[Essay Tip for Newcomers] What to write & What not to write in Mains IAS exam?

Essays, Tips190 Comments

India Yearbook
  1. Think for Thirty Minutes
  2. What *NOT* to write in an Essay?
  3. Provokative Essays
  4. Don’t get Personal (Cong.vs BJP)
  5. Quoting the Famous Quotes
  6. Padding with Fodder Material
  7. Suggested Reading
  8. Reading Books as a Hobby
  9. 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
round table….partition…etc.

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?

  1. any famous quotes?
  2. Current events
  3. People
  4. Historical events
  5. Laws / Administrative polices related to it
*Related to that topic, What are the

  1. Positive
  2. Negative sides
  3. obstacles
  4. Reforms you suggest?

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.
The order
should be

  1. Introduction
  2. Background / History related
  3. Main concept / theory / what the subject is about
  4. Current scenario related to it.
  5. Good sides
  6. Negative sides / obstacles
  7. Suggested reforms
  8. Conclusion

everything has to be written in its place.
Gandhi’s Champaran must come in the beginning not in the end.


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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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).

Tip#5: Quotes

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 
  1. take great care in picking up the subject
  2. first 30-40 minutes for thorough thinking.
  3. 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!)

Suggested Reading

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.

  1. Editorials of english newspapers ( but don’t get swayed about by either leftist
    or capitalist stuff preched by both sides)
  2. 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)
  3. Watch English news channel – discussions / debates.
  4. 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

International relations

  • 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.

Mrunal recommends

  1. (free) NCERT, NIOS, TN-Books
  2. Environment by ShankarIAS
  3. Indian Polity M.Laxmikanth (Hindi | English)
  4. Art & Culture by Nitin Singhania (Hindi | English)
  5. Spectrum: Modern History (Hindi | English)
  6. Bipin Chandra: Post Independence
  7. Fast-track to Arithmetic Rajesh Verma
  8. MK Pandey’s Analytical Reasoning
  9. Disha’s Topicwise Paperset (Hindi | English)
  10. School Atlas
  11. Mains: Language papers
  1. (free) NCERT, NIOS, TN-Books 4 History,Geo,Sci
  2. Indian Polity M.Laxmikanth (Hindi | English)
  3. Spectrum: Modern History (Hindi | English)
  4. Maths: Quantam CAT Sarvesh Kumar
  5. Objective General English SP Bakshi
  6. Word Power made Easy -Norman Lowe
  7. Topic wise Solved Paperset by Disha

So far 190 Comments posted

  1. Twinkle09

    Thanks a lot for being so precise 🙂

  2. caped crusader.......

    thanks mrunal !!!!!!! it helped me a lot !!!! i will start working on these !!!

  3. sumit

    thanx mrunal for furnishing such a good material.most of the guys do so after securing good rank but really got inspired from u


    U r simply Awsum…this is "the" best platform of ideas and suggestions thst i've come across..and as google says these days- "I'm feeling Lucky"..i just hope you'll carry on with this good work for the upcoming aspirants..

  5. akanksha

    thanks a lot…………..,such a amazing site

  6. vikram

    I am going to write CSE(Mains)-2012, but in optional subject(especially sociology) I am not well prepared and even I have to go 6-7 days out of station before mains exams. If possible, provide me recording of sociology and Public Administration notes of any institute.So, I could utilize these 6-7 days because I can listen recordings at that time. I will be very thankful to you for this help. We all are very thankful to you for providing guidance for various competitive exams.I followed your blog since last one year and it was very helpful in preliminary exam for me.
    emai id : [email protected]

    1. Mrunal

      Sorry I don’t have such material.
      But I suggest you a buy a microphone from “Genius” brand (the Rs.250-300 range) and use it to record your own notes in your own voice using your computer.

  7. chintupandey

    sir please provide me some history notes for general studies

  8. Anuradha

    Please provide some essay topics for 2012

  9. yp

    sir, i’m not able to understand the business news, because i’m unfamiliar with that argot,so from where can i start to understand the topics related to economics&commerce

  10. SAGAR

    hello mrunal u said- don’t use excessive criticism i.e ‘The Hindu & Frontline’ stand,
    should I read THE HINDU or NOT ?
    or else I SHOULD SWITCH to Indian Express?
    Is THE HINDU a Must read?(bcoz it is not published in Mumbai where I stay)
    please guide…thanx

    1. Mrunal

      Hindu is good for regular news coverage (in mere relaying of facts and data in Economy or Science and Tech).
      It is only some left-wing columnists in it, whose negative and anti-Government anti-establishement tone that should be avoided.
      Anyways, If Hindu is not available in your city, then Indian Express is a good substitute.

      1. SAGAR

        thank u very much Mrunal !

  11. shashi

    pls post some probable essays for 2012 mains

  12. Doly

    Very nice. Now I am fan of you. I felt like I have actually started preparing for exam when I was reading discussion. Thank you.

  13. JS Narayan

    Dear Mrunal sir,

    Your posts are very important to me, since I am working professional I cant avail the coaching center guidance. I can say your posts highly inspiring and highly imformative.

    Thank you

    JS narayanan

  14. tanu

    gr8 work……..seems i have 2 start afresh for essay paper

  15. Aravind

    Sir, Im Aravind from chennai….. im preparing for Intelegent Beaureu exam at sept 23rd please can u send some essay topics please sir

  16. Amit kumar

    Thankyou very much for providing such a qualitative knowledge.please keep it up.

