Tips to crack upsc civil services mains examination

Tips to Crack the UPSC Mains Examination

Mains Examination is the most important stage of the exam. If you are well prepared for the mains, then a good foundation for your success is made. The risk involved with the interview can also be reduced with good performance in Main Examination. Always target the Mains Exam and make clearing the Prelims an incidental objective and a passing phase in the path of your goal. If you always focus on Prelims result and don’t think of Mains till the Prelims results are out, you will end up as a looser because there is hardly any time left for a thorough preparation. So always aim at the Mains.

Recommended Articles:     Tips to Crack the UPSC Preliminary Examinations

                                                         About UPSC Civil Services Examination


  • Your answer in the exam is the only medium through which you can convey to the examiner. So you should always think as to how to impress the examiner with the answer. Your pen, handwriting, writing style, logical presentation, innovations, relevance to the question, etc, everything matters. Be careful about these aspects right from the beginning.
  • The final two months should be devoted to repeated revisions.
  • The writing practice within time limit should be done from the beginning. This will help in understanding what you can remember and reproduce within the time limit. If you do this as the preparation progresses then the study will be exam-oriented.
  • Improve your handwriting if it is bad. Your handwriting should at least be easily legible.
  • You can use colour pens when you draw figures, diagrams etc.
  • While writing answers, focus on good introductions and conclusions. The presentation should be logical. The introduction should introduce the reader about the path he is about to take and what’s in stored for him. It should raise the curiosity of the reader. While, the conclusion should sum up what the reader has gone through in the path. There should be a balanced judgement in the conclusions. (This is suggestible only for 30 and 60 marks questions).
  • You need not have a very good vocabulary or scholarly writing style. It is sufficient if you can present your answer in a simple logical manner.
  • Your aim should be to score equally well in all the papers. In general, you should get above 300 in optionals and the GS. Depending on your strong areas you should get more marks in some papers. The essay score should be above 100. In this way, if you can get around 1100, then the position will be very strong.
  • The presentation is to be practiced well. Do not dump the information in the exam, but present it in a logical and attractive manner. The point form can be used only for some factual areas. Other wise, paragraph mode with good analysis should be used.
  • Read the question carefully and grasp the aspect being asked. The answer should be relevant to what is being asked.

General Studies – Mains Examination

Tips to crack upsc civil services mains examination

It is usually observed that many aspirants fear the GS paper. But with proper orientation, GS becomes very scoring. In fact, many try to concentrate more on optionals than GS. This may not be a good strategy, as GS gives good marks with lesser efforts. The GS is also helpful in essay and interview, and also later on in career. Therefore, proper attention should be given to GS preparation.

Firstly, the nature of GS should be understood. This can be done by a thorough analysis of the previous year’s papers. It can be observed that the examiner is not asking everything under the Sun, which is contrary to the opinion of many aspirants. The questions are focused only on certain dimensions, especially those relevant to an administrative career.

It is important to know the difference between a generalist and a specialist. A generalist is a person who knows “less and less of more and more”, while a specialist is a person who knows “more and more of less and less”. The Civils Exam in the GS paper is testing the Generalist approach.


The national movement and related developments have to be studied with good clarity. The aspirant should have a clear idea about the chronological sequence, the linkages between various topics and a good analysis about each stage. It should be remembered that the portion is not to be studied as if writing History optional. The GS paper will only test the basic clarity on the national movement.

Suggested Reading:

Modern History by Spectrum Publications – This is written well in exam orientation. Bipan Chandra books as a reference and to get further clarity.

NCERT books for a basic understanding.


  • Observe the forward and backward linkages at every stage of national movement and its importance in the overall context. Note that all the events were related in some way or the other.
  • Prepare simultaneously for the two markers- note down the personalities, places, terms, movements, journals etc. You should be able to identify them if given in exam. This is a very scoring area.
  • Innovations like maps (eg. 1857- spread and centers of revolt), flow diagrams etc can be made.
  • Try to attempt factual and non-controversial questions.
  • Concentrate on the cultural aspects also which are asked for two markers.


There should be a good understanding about the geography of India. This will also help a lot in prelims.

Suggested Reading:

  • Physical Geography of India, NCERT Class XI
  • Land and People, NCERT Class XI
  • Geography of India by Khullar – Selective Reading only Note:
  • Some current affairs based questions are also asked
  • Maps and diagrams can be used extensively.



