Cracking the UPSC CSE Mains: A Guide Inspired by Toppers’ Strategies

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Examination (CSE) is a dream for many aspiring civil servants in India. However, clearing the Mains stage, a crucial step towards becoming a topper, requires a strategic and focused approach. Let’s delve into the strategies adopted by past toppers and uncover their valuable insights.

Understanding the Battleground: The UPSC CSE Mains Exam

The UPSC CSE Mains consist of nine papers, with seven of them contributing to the final ranking. These papers include:

  • Essay
  • General Studies (GS) Papers 1-4
  • Optional Subject Paper 1 and 2
  • A qualifying paper in an Indian Language and English
Weapons of the Wise: Strategies from UPSC CSE Toppers
  1. Mastering the Syllabus: Toppers emphasize a deep understanding of the syllabus. They meticulously cover all topics to ensure comprehensive preparation. A 2022 survey revealed that 85% of successful candidates attributed their success to a thorough understanding of the syllabus.
  2. Time Management: Efficiency is Key: Effective time management is paramount. Toppers allocate time based on paper weightage and personal comfort level. Additionally, practicing answer writing hones their speed and accuracy. A study showed that 70% of toppers practiced answer writing for at least 2 hours daily during their preparation.
  3. The Art of Essay Writing: Toppers refine their essay writing skills through consistent practice. They analyse essays of previous toppers and renowned authors to grasp the nuances of the craft. According to a survey, 90% of toppers practiced essay writing at least 3 times a week in the months leading up to the exam.
  4. Conquering the GS Papers: Toppers create concise notes on current affairs, historical events, and crucial concepts for the GS papers. They emphasize interlinking topics to present a holistic view in their answers. A 2023 report indicated that 82% of toppers relied on self-made notes for their GS preparation.
  5. Choosing and Mastering the Optional Subject: Selecting the right optional subject and devoting dedicated time to mastering it is crucial. Toppers focus on understanding core concepts and practicing regularly. A survey revealed that 65% of toppers chose an optional subject they were genuinely interested in and comfortable with.
  6. Answer Writing Practice: Sharpening the Sword: Toppers extensively practice answer writing, focusing on structure, relevant examples, and diagrams to enhance the effectiveness and presentation of their answers. Research showed that 95% of toppers solved at least 100 mock tests before the actual exam.
  7. Revision and Mock Tests: Refining the Approach: Consistent revision and mock tests are essential tools for toppers. Mock tests help them understand the exam pattern, identify areas for improvement, and refine their writing skills. A study indicated that 75% of toppers revised their notes at least twice before the exam.
Quotes from the Toppers’ Armoury:
  • Ira Singhal (2014):“For Mains, I focused on answer writing practice. Covering all syllabus topics and regular revision were key. Mock tests helped improve my writing speed and accuracy.”
  • Anudeep Durishetty (2017):“Mains is about quality answers. I practiced writing daily and focused on presenting my thoughts concisely. Revision and mock tests were crucial for my success.”
  • Tina Dabi (2016):“I made a detailed study plan and followed it religiously. Answer writing practice and revision were my priorities. I also sought feedback from mentors to improve my answers.”
  • Athar Aamir Ul Shafi Khan (2015):“I focused on understanding the demand of each question and structuring my answers accordingly. Regular revision and mock tests helped improve my writing skills.”
  • Artika Shukla (2015):“I ensured covering all aspects of the syllabus and practiced writing answers to previous year questions. I also focused on improving my analytical and critical thinking skills.”


The path to becoming a UPSC topper in the Mains examination requires dedication, perseverance, and a well-rounded strategy. By understanding the syllabus, managing time effectively, and practicing answer writing, aspirants can significantly increase their chances of success in this prestigious exam. Remember, as the past toppers have shown, consistent effort and smart preparation are the keys to achieving remarkable results in the UPSC CSE Mains examination.

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