UPSC Mains Answer Writing Tips: Things to Do and Avoid

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 practiced, 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 of from candidates is an important one. In this article, we discuss a few tips that candidates should keep in mind while writing answers for the UPSC mains exam.

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 sort 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. 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. Some of the important ones are discussed below:

Elaborate: In this type of question, candidates are required to explain what is asked in detail. Their views are not asked here.

Discuss: Here, they are required to bring out the pros and cons or both sides of the question.

Elucidate: Here, aspirants are expected to make the question clear or explain or elaborate in detail. Candidates’ views on the matter are not required in this type of questions.

Critically Examine: Similar to discuss question type, here they should observe or analyse the main idea of the question and associate merits and demerits of the topic. They should also bring a definite conclusion to the issue concerned.

Express your views: This type of question requires candidates’ unique perspective. Right or wrong does not matter; what matters in taking a logical stance and supporting it with facts, reasoning and justifications.

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