- Think for Thirty Minutes
- What *NOT* to write in an Essay?
- Provokative Essays
- Don’t get Personal (Cong.vs BJP)
- Quoting the Famous Quotes
- Padding with Fodder Material
- Suggested Reading
- Reading Books as a Hobby
- Related articles
This is what I learned from my seniors and toppers.
There are plenty of articles on internet on how to prepare the essay (=read
editorials daily etc.) I’m writing one about how to ‘actually’ write it inside
the exam hall.
In the Essay paper, they give you 4-5 essays and you’ve to
write only one. Time limit -3 hours, Max-marks=200.
In a 2 marker question, UPSC specifically mentions that answer it in 20 words. So with that logic, you’re expected to write an essay containing around 2000 words for the 200 marks.
Tip#1: Think for 30-45 minutes
before you start the Essay writing
Take this example.
They asked an essay on Gandhi, I start writing it. I write something like
Gandhi was born in Porbandar &
then He went to England…africa..come back…freedom struggle..Gandhi-Irwin..2nd
After 1 hour of writing, I realize that I forgot mention about Champaran’s Indigo Struggle when Gandhi got actively involved in Indian Freedom struggle for the first time! Now I can’t add it. Because there is no space in initial pages. However I can still try to add it in the conclusion like
…in 1947 Gandhi won the fight he started with Champaran…”
But when Examiner doesn’t find the mention of Champaran in the initial pages, then he gets an impression you forgot it = less marks. Hence everything has to be written in its place.
That’s why you must…..
Think for 30-45 minutes before you start the Essay writing
You’ve 3 hours to write the essay. Don’t immediately start
- 1st try to recall everything that you can remember / want to say about the
- Take a pencil and write them all (in very brief) on the end of the answer
- See if there is any chance of adding some diagram or table in it?
|Do you remember any? ||*Related to that topic, What are the |
Once you’re done adding everything
that you can think about, regarding the essay- then give those topics, order of
The order is very important, just like in wedding
parties you start with Soup…dal-roti and…Ice cream in the end.
- Background / History related
- Main concept / theory / what the subject is about
- Current scenario related to it.
- Good sides
- Negative sides / obstacles
- Suggested reforms
everything has to be written in its place.
Gandhi’s Champaran must come in the beginning not in the end.
Now SOME DON’Ts
Tip#2:What not to write in essay
1. Autocracy is better than democracy. (know that it’s the democracy that’s allowing you to criticize it) so you should never justify certain solution to India’s problems.
2. Excessive criticism of Govt. / administration (I mean the frontline and The Hindu’s stand)
3. Seeing negative sides with out suggesting reforms in
Tip#3: Provocative Essays
Sometimes the essay topics are given in such a way, that you want to agree all the way. E.g.
- Panchayati raj is wastage of tax payer’s money. (yes it seems so, just like NREGA but when you’re writing an Essay you need to maintain some balance)
- Poor people are their own enemies.
In such cases – just because he gave you statement doesn’t mean you’ve to sing in his tune throughout the paper.DO NOT forget to show the other side of the mirror.
Its Easier to criticize a non working things than to fix it. (Remember this all time during essay.)
Donot give filmy solutions to real life problems. (Munna Bhai MBBS / Slum Dog Millioner.)
Tip#4: Donot get personal
- Don’t go naming individual politicians – their achievement / scandals (Kalmadi, Raja,Amar Singh etc.)
- (except in the foreign policy related essay, where you’ve to analyse from entire Nehru’s Panchsheel era to Vajpayee’s Lahore Bus visit and current affairs.) our Foreign policy has changed with every prime minister so their names need to be mentioned.
- Never write essay talking like “Congress did this and BJP did that.” It’s the trait of a common man, not of a future officer.
- Give a balanced answer With out getting into hero-worship or mud slinging
- If criticizing Govenrment in the essay alone was going to make you IAS officer, then every journalist of Aaj Tak would be an IAS officer.
- An officer’s trait is to remain ‘anonymous’, ‘faceless’ and neutral- meaning your essay should look like it has been written by a graduate.
Same applies for
1. Religion / culture/ language-literature (in philosophical essays)
2. States (in polity / federalism / Development)
I’m not saying you should transform into a sterile person writing the essay with out having any personal view/ opinion or righteous anger but, you mustn’t become too much passionate about certain things.
I’m saying all this because you can never be sure about what will be the political / ideological / religious / regional alignment of the examiner.
This suggestion also applies while dealing with Public Administration (optional subject).
1. Don’t make mistakes in writing who said what. E.g. you quote Abraham Lincon’s sentence and write George Washington said it. nothing will make you look more stupid in the eyes of the examiner than that.
2.Quote Exactly as it was said. Mao said “Power flows from the barrel of a gun” so you should not write it as
“barrel of the gun contains power”
“muzzle of the gun flows the power”
You must quote the quote verbatim. If you’re not sure then don’t quote it.