  17. romi


  18. Rahul Singh

    Hii Sir,
    i have one doubt regarding essays like-“Causes of Corruption in India”
    In this case what we have to write.. means whether we have to follow all steps as given above which we are applicable for the topic like
    “Corruption in India” Or we have to stick around causes only….Pls clear this doubt..

    1. Mrunal

      if it is about “Causes of corruption” then majority of your essay should revolve around “Causes of corruption”.
      you may mention the solutions but only in context of the ’cause’. for example

      “We routinely hear about Corruption scandals involving big politicians. And despite all media hue and cry, there is never a conviction because there is no Lokpal or similar independent body to investigate such cases. This emboldens the corrupt people.”

      instead of writing “We need Lokpal to stop corruption at higher level.”

      1. Rahul Singh

        Thank you Sir..

  19. Rahul Singh

    Thanks a lot to you Sir….

    1. udaya kumar

      hii,sir am facing a peculiar problem as am not able to come up with an effective introduction though i have matter on topic , since i come ugly or ineffective introduction my marks are being reduced ,do help

  20. Vibin

    “I wrote it only from the foriegn policy and law-n-order point of view, without seeing the cultural -historical contexts”.. Based on topic I hope the scope of the topic – Are we a soft state , confined to International affairs. But I didnt get those cultural-historical , is it anything related with our preIndependence era ? [my wild guess , bear that please].

    1. N/A

      I think there is “extremism” angle to being a “soft state”, be it left-wing extremism, communalism, chauvinism etc. In almost all speeches of our beloved PM, we hear him say that naxalism is the biggest threat to our internal security. Hence, one may argue that, because India couldn’t crush the movement in its nascent stage, it has claimed so many lives of our para military forces. Furthermore, cultural-historical angle could be briefly explained by mentioning the “petition-prayer-protest” tactics of the Congress during freedom struggle. Except for the revolutionaries, there was hardly any bloodshed caused by the Indian moderate contingent. India in its history has never been an aggressive state i.e. never attacked any state with an intention to gain control over the same.. One can build an argument like this, i think. Finally, just to balance things, at the end we may say that modern India is equipped with the fire-power to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity (nuclear power).. Just my 2 cents, sirs.

  21. komal

    Sir i dnt remember what i fill the form for langauage,english or hindi..i dnt understand in which language i prepare essay.basically i m from hindi medium,can u help me how i know the langauage in form

  22. sandeep pareek

    what i say .. you are awesome.
    thanks again sir,

  23. kapil kanth

    thanks a lot sir for this information share with all…………. it must will help me in forthcoming exams…………….GOD bless u

  24. Rohit Singhal

    sir ,may please tell me hindi books on geography…

  25. Niraj Kumar

    Dear Mrunal,

    Again thank you for your kind support. I have confusion on measurement of words. How to calculate the number of words in Essay?


    1. Nik

      Mr. Niraj Kumar,

      Just count the number of words which have more than three alphabets in a single line and then count the total no of lines in the page. Multiply both and you will have the no of words in a page

  26. Sonu


  27. bidyut

    Thanks Mr. Mrnual for your valuable tips




    THANK U………..

  30. DR.AMITA BHAVSAR ( jalgaon-dental surgeon)


  31. Utkarsh

    ure doing a great job.
    i sometimes wonder what u get in return, other than people’s compliments.

  32. Avtar Singh

    Thanks for the such a perfect guidace for the prepration of compitative exam..I really apply this plan.

  33. abhishek

    Shall we put headings in between essay… or we should write it in paragraphs without Headings?? Plz clarify..

    Thanx in advance

  34. laxman

    thanks mrunal for this informative tip 🙂

  35. sharif

    your tips on essays have really been beneficial.. thank you mrunal 🙂

  36. suri

    hello mrunal,myslf highly thankful of ur help .pls guide me whether red or black inks are allowd in cs mains.

  37. harish

    hello sir am very weak in english am planning to write civils in d next year…plz suggest me how can i improve my english writing skills as well as speaking skills?

  38. dev largan

    sir, can one get full prepration in one year?

  39. dev largan

    sir can one get full prepration in one year?

  40. dev largan


    can one get full prepration one year?

  41. dev largan


    can one get full prepration in one year?

  42. Ganesh Solanke

    Thanks mrunal
    its really helpful for beginners.

  43. razique kamal azhari

    thnx… sir for providing me such a good step to take ahead us

  44. razique kamal azhari

    my writing skill is too poor,what to do with writing skill plz sir tell me

  45. goldy

    Sir, kindly suggest me to buy best book for essay writing.

  46. Navendu

    Really its a superb website to catch up with all the necessary details and materials for the needed prepration….thanks very much admin

  47. Niraj


    I am totally new to CSE and have not joined any coaching yet.
    I have some doubt regarding Essay Writing.

    Normally in how many pages should we write our essay or number of pages does’t matter.

    I am not decide because more pages will lead to too long an essay.
    Please reply.

  48. venkatraman

    hi mrunal,clarify me about the attempt status of upsc because some of my friends rumoured that, from this year upsc changed the status of attempt, ie. even absent to the examination is also an attempt, is it so?


    1. Mrunal

      You don’t appear in preliminary exam, then your attempt is not counted.
      And leave the company of idiots who’re spreading such baseless rumors.

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