How to ace essays for the UPSC Examination? Every civil services aspirant in India wants a thorough answer to this question. Here, I want to start a post (Yes, this post will perhaps never be complete. I mean, I’ll go on adding whatever best I can.) that tells you everything about writing a civil service essay of a level that keeps you in the reckoning.
Having read this post and learnt the techniques thereof, you will be able to:
- Read, understand, and visualize the subjects of the essays quickly.
- Select the essay most suitable for yourself.
- Write a balanced and powerful essay on the given subject.
In this post, we will not jumble up concepts. Rather, we shall look into the quintessential facts that can help us write a good essay and have the ability to impress the examiner. I suggest proceeding to our goal step by step.
Therefore, the methodology that we shall adopt is to consider a set of questions, taking them up one at a time, exploring the facts thereof and providing a useful answer.
#Q1 Which Part of the Civil Services Examination Contains the Essay Paper?
The UPSC examination consists of three stages and to come out successful, one needs to pass all of them. That means, not all candidates get to appear in all the three stages. These stages are:
- Preliminary examination
- Mains Examination
- Personality Interview
The Civil Services essay paper, the one we are discussing here, is a part of the ‘Mains’ examination. It carries 250 marks out of a total of 1750 marks of the ‘Mains’ written examination. The personality test carries 275 marks.
#Q2 How Important is the Essay Paper for UPSC?
Of the three stages of the UPSC examination, the first one, that is, the Preliminary Examination is the one for selection of candidates to the IAS Mains. If you manage to get through it, you will become eligible to appear in the second round, that is, the mains examination.
If you pass the ‘Mains’ stage also, then you get to appear in the interview which is the final stage of the UPSC examination.
Your rank in the UPSC is decided by the aggregate of the marks you obtain in the ‘Mains examination’ and the Personality Interview.
Distribution of marks in the mains and interview:
Mains paper : 7 Question Papers of 250 marks each = 250*7= 1750 marks (including the essay paper)
(There are 2 more papers but they are of qualifying nature only.)
Essay Paper: 250
Therefore, the weightage of the essay paper in the mains examination = (250/1750) * 100% = 14.29%
Interview marks: 275
Therefore, the weightage of the essay paper in aggregate marks that decides the rank of a candidate= (250/(1750+275)) *100% = 12.34%
You might be wondering as to why we are going into all these details and not discussing the essay writing skills. However, I believe you must first know why and where you are going to put in your effort. Only when you understand how important the essay paper is, to pass the UPSC examination will you put in the amount of thrust you are supposed to.
#Q3 What are the Choices in the Essay Paper?
There are two sections, A and B, in the essay paper with each part containing four topics for the essays.
You are required to select one from each section. That means you will write 2 essays, one from each section.
Each essay will carry 125 marks, thus aggregating 250 marks of the essay paper.
You are to write essays of 1000-1200 words each. That means, you are to write a total of 2000-2400 words in the essay paper.
Example topics, Section-A
- Has the Non-Alignment movement (NAM) lost its relevance in a multipolar world? (UPSC Civil services Mains Examination, 2017)
- Courage to accept and dedication to improve are two keys to success. (UPSC Civil services Mains Examination, 2019)
Example topics, Section-B
- Fulfillment of ‘New Woman’ in India is a myth.(UPSC Civil services Mains Examination, 2017)
- Rise of Artificial Intelligence: the threat of jobless future or better job opportunities through reskilling and upskilling. (UPSC Civil services Mains Examination, 2019)
#Q4 What is the Time Allowed & Medium in the Essay Paper?
A total of 3 hours is allowed to write two essays, one from each section.
You must write the essay in the medium authorized in your admission certificate. Here, we shall discuss essay writing in English language.
#Q5 What Kinds of Subjects/ Topics are Given in the Essay Paper?
Observations reveal that following kinds of topics appear in the essay paper:
There is a topic is in regard of women problems. For example, let us have a look at this topic from UPSC 2012 examination: “Managing work and home – is the Indian working woman getting a fair deal?”
An essay subject that always shows up is one of the problems related to our country, India. For example, look at this topic from UPSC 2016 examination: “Water disputes between states in federal India.”
Most of the topics are lesser known sayings which are ‘full of wisdom’ . These are either eternal truths or preaching by great human beings in the past or modern times. Example from Civil Services Examination 2014: “With greater power comes greater responsibility.”
