Apurva Pandey, Rank 39 UPSC CSE 2017: HIGHEST MARKS IN ESSAY (175)-ESSAY STRATEGY (IASbaba’s ILP Student)

  • IASbaba
  • May 17, 2018
  • 10
IASbaba's Toppers
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Hello everyone,

Ever since UPSC declared marks for CSE Mains 2017, I have been flooded with requests to write a strategy on the essay. But honestly, I never really had a mechanical strategy for the essay. During my mock tests, essay was that one paper where the examiner appeared satisfied and so I sort of shifted my focus to GS and optional.

That said, I do have a few pointers that I think worked for me and I will be more than happy to share it with you all. I will also try to answer some FAQs regarding essay preparation.



1) Where do I get the content for my essay?

I never studied separately for the essay. I used whatever I had studied for GS and optional. But then again, I was lucky to have PSIR for my optional and from there, I often picked up concepts, thinkers, ideologies etc. to make my point. However, one must be careful to not use one’s knowledge of their optional to such an extent that the essay stops being general. If reading your essay is becoming extra work for the examiner, then that might not be good news for your marks.

2) Do I need to use very flowery language?

Every essay strategy I read during my preparation suggested using simple  English and rightly so. Sometimes, in our quest to put our vocabulary to use, we end up inserting complicated words forcefully in our sentences. Not only does it make the sentence difficult to understand, but also gives it an awkward sound when read.

But that does not mean that we stop getting creative with language. Using metaphors, similes, idioms etc breaks the monotony and makes our essay look attractive. Here again, usage must not appear forced. This comes with a careful reading of good texts and of course, practice.

3) Should I write in simple paragraphs or subheadings?

I don’t think it really matters. I wrote with subheadings in one of my mock tests and got good feedback. But in the final exam, I wrote in simple paragraphs which worked out perfectly fine for me.

4)How do I choose my topic?

For me, comfort triumphs every other factor. I have always had a certain discomfort, more of a mental barrier for topics related to science, technology, economy etc. But with topics that have a socio-political background, I feel very much at ease, even when the topic is relatively unprepared and may require a certain brainstorming.

I personally feel that if we are comfortable with the topic, our expression has a more natural flow. I wrote the essay on women this time around, knowing full well how popular the topic was and how well prepared people must be. But I was not only comfortable but also very passionate about that topic, and everything I wrote came straight from the heart. I have a strong feeling that it is this very essay that helped me secure such high marks in essay. But more on that, later.

5)Do I really need to practice essay?


No matter how confident you are in your writing skills, practicing a few essays beforehand is never a bad idea. If you can get some feedback on it then even better. Even if you have good content and are good at expressing yourself, you might be making other mistakes like writing very long paragraphs, diverting from the topic, not putting in sufficient examples and so on. Therefore, please practice a few essays and get those reviewed.

Now a few pointers on the specific things I did that may have helped me score good marks:


1) Start solid: Somebody once told me that an examiner will probably read hundreds of essays on the same topic, and is likely to get bored after some time. As such, our beginning must be interesting so as to capture his/her imagination at the very outset. In a strategy article that she wrote, Mittali Sethi mam mentioned how she began her essay with a poem she had written herself. I did the same in my NAM essay. Wrote a couplet on the idea of standing for truth, and then began my essay by explaining NAM as India’s way of standing for truth.

Similarly, for my essay on “Fulfilment of new woman in India is a myth”, I started off with a story where I talked about Meena, the new age Indian woman, who is well educated, financially independent, working at a big corporate firm and married to the man of her choice. And then I began to expose the myth by explaining how Meena still takes care of household chores and the kids even when her work hours are same as her husband’s, how sexism still exists for her at workplace where she is asked to take care of the hospitality of important clients while her male peers get to engage with them business-wise, how she quit a previous higher paying job to escape sexual harrassment at workplace, how her family keeps telling her to quit so as to take better care of her children and so on. I hope you got the idea.

2) Having strong opinions: I am sure you can guess by now how opinionated my essay on women must have been. And I really think having strong opinions and being passionate about the topic helps. But your opinion must be supported by examples or facts. For instance, in my essay on women, I wrote that while a woman defence minister in Nirmala Sitharaman may reinstate the myth of the new Indian woman, we must not forget that women Parliamentarians in India have never crossed the 12% mark.

So while keeping balanced views might be the popular advice, I personally think that my strong opinions on certain things helped me score well. Of course, I was worried about this before the results because I really thought that this could work both ways. I played the gamble and was rewarded generously. 🙂

3) Positivity: Even when you are writing passionately and pointing out everything you think is wrong, you must end on a positive note. Again coming to the women essay, my last few paragraphs were about how things have drastically changed over the years, and while there might not be a fulfilled new Indian woman as of now, she is slowly but surely emerging.

4) Flow: If there is flow in our essay, it will keep the examiner engaged throughout. Abruptly jumping from one dimension of the essay to another must be avoided. For good flow in your essay, you can plan beforehand by devoting the initial half hour to deciding the structure and content of your essay. Also, practice helps.

5) Some important but oft-repeated points:

  • Try to cover as many dimensions as possible. Mittali Sethi mam and Chandramohan Garg sir mention the SPECLIH technique( Social, Political, Economic, Cultural, Linguistic/Local, International, Humanistic dimensions) in their strategies. You can use it for more diverse content.
  • Avoid writing very long paragraphs.
  • Use examples, facts, data, current developments, anecdotes, anything and everything to substantiate your point. I did not use a lot of statistics because I could never learn it up, but examples I used liberally.
  • Read the topic carefully and do not divert from it. For instance, the topic “Has NAM lost its relevance in a multipolar world?” does not require us to explain the entire history of NAM although you may talk about it a little in your introduction. If in your essay you are writing all that you know about NAM without delving on its relevance in a multipolar world, then you might not get good marks. Similarly, if you talk about the relevance of NAM but completely ignore the multipolar world-part of the topic, you are very much on your way to committing a blunder.

So read the topic very carefully, underline the keywords and ensure that you do not divert.

I always knew essay was a scoring subject, but never knew that it would so crucially influence my selection and rank. And so once again, I will ask you all to definitely practice a few essays before the final exam, no matter how good you are with it. Trust me, it will be highly rewarding. I will also suggest you go through Chandramohan Garg sir’s strategy which many have found helpful.

Best wishes,

Apurva Pandey

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