Tip#6: Padding & Deviating from the subject
Even in the worst case, you’re supposed to write 1200-1500 words for a 250 marks essay.
Padding means, you don’t know the exact answer so you just beat around the bushes and write the garbage stuff to fill up the pages, while this tactic does work in the school and college exams but don’t try it in the essay paper.
Don’t write too many proverbs / quotes/ (invented) case studies/examples per page. It makes the examiner think that you’ve no input of your own so you’re just filling up the pages.
Donot pick up the subject where your idea or thought content is very low.
- Ex. you picked up “Do we need nuclear power” – So you start with how thermal power-stations create pollution, there is huge demand and low supply of electricity, nuke power is cheap, and
then the dangers such as Japanese Tsunami etc.
- After 4 pages, your thoughts and ideas are exhausted-you’ve nothing more to say and assuming that you write 100 words per page, you realise that only 400 words won’t get you any marks ! now you can’t scratch those pages and write a new essay on new topic, you’ve wasted enough time on this one.
- So you decide to continue with this nuke-power essay and start rewriting the same stuff you already stated in different ways and then you’ll deviate from the main topic- like nuke power is unsafe as we saw in Japan
so we need to switch to renewable energy source like Sun, Wind and Water -> then 4 pages on advantages of renewable energy as if this is an essay on “the benefits of Non-renewable energy” and not on nuke power, you write about the pro-cons of hydro-electricity like dams and displacement of people.
- Then you realise “omg, displacement of people also applies while making nuke-powerplants like in Maharashtra!“ so you come back to the topic -half page written but still you’ve not filled up enough pages so you start talking about to land-acquisition policy and start writing the pro-cons..another half page on it. Then you think “oh i must talk something about the Indo-US nuke deal” so you go on talking about how we haven’t signed the CTBT and yet N.S.G gave us clearance and China-Pakistan couldn’t stop it so we are a global power now and we deserve a permanent seat in UNSC! This kind of padding goes on until time is up.
- You’ve messed up the whole thing, you totally deviated from the subject. Your essay doesn’t have any flow of thoughts or proper rhythm. The seasoned examiners immediatly sniff out this padding and they don’t give much marks for it, your expected score for this kind of garbage writing is less than 50/200, means even with decent score in all other papers, your chances of getting interview call is close to zero. You’ve jeopardised your chances
of selection in IAS, you’ve digged your own grave. That’s why
- take great care in picking up the subject
- first 30-40 minutes for thorough thinking.
- stick to the subject
Same applies while dealing with the big 60 marker question in GS and optional papers. (not 30 minutes of thinking but atleast 5-7 minutes!)
Essay is not something that can be learned reading one book or reading for 1 month.
It’s a continuous and long process takes some diverse reading before you’ve enough content to write something decent and something big enough to fill 20 pages to fetch 100+ marks.
- Editorials of english newspapers ( but don’t get swayed about by either leftist
or capitalist stuff preched by both sides)
- Magazines like Frontline,
yojana, Kurukshetra. (it gives you the fodder material: statistical data to quote like how many % illiterate and so on but again don’t use too much statistical data for padding and most importantly don’t ‘invent’ your own case studies and stat.data)
- Watch English news channel – discussions / debates.
- See the old question papers and try to make an outline of each and every Essay asked so far.
Reading Books as a Hobby
To increase your idea and ‘fodder-material’ for brain storming, you can read some books outside studies, related to Indian culture, democracy and Development, just for time-pass for example
Me and my ruined essay
In 2009’s mains attempt, I got only 20/200 marks in the Essay. It was about ‘are we a soft state?’. I wrote it only from the foriegn policy and law-n-order point of view, without seeing the cultural -historical contexts. It was a monotonous essay without any spark. Moral of the story: do try to see different angles of the subject and give a thorough thought before you start writing.
Some veterans are in opinion that you should pick up the essay on technical subject, example space-technology, advances in medical science, how IT has changed lives and so on. Because only a few people attempt them, and due to technical nature, your ideas are unlikely to be in conflict with the examiner so you’ll get more marks.
But then again you need enough ‘content’ to write 1500+ words else the padding route=digging your own grave. And there are enough toppers who wrote the non-technical essay and still got in the top-merit list so as usual for every generalisation made about UPSC, you’ll find a counter example!
Predicting Essays for 2011 Mains paper
- As usual coaching classes try to anticipate which essays will be asked, and UPSC makes sure they are not asked. So be prepared for
- everything- don’t just rely on selected hot-topics like Lokpal and Civil society.
- In old times, it was quite predictable, see the papers from 1997 to 2006: almost every year there is an essay on polity-judiciary, one on women
- empowerment, one on Science-tech, one on democracy and governance. But nowadays UPSC is rapidly breaking the trends.
