The preparation of Mains should start before or at least concurrent with Prelims. Just because you have to prepare for Essay, GS and the two optionals (English and a regional language, the one/two other compulsory, do not require a separate preparation) you never get enough time (to prepare for all these) after the declaration of Prelims' results. Further, while Prelims is only a screening test, it is on the basis of your performance in Mains, on which mainly depends the final outcome of your efforts. Strategically, therefore, the preparation for the examination should start about one year in advance and you should think about appearing in the Prelims only when you have had a strong grip over the Mains' subject matter.
In the early eighties, there were three (Delhi, Allahabad and Patna) major centre of UPSC related activities, while Hyderabad was coming up fast. There used to be 40 to 60 thousand contenders for the coveted posts. Today, while the number of aspirants has risen by over 200 percent, many new centres have come up in almost every state capital and many other major cities. In those days professionals did not see any merit in contention for these jobs, but recent years have witnessed a flood of such aspirants, at times sweeping the top positions in the merit list. In those days History, Sociology, Political Science etc. used to be the most popular optionals while today, many hitherto less known subjects have taken over. Besides, many states have changed their pattern of PCS examination in line with UPSC examination.
This change in the scenario, resultant of a number of factors, demands that the serious contenders to the job must adopt a more rational, more systematic strategy and approach, right from the moment they think of preparing for the civil services examination.
On the first thought of appearing in the Civil Services Examination (C.S.E.), the first issue is the selection of optionals. In a way, selection of right optionals is the most crucial step. Post-graduates in any discipline, generally prefer taking up their parent subject for Prelims. Though such selection is quite logical, aspirants with any science discipline as their base subject must ponder over the issue more seriously. Maths, Physics, Geology etc., optionals for Prelims must be opted for, only if one is out and out thorough with the subject. As UPSC ensures that 'some' candidates from every discipline must qualify for the Mains, aspirants with a science subject must judge themselves correctly regarding their own capability to be included in these 'some'. Some of the social sciences (e.g. History, Sociology and Public Administration) opted by quite a significant majority can, however, be a much safer bet, particularly for those (ordinary science graduates) who do not have any specific parent subject or for those who are not able to develop confidence in their parental subject. In either case, the formal preparation must start from the basic fundamentals, even if a person is already a post-graduate in that subject.
- Subscribe to good educational magazines, especially Competition Success Review, Civil Services Chronicle, The Economist etc.
- Read newspapers regularly, especially the National and International sections. Also read the Editorials, which can help you in improving your writing and expression skills.
- Enroll in some good tuition classes where you can get plenty of actual writing practice.
- Participate in debates, group discussions, elocution competitions etc. as much as you can.
- Do a lot of writing, especially socio-political essay writing, which can boost your language skills.
Re: How to prepare for IAS exam ?
you should be mentally fully prepared to bear the strain of this one-year-long exam; and second, you should have (or develop) a sound expression (written as well as verbal) in the medium (language) you want to appear with. Once you have obtained these two qualifications, other issues regarding preparation for the exam can be handled better and easily.
Re: How to prepare for IAS exam ?
If you are a post-graduate in any discipline, that should be your first and obvious choice; the same would be true if you have done honours in a social science. Selection of first optional for IIT/Medical graduates too has become difficult. The puzzle, therefore relates to graduates in arts and literature who do feel confused.