UPSC GS Mains: How to Improve Answer Writing

Disclaimer: These are just my inferences from my experiences last year. May be all this is wrong… may be I get as bad or even worse marks than last years. No guarantees. But that is life… When obstacles come, we change course and try to steer our way around them somehow :-)

The Background

I gave my first mains in 2012. My preparation was excellent and I thought I had written all the papers reasonably well. That my preparation was not lacking can be seen from the fact that I got in 130s in prelims GS paper and since prelims I had only improved the preparation. The interview was good as well.

Yet I could secure a rank in only 200s. Everybody except me thought I would have got less marks in History since I had no background in it (took it only out of interest). Economics was my other optional. But when the final marks came, the picture turned out to be entirely different – and frankly darker for me. For it turned out that it was not history which sunk me, but GS and Essay. I had scored reasonably good marks in Economics (280s) and History (240s) and interview (210s) but failed miserably in GS (170s) and Essay (80s). GS and Essay combined took me over 80 marks below average!

I was disappointed and frustrated – for I didn’t know what went wrong in GS and Essay. And the bad news was that from 2013, weight of GS and Essay, where I had scored miserably, would become more than double while that of optional, where I had done well, would be halved. Had history been the culprit, I could have simply dropped it next time and given the exam again without doing anything extra. But it was now GS, with double marks, and I didn’t know what went wrong and what to improve – forget about how to improve. Its like being stranded in the middle of Pacific on a small boat without sails and rudder in a dark hurricane night… And yet we are expected to find the coast on the next morning!

Anyways, one thing would be clear to anybody given the above marks distribution – the main problem lay not in preparation but in answer writing. And so it had to be answer writing alone which had to be improved drastically, even at the cost of preparation.

So how to write better GS answers

So I analyzed, joined 3 test series (vision ias GS + vision ias essay + Synergy GS), wrote answers, sent them to some friends for feedback, discussed with my father and finally felt following things were important.

– GS and optionals answers are completely different. In optionals, one can write a PhD types answer and be confident of getting good marks – because the examiner who is checking an economics paper would be an economist herself. But in GS this will not work. The examiner who is checking the economics answer in a GS paper in more likelihood would not be an economist. She would be a generalist with limited knowledge and interest in the subject.

– So if you write some specialized answer or use some specific terms or models from your optional while writing a GS answer, good luck! Most probably the examiner would not understand/appreciate it. And she would not spend additional time or effort in going back and study the term/model you wrote. She would simply give a zero.

– Similarly, if you write any unconventional answers like say Aadhar cash transfers are not going to increase inflation and even give a logic based proof from basic economics, the examiner will not give any marks. Because she would have read mainstream media where everybody is saying Aadhar transfers would increase inflation. And she has no interest in taking the pain to understand a contrarian view point in your answer. Her life would be much simpler if she just gives a zero.

– So the bottom line is, our answer should be such that they make the life easier for the examiner. She would be happy while reading them and would give us more marks. So no PhD types stuff… just stick to basic points and present them in a way which is easy to read.

– Next, this exam is not a science exam. This is a generalist exam, a humanities exam. Its like a BA or MA exam. In a science exam, if there are 5 points in an answer but point number 1 is the most important point and rest are insignificant as compared to point 1, so if you cover point 1 only in your answer in great detail showing good understanding, you would get good marks. But in a BA, MA exam this doesn’t work. You have to not only write those 5 points, but also invent 2 more points and write. Only then the examiner would feel that you have covered all ‘relevant’ points. So one cannot ignore the trivial points and has to blindly write everything.

– Going further, in BA MA exams, if the question asks something say what is RBI doing to contain inflation and you answer all the points (including the trivial points) on what is RBI doing to contain inflation, you still won’t get good marks. Your answer still won’t be considered complete. In BA MA exams, an answer would be complete if we also write a bit about what preceded the question and what succeeded it. For example, in this RBI question, if I also write 1 para in the beginning on what is causing this high inflation and 1 para in the end on the effect of high inflation if RBI is not able to control, my answer would be considered better (even though a science student would find all this utter stupidity).

