1. Prologue
    1. Video#1: Mains Answer writing
    2. Tips on Mains answer writing?
    3. Balanced answer?
    4. Descriptive questions related to Feminism?
  2. Video#2: Preparing Ethics GS4 Paper
    1. Q. Writing case studies in a structure manner?
    2. Q.Please prescribe resource / Booklist for Ethics GS Paper 4
  3. Video#3: Essay Writing Tips
    1. Essay from 90 marks (2010) to 160 marks (2014)
    2. Tourism Essay structure
    3. Video#4: Notes Making and Current Affairs


  • on 12th August 2015, UPSC first Ranker Ms.Ira Singhal came for a session at Sardar Patel institute of Public Administration (SPIPA), Ahmedabad.
  • Following are the videos and transcripts of her interaction with aspirants of civil service exam wherein she discussed various aspects of mains preparation.
  • In the next series of videos (to be published soon)- more on interview preparation, optional selection etc.

Video#1: Mains Answer writing

IAS Topper Ira Singhal discusses Mains answer writing

Youtube Link: https://youtu.be/pPwgl4XyQCE

Tips on Mains answer writing?

  • If you know 1% of the answer, and repeat the same point over and over again 500 times to fit the word limit, then examiner is not going to be fooled, he has seen thousands of copies, let’s not disrespect his intelligence. I made this mistake in 2013, but realised this only wastes our time and fatigues your hand.
  • I only wrote what I knew, I skipped questions where I didn’t know the answer.
  • if I knew 10-40%, I only wrote that much, without bothering about reaching the 100% answer length by writing “stories”.
  • Don’t write vague answers that remotely resemble to what is being asked in the question.
  • I write in bullet points for both general studies and optional papers in Mains
  • I underline the keywords but I don’t use colored pens like most girls do, I don’t understand how do you hold so many pens in your hands without sacrificing speed and efficiency.
  • I didn’t have time to write introduction or conclusion.
  • Good if you write diagrams, especially for geography questions and GS3.
  • Do read question again and again while writing the answer, to ensure you’re not drifting away from what is being asked.
  • Language matters but don’t write complicated sentences, do better than “medium”, don’t write Shakespeare thing- I tried previous time but didn’t work

Balanced answer?

Q. Experts say we’re supposed to write “balanced answer”…should we drift towards a conclusion? Consider this question asked in GS Mains paper-2 in 2014, “Do government’s schemes for up-lifting vulnerable and backward communities by protecting required social resources for them, lead to their exclusion in establishing businesses in urban economics?”

Ans. In ethics paper you’ve to take a stand. In GS2 and GS3 also, If particular question requires, you should give some suggestion / stand. Example:

The said question on urban economies- it is an opinion based question. I’d say what the benefits of these schemes are, what are the possible negatives? and does this exclusion happen? Once you’ve written points, you’ll know whether it can be generalised conclusion- whether we need to have such schemes or not? This type of questions usually come from government data or committee report, there’d would be opinion in it. You should read such report. you’ve to give suggestions in such question

Q.If asked about environment vs development in GS3- we can still write the ethical dimensions?
Ans.No need to confine the ethical perspectives only in GS4. You can put ethical perspectives in all papers. Same way in GS4, we can put economic and social dimensions.

Descriptive questions related to Feminism?

It is better not to pick up such questions in essay / ethics, if you’ve option to answer another question. Because you don’t know the gender of the evaluator.

I discussed last year’s ethics paper with boys and girls, each wrote different answers.

Even if the topic is close to your heart, but we may not be able to maintain rationality. Our end goal is to “pass” the exam. Never get overexited over topic.

Q.In the Mains answer wordlimit, should we count the flow-chart and mindmaps?

Ans. Question paper clearly says “content of the answer is more important than its length.” don’t worry about the wordlimit. It could have been a 150 words or 400 words, no matter as long as the points are concrete. Let’s go with rational assumption that a rational evaluator is going to check your answers.

There’s a gap in our way of studies, we’re preparing in silos- history, economy, geography but you’ve to create a world in your head. Geography is the reason why History happened the way it did, so you can’t study in silos anymore.

Q.What mistakes did you make in previous attempts?

Ans. I performed bad in essay paper in first attempt. I could only see the mistake in my approach towards answer-writing after third attempt. Language matters but I didn’t build it within 4 attempts. I’ve read over 1500 novels since schooldays. I’ve not done any practice for mains answer writing, however you should do it, it can help.

