How to Write Concise Answers in the UPSC Mains Exam

“When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.” – William Shakespeare

The UPSC mains exam consists of descriptive papers where you have to write answers in a booklet handed over to you in the exam hall. You won’t be given extra sheets to write your answers. And, you will also be required to stick to the word count given for the question. Sometimes, it can feel like you have a lot to say whereas the word count limit and the space constraint don’t allow you to do so. But this is precisely the point. You have to answer what is asked by the USPC within those constraints. For those accustomed to writing short and crisp answers, this is par for the course. But for others more used to writing long answers, this can be a problem. To score more marks in the civil services exam, you will need to answer to the point and briefly too. There are many ways in which you can trim the fat in your answers and make them more appealing. Read on to find out how to write concise answers in the IAS mains exam.

  • Use active voice instead of passive voice. A sentence in active voice is shorter and direct. Only sometimes you will need to use the passive voice. Examples of situations where passive is used include where you don’t wish to name the actor, where you don’t know who the actors are, and where you want to emphasize the action more than the actor.

E.g. Hundreds of people are diagnosed with cancer every year.

For all other sentences, use active voice.

  • Put the action in the sentence as the verb rather than as a noun.

Example: Instead of writing, “The Minister gave an analysis of the incident.”

You could write: “The Minister analysed the incident.”

  • Remove avoidable prepositional phrases.

Example: Instead of writing, “The recommendations of the Committee…”

You could write: “The Committee’s recommendations…”

  • Use one word instead of multiple/wordy words wherever you can. A few examples are given below:



Cognizant of

Aware of, know

Impact on


Subsequent to




For the reason that

Because, since

Due to the fact that

Owing to the fact that

On the grounds that

Considering the fact that

In the event that


Under circumstances in which

If it should transpire that

Despite the fact that

Although/even though

Regardless of the fact that

On the occasion of


In a situation in which

Is able to


Has the opportunity to

Has the ability/capacity to

It is crucial that


It is important that

There is a necessity

There is a chance that


It is possible that

The possibility exists for

Prior to


In anticipation of

Following on

Simultaneously with

At the same time as

Let us take example questions from 2015 UPSC mains exam GS Paper I:

  1. Q) Explain the factors responsible for the origin of ocean currents. How do they influence regional climates, fishing and navigation? (12.5 marks, 200 words)

Here, you start by writing the factors causing the ocean currents. Instead of writing ‘the factors responsible for the origin of ocean currents are divided into classes’, you could write the following:

The two classes of factors affecting ocean currents are primary causes and secondary causes.

Primary causes affect the origin and the secondary causes determine the direction of flow of the ocean currents.

Avoid words like ‘essentially divided into’. You can convey the same meaning by saying just ‘divided into’.

Q). India is well endowed with freshwater resources. Critically examine why it still suffers from water scarcity. (12.5 marks, 200 words)

Here, while discussing all the points, you can talk about the need for farmers to take up modern irrigation techniques. Instead of writing, ‘farmers need to be encouraged to take up modern irrigation techniques’, you could write the following sentence:

The government should encourage farmers to use modern irrigation techniques like drip irrigation, etc.

Advantages of writing concise answers:

  • The examiner will know that you actually know the answer and are not trying to simply fill up the word count.
  • The examiner will be tempted to give more marks when he sees what is asked in a direct and to-the-point manner.
  • You will be able to finish the paper if you cut down your unnecessary words.

So, avoid writing words that don’t add to the meaning or beauty of your answers. Nobody wishes to read extra words that don’t add information or meaning.

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