Compulsory Language Papers for Mains - An Overview

Civil Service Exam conducted by UPSC consists of 2 compulsory language papers which are only qualifying in nature. But every year it has been noticed that around 10% of the mains aspirants fail to clear the language paper despite a decent performance in General studies and optional. The worst part is a failure in language paper will lead to non-disclosure of your score in other papers. Hence it is advised not to be complacent with language papers even though their scores are not added to the final total.

Aspirants would find this topic very helpful while preparing for the IAS Exam

Aspirants should begin their preparation by solving UPSC Previous Year Question Papers UPSC Previous Year Question Papers now!!

To complement your preparation for the upcoming exam, check the following links:

Language Paper in UPSC Mains

The compulsory language papers in the civil service mains exam comprise of 2 papers:

1) English Language (300 marks)

2) Any Indian Language (300 marks)

Qualifying Marks for UPSC Language Paper

As per the UPSC 2020 notification, the minimum qualifying marks for both papers is 25% i.e. 75 marks in each paper. Scoring this minimum cut off is not that difficult given how simple the syllabus is. Let us have a look at the strategy to be adopted to tackle these 2 papers.

UPSC Compulsory English Paper

The objective of the paper is to test a candidate’s ability to read and understand serious descriptive prose and to express his ideas clearly and correctly. So, let’s understand the pattern of the English paper.

Pattern of Question Marks
1.      Short Essay 100
2.      Reading Comprehension 75
3.      Precis Writing 75
4.      Usage and Vocabulary 50

Short Essay

UPSC gives 4 general topics out of which an aspirant is expected to pick one and answer. The intent of this essay is not to test a candidate’s in-depth knowledge regarding the topic chosen rather the objective is to test whether a candidate can express his thoughts, emotions and opinions in English at a basic level. The word limit for this essay is 600 words. So, a candidate need not prepare exclusively for this essay as the preparation done for GS and Essay paper is sufficient. Regular reading of the newspaper will help improve your language and your writing skills.

Structure your essay into 3 parts:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion

This way your essay looks organised. Ensure that you brainstorm on the structure of the essay before you start writing.

Reading Comprehension

The key to scoring well in this section is to focus and read the passage thoroughly to grasp the gist of the passage, it’s the essence, the theme and author’s opinion. It is advised to highlight some of the important points in the first reading itself. Then read the questions thoroughly and before answering read the passage again because the passage will contain direct cues to answer the questions. While writing the answer, express clearly and concisely.

Precis Writing

This constitutes the toughest part of the paper because compressing an essay of 1000 words into just 1/3rd without losing the very essence is a challenge indeed. Given the task at hand, the time required also goes up. So, the challenge is to efficiently compress the given passage within the stipulated time frame.

Read the given passage carefully and understand the core ideas involved. Then, prepare a rough draft which will contain all the crucial points. Later this can be made to fit into the boxes given. While filling up the boxes, be very judicious and try not to waste too many boxes for articles (a, an, the) and prepositions (on, at, in, on).

Note: Never deviate from the core idea in the given passage and be conscious of the time constraint.

Usage and Vocabulary

This section will contain various 1 markers. Questions range from –

  1. Correcting a sentence
  2. Supplying the missing words
  3. Using the correct form of verbs
  4. Writing Antonyms/Synonyms
  5. Rewriting the sentence as directed
  6. Making Sentences as directed
  7. Fill in the Blanks
  8. Making sentences using phrases

As you can see, these questions are very simple and the standard is of Matriculation or equivalent level. Try finishing these questions as quickly as possible since they are not time-consuming in nature.

Time Management

As discussed above, precis writing is the biggest challenge as far as time management is concerned. If you have good writing speed, the rest of the sections shouldn’t pose a problem. The below table contains an ideal time break up and the preferred order in which sections should be attempted.

Sections Time
1.      Short Essay 50 mins
2.      Precis Writing 55 mins
3.      Reading Comprehension 45 mins
4.      Usage and Vocabulary 30 mins

Compulsory Indian Language Paper

The objective of UPSC is to test a candidate’s basic proficiency i.e. reading, writing and comprehending skills with regard to Indian languages as listed under the 8th schedule of our constitution. With this mind, let’s look at the pattern of the paper.

Pattern of Question Marks
1.      Short Essay 100
2.      Reading Comprehension 60
3.      Precis Writing 60
4.      Translation (2) 40
5.      Usage and Vocabulary 40

Indian Languages and Scripts Allowed by UPSC for Civil Services Exam

For the Language medium/ literature of languages, the scripts to be used by the candidates will be as under:

1.      Assamese Assamese
2.      Bengali Bengali
3.      Gujarati Gujarati
4.      Hindi Devanagari
5.      Kannada Kannada
6.      Kashmiri Persian
7.      Konkani Devanagari
8.      Malayalam Malayalam
9.      Manipuri Bengali
10.  Marathi Devanagari
11.  Nepali Devanagari
12.  Odiya Odiya
13.  Punjabi Gurumukhi
14.  Sanskrit Devanagari
15.  Sindhi Devanagari or Arabic
16.  Tamil Tamil
17.  Telugu Telugu
18.  Urdu Persian
19.  Bodo Devanagari
20.  Dogri Devanagari
21.  Maithili Devanagari
22.  Santhali Devanagari or Olchiki

Note: For Santhali language, the question paper will be printed in Devanagari script; but candidates will be free to answer either in Devanagari script or in Olchiki.

Note: Indian Language Compulsory Paper will not be compulsory for candidates hailing from the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim.

In Indian Language paper, apart from translation and usage and vocabulary sections, the strategy for others is almost the same as that of the English paper. Find below a few tips which can aid you in your language paper preparation:

  1. The biggest difficulty aspirants face in this paper is because most of us would have lost touch with our native language. Our writing and comprehending skills in our native language would have gone down considerably since our school days as we are used to carrying out our day to day dealings in English. Addressing this lacuna will make it easier to deal with this paper.
  2. This calls for us to get back in touch with the basics of our native language on a regular basis. The solution for this is to read vernacular newspapers a few weeks before the exam. This will help one improve their vocabulary, sentence formation and comprehension skills.
  3. Writing speed in your native script is another area of concern. This can be addressed by writing a small essay immediately after reading a newspaper. A few weeks of practice is sufficient to improve the writing speed.
  4. Translation section contains 2 questions wherein you are required to translate from native language to English and vice versa for the other question. While translating, it is advised to avoid word to word literal translation as this would take away the essence of what the passage is trying to convey. The best strategy is to read the complete passage once and then begin translating while ensuring that all crucial points, meanings and phrases are retained.
  5. Usage and vocabulary section is slightly different from the English paper. It contains few basic concepts related to grammar, root words, sentence formation and few trivia related to popular literary works, poets of that language. The best reference for this section would be a matriculation level language book which contains grammatical concepts.

Time Management

Sections Time
1.      Short Essay 45 mins
2.      Reading Comprehension 30 mins
3.      Precis Writing 45 mins
4.      Translation (2) 30 mins
5.      Usage and Vocabulary 30 mins

The above details would help candidates prepare for UPSC 2023.

Related Links

IAS Salary UPSC Eligibility
UPSC Books Static GK
Civil Service Exam UPSC Syllabus
Best Optional Subjects for UPSC 10 Must-Read Books for IAS Aspirants


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