HOW TO WRITE UPSC MAINS ANSWER

Answer writing is the most important and crucial factor which can make or break your result. The amount of knowledge you have matters, but what matters more is how you can convert that knowledge into good answers. The answer you are going to write has to be effective in order to earn an advantage over the competition. Writing good answers does not come in a day. It’s a long drawn out process, but one that is definitely rewarding in the exams.

It is said that answer writing is an art. The good news is that any form of art can be learnt over a period of time. All it takes is will and effort, regular practice and some guidance.

- Mr. Ankit Kumar, Director (Aspire IAS)

We are here to provide you help with the guidance part and we hope you successfully integrate the tips we are going to provide in your preparation. Aspire IAS Writing Skill Development Programme is designed in such a manner that it will fulfill all your needs.


How to impress examiner with your mains answers

  • Understand the question fully and correctly before contemplating an answer for it.
    Questions in the Mains examination come with certain directives like ‘discuss/ critically discuss’ etc. and you should be able to grasp clearly what that particular directive is asking you to do. You should consult the accompanying table on various directives and their meanings for a proper appreciation of what the examiner is expecting from you in the answer.

  • Develop a basic mental framework of the answer before actually committing anything to paper.
    The moment you have read and understood a given question, you should be able to form the structure for the answer in your mind. With practice it becomes easier and easier to do this and if required, jot down (with a pencil) whatever you remember as and when you remember it.

  • Don’t wait for the answer to come to you, instead force it out. It is important that you learn how to force an answer out of you. This is not something very hard to achieve. Think of it in this way. You are a serious aspirant and you have prepared considerably for the Mains examination and as a result you are in the possession of a considerable amount of information, facts, ideas etc . If time were not an issue you could contemplate generously before each and every sentence you write but within a given time limit you do not have such luxuries of time.

  • Don’t overstretch your imagination. UPSC requires that you have a good understanding of a given issue and that the same should be readily understandable when expressed. Over brooding and philosophizing may lead to confusion and as such it should be left out of Mains answer writing. Moreover, this can save you time and effort which can be used in answering other questions efficiently.

Structuring of a good answer



  • Write a fitting introduction to your answer.
    Ideally, the introduction should not only introduce the topic/issue/idea to the examiner but also (very) briefly narrate the central premise of the answer. If the question has two or more parts, then all parts must be introduced briefly. The introduction should not be lengthier than 20% of the word limit at any cost, and its ideal length is about 10% of the word limit. For introducing your answer choose first the crux of the problem/issue/idea that the question is inquiring about. Then add to it the one line version of the answer that you are planning to write. Finally, if space permits write the ‘verdict/sentiment/judgement’ in another line. .

  • Step 2: Divide the main body of the answer into paragraphs or bullets as required.
    Each paragraph or bullet should have one point only and the most important points or the points that you have recalled fully should go first. When you are asked to discuss both positive and negative aspects of an issue, you can either list all the positives in one paragraph and then list the negatives or you can go for a positive-negative combination in each paragraph.

  • Step 3: Wrap up your answer with a well-balanced conclusion.
    • You can balance your conclusion with a healthy positive opinion . The opinion does not necessarily have to be original but ideally (and mostly) has to be a positive one.
    • Never end on a negative note or tone ; you must be able to see the silver lining in the clouds.
    • Also, never end the conclusion by posing another question. If you want to pose a question as part of your answer, do so in the main body of the answer only.
    • Also, avoid ending your answer in the rhetoric and instead try to put forward a solution or a way-forward. This shows a positive bent of mind and a willingness to find solutions - things that any CSE aspirant should possess.
    • To conclude your answer, begin with a simple sentence that brings together all the main elements/points/arguments of the answer.
    • Follow it up with the above-mentioned positive opinion. The last sentence should be a general statement reiterating the ‘verdict/ sentiment/judgement’ mentioned in the introduction.

Whether to enroll in a test series

  • • Ideally, if it is possible you should enroll for a test-series. A good test series like Aspire IAS Mains Test Series can not only guide you but it can also help you maintain a time-table. Besides, it will tell you where you have fared well and where work needs to be done. In any case, having a regular report card on your answer writing is always helpful.
  • • If you are pressed for time, or if for some reason it is not possible for you to join a good test series, you should try and do the following:

If you are in a coaching or have a mentor then you should periodically get your answers checked by them. Then, you can also go for peer review where aspirants check each other’s answers. On these lines, we offer WRITING SKILL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM. To read more about it, click here.

  • Feedback is a very important part of the learning process and good feedback can help you with course correction in your preparation, and also help you in the evaluation of progress in your answer writing practice.

Time management in the exam hall

  • • To manage time while attempting the Mains examination mean that you know how to allocate the right amount of time to each question so, that you can complete all the questions within 3 hours. The three rules of thumb for time management in this case are
    • i) Go with the flow while writing and thinking; learn to trust yourself; do not indulge in self-doubt like being unable to decide whether to write a particular thing or not.
    • ii) Write in language that comes naturally to you; do not use forced made-up writing styles, and
    • iii) Do not get stuck with one question – temporarily leave the question that you are unable to write at a particular moment and move on to the next question; come back to the difficult question as and when you get the opportunity to do so.

With practice you should be able to master the time management aspects of the Mains examination.

  • Always stick to the word limit; develop a good writing speed; try to consume as less personal time as possible - in the exam hall, drinking water, going to the bathroom, changing pens, imagining how others are faring etc. qualify as personal time; and lastly, do not try to reach ‘perfection’ with your answers - the Mains examination is not the right platform for such things - instead try to consistently maintain above average quality in all your answers. Consistency matters more than writing one excellent answer and then following it up with a bad answer.

FAQ’s

  • • “Should we attempt the questions we are confident on, first?”
    YES, always try to answer this type of questions first, as these will come from you fresh and spirited. Also, due to higher energy levels and lower stress levels during the initial period of the exam, such answers can turn out to be dynamic in content, well favored in style, and yet completed in less time.

  • • Should you revise as you go or should you revise after completing the entire paper?
    You should also, always revise your answers. Revising the answer immediately after you’ve completed it is untenable, given the time factor of the exam. Instead, we recommend that you ‘revisit’ your answer immediately after its completion and check for spelling mistakes or other errors. Ideally, you should also underline important points only when you are ‘revisiting’ your answer and not while writing it. Underlining important points after you have seen the complete answer helps greatly in the correct identification of important points. If, after you’ve completed all your answers, there is time remaining, you should revise or at least check for errors. You should also always be relaxed and extra careful while carrying out any revision work so as to avoid the tendency to make any unnecessary changes or additions.

  • • Whether to leave or attempt unfamiliar questions?
    • Leave unfamiliar questions when you know you can use the time thus saved, elsewhere, like in answering a different question properly or in revising. Sometimes, it is not prudent to attempt unfamiliar questions despite having time because it may send a negative impression to the examiner and may also lower your self-confidence for the rest of the question paper.
    • Attempt unfamiliar questions only if it crosses a certain minimum threshold for information (information that is available with you on the topic and at that given time).Suppose, if you are able to recall 20-30% or 1-2 points on any topic, only then you may attempt an answer. By many standards, this threshold is very low for answer writing but since this is a competitive exam one must do everything it takes to score marks. The only exception to this should be that it must not work against your getting a good score. For example, beating around the bush, hoping to hit the mark by writing things that you ‘think’ may be relevant to the answer, can never be recommended. Because doing so, may affect you negatively. Thus, you should be very careful before attempting to answer a question that you are unfamiliar with.

For other UPSC related Frequently Asked Questions click here.


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