What Constitutes a Good Answer for UPSC Mains?

During preparation, one needs to focus on writing a good answer, right?  So what is a good answer – that is a million dollar question? Mains exam questions reveal many things about word limit, keywords like analyse, critically comment etc, analytical demand of question etc.


I strongly recommend the future aspirants to take answer writing on daily basis very seriously and practice to improve their writing skills, structure, speed and time management so that one can get maximum marks in GS papers.

These are a few ways to improve your answer writing for IAS Mains:

  1. More time should be spent on thinking about the topic and making innovations, rather than on reading too many study materials available in market.
  2. The previous papers should be thoroughly analyzed to understand the trends and the expectations of the examiner.
  3. The preparation should be focused and all the hard work should be channelized in the right direction.

Here are few common mistakes to be avoided while writing in GS mains papers:

  1. First, try to address the question in the introduction rather than giving irrelevant answers.
  2. A balanced approach in answers are usually missing, either it will be very critical or totally out of context.
  3. Most of the times, aspirants is unable to fully understand the requirement of the question.
  4. Most of the times, only few of required aspects/dimensions were covered in answers
  5. Write in points so that you can more marks rather than writing same point in big paragraph.

Few tips for better GS Mains answers:

The competition is highly relative, our answers in the mains examination should not only be correct but also different with a touch of creativity and relevant to the question that is asked. Basics with clarity will come when there is lot of questioning while studying. The topic has to be studied in a logical manner.

The creativity and innovation is not something that you will get in the textbooks. They have to be developed on your own. It requires lot of thinking and observation. By innovation in answers what I mean is this:

  1. Catchy introduction which addresses the question head-on
  2. Diagrams – so that one can break a monotonous answers
  3. Graphs – to better represent data.
  4. Flow charts
  5. Maps – draw India or world maps in geography/history papers
  6. Contemporary touch and applicability -use current affairs to strengthen your argument
  7. Using Facts – it is important to mention the facts, it is equally important to handle various dimensions of your answer and write something different which makes your answer unique.
  8. Catchy conclusion – giving solutions

Final Points:

I too wrote almost all my answers in points but still I gave a proper introduction, proper headings and sub-headings and then a conclusion.

As writing speed tends to be slow initially, one can complete 7-8 questions in 1st hour and compensate that in last hour. Thus one can finish the paper.

Make sentences short, carefully use tenses and appropriate prepositions. Avoid unnecessary elongation of sentences which makes it hazy and equivocal rather use simple and straight-forward presentations.

Examination Framework and Action Strategy – Prelims Stage

It is my pleasure to share whatever little I have and opine that the purpose is served if it helps the aspirants to whatever extent possible.

Before starting the preparation, it is very important to have a complete understanding about the exam process, its structure and the various aspects related to the preparation.

Prelims stage:

The following points should be kept in mind while doing preparation:

  1. The focus should be on gaining basic clarity in each topic, which will come only through lot of logical questioning. This is most important for clearing the prelims stage.
  2. For any topic, try to do a horizontal and vertical reading of all the related topics which will definitely help to cover any topic holistically.
  3. A thorough analysis of the previous year’s question papers and the recent trends so that one is in tune with UPSC recent trends.
  4. Discussing elaborately with teachers, successful candidates and seniors so that one is on track during preparations.

General Studies – Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, Internet (Most Important), and books of general reading. NCERT school books of history, geography, polity, economics, sociology and all humanities and arts (excluding languages, mathematics and science) from class 7th to 12th. Science NCERT school books of only class 9th and 10th.

History – NCERT textbooks, history of modern India – Bipin Chandra and Spectrum publications and any other books on Indian history of general interest.

Geography – NCERT textbooks of class 11th and 12th, physical geography by Go Cheng Leong and an ATLAS. Referring maps is very important.

Polity – Indian Constitution by Laxmikanth or D.D.Basu, NCERT school texts.

Science and Technology – The Hindu S&T page (weekly), Science Reporter by C.S.I.R., What, How & Why by C.S.I.R., Internet, NCERT 8th to 12th science textbooks.

Economics – NCERT 10th, 11th & 12th texts, Economic Survey, Indian Budget, Sriram Class notes, Mrunal.org, Pratyogita Darpan special edition on Indian economy and any business daily.

General Knowledge – India year book, Manorama year book (Not to concentrate on unnecessary details).

Current Affairs – The Hindu, A business daily, InsightsonIndia, Mrunal.org, Gktoday website, Frontline, Yojana, Any competitive magazine, Websites – India.gov.in, India development gateway, Pib.nic.in, UNO website, Ministry websites, RBI, SEBI, etc websites, Indian Embassy websites and whatever other sites you can source authentic and concise information from.

Make use of Google Documents, Google Reader, News and such other internet tools to prepare notes online and for greater, better and easy accessibility. Making notes online helps in cutting down time and must be done on a regular basis without fail.

Let’s take a look at the mains strategy in the coming blog posts. Let me know of any doubts, concerns. Would be glad to help.