Golden Tips on Answer Writing for UPSC Mains

The 2018 UPSC prelims is behind us and aspirants must now be focusing their attention on the UPSC mains exam which is due to be held in September-October 2018. Clearing the UPSC mains exam requires a different approach to the prelims exam. In the prelims, UPSC assesses your expanse of knowledge. In the mains though, you will be judged on various parameters like knowledge, writing skills, analysis and even creativity. This article talks about how you can enhance your answer writing skills for IAS mains exam.

In the UPSC mains exam, it is not sufficient if you only write plain answers to the questions. In fact, it is an art to try and understand what exactly is asked. Remember the following points before you start UPSC answer writing practice for IAS Mains exam 2018.

Give complete answers

It is important to take a multi-dimensional approach to answer writing in IAS mains exam. You should approach the answer from 3600 and start writing for IAS Mains. For instance, if there is a question on feminist movement in India, you have to give a complete picture. This would include a brief about what is feminism before writing on its development in India. You have to present a complete story including its positives and negatives.


Understand what is asked/ Directive words

There are certain words included in the question which indicate how it is to be answered. These are called directive words. Examples are justify, critically evaluate, discuss, comment, examine, analyse, etc. Each of them warrants a specific approach to answer writing in IAS mains exam. Take a look at the following question asked in the UPSC Mains exam 2016:

Q) “In the Indian governance system, the role of non-state actors has been only marginal.” Critically examine this statement. (12.5 marks)

Here, the directive word/phrase is ‘critically examine’. When you see ‘critically’, you should see the pros and cons of the statement and present a fair judgement of it. The word ‘examine’ requires you to delve deep into it and get to the causes or consequences/implications of it.

Read more on directive words.


Use keywords

Always use keywords to highlight important points and scoring points in your answers. Try to underline the keywords. This will make the examiner’s job a tad easier.


Substantiate your answers

Don’t forget to substantiate what you claim in your answers. This will give legitimacy to your answers, not to mention, make you look well-read to the examiner. In some questions, you will be asked to ‘substantiate’. In these cases, it is mandatory to give real-life examples to situations. Look at the following question that was asked in UPSC mains exam 2014 (GS Paper II).

Q) Instances of President’s delay in commuting death sentences has come under public debate as denial of justice. Should there be a time limit specified for the President to accept/reject such petitions? Analyse.

Here, you should use examples of Supreme Court rulings and cite real cases to justify what you are saying in your answer.



Presentation is important since you are not typing the answers. It is important to make the answers neat and legible. Give headings and subheadings wherever necessary. Also, have tables and figures if it will augment the quality of your answers.



The last tip in improving your answer writing in IAS mains is daily practice. Practice makes perfect and this can be the key that will separate you from your rivals. You can enroll for the BYJU’S Mains Answer Writing Series that will help enhance your answer writing skills and also give you a good practice for the actual exam.


Visit BYJU’S Website for strategy and articles on free IAS prep and all the latest on UPSC IAS exam.

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