IASbaba – Decoding the ‘DIRECTIVES’- Mains-2015

  • IASbaba
  • August 26, 2015
  • 129
IASbaba's Mains Strategy, IASbaba's Think and Learn-Mains 2015
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Decoding the Directives


NOTE- PHASE-2 of our Think & Learn will be announced very soon. Equip yourself with the understanding of ‘Directives’ which is very important.

Have you always been confused between the terms, “critically examine” and “examine”? Did you lose crucial marks in Mains just because you couldn’t differentiate between “Differentiate” and “Analyze”? Have you ever analyzed the similarities between “Comment” and “Assess”?


Well, fret not, as your beloved Baba is here with an article that describes, analyzes, assesses and elucidates each of the directives that the UPSC can throw at us. Ever since the pattern was changed, the Mains examination has relied heavily on the use of these special directives, so much so that, in 2014 more than 30 questions out of the four GS papers had the usage of these special key-words. Thus one should give special focus and attention to these words.


Now, we shall examine the various directives critically, and we also request you to continue to discuss by critically commenting below 🙂



1) Comment

This is the most used directive in all the papers. The question usually gives an unbiased/biased statement and asks the student to “comment” on it. We are supposed to be neutral and write various facts and viewpoints regarding that particular statement.

Imagine yourself to be a commentator like Navjot Singh Siddhu or Ravi Shashtri 🙂 Can you connect?

For example, in 2013, this question was asked in GS 2

“Electronic cash transfer system for the welfare schemes is an ambitious project to minimize corruption, eliminate wastage and facilitate reforms. Comment”


In this question, one has to write various points regarding the DBT, various other facts regarding it, dimensions, governmental missions and some recent examples of such cash transfers. More points can be added regarding how it minimizes corruption and eliminates wastage. By the time one covers these points, he would have successfully “commented” for over 200 words, which is what the examiner wants.


2) Critically comment 

Imagine in the same question, instead of just comment, the additional keyword “critically” is added. In such cases, we need to give both pros and cons, both positives and negatives. We need to answer by giving the story of both sides of the coin. In this question, one needs to highlight how difficult it is to implement cash transfers, how financial literacy has not reached the rural stage etc. In such a question, one needs to give a balanced answer covering all the points and dimensions.

Here you are ARNAB GOSWAMI of Times Now 🙂


3) Examine

Here we need to look into the topic asked in detail, try to understand it, inspect it, investigate it and establish the key facts and issues related to the topic in question. While doing so we should explain why these facts and issues are important and their implications. True examination comes when one analyzes all the various angles of the question.

Here you are Boymkesh Bakshi, The Detective 🙂


In 2014, this question was asked in GS-3 

“How does illegal transborder migration pose a threat to India’s security? Examine the strategies to curb this, bringing out the factors which give impetus to such migration.”


In this question, one needs to divide the answer in various parts to addres each issue that is asked. The first part would contain the definition of illegal transborder migrtaion, along with examples and must examine how it affects the country’s security.


In the next part, we need to list down the various strategies and then examine the various factors that affect it. So, here examining any issue would go deep into the technical and conceptual details. Thus, “examine” is deeper than “comment”, but less deeper than “analyze”.


4) Critically examine

Same as above, but must give both positives and negatives. After examining both sides of the issue, one can give an apt balanced conclusion satisfying the examiner. That is, we need to weigh the arguments for and against something, assess the strength of the evidence on both sides. Using a certain criteria to guide your examination of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.


5) Evaluate 


To identify and to write about the main issues, giving your reactions based upon what you have read or heard in various newspapers, lectures and reports. Avoid purely personal opinion.


There was a question in 2013’s GS-1 which deals with this directive


“The New Economic Policy – 1921 of Lenin had influenced the policies adopted by India soon after independence. Evaluate.”


6) Analyze

To examine in very close detail and to identify the various important points and chief features.


7) Discuss 

This is another common directive which is an all-encompassing one – you have to debate on paper by going through the details of the issues concerned by examining each one of them. You have to give reasons for both for and against arguments. And once all the discussion is done, a suitable apt conclusion may be given at the end of the answer.


8) Narrate

To concentrate on saying what happened, telling it as a story in a good flow. It is better to use paragraph style answer writing in such questions instead of points style.


9) Enumerate 

This directive would want the student to list out a sequence of points, like the 8 MDGs or the various constitutional articles dealing with Fundamental Rights. So, enumeration here means listing down a list of points.


10) Justify

This is a fairly simple directive to understand. Usually an opinionated statement is given, and we are asked to give various explanations, alongwith facts and theories to truly “justify” the statement – We have to prove alongwith credible evidence that the given statement is true indeed.


