UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam Essay Paper Strategy from Toppers

The Essay Paper in the UPSC civil services mains exam is sometimes overlooked by candidates thinking that all they have to do is write on a topic from material that they have learnt for the general studies papers. They take it easy thinking it doesn’t require any additional preparation. But, read on to understand why the essay paper is important and should not be ignored.

On the other hand, this paper can also rattle candidates who are unnerved by the ‘lack of a concrete syllabus’ for the UPSC essay paper. Both the extremes should be avoided and candidates are advised to put in the right effort and the right amount of effort needed for this paper. IAS toppers Chandra Mohan Garg and Mittali Sethi aced the essay paper and scored 149 marks and 160 marks respectively out of a total of 250.

Essay Tips from Chandra Mohan Garg (AIR 25; CSE 2015)

  1. Choose your topic wisely. You should have a holistic understanding of the topic. Avoid thinking that a common topic cannot do you good since most candidates would opt for it. Take an unconventional topic only if you are most comfortable with it.
  2. After topic selection, brainstorm for fodder material like keywords, quotes, examples, illustrations, case studies, facts and figures, etc.
  3. Also, think about the past, present and future scenario related to the topic.
  4. Structure your essay properly. Have an introduction, body and a conclusion. In the body, you must write about both sides of view as illustrated below:

UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam Essay Paper Strategy from Toppers

  1. Keep your language simple with short sentences and small paragraphs.
  2. Mention examples, government schemes and plans in your essay.
  3. Always cover the social, economic, political, cultural, legal, international and humanistic perspectives of the topic.
  4. There should be a definite flow to the essay.
  5. The essay should reflect your vision and ideas rather than display your knowledge.
  6. Your introduction should be impressive. Include striking quotes or illustrations here. Also, it should outline your essay and tell the reader what to expect in reading further.
  7. Try to conclude your essay with a positive or visionary note.
  8. When you read the newspaper for your IAS preparation, note down good lines and examples.
  9. Prepare some fodder about general topics like education, women, healthcare, internet, technology, democracy, etc.
  10. Before your exam, you should practice writing at least 5 – 6 essays.

Essay tips from Mittali Sethi (AIR 56; CSE 2016)

  1. Your introduction and conclusion should stand out. Psychologically, a person remembers what is at the beginning and at the end. So, try to impress the examiner when you write the introduction and the conclusion. It would leave a good impression if you portray your compassionate and empathetic side in the beginning of the essay itself.
  2. You should connect to the topic as a HUMAN. Avoid writing mechanically.
  3. You should conclude the essay on a positive note. You could give possible solutions or also end with a futuristic vision.
  4. You can make a rough flowchart before you begin writing your essay so that you can outline what you will be writing where. This will make your essay more structured and also ensure that you don’t forget important points and perspectives.
  5. Write in simple English but make you don’t make any grammatical errors. Put in efforts to improve your language if you feel you need to. Wrong language/grammar can change the meaning of a sentence.
  6. You can have strong opinions on a topic but make sure you are not just opinionated but also informed.
  7. Don’t just crib about things, also present solutions.
  8. Make sure your quotes are correct verbatim otherwise, don’t quote them.
  9. Try to be concise so that you can cover maximum dimensions and also avoid repetitions.
  10. Try to cover multiple perspectives like social, economic, political, cultural, linguistic, local, international and humanistic ones.

In the scheme of the UPSC Mains examination, the essay paper plays a very important role. This paper carries a total of 250 marks. Initially, the candidates were asked to write only 1 essay in 3 hours till 2013, but after the change in syllabus, the challenge is now of writing 2 essays in 3 hours on diverse topics.

So, now you will have to write two essays each with a word count of 1000 – 1200. There are two sections – Section A and Section B each of which has four topics of essays. Out of these, candidates can select one topic from each section to write an essay. Candidates can select the topic of their choice from a choice of four topics. The UPSC Essay Paper is for a total of 250 marks with one essay for 125 marks.

In this article, we will discuss how to write the essay for UPSC including the genesis of essay, books, and references for essay writing and everything that a candidate must know about UPSC essay writing

Essay for UPSC – Highlights

  • Number of essays to write – 2
  • Time allotted – 3 hours
  • Word Limit – 1000-1200 words
  • Marks allotted- 125 each. Total Marks – 250

UPSC Essay Writing | Genesis of an essay

  • An essay is defined as an organized collection of YOUR IDEAS nicely written and professionally presented.
  • In other words, the essay must be well structured and presented in a way that the readers find it easy to follow and it must look tidy and not present any obstacles to the reader.
  • It must have a clear readable interesting style. But above all, it must consist of your ideas about the issue in question.
  • Developing the skill to write a good essay needs preparation, which precedes the examination phase.
  • Writing holds the key to an effective essay: it forms the core for conveying ideas from your mind to paper.
  • Language skill is not developed overnight. It demands effort and perseverance. Your command over a language is determined by your desire to master it.
  • The general essay paper plays a crucial role in compensating for the lack of high scores in GS and optional papers.
  • Many of us commit the mistake of gathering facts and information on the probable topics at the eleventh hour of preparation, thinking that we can produce a good piece of work in the examination hall.
  • What we have to understand is that arranging gathered ideas using an appropriate language is going to be a tedious job, especially when you have the pressure of time limit
  • So start working on improving your writing skills right from the beginning of your preparation. Enhance your skills by developing an interest in learning more vocabulary, acquiring a wider information base, and having a passion for reading.
  • The whole essay should be organically linked from one paragraph to another So that the examiner could feel the continuity and orderly flow and arrangement of your ideas. the unification among the paragraphs can be done through transitional words and phrases

