7 Important Steps to Improve Answer Writing for UPSC Mains

answer writing for upsc mains
UPSC Mains Answer Writing

Answer writing is the most critical skill that any UPSC aspirant must acquire in order to maximise their scores in the examination. Most students, through multiple revisions and reading standard books, develop conceptual clarity on critical topics and themes they must cover for the exmination. But unfortunately they lack the ability to concisely express their content and arguments in the most effective manner for securing the highest marks possible. We have identified 7 important steps a student can take to improve their skills of answer writing for UPSC Mains.

The first step is to acquaint yourself with questions that reflect the UPSC’s style and topics. The best way is to start practising answer writing using previous year UPSC mains paper as it helps in adapting closely to the exam’s requirements but also aids in building confidence. Utilising past years’ question papers and then relying on mock tests to gauge your strengths and challenges would be an ideal approach to improve your answer writing skills for UPSC Mains.

The primary goal of answer writing is to align them with the examiner’s expectations, thereby securing high scores in the UPSC Mains examination. Irrespective of the quality of the content, an answer will not earn high marks if it fails to engage the examiner due to issues like failure to meet the core demand of the question, lack of clarity, irrelevance to the context, or insufficient emphasis on the value addition for the key points.

While the UPSC does not explicitly state these criteria, analysis of top-performing answers from the successful candidates of previous years has highlighted these aspects as crucial for meeting the UPSC mains examiner’s expectations.

It is important to provide an analytical approach with balanced arguments. Students should abstain from exhibiting strong biases for or against any particular perspective on the topic, while attempting to bring in an analytical approach in answer writing. For example, on a question of federalism in India, it is problematic to adopt an excessively pessimistic view of federalism in India by focusing solely on its challenges without recognizing its distinctiveness and its appropriateness for our country’s governance.

Exhibiting such extreme biases towards any ideology or thought process is discouraged, as examinations value a more balanced approach. Additionally, students should avoid making sweeping generalisations, such as claiming that “Haryana is a patriarchal state that discriminates against women’s rights as equal citizens.” Such broad statements can lead to stereotypical conclusions that merely reflect the student’s own prejudices.

Learn to structure your answers logically. Mostly, the structure of the question itself will have an inherent logic such that it moves from the broad topic (mostly in the introduction) to the specific issue within the topic and then towards challenges and possible remedial measures. Hence, each answer should have a clear introduction that outlines your understanding of the question.

The body should discuss the key demand of the question in a coherent and logical manner, supported by examples or data when possible. It is desirable to use bullet points for communicating factual points under each subheading, while maintaining a paragraph approach for the introduction and conclusion. Conclude with a summary that reinforces your main points and provides a concise conclusion or a future perspective related to the topic.

An effective strategy to enhance the visibility of important elements in your answers is to use underlining or boxing around keywords or headings. The purpose behind these techniques is similar to highlighting: they subtly draw the examiner’s focus to the critical factual elements that are significant from the subject perspective. Some previous toppers have creatively substituted boxing with other shapes like circles or triangles to encase words, achieving a comparable effect in making answers more visible.

There are various styles of underlining, such as single or double lines, and full-line underlining from one margin to another. It’s beneficial to employ different underlying methods to emphasise various parts of your answer—for instance, a single underline for a crucial keyword, double underlining for headings, and full-length underlining for specific parts of the question. However, using multiple colours is discouraged as it may hinder time management and completion of the exam. Underlining can be done during or after writing an answer. As with boxing, it’s important not to overuse these methods to the point of diminishing their effectiveness.

It is also important to take peer /mentor review and guidance to enhance UPSC Mains Answer Writing Techniques. Include data such as statistics, reports, and case studies to substantiate your answers. Making consolidated notes on different micro-topics of the UPSC syllabus is necessary to ensure good content for the answers.

Diagrams, flowcharts, and maps can also be powerful tools to visually represent information and make your answers stand out. But it is important to integrate these elements effectively without overloading your answers. Hence, it is most advisable to have a mentor or peer-review your answers and provide feedback.

Practise writing answers within a stipulated time to manage the limited time available in the exam effectively. The primary objective for candidates should be to complete all questions within the allotted time. It is only through attempting to write a full paper that students understand the challenge of finishing within the designated timeline. They must evaluate how their adopted strategies affect their time management in answer writing. Does incorporating substantial core content and value addition through maps, tabular columns or timelines to enhance the marks conflict with the ability to finish the paper? Does using diagrams in answers lead to a significant delay, possibly consuming an extra two minutes per answer?

Since the actual exam imposes strict time limits, practising answer writing for UPSC Mains within a specified timeframe is crucial. This helps in enhancing your ability to think and articulate quickly and clearly under pressure. Aim to strike a balance between speed and quality, ensuring that your answers are comprehensive yet concise within the available time.

It is most beneficial to join a mock test series such as Mains Test Series (MTS) of NEXT IAS which enable you to practise your UPSC Mains answer writing skills in simulated conditions with proper evaluation and mentorship support.


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