10 Days to Mains: Don’t Be Intimidated. Be Inspired.

By | September 16, 2018

The centre court at Wimbledon is a remarkable place. Throughout Wimbledon’s history, on the day of the finals, this hallowed arena has been witness to something extraordinary. Many young, promising players who were expected to win the title simply buckled under the searing pressure. They were just too intimidated by the occasion. On the other hand, the place gave birth to many unexpected heroes, who on their biggest day at the centre court produced some of the finest tennis of their careers. That’s because they weren’t intimidated. Instead, they chose to get inspired.

For lakhs of UPSC aspirants, one cannot emphasize the importance of the Mains exam. The significance of these nine odd days is akin to the Wimbledon championships— if not more.

Moment of reckoning

I had given this exam five times and each time I learnt something new about my strengths and inadequacies— of what worked and what didn’t. As you all take your Mains in ten days time, I want to tell you ten things that helped me ace this exam.

  1. This Mains might be your first shot, or that it might be your last attempt and you are really, really desperate to crack it. Whatever it is, just don’t raise the stakes so high. We rarely perform to our potential under pressure. We give our best when we are in the moment, unmindful of the outcome but fully focused on the present. This why it’s so important to have a Zen Mindset. A Zen mind is neither too psyched or excited nor too indifferent or overconfident. To be zen is to be calm, composed and fully alert. That’s the mindset you need to cultivate. I’ve illustrated it in the graphs below:

    The Psyched Mind


    The Apathetic Mind


    The Zen Mind

  2. In these ten days, dedicate at least a couple of days when you’d write two tests on a single day. This will train your body and mind to write for six hours a day so that in the final exam you don’t find the task overpowering.
  3. To perform well on the day of the exam, revising the syllabus the day before is absolutely vital. In the limited time you get, if you are unable to revise the entire paper, that’s fine. Just try and revise as much as you can without getting mired in a single topic. While revising, it’s possible that you might feel that you’ve forgotten everything. Don’t panic. You’d be surprised how much you will be able to recollect in the exam hall.
  4. Once you are done with an exam, do not waste even a second in pointless speculation about the marks, or the evaluation, or the difficulty of the paper. Every time you spend a moment speculating, you cede the ground a little to your competitors.
  5. Finish the paper in time, no matter what. You should realise that UPSC can change how it distributes marks across questions, but it cannot change the 250 marks assigned to a paper. So whatever be the number of questions or distribution of marks across those questions, your target must be to write 80 mark worth answers in the first hour, another 80 in the second hour and 90 in the final hour. This translates to 40 marks in the initial 30 minutes. So whether you start with 10 markers or 15 markers or 20 markers, aim to finish questions worth 40 marks in the first half-hour and then repeat this process. Always have an eye on the clock and if you think you are falling behind the time, accelerate.
  6. It’s possible that you may not do all the papers equally well. So if one particular exam does not go as per your expectation, that’s not much of a problem. The problem comes when you endlessly ruminate over the mistakes you did and ponder on all the what-ifs. Don’t do that mistake. Once an exam gets over, make a clean rupture from it and focus on the next. Your behaviour in these ten days must resemble a clockwork— ruthless, efficient and unemotional.
  7. This advice might feel cliched, but it’s probably the most important. We only realise the value of health once we fall sick. Staying healthy during this last lap is more important than ever. Eat healthy, stay hydrated and get adequate sleep. During my Mains, I always carried a thermos flask full of tea and used to drink a couple of cups during the afternoon break. It used to really uplift my senses. Such small things do matter.
  8. When you are feeling tensed or if the anxiety is getting the better of you, practise controlled breathing. I benefitted immensely from this NYTimes article. Whenever I felt restless, I used to do controlled breathing exercises to ease my anxiety and lower my stress. Fidgety people among you might find it helpful too.
  9. In the previous 3-4 months, you read all you had to, and wrote all you could. Apart from the books and the strategies, Mains is also about mental toughness. Mindset really matters. During this time, your self-belief must be unshakeable.
  10. Focus on the process, not the outcome. Your goal must not be about getting a rank in top 100, or scoring 450+ in GS, or 300+ in optional. Your goal must be to write as well as you can for 20 questions in those 3 hours across all the papers. Have small targets. And then smash them. Final success will inevitably follow.

