Prelims 2020 is passe, gear up for CSE 2021 ( in 13 Suggestions)

The Prelims results have been declared about a week ago – much earlier than usual.

Some of us are gearing up for Mains 2020, while a lot of us do not know where to begin with now.

But this time is not to mourn. The time for pity-party[1] is over.

Its time to rise. Like the Phoneix.

And here are some suggestions. And food for thought.

#1 Do not be a seasonal aspirant

I won’t blame you, but Prelims kind of does this to us. It makes us so heart- broken that we obsess with the Prelims.

So much so that many of us will miss Prelims 2021 also because of misplaced priorities and following the wrong exam calendar I have discussed here.

But just for the sake of repetition – because it is both obvious and true – and obvious truism should not be discounted just because it is too simple – here are two ground rules of preparation.

#1 Prepare for the Prelims before the Prelims
#2 Prepare for the Mains after the Prelims.

But if you prepare for the Prelims every year after the prelims ( or the prelims result ) and for Mains 3 months before the Prelims, you are likely to spend about half a decade or so in the preparation, without much progress.

#2 Quietly, Secretly work towards progress, not perfection

Some people – before beginning their preparation, or joining a course, announce to the world that they are writing the Civils.

If you are the kind who announce to the world about your preparation, it is time to take a break from such things, get into the solitude of the room / or the company of the library and get started.[2]

Work quietly towards your goal. You won’t need to make noise for you to be recognized or heard because success itself makes a lot of noise.

I remember one Mr. D. He was the kind of tough nut, who had not cleared the Prelims that year, and was kind of deeply sad throughout the year.

But thats it. Sad he was. But he was not lost either in the melancholy that failure brings, or the cacophony that lot of suggestions bring when you fail.

( And I waited for so long to write this, because I was looking for you to cool down, accept defeat, take a step back – not because you are afraid. Sometimes, when you step back, you can see the larger picture. There is nothing more painful than a failure and nothing more stupid than an emotional decision ).

D sat in the classes, wrote tests, sometimes used to sit behind when I used to speak to some forum folks who used to drop by at the academy. I  asked him, do you have to say or ask something.

And he would shyly say – No Sir, I am just listening to what you are saying. It was awkward at first, but he was one of the few people, whom I saw struggle after his prelims debacle, quietly, stealthily work towards his goals.

I once asked him, why do you sit here all day. And he said, Sir, If I goto the library my friends are there, and they are writing the Mains, and I will either feel demotivated or they may use me as a stress buster – that is , call me when they are done with studying and need someone for the timepass part.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. But I said, often to myself, whatever works for you.

I saw him quite often, being a part of the crowd, until days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into an year.

We always think the next year will never come, and yet we are here.

Its 2020!

In fact, we are nearing the end of it – a year we thought would never come!

Times flies.

He wrote the Prelims, the Mains and got an Interview call too.

One fine day, before his interview, I thought I must speak to him once. I felt he was a little off the track. He heard me, though I was not sure if he really listened, the lost person he was always during preparation.

I frankly do not think that people get things before their time has come.  I sat him down, told him that I felt not so good about what he was doing.[*]

He did obey, even if he did not agree to me fully (I think).

He also helped in speaking to some Prelims preparing candidates that year, given that he had cleared Prelims, Mains and had appeared for the Interview.

D had opted for IFS as his first choice, and went on to join Indian Foreign Service that year.

When he finally did, I asked him, what do you think worked for you this year – a question I ask everyone who gets selected .

Usually minutes after their selection so that I can get the purest, most unadulterated response.

What he said has stayed with me. He said, “Sir this year, I disappeared from ORN even though I lived there.”

“I did my classes, wrote tests and didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I think keeping quiet and working on whatever objectives I had set, worked for me this time. I didn’t waste an iota of energy on anything else.”[3]

Moral of the story – Keep your dreams to yourself. Keep Quiet and Study. Success will find you.

#3 Upskill yourself. Refine your preparation.

A lot of people think that people get through the examination , or get selected multiple times because they are either

(a) lucky, (b) genius (c) have guidance from family already in services.

The truth is, the exam is challenging for everyone.

Right from someone who has trouble clearing the prelims  – to someone, who has trouble securing a good rank or a good cadre – to someone unable to convince  his not turned bitter-half to turn into a better half  after selection (given the lack of energy he / she could put in the relationship – given the demanding nature of the exam.)

