Mastering Mains Program

How to prepare for UPSC Mains | UPSC Mains Strategy To Boost Your Preparation

UPSC CSE Prelims is the first elimination round of the Civil Service Examination. After you have qualified for the first hurdle of this coveted exam, begin the most crucial phase of your preparation journey which is for UPSC Mains. Since UPSC CSE Prelims is qualifying in nature, your score in that round will not determine your final selection. It is the IAS Mains exam whose score will be extremely crucial in determining your selection as well as rank.

Hence, it is imperative you devise a rock-solid UPSC Mains Strategy that will boost your score and enhance your chances of getting a good rank. The first step towards it is to find a suitable approach on how to prepare for UPSC Mains!

While the experienced aspirants have a fair bit of idea of what should be done after prelims, many-a-times, the beginners or fresh aspirants are at sea. Hence, they look for a trusted source to find answers to their questions regarding UPSC Mains Strategy for beginners or how to prepare for UPSC Mains. Here in this article, we bring to you one such UPSC Mains Strategy that will surely help you plan yours efficiently.

Let’s get started:



Step 1: Be Consistent With Your Preparation

  • The most significant advantage that the early beginners have, is the advantage of extra time. However, there’s also a problem. When the time is sufficient, it’s not the ‘time management, rather your ‘consistency maintenance over this prolonged period of time’ that requires more attention. 
  • Thus, all the days, weeks, and months should be pre-scheduled with respective targets. 
  • First and Foremost, a candidate must imprint the entire syllabus of all three phases of the exam, in his mind. You can get the IAS syllabus micro topics for free on the linked article.
  • This small but significant work would go a long way in keeping your preparation focussed and relevant. Check out our ultimate UPSC mains guide for subject-wise strategy.


Step 2: Sufficient Time Allocation

  • Given the sufficiency of time, it is important to adopt the ‘mains first’ strategy’ which means that you should start your UPSC preparation by devising the UPSC mains preparation strategy.
  • After prelims, a candidate gets hardly three to four months for the preparation of mains. The schedule is further tightened by the requirement of answer writing and essay writing practice. Thus, it will be an intelligent move to prepare for the mains part first.


Step 3: Choose Your Optional Subject Wisely

  • The most vital element of the mains syllabus is the optional subject. The choice of optional subject should be as per your own level of comfort with and degree of interest in the subject. 
  • This decision must not be misguided by any sort of false speculations of ‘which is the most scoring optional’. It’s not the optional subject per se, it’s your preparation and presentation (answer writing) that makes it scoring. 
  • However, there is a way to select the best optional subject for UPSC Mains.


Step 4: Make Proper Study Plan

  • After having wisely chosen the optional subject, the candidate must start the preparation right from the beginning. 
  • Allocate the months and schedule your days and weeks well in advance, ensuring that by November – December, you finish the syllabus for the four General Studies papers and Optional subject. It is indeed possible to complete the Mains preparation only if you plan your time with perfection.


Step 5: Follow Daily Current Affairs To Keep Yourself Updated

One important, in fact, decisive, part of the preparation is to religiously and consistently follow the newspaper daily. The candidate should always be updated with all the important national and international events. You can follow one or two magazines and government sources like Yojana, Kurukshetra, PIB, PRS, etc. Also, if time permits, you can start with your initial answer writing practice after you are done with the mains syllabus once. Try to get it evaluated by some senior or teacher.

One thing that must be kept in mind, is that the syllabus of mains and prelims is not completely compartmentalized. There is, in fact, a significant overlap. Thus, while preparing for UPSC mains, a significant portion of Prelims also gets covered. For the remaining portion, one can get into ‘prelims-focussed’ mode from January or February onwards. From this point onwards, the golden trinity of ‘revision, consolidation, and assessment’, must become part of the preparation.



How to prepare for UPSC Mains after Prelims

Follow these five steps to effectively revise the syllabus after the Prelims is over.

Step 1: Give Yourself A Break After Prelims

It is very important to give yourself a break after prelims. You might have been preparing continuously for a year or more, so it’s important to take some time off of your studies. Take rest both physically and mentally for at least 10 days. Read newspapers or take a small vacation and prep yourself for another 3-4 months of exhaustive preparation. Contemplate about how your exam was, there might be three cases,

  • You are 100% sure you will qualify for the prelims. Devise a suitable UPSC Mains Preparation strategy to ensure your success in Mains as well.
  • You are unsure whether or not you’ll not qualify for the Prelims. Don’t get disheartened by the result. You can still get to start afresh as Prelims is qualifying in nature.
  • You are 100% sure that you would not qualify for the Prelims. Don’t get discouraged. Reflect on your mistakes, try to learn from them, and devise a year-long strategy to follow for next year.

During this time, also read a lot about preparation strategies that can help you plan the best one for yourself. Take inspiration from your seniors or peers, toppers, or mentors who can guide you best in the most crucial phase of your UPSC mains preparation.


Step 2: Make A Detailed Study Plan For UPSC Mains Strategy

Once you’ve relaxed completely, come out of that zone, and devise a detailed study plan for your mains preparation. As you might already know that UPSC Mains consist of 9 theory papers of which 2 are language papers that are qualifying, 2 are your optional subject papers, 1 is essay paper and the other four are general studies paper. So, you should have a clear-cut strategy on how to go about revising each of the subjects and preparing the ones you’ve not even started hitherto.


Step 3: Schedule The Time You Need To Invest In Each Paper (Here Is What Our Experts Say)

Now, most fresh aspirants get confused about how to revise everything in 2-3 months that they get between Prelims and Mains. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Have a monthly goal, weekly goal, and daily goal. Stick to that and ensure that you complete each goal. Make small targets so that they seem achievable.
  2. Even if your preparation get’s disturbed for 1-2 days, don’t wreck the whole plan, rather, divide the portions you have missed across the week.
  3. Always keep 2 hours for revising what you’ve read daily. Also, keep the weekends free for answer writing practice revising what you’ve learned in the week.

Now, mostly the aspirants get confused with the time allocation. How much time is too much time to allocate for each of the General Studies papers? Let’s find out what our experts believe:


Paper NameStipulated Time (Recommended by Experts)
Optional Subject30-40 Days
Essay PaperPrepare 4-5 topics each week
General Studies Paper 110-15 days
General Studies Paper 210-15 days
General Studies Paper 315-20 days
General Studies Paper 415-20 days



Step 4: Enhance Your Answer Writing Practice

Since the Mains paper is descriptive in nature, it is important that you give due time to answer writing in your UPSC Mains Preparation strategy. Whatever that you read, try to summarise in your own words at the end of the day. Dedicate an hour each day to practice answer writing. Get your answers evaluated by your mentors or seniors to get a fair bit of idea of where you stand. Don’t fret about writing bad answers in the beginning. Practice does make one perfect, hence practice answer writing as much as you can.


Step 5: Give Regular Mock Tests.

Now, mock tests are important because it gives you an exam-feel, and it prepares you to write your best answers in a stressful-exam situation. Hence, never take mocks for granted. Think of it as an opportunity to understand the answer-writing process, to write brief, succinct answers considering the demand of the questions.

So, this is how to prepare for UPSC Mains using the 5-step UPSC Mains Preparation strategy that we recommend. We have touched upon the UPSC Mains strategy for preparing before and after Prelims. Take inspiration to prepare your own strategy to crack the exam. You can rely on our courses and study material for your preparation. Get in touch with our course counselors to get more information about our courses.

Click To See Fee Structure