In any fiercely competitive tournament, the final battle you face is always the most difficult, but also the most rewarding. As you enter the arena on 28th September, the gravity of the occasion tries to overwhelm you. But remember that you always a choice.

Like those heroes who emerged at Wimbledon, do not be intimidated. Be inspired.

With best wishes,

46 thoughts on “10 Days to Mains: Don’t Be Intimidated. Be Inspired.

  1. Tannu kumari

    Yet another inspiring article sir. Thanks for motivating us again and again.

  2. abhikeshtarwan

    I want to became IAS officer.
    But I have some issues
    Till iam doing MSC in physics
    And my whole day is going only for physics studying
    And then for general studies very few time.
    Sr give me advice what can I do ?
    I am preparing for 2019 UPSC exam

    Sir please reply me I’m in lot of stress.

  3. Anonymous

    Anna I am preparing 2021 CSE exam..I don’t ask strategy for exam.. but I ask for what type of mindset of student initially help in 2021 attempt??

  4. Anonymous

    It’s not only help th UPSC Aspirants but also help all the Students.
    Thanks to Anudeep Sir?…..?..

  5. Anonymous

    From day one when i saw your notes on insights ….I was mesmerized by your dedication….You deserved that rank brother….Another amazing article.

  6. Anonymous


    1. Anudeep Durishetty Post author

      Not a fan of French Open(for obvious reasons).

  7. Nidhi

    I have been reading your articles. The flow you have developed in writing such articulated and to-the-point articles doesn’t come to a person without experience. More than a guide (which is moral, mental and not only bookish) for the aspirants, it feels like a successful journey. And a successful one comes with all its ups and downs but your struggle shows that there is a “way” (hints: Buddha’s noble truths). Thank you for going back to the memory where every moment of yours was making its way to the success and how you have discovered to master the Zen. The secret ingredient to win any war is “you, yourself” (kung fu panda XD).
    Keep writing, keep inspiring, sir. Also, keep on building the nation in the right direction.

    (As far as I am concerned, it’s my lazy attitude and not incompetence. Hoping to learn and materialize as soon as possible.)
    – Nidhi

    1. Anudeep Durishetty Post author

      As you rightly said, Buddha is the ideal. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time out to comment. Much appreciated.

      My best wishes.

      1. Anonymous

        I always inspire and get motivate by reading your shared opinion about sports person R.Fed.actually I extremely appreciate with your sports view.

  8. IAS Amit

    Hello Varundeb,

    like a farmer waits for rain, i wait for that one notification in my email stating
    anudeep durishetty has posted a new article !
    Awesome writing Sir.
    When it rains, something valuable grows.
    Your rain helps in growing our Thinking and
    Arranging our thought process in a best way !!
    Rain is okay. Waiting for flood !! Have you ever thought about writing a awesome-blossom book??


    1. Anudeep Durishetty Post author

      Thank you, Amit. Will sure author a book one day when I feel confident enough.

  9. Narendra R. N.

    I know you are a very busy person, and you must be getting a lot of mails-
    It might sound a very silly question, but please do tell me..

    -SPECIFICATIONS etc.. if you can

    Thank you

  10. sunita

    Hi Anudeep ,Congratulations !

    It’s very inspiring to see the videos posted by your father. Thanks a ton for those.

    And How did you do follow up on the answers that you wrote(tests or website). Apart from self evaluation , have you used it for revision as well ??
    But for revision , those are not crisp and might take lot of time & one can miss some valid points that have not written.

    please do suggest .

    1. Anudeep Durishetty Post author

      Yes, I used to go through them briefly once before the exam, depending on the time I had. Focus was always on the notes and standard books.

  11. Saumya Srivastava

    Sir I m on BSc 3rd year. So should I start preparation of upsc now or after the completion of my graduation???

