The Last Week before Prelims – Performing on the D Day

I envy ants.

I saw one yesterday, stealing my food.

It picked up a large, fully cooked grain of rice, through an insurmountable wall that separated my workplace from my colleague’s.

Halfway through its journey, the rice fell.

A lot of other ants passed beside it, pretending that nothing happened.

But this one, did not. It walked down the wall , with its tiny feet, as if her feet kissed the earth, and came back to pick it up again.

A new climb began with double the passion, perhaps. A being the size of ant carrying the weight of a thing ten times its size is an inspiring thing to see.

Near the end of the wall, the grain fell again.

At this point, I felt sorry for the ant.

I wanted to pick up the grain and put it across the wall, and guide the ant to its new location, to make things easy for her.

Or perhaps even better – put the grain in the anthole, thus easingits journey.

But, maybe, I thought, the other ants will steal it.

And maybe, you cant be a successful ant- in the ant-universe, if you cant carry your own load,  if you cantdo the same thing no matter how monotonous or boring it is, and if you give up – when you face an insurmountable wall.

We have the Prelims this Sunday, and we all can learn from the ant.

But , since I have been told to be crisp, let us number it down for the D Day

#1 Its not about studying now. Its about winning the battle of nerves

The next few days are going to be nerve breaking – especially if you have studied a little. ( Some of you maybe numb too, but that is what the exam does to you, and thats okay too ). By now, you are likely to have done/feel two things

(a) Studied a lot – if not in the immediate past, then over the year(s)

(b) Feel as if you remember nothing

I can tell you that even people who secure Rank 1, feel exactly like you do before the exam. Otherwise, they would not be able to articulate it so well in this article.

So give less importance to such feelings, and more importance to just studying / revising.

#2 Solve past years Papers

You must be in a problem solving mode in the last 7 days. When we start preparing , we start with the right frame. Then we go deep and deep into studying and end up reading irrelevant stuff in the end days. To keep yourself anchored to the right stuff – make sure that you keep solving , or at best, keep seeing the previous years papers, and their solutions, and re-align your preparation on a daily basis.

Solving previous years papers has tangible benefits too. About 6-10 questions can be repeated from past years – every year. This is usually in the order of Modern History, Culture, Geography, Polity and so on. If you dont solve previous years papers, you will have to solve it next year. It is that important – more than any test series.

#3 Dont make Mains Plan. Not right now.

Do not make plans for what strategy to adopt for Mains this year. Dont do that. The prelims is a decently challenging thing in itself.

If you are clearing prelims, you have half prepared for Mains already. So right now, focus on the Prelims. Only that. Nothing else.

#4 Man Ki Baat Mat Suno – Say No to Man ki Baat

Do not get me wrong.

And if you are affiliated to some political organisation – before planning to attack me/ troll me – hear me out.

You cant listen much to your Man ki Baat ( Modiji’s is okay ) right now. Man is fleeting, and feelings of the man, are so fleeting – they often do not have a lifespan more than that of a wave.

So do not listen much to your own Man ki baat.

I can tell you that success in this exam – or for that matter – any walk of life – depends on doing things that you strongly feel like – and doing the same things – even when you do not feel like. In fact, the latter is more important.

If you do not feel like studying, shut up your mind, and just study. Or maybe take a break – a half day break – but get back and study.

If you are done reading, solve previous years questions – but do something – oriented towards the examination.

I for one, take a shower, and get back to doing what I am supposed to be doing, when I am caught in doing something that is time taking, and monotonous.

#5 Manage your time well in the exam

You will usually have ample time  in both the papers.

However, if you are one of those who attempts each question cautiously, reading the questions twice – which I recommend ( but you may choose to go your way ), time management may become an issue in the exam hall.

Now that brings us to the question, how do you manage time in the Prelims Examination, so that you can safely read all questions and make a rational choice among the ones you want to attempt.

In the GS Paper , you have 120 minutes and 100 questions. This means, you must solve 10 questions every 12 minutes. or 6 questions every 5 minutes.  To be on the safer side, let us allocate 10 minutes for every ten questions.

This will help you save time even if you exceed time limits. So at the end of every thirty minutes, do take a cursory look at how many questions you have done and speed up before it is too late. ( DO not start counting, or else that will also take up a lot of time )

After one hour,  do a fair assessment of where you are headed towards and make amends, by which I mean speedup if you haven’t done half the paper.  The same will apply to the CSAT Paper.

Lastly, do not get stuck at one question. If you are wasting more than 2 minutes at a certain question, you are using up the time you should have given to another question, which may have been easier.

The UPSC question comes in 4 Sets – A,B,C,D – where each set had 1 block of questions in a different order in another set.  If at first , while attempting the paper, you feel that you do not know the first 5-8 questions at all, do not despair at all. This often happens, and this has happened to me ( and I am  like, a good scorer in GS Prelims )

You need to understand that you have gotten the first stack of questions from an area which you may not be very good. at.