11) Differentiate 

To distinguish between two or three various items and bring out the differences between them.


12) Explain

Here the student should clearly express why something happens, or why something is the way it is. He needs to look at a subject in depth taking note of the detail and if appropriate, consider the implications, and should explain them in good simple language.


2014’s GS 3 paper had this question

“While we flaunt India’s demographic dividend, we ignore the dropping rates of employability.” What are we missing while doing so? Where will the jobs that India desperately needs come from? Explain.


These are the most common directives that are usually oft-repeated in the Mains. There might be some rare ones which do pop out from time to time, like “Give your arguments”, “Do you agree”, “Bring out the relationship between..” and many more. They will be very direct and obvious, so there is no need to break our heads on them.


While some are very straight-forward, like, “Why?”, “How?”, etc which can be solved by everyone without much thinking on the directive.


Let us try to answer a simple question now, using the various directives here, so that we understand the exact minute difference between each.


“After the World War 2, the strategy of the West towards Soviet block crystallised as a ‘Policy of Containment”. Comment.


Note here that the keyword here is “Comment”, so we can write various points related to the policy of containment directly without any confusion. Do give a short introduction in the starting so that the structure looks good. So, the model answer for this directive would be –


Ans) Post World War 2, the western countries’ policies toward third world was guided by policy of containment of soviet bloc rather than appeasing them. The containment events are:

a) Truman Doctrine: This doctrine assured to provide political, military and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces – implicitly against soviet influence.

b) Cuban Missile Crisis: This trail of suspicion made US to delink its relation with cuba for the last 5 decades, which was done to contain the soviet influence.

c) Arming Militants in Afghanistan: To bail-out the soviet intrusion in Afghanistan, the west deliberately armed the local militants to stop soviet expansion.

d) NATO – the military block formed not due to cooperation, rather due to suspicion and containing the soviet influence.

e) Vietnam and Korean Wars: The fear of socialism influence by Russia, made the western countries to deliberately interfere in these wars though their own interests were not at stake.

In all these cases, the main proponent is containing communism rather than appeasing the third world for friendship. The 21st century demands appeasement rather than containment.

So, in this we can see that not much analysis or discussion has happened. The answer has just a list of various incidents and a line commenting on each one of them.


Now, what if the directive had changed?


Let the new question be –


“After the World War 2, the strategy of the West towards Soviet block crystallised as a ‘Policy of Containment”. Analyze.


Ans) The “policy of containment” was an US policy to control the expansion of communism. It was triggered by “Berlin crisis” of 1948 when Soviet Russia blocked the entry of Western allied powers into Berlin.

After Berlin crisis, US and the other western powers followed an active policy to control soviet expansion. For this they adopted various diplomatic, economic and military measures. Starting from Berlin crisis, the growing tension was visible in Korean War and reached a deadlock during Cuban missile crisis. US became so much occupied with policy of containment that it started direct intervention, both diplomatic and military in many countries like Chile and Vietnam. The underlying philosophy was that if communism is unchecked it will lead to a domino effect and will capture the whole world in its clutch.

US and allied powers were as much responsible as was Soviet Russia for this cold war. Both lacked trust and mutual pragmatism. The leaders were egoistic which became quite apparent during Cuban crisis when US President Kennedy made an under-the-table deal with Soviets to make US look good. The doctrine of peaceful coexistence as proposed by NAM movement came as a respite but the two blocks kept pursuing their own policy of establishing regional dominance.

Cold war came to an end in early 1990s. That too was a time and need precipitated event and there was hardly any mutual agreement b/w the two powers for that. The clash of ego and hegemonic rivalry b/w two super-powers can only be blamed for continuance of “policy of containment” for such an extended time.


Do you see the difference in the two answers? One is comment and the other is analyze?


Now that we have understood how the various directives work, we have truly understood the requirement of every question that comes in the UPSC paper. Once we have started understanding the directives asked in the question, it would become very easy to write the perfect apt answer. So, now is the perfect time to start practicing answer formulation, as we now know how to decode the requirement of the question.


To help you in this, we, at IASbaba, shall soon start the Phase-2 of the Think and Learn Initiative, where tougher questions are going to be asked, with all the above directives. And we expect all the answers to be as apt as possible, and we expect all of us to have a lot of fun in the next 3 months. We request all of you to participate and remove your inhibitions by not being a silent spectator.

It is fine to follow but if you really want to succeed or do well in Mains-2015, then your silence can harm when your competitors are using every bit of support from IASbaba. After all you have to face competition and we have already increased to a minimum extent at least. 🙂


All the very best. 🙂



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