The 30 Day Guide to Prelims Preparation

Today, starting this day, you stand less than 30 days from the Prelims Exam.

This moment is as difficult, momentous or as easy going as you would want it to be. I am writing this, because I often write for friends, and last year, @mango_dolly , @proust, @greymatterrules @matrixreloaded did thank me personally for this last moment article, so I believe this one should help you too for the Prelims.

( Oh, and all of the above did manage to get IRS and IAS (AIR 40s, 86 and 87 ) respectively with stellar ranks.  @mango_dolly and @greymatterrules were already in service and worked to improve ranks )

In the next thirty days, what your strategy should be depends a lot on where you stand with your preparation. While everyone is jittery when it comes to Prelims, we can still classify ourselves into the below

  • You have done basic revision, had signed up for a Test Series in December or Feb, diligently written Tests on time and are somewhere in top 200-300 out of 1000+ people who appear for that Test Series OR
  • You have not been able to complete the syllabus and have done 1 full reading of the syllabus, you joined a Test Series but did not write any Tests and are shaky OR are getting 30-60 marks in the Tests that you attempt from the market / elsewhere.

Preparation Status 1

You have done basic revision, had signed up for a Test Series in December or Feb, diligently written Tests on time and are somewhere in top 200-300 out of 1000+ people who appear for that Test Series

If you are one of those who have done basic revision, have been writing Tests and doing decent ( like 80-90+ marks) in Test Series where the toppers get generally 100-110, (or you are one of the toppers) you are good to go. What you need to do now, is practise questions. You can write up to one test paper daily or on alternate days.

The purpose of solving Test Papers

The purpose of doing Test papers is twin fold.

Firstly, what you study should be aligned to the examination process. How do you know this?  When you write tests and solve questions on the basis of what you have read, you know you are reading the right things.

Most people read stuff that has very little relevance to the examination, and do not realise this because they do not write any mock Tests. Some people are so smart, they write the first test in Examination Hall itself. Thats not how things should be done, even if it has worked for some people.

Writing mocks helps you align your preparation in the right direction.

And when you are scoring 30-40 marks where everyone else is scoring 80-90 marks. This largely means two things – a) You have not been reading the right things b) You are not revising the right things

Secondly, Small Mocks in the last one month (should) help you in two more ways. If every morning you begin with a mini mock of 1 hour or so, you are setting the agenda of the day.

If you score good, this should keep you motivated and on track. It provides a good encouragement to drive you through the day.

Get into the Mission Mode

In case you do not score well, a little bit of fear is good. That should again help you study at a faster pace. The next 30 days are meant to be spent in a mission mode.

But what do you mean by right things?

By right things I mean the parts of the syllabus most relevant to the examination. For example, most enthusiastic people who lack guidance begin preparing History in the following manner, at least in the first attempt.

In preparing History, they begin with ancient India and move on to medieval India. They learn and memorise every key detail including the Delhi Sultanate and reach upto the Mysore War and Anglo Maratha War.

By the time exam comes near, they have reached maybe uptil 1905 – Moderates, Partition of Bengal etc.

Now, If you analyse last 5 years question paper, you can infer for yourself that the part of History that has Modern Indian History is the most important for Prelims.

And in Modern Indian History, the part between 1905-1947 is most significant. It is also the most scoring.

But by the time the exam has come, you now lack two things – time and enthusiasm/energy to  cover the more significant part of the syllabus.

Its a mistake.

Don’t do that mistake.

Try reading History backwards sometimes for best results.

Preparation Status 2

You have not been able to complete the syllabus and have done 1 full reading of the syllabus, you joined a Test Series but did not write any Tests and are shaky OR are getting 30-60 marks in the Tests you have joined.

To be honest, if you are in this category, there is good news and bad.

The Bad news is – you do not have the adequate knowledge base.

The good news is – 30 days is a good enough time to work on your knowledge base and dramatically improve your KB/ Score and Success chances.