Immediately leave 15-20 questions and start from the middle of the paper. I, for example, start solving the paper backwards – that is, from No. 100.

#7 Carry your own Water. Or Red Bull. Or Gatorade. Whatever.

The Commission will provide you water. Someone will carry it to your table too. But its a good idea to carry your own water to save the time and effort. Keep yourself hydrated, because unlike you test centers at Coachings, the Classrooms provided by UPSC will not have an AC.  ( They will, however be well ventilated )

#8 Sleep well.

Not Today, or this week. The night before the exam. In fact, the weather in New Delhi is such that the more you sleep, the sleepier you will feel. Slept for four hours during the day? Wake up to a more tired you!

Caffein, or black coffee, do whatever you need but study thisweek.

But make sure you sleep eight hours or more on the night of the D – Day. Not the night that follows the D – Day, the night before.

Remember the thumb rule – your whole preparation is on one side, and a good nights sleep before the exam is on another side – both carry a near equal weight-age.

If you have trouble sleeping, try the Rainymood App or something. Make sure that lack of sleep does not get in the way of a writing a good paper.

#9 Write the paper with full energy.

One of the things I do is – every year – is to take a look at people’s ethics papers. I check almost every single person who has secured good marks in Ethics Paper.

I download Toppers Papers from all websites ( though I now have a decent tonnage of those copies in my inbox too )

Ethics Paper is the fourth GS Paper in Mains.

By the time you write GS – 4, you already have written GS 1, 2 and 3 – and since we do not live in a perfect world – we would have messed up in at least one paper.

People who like to evaluate themselves pre-maturely,  often write a bad ethics paper , not because of bad content – but because

(a) They are too tired by that time

(b) They think they will anyway not be able to make it to Top Ranks, because of a supposedly bad GS Paper 1 or 2 or 3

(c) Because they sometimes feel that no matter what you do, you wont score well in Ethics.

And apart from some other principles that are academic in nature, a common thread that I found in nearly all people with good Ethics scores was that – they all had written the paper with full energy , and in no way their paper was a half hearted one.

It showed on their paper.

This holds for the Prelims too. No matter how your preparation is – you must write the paper with the ferociousness of a lion ( or the meticulousness of a student.)

Do not write the paper halfheartedly.

Whether is your preparation is good or bad  – is not for you – to decide – it is in fact – even against the principles of Natural Justice – to be one’s own judge.

Write the paper with full vigor and enthusiasm, and you can expect at least 10% better marks, just because you gave your 110% while writing the paper.

So write the paper well – whether it is your first attempt or your last – none of it matters.

#10 Practice at least past years CSAT Paper

I have three things to tell you here

First, Solve at least past years CSAT Papers, even if you are from BITS Pilani or IIT Delhi or Manipal .

I mean it.

No matter how smart you and what rank you had in IIT-JEE-CAT-AIEEE or whatever you did after Plus 2, you are likely to make a fatal mistake, if you don’t solve a single question an directly enter the hall, rest assured of some difficulties.

If you cant solve all papers, at least solve 10 questions of RC and 10 Questions from Maths Section. But do something.

Second, some people think that I have to score only 66 marks, and sit idle in the examination ( true story ) during CSAT Test,  like a Boss – as if why to waste energy / time / effort. Pre to hona hi hai.

I annually meet some of these people after the Prelims Results. Better safe than sorry.

Third, Even if you have a degree in English Literature, even from Stephens – yes, you miss – do not take the English part for granted. Invariably, the UPSC key for English has some answers that will not be in conformation with any key that is released. This is not because UPSC is great, but because it follows a pattern different from what is followed by standard CAT books and Coachings.

So, do try your hands at some Maths questions to be on the safe side. At least some questions/ concepts are repeated. That should help you be on the safe side.

( If you are super confident – basing this confidence on some data , you can safely ignore this advice )

#11 If you have cleared it before, you can clear it now.

For those of you, who have cleared the exam before, you can very well clear the exam now.

Your fears are unfounded.

Do not worry about the time you have wasted. The time after this point, has just doubled its value.

“Right now, do not think of the gap between the preparation that you wanted, and the preparation you have. Thinking about this gap widens it.  And you end up falling in it.”

So do not worry about things that will probably not happen at all.

You will do well, by all means.

Be brave. Be strong.

Take a deep breath, and keep doing what you have been doing.

You will thank me yourself later.*

Until Next time,


P.S. This one is for you @Arsenal752 and Ms. Dhanoa. You have done it before, you will do it now 🙂

Both of you owe me a book , Thank you messages and chocolates wont do 🙂

*You will thank me too, I will wait for it 😀

Disclaimer : The views expressed are personal views of the author , and do not reflect the views of ForumIAS. The author is associated with ForumIAS as just another  contributor on the Blog

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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 ).