Video#2: Preparing Ethics GS4 Paper

UPSC Topper Ira Singhal explains how to write ethics case studies
Youtube Link: https://youtu.be/QM8d9klyL1U

Q. How can we prepare ethics paper without coaching? because we know what is constitutionally right or wrong but how to put it in answer sheet?

Ethics paper is asking about “you”. for example “what does happiness mean to you?” no coaching class can teach you that.
Coaching will be detrimental here because even if you don’t belive in something, you’ll try to convenience the examiner about it.
For remaining papers, it doesn’t matter, they’re factual or textual questions where your internal belief doesn’t matter much.
You’ve to define yourself, be honest with yourself. There is no right or wrong answer here. You don’t need to practice for that exam, it should come from within. Yes, there is a structure of writing the case study -I’ll discuss that one.

Example, if you dislike someone, find out why? First you deal with your own negative emotions.

Q. Writing case studies in a structure manner?

Consider following question asked in Mains GS Paper 4 in 2014

Rameshwar successfully cleared the prestigious civil services examination and was excited about the opportunity that he would get through the civil services to serve the country. However, soon after joining the services, he realized that things are not as rosy as he had imagined.

He found a number of malpractices prevailing in the department assigned to him. For example, funds under various schemes and grants were being misappropriated. The official facilities were frequently being used for personal needs by the officers and staff. After some time, he noticed that the process of recruiting the staff was also not up to the mark. Prospective candidates were required to write an examination in which a lot of cheating was going on. Some candidates were provided external help in the examination. Rameshwar brought these incidents to the notice of his seniors. However, he was advised to keep his eyes, ears and mouth shut and ignore all these things which were taking place with the connivance of the higher-ups. Rameshwar felt highly disillusioned and uncomfortable. He comes to you seeking your advice.

Indicate various options that you think are available in this situation. How would you help him to evaluate these options and choose the most appropriate path to be adopted? 250 words

Approach: You’ve to do a stakeholder’s “pro-con” analysis.

Usually most case studies have following stakeholders

  1. Person /Victim / Complainant
  2. Staff / officers/ bosses
  3. organization/ government
  4. society at large.

You analyse each option from each of above’s perspectives. In Rameshwar case study- only two stakeholders need to be discussed- (1) him (2) organization.

Decision: Should Rameshwar quit or not?
Stakeholder Pro Con
Person (Rameshwar) Can find better job wherein his talent is properly utilized. May be rendered jobless.
Organization Unhappy employee is unproductive employee, better let him go. Money spent on his training, will be wasted.  Difficult to find a new replacement person quickly.

Ultimately, you should write the least selfish answer.

Q.Please prescribe resource / Booklist for Ethics GS Paper 4

  1. Lexicon thin book on ethics
  2. I Didn’t really need to prepare much so no clue. Never did a single case study or read any other book. Can’t help much here.
  3. I handled Case Studies basis what I had learnt in Business School so there isn’t any one technique. Every question requires a different strategy. Some techniques you can google are – PESTEL, Stakeholder Analysis, Value Chain, SWOT and Pro-Con.

Video#3: Essay Writing Tips

Essay Tips by civil services exam topper Ira Singhal
Youtube Link: https://youtu.be/TjwkovVrJdk

Essay from 90 marks (2010) to 160 marks (2014)

  • In my 2010 attempt, I got only 90/200 marks in the essay paper.
  • I had made mistake of picking an essay on “Geography may remain the same ; history need not”, because geography is my optional subject so I got excited. I wrote about evolution of landforms and everything. 10 out 12 pages I only wrote on geography. when I came out, I was super happy but after few days I realised it was unbalanced, because history wasn’t covered in sufficient length.
  • In earlier three mains, I had content but presentation was bad / unbalanced, hence I lost marks.
  • Essay should be written in paragraphs and not in bullet points.
  • Feel free to use catch-phrases only if there are well known example “POSDCORB” in management field. Don’t invent your own catchphrases.
  • Don’t pick philosophical or vague essays, unless you’ve philosophy as optional. Else, what you’re writing, may not connect with the examiner.
  • Your essay must cover all aspects, give equal attention to all of them. But Don’ run in all directions, your essay must connect with the examiner in a structured manner. It shouldn’t look like fragmented ideas put together in paragraphs. Each paragraph should have some connection with the previous paragraph.
  • You need to give concrete points. Wider view necessary than depth. Example, this years’ Panipat question was asked in history section but it was connected with geography and economy. They’re no longer asking straight-subject based questions. What matters is your ability to think and analyse. Better discuss with peers. Try listening to everyone, especially with devil’s advocates.
  • I gave headings and subheadings.
  • I made underlines
  • I made mindmaps, diagrams and maps (e.g. map of India showing important tourist destinations).
  • I wrote about standardized test and tourism essay.

