[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
    essay.
  • Take a pencil and write them all (in very brief) on the end of the answer
    sheet
  • 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
preference. 1.2.3.4.
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.

Now SOME DON’Ts

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
it.

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”
or
“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. [email protected]

    thank u so much mrunal anna(brother).

  2. vishnu

    thanks a ton ..

  3. SRINIVAS AKULA

    Thanks for good suggestions and way to build carrier in IAS

  4. Nikhil

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.I need your kind help in selection of optional subject as i have completed my graduation in engineering field. I would be glad if you help me in this regard…Plz reply

  5. virender

    in economy what is this IIB…what are its features….please explain…how it will curb the gold import…………

  6. Arvind

    Sir will you please send a essay written by any topper or by you which cite the points mentioned by you.
    Please sir it is very important for me as i am unable to a perfect essay.

  7. bhavesh patel

    sir
    upsc me question sirf english me hi aate hi ki gujrati me bhi aate he
    ans pls sir.

  8. suneel

    I fed up saying thanks to ur posts 🙂

  9. silly common man

    thanx…kehte kehte thak gye mrunal ji
    may THE ALMIGHTY BLESS YOU!!!!!
    u r such a support system..lots of regards to yea!!!..:)

  10. AVINASH

    TELL ME ABOUT UGC LDC PATTERN PLS……..

  11. Sagar Thumar

    THANK YOU SIR, FOR TOUR VALUEBLE GUIDENCE…
    IT WILL HELP US FOR PREPARING ABOUT EXAMINATION….

  12. raman

    sir u are a hero . i have great respect for u

  13. Daksha Barad

    this information was necessary sir…thnku for helping us.

  14. chandni

    Thank you……………..
    how u analyse all this things,u must teach that also so that upsc aspirants do not waste their time on listening to others…………specially in gujarat………..

  15. Vishal Kansal

    on the length of essay (2000 words),I differ here a bit from you Mrunal and want to add that.. if the content is good, some 800-1000 worlds will also fetch good marks. This I experienced in 2011 mains getting 105 marks while I wrote just 3 & half page.. i.e. around 750-800 words on “Credit based education System”. All the other points of good essay writing as mentioned above, of course, I followed in toto.. I spent 15 mins to choose topic.. another 1 hour 15 min to jot down ideas on last sheet and 30 minutes on sequencing all that.. thus only after 2 hour I started to write to finish it in another 45 mins.. 🙂

    1. Durai Chidambaram

      sir,
      i didn’t get your points. just consider a common essay and it should need to write atleast of 1500 words to score a good marks. Then how its possible to get good score by normal means less words. Please give your suggestion to face this essay and score good marks

  16. sheetal soni

    sir really nice concept

  17. Dharmesh Patel

    Thanks for the all valuable tips. Hats Up.

  18. sangam

    Thanks for the steps you suggested and would hope that this would be help me to at least improve my methodology and mould the contents in presentation . The quick recollection at starting is little tough as things wont appear all at once as we wish ..

  19. Amjad khan

    shukriya . . . . . .allah tala apko bakhshish ata farmaaye.

  20. Red

    Hi Mrunal, Could you please provide some more information on GS-III and GS-IV papers?

  21. lakum hiral

    thank you mrunal would you plz give me more information about new pattern in main exams and all papers……..?????????

  22. Shashank Garg

    Thank You Mrunal Sir!

  23. sagar sigh

    thnks fr the suggestions
    radhasoamiji

  24. rAHUL RAI

    a heartly gm sir,
    i have read this so many times and tried a lot to phrase my eassy but not able to end up it with good feeling for myself… its once again requested to you kindly post a sample eassy written by you only or other on whom u belive that he is good. becasue we trust a lot in u…sir its deepest request kindly post at earliest. and also post some link or address of web through which i can get fooder.

  25. Pooja V Jain

    Sir your suggestions are very helpful… But i want to clarify regarding this… So how can i contact you???

  26. meenakshi

    THANKS A LOT SIR U ARE JUST AWESUM THANKS

  27. alok singh

    sir,
    i beg to say that i have no any essay so sir please send one or more essay on my e-mail id.

    thank you sir

  28. VISHWAJEET

    thanks………. u r doin great job

  29. sanjay lahiri

    good job for india

  30. mamta

    sir i want a cpf ac 2 paper pattern and name of book for eassy prepration in hindi plz help m sir

  31. vasudevan

    sir pls sent essay writing topic wise free download website send me website addds

  32. Manish Singh

    sir i am preparing for competitive examination my English so week i don’t know that how to write essay letter, so please help me sir,,

  33. Rizwan

    Sir,
    I was late in following your words as i started a week back to look for the guidance in ACIO in Internet. Your explanation has made to check my paths to put in the right track. Since i am preparing for Chargeman OFB in Electrical, I would request you to put some Blue prints is similar fashion of ACIO exams. In short to i want to know the way to crack “Chargeman OFB 2013” . Kindly consider my request and let me know through your website or in my Email.
    Kudos to your work , hope to approve my request.
    My best regards
    Rizwan

  34. ankit kumar

    thanks SENIOR 🙂
    god bless you 🙂

  35. ANOOP CHATURVEDI

    Thanks Sir for this essay tips which are really beneficial for all aspirant….

  36. dharmveer

    Wonderful job u r doing……specially for those student who r not able to pay limitless fee of mushroom coaching….brightinig tips…. Keep it up mrunal sir…..

  37. Ujjwal

    Mrunal bhai, I can understand your feelings that you’ve developed in retrospect upon your 2009 essay. In 2012, I wrote on ‘Science and Mysticism: Are they compatible?’ and focused only on ‘general science’ while writing… only to later realise that there are subjects such as Political Science, Environmental Science, Life sciences etc. which could have added more dimension to my essay which fetched only 59 marks. It is hence, important to do solid, scientific thinking before writing an essay.

  38. Amani

    Sir please suggest possible essays for Mains-2013

  39. abhinaya

    sir how to crack the exam u r mentioned to prepare 16 hrs per day but i went to coaching center it will take 4 hrs per day how to compensate these hrs nd also suggest me to improve my written skills

  40. saurav

    I think (from what I heard from Jojo Mathews + others) it should be around 1000 words with good points.

  41. faisal

    Hello Mrunal,
    Thank you for all your suggetions,it’s really very helpful.I have complited my B.tech in Civil Eng and i want to prepare for UPSC ,but i am little confused about my optional subject.Would it be better to take civil eng as my optional or should i opt a more scoring subject.
    please suggest me.
    please reply.
    thank you very much again.

  42. shekhar

    please suggest me a good and effective book for essay.

  43. Theang

    Thanks Sir,it is really worth reading!!!!!!

  44. Tirtha

    Thank you very much.

  45. parmod kumar indu

    i need some essay …..with current topic.

  46. monisha

    helpful for my exams. thank you for the information.

  47. Vikas

    I liked the article, it was wrote after thorough analysis and contains lots of element which can be earned after an fruitful experience.

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