Some of the topics require subject knowledge and thorough grasp of facts. Example from IAS 2012 Examination: “Is the criticism that the ‘Public-Private-Partnership’ model for development is more of a bane than a boon in the Indian context, justified?”
#Q6 How to Select the Best Essays for Yourself?
If we go through previous years’ essay papers, it will be easy to note that many of the topics are age-old wisdom quotes. Some of them are quotes by great people or from the pages of history. Those which are not, are either advice from modern influencers or about issues concerning India, Asia or the world.
Though it is entirely your call to choose any essay type, I can suggest something.
If you are an avid reader, I believe, you have a strong arsenal of statistical facts, quotes and power words. So, you may choose at least one essay of the second kind, i.e. those on the topics of modern India, Asia or the world. I suggest this because writing an essay of this type gives you an opportunity to showcase your knowledge apart from your composition skills.
However, the wisdom essays give you more space to breathe. The subject of the essay is wide and you have full latitude to depict your uniqueness through reasoning and opinions.
Before closing this point, I want to emphasize that you should choose a subject you find emotionally appealing to you. With such a topic, you will have more research than others and you will never fall short of words.
#Q7 How to Write Your Essay for UPSC in 5 Steps
You will start with a pencil and eraser. Stunned? Use pen from step 3 onwards.
Yes. You need not start writing your essay as soon as you get the question paper.
#1 Start with Conceptualization
This means, you will first write some outlines that are supposed to take the form of the final essay later. This is the first schematic of your essay, so do not worry much about the words used, grammar etc. The motive here is to collect enough material to build up your essay. Apply the following techniques to write the outlines:
- What, How, Why, When, Where Technique: Form questions about the given topic. Each question may act as an outline.
- Top view, Macro and Micro views: Assume various aspects of the essay lie scattered on the ground and you are looking at them from the top. It helps you summarize or look at the topic as a whole. The same thing holds for a macro view. On the contrary, a micro view brings about the inner, analytical details of the topic. For example, a macro view may tell us about the trends in GDP whereas a micro view will report about individuals, internal demand and supply etc.
- DOs and DON’Ts views: You can compose some of the outlines by way of brainstorming on the topic with respect to what one should or should not do about it. For example, if the topic is about maintaining a healthy daily routine, you get a DON’T immediately: One should not consume more calories than the prescribed limit on a daily basis.
- Pros and Cons/ Merits and Demerits views: You can create some essay outlines on any given topic by thinking of positives and negatives. For example, a newly launched scheme for public welfare will definitely be full of merits but there will certainly be some drawbacks too.
- Simple and Sophisticated views: Looking at the topic of the essay, some common thoughts immediately come to the mind. However, you can also provide a specialized commentary on the topic by virtue of your expertise on the subject. You need both type of views for writing outlines.
#2 Logical Sequencing
a) Jot down facts, stats, power words and quotes that you are likely to use in the essay.
b) Order your outlines properly by giving serial numbers for them. Logical sequencing of problem-solution approach or critical approach makes your essay interesting to read.
#3 Write the Introduction
Write a powerful introduction clearly spelling out the theme of your essay. Avoid words like ‘most probably’, ‘perhaps’ etc. that exhibit wavering opinion.
You have a thesis statement. Paraphrase the same in the beginning of the introduction by varying the words and the facts of the thesis statement slightly.
You have taken off from the given statement. Now pick something from 2-3 of the most significant outlines that you have jotted down. Expand the idea slightly.
End the introduction with a concluding statement that gives the examiner, the reader here, a test of what is going to be served.
Keep the word count of introduction at about 250.
#4 Compose the Main Body of the Essay
While composing the main body of the essay, keep an eye on the following:
- Type of the essay
- Body paragraph format
- Word count
Type of the essay
Basically speaking, there are different kinds of essays. However, in the context of the UPSC essay paper, you may encounter the following types of essays. While composing your essay, be careful to follow any one type of writing. Mixing types may prove a game spoiler.
Expository: This type of essay informs the reader about something based on facts and real world data. Opinion does not matter much in such essays.
Argumentative or persuasive: Argumentative essays argue for or against an opinion and establish why a concept should be supported or opposed. Persuasive essays almost work similarly except in so far as they try to push through the thesis with arguments as well as emotion.
Cause and effect type: When you describe something saying what led to its current state and also telling what it is heading to, you are in fact writing a typical cause-effect essay. This type of writing needs both knowledge and argumentative skills.