Tourism Essay structure

  • In Mains-2014, I wrote two essays (1) Are the standardized tests good measure of academic ability or progress? (2) Tourism: can this be the next big thing for India?
  • Here’s how I approached second essay on Tourism
  • Introduction and global scenario: Rising disposable incomes and stress-level making people go on vacation.
  • Factors promoting global tourism like airlines, global hotel chains etc.
  • Types of tourism- adventure, health, eco, green, family, etc.
  • What sort of potential india has in each type- and map showing tourism sites.
  • Benefits of tourism for our country -eco, social, infra, etc.
  • Special ways that it can promote backward regions and segments of population
  • Negative points of promoting tourism
  • What are the current gaps – infrastructure,  mindset, safety issues, govt support, transport, maintenance, guides etc type stuff and how to fix it.
  • How do we go forward and finally Conclusion

Video#4: Notes Making and Current Affairs

IAS topper Ira Singhal on notes making
Youtube Link: https://youtu.be/K4H7VKy1IaY

Q. Please tell us something about notes making

Ans. I’ve never made notes, I study 15 days before exam, there is no time left for making notes. But Mrunal is doing brilliant job at it. Infact in GS3, I wrote many answers directly from his website. and I genuinely regret not having studied it properly. I did it on night before the exam. I wish he was there in my first attempt, I would have studied every page of it. I’ve 95 score in GS3, and I think 117 is the highest score. So, that’s mainly from his website, You don’t need to go outside his notes.

Q. You said you don’t make notes but earlier you said you’ve read 35+ books for geography, so How did you manage to complete revision?

Ans. There’s a problem in notes making- Whatever perspective you gain out it, you’ll just write that. But if you read same textbook thrice, you’ll get three perspectives. If you make notes, you’ve taken 1 perspective, then only that you’ll remember.

For the first time, I read 35 books, then I found it which of them are useless. So next time, I only read limited books. As such I don’t make notes, I don’t do answer writing practice but in my first attmept, I had covered lot of ground, so It didnot take that much effort in this attempt.

Last year, my friend gave me a note on a Government report. I read it, I didnot like it. Later on, I read full length report and realized, the note and the full report were entirely different from each other.

I guess notes making works for most people, but it doesn’t work for me.

Q. How do you keep updated in current affairs?

please see the resources mentioned in my blog irasinghal.blogspot.in

I did Vision coaching current affairs. I think they copy paste articles from The Hindu but since I was too lazy to read the Hindu everyday, this worked for me. I did the C.A. right from December of 2013. Last year I did not do current affairs at all, but that was a big mistake.

Q. Do you watch TV / documentary / debates?

Ans. Except football, I don’t watch TV.

Because I don’t want to produce someone else’s ideas.

You may refer to AIR debates at night. But you won’t be able to cover all topics through debates. I prefer to get news from online resource, because it helps in ‘timepass’ also.

Q. Please tell strategy for General studies preparation for Mains?

Ans. I don’t have strategy because that takes lot of hard work, and once you’ve put hardwork you’re emotionally attached to it. Then its very tough to let it go. You’ll continue investing on it, even if its failing. I made an excel with all the topics, I read 3-4 sources for each topic, so I get general perspective for all topics, and you’ve to read government reports, and refer to ministry websites.

In 2013, I read a lot of random things, this time I’ve focused on selected resources.

Q. In GS mains paper-1, geography is becoming very tough. How should a non-Geography optional person should approach it?

Ans. As such very few geography questions asked, but then again look at Art-Culture is also tough. You’ll have to prepare either culture or geography in detail.

Although this year, Geography was not factual, If you’ve some idea, you could write something. But at the same time, don’t bluff. Last year (Mains-2013) IT Act section 66-A was asked, I mistook it for income tax act and wrote entirely bluff-answer. Please don’t do that. Let’s respect the intelligence of the examiner.
Subscribe to youtube.com/user/TheMrunalPatel For more lectures on UPSC General Studies preparation.