“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” This is true about writing practice as much as it is about combat. But before deciding how often you should write or when to start writing, it is essential to understand why it is important to write and what difference it can make in the actual examination hall.
There are two fundamental drivers of success in the Main examination
- A low response time in thinking, which is the ability to quickly decide how you want to draft the answer and what points to include.
- A low response time in writing, which is the ability to convert your thoughts into action quickly.
A combination of these two factors will determine, how much you can write in under 9 minutes and how well.
In my opinion, a lot of the aspirants blindly assign more importance to writing than ‘thinking’ as a part of their preparation strategy.
If your speed in recollecting facts is low or if you are spending too much time trying to understand a question, then howsoever fast you may be in writing, it ultimately doesn’t bear fruit.
Strategy to double your outcome from writing practice
First, pick a set of topics you want to cover and gain absolute conceptual clarity in each of them. This means you need to understand the “why” aspect of every topic/question as much as the “what” aspect.
Let’s take the example of Shanta Kumar Committee recommendations. The “what” aspect will include factual knowledge about the recommendations like decentralised procurement, an area-based subsidy to farmers, alignment of MSP with market prices etc.
But “Why” these reforms? It is a part of the reforms in the agriculture sector post-1991, where we are moving from a model of Government regulated agriculture to a market-based, de-regulated and commercialised agriculture in line with WTO norms.
If the why aspect is well understood, it is very easy to fit into the factual “what” pieces.
Second, pick a collection of high-quality Main Examination question papers. This could be a combination of previous year UPSC papers, Mock Tests from reputed coaching institutes, online answering challenges etc.
Pick relevant questions from them on the topics you have covered. To every question, now draw a mind-map of how you would like to structure the answer, i.e. how you would like to introduce and conclude, what connection to make, what facts to present, what arguments etc. It can be one-word scribbles, drawings, flow-charts or whatever works for you. The idea is to work on the speed “thinking” not “writing”.
You could sometimes even do the whole exercise mentally, without touching your pen. But it is essential that you do LOTS of questions.
This is to be done on a daily basis, starting as early as you can in your preparation, as and when you complete a set of topics.
This could also be integrated with your note-making process.
Third, full-length mock-tests. This can be relatively delayed. Starting maybe 3 months before Mains. With fast thinking now in place, full-length tests will become so much easier.
Full-length Tests will help you with the following
- Simulation of the actual exam atmosphere (when taken at a coaching institute.)
- Building physical and mental endurance through the 3-hour drills
- Feed-back, evaluation and corrections.
In Mains, you are finally only as good as your answer sheet. Nothing else will matter.