How to Write Answers for UPSC (Civil Services) Mains Examination?

Writing good answers is like learning a new skill. It takes time, like learning to ride a bike. First, we need to understand each part of it, then put them all together. It’s okay if it takes a while. If you keep trying, you’ll get better.

Many people who are preparing for the UPSC exam spend a lot of time reading many books. They think collecting lots of information is the key. But they forget to practice writing answers. By the time they start practicing, it’s very close to the big test. What’s more important in this test is how well you answer what is asked, not just what you know. In UPSC online coaching you will be taught the same.

Imagine, reading a book is like collecting puzzle pieces. Writing an answer is like putting those pieces together in the right way. In the exam, your answer is checked to see if it fits the question. Most of the marks in this exam come from the answers you write. So, practicing how to write answers is very important!

Elements of Writing a Good Answer

When we go to a restaurant, it’s not just about the main meal. We also enjoy the appetizers, the smell of the food, and how the place looks. After eating the main course, we still look forward to dessert like ice cream or a sweet treat to feel truly satisfied. Writing a good answer is a lot like this experience. It’s not just about the main information but also how it’s presented.

What makes a good answer? A good answer has these parts:

1. Introduction: This is like the start of a meal. It shows that you understood the question.

2. Body: This is the main part, like the main course of a meal. It’s where you give the most information.

3. Conclusion: This is like dessert, wrapping up everything nicely.

4. Flow: It’s like making sure each part of the meal comes in the right order. Your answer should make sense from start to finish.

5. Presentation: This makes your answer easy to read, like how food looks on a plate.

Understanding the Exam and Its Pattern

Getting ready for the Exam to do well, you should understand the exam and how it works.

• Look at old exam papers or previous year questions (also called PYQs) and the syllabus. This will show you what kind of questions come often.

• For instance, many questions about local governments in India appear regularly. Some ask about how effective these local governments are.

• When you see a topic that comes up a lot in old exam papers, make sure to study it in detail. This way, you’ll know not only which topics are important but also what to focus on within those topics.

Understanding the Question

Before writing an answer, it’s very important to understand the question. If you know what the question is asking, you can give a better answer. Here’s how to do it:

1. Read the question 2 or 3 times.

2. Split the question into parts or topics.

3. Look for specific words that tell you what to do, like “discuss” or “examine”.

By doing this, you’ll know what the question wants you to talk about.

Macrostructure of the Answer

When you see a question, plan your answer’s layout in your mind. Think about the main points you want to write and where you want to place them. In other words, this means deciding on the number of headings you will have, their placement, and how many words each section will get based on the question’s marks. Here’s a way to frame a macro-structure your answer:

1. Start with an Introduction:

• This is where you tell the examiner, who is reading your answer that you understand the essence of the question. It lays the groundwork for your main points.

• You can start with different types of introductions: By giving a definition of the keyword, mention recent/current happenings linked to the topic.You can mention different dimensions depending on the questions like reasons, basic features, importance etc.

• Make the introduction specific: Add interesting details like facts, data or examples to make your introduction better or showcasing your understanding about the questions.

2. Write the Main Part (Body):

This is the heart of your answer and responds to the primary demand of the question.

• Appropriate titles/headings: The main section should have content divided under relevant headings, derived from the demand of the actual question.

o For instance, for a question like “Define potential GDP and explain its determinants. What are the factors that have been inhibiting India from realizing its potential GDP?” (Asked in UPSC 2020) – It can be broken into two parts or headings:

1. Key elements of potential GDP

2. Reasons India hasn’t achieved its potential GDP.

• Under each heading, you can list 5-6 argumentative and multidimensional points.

• Argumentative (Debate-style): The content within the main section should be argumentative, suggesting that instead of merely providing examples, each argument should be backed by logical reasoning.

• Multi-dimensional (Wide-ranging): Ensure your answer covers various angles. This might include points from different subjects or views like political, societal, political, historical, financial, and ethical perspectives based on the question. Over time and with practice, you’ll understand importance of this. The key is to read the content and keep in mind that finally you’ll be using it writing answers.

• Substantiation (Supporting evidence): Every point or statement in the body should be supported by appropriate examples, data, or facts. This indicates to the examiner that the points we have presented are authentic.

• Structure a point: It is advisable to begin writing a point with a keyword, briefly explain it, and then substantiate your statement using examples.

• Keyword: It signifies the core of the argument you are writing. It should be selected in a way that, by just seeing the keyword, the examiner gets an idea that you have understood the question and you have written the answer in the right direction, as per the demand of the question.

o Compile a list of vital ideas for each subject to weave into your answers. Like, in a GS2 paper, phrases/keywords might include Political patronage, Transparency, Accountability, Red Tapism, Minimum Government Maximum Governance, Cosmetic Reforms and so on. Similarly, in a GS3 section, phrases or keywords could be – Structural transformation, Economic Shift, Hidden hunger, Greening Agriculture, Green desert, Doubling farmers’ income, Dual distress, Har Khet ko Paani, and more. Hence, collect a list of such important keywords or terms across subjects.

• Point conciseness: Keep the point brief and clear for easier assessment by the examiner.