- Lets look @ the 2010 paper. People predicted: there will be some essay on games, due to CWG or Asiad or even on corruption and good Governance given CWG and 2G scams. But there was nothing.
- I’m putting the comparative list of essays asked in last two years (2009 and 2010). Make your own judgement and prediction and prepare accordingly.
Vulnerable groups of society (India vs. Bharat Debate)
- Should a moratorium be imposed on all fresh mining in tribal areas of the country? (2010) (can be classified as current affairs due to Mines regulation bill)
- Are our traditional handicrafts doomed to a slow death? (2009)
- From traditional Indian philanthropy to the Gates-Buffet model-a natural progression or a paradigm shift?-2010
- The focus of health care is increasingly getting skewed towards the ‘haves’ of our society-2009
- Preparedness of our society for India’s global leadership role. 2010
- Are we a soft state? 2009
- Good Fences make good neighbors. 2009
One more bad news: in 1997 to 2006 era, UPSC gave 6 subjects and you had to write one essay, in 2009: five options and in 2010 : only 4 options.
Writing a good essay is not always easy. It requires right approach and good practice. But it has been observed that many candidates take the essay paper too lightly resulting in a score not comparable with their potential. Hence, it is vital to attempt this paper with the same seriousness as all other papers in GS Mains and learn the art of writing a good essay.
Practice is the key!
Practice, not talent, is the key to success.
Make reading good essays a habit. And more importantly, start writing essays from today.
Participate in ClearIAS Answer Writing Program (AWP) for mains. It’s completely free!
Understanding Essay Paper in IAS Exam
250 marks out of 2025 (12.3 %) are the weight-age of essay paper on total Civil Services Mains Marks as per the latest UPSC syllabus. Since 2015, candidates are asked to write two essays out of 8 choices. Each essay is for 125 marks (1000-1200 words). Check the UPSC CSE Essay Syllabus here.
Time allotted is 3 hours.
Note: Before 2013, UPSC CSE essay paper was only for 200 marks with a single essay to write upon!
UPSC’s expectation from Essay Paper
Examiners will pay special attention to the candidate’s grasp of his/her material, its relevance to the subject chosen and to his/her ability to think constructively and to present his/her ideas concisely, logically and effectively.
How To Write A Good Essay In Civil Service Mains Exam?
- Make a framework (blueprint) of the essay you are going to write first.
- Our advice would be to use simple language. As Anton Chekov once said ‘Brevity is the sister of talent’.
- The idea of using ornamental language to showcase your English vocabulary may backfire at times. But, don’t make your essay sound like a General Studies answer.
- If the introduction can generate a curiosity in the reader, that would be great.
- There should be a logical continuation from beginning to end.
- The essay should be organized in well-structured paragraphs coherent with the flow of the essay.
- Don’t be too aggressive or pessimistic in your tone.
- Come up with good points and express new viewpoints.
- Go through well-written essays by experts in newspapers and magazines, and understand how they frame the ‘Introduction’ and ‘Conclusion’ paragraphs.
- In most cases, there will not be any need for separate coaching or preparation for essays, and candidates’ reading and preparation for General Studies Mains should suffice. But make sure your writing and analytical skills are up to the UPSC expectations; if not, polish it.
- Write mock essays and get it evaluated by experts in the field.
Let’s analyze a few previous year UPSC essay papers.
Essay Questions asked in UPSC (Mains) Examination
Write an essay on any one of the following topics:
- In the context of Gandhiji’s views on the matter, explore, on an evolutionary scale, the terms ‘Swadhinata’, ‘Swaraj’ and ‘Dharmarajya’. Critically comment on their contemporary relevance to Indian democracy.
- Is the criticism that the ‘Public-Private-Partnership’ (PPP) model for development is more of a bane than a boon in the Indian context, justified?
- Science and Mysticism: Are they compatible?
- Managing work and home – is the Indian working women getting a fair deal?
- Creation of smaller states and the consequent administrative, economic and developmental implications.
- Does Indian cinema shape our popular culture or merely reflect it?
- Credit-based higher education system –status, opportunities, and challenges.
- In the Indian context, both human intelligence and technical intelligence are crucial and combating terrorism.
How much is a good score in UPSC CSE essay paper?
As the essay paper is out of 250, marks which are above 50% can be considered good, ie. 125.
Marks between 110-125 is considered as average.
Marks in the range 150-160 are possible for exceptional essays.
Note: UPSC may award poorly written essays marks as low as ‘0’ or ’20’. So beware and pay sufficient attention to proper practice.
Important Essay Topics for UPSC CSE
Topics like Women empowerment, Rural development, Social Justice, Terrorism and Internal Security etc are hot topics for essays and be prepared with various dimensions of the same in UPSC Exam.