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

Essays, Tips194 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 194 Comments posted

  1. chirag patel

    thanks a lot sir.

  2. Lavanya G

    Hi sir am lavanya from Bangalore, Thank u so much for essay information which was helped me to prepare for essay……

  3. ANONYMOUS

    Hats of thanks to you Mrunal Sir…. Requesting to share few essays with me.

  4. neeharika

    sir, can u please provide me a model essay, because im new to this. so please provide it

    1. akash choudhary

      hey sir,i am preparing for capf can u suggest me sone essay topics..

  5. saikrishna

    sir thanks for u are info…but everybody are telling the same but no one is giving an sample essay how to write.sir,please provide an model essay which could help us in digging the difficulties in essay paper.

  6. dayanand

    sir, tips on essay writing enriched my confidence level to write essay. thank you very much sir.

  7. JITESH VERMA

    Hi ,
    As you said that the essay must be properly structured. That is, there must be a proper orderly fashion in which we frame it like, Introduction> Background / History related>Main concept / theory / what the subject is about> Current scenario related to it> Good sides> Negative sides / obstacles>Suggested reforms > Conclusion.

    But we also need to think in multi-dimensions right. SO we need to evaluate a topic historically, culturally , politically, economically , and so on. That brings in a bit of confusion and the order seems crumbling when we have to write 20 pages! Any suggestion?

  8. naazia

    thank you sir……

  9. shikha supriya

    About eassy to give minetuly differto each part for this I always remain thanks to you

  10. Narsingh

    Dear sir, any list of topics for 2014.

  11. amrin

    thank you sir

  12. Mehdi naqvi

    sir jo sbi po essay wala paper hai use kewal eng m h likhna hai.sir mai hindi medium student hu…plz aap y btay k abjab june m exa. date hai to…bche hue time me tayyari kase k jay sir first time exam d rha hu

  13. Shijoy Varughese

    hi mrunal n fellow aspirants..ive a general doubt regarding essays..pls clarify..for topics like say ‘crony capitalism-a threat to democracy’ are we to assume that the question is with respect to India..I am askin since in 2013 mains i attempted the essay sci n tech are the panacea for growth of the nation..n i wrote exclusively with respect to india..is it the right thing to do or should we write in general which would b true for any nation n not just india..esp while givin examples to strenghten our arguements can we use say an american example of scientific innovation or may b british example of democracy and crony capitalism

  14. Shubham

    Thanx a ton sir, for the great piece of advice.
    Thank u.

  15. Bidyut

    This website only highlights the major mistakes committed in the examination. Thanks a lot Sir,

  16. akbaragariya

    how to count word in upsc mains exam or for 10 marks que how many page (include both side) should we write plz explain clearly

  17. sunny srivastava

    Thank you sir

  18. m pradeep

    hi sir ,,this is pradeep..I will be wrote assistant commandant exam on 13 july 2014.i am not very well in English. comming to the essay point of view,i am tentioned.i am fit for that or not.please suggest me.how to attempt the essay.please thanking you sir.

  19. nagendra

    hats off Mrunal, are you a journalist ???

  20. waghmode ganesh vyankatrao

    Your suggestion about eassy writting
    Is very imp & good &also other material about upsc is very important & be specific.

    1. ashok

      i used white marker in the prelims exam. is it?appicable for the examiner . can some one clear my doubt

  21. rajni

    sir plz give me a sample of essays and paragraphs writting for isro assistant exam

  22. shraddha jain

    thanks …..

  23. Aadi

    Plz suggest if one should use sketch/highlighter while writing essay.

  24. Amar Bharti

    hello sir..
    whatever information you are providing us is very useful and i am very thankful to you.and it would be great honour for us if you provide sample of essay….thnxx

  25. zaira hassan

    Thankss a lot. i’ll definitly take aftr your suggestions… i had a whale of time reading this. once again thanks

  26. Arun

    hiii Mrunal…from where I can find previous year’s articles like awarded essays and rest all the topics..kindly provide the link. They will really be helpful

  27. Naveenaa

    hai mrunal ur website is so heplful for upsc exams thank yuu

  28. Bold Challenge

    Awesome… Excellent tips. 🙂

  29. tripuresh tripathi

    thanks a lot sir please keep guiding always

  30. Gauri Parashar

    Hi Team Mrunal, thanks for posting such a nice article on essay writing. Can you please answer one query of mine. Whenever I start writing essays I stuck in the initial process only i.e. how to start the introduction and finally how to conclude it (duffer type query, I know). I am not able to frame the sentence which look good in the introduction. I am too tensed, it would be kind of you if you help me out. 🙂

  31. pravin singh ji

    good effort by you keep it up

  32. aniket

    Sir can u suggest topics for essay for ib-acio exam..

  33. Durai Chidambaram

    Hello sir,
    thanks a lot for your tips and suggestions. because i don’t have any idea about an essay writing. your tips are very useful to us. give me more tips to this topic. thanks once again

  34. Durai Chidambaram

    sir please give some topics and also mention some books to read

  35. hariharan

    thanks a lot…pls continue with some model essays…

  36. Ravi Pratap

    Thanks for guidance sir….

  37. gustav

    sir please update this page..
    thank you..

  38. VISHAL

    thanks sir
    i needed current issu reletated eassy

  39. naveen

    Article was written 4 years ago. Good that i’m still reading it.

  40. piyush

    Sir , please provide me some model set of essay so that i can make my own view clear

  41. rani khan

    thanks for guidance sir…………………………..

  42. Pingback: Essays | lohanjyu

  43. rajat thakur

    sir first of all i thank you for your teachings which made my day during my UPSC pre-2015. Your lectures of economics that i followed religiously helped me a lot & i found no difficulty tackle those questions.Since i am preparing at home i fond no guidance here & your teachings and website showed me the right path. Now i am feeling pretty much confident.
    HEARTLY THANKYOU SIR

  44. upendra vishwakarma

    Thanks a lot sir ! to aware for prepared the essay .

  45. amir khan

    sir notiy me regaeding the vacancy

  46. dinesh

    Sir muje npc ke main ke liye short essay provide kar dijiye pls————

  47. diggi

    Sir,
    1) can I write hindi Proverb in english essay like “समय चूंकि पूनि का पछताने “?

    2) and in english translation how can translate that type of hindi quotation ?

    3) and how to write tabuler form of any official letter?

    please eagerly waiting your reply

  48. satish shinde

    thanks sir, for help me.

  49. Ankit Jaiswal

    Hello mrunal sir
    I am preparing for CAPF Exams & needs some help in 2nd paper “Essay topics.” I have gone through your previous Article on “How to write Essay” but that was just suitable for old syllabus. now keeping in mind the new change in nature of essay where UPSC is asking to write 4 essay, of 300 words, out of 7 given topics.
    Plz write an article on how to write such a precise essay in give time.

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