– Now the question arises, how to think of so many points in the exam hall? Well, because this is a BA MA exam and doesn’t require any specialist knowledge, the good thing is, if we just pause and think for 1-2 minutes before writing an answer in the exam hall, we would be able to recollect 70-80% of the points.

– Another thing which helps is to beforehand prepare a list of points for few broad topics. For example, one can remember 10 points on how to improve citizen charter, 10 points on how to remove corruption, 8 points on how to contain inflation, 7 on small states or not, 10 on problems of panchayats and so on… The good thing is these broad topics are limited and most questions in the GS exam come only as a subset of these broad topics or ask a particular aspect of these broad topics. Once you remember this block of points on any broad topic and a question comes asking you to look at the topic from a particular angle, you can easily and very quickly modify your existing points to meet the demands of the question. Then you just have to write 1 para each on what came before the question and what happens after the question, and your answer is complete.

– Finally on presentation style. Many coachings tell many things. Don’t believe in any of them. Just use common sense. The examiner is a human being who is checking your copies not because of any interest but because its her job. She would like to get over with it as soon and with as little mental pain as possible and attend to rest of her life. So just present your answers in a way which you think makes her life easier. Personally, I preferred writing point and section wise answers this time with proper section and sub sectional headings. It gives an impression that I have covered all aspects, given a thought to the answer before writing and created a structure. But the choice is yours.


Through this article, I just hope to help some others who may be finding themselves in the same small, rudderless boat in the middle of the Pacific as I found myself after the result last year – and may be again will find after this year’s results.

Anyways, I understand that merely reading the above words is not sufficient in improving answer writing. One has to practice. I didn’t have any systematic guidance and practiced in near darkness. May be I am still in dark. But I want to try my best to make life easier for other deserving students. So mebbe if somebody wants, he/she may post her answers along with the question to any GS questions here in the comments. I would try to come back with feedback. It may take some time due to heavy training activities and interview prep here, but I would surely come back. If I feel I won’t be able to do justice to the question, I would clearly say so. Other fellow readers may also chip in. Les see how it goes. Even if a few are able to benefit by this to whatever extent, the purpose would be served.

364 thoughts on “UPSC GS Mains: How to Improve Answer Writing”

  1. Sir, why self preparation, how did u improve ur answer writing. How did u know which suggestions would improve your answer especially when no teacher or coaching is there to tell u?

  2. Sir, while self preparation, how did u improve ur answer writing. How did u know which suggestions would improve your answer especially when no teacher or coaching is there to tell u?

  3. Congrats sir as an ips officer, sir can you help me in how to increase a power in our mind to get ready for cse exams and what could help for getting more knowledge, concentration and confidence… achieve the target

    1. for Cse exam there should be motive why you want to be an IAS or IPS officer and there should not be any selfish reason behind that.
      Talking about power of mind you could not calcualte as mind can give 100 type of CSE exam at a single time simultaneously…………… you got it!!!1

  4. Congdats Sir

    Sir I want to see or get your answer writing styles or answer formats .

    Please provide some questions followed by their answers to understand in better way.

  5. Sir I am preparing for cse myself , I have no enough study materials becoz I can’t afford. So I want to download soft copy online provided free of cost. I have downloaded your notes and now I need more books to understand in details. Where can I download questions- anseers format books? Which websites should be logged in for Cse?

      1. Sir congrats on becoming IPS and scoring AIR 1
        Sir i want to become an IAS officer bt nt finding any good way even dont trust on coachings
        So plse kindly reffer me some books or website througt which u study and got a good result!!
        Will be very thankful tu u

  6. sir,just what a personality what a attitude so practical thinking thanks for everything you shared which is more than enough if understood i would definitely meet you one day thanking you

  7. Sir,I’m preparing for cse exam with out coaching…please sugest the best site for downloading study materials for the exam

  8. Sir i have just passed my 12 class n persuing b.a. Im going to prepare for upsc what the first thing i should do to become the topper just like u. Im very confused about coachings ..should i join..? Sir my family background is not educated so i couldnt get ri8 advice …please sir reply…..

    1. focus on your current studies,be
      persistent and work harder keeping in mind that you have CS to appear in the future.Family background and financial status are not a problem at all, as we are living in 21st century and most of the study materials can be found in the internet.And also build up your personality,be positive no matter what the outcome is.lastly,never give up and keep trying.

