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We cannot stress more upon the importance of the answer writing for IAS Mains, but let’s take you step by step on questions which an IAS aspirant face when he plans to go for it.
All of you must have read articles/books/notes on various topics. And all of you must be having some favourite writers over the other. Agreed, Civil Services is not about choosing the potential writers rather the administrators but truth be told, writing is the only way the examiner evaluates the level of your understanding of various topics, your ability to deal with unexpected questions and eventually your potential as a civil servant.
Believe me civil servants have to do a lot of writing, from file notings to blogs and they do it meticulously. Short, simple, pertinent.
Now look at the importance of writing from another angle. Suppose you are brilliant reader and have mugged up all the books available and are invincible in any debate on any topic. But unfortunately the UPSC has no place for group discussion in the selection process. You have to write.
Let us break down the entire thing into the following heads:
#1. When should be start practicing writing?
Many suggest that first one should wait till he/she has enough knowledge of all the topics and then start practicing writing. ‘Enough’ knowledge of all the topics? And when is that going to be? Two months before the Mains or one month before the Mains? And then you shall start writing for 4-5 hours daily. But then who will read the newspapers? Who will revise the notes/books? Who will take the tests?
The answer writing practice has to go hand-in-hand with your preparation. There shall never be one fine day when you shall stop reading and start writing thereupon. This exam is way above such stereotypical compartmentalization. Once you start preparing star writing. If not full-fledged time-bound answers then at least start scribbling. Ponder over a topic and see if you can generate some relevant points. Get into this habit so that in the examination hall you can generate some points for questions for which you have only a faint idea.
Moreover you shall have to write about 8,000-10,000 words in a single day during the Mains exam and if you have not cultivated a habit of writing over a period of time, writing itself might become insurmountable obstacle between you and a place in the final list.
#2. What should one write?
If you lament that you understand how important it is writing and you really, like really, want to write but do not know what to write, then you are not alone.
7 out of 10 candidates who set down to the task of writing face this problem. And interestingly, each one of you know the answer. Read a topic, frame a question on it yourself and write. If you cannot frame a question, use the heading of the article add a suitable word like ‘discuss’, ‘explain’, ‘comment’ and write the answer. And of course practice question from previous year papers as well.
#3. What should be the level of our writing?
Far from Shakespearean. Your writing should reflect the maturity of a civil servant. What does that mean? It means your writing should be free from grammatical errors, misspellings, sentences of disproportionate length, bombastic words, bluff, irrelevant facts and figures. Do break down the answer into paragraphs or points, as you may choose.
If you are using a quote, please don’t change or rearrange its words.
#4. Should we use flowcharts and/or diagrams?
If you can find time for it do it. But don’t do it just because you have a target of using two flowcharts/diagrams in each answer. Flowcharts/diagrams should facilitate the examiner go through your answer and not over shadow it.
#5. Paragraph or Point-wise writing
There is perhaps one question which has no authoritative answer. Number of toppers who shall vouch for paragraph writing and those siding with writing in points abound. The current topper favoured the point-wise writing. Let us see if we can infer something about this debate from what we are witnessing.
Firstly, from 2013, UPSC started this trend of asking 20-25 questions in each paper of GS requiring a candidate to write about 4000-5000 words in each paper and it is quite an uphill task even if you know the answer to all of them.
Probably one of the reason behind increasing the number of questions and limiting the space available to write an answer is to ensure that candidates do not get a chance to write frivolous things and just write the pertinent points if they have to attempt all questions!
Secondly, an important departure was that while introducing this pattern UPSC took it upon itself to tell the students that “Contents of the answer are more important than its length.”
Thirdly, the marks scored by the topper in last two years have hovered around 50-55 percent than the usual 60-65 percent of the previous years. What I see here is a pattern of ‘ruthless’ marking by the examiners wherein they are more interested in candidate writing more relevant points instead of writing few points subsumed under paragraphs. Somehow they seem to have taken the ‘content more important than length’ instruction too seriously and are not interested in the superficial answers. And we shall all agree that if we have more information to provide in the answer, point-wise writing is more relevant. We tend to use paragraphs where we have few points which we hide though the paragraphs and then underline them so that the examiner is inveigled into believing that we not only wrote points but also wrote using good enough number of words. But I guess UPSC this time conducted a country-wise exam to choose the examiners who can see through such tactics!
But again the question remains unanswered. Paragraph or points? To be honest, I have no yes or no answer to this. Choose the style that’s suits you. As they say this exam is an individual exam and one topper’s strategy might be suicidal for another.
Any questions? I would love to help you guys out!