Part-8 Time Management and Other Vital Issues

Ideal Time to Start Preparation; How to manage Prelims and Mains? Reading Hours; Ideal day of preparation? Coaching; Note making; Mock Test; Writing practice; Hindi or Vernacular languages; Plan your own strategy; Implement your strategy.
By IT's Research & Analysis Wing
May 02, 2017

This is the eighth part of the series of Strategy for UPSC Civil Services Examination by IASToppers. To read previous or subsequent parts, click here.

Time Management

Ideal Time to Start Preparation

Keeping in view of the vast syllabus of the examination, one should start preparation before around one year of the exam. But this is a generalized and ideal statement. However, it all depends on your choice or selection of books/references, reading speed, daily hours of work etc.

In the last few years, many toppers cracked the exam by starting their preparation just before few months of the prelims exam. However, without knowing their background, their previous attempts, their experiences with the exam, one should not conclude that their method would work for everyone.


How to manage Prelims and Mains?

Under the revised syllabus of the examination, almost all topics of Prelims General Studies paper are covered over three papers of Mains General Studies. Only few topics are needed to prepare exclusively for Prelims like General Science and Ancient & Medieval History. So your preparation of Mains General Studies papers automatically covers Prelims G.S. paper.

Here we suggest you that you should first complete subjects like Polity and Economy as these two subjects will help you in better understanding of current issues appeared in newspapers.


How many hours of reading needed to crack the exam?

Again, it all depends on your choice or selection of books/references, reading speed etc. You should not quantify preparation into number of hours. Only quality study matters a lot in the exam.

Here we like to clear a myth regarding exam preparation that 14 to 18 hours of reading is needed to crack the exam. They are totally misguiding numbers. Students generally read for these numbers of hours just before the few days of the exam. In their whole preparation span, this kind of days are very few in numbers. You should not take it granted in all general situations.     


What should be your ideal day of preparation?

Wake up early morning and start your day with reading of newspaper. Make newspaper reading your habit. We suggest you to read newspaper in early morning and not in afternoon or in evening. The most important reason behind this thinking is that you will never miss a day without reading newspaper. Read newspaper in afternoon or evening might create a situation when you lose a day without reading it. And you all know by experience that a loss of single day in reading newspaper badly harms your consistency. Another reason for reading newspaper in initial part of your daily preparation is that it will give you a fresh start to your day and boost your interest in preparation.

After reading newspaper, you can read any subjects of your choice. It is preferable to read more than one subject a day as variety of subjects helps you to maintain interest in reading and speed for whole day.


Should I join coaching or not?

This question can be best answered only by you. You should decide whether you need to join coaching classes or not. Coaching classes have their own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look:


  • You can get any kind of guidance at any time by joining coaching classes.
  • You can clear your doubts anytime and can get advantages of faculty’s wide experience in the field.
  • Coaching classes provide you a conducive environment for competitive examination like Civil Services.


  • By joining coaching classes, you might keep yourself always busy in useless competition.
  • So much time waste in a journey to coaching classes.
  • Sometimes faculty’s bad response might affect your flow of preparation.

You should be careful while selecting a coaching class as there are many fraudulent classes also exist in the market.

It should be noted here that to clear the exam, all should have their own planning, perseverance and commitment. By simply joining coaching classes, these steps cannot be skipped.


Note making

There is no compulsion in making notes of all that you read. Note making completely depends on your availability of time, your way of studying and revision. If you are in favour of note making, here are some tips:

Note making is of two types-

  1. Offline notes
  2. Online notes
  1. Offline notes

Offline notes can be made by simply underlining with pen or highlighting texts with highlighters. You can also use sticky notes. While making offline notes, you should note down only keywords and not just copy-pasting long sentences. This kind of short notes helps you in your revision before the exam.

  1. Online notes:

When you are reading any online sources like newspapers, websites etc., you can make online notes by using software like Evernote, Microsoft Office OneNote etc. These software provide facilities like underlining, highlighting, sticky notes etc.

You can also use the facility of Mind Maps available online. Mind Maps help you to interconnect various issues and to understand an issue in all its possible aspects. You can check IASToppers’ initiative on Mind Maps here.


Mock Tests

Many times, you feel that while solving mock questions, you get to know a totally different perspective which you could not get while reading. To secure good marks in both the Prelims and Mains, you need to solve as many mock questions as possible.

Here you should be cautious while selecting a set of mock questions as good quality questions help you to get a good command over fundamentals and also enrich your knowledge.

Practice of mock questions is itself a kind of revision. It also helps you to complete paper within prescribed time limit in the examination hall. Practice of mock tests gives you a better idea of how much time each question takes to solve, which questions to attempt and which questions to leave. This kind of practice helps you to tackle a menace of negative marking.

In course of practicing mock tests, you would come to many kinds of mistakes which can be easily solve at this stage of practice before appearing in the actual examination. You can check IASToppers’ initiative providing mock papers here.


