The Da Vinci Code: UPSC, Ethics & You

UPSC has come up with a change in the civil services mains examination in terms of both the syllabus and and the pattern. There are 4 general studies papers now apart from one essay and optional paper each. Out of the new syllabus the paper on Ethics Aptitude and Integrity (GS paper 4) has been a dilemma for most students. A quality source for preparation for this paper seems to elude students. It is hard to decode the paper.So, let’s discuss the preparation strategy for this paper.   Following is a statement issued by UPSC in regard to the paper:   “The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio‐ economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.”   Ethics needs to be treated as a subject just like history or geography or any other for that matter.However this subject is not to be mastered but a basic understanding needs to be acquired. Basic understanding will only come through studying the subject very well i.e. a lot of reading. You should also develop the ability to analyze whatever you read. UPSC also checks the ethics of the aspirants  at the prelims stage in the decision making/ interpersonal skills section of the CSAT Paper 2, but ethics as a part of the civil services mains has a much wider scope. Ethics has its roots in Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Public Administration  and the syllabus is definite.   You are not expected to write answers that are too technical in nature as this is a general studies paper. A fresh writing style, clear thinking and adequate reading is required to score good in the ethics paper. This paper aims to test a candidate’s integrity and problem solving skills.   What to study?

  • Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships.
  • Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values.
  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.           
  • Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service , integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections.
  • Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world.
  • Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance.
  • Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s
  • Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.
  • Case Studies on above issues.

  Strategy: Step 1. Know the syllabus well: Get a hold on the syllabus first, know what you have to learn and then go about learning. Step 2. Go through the previous years’ papers:  Going through the previous years’ papers is something that you must do without fail, also you can go through the first sample paper that UPSC released. Observe the questions and the case studies and you will find a pattern. It’s all about decoding the apper. Awaken the ‘Robert Langdon’ in you! Step 3. Know the ethical issues in news: It is very important to be updated on the latest developments in India and around the world on ethical issues. Step 4. Know the sources to read from:

  • Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude by G Subba Rao and PN Roy Chowdhary (selected chapters)
  • Byju’s Tablet
  • IGNOU material on Ethics
  • Lexicon

Step 5. The right approach: Clarity of thought, coherence, logical writing is what UPSC is looking for. Practice answer writing and also believe in the things that you write. It’s about practicing integrity in real life, not just writing about it. Step 6. Practice answer writing: Practice with our Mains Test Series to get a higher rank. Step 7. Practice case studies: Videos by Michael Sandel on the Harvard University’s website are considered to be a fairly good source. A few things to note:

  • Don’t read from too many sources
  • Avoid too much research
  • Acquire a basic understanding, not mastery
  • Be thorough with current affairs
  • Practice answer writing

Last but not the least, you cannot ‘fake’ ethics, it’s something that one has or doesn’t have and in either case it will clearly show in your answers. So, along with practicing answer writing you should also practice integrity and ethics in your personal life. Know yourself and the world around you. Let your answers flow from your mind and soul, don’t just lock away your soul while the mind answers. Internalise your intuition. If you aspire to be a civil servant your actions and thoughts must show some responsibility towards yourself and the society. That my friend is the code.. Know yourself!   All the best!

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