  12. Anonymous

    Mindfulness meditation
    Mindfullness Meditation
    Kb aaayga ye article

  13. Anonymous


    How you have managed to do preparation since you started working??

    Can you please throw some light on time management for working professionals who wants to prepare the CSE exam??

    Thanks in advance!!!

    1. Anudeep Durishetty Post author

      The first thing I convinced myself to believe in was that even with a full-time job, I can give a rigorous attempt. So from that base belief, I shaped my preparation. Whenever I faced obstacles to my study because of the job, I tried to work around them instead of worrying incessantly about not getting as much time to prepare as, say, a full-time aspirant.

      One advantage with the IRS is that the workload is mostly under control and only rarely overwhelming. So, on each workday, I used to dedicate at least 3-4 hours of focussed study. I cut down every distraction that would take this time away. During these 4 hours, my mobile would be in flight mode, all social gatherings declined and anything that wasn’t in line with my exam prep was ignored. Time was my most precious resource, so I had to prioritise the exam preparation at all costs.

      And weekends was the time when I would absolutely fire in on all cylinders. A minimum of 12-13 hours was the norm, which would usually include reading books/notes, giving a test (either GS or Essay) and catching up with the week’s current affairs.

      Another thing that helped me was the support of my boss. He never insisted that I come to office on weekends to finish that odd report (even during the peak time of GST launch.) So my suggestion is, always be in the good books of your boss (even if you don’t like him personally). Avoid bitterness at all costs, even if it means you swallowing some censure, or walking that extra mile to build that rapport. Whatever that helps your cause.

      I also used to make a week wise plan based on the amount of time I had over the course of a week. Planning in advance is vital so that you know exactly what to do next once you are done with a topic. It brings out the machine in you and also makes you accountable to the goals you set for yourself.

      I can’t say this for a first-timer, but if you had already given one serious attempt, it is possible to give a rigorous attempt even with a job. What matters is the focus. You’d be surprised how much you can get done once you concentrate well without distraction.

      1. Rashmi

        Mai jab v aapko sunti hu ya padhti hu to lagta h kuch or padhun …..tnx for making my Hart smile……thank you so much …

  14. Maninderjit Kaur

    This was really needed. Thank you Sir! The last lap of mains is full of anxiety, lonliness, pressure ,tests that do not go so well, and yet the imperative to stay motivated. Thank you for this.

  15. Narendra

    -SPECIFICATIONS etc.. if you can

    Thank you

  16. Anonymous

    Great Writing.. ?Your writing itself pacify anxiety and give calmness to mind

  17. Sai Vamsi

    Thanks for ur wise advise anna..god be with u in all ur moves…

  18. P Manish Rao

    Greetings.Could you please write about meditation and how did you use it.Please also guide beginners on how to start meditating.Thank you.

      1. PK

        Sir, how to make notes of current affairs? Did you follow monthly magazine?

  19. Suraj samrawat

    Not only an strategy as how to appear exam but also as how to become tough human being.. You’re my ideal, sir..

  20. Anonymous

    Dear sir,
    sir one doubt how can u maintain balancing of time in all activities,how it possible..what is starting step to develop your intellectual thinking. who is your role model?what are the novels you have read till now?please share the titles of novels.
    i think after the great A.P.J Abdul kalam sir you are the one who motivates and inspires youngsters.
    do you have any goals after this IAS.

    Thanking you,

  21. Nitu kumari

    Hello sir thank you so much for your advice for your help. I will give my first attempt at 2020 I hope I will pass this exam..

  22. Jyoti

    Sir, can you give strategy and booklist for hindi medium students .. Please sir?

  23. Anonymous


  24. Vivek

    Sir how did you overcome your old ways of study for instance moving away from ideal of perfection,,,instead of making long notes you made notes of 250 words;;;;since mind always goes back to old ways of doing things;;;how to overcome this???

  25. Anonymous

    Sir In one attempt to crack upsc .. how can I prepare… In words…plz..


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