The UPSC 2017 prelims is behind us and now all the focus is on the UPSC mains which is scheduled to be held from 28th October this year. Clearing the UPSC mains exam requires Armour of a different kind as compared to the prelims exam. In the IAS Mains exam, there are nine descriptive papers you have to tackle. Merely knowing the answer is insufficient if you want to fare well here. You must also know how answer writing in the best possible way so that you convey the required message and also stand out among the rest of the pile. Read on for a few things you need to know for UPSC mains answer writing.

Need for the perfect answer

  •  The GS comprises of 4 papers , 250 marks each. Each paper has 20 questions, so each question has a weight age of 12.5 marks. 9 minutes is the amount of time we require for answering one question.
  • Let us consider two students A and B with the  same amount of knowledge attempting a particular question,one of  them writing the answer in a haphazard manner and the one sequentially mentioning all the points in the answer.
  • We will observe that, it is very natural for B to score at least 1 more than A. Knowing we have total 80 questions from four papers, B can score 80 extra marks, which one can earn through answer writing perfectly.

How to develop the answer

  • Reading the answer again and again

Out of the 9 minutes, spend first one and a  minute in reading the question again and again. Underline the key word of the question.To understand a question fully, one must know that a question has keywords. Use your pen/pencil to mark them. Read till you know ,what is asked in the question and what is to be answered. You can spend the next seven and half minutes in answer writing

  • Emphasis on the style of the question- what is asked?

Every question has a ‘topic’ and a ‘directive’. Make sure your answer writing is based on it.
“The Amarnath Yatra symbolizes the best of Kashmir’s old syncretic ethos.” Discuss
In the above question, the topic is ‘The Amarnath Yatra’ and the directive is ‘Examine’.
If we give an ‘explanation’ to this answer on how The Amarnath Yatra symbolizes the best of Kashmir’s old syncretic ethos , the examiner is sure to give less than average marks. Instead, the directive points is towards a definite course of answering, here, ‘Discussion’ of the statement.
Other such Directives used are

  • Elucidate / Elaborate / Expand / Exemplify

    Elucidate means make it clear with examples to make it clear. Elaborate and Expand mean detailed explanations. Exemplify means – give a typical example of that particular category. Please include contemporary affairs, connections or current affairs.

  • Justify

‘Selling only a part of the government’s holding will not free Air India of the  Bills of public ownership.’ Justify
Here you have to argue in favor of and write justifying comments as far as reasonably possible in your answer writing.

  • critically examine and examine

Detailed explanations are required when we talk about ‘examine’. Write in detail whatever you know, include one to two lines of description for it.
When we talk about ‘critically examine’,  you need to do is look at the good and bad of something and give a fair judgement of the given topic and examine it.
‘The Modi-Trump Meet. Critically examine.
‘Gandhiji established the Salt Satyagraha’ Examine.

  • contrast/distinguish

The differences in the topics are to be made, knowing the things that makes them differ from each other.
‘Distinguish Boitic components from Aboitic’ .

  • comment

The directive ‘comment’ is usually followed by a statement made by some famous personality, or taken out from a famous book. When you are asked to comment, you have to pick main points and give your ‘opinion’ on them based on evidences or arguments stemming from your wide reading.Your opinion may be for or against, but you must back your argument with evidences in your answer writing
“There is an urgent need for the Planning commission to revise the chapter on health in the 12th Five year Plan document”. Comment
Critically comment on the extent, scope and implications of Non Communicable Diseases in India.

Structure your answer writing

  • You have 250 words for answer writing. Spend first 30 words to introduce the problem.Introduction is a must. It is the best part of the answer where you tell the reader what is awaiting him in next few paragraphs. Also,  Introduction is not a summary of your answer. It leads the reader to your answer in clear manner.
  • Sometimes, it might seem to be a very short introduction, but that’s okay. You need to get to the point super fast. Spend at least 170-180 words to the main point of the question.
  • You must provide a conclusion. It might be like a  couple of sentences, but it is  absolutely necessary. There is no way your answer should end without a conclusion.

Use of Quotations,maps,diagrams

  • Use diagrams and maps as and where you can. They save time in explaining a concept or an idea. Also, they save the examiner from the monotony of reading texts all the time.
  • Number your figures, tables or graphs and use that number for reference in your answers. This gives an impression of a person very systematic.
  • If there is a quote, which suits the question perfectly, use that. But never more than one.

Practice and Practice

  •  Only repeated practice can help you hone your answer writing skills for the IAS mains exam. Practice answer writing for UPSC mains exam until it becomes a skill for you.You can also solve Practice papers fro the same.
  • Your answers should be coherent and continuous and Practice makes them come so.

Hope this article helps you in inculcating the skill of answer writing  perfectly and help you score well.
Good luck!

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About the Author

Akshay Palande

Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.

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