A well-planned timetable is a must for UPSC aspirants as it helps to maintain a structured study routine, manage time effectively, make consistent progress, reduce stress, and adapt to changing circumstances during the preparation journey.

Having attempted the UPSC CSE four times, Valay Vaidya secured an AIR 116 in 2020-21. The IPS officer — currently ASP Savarkundla, Amreli — shares the strategy that worked best for him.

1. Start with subjects you can tackle with ease “Start your preparation journey with subjects that you have a strong hold over. This will help boost your confidence. Once you gain the momentum, moving on to difficult subjects and tackling them becomes easier,” he says.

2. Inculcate the habit of reading a newspaper “I would spend nearly 45 minutes each day reading The Hindu. Always keep the syllabus at the back of your mind while reading the newspaper. For example, do not spend time reading politics, however, spend time on polity,” he adds.

3. Be smart in preparing “Do not waste time on making notes on general awareness topics. There are various institutes that do just this and using those consolidated notes for these subjects is more than enough,” says Valay.

4. Plan ahead “Once I had completed the first round of reading subjects, I started revising. After NCERT books, I moved to books like Laxmikanth for Polity and Spectrum for Modern History. That helped in building on my existing knowledge base,” he says.

5. Attempt one mock paper a day “Not just attempt but one must also spend time analysing the paper and looking at the mistakes. This will give you a very clear understanding of where you stand,” he adds.

6. Focus on answer writing Valay says, “I would have a clear opening, body, and conclusion in my answers. Once done I would check with the answer key to check if I have missed any important points. This will help in understanding how to approach the questions.”

7. Analyse previous years’ papers He urges aspirants to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis with the help of previous years’ question papers. “This will give you a sense of what topics are important and what you can afford to leave out while studying,” he adds.

8. Set small targets “Instead of looking at completing very large portions, set small achievable targets. These can be broken into weekly targets or even daily targets. Achieving the targets will also give you a sense of accomplishment and motivate you to study better,” he says.

9. Revision is key “I would also use acronyms and slogans to remember important points. For example, I learnt the names of the tributaries of Ganga by making a slogan out of their names. The slogan is something that stayed with me and made it very easy to remember,” he says.

10. Use technology to your advantage Valay shares that he used the Evernote mobile app to take notes. “If I found an interesting article, I would copy it onto the app and read through it when I had the time. This saved me time and ability to structure my answer in a very holistic manner,” he shares.