There is a standard syllabus for this part and good material with clarity is also available. The questions are mostly asked directly. So scoring becomes easy with good understanding with clarity. The knowledge in polity also helps a lot in the essay and interview. This will give a good foundation for the career as an administrator. It is very important to study polity well.

Suggested Reading:

  • Indian Polity by Laxmikant, TMH – it is a very good compilation from various sources.
  • DD Basu can be used as a reference.
  • NCERT books provide the various topics from which questions can be asked and also provide material with good clarity.


  • You need not to remember all the articles. There are only around 50 articles which are important. Note them when referred to in the text.
  • Its better to quote some articles and Court judgements (only very important ones) while writing answers.
  • Give examples with contemporary relevance. Generally all the questions in this section are asked with implied contemporary relevance.
  • Prepare simultaneously for two markers.
  • Some questions are repeated, so be thorough with previous years papers.
  • Questions are linked to various topics. So while preparing you should be aware of the inter-linkages between various topics.
  • Various current affairs topics which are linked to polity are asked. Also, some times basic questions linked to current affairs can be asked.

Social Issues

There is no standard material for these topics. Further, questions are also not asked every year. Even if asked, mostly they are of general nature, which can be answered with common sense. So do not spend too much time on these areas or in search of

material. Prepare well for other parts of GS and later if time permits then come to these areas.

Suggested Reference:

  • “The Hindu” News Paper
  • “Frontline” Magazine
  • Competition magazines
  • Yojana
  • NCERT books
  • Social problems by Ram Ahuja
  • Spectrum Publications.
  • Internet


  • You only need a basic logical structure for each topic. If there is no proper material, just spend time in thinking on the topic and to prepare a basic structure. Then, you may spend time in searching for material. For. eg. Drug abuse, you should raise following logical questions – what is drug abuse; what are the causes; distribution; impact; efforts to check; problems with strategy; suggestions
  • Discuss it with other aspirants and get the information.
  • Current affairs based question can be asked. For eg. Some controversial case related to Child labour comes in media, then you can expect a question on Child labour.

India and the world

The questions are asked to test the basic understanding about the relations with other nations and India’s foreign policy. Mostly, questions are related to current affairs. There is a need to have clarity about the basic contours of the evolution of India’s foreign policy. But do not get into too much depth or controversial topics. You are expected to have a basic clarity on India’s external affairs.

There are not many standard books available on the subject. Mostly, the preparation has to be based on current affairs.

Suggested Reading:

  • NCERT 12 th book on Political science
  • Old NCERT book on Political Science
  • Newspapers – Hindu articles, C. Raja Mohan articles in New Indian Express.
  • AIR spot light- analysis by experts.
  • Foreign Ministry website


  • Understand the core issues between India and various nations.
  • The external relations can be structured into political, economic, defence, cultural, S&T, etc. so prepare in these dimensions.
  • The relations with important nations are to be done for long answers, while for other nations it is sufficient for the two markers.
  • Note the various terms eg. Track 2, which can be asked for two markers.
  • There is no material for the topics on Overseas citizens of India. So look out for any issues that come in media related to NRIs. They can be asked for the two markers.
  • You can make innovations like maps, flow charts, etc. For eg. A map for Indo- Iran pipeline, or for Munnabao-Khokrapar rail link.

International Affairs

The questions are mainly current affairs related. The most important developments which appear in the newspapers will be sufficient for the preparation. Observe the terms, personalities, places, etc which can be asked for the two markers. Also prepare for the institutions. First list out the various important institutions. Then gather basic material on them. You can also try the web sites of the institutions for the information. You can also read “International Organizations” by Spectrum Publications.

Indian Economy

This is an area, which is feared by many, especially because of lack of proper exam- oriented textbook with clarity. But with some basic understanding, economy can become very scoring because of 15 two-mark questions.

