The Last Miles to Mains – Making the most of your time

Darius, the Persian Emperor, fallen to the Greeks, and in his death bed, tells his son Xerxes.

“Only the Gods can defeat the Greeks.”

For days Xerxes mourned until one day, Artmesia[1]  tells Xerxes

Your fathers words were not a warning, but a challenge.
If only the Gods can defeat the Greeks, you could be God King.

Times of distress are times of opportunity. It is just that at that time, we don’t know.

And those who do, and duly understand, make the most out of it.

While the days of Kings and God Kings are gone, all we have now, is about 20 days for an exam that we have been preparing for , for at least a year. Maybe more.

To have our name in the coveted list.

Here is some pointers you could pick up for now.

#1 Use your time wisely

At this point, time is a scarce resource. You have to make the most of it. Your time to prepare is ending. One moment at a time.
You have only one resource – that is you, yourself, and the clock.

At this point, you need to have a clear picture of the time you have, and all you need is a rock solid plan to make the best use of it.

So make a plan, and believe its impossible to fail.

Time is a finite, ever depleting resource. Eventually, we all will run out of time. Each one us. That our live’s great tragedy.

So what we do with our time, is extremely important. And if you have wasting your time for a while now, the left out time has merely doubled its value.

So fret not over what is gone.

Plan for the best use of this resource you have in the coming days.

#2 Write 3 questions. Daily. Stay in answer writing mode.

Unless you are completely unable to study, unless you are writing like your sixth Mains, and have no motivation to study at all, do not write any more 3 hour tests.

All you need right now is to do two things.

The second one is – every evening , just write down 3 questions. Just three . Only that. No more.

Write three questions, in a limited time frame, and share it with your friend ( or with me on Telegram at neyawn, if you really have noone . )
See what your friends are doing, and get better everyday.

Three questions ensure that you are in the answer writing frame of mind, you do not tire yourself with 3 hours test writing everyday and the consequent fatigue.

The first is, Write the Mains Open Test as per UPSC timings if you are located in New Delhi.

I can tell that writing tests for 4 days continuously is no mean task. I means Essay on Day 1 , GS and Day 2,3 , Language Papers on Day 4 and Optionals on Day 5 ( Thankfully we have a break here like old time – Pre 2013 days ) – drains you.

And most of all, you realise how herculean a task it is, especially for first timers to manage your tempo, health and writing speed in those days, ( unless you are blessed with super duper speedy handwriting )

Write the ForumIAS Mains Open Test, as per schedule. Last year, I remember @kabira aka Abhisek Surana, being one of the few candidates, who wrote every single paper. And Pushplata, at Gurgaon , slogging for all 5 days, including her Geography Optional.

( She later said, some questions did get repeated, so that helped . However, since there were only 3 candidates – 2 on whom went to get the Interview call – and one got Rank 80 , this year the Forum does not have Gurgaon as a test center )

You will also reap the benefits of the natural increase in speed of handwriting , through the four day / five day torture and better learn to manage your time.

#3 Turn the page. Literally.

At this point, don’t dwell on something.

Do not go deep into issues.
Just keep turning the pages of your notes / coaching notes – whichever you are basing your preparation on. The primary material.
And do not read every line, word. Just keep looking at them. Do quick revisions.

Develop and master the ability of vertically reading stuff.

By now you should have underlined your notes, made boxes around keywords so that if you take one good look at a page, you should be able to derive key points out of it.

I believe that at this stage, everyday at least90 minutes should be spent looking at your notes, boxing around keywords, and vertically going through your notes. 90 Minutes at least can be given everyday to Current Affairs exclusively.

Get better at it everyday. Sometime, you don’t get better by doing things well. You get better by the number of reps you have made. Increase your reps.

Also, number of revision make a lot of difference. Invariably, do not expect that by reading something once you will be able to remember it . You will only remember it to some extent if you have read things at least three times. How better you remember it compared to your peers completely depends upon the number of revisions you make over and above the three times revision.

#4 Sacrifice. Build the palace of your success on it.

Here is a little secret I will share with you.

All success needs sacrifice[3]. At some level.

Be it people, your time, or your youth. Or the missed opportunities of life that you forgo when you choose to write the Civil Services Examination.

The struggle you are going through called for the sacrifice you are making , or you have already made.

It was meant to be. It was inevitable.

So do not dwell in the past, move ahead. Forgo the people, things, places you have left behind, and move on.

Success is sometimes an end result of the sacrifices we have made and the ones we are willing to make.

Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without having to let go something equally or more important.

#5 The five golden rules of answer writing . Follow these.

There are 5 things you need to do when you write answers. This has been done umpteen times by several toppers over and over again, and I am no topper, but let me reiterate it for you, because some of you reading this will be one.

  • First, and foremost – Address the question. If you just address the question, half the job is done. Don’t write what you know, write what is asked.
  • Second, use the words of the question in your answer. Do that and you will see you will be writing more correct, more meaningful and more relevant answers.
  • Third, break the question into parts and address each part. And make sure each part is visible separately. Let not different parts, visually merge into each other.
  • Fourth, Write good suggestions. When it comes to GS Paper 2 or 3 or in fact any question that has scope to give suggestions, do give positive suggestions. Giving suggestions is easy – you do not have the implementation burden.
  • Fifth, KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. This concept is taken from the programming world, but simplicity is beauty. And beauty is truth. Your answers should be understood by a tenth class student who knows English.

Follow the above, and see if your answers do these, and you should be able to see your scores doing much better.

But do not believe what I say. Test it yourself. Download a few Topper copies and see how far they meet the above criteria. Which ones they meet, and adopt the ones, you deem right.