Guidelines to be followed for UPSC Essay Paper

The best answer to how to write the essay for UPSC can be very well formulated from the guidelines mentioned below. Let’s have a look at them:

  • The essay is not merely a test of your factual knowledge. It is a test of your creativity, inventive spirit, and capacity for the generation of new ideas.
  • The choice of words and the proper statement is important.
  • For that make a list of the alternative words for the words you use often.
  • Note down powerful sentences, paragraphs, and quotations whenever you find them.
  • Keep close to the subject matter. Whatever you write it must be totally relevant to the subject matter.
  • The introductory note should be around 5 to 7 percent of the length of the essay, the body around 86 to 90 percent, and the concluding remark again around 5 to 7 percent.
  • To obtain good marks remember the abc of essay which stands for a – for accuracy; b – for brevity and c – for creativity.
  • Don’t take extreme views. Your essay should reflect your balance of judgment, holistic approach, and an analytical bend of mind
  • Select the topic wisely -A topic about which you are too passionate or feel strongly about. In this case, you may tend to get excited and fail to write a balanced essay. This can work against you.
  • After selecting the topic judiciously, you should not start writing straight away. It is advisable to think for some time and collect your thoughts. Write in pencil the points you want to write as doing so you can write your points in the correct sequence.
  • Once you have the rough points in hand, you can start writing the essay. While writing, you must adhere to a good structure.

Structure of a Good UPSC Essay

  • The introductory paragraph should have clear indications about what you are going to write in the essay – begin your essay with a quote w.r.t the context
  • Set out your main idea clearly
  • You may use relevant quotes to reinforce your arguments. But never try to alter the quotes of great personalities.
  • Make it clear how you are going to address the questions, where you are going and why
  • The examiner normally gives credit to new perspectives and fresh analysis.
  • Make it clear how the main ideas relate to each other
  • Take the examinee through your answer in a logical, progressive way
  • Organized groups of related information in paragraphs
  • You may show your inferences in the concluding paragraph.

Introducing the ABC of UPSC Essay Writing

A – Accuracy, appropriateness, attentiveness to your reader, avoidance of ambiguity.
B – Brevity or conciseness, brightness or buoyancy.
C – Correctness ( of usage and grammar), clarity, consistency, concreteness.

In the course of UPSC preparation, you become a master of longitude of information. The essay paper requires you to filter, arrange, organize, and even innovate ideas out of that information, and, at the same time, not diverging from the selected topic. It’s not the dearth of content but the lack of organizational skill that holds many students back.

However, this can easily be mastered with regular practice, expert evaluation, and working on the mistakes. Once this is done, the UPSC essay would become the most rewarding part of the paper, taking you beyond ‘the’ line

Books and References For Making UPSC Essay Writing Easy

For general reading –

  • My experiment with truth – M.K Gandhi
  • India after independence – Bipin Chandra
  • Discovery of India – J.L Nehru
  • Getting India back on track – by Ratan Tata
  • My experiment with truth – M.K Gandhi
  • India after independence – Bipin Chandra
  • Discovery of India – J.L Nehru
  • Getting India back on track – by Ratan Tata
  • For detailed reading –
  • Democracy in India NCERTe
  • Social Problems in India – Ram Ahuja
  • Women in Indian Society – Neera Desai and Usha
  • Thakkar ( NBT Publication)
  • The Hindu ( editorial articles)
  • Yojana
  • Kurukshetra
  • Frontline

Previous Year Essay topics for UPSC

AdministrationPolitics, bureaucracy and business – fatal triangle. (1994)

Politics without ethics is a disaster. (1995)

The VIP cult is a bane of Indian democracy. (1996)

Need for transparency in public administration. (1996)

The country’s need for a better disaster management system. (2000)

How should a civil servant conduct himself? (2003)
Polity/International RelationsWhither Indian democracy? (1995)

What we have not learnt during fifty years of independence. (1997)

Why should we be proud of being Indians? (2000)

What have we gained from our democratic set-up? (2001)

How far has democracy in India delivered the goods? (2003)

National identity and patriotism. (2008)

In the context of Gandhiji’s views on the matter, explore, on an evolutionary scale, the terms ‘Swadhinata’, ‘Swaraj’ and ‘Dharmarajya’. Critically comment on their contemporary relevance to Indian democracy. (2012)

Is the colonial mentality hindering India’s success? (2013)

Dreams which should not let India sleep. (2015)

Management of Indian border disputes – a complex task. (2018)
EconomyResource management in the Indian context. (1999)

GDP (Gross Domestic Product) along with GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) would be the right indices for judging the well being of a country. (2013)

