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How to Write Answers for UPSC IAS Mains Exam?

How to Write Answers for UPSC IAS Mains Exam?

How to Write Answers for UPSC IAS Mains Exam?- Answer writing is a skill that develops gradually over a period of time. Just like any other skill, we need to break it into components and master each component and then weave it into one complete whole. This learning process needs time as substantive content is needed to be responded/reflected in the answers. So, relax, it is natural that it will take time, and if the process is followed sincerely the results are bound to come.

Given the vast UPSC syllabus and the mismanagement of time during the initial phase, aspirants focus more on reading multiple books and gathering content, so they fall short of practicing answer writing. Even if the practice is done, they start it when it’s already too late, in the cycle towards the Mains Exam after the Prelims Exam. But it’s very important to realize that the real game lies in writing good answers in the Mains exam. Reading books gives us an unfiltered amount of information, leading to a decent knowledge base. But the answers that are supposed to be written in the Mains Exam are about “what is being asked” rather than “what do you know”. Thus, the crux of answer writing is having the ability to address the demand of the question. Because at the end of the day, it is our answer that is being judged by the examiner based on its fulfillment of the things asked in a question. A critical thing to be observed here is that 1750/2025 marks are given based on the answers that we write. Therefore, Write Answers for the UPSC IAS Mains Exam is something that we cannot ignore at all.

Components of an Answer

When we visit a good restaurant with the intention of eating good food, our experience is never restricted to specific food only, as the starters, the aroma, and the ambience all have an impact on our appetite. It is only after these that we get the main course, the food we actually want to consume to fill our stomachs. Nevertheless, it doesn’t even end with the main course food item, as we all know, ‘desserts’ matter a lot. A good ice cream, a good halwa, or a sweet dish will make the meal complete, and we will feel satisfied. Exactly the same analogy goes for an answer, either of General Studies or the Optional subjects. Not just the content, but the manner in which the content is presented and arranged, has an impact on the examiner’s judgment.

Before we learn How to Write Answers for the UPSC IAS Mains Exam the Art of Answer writing, let’s see what a good answer looks like and what its key components are. An answer consists of the following basic components –

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion
  4. Flow
  5. Presentation

Introduction:

It gives a start to the answer and shows the examiner that an aspirant has understood the question and its demand. It sets the context for the answer ahead.

Body:

It is the main part of the answer and addresses the question’s actual demand. It is the part that carries the maximum marks.

Conclusion:

It gives closure to the answer, summarizing and justifying what has been asked in the question. It’s an opportunity to revisit the question.

Flow:

This ensures that the points written in the answer make sense to someone reading it and are arranged in a logical manner.

Presentation:

This enhances the readability of the answer and also takes you ahead in the competition.

Let us divide this journey of writing a good answer into milestones.

Understanding the Exam and Its Pattern

It’s very important to understand the exam, as it will help in writing a better answer and preparing for it. For this, one needs to go through the PYQs and Syllabus properly and regularly to develop an awareness of the exam pattern. From the PYQs, find the Themes which keep repeating. For example, questions on local self-government are very common in GS2 papers:

  1. In the absence of a well-educated and organized local-level government system, ‘Panchayats’ and ‘Samitis’ have remained mainly political institutions and not effective instruments of governance. Critically discuss. (2015)
  2. “The local self-government system in India has not proved to be an effective instrument of governance”. Critically examine the statement and give your views to improve the situation. (2017)
  3. To what extent in your opinion has the decentralization of power in India changed the governance landscape at the grassroots? (2022)

Then find what all Dimensions are being asked under that theme. For example, the effectiveness of Local Self-government has been asked multiple times (as can be seen in the above examples)

In this manner find important themes for each subject. This will help in doing a targeted study of the syllabus. You will not only understand what topics are important, but you will also get an idea of what exactly has to be read under those topics once you analyze the PYQs.

Understanding the Question

The process of answer writing starts with understanding the question and its exact demand correctly. The better the question is comprehended; the better answer will be written. For this:

  1. Read the question at least 2 to 3 times.
  2. Break it into its components/headings (to identify the exact demand of the question)
  3. Identify the directive in the question like analyze, discuss, critically examine etc.

In this manner try to understand exactly what the question is demanding from you.

Macrostructure of the Answer

Once you read the question, frame a macrostructure of the answer, i.e., decide how your answer will look at the end. It would include how many headings will be there, where will they be placed and how many words are to be written under each heading depending on the marks assigned to that question.

Introduction:

Once you understand the question and its structure, start with the introduction. It should show the examiner that you have understood the question and its demand. And it should set the context for the question.

Different types of introductions:

  • Definition based, mentioning the current happenings related to the theme, mentioning the dimensions like reasons, importance, basic features etc. depending on the question.

Make the introduction specific:

Include some data, facts or examples to showcase your understanding of the question.

Body:

This is the most important part of an answer. It addresses the actual demand of the question.

Relevant headings:

The body consists of content written under relevant headings – based on the exact words of the question.

For example, in the question – “Define potential GDP and explain its determinants. What are the factors that have been inhibiting India from realizing its potential GDP?” (2020) –There are two headings –

  1. Determinants of potential GDP
  2. Factors inhibiting India from realizing its potential GDP.

5-6 argumentative and multidimensional points can be written under one heading.

Argumentative:

The content in the body should be argumentative. This means that instead of just giving examples, proper reasoning should be given for each point.

Multi-dimensional:

Writing a multi-dimensional answer is crucial. For this, pick points from various GS papers and write points related to dimensions like historical, social, political, economic, and even ethics etc. depending on the question.

Don’t worry you will understand these things once you start writing your answers. For this, it’s very important to read the content with a realization that ultimately answers are to be written.

Substantiation:

Each point in the body should be substantiated with a relevant example/data/fact etc. – this signals the examiner that the points we have written are authentic.

Structure of a point:

Preferably try to start a point with a keyword and then explain it in a small sentence and then substantiate it with the help of examples.

Keyword:

It is something that shows the gist of the point you are writing. It should be chosen such that just by reading the keyword the examiner gets an idea that you have understood the question and you have written the answer in the right direction. Make a list of the most important keywords from each subject and use them in your answers.

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