Suggested Reading:

  • Dutt and Sundaram or Mishra and Puri – These books are a big compilation with lots of unnecessary facts. Do not read the book from end to end. You should be able to get clarity out of every topic. So, first scan through the topic and the side headings. Then question logically in various dimensions. Try to find the answers to the questions raised as you go through the material and prepare a logical structure. For. E.g. Unemployment – What is unemployment; types; extent and distribution; causes; impact; efforts to reduce; appraisal of policies; recent measures; suggestions;
  • Economic Survey- It is a very useful document, which should be focused upon. Prepare notes from it. Also observe the graphs, which can be used as innovations in answers. While reading, note the terms, which can be asked for two markers. The box items are very important.
  • NCERT books
  • Indian Economy by Pratyogita Darpan Publications Note:
  • Questions can be on basics or the current affairs based.
  • You can use innovations like graphs, diagrams, flow charts etc.
  • The main aspect is to gain the basic understanding with clarity. So spend more time on logical thinking and inter-relating, rather than on various books or articles.
  • Simultaneously, prepare for the two markers. Note the various economic terms that keep appearing in the newspapers. Also, be thorough on the previous years’ papers.

Science and Technology

Some Arts students fear this part and leave them for the exam. However, note that the examiner is not interested in the technical aspects. They are only testing if the candidate has basic understanding on the technological developments. In fact, technology is going to play a very key role in changing the administration. So, do take an active interest in the technological developments, as they will help you in being an effective change agent when you join the service.

In the exam, the questions are being asked from both the standard and the current- affairs based. While preparing, concentrate on the relevance and the application of the topic. The following dimensions should be focused:

  • What is the basic technological dimension of the topic
  • How is it being used; applicability
  • Developments in India

There is no good material available for this area. Notes have to be prepared from various sources. The synopsis should also focus on the diagrams and figures, wherever applicable.

Suggested Reading:

  • The Hindu Thursday S&T pages (From May 3rd week previous year to current year September 30)
  • Competition Magazines
  • Internet
  • S&T – Spectrum Series Note:
  • Do not go into much technical detail, even if you are from technical background. Concentrate on applications and related issues.
  • Innovate using figures, diagrams, flow charts, etc.
  • Prepare notes on the various computer related terms.


This is another area, which is feared by students from Arts background. While, others from technical background take it too lightly, and lose marks in the end. This area is very scoring for anybody who can concentrate on the basics and do lots of practice.

Suggested Reading:

  • NCERT 11th std.
  • Spectrum publications.


  • Understand the basics well with clarity.
  • Practice the previous papers with the time limit.
  • Show the calculations clearly
  • Draw the diagrams and graphs neatly.
  • Do not forget to take the calculator to the exam hall.
  • Its better to attempt the statistics question in the beginning of the exam.

Current Affairs

This is the most important component of the preparation. It has crucial role in prelims, essay and interview. It requires continuous efforts throughout the year. The notes have to be prepared from various sources. The effectiveness of the preparation will increase if you have a good understanding about the questions that are asked every year. That way you will be in a position to discriminate between what to read and more importantly what not to read.


  • The Hindu newspaper, some aspects of the New Indian express
  • The Frontline
  • AIR news – 8AM, 2PM, 9PM.
  • Yojana
  • Internet

Note the following points:

  • Prepare notes topic-wise. As you go through various sources, identify the topics that can be asked in the exam. Write the topics on a sheet of paper. You will be preparing notes for those topics only. The main source will be the Hindu newspaper.
  • Everyday listen to the AIR news bulletins. They cover all-important topics in a dispassionate manner. The analysis after the bulletin is also quite good. Try doing some thing else while listening the news so that you don’t waste time.
  • Next day by the time paper comes, you already know what to expect from that since you followed news on AIR previous day. So, go to the important topics and read slowly, and prepare notes.
  • Do not read everything in the newspaper. Read only that which is important for the exam. Do not even look at the items from second page to centre page. The main focus should be on front page, editorials, articles, news analysis, business etc.
  • Before reading a news item, question logically about that topic or issue. Then read the article. This way the eyes try to gather the answers for the questions raised. Also, the clarity on the topic increases.
  • With practice, you should increase efficiency and should not spend more that 2 hrs on newspaper.
  • Keep two mark questions in mind while preparing for the current affairs. Make separate notes for the personalities, places, awards, terms, etc.
  • Keep cuttings of the editorial in a monthly file.

General Suggestions:

  • Writing practice within the time limit is very important. There is problem of time management for the GS paper-2.
  • Go though the Vajiram coaching material if you have access to it.
  • While reading newspapers observe the following- abbreviations; new terms; organisations; quotes etc.


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