On the Internet, you shouldn’t believe everything they write or say.

#6 If you are slow, don’t fill up the entire space provided.

In the examination hall, every year, I can tell you that knowledge  per se is not the primary problem most students face. Not even the first timers face. It is leaving the paper that becomes the biggest challenge. If you are already aware of this problem, a good way to solve avoid the consequences of this is to write less.

And say more in those few words.

You should not be finishing your answers in entire two page, if you are a slow write, or you will miss a few questions.

It is better to plan accordingly. You may write 1.75 pages for each 10 marker and proportionally more for a 15 marker. Take care of this from question 1, and you will do well.

Also, if you do not know a questions, here is the best way to deal with it.

  • If its an objective question, and you have never absolutely heard of the term, it is alright to leave the question
  • If the question is something, on which you know something at least, do write down whatever you know.
  • Do not compensate your lack of knowledge over over question, by filling up more pages. Some people write more in questions they know least on, just to confuse the examiner that they probably know the answer. Doesn’t work anymore.

#7 On the D- Day, take care of these.

  • A good nights sleep will be important. Lack of sleep is usually not as detrimental, but avoid a situation where you are tired before the examination.
  • Stay hydrated. Carry your own water bottle, don’t fall sick drinking chilled water provided in some centres. Play safe.
  • Carry your admit card, and I Card and adequate pens and refills with yourself. These are the basics. Do not land up win a situation where for some reason, you have any of these missing. Do not lose the one page admit card

When it comes to Ethics Paper, Do not let your previous papers affect your performance. This usually happens with GS 4 Paper – a Paper which requires minimum studying ( but maximum thinking ) .

Your answers should reflect energy and enthusiasm. Invariably, as we proceed with the exam, we build up a baggage of self assessment of how we thing the exam has been going on. GS – 1 is most factual, and objective, and it is likely you may have no idea about a few questions. Let not that flow into GS Paper 2.

And the combined negatives of GS 1,2,3 should not flow into GS 4. By the time you write GS 4, you will probably be tired, and you may probably have some frustrations with the previous papers.

Let not those experiences flow into GS 4. Write it as an independent paper that requires independent thinking. Its okay, even you have not studied much. It is acceptable, if you even know the dictionary meaning of the words of the syllabus. You should be able to build a good answer.

#8 Make hard work a part of your work ethic. Stay Positive.

Right now, tell yourself – if you do not work hard, you are not doing your job right.

Make hard work a part of your work ethic. With the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that life follows the trajectory you want to follow. In the end you will get what you want[4].

So make working hard a question of morality, if not of necessity, and see things change for you.

Wake up every morning, and before thoughts creep into your mind, do something productive – usually something tangible and positive within the first hour of waking up.

Achieve something in the first half of the day, and the positivity will pull you throughout the day. You will need to be successful, nearly everyday, nay, two to three times a day.

Stay positive. Avoid negative thoughts and negative people. Always.

#9 Make To Do Lists | Track your performance

To make sure that you are not only productive, but you also feel productive, it will be a good idea to track the tasks that you complete every single day.
It has several pluses

  • Firstly, it ensures that you do not overlook anything ; nothing gets left because you forgot
  • Second, a To Do list gives you a sense of purpose every morning. You don’t waste time thinking what to do (or not do ) today
  • Third, when you cross your finished tasks, you have a sense of accomplishment. That feeling is important to help you keep going.

#10 Its maybe lonely for the next few days.

The road to success is lonely. If not the whole of it, at least some stretches.

So learn to make peace with it. And if you have someone, you are just plain lucky. Thats all.

The emptiness, the breathlessness, the strangeness, the unfulfillness, fill it with studies. And books. And Current Affairs. And Answer writing.

You only have that. And they have you.

Believe you me, You have to be, you have to be – a little lonely right now. That is it. There is no other way.

So accept that, and let that not deter you.

As Rastrakavi Dinkar writes in  Rashmirathi[5]

सच है, विपत्ति जब आती है,
कायर को ही दहलाती है,
शूरमा नहीं विचलित होते,
क्षण एक नहीं धीरज खोते,
विघ्नों को गले लगाते हैं,
काँटों में राह बनाते हैं।

मुख से न कभी उफ कहते हैं,
संकट का चरण न गहते हैं,
जो आ पड़ता सब सहते हैं,
उद्योग-निरत नित रहते हैं,
शूलों का मूल नसाने को,
बढ़ खुद विपत्ति पर छाने को।

है कौन विघ्न ऐसा जग में,
टिक सके वीर नर के मग में
खम ठोंक ठेलता है जब नर,
पर्वत के जाते पाँव उखड़।
मानव जब जोर लगाता है,
पत्थर पानी बन जाता है।

Success is the end result of a relentless pursuit.

In all walks of life.

So keep walking.

Until Next time,


Disclaimer : Views expressed are the personal views of the author and do not represent the views of ForumIAS. You can directly reach the author at


  1. Artemisia was evil, but she had her own reasons.
  2. Will Durant in his book the Story of Philosophy writes that the defeat of Darius of Persia against the European powers of Greece, marks a point of world domination of Europe. An Asian victory at this point could have heralded an Asian age in the ages to come, on the other hand.
  3. Sacrifice is not good. Its a cost.
  4. It will not be in the form you had expected.
  5. I met the granddaughter of Rastrakavi Ramdhari Singh Dinkar in a train. I recited his poems like a bird. She later told me about her early days with her nana, the poet, who was also a Rajya Sabha MP, his brush with Indira Gandhi, and all that. I told her I make websites 🙂 She later discovered me through a long chain of relatives who were preparing for Civil Services.
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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 ).