Tips for UPSC Mains Answer Writing

The UPSC exam is considered one of the toughest exams in India. The UPSC Mains is the second stage of the exam wherein the candidate has to write descriptive answers for nine papers. Answer writing is one of the most challenging aspects of IAS Mains. In this article, you can read all about writing good answers for the mains exam and moving on to the next level, that is, the IAS interview round.

Download the updated UPSC Syllabus at the linked article.

UPSC Mains Answer Writing

Why is Answer Writing Important?

Learning to write good answers in the IAS mains exam is as important as preparing the subject material itself. This is because no matter what you have read and studied and practised, it is what you have written in the answer booklet that matters at the end of the day. You get your marks for what the examiner actually reads in the form of your answers and the countless number of hours that you put in studying doesn’t matter to him/her. So, it goes without saying that the art of writing answers that are suitable and most expected from candidates is an important one. Read on a few tips that candidates should keep in mind while writing answers for the UPSC mains exam.

Basic Things to Keep in Mind about Mains Answer Writing

  • Your answer should impress the examiner and he/she should feel that the answers were written by a future administrator. 
  • Your answers should answer what the question has actually asked and that too in a manner that is precise, clear, neat, illustrative and beautiful.
  • Another important thing to bear in mind is that the examiner expects different sorts of answers for the general studies papers as opposed to the optional papers. 
    • In the optionals, aspirants are expected to have a deep understanding of the concepts as this is the ‘chosen’ specialist field, and the answers should reflect that understanding. Know all about the best optionals for UPSC here.
    • But in the GS papers, the aspirants should have a good understanding of the concepts (not necessarily deep) which he/she can present multi-dimensionally. That means, for example, a question from the field of international relations should be answered in that domain itself, but it will help if the aspirant is able to extrapolate it to areas like polity and governance, social issues, internal security and so on and so forth.
  • Generally, mains questions contain certain key terms called ‘directional words’ in them which are a clue to figuring out how they are to be answered. Learn all about the directive/directional words in the questions from the link below.

Decode the directive words to crack the Civil Service Mains Examination

Tips for Mains Answer Writing

Some handy tips for improving your answer writing in the UPSC mains exam are given below.

  • Give complete answers: It is important to take a multi-dimensional approach to answer writing in the IAS mains exam. You should approach the answer from 360 degrees and start writing.
  • Use keywords: Always use keywords to highlight important and scoring points in your answers. Try to underline the keywords. 
  • 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).
    • Instances of President’s delay in commuting death sentences has come under public debate as a 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: Your answers should be written in neat and legible handwriting. Give headings and subheadings wherever necessary. Also, have tables and figures if it will augment the quality of your answers.
  • Simple language: Always write in a simple and error-free language. Your writing should be clear, complete and concise. Avoid using jargon and flowery language as this can induce ambiguity in your answers and reduce marks.
  • Points or paragraphs: A lot of aspirants have this doubt – whether to write in points or paragraphs. There is no rule set here that you should follow. It depends on your comfort level and what you are used to. If you feel you can write better in points, continue doing so; and if you are comfortable expressing yourself in paragraphs, you should follow that practice.
  • Adhere to the word count specified by the UPSC. 
  • Practice: This is the most important tip anyone can give. Practice writing a lot of answers in all the subjects as part of your IAS Mains Preparation. Follow our Comprehensive News Analysis every day where we give two mains questions for practice. Post your answers in the comments section on the page.

Check the table below for some paper-specific tips on answer writing:

General Studies Topics covered Tips (apply wherever needed according to the question)
General Studies Paper I Indian Heritage and Culture, History
  • Answer to the point including dates, timeline according to the demand of the question
Geography of the World and Society
  • Add flow charts, diagrams, maps, etc.
General Studies Paper II Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice
  • Add SC verdicts
  • Cite Articles
  • Relevant quotes from personalities and newspapers
  • New policies and schemes
  • National and global survey reports, findings
International Relations
  • Recent developments, international relationships
  • Highlighted terms featured in newspapers
  • Maps if needed
General Studies Paper III Economic Development
  • Recent statistics and figures highlighted by Economic Survey
  • Use phrases in the Economic Survey
  • Global rankings, reports and findings
  • Schemes and policies
Technology
  • Innovation and multiple dimensions
  • Draw figure if possible
Bio-diversity, Environment
  • Relate it with recent happenings wherever needed
  • Environment reports and rankings
  • Flowchart and diagrams
Security and Disaster Management
  • Include recent and highlighted issues
General Studies Paper IV Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude
  • Be thorough with keywords in the syllabus
  • Cite logical solutions and draft simply
  • Cite quotes wherever needed

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