prelims requires reading books end to end. Mains requires identifying issues and preparing them.
One by one.
The approach is different.
Don’t do half of this and half of that.
Some people suggest to do 1hour history, 1 hour geography, 1 hour SnT, 1 hour CA..
People who make / take up such suggestions have either not appeared for this exam or not studied for this exam. In trying to do everything, we end up doing nothing.
Three, you should have a clear cut boundary of what you will do. Such as – finish off Paper 2 and 3 and write decent number of Tests. Or finish off Paper 4 and 1.
Don’t have a goal like I will do GS AND Optional AND Prelims during this time.
Four, enter at the right time.
What makes a surgical strike successful?
Entry and exit at the right time. You enter too soon, and you miss the target. Too late, and you are ambushed.
The right time to enter the Mains surgical strike would be anytime between now to June 1st week, but no later.
Delaying it any further, and you are likely to be ambushed in the Prelims.
Abhimanyu, the celebrated hero of Mahbharata – was a great warrior.
He was the only one who knew how to enter the Chakravyuha.
But he would never be king.
He did not know how to exit the Chakravyuha.
Among the above suggestion, the most important one is to know when to exit.
Because if you do not know when to exit, chances are you will live in the Chakravyuha.
And no-one ‘lives’ in a Chakravyuha.
Because that is where accidents happen.
You must exit the Mains preparation at least 1.5 months before the Prelims – if you have not cleared prelims before.
You must exit the Mains preparation at least 40 days and upto 30 days before the Prelims starts, if you have a good preparation.
And if you have cleared prelims two or more time, you must give yourself between 20 days and upto 30 days for Prelims – right before the Prelims. ( Assuming that you have done one revision of the prelims syllabus already )
And go for Mains preparation right away.
#7 Have faith in whatever you do.
Outside of love, faith is the most powerful thing.
I can tell you this – with the experience of having lived a thousand lives – if not through the books I have read – then through the lives of hundreds of people I have met through this wonderful community – is that there is no stairway to heaven in the clouds.
It is created when you take that step of faith.
Whatever you choose to do in the coming days, have faith in yourself.
In the people you love, and the ones who love you back.
In your teachers and mentors.
Do one thing at a time, and do it enormously well.
Be human. Be humane.
Do not overestimate what you can do in one day, nor underestimate what you can do in two months.
A well thinking head, and two hands is all it has taken to have almost any achievement in life.
All we have is to crack is just one exam.
What you need right now is a good plan.
And a little bit of madness to pursue it till the end.
#8 Do not be too comfortable
Remember, nothing great is achieved in a comfort zone.
Do not get too comfortable.
I once asked an old friend – one of the founding members of ForumIAS – how she was able to manage work from 8AM till 11PM, doing elections, Covid duties ( and getting Covid) and attending 250 calls in a day, especially when she had an infant to take care of, she said something I would like to share with you.
She said – When the electricity went off in the library in Rajinder Nagar and when everyone stepped out because of the heat/ lack of AC, I studied in the quiet, the silence, where I could hear the sound my sweat fall off from my forehead onto the floor.
Comfort is for the children. And the elderly.
The comforts of Home are no place for the young.
The comforts of an AC / Cooler and three meals, eight hours of sleep – are not for a young man or a woman, who is yet to fight his / her battles.
Your place is in the battlefield. In the libraries and study rooms and at your study desk or the floor where you study.
Not the bed.
That is your karmbhoomi.
Appko need kaise aa sakti hai?
Until next time,
Disclaimer: The prelims as not postponed at the time of writing this article. It has now been officially postponed. This article will be updated with it soon.
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