Analytical: Such essays research the given topic citing facts and data in a way similar to expository essays. However, the facts are weighed, investigated to micro levels and presented in a soft tone. You may even depict your personal view. Sometimes, you find them same as a critical review.
Body paragraph format:
- Ideally, one should write 4-5 paragraphs in the main body.
- Each paragraph should follow a procedure:
✔ Read the thesis statement carefully. Pick important words, concepts or facts implicit in it.
✔ Take one concept at a time. Write a beginning or ‘subject sentence’ from it. Explain the concept in 2-3 ‘description sentences’ and end the paragraph with a ‘conclusive sentence’. Keep the word count within 150-175.
- In addition to the format, there is something else. You should take care to order your paragraphs properly, that means, which one will come in the beginning and which one in the end. The orders may be chronological or logical or anything else.
#5 Write the Conclusion:
To write a good conclusion, you must state your central view strongly in the end. This is an opportunity to declare whatever you have explained in the body paragraphs clearly, concisely and loudly.
Stick to this format:
- Revisit the main idea in question. Re-word the theme so that it gets a different look – a look that immediately depicts whatever you have stated till now.
- Recapitulating the main points of the essay in an ultra-concise summary constitutes the next part of the conclusion.
- Lastly, remember that you are competing for the most reputed public service job of the country. So you will do well to draw attention in the end by calling for a promise, pledge or adherence by putting in words like:
” Let us all unitedly stand to fight corruption.”
“Adherence to norms will help us weed out corruption. So let us vow to ourselves not to ever violate a rule of law.”
Keep the word limit to about 200.
Such a wrap-up of your essay for UPSC completes your job.
#Q8 What is the Word Count of the UPSC Essay and How to Maintain it?
Main Body: 150*5=750
Total = 250+750+200 = 1200
Main Body: 175*4=700
Total = 250+700+200 = 1150
#Q9 What are the 10 Most Important Elements your Essay for UPSC Must Exhibit?
Your UPSC essay must contain your own view on the essay topic. Critical, argumentative, persuasive and critical essays have one central look out. The essay revolves around it. Even expository and cause-effect essays provide ample opportunities at various points to share your own thoughts on the essay topic.
#2 Subject understanding
The examiner definitely wants to know from your paper as to whether you have understood the essay topic well. If you start from the thesis statement neatly carving out the main points to be elaborated, it certifies you are on the right track. It implies correct identification of problems in a problem-solution kind of essay.
Analysis of the topic at hand measures how deep your penetration into the subject is. Dive down to the most basic level and cite facts and stats to support your analysis.
Are you only identifying the problems? The understanding and analysis of the thesis need your knowledge but providing solutions will need imagination. As such, it is very important to suggest ways towards a solution.
A good essay contains data, facts, quotes etc. for its credibility. The reader must believe whatever they are reading is based on information from the real world.
Brainstorming far and wide, exploring possibilities and moving beyond the realms of ordinary thinking – all depend on how powerfully you can imagine and your essay must depict the same. It shows your dedication to exploration of the subject and is important to make your essay look complete.
#7 Composition Skills
How do you present whatever you have in your mind? This entirely depends on your composition skills. This means taking care about the choice of words, paragraph structure, positioning of facts etc.
#8 Logical order
We have already discussed which part of the essay should come in the beginning, which ones should succeed thereafter and which ones would conclude the essay. Following such an order keeps the cohesiveness of the essay.
The reader gets interested if your essay touches uncommon aspects. Give unique angles to your thoughts and elaboration to stand apart from the crowd.
While composing your essay for UPSC, it is of utmost importance not to budge even an inch from your subject. If you are writing something, there must be a point behind it. Else, it must lead to a point that relates to the thesis statement.
Some Useful Downloads
Here is an important link if you want to read toppers’ essays:
Download 2020 and 2021 Essay Papers from UPSC website:
A Sample UPSC Essay solved pdf: THE PROCESS OF SELF DISCOVERY HAS NOW BEEN TECHNOLOGICALLY OUTSOURCED
Some More Tips
While composing your sentences, first prepare the full sentence in your mind and then write on paper. This helps to avoid repeated cutting out and erasing of words and sentences.
When you rehearse with practice essays during the preparation for the examination divide the allotted time into as many parts as there will be number of paragraphs (5-6 parts= 1 for introduction+ 3-5 for main body+1 for conclusion) so that you may check the time constraint after writing each para.
Tips for writing all kinds of essays >> visit this page