Acing the CSE mains

Time is ticking Make the best use of what is left.  

UPSC prelims are over and if you are among the three per cent of students who cleared it and will be writing the Civil Service Main exam which is scheduled for December 3, your mind must be swirling with countless questions about formulating the best possible strategy to crack the CCE main examination. Having a list of dos and don’ts can help you cover important topics and avoid wasting your time and energy on unnecessary ones. Here are some pointers that can help you optimally utilise time in the next sixty days.


Don’t waste time reading bulky books such as Bipin Chandra’s India After Independence or Ram Guha’s India After Gandhi if you have already read them.

Mugging up the contents of a book on ethics is a waste of time. Just go through the last three years’ papers and you will be able to make out that it is all about common sense.

Candidates tend to spend valuable time browsing the Internet trying to get the hang of some topics without releasing that even if one obtains a PhD in something, one still needs to write common-sense based answers in less than 200 words in seven minutes. It is better to bank upon your common sense than cluttering your mind with unnecessary information.

It is a commonly held belief that reading bulky reports such as Five Year Plans (for Economy) and ARC (for ethics) is essential. But the paucity of time does not allow you to do extensive research on these topics. So going through summaries, if possible, is more than enough.

Other areas where too much preparation is not necessary are science and technology (no one can anticipate what type of questions can come from these topics) and art and culture (it will anyway give you a hard time, so just skim through the basics and move on).

You should map out your studies keeping in mind that the aim is to maximise your marks in the mains exam and it is unnecessary to focus on other areas such as how many followers you have, how much you know, how many people think you will clear, how many books are there on your table, and so on.

Most of the aspirants tend to get stuck with GS Paper I. Investing too much time on subjects such as art and culture, world history and sociology is unwise as questions of not more than 30 or 40 marks would be asked from any of these areas in the entire paper.


UPSC CSE exam structure grants you substantial amount of control only in the Mains. It would be prudent to make use of this opportunity, as you never know what would come your way in interview (if you qualify).

Make a list of famous quotes on a wide range of topics including science, education, society, culture, and so on, and memorise them well. This will help you greatly in ethics and essay.

In the ethics paper, you can earn more marks by citing personal examples. So prepare a list of important lessons, events and moments of your life and keep them stored in your mental hard drive.

Making a habit of reading newspapers daily and making crisp, short notes from editorials can do wonders for you. Write down any facts/observation that can be helpful. Remember, GS Paper II and III are mostly about current affairs, so focus accordingly.

You must have heard the old adage “Writing makes an exact man”. The habit of writing can come in handy in the CSE as well. Solving previous years’ question papers will boost your confidence. Though you may find your answers unsatisfactory initially, your writing skills will definitely improve gradually.

Write less, but do so sensibly (remember, most of the answers in the exam would be of 150-200 words only). You may refer to the topper’s answer scripts to improvise your writing skill.

Going through the Economic Survey 2015-16 will help you get a good fix on concepts and ideas related to GDP growth rate, rate of unemployment, basic statistics from agriculture, and so on. Adding such facts and figures significantly enhances your marks in GS Paper III.

The writer is director,

Chanakya IAS Academy.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 6:14:10 AM |

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