• Format: Choose between a paragraph or bulleted style, but ensure your answer is multidimensional, argumentative and is supported with examples.

• Readability: Make your points easily identifiable, possibly by emphasizing key ideas, points or writing the keyword at the start of the sentence.

3. Conclusion of an Answer:

This is the last part before the examiner gives out marks. It’s important to give it adequate attention, as it’s your last opportunity to leave a favourable positive impression on the examiner.

Elements of a Conclusion:

•  A conclusion should have a wide scope and look towards the future.

•   One should briefly recap the points presented in the answer.

•   One should write a conclusion that offers solutions.

In short, planning and structuring your answer well can help you score better!

Some other Important Elements in Effective Answer Writing for UPSC

1. Value Addition:

Once you know how to write a basic answer, you can make it even better to stand out.

Things to Do.

• Facts, Data, committee recommendations, Supreme Court judgements, constitutional articles, personality or expert quotes, etc., can make your answer more interesting and will add value to your answer.

• Keep a special notebook with all these details, so you can review them before your exam.

• Even if not directly asked, suggesting the next steps can be a value addition to relevant questions.

• Government policies can be cited in some answers.

• Referencing case studies can increase the credibility of the answer.

4. Organizing Your Thoughts (Flow):

• It’s essential for the answer to have a coherent flow. The arguments presented should be logical and organized in order of importance.

5. Making It Look Good (Presentation):

It serves as the finishing touch, earning additional marks that can improve your rank, service, and cadre.

• For better presentation you can use tables, diagrams, flow charts etc.

• Putting the heading in a box also makes your answer look neat and improves presentation.

Steps to Improve Presentation:

• If you’re just starting, don’t worry too much about improving presentation.

• First, draft your content naturally, then convert it into tables, flow charts, or diagrams. Repeatedly doing this process while writing different answers will help you in identifying opportunities to use flow chart, diagrams etc., thereby improving your presentation over time.

• Create some diagrams for frequently covered topics in advance and use them directly during the examination.

Remember, a well-organized and good-looking answer can help you gain extra marks!

The Method of Learning Answer Writing Skills

Here’s a structured method to improve one’s skill to write answers.

Choose a topic from the syllabus. Collect several questions on it from NCERTs, previous year questions, and daily practice sessions. Read and prepare the topic. Attempt to solve the selected questions. Have your mentor evaluate your answers. Implement their feedback and rewrite your answers. It’s very important to rewrite your answers to register the corrections and suggestions in your memory. Request your mentor to evaluate them again. Make any additional adjustments as recommended. Later, review these answers to remember your initial mistakes and the suggestions given.

Furthermore, for the initial 20-30 answers, don’t get stressed about the time you are taking to write an answer. It’s important to first start learning before practicing under time constraints.

The Level-Wise Advancement to Learn the Skill:

• Beginner Level (Level 1): Start by understanding the essence of the question – break it into broad headings to establish the macro structure. Then compose a simple introduction, main content (body), and conclusion.

In the main content, contemplate the different perspectives you can incorporate and present coherent arguments. Don’t worry about the quality, it will gradually improve over time with consistent practice. Likewise, begin with a forward-thinking conclusion that recap your answer.

• Intermediate Level (Level 2): After mastering the basics, proceed to improve or refine your answer. Construct a more customized introduction and incorporate specific examples.

For the main content (body), write more precise keywords for your points and substantiate your arguments with appropriate data or examples. Use a structure where the keyword is introduced first, then explain it, and then provide evidence or details to support that point.

• Advanced Level (Level 3): Now, focus on improving the presentation and enriching your answer. Start using diagrams, flow charts etc. Furthermore, add quotations and case studies into your answer.

Following this approach, your answer-writing skills will steadily improve. After mastering the art of a well-crafted answer, the emphasis shifts to frequent practice to make it habitual. After the initial learning phase, consistent practice is crucial. Hence, stay patient throughout this journey.

Prerequisites for the Mains Exam

The methods we have discussed so far is designed to excel in the Mains exam. However, before you write the Mains, consider these pointers. Write short notes for every important topic (covering both facts and analysis), to streamline your revision. Regular practice and thorough answer evaluations can minimize exam-day anxiety. Aim to write every question in the exam since each mark matters. Above all, maintain confidence in your abilities to conquer the exam.

Remember that Answer writing is fundamentally an art. The development of this writing skill requires time, combined with aspirants’ dedication, determination, and access to proper guidance or mentoring. Though the path might seem daunting to some, by diligently adhering to the outlined process, one can make quick progress in mastering the art of writing quality and compelling answers.

Acknowledgment: The insights and methodologies presented in this ‘ How to Write Answers for UPSC (Civil Services) Mains Examination’ article are the product of the profound expertise of Elite IAS Academy‘s academic specialists. These professionals have made significant contributions to our reputed UPSC test series and have a history of excellence.

Not only do they bring a wealth of knowledge to the table, but they also actively engage and interact with students who are a part of the Elite IAS mains test series, ensuring a holistic and interactive learning experience. Trust in their experience and expertise as you navigate your preparation journey.

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