Analysis and adaptation to change are the basic requirements for clearing mains. What sets the toppers apart is the ability to present an answer. The to do is very simple. The answers must be given in such a way that they crisply convey information. Candidates are expected to deliver an answer in 150-200 words, and there is no room for exaggeration/false information when you write.

Successful aspirants do not just write what they know, but rather they write what the question demands them to write. They write an answer that satisfies the need of the question with proper sub-headings that ensures progression and supports their arguments by giving statistics, pictorial representations, examples, and maps when necessary. The art of answer writing is nothing but quality content and a neat presentation of your thoughts.

But is that all that is required? Give enough time for your Optional subject. The style of writing followed by the successful candidates will be having the following rules – a) They will not vomit everything they know about their optional into their paper and b) They will attempt each question accordingly and give answers precisely to the point.

Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and proficient English is not required for your Optional paper but what needed is the idea to be conveyed to satisfy the question.

In UPSC mains the basic difference between an average performer and a topper is based on three things.

1. Planning a solid, pragmatic method

2. Smart planning followed by hard work

3. Continuing to shape the knowledge & work good enough to achieve a top rank

Let’s start with Planning. It depends on available opportunities, but make sure to cover at least 80% of mains syllabus (including optional) before appearing in prelims. And follow a standard target marks for each mains paper.

All papers are not created equal. Methodological structure should be followed based on time energy effectiveness. In decreasing importance, they are

1) Optional papers (because 2 papers !!)

2) Essay

3) Gs 4

If you compromise any paper, it has to compensated by better marks in others. A little variation, say 10%, is manageable. But major difference will be costly.

The steps to take to whip your answers into shape must be as follows:

Introduction: Express the key words by linking them with context of given question.
Diagrams and Maps: For Art & Culture, Geography and International Relations, diagrams will elucidate ideas with clarity.
Graphs & Flow Charts: This is in a similar vein as Diagrams and Maps but is more apt for GS III.
Side Headings:  Use them in GS I, II, III to  crisply answer parts of your questions
Breadth instead of Depth: Display the impact over a broad range of topics in a lucid and succinct style.
Way forward: In ‘closure’ give a futuristic, pragmatic solution. It should be positive and indicative to your personality.

The Mains exam is a trial by fire, but if you pursue success relentlessly here, it will not let you down.