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UPSC Mains 2022-23 special: The art of writing answers to skyrocket your score in GS Mains papers – By Sajal sir, as published in The Indian Express

Sajal sir was invited by The Indian Express as an expert for UPSC Civil Services exams to share last-minute tips for Mains 2022 aspirants. Below are the excerpts from the article in the newspaper.

Before you start reading the article, we wish all the aspirants who are writing UPSC Mains 2022 all the very best. Do well.


Sajal sir has mentioned the Art of answer writing comprising 10 Principles for the UPSC Mains 2022-23.

UPSC will be conducting the Main Stage Exams for Civil Services 2022 Recruitment from September 16. Mains are generally exhaustive in nature as UPSC examines the candidate on various subjects and on a very pertinent edge. However, the biggest challenge is learning the art of executing your knowledge when you put your pen on paper. 

The exact answer-writing segments of the UPSC-CSE examination have diverged into three sections: Basic, semi-advanced, and On-demand rule of thumb. And to maintain this levels-ratio, apart from creating templates for different question-answer combinations worth remembering in a rush, you must follow these 15 arts of answer making.

Read Sajal Sir’s article as published in the Indian Express


Master the basic

The body of answers addresses the minimum criteria for writing an exemplary answer. To create a good answer, you need to grasp a few basic techniques.

Don’t deviate from your point:

UPSC is very conscientious when it comes to evaluation. They prefer complex thoughts to be simplified and well presented. When one has that sagacity to write an answer without diverting from the point, it creates an unparalleled advantage for the aspirants.

Dissect the questions

Don’t get swayed by only seeing the theme of the question. Many aspirants write down everything they know. The value of your answer is not in its duration but in its contribution to the problems. Your answers must be relevant and useful enough. Only the good and the bad will not bring you signs.

Key questions include instructions such as ‘Discuss/critically discuss/Comment/Examine/Critically examine/Analyze/evaluate/Critically evaluate/Elucidate, and you must be able to understand what each prompt includes. Therefore, it is important to break the question into smaller parts. While answering these questions, always check three elements to write an ideal answer – accuracy, brevity, and clarity. Specificity means lacing the answer with relevant subheadings, brevity will consist of short statements in your answer; And finally, maintaining overall transparency.

Precise Presentation

Don’t get overwhelmed. Points to be noted:

  • An opinion-based answer is to be written in paragraph
  • A fact-based answer is to be written in both paragraphs and bullets or a combination of both.


The Intermediate intervention

The semi-advanced segment will cover the second set of challenges that candidates face. This is a detailed section that assesses broad understanding and depth of knowledge. Consider these points:

PESTLE Approach is needed in certain kinds of questions

It means analyzing any issue from various angles eg:

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Environmental
  • Legal
  • Technological
  • Administrative
  • Geographic
  • Historical

Look for Keywords in the Question like 

  • Reasons
  • Implications
  • Importance
  • effects

Always take a middle ground in your answers

No scheme/Policy is a Magic bullet. Always conclude by Saying While XYZ is a step in the right direction but it needs to be supplemented by ABC’s further reforms

It is to remember, that the Intermediate section will handle the second set of challenges that candidates face in the Mains exam.

Understanding the core of the questions

Every candidate should keep in mind that UPSC does not evaluate based on quantity, but rather based on quality. Answers should always create a solution to the main problem presented by the question.

Comprehensive view

‘First impression is the last impression’- Every aspirant must be careful about their Introduction, Body, and conclusion. But, among them, Introduction works up to 75% work for you. Whether it’s GS paper 1, 2, or 3, or even Ethics (GS-4), ideally, the introduction should not only introduce mere the topic/issue/concept to the examiner but also (very) briefly describe the central premise of the answer.

If the question has two or more parts, all parts must be presented shortly. Experts say, the introduction should not exceed 20% of the word limit at any price and its ideal length is about 10% of the word limit. For 200 words, 20-40 words should look for your introduction (and conclusion).


Articulating the advanced answers

The on-demand (advanced) sections bring us a comprehensive opportunity for aspirants to assert an understanding of the topics. This section tests a candidate’s ability to remember the most complex details, frame the best-refined answer and present it in the most concise possible manner. Some points are to be noted.

Word limit is sacrosanct

All 3 General Studies (GS) papers, excluding GS Paper IV which is Ethics Paper, have a limit of 200 words per question. This is a fair word limit that you are given when answering a question. The trick here is to write short sentences. Avoid Compound Sentences Although you may think you save time and words by joining two sentences with an ‘and’.

GS Paper IV (Ethics) has 150, 250, and 300-word limits. 99% of the time questions are opinion based, so better to write answers in paragraphs. 

Follow these 5 points:

  • Follow ARC reports & memorize only recommendations
  • Learn the major contribution of moral thinkers
  • Learn definitions, flowcharts, schematics
  • Examples of greater historical leaders’ action
  • Real-life case studies

Entrench the Ethics of answer writing

In GS paper IV, for the case study, your intention must not be to write an ingenious, extraordinary solution, but to write something practical and realistic and finish the paper no matter what.

Directives to answer

An advanced technique for writing successful answers is to create templates for different types of question-answers that you can recall at short notice.

The art to approach essays

In the essay, you have to write two essays of 1000-1200 words each. Writing a very good essay within the given time and word limit is very possible if you follow some basic rules. These basic rules are – brainstorming, outlining, idea/argument placement, and structuring. 

Vantage view

It is stated that composing answers is an art. The good news is that any kind of art may be learned with time. Will and effort, frequent practice, and some direction are all that is required. The cumulative conclusion is that the GS-1 always uses diagrams to explain and make sure you get the basics right. When we talk about GS-2, always try to include recommendations from a committee and mention development goals to consolidate your statements.

In GS-3, be aware of terms used in space, nanotech, nuclear research, defense, biotech, and communications (LiFi, 5G, etc.). When articulating answers in the GS-4 paper, focus on ethical competence. The key to success in this paper entails transparency, accountability, and attitude.

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