The Four-Pronged Approach to IAS Mains Answer Writing

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert

How to write perfect answers for IAS mains exam is a question that must be rattling many heads right now. The IAS Mains exam is scheduled to be held in the month of October 2017. The mains as you probably know, consists of nine descriptive papers spread over five days. It is a tricky affair to write good answers that answer what is exactly asked, that shows the writer’s intelligence and analysing skills, impresses the examiner and is within the prescribed word limit. We present a handy four-pronged approach to IAS mains answer writing.


The Four-Pronged Approach to IAS Mains Answer Writing


The first step after reading the question is to identify the subject or topic area it falls under. Since the General Studies papers include more than one subject, you should first identify the subject and the precise topic area it belongs to.



UPSC answer writing is all about relating. You have to relate what is asked in the question to what you have read – not just the static portions (which is easy enough) but to current affairs material. For example in the following question that was asked in IAS Mains 2016: “Examine the main provisions of the National Child Policy and throw light on the status of its implementation.” You have to include in your answers all the recent legislations and schemes of the government in this context.



This refers to the Directive Words that you encounter in all the questions. These words indicate how you have to answer the question. Given below are the common directive words and what they mean.

  1. Describe: here you have to write what is something like, how it works, features, etc.
  2. Discuss: here you have to explain a concept, give corroborative facts and if needed, give the pros and cons.
  3. Explain: here you have to simply explain what is asked, or give reasons or causes attributed to anything.
  4. Classify: as the name suggests, you have to classify or give and substantiate different categories for any concept.
  5. Comment: here you have to write about your views on a topic.
  6. Critically examine: here you have to write the pros and cons of an argument. ‘Critically’ implies giving both sides of the coin.
  7. Elaborate: here you have to write in detail about a topic or concept.
  8. Elucidate: here you have to clarify or make clear something asked in the question. Elucidate means ‘to make clear’. You will need to give supportive facts and figures to clarify something.
  9. Analyse: this implies explaining a concept or topic from many dimensions. You have to present a complete picture of the topic taking into account all factors affecting the subject in question.
  10. Account: here the reasons for any concept are asked.
  11. Compare: here you have to compare two or more concepts or ideas and showcase their similarities and differences.
  12. Contrast: here the differences between two or more concepts or things are asked.
  13. Criticise: here you have to point out the weaknesses or limitations of any concept or idea. You should also present some favourable points to keep the balance in the answer.
  14. Evaluate: here you have to present the value of any concept, its usefulness, etc.
  15. Define: here as the name suggests you have to define any concept or idea. Then you will have to explain it a bit.
  16. Explore: here you have to delve deep into a topic.
  17. Justify: here you have to give reasons for a particular argument.
  18. Illustrate: here you have to provide examples to demonstrate a point given in the question.
  19. State: here you have to give the points asked without too much discussion.
  20. Summarise: here you have to basically write a summary which means no going into details but only the outline of the topic asked.
  21. Prove/disprove: here again, like in justify, you have to give points for (prove) or against (disprove) a topic idea. You should also give relevant examples.
  22. To what extent: here you have to say in what ways something is true and in what ways it is not, i.e., the extent.
  23. Trace: this is mostly asked in historical questions. You should mention the journey of something, its chronological order, etc. For example, trace the life and work of so and so. Or, trace the development of Mathura school of art in ancient India, etc.



This step refers to inferring from the question. Every question has an innate viewpoint. You have to identify it and then form your own view and relate it to the one in the question.


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