But If you fall in this category, these are two things that you would be doing.

  1. Some of you may be thinking of trying to crack Prelims by practising as many questions and reading as many solutions as possible. If you do 3000-4000 questions at least 30-40 questions will come from there and I will be able to answer it if I have read the solutions.
  2. Some of you may be getting back to reading the basic books – namely, Spectrum/old NCERT, NCERT 11th-12th for Geography, Shankar IAS for enviornment, Ramesh Singh/Mrunal or any other source for Economy, Laxmikant for Polity etc.

If you are doing 2, it is the right approach for the next thirty days. Write Tests, but in moderation.

If you doing 1, you are in for a disappointment. In my experience, I have not come across people who have not read text and cracked the Prelims by only practising MCQs and reading solutions. In fact, students in this category don’t even try solving MCQs – they largely read solutions.

But what is the problem with this approach?

Theoretically, it is correct to assume that questions will be coming on topics from which you have seen questions in your Test Series.

But in actuality, if you have not read the basic text, it may be difficult for you to solve those questions because one or two of the options asked in UPSC may not be the same as that asked in the Mock Test.

UPSC, unlike State Services Examination or other government examination, does not merely state a question which you know or do not know. You have to logically infer the answer by elimination of choices. This applies to at least 30% of the questions.

Those 30% of the questions are crucial to your selection.

Always remember, that solving questions correctly you need to have two three things

  • Firstly, a knowledge base (KB) to answer the question
  • Secondly, aptitude to eliminate the wrong choices and decipher the right answer choice.
  • Thirdly, the confidence of having done so repeatedly with some success in a Simulator Test

Now a Prelims Test Paper is designed for the last two purposes . But if you are deciding to build more than 60% of your KB through questions, this does not work for Prelims at least.

Which is why 10,000 MCQs books are not on the recommended list of any Toppers. But NCERTs, Spectrum, Shankar IAS books are.

At best they suppliment your preparation via standard books, and do not replace it.

The Knowledge Base should invariably be built by reading the basic books again and again.

( For the Mains, yes that is a good approach because for Mains, you anyway prepare issues and topics, and should not be reading text end to end. For Mains, a Q & A approach is suitable, but not for Prelims )

Those of you in category 2 would , because of lack of time, are very likely to resort to doing Tests and reading solutions for preparation purpose. But your problem is not developing the aptitude for solving questions correctly. Your problem is KB. Work on it, starting now!

Sometimes, I-am-going-to-write-as-many-Tests as possible is not the best approach.

When someone advises you to solve as many Tests as possible, he or she is assuming that you have completed majority of the syllabus and revised a couple of times. You have done the static part at least. If this assumption is right for you, by all means practise.

But if you have not done so, writing infinite tests will not help.

What you between the Tests is important. Are you going back and revising the text from the book? Or are you just reading the answer key or the solutions and moving on to next test and getting the same percentile again and again. Ideally, if you are getting a question wrong in the Test, you should go back and refer the book, or the Internet and read briefly about it and allied topics. For example, if you just did a question on coral reefs wrong, you should accumulate knowledge of coral bleaching too.

What to do in the next 30 days

Depends on what your problem area is.

For Category 1 Students, who are already scoring well in Tests, you can safely keep doing what you are doing – revise daily and write Tests. You have developed decent Knowledge Base and should move further from here.

For Category 2 Students, the primary focus should be on first covering the syllabus, and then revision of the syllabus, and then practising questions.

So while you should still solve questions on a daily basis, do not make it the primary way of enhancing your KB.

Books are still a man’s best friends. And womens’ too.

I have largely read the books, but in Test Series half my questions are wrong.

If you are in the top 10% percentile of the Test Series and making mistakes, probably you have joined a Vajiram kind of Test Series where everyone scores low and that may  okay.

But if you are getting 50% errors in a test where 20% of top scores are above 90, you are not doing it right.