Writing practice

For Civil Services Mains, answer writing practice is the most essential element to secure good number of marks.

There is a common ideology prevailed among aspirants whether newcomer or senior, writing practice should start only after completing the entire syllabus. When aspirants somehow manage to complete the entire syllabus, then a question of its revision strike their mind. In this process, aspirants could not manage to solve any questions and could not secure good marks in Mains.

Here you might have a question that how can we say that without writing Mains questions, you would not be able to secure good marks in Mains.

The ideology is that in the descriptive examination like Civil Services Mains, aspirants need to express all that they read during their preparation phase in a very few minutes. Practice answer writing helps you to recollect all points and concepts in a given short time. Your thought process will surely get improved with more number of UPSC Mains like questions practiced at home.    

During their initial phase of writing practice, almost all aspirants face a kind of lack of flow of thoughts. There is a common feeling among every aspirant that their presentation of answer is not up to the mark/improper/not appropriate, at this stage of writing practice.

Don’t worry, this is a common phenomenon. When one starts to learn swimming, one might have a feel of drowning. So in that case should one give up to learn swimming or persist to learn? The same logic is applicable here also. If you give up writing any questions, you will never ever able to perform well in the examination. So start practicing without any hesitation or confusion as early as possible.

Now here the question comes of how to start writing practice. We suggest you to get a basic idea of few things before directly jump to write answers. Start reading previous years’ Mains questions with authentic source of their ideal answers. While reading previous years’ question-answers, observe what kind of questions UPSC asked, key phrases in the questions like comment, critical analysis, elucidate etc., compare your own points if you have already read on that particular topic, think how can you improve the given ideal answer by modifying structure or by replacing your own points.

This kind of warm up practice will make you ready to face mock questions. Try to write answer without time limit at initial stage. Practice one or two questions a day and then increase the numbers with your growing confidence and interest.

Here again you should be cautious while selecting a set of mock questions.


Hindi or Vernacular languages

Today many important references are also available in Hindi medium. However, we cannot deny the fact that their quality cannot match with their English counterparts. We suggest all Hindi and vernacular language aspirants not to make English language your weakness, make it your strength. Never hesitate to read important references available only in English medium like newspapers. You can easily get command over English language only if you have a strong conviction to do so.

Here the question comes of answer writing in Hindi or vernacular languages. While reading English sources, you just need to write down key words of the issue in your language. For Hindi and its associated languages like Gujarati, Marathi, Urdu etc. you can get help of India Year Book (Hindi Edition).

Practice answer writing in your own languages will surely help you in securing good marks.   


Plan your own strategy

If you look at the stories of past years’ toppers, you will find that all toppers had their own planning or strategy. You can also notice high variation in their selection of references, number of reading hours, their hobbies and their own way of refreshment. But one common thing is that they all had their own planning according to their way of studying.

Moral of the story is that ‘Planning’ is the most inevitable part one cannot ignore and one should not read a single book without planning.

What kind of plan is ideal for quite difficult examination like UPSC Civil services?

This is our common experience that when you see any task difficult or impossible in your life, firstly you should make a detailed list of requirement of the task. If it seems big or never ending like UPSC Civil Services exam, then prepare a plan by cracking a detailed list of requirement of the task into a number of small pieces or tasks easily achievable. Then try only to complete all those small pieces or tasks in prescribed time frame of your planning. This gradual process of achieving small tasks will one day bring you a grand success.

This is the master strategy almost all toppers followed in one or the other ways.     


What should be the list of things an ideal plan has?

You should prepare a detailed plan covering all activities of your life including reading . Firstly, prepare a two or three months’ reading plan. Then divide three months into one month, into weeks, into days and finally into hours.

Plan for everything apart from reading like wake up time, refreshment/enjoyment, family time, friends’ time, social work if any, your daily meal, exercise or yoga etc.

You all know very well that early wake up, healthy and balanced diet, exercises or yoga (yoga is the precious gift of India to the world, why should not we opt when people around the globe believing in its importance) etc. all are truly beneficial. So what are you thinking about in their implementation in your life.  


Implement your strategy

After drawing a full proof plan for preparation, then comes the most important and deciding factor- its ‘Implementation’.

Many times best plans do not work with lack of proper implementation. Best plans will not bring you any desired results when implemented with half-heartedness.

It may possible that you find difficulties in implementation of your plan. Don’t worry challenges are meant not for downgrading you but meant for bringing best out of you.

Many students face problems in getting hold after a small or long span of breaks. Here you should stick to your plan and never give up to implement it. By continuing with your plan, you will see implementation itself gives you a kind of motivation and flow of energy. 

Do all tasks of your plan with enthusiasm and zeal. Always keep yourself positive, keep friendship of only those whose positive support always stay with you in all kinds of situations and vice versa otherwise they are not called friends.

These kinds of small things matter a lot in everyone’s life and ultimately decide your success in life and Civil Services exam also.


This is the end of the part-8. In the next and last part, we’ll discuss in detail about strategy especially for working professionals.


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