People slog. Even the ones who clear the exam three times in a row.

I can tell you this because I have witnessed it first hand.

And here are some more suggestions.

#4 You screwed up this Prelims. This does not mean you have screwed up your life. Okay, you have screwed up a year, but you have all the power to stop it.

#5 Only you can alter the course of your life. And that will take some discipline, some energy and some focus.

But then, that is needed for success in any walk of life. So those of you writing emails saying I don’t think I have the discipline, I will tell you two things.

One, you either have a self-discipline. Or brace for a life where someone is always there, telling you what to do – some sort of external discipline.[#]

#6 If you are not getting success, admit that there is something that you don’t know or have not done. And do it. Not admitting a mistake on our part pushes us into nihilism. We cannot move ahead with that in life.

#7 Embrace solitude when you don’t find the right company. The journey to success is always going to be a lonely one. You may want to cry yourself a river, but in the end, your struggles are going to be your own, so own them up.

#8 Join at least one class all throughout your preparation, even if you are a genius who can do EVERYTHING by himself. This way you ensure that you are keeping pace with the competition. Otherwise, the homo-sapiens that you are now, will soon turn into a Neanderthal over the years.

#9 Measure your performance, and be objective about it. By this I mean, the guys who don’t clear Prelims are usually the ones who spend a lot on Optional Crash course and test series, but won’t do anything completely and fully for Prelims.  Don’t be that guy. Take prelims as seriously as you take your optional preparation, and the Gods shall reward you.

#10 Be honest to yourself. But be gentle too. Don’t be brutally honest . The people who are “brutally honest” are usually the ones who are more focussed on the brutality part than the honesty part.

In short treat yourself like you would treat your younger sibling.

#11 Focus is a skill you cultivate, not a one-day technique. Make sure you build it right. Just like note making is a skill or habit, not so much a technique. If you want to improve your chances, make sure you work on it.

#12 You have two things to do. One, Work hard. And two – work hard on things worth doing.

Roosevelt said, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. The man went onto become the President of the United States.

#13 Take advantage of motivation, but do not rely on it. What will set you apart is the disciplines you will build along this journey. Remember that neyawn’s articles are only the second best way to be inspired. Hard work itself produces motivation.

Lastly, the key to success in CSE 2021 lies in studying for these three-four months – the October that went by, the November that we are living and the December-January that will pass by soon, before you come out of your quilts ( if you are in North India )

If you squander these three-four months, you are the seasonal aspirant I am talking about in #1

Don’t be one.

I will give you a three point talisman for these three months, I once gave to proust about half a decade ago.[]

One, finish off mains related stuff as much as you can in these 3-4 months. Not 100%. 70% is kickass. 60% is awesome. 50% is brilliant, 40% is good too.

Two – write your damn tests as much as possible, wherever you are enrolled. And when you write a test, study at least 18 hours before every test.

Three, have tangible outcomes at the end of the month. When I and you chat here, you should have tangible things to say – like I have done x number of classes and prepared x number of topics, I have written 5 tests.

This at least assures me that you have at least 15 hours devoted to Answer Writing and if you follow the 18 hours / test, you have clocked in 90 hours of studies for the test.

Life is a numbers name.

Make sure you perform on them. Your numbers have to be good.

2020 has been a bad year for us.

For all of humanity.

We have many things to complain about this year except the one fact that we are still alive.

We may have several regrets this year.

When we look back at 2020 in retrospect as we face  CSE 2021 –  let us not have at least one regret.

And that is –  we squandered the four months after Prelims.

Even after someone wrote an 1800 word article asking us not to.


Until next time,






[1] The Pity Party is the congregation we have over how life is fair, but prelims isn’t. It’s human to mourn for a while, before we get back to work. Staying there, however won’t get us anywhere.

[2] We built ForumIAS as an anonymous community for the same two times – once in 2012 and again in 2019. The Forum is a great place to find people in your shoes. Just avoid the people who act like your relatives.

[#] I once met two kids who were writing their Polity first test – something that should have been written at least 4 months ago , one week before the prelims. I asked them why are they writing the tests now? They giggled and said – because its flexible. SFG was born because of this discipline issue.



Print Friendly and PDF

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 ).