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Didn’t clear UPSC prelims 2020? This is for you.

The result is out and it has not turned out to be a favorable one! Is this the end? What should be your next move? Just wait, take a pause. We’ve something to talk. Please read below and then we’ll talk.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

The quote above is apt for who couldn’t clear the UPSC Prelims 2020 exam. A failing result is devastating. No one expects to fail anything they attempt. Especially after you go in with supreme confidence having studied for months and yet fail somehow in the Prelims. What you do next tells more about yourself than flying through the exam and passing with ease. 

But you do not have to worry. Failure is natural; especially in the journey for UPSC success stories. So what do you need to do to cope to bounce back in just 9 months (remember, next Prelims is in 9 months)?

Keys to Getting Back on the Horse:

#1. Failure is feedback. This approach is an agile lifestyle principle. Apply it to your exam results as you do for anything else in your life. Now you know what you need to improve upon. Moderate proficiency requires more mock questions and some further reading. Below proficiency requires a second look as to how you are studying the materials and reviewing your notes. You need to change and find what works for you.

#2. Review Prelims Questions. You must go back and review the answers, especially those you answered incorrectly. Civilsdaily Detailed Answer Key explains as to why the answer is correct or incorrect. Use that explanation to apply to your review. They should give you a result as to which domains you remain strong in and which need improvement.

#3. Don’t Panic! Panicking isn’t going to take you anywhere. Accept that failing an exam is something perfectly normal to happen during your academic life. There are two things you need to know: you’re not alone and you can get a better result. This is just one more obstacle to overcome, one more story to tell, and an experience that will help you do better on the next exam.

#4. Take the time to grieve. First official right of one who has failed UPSC CSE Prelims: the right to grieve! You have a great excuse to take a break and do something like a marathon of your favourite TV series, going out with your friends, drinking a wee bit more than usual, or forgetting about your diet and eating all the chocolate you deserve. But don’t overdo it! One shall not grieve more than 24 hours: life goes on and you have to get back on the bandwagon.

#5. Get things in perspective. After the grief period is over, it’s a good time to get everything in perspective. Just stop for a moment and reflect on what went wrong. Think about what you did and didn’t do during your study period, and ask yourself: “what could I have done differently?” Maybe you should try out different ways to approach your study sessions so that they become more enjoyable and less heavy and boring. 

Maybe you did not give enough prelims mock tests. Maybe you’ve procrastinated so much that you didn’t cover every topic you should have; maybe you were afraid of asking for help to understand a particularly difficult issue. What’s important here is to get to the core of the problem and figure out what you’re going to do differently when you retake the exam.

#6. Get help if you need it. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking for help. It’s a way of showing you want to understand something and don’t take pride in staying ignorant.

Talk to your guru, ask your friends to organise a study group, or simply fill our Samanvaya form and we will talk with you. We all need help sometimes!

#7. Plan for success. If you are going for it again and doing resits and retaking classes, then identify your weak spots and have a plan in place to focus on upping your game. Identify the mistakes you made in the last attempt. It can be because you did not do enough revisions; it might be because you did not attempt enough prelims mock tests; it might be because you gave a certain subject less priority; it may be because of the pandemic effects; it might be plain simple luck of 1-2 marks in the end. But whatever it is, you have to make sure that you do not commit them again and face UPSC Prelims 2021 with better planning and approach.

#8. Do it for yourself and not for other people. Given that UPSC Prelims can be such a public thing I often have to remind my mentees that they should first and foremost take the exams and tests for themselves. Too much worrying about what other people might think or say, or trying to do it to prove your worth is a highway to massive amounts of unnecessary and unhelpful stress. If you thrive under such pressure, great, keep doing it, but if you are someone that crumbles under the weight of such responsibility, a shift in mindset and focus might be required.

#9. It can be fun once you get into the flow of it. I have a senior who took my various doubts sessions. When asked how he likes to relax his reply was that was epic: “No matter how good things are in other parts of your life such as family, social life, and relationships, UPSC CSE Preparation is a major part of your life, and not to be neglected. Since for now, you have chosen to be in the preparation that you are in, it is up to you for the time being to make the most of what you do. Of course in the long term, you can either change your plan and embark on a new career. But for now, you can get to love more of what you do right now.” So do not let the failure of last Sunday affect your overall outlook towards UPSC preparation. 

#10. (For So-Called Veterans) Do not postpone your preparation as you do not have 12 months. And this is the most important message for people who have faced failures in prelims multiple times. Next Prelims is in 9 months. You do not have your traditional 364 days wait for the next prelims. Therefore it does not makes sense to wait for WINTERS TO COME (like Whitewalkers) to think about strategy every month!!! I have seen people postponing their preparation each month and eventually it is after Diwali festivities when they get back on the table!!! Or they keep changing resources, timetable etc. By then your half a year is already gone and you are in the same mode as that of last year: “Should I focus on Prelims (as it has been your sore point) or should I go for Mains cum Prelims approach”.

They are neither here nor there and committing the same mistakes every year. Just never postpone your preparations. Keep it simple. 

Here’s the sad truth. A lot of people sort of let UPSC Preparation “happen” to them. They let their past failures and wrong decisions dictate the course of their futures. Don’t be one of those people. There are very few failures that can completely prevent you from adapting and retrying. As long as you don’t give up, the vast majority of failures will simply make you smarter and more resilient in the future.

“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

J.K. Rowling on Failure, during a speech at Harvard University in 2008

Prelims failure is not the end. Rather, it’s a source of insight. If you don’t like where your failures have gotten you, then learn from them and retry smartly. If UPSC Prelims 2020 was Apollo Creed then you have to become Rocky Balboa in 2021! 


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