Here is what you may have done.

Like college days, you have read the text and assumed that you have “completed” the topic and its the papers fault that you are getting so many wrongs.

If others are scoring well, then the likely explanation is that you have revised things less than three times.

And as far as UPSC Paper is concerned, if anything is under revised, the paper is such that you will end up making mistakes rather than solving it right.

The second reason why people get questions wrong is that they do not read – the books carefully and then they even do not read questions carefully. Some people go as far as not even reading the explanations carefully 😛

Do’t do that. Develop the habit of reading things carefully. For Prelims, details are important compared to the Mains examination.

And revise as many times as you can.

If you have left something, try to cover it. Try to cover things quickly. Make short rough notes, tables etc. Put information in easily graspable form.

The 7 point formula for the next 30 days

  1. First, be prepared to study 8-11 hours everyday at least. Unless you have cleared the Prelims with 120 marks last year, almost everyone will be studying those many hours. Prelims does require more intensive studies than the Mains, because in Mains, you can write anything and still get some marks. Paper is subjective. But in Prelims, if you think that anything other than they key is the right answer, you lose marks.
  2. Secondly, if you have not done it already, do solve the previous years papers before solving Test Papers questions. Previous Years papers will tell you what and how to study better than any Test paper questions.
  3. Thirdly, ( this is important ) if you think that you do not have time left to revise something a second or third time at a later date, try to revise a chapter immediately after reading it. This is especially true for big chapters of Laxmikant where you forget half the things by the time you reach end of chapter. So revise immediately and mentally summarise all the important points of the chapter.
  4. Fourthly, do not leave solving questions. Solve questions to break monotony of studying and put your mind in an active mode. When your read your mind becomes passive, but when you solve , your mind actually exercises. So spend an hour solving and the rest reading.
  5. Fifthly, do not join any test series if you have not done so yet. By this I mean, that even if you join one, don’t go for ranks and all. If ranks are good, its fine. But do not judge yourself by your ranks, but by parameters like how many you got wrong, and work to decrease their number. Because ranks can improve dramatically in thirty days
  6. Sixthly, begin early, Wake up early and try not to be a night bird 😛 . Try to have the daytime as the most active time of 24 hours as the exam is to be written in the daytime.  Try to begin afresh everyday and save time. Save on gossip, tea and cig breaks, if you are in the habit.
  7. Seventh, do not hesitate to seek help from seniors or peers or colleagues when in doubt. If you have a problem, find a solutions. If you know the solution, implement it. Do not struggle with the same problem forever. It can be fatal. For example, if you do not know where to do geography from, ask someone and read that book. Do not linger with the same problem.


The last 30 days are game changer. No matter what you have done before, it is these days that count in the end. What you read now on wards will be in your memory and this greatly helps for subjects like History, Polity and even Current Affairs.

And if you ever get a feeling that you have missed the bus and time is less, remember that most people will be covering their Current Affairs in the coming days. Even the best prepared guy, including those in the Allied Services will be spending 8-10 hours studying in the last days. So you are at an equal footing in  these days.

Be prepared to work very very hard, friends, Anyone who has cleared Prelims has worked very hard at least in one attempt. Be willing to give it your best. 24 Hours are usually enough to change the world.

30 days is still a decent enough time to finish the race like a winner. Leave no stone unturned.

In the end , for the next thirty days – no matter how the paper goes or how the result goes, you should have the contentment that you did your best. You worked your hardest. You did everything possible that could be done. You sleep tired with the effort you’ve put. इंसान खुद की नज़र में सही होना चाहिए, दुनिया तोह भगवन से भी दुखी है |

So do whatever it takes. People are rewarded in public for the hard work they put in private. So keep to yourself, work as hard as you can and meet your daily study goals. And success will be yours!

At the end of thirty days, write a good paper.

Until next time,


Author: Neyawn

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

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