- 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.
The essay paper is an important aspect of the UPSC civil services exams. It can make or break your outcome. There are two sections in this paper. Each section gives you four topics out of which you have to choose one topic each. Each essay you write is marked out of 125 making a total of 250 marks.
Click here to downloadthe UPSC Mains Essay Paper 2016.
While you don’t have to study separate content for the civil services essay paper, for your general studies preparation is enough to cover possible topics, you do have to remember certain aspects of writing a good essay if you want to have an edge over your fellow UPSC aspirants. A lot of IAS aspirants make the mistake of not focusing on the essay paper because of its general nature. However, there are many advantages of concentrating on this paper such as:
- You have the option of selecting one topic out of four. You should be able to leverage this to your advantage and shine in this paper.
- The essay paper is an area where you can let lose your creativity while displaying your knowledge about the topics.
- Also, you have three hours to write about 1000 to 1200 words per topic (word limit for essay in UPSC exam). Hence, you can do justice to the essay topic as you have ample time to structure your thoughts and then start writing.
Let us look at how your essay should be structured
Your essay should ideally have an introduction, content, basic theme and conclusion. The introduction and conclusion are self-explanatory. Content should give a historical perspective to your topic. It should also include facts and events related to your topic. Try to cover relevant aspects of the topic. The basic theme should talk about your views on the topic. Take a stand but a balanced one. You should also describe negative and positive aspects of the topic chosen.
How to select the UPSC essay topic
- Go through all the given topics well.
- Choose a topic that you are most aware of and have significant knowledge about.
- Try to avoid provocative issues like feminism since you don’t know about the examiner’s gender or personal bias.
- Select the topic only if you are sure of the meaning. For example, know what IT refers to in a given case – information technology or income tax.
- Don’t necessarily pick a topic because it excites you. You should have content and a balanced approach while writing about it.
Features of a good essay
- It should resonate with the topic given. Don’t stray from the topic merely to fill up the word count.
- It should engross the reader. A good essay should ignite the reader’s curiosity about the topic. It should not be boring. The reader should feel like going on reading it.
- It should be multi-dimensional. Don’t have a single viewpoint. Analyse the topic from different perspectives. You can provide new insights about the topic and impress the examiner.
- It should be simple but effective and coherent. You need not write the Queen’s English but let the language drive home whatever point you are trying to make.
- It should be grammatically perfect. Not only does it enhances your essay’s clarity it also avoids a negative impression.
- It should be neat. This is why it is important to first think about what you want to write before you start. Clearly picture in your head the order of things you want to write in your essay. This avoids scratching.
- There should be continuity in your essay. Don’t jump from one point to another. Make your shifts seamless and smooth. Let there be a natural flow of points. This indicates clarity of thoughts.
- It should contain quotes, headings, sub-headings and diagrams if required.
- It should be structured appropriately.
Things to avoid in a UPSC essay paper
- Avoid writing in the first person.
- Avoid being too aggressive in your writing. You want to portray an image of a composed person with balanced views. Aggressiveness can also show inflexibility.
- Avoid being pessimistic in your writing. UPSC wants officers with a cheerful and positive disposition!
- Avoid writing in points. Remember you are writing an essay.
- You don’t have to agree with the stand taken by the question. Sometimes, a question can be a statement giving a particular view. You can write both negative and positive aspects of it.
- Don’t stray away from the topic.
- Don’t get too personal and name politicians or political parties unnecessarily. You are going to be a bureaucrat, not a politician or journalist!
- Avoid giving quotes that you are not sure of. Don’t attribute quotes to the wrong people. And, definitely do not make up quotes. You can’t fool the examiner. Doing so will certainly get you penalised.
You can write good essays if you develop the habit of reading good UPSC essays on a regular basis. Incorporate reading essays as a part of your UPSC civil services preparation. Remember, practice makes perfect! For essay writing practice, take part in the BYJU’S essay writing contest and win a cash prize along with learning. Click here for more. UPSC Essay Writing Contest
For more on UPSC essay writing, read Useful technique to practice on essay topics for UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam