Before you ask this question ,you should understand the relevance of answer writing in Mains .
Every student who has cleared Prelims and is writing Mains has similar and same amount of knowledge when compared to his competitor. Students who have followed the same notes of a teacher /institute/material score differently .Why ? Let’s try to introspect.
Differences amongst candidates in Answer writing :
Background of graduation — I have generally observed that students from Engineering and Science background write an objective/crisp answer while students from art background write a narrative/descriptive styled answer. It is important to understand which writing style is expected by the Examiner in General Studies and Optional papers.
The presentation skills of every candidate varies from one another. Some naturally write a good answer and some have to develop this skill.
Knowing what to write — If you look at some of the questions in GS papers in IAS exams in the last few years, you will realise that the question itself is worded so long. Look at this as an example — -‘Resorting to ordinances has always raised concern on violation of the spirit of separation of powers doctrine. While noting the rationales justifying the power to promulgate ordinances, analyze whether the decisions of the Supreme Court on the issue have further facilitated resorting to this power. Should the power to promulgate ordinances be repealed?’. The comprehending skills of every student is different. Sometimes they end up writing what they know rather than what is asked.
The writing speed of every candidate is different .Aspirants who have been working for few years now have lost the habit of writing and hence it takes them a little more practice than just passsed out graduates.
So ,what I have observed is that the writing skills ,presentation skills, time management skills and comprehension skills of every candudate is different .Hence , the level of answer writing practice that every candidate needs is different.
Now having said that , I would list down some general guidelines on Answer writing practice.
Do not start answer writing practice for Mains in the right beginning .Before you have read and learnt enough content, just writing questions is a time waste.
Once you finish atleast 50%of any subject (General Studies ) you may start answer writing practise.
For optionals you may practice answer writing as and when you finish 20% of the syllabus. Practice from past UPSC questions is the best .
You may stop answer writing practice 100 days before Prelims.
After Prelims ,you may write 5-6 questions every day .Most important you should try to finish them in 40 minutes.
However these are general guidelines and should vary according to the calibre of the student.
You may check this answer on How to write a good answer in Mains –
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