  9. sir ,i am steel in dither about preparing through coaching classes,or self preparation is enough, please guide from were to start

    1. Hi sir how are you . Cogratulation on your success. Sir i am 23 year old i persuing graduation from ignou and prepairing for govt exam but my family financial condition is not well my father retire from service .what shuold i do. I don’t know .please help me . I shall be very greatfull to you. Thank u.

  10. thanka a lot sir… its definitely the practical points for which students are in search for… beyond all the hectic suggestions from here and there…

  11. hii…. sir first ofall congrats…..that you want ,you achieve…..i want to know about material that you prefered for your preparation….i just can’t afford coaching….but i have great desire to become an officer…i want this….i will ….plz hlp me….plz rply as soon as possible….thanks for the article

  12. hii…. sir first ofall congrats…..that you want ,you achieve…..i want to know about the material that you prefered for your preparation….i just can’t afford coaching….but i have great desire to become an officer…i want this….i will ….plz hlp me….plz rply as soon as possible….thanks for the article

  13. Aapka sara bat sahi hai sir par mai kaise tyari karu mai keval sapna pal sakta hu kyoki ghar itna responsiblities hai ki kah nhi sakta,lekin aapka bat sunkkar aacha laga thank u sir

  14. Sincere Thanks to your help. Yes i was finding myself in the same small, rudderless boat in the middle of the Pacific as you found yourself after the result..reading the entire blog gives me a feeling it is exclusively written for me.. this is last attempt I want to give my best to clear I did the same mistake over and over and missed two mains..thank you for the in depth analysis of answer writing… I appreciate your patience in writing a lengthy para to convey each message powerfully..I found my treasure here! thx again brother!

  15. dear sir, thanks for blogs.. for aspirants ,
    sir, in my first attaimpt I have choose economic optional sub. because of my interest I am graduate in B.A. (economic) and MBA (marketing) sir, please say few word about material of economic subject.

  16. Sir, i want to be ias officer but i dont know the ways of IAS thats my dream…which coaching is best foer that in hyd.and also i wanna to listen more points from u sir..plz help me in this issue my qualification is Msc statistics with com. Aplications….so plz help

  17. dear sir….lots of thanks for ur success…I am in great confusion…My childhood dream was to pursue research in physics…but the palpable and vibrant route of getting into IAS made me fall into great chaos to select my goal……I am not to my goal…I am in 12th now preparing for JEE….I would feel very happy with it answer

  18. Hello Sir,

    This is what I was looking for… In terms of answer writing. All your words made sense and I am so much excited to give an attempt this year.

  19. sir i have just now given my 12th exam my aim is only to be an ias officer in future . i am going to start my prepration for upsc exam if i found any difficulty i will ask you . i hope you would help me

  20. As a complete neophyte to UPSC, let me begin by thanking you for taking time off your surely busy schedule, to motivate and help those of us in the dark. Owning up, I have no clue on how to proceed from here. Do I read up on my ncerts? Do I join up for GS classes? I’m a dentist with no prior experience in this field. I actually just started with the Hindu.
    Sorry for the long query. Pls let me know

  21. Sir I am a hindi medium student and doing p.g. to political science…how can I preparation for civil service ?

  22. Thanks for sharing your experience..

    But I don’t know why you’ll people are making this Civil Service exam such a toughest exam ever.

    I really wanted to say this message to all that The Civil Service is such a school level exam.

    If a student scored 100% and 99% in SSLC subjects, they’ll easily score the same in Civil Service Exam papers given a syllabus, proper text book materials, periodic exams, previous year questions practice, and finally quarterly half yearly mock exams and finally Annual main exam. That’s enough…

    If those students who only writing what they studies from the book materials, that’s enough to make the examiners’ mood and mentality good while correcting the paper.

    But we graduates and doctorates making things feeling difficult.

    It’s like the practice requirement is just analogous to the fresh water % in world available water %.

    If anybody felt hurt, I’m apologising for those hearts….

  23. if you think UPSC is a BA-MA type of exam you clearly have no clue. ‘General Studies’ is much closer to high school type of studies. We would spend days in the library poring over books upon books upon books to merely turn in one assignment of a 1000 words.

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