• IASbaba
  • August 1, 2019
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IASbaba's Toppers, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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My Two Cents on Answer Writing

It has been almost two weeks since Prelims results are out. Also, not much time is left before Mains. In between these quite different ways of testing, one has to shift gears and prepare oneself to write 4000 words in 3 hours twice a day for a few consecutive days.

And, with the Prelims results, the horn has been blown. Usain Bolts and Asafa Powells of the world are already clocking good time in the practice sessions. It is crucial to maintain this practice every day for new as well as experienced runners in order to get great timings on the final day too.

In this article, I will discuss the answer writing tips which worked for me, sources I had used to cover different parts of the syllabus and will post some practice tests for your reference.

Almost everyone faces inertia when one tries to start with answer writing but the trick is to start anyway. One will write a bad answer for the first time or the second but definitely not the 100th time.

Any good answer comprises of 3 crucial elements i.e.
1) Structure
2) Content
3) Presentation

In the initial days of answer writing, it is difficult to have good quality content and presentation but one can easily practice structuring.

1. Structure

It may sound cliché but it is important. Any answer should have a simple structure containing Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.

a) Introduction:

The introduction is a crucial element of any answer because it is the time when examiner makes an impression on the examinee’s understanding of the question asked.

There are different ways of Introduction:
– Connect it to some recent event
– Describe the significance of the subject matter asked
– Use of data point or fact to explain the gravity
– Connect it some historical event
– Define a technical term asked in the question etc.

The introduction should be crisp and must be to the point, in line with the demand of the question.

Some Introductions from practice tests

b) Body:

The body of the answer must address exactly what has been asked in the question. The body must be broken down into different sections answering different parts of the question.

Keywords like Discuss, Critically examine, etc. are crucial in determining the areas one needs to address while answering. E.g. when the question asks “Do you think..?”, One needs to explain both sides of the issues i.e. for and against before giving one’s inclination.

Here is a document which describes the expectation out of each Keyword

As a thumb rule, the body of the answer must have as many points as the marks allotted to the question by the examiner. It must clearly address different parts of the question asked. Relevant points should take priority and fodder points should be written later. As each part of the question has some marks associated with it, one must address every part to ensure maximization of the marks awarded by examiner. Read the question twice and underline parts to ensure none of the parts are missed.

c) Conclusion:

The conclusion is also a crucial element because it is after reading it the examiner will award marks. A positive, forward-looking and relevant conclusion has the potential to fetch an extra half mark. There are times when it is difficult to think of a conclusion, one can save one good point from the body and use it as a conclusion. Also, SDGs, Government Schemes, Case study, and vision like Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas can be good hinges to conclude.

Following article has some good examples of such vision statements for conclusion— link

For the initial one month of answer writing, I felt that my content was not up to the mark. To this doubt, one of my senior replied, ‘Initially, we have to practice structure in answer writing with our average level of content. We have to ensure that we are addressing each and every part asked in the question with good and relevant points. Once we excel at that, when we try to analyze our answers using the model and best answers, slowly we start to improve on content as well.”

There were different ways I had adopted to improve upon content apart from referring to my earlier notes:

a) Sources:

  • GS I
    1. Modern History: Made personality and strand-specific notes (shared in sample notes)
    2. Art and Culture: Short notes on culture including some details, Maps, diagrams (shared in sample notes)
    3. Geography: Model answers of few sectional tests of Vision+ NCERT diagrams
    4. Society: Model answers of few sectional tests of Vision + Mains 365
    5. World History: Short notes (shared)
    6. Post Independence History: Short notes (shared)


  • GS II
    1. Polity: Mains 365 + Short notes — A4 size one-pagers (shared in sample notes)
    2. Governance: Short notes — A4 size one-pagers (shared in sample notes)
    3. International Relations: Mains 365 + Keyword one-pager


  • GS III
    1. Economy & Agriculture: Mains 365 + Short notes on Infrastructure and Transportation topics
    2. Security: Mains 365
    3. Environment: Mains 365
    4. Disaster Management: Short notes — A4 size one-pager



b) Answer Writing Practice:

Daily writing practice (I had followed IASbaba’sTLP Phase II) also helped in improving content. On comparing my answer with model and best answers, I got good improvement points for structure, content as well as presentation.


Important points w.r.t. presentation:
a) Different parts and sub-parts of the answer must be clearly visible
b) Headings must be concise (preferably the same phrase as asked in the question)
c) Headings can be highlighted — using a box or underline
d) Underlining important words — as examiner generally goes through the answer vertically rather than reading every point, underlining makes his/her life easier
e) Diagrams/Amoebas/Maps/SmartArts from PowerPoint should be added as and when needed to break the monotony of the answer sheet
f) Spacing between lines and paragraphs, alignment and indentation should be proper
g) Figures should be boxed and a proper description e.g. Fig 1. — — — should be added

It is pretty much possible to do the above mentioned in one particular answer. But the problem arises when we are asked to maintain consistency in 20 answers that too in a time bound manner. Hence, daily practice in a time bound manner becomes crucial. One must aim to answer all 20 questions with good quality content if not best. Some important points to remember:

  1. Like every runner needs good shoes, identify the pen which suits you and can endure along with you
  2. Allocate 7 mins to a 10 marker and so on to ensure proper time to each question
  3. Use a table stopwatch in the initial phase to attempt answers in a time bound manner. With enough practice muscle memory will take over and one will be able to complete each answer in a time bound manner
  4. Try to maximize the score by attempting all 20 answers
  5. Necessary food and beverage items should be kept nearby. Also, carry enough stationary in case of any eventuality
  6. Have a simulation run if you are attempting mains for the first time. I had taken Simulator Test at ForumIAS a week before the final mains — these copies are not checked.
  7. Take good care of your health — physical and mental. It is only this which will allow you to give your best on the final days.

General Studies I — GS I
General Studies II — GS II
General Studies III — GS III
General Studies IV— GS IV

Wish you all the very best for next few months. Practice regularly so that you can also clock good timings and give a tough fight to Usain Bolts and Asafa Powells of the world. My best wishes. Hope the above share will help you in some way or the other.

Practice. Analyze. Improve. Repeat.


Thank You

Shreyans Kumat (Rank 4, UPSC CSE 2018)

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