Minutes to Midnight – Scoring better in Mains 2017

There are about 7 billion living people on earth.

And about 98 billion dead people. Throughout human history.

But we do not remember all of them.

We remember some, who left a mark. On us as individuals, or on the society as better humans.

In about ten days the Civil Services Mains Examination will be over.  The day you had been preparing for, all your life.

And you shall write history too.

So today, I write for completely selfish reasons.  To be a little part of the grand history you will make.

Some of you may have been preparing for it for about half a year. Some for half a decade.

But in an egalitarian exam like this, where time is a resource that everyone has an equal amount of, the wise utilization of your energy and time, will decide who excel.

And I want you to excel, so here are some pointers, for the D Day.

#1 These are days of opportunities, not challenge. All you need is a mental revolution.

Days like these don’t come often.

These are times of stress, and pressure.  The kind that turns the coal into diamond.

But the coal often complains of the heat. And the pressure.

So In the next one week, you have to make me two promises.

  1. You will have the patience to revise as much as you can. Keep your mind busy. and Positive.
  2. You will not let one single person, who has studies less than you, written less tests than you, and  has much less to lose than you – beat you in Mains.

That all I am asking.

And here are two things I have to tell you

  1. The Question Paper will be an evenly distributed one, not taken from any one single source. So if you have not done something, don’t you worry.
  2. You do not need any more preparation than your current levels. In fact the candidate likely to beat you  is someone less prepared than you. By sheer confidence or fearlessness. And performance. On the day of the exam.  Don’t let her win.
  3. You may not realize it yet, but On the day of the exam, your biggest problem will be to complete the paper, not lack of knowledge.

So here is how to optimize you’re the score on the D Day.  And win Sparta. Or perhaps the Helen of Troy.

#2 If you are nervous, or afraid, accept it.

Because everyone is. And probably everyone should be. and if you are not, its alright too. You are stoic. Its a function of time.

So do not try to solve fear problems. Or anxiety.

Learn to live with it. And practice to perform under duress.

So Tell this to yourself. Being anxious is not abnormal.

It’s the new normal. And life will be much easier once you accept that.

And acceptance is the key. To inner peace. ( Damn, its hard too. )

#3 Your revision on the last days/days of the exam have to be time based and not topic based.

By this, I mean that you must focus not on completing any topic back to back. If you decide to complete world history, by all means expect two things

  • You will take more than than you  thought in covering it
  • You will not have the patience to finish it off, because your mind will tell you are wasting time, and must study something else instead. ( Your mind will tell you the same thing, if you decide to switch subjects. )

So a good way to fight it is to follow this approach :

  • Decide a small “doable” topic – Say the Cold War ( instead of choosing World History)
  • Tell yourself, you will do that topic in 40 minutes
  • Speed through the topic, flip through the pages, often reading only the headings/ sub headings and do the best you can in 40 minutes
  • If you miss the deadline, leave the topic.

A few iterations of this method  will ensure that  you won’t panic because of excessively focusing on a single topic.

Second, when you know that you only have 40 minutes to do cold war, you will better utilize your time, and be more efficient.

Third, you will be on your toes, without having the spare time to thing over anything negative.

Thus, try to cover the entire syllabus in a time bound manner. To the best of your abilities.

You don’t have to succeed. You just have to try.

#4 Boost your score by diagrams

Let me admit at the outset that we all have friends, who have done nothing extraordinary, such as diagrams , flowcharts etc, and yet scored good marks.

However, I know as a matter of fact, that presentation , while may not substitute content, does have a multiplier effect on the score.

And here are the four kinds of diagram, I would want you to make.

  1. The hierarchy
  2. The Spoke and Wheel
  3. The Necklace
  4. The Cycle

Just try them at home. and replicate them in the exam.

#5 Use Articles , facts in your answers

An old trick to get an above average score is to do some of these

  • Quote DPSP’s , fundamental duties in your answers
  • Quote relevant Articles, such as Article 142 ( not just justice, but “complete justice” )

Don’t believe me?  Ask @robinolds, ForumIAS’s first moderator and now IPS, serving n Odisha.

#6 Improve the percentage content of your sentences.

This is especially true for the Essay Paper.

A good way to improve the quality of your sentences, or your arguments, is to answer why. Let us look a two sentences.

