IAS Mains Writing Essentials – Reading and answering a question | Part 2

The 8 common themes used by examiners in IAS Mains.

Read the first part, here.

After ‘Critical Evaluation’, let us look at some of the other directives that are used by the UPSC examiners with their most commonly accepted definitions.


#1. Analyse

Break an issue into its constituent parts. Look in depth at each part using supporting arguments and evidence for and against as well as how these interrelate to one another.

“Instances of President’s delay in commuting death sentences has come under public debate as denial of justice. Should there be a time limit specified for the President to accept/reject such petitions. Analyse.” (2014)

#2. Comment

Pick out the main points on a subject and give your opinion, reinforcing your point of view using logic and reference to relevant evidence, including any wider reading you have done.

“Sufis and Medieval mystic saints failed to modify either the religious ideas and practices or the outward structure of Hindu/Muslim societies to any appreciable extent. Comment.” (2014)

#3. Critically Comment

Pick out main points in the statement, present your views on it which rests on sound logic, reasoning and evidence. Do not forget to arrive at your conclusion.

“Scientific research in India universities is declining, because a career in science is not as attractive as are business professions, engineering or administration and the universities are becoming consumer-oriented. Critically comment.” (2014)

#4. Discuss

Seemingly innocuous, frequently used and probably the most tricky/sticky term whose meaning depends upon the question in which it has been used and how it has been used.

“Discuss” basically entails a debate where we use our reasoning backed up with evidence to make a case for and against an argument arriving at a conclusion.

“How difficult would have been the achievement of Indian independence without Mahatma Gandhi? Discuss.”(2015)

When the examiner has chosen the words “How difficult?”, then you are the one who have to arrive at a conclusion of “Very difficult”,

“A little difficult” or “Not at all difficult”, or any other shade you believe in, depending upon the reasoning and evidence you chose.

“The quality of higher education in India requires major improvement to make it internationally competitive. Do you think that the entry of foreign educational institutions would help improve the quality of technical and higher education in the country? Discuss.”(2015)

In the above question again, you have to arrive at a conclusion.

In the question that follows, they did not just put a full stop after “Discuss” but went on to add what it means i.e. give logical arguments.
“Success of make in India program depends on the success of Skill India programme and radical labour reforms. Discuss with logical arguments.”

However, many a items, examiners ask you to discuss one particular facet of an issue and in such cases they specifically mention what they want you to discuss.

#5. Elucidate

Elucidate means “to make clear”. In several of the questions, where the examiners use this directive, they present us with a cause-effect linkage asking us to “elucidate”. In such cases, we have to basically bring out the linkage more clearly citing evidence and examples.

“The Self Help Group (SHG) Bank Linkage Program (SBLP), which is India’s own innovation, has proved to be one of the most effective poverty alleviation and women empowerment programme. Elucidate.”

#6. Evaluate

Similar to critical evaluation. Even otherwise when we are asked to evaluate something, we arrive at a decision on how good or bad it is depending upon evidence and logic. That is exactly what you do in the questions where we are directed to evaluate a statement. We give our verdict as to what extent a statement or finding is true, or to what extent we agree with them. We give evidence which both agrees with and contradict it and then we arrive at a final conclusion, basing our decision on what we judge to be the most important factors.

“The New Economic Policy – 1921 of Lenin had influenced the policies adopted by India soon after independence. Evaluate.” (2014)

#7. Examine

Look in close detail and establish the key facts and important issues surrounding a topic. This should be a critical examination and you should try and offer reasons as to why the facts and issues you have identified are the most important, as well as explain the different ways they could be construed.

“The penetration of Self Help Groups (SHGs) in rural areas in promoting participation in development programmes is facing socio-cultural hurdles. Examine.” (2014)

#8. Explain

Quite an easy directive per se.

It is basically a clarification. We have to clarify why and how something happens or why is something the way it is.

“Explain the factors responsible for the origin of ocean currents. How do they influence regional climates, fishing and navigation?” (2015)

“Explain the formation of thousands of islands in Indonesian and Philippines archipelagos.” (2014)

Here we not only have to give the factors that cause ocean currents but also clarify how they cause ocean currents.

By Amit Bhardwaj

Engineer by training | Educationist at heart | Indulgences? Reading, Quizzing and Teaching.

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