Was it the policy paralysis or the paralysis of implementation which slowed the growth of our country? (2014)

Crisis faced in India – moral or economic. (2015)

Near jobless growth in India: An anomaly or an outcome of economic reforms. (2016)

Digital economy: A leveller or a source of economic inequality. (2016)

Innovation is the key determinant of economic growth and social welfare. (2016)

Impact of the new economic measures on fiscal ties between the union and states in India. (2017)

Multinational corporations – saviours or saboteurs. (1994)

Globalization would finish small-scale industries in India. (2006)

BPO boom in India. (2007)

Special economic zone: boon or bane? (2008)

Are our traditional handicrafts doomed to a slow death? (2009)

Is the criticism that the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model for development is more of a bane than a boon in the Indian context, justified? (2012)

Tourism: Can this be the next big thing for India? (2014)
Federalism, DecentralisationThe language problem in India: its past, present and prospects. (1998)

Water resources should be under the control of the central government. (2004)

Evaluation of panchayati raj system in India from the point of view of eradication of power to people. (2007)

Is autonomy the best answer to combat balkanization? (2007)

Creation of smaller states and the consequent administrative, economic and developmental implication. (2011)

Cooperative federalism: Myth or reality. (2016)

Water disputes between States in federal India. (2016)
Indian SocietyThe Indian society at the crossroads. (1994)

New cults and godmen: a threat to traditional religion. (1996)

The composite culture of India. (1998)

Youth culture today. (1999)

Modernism and our traditional socio-ethical values. (2000)

Indian culture today: a myth or a reality? (2000)

As civilization advances culture declines. (2003)

From traditional Indian philanthropy to the gates-buffet model-a natural progression or a paradigm shift? (2010)
Media & SocietyMisinterpretation and misuse of freedom in India. (1998)

Mass media and cultural invasion. (1999)

Responsibility of media in a democracy. (2002)

How has satellite television brought about cultural change in Indian mindsets? (2007)

Role of media in good governance. (2008)

Does Indian cinema shape our popular culture or merely reflect it? (2011)

Is sting operation an invasion on privacy? (2014)
Restructuring of Indian education system. (1995)

Literacy is growing very fast, but there is no corresponding growth in education. (1996)

Irrelevance of the classroom. (2001)

Privatization of higher education in India. (2002)

Modern technological education and human values. (2002)

What is real education? (2005)

“Education for all” campaign in India: myth or reality. (2006)

Independent thinking should be encouraged right from the childhood. (2007)

Is an egalitarian society possible by educating the masses? (2008)

Credit – based higher education system – status, opportunities and challenges. (2011)

Is the growing level of competition good for the youth? (2014)

Are the standardized tests good measure of academic ability or progress? (2014)

Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man more clever devil. (2015)

Destiny of a nation is shaped in its classrooms. (2017)
Women & GenderThe new emerging women power: the ground realities. (1995)

Greater political power alone will not improve women’s plight. (1997)

Woman is god’s best creation. (1998)

Women empowerment: challenges and prospects. (1999)

Empowerment alone cannot help our women. (2001)

Whither women’s emancipation? (2004)

If women ruled the world. (2005)

The hand that rocks the cradle. (2005)

Women’s reservation bill would usher in empowerment for women in India. (2006)

Managing work and home – is the Indian working woman getting a fair deal? (2012)

If development is not engendered, it is endangered. (2016)

Fulfillment of ‘new woman’ in India is a myth. (2017)
Quote-based abstract topicsYouth is a blunder, manhood a struggle, old age a regret. (1994)

Useless life is an early death. (1994)

Disinterested intellectual curiosity is the lifeblood of civilisation. (1995)

When money speaks, the truth is silent. (1995)

Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds. (1995)

Truth is lived, not taught. (1996)

True religion cannot be misused. (1997)

Search for truth can only be a spiritual problem. (2002)

The paths of glory lead but to the grave. (2002)

If youth knew, if age could. (2002)

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. (2003)

Be the change you want to see in others. (2013)

With greater power comes greater responsibility. (2014)

Words are sharper than the two-edged sword. (2014)

Lending hands to someone is better than giving a dole. (2015)

“The past’ is a permanent dimension of human consciousness and values. (2018)

Reality does not conform to the ideal, but confirms it. (2018)

Attitude makes habit, habit makes character and character makes a man. (2007)

Discipline means success, anarchy means ruin. (2008)

Character of an institution is reflected in its leader. (2015)

Need brings greed, if greed increases it spoils breed. (2016)

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude. (2017)

A good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. (2018)

A people that values its privileges above its principles loses both. (2018)

Customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life. (2018)
Science n TechThe modern doctor and his patients. (1997)

Value-based science and education. (1999)

The march of science and the erosion of human values. (2001)

Spirituality and scientific temper. (2003)

The lure of space. (2004)

Science and Mysticism: Are they compatible? (2012)

Science and technology is the panacea for the growth and security of the nation. (2013)

Technology cannot replace manpower. (2015)

Alternative technologies for a climate change resilient India. (2018)

Leave a Reply