  • Antibiotic resistance today is as big a threat as climate change

While the above sentence is a good one, it merely makes a thesis statement , but does not back it up with  “why”? Now let us read the below:

  • Antibiotic resistance today is as big a threat as climate change – because they are both irreversible, man-made, and cannot not be localized to a certain area.

As I said, this is especially true in the essay paper.

General niceties and what ought to be are good. But logical statements are even better.

So, Tax-to-GDP Ratio must be increased so that enough public money is available for expenditure on social justice is better than “increase tax collection”.

Your essay must make statements ( called your thesis statement ) , which must be followed by why you made that thesis statements. And the “why” should be addresses, in the most possible objective way.

Just like I do in this article. Don’t you like them?

Let us take another example. Let us say you have to write a note on Surrogacy Bill

  • The Surrogacy Act has many lacuna. The government must include the views of several stakeholders.

Instead of this, it is always a good idea to answer why

The surrogacy bill have several lacuna. Among others, the primary criticism is that it overlooks the fact the modern urban Indian societies are increasingly seeing single parents and late marriages. But the bill does not allow for single women to bear surrogate children.

Looks better?

#5 In Ethics Paper, try implementing these

Try to do the case studies first.  Let me share with you some insights, so that you can develop our own vision. ( wink , wink )

The best scoring candidates in Ethics paper were good with Case Studies.  The least scoring candidates in Ethics paper were not unethical. They just

  • Did the case studies at the end, or
  • Lacked energy / enthusiasm while doing the case studies, or simply
  • Did not invest enough time in case studies.

The  reasons for not doing case studies , I observed, are many, and some of them are silly

  • It’s the last GS paper, and often people are too tired to write anymore
  • They have had a bad paper 1 . Or 2. Or 3. Or missed questions. And they have lost of hope of having a good GS Score ( which is often very very far from reality )
  • They have not scored well in Ethics before, and have already made up their mind that they won’t be able to score this time either. So why waste energy?

And let me share you the divine secret. And that is, your preparation – as far as ethics – is concerned matters less, and your performance and energy that you put in your paper matters more, as far as GS 4 is concerned.

So even if it is the last paper of the four GS Papers, do not give it any step motherly  or fatherly, depending on your gender. (clause included after angry emails from feminists, who protested why only step motherly ? Gender equality, you see? )

Do it well. Like you do your optional.

#6 Do GS Paper 1 right.

The number of questions you know almost increases with each passing Paper. Everyone knows, all questions of Ethics Paper ( Unless they ask John Rawls or Kautilya , which some people may not know )

Then comes GS 2 & 3. They are again, current oriented, if not current affairs based. And then is the mother of all Paper – GS Paper 1. It has History- Modern, World and Post-Independence. It has Geography. It has culture . And what not!

You have the maximum chances of not knowing questions in Paper 1 than any other person. ( You thinking that you know, and actually knowing ) are two different things.

So it okay, if you are unable to do full justice to paper 1. Just keep few things in mind

  1. Do not miss out a question, because of lack of time. Its okay to miss a question you have no clues about, though.
  2. Do not write unusually longer answers in the questions you know very little about. You have to write answers, not convince the examiner that you know the answer.
  3. Lastly, do not judge yourself by your performance of GS Paper 1, especially if you feel some questions are beyond what you know. There is a bigger battle yet to fight. In rest of the GS Paper. And Optionals.

#7 To Study or not to study in the last moment.

That’s a big question only you can answer. Those of you who have been doing answer writing practice or Mains Test Series anywhere, should know two rules of writing good answers.

  1. Write what is asked and not what you have read
  2. Do not let recency effect creep in GS Paper

Some people feel that doing last moment studies, they end up writing what they have read in the paper.

While I cannot answer that conclusively, i can definitely say that studying between the breaks and between the days definitely helps in Optionals.

#8 If you are afraid of flying, why be a bird?

When a sparrow is born, it flies. It falls to the ground. It rises again. Fails a few times. And learns its way.

When an eagle is born, it has little choice. Its nest is a few hundred feet above the ground, and a single fall can be fatal.

The baby eagle has to learn how to fly in its very first flight. A failure – and it falls a few hundred feet onto the ground – possibly killing it.

But what if it succeeds. It will grow into a large beautiful bird. And it shall be called the king of birds.

What you give, is what you get.

So do your best. And tonight, let me raise a toast for the celebrations of the hard work you have put in.

Until next time,


( Leave comments,  I think they are ominous before the exam )

Disclaimer : Views expressed belong to the author and do not represent the views of ForumIAS

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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 ).