We cannot stress enough on the importance of answer writing practice for the IAS mains.

The UPSC analyses your quick thought process, analytical skills, understanding of various subjects and grasping power of the questions asked.

It won’t be wrong to say that your writing skills will be put to the ultimate test with 7 subjective papers that carry 250 marks each, with 3 hours allotted to every paper.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve religiously read and re-read your books if you cannot produce it on paper.

Practicing answer writing is not limited to a week or two. It is a continuous part of your study plan that you must follow with determination and dedication. Having said all this, let us move on to some great tips that will help you get started with your new regime :-

Tips to Practice Answer Writing

  1. Pick up any previous years question paper. Now, start answering the questions as you would do on your examination day
  2. Write Approx. 15 Words Per Mark

    In case of a 250 mark question paper that must be attempted in 3 hours, understand that you are expected to write  approximately 4000 words. UPSC is both about the quality and quality of your answers. Do not waste energy rewriting and re-phrasing same points. Write approximately 15 words per mark.

    So, your target should be,190 words/8 min approx. for a 12.5 mark question
    • 190 words/8 min approx. for a 12.5 mark question
    • 150 words/6 minutes approx. for 10 mark question
  3. Get To The Point

    There is no need to waste crucial time in writing unnecessary introductions. If you are still keen on writing one, keep it short and minimally vague.

    Let us take an example:
    Question : What are the different sectors in Indian economy?
    Answer : The Indian economy can be classified into the following sectors…

    Just as above, start off with the answer right away without trying to build an introduction to Indian economy.
  4. The More Pointers, The Better

    You must try to write an approx. 20 points for every answer. This might seem difficult as you’ll have to spend a good chunk of your precious time recalling the things you’ve learnt about.

    Expert tip: Try to imagine a real life scenario and relate your answer to it, instead of investing time in recalling what you’ve read. Your common sense and logic must precede recall.
  5. Learn To Link And Inter-link To The Question

    While you must answer directly to your question, it is also beneficial to link points that are relevant to the questions asked.

    Let’s take an example:

    Question: What are the different sectors in Indian economy?

    Under this question , although you must directly start with the types of economy, you should also be able to link crucial features regarding your points to the question.

    Answer : The Indian economy can be classified into the following sectors : the Primary Sector, Secondary sector and the Tertiary sector.

    After you have explained in detail the definitions and types of the sectors, you must also add in their contribution to the economy’s GDP, and the reason why a respective share is a certain percentage. The limitations, reasons for limitations and suggestions are also great points to be linked here.
  6. Keep It Simple

    The UPSC does not care for ornamentation of your answers. What they expect to read is clearly applied concepts and understanding written down as a precise comprehension in basic vocabulary.

    Always use relevant and layman terms with reference to question asked. You must make sure that relevant keywords are appropriately used.

    For example, in the previous question regarding sectors of the economy, the relevant keywords would be goods and services.
  7. Sometimes it is alright to use indefinite terms. You can use words like almost, most likely, probably, etc. but in a limited quantity.
  8. Don’t mess Up The Numeric Data

    Yes guys! If you cannot recall a particular number or statistic, it is alright. Do not fret over it. The right data can boost your chances at scoring high, but do not attempt that at the cost of unclear knowledge. If you’re clear with your concepts in your answer, that will do just fine.

    Let’s take the previous example of Sectors of Economy. It is alright if you cannot recall the numeric value of the employment in different sectors. Just stating that the Services sector provides maximum employment will suffice.

    When giving data, also provide implications of the data given.

    Example: 48% of Indians depend on agriculture.
    Further validating this value with its causes and effects is crucial.
  9. Quotes Add Weightage

    Make use of the quotes you jotted down in your notes while studying. A relevant quote by an authority in relevance to the question asked will add weightage to your answer.
  10. Keep Your Handwriting Neat

    Remind yourself of what your teachers told you in school : please write in a neat and readable handwriting.

    We know that you have a time-frame to stick to, and the tension of the examination hall paired with the need to recall just makes it harder.
    This is why you must practice everyday to write within the set time we mentioned in point 1, in clear, neat and presentable handwriting.
  11. Diagrams are great

    But only if they don’t eat into your written points and time frame. Make diagrams only if the question really demands it.

    For example, it is not necessary to draw pie-diagrams showcasing the gdp share of different sectors. Just highlight them in your words.
  12. Points Over Paragraphs

    Writing in points makes your answer more presentable, clear and readable for the examiner.

    If your answer demands paragraphs, make sure to split them into small paragraphs of 4-5 lines each.
  13. Highlight The Important Terms

    Always underline the dates, authority names, crucial keywords, relevant phrases, and major events.

    You can use your writing pen to underline. There is no need to carry a different ink just for the sake of highlighting.
  14. Target Every Part Of The Question

    You must answer all the different parts of the question, whether asked implicitly or explicitly.

    Question: what is the current state of the different sectors in indian economy?
    Question: what are the different sectors in the indian economy? why is there a huge divide between their output and contribution in the present day?

    Here, both questions are worded differently, but target the same answer.
  15. Do not forget to keep a check on time
  16. Do not waste time on questions you aren’t sure about. Start with those you can answer easily.
  17. Target Longer Hours Of Practice

    While practicing, do not target only a handful of questions. Instead write for a whole section. This will help you adapt yourself to the final day’s continuous writing process.

    You can start off with writing continuously for an hour and move it up to 4. This daily practice is crucial otherwise your hand and brain will give up on you in the examination hall.
  18. Don’t leave out questions

    It is alright to not know the exact answer to what is asked. But you can use logic to answer some part of it.
  19. Don’t Scan The Question Paper

    You must try to finish half the paper within the first 90 minutes. To save time, avoid looking through the entire paper in the beginning. Just start with the first question, and tackle remaining sequentially.
  20. Headings

    You must use appropriate headings and jot them down as they come into your mind.

Finally, when it comes to answer writing practice for the IAS mains, we highly suggest you subscribe to a good coaching institute’s (online/offline) mock test series. This will help you test your writing skills, and also offer the advantage of your answers being reviewed and remedied by an expert.

About the Author

Greeta Sulochana

Greeta Sulochana is a content evangelist with a flair for compelling creative writing. She has penned down her thoughts in poetry and prose since the past five years, and has catered her skills to the Indian and international audiences. She started out as an advertising intern with Grey worldwide, and is now a full-fledged writer in passion and profession, who has worked for major national brands.

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