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How to write good answers in Civil Services (UPSC) exams?

by Vijay Garg
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The civil services main examination is not only a test of the knowledge of the candidates. It also tests their ability to write well- structured answers in limited time. Writing ‘good’ i.e. marks fetching answers in the UPSC examination is not something that comes naturally to most candidates. Not even those with a flair for writing. The ability to write good answers is developed by regular practice. An aspirant should aim at developing a personalized style of writing answers while meeting the requirements of the examination.
Many candidates are under the misconception that a good answer is unique and exceptional. In fact, one will be ill-advised to aim to write ‘perfect’ answers or those which ‘stand out’ in the IAS exam. Then, what constitutes a ‘good’ answer? In the UPSC exam; a good answer is one which is relevant, meets the demands of the question, sticks to the word limit and is finished in time.
Some tips for writing good answers in the civil service’s examination are:
Read the question carefully
It is extremely important to first, read the question properly. The candidate may highlight the important words in the question. They should clearly understand the demands of the question. Certain words in the question; like elucidate, critically analyse, enumerate, etc. need to be paid special attention to. They determine the main demand of the question. It is important for the candidate to be aware of their meanings. Careful reading of the question helps the candidate to write an answer which is relevant.
Organize the answer
It is important that one’s answer has a broad, well laid out structure. It makes the answer more presentable and easier to read. The answer may begin with a short introduction. Typically, one may define the key terms in the introduction, quote a recent report or highlight some relevant facts. In the main body, the candidate may give appropriate subheadings for each part of the question. The content may be presented in points form to facilitate an easy read.
The conclusion may sum up the main arguments in the answer. Alternatively, you may end the answer on an optimistic note. If the question deals with certain socio-economic or governance- related issues; one may offer practical solutions in the end. A well- structured answer is easier said than done. Towards this end, one may develop a rough sketch of the answer in 30-50 seconds, before actually penning it down.
Write in limited time
Important challenge candidates face in the UPSC exam – writing short and to-the-point answers in limited time. When a typical candidate begins writing practice, it takes him anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes to answer a 10 marks question. In the UPSC exam, one has to attempt a 250 marks question paper in 180 minutes, leaving one with 7.2 minutes for a 10 marks question.
Increasing one’s writing speed to answer a 10 marks question in 7.2 minutes satisfactorily may seem daunting at first, but is imperative.
Creative presentation
Using creative presentation tools like flow charts and diagrams make the answers more appealing to the examiner. They can also help the candidate save time. It is thus, important to be innovative while using them. However, their optimal use requires familiarity. Thus, their repeated use during answer writing practice helps.
Stick to the word limit
It is important to not only know what to write, but also what not to write. Crossing the word limit will not fetch more marks. Instead, you will lose precious time. It will make it difficult for you to answer the other questions in the paper satisfactorily.
The keywords in the answer may be highlighted by underlining or writing in capital letters. The typically highlighted words include scholars’ names, key facts, government reports and important concepts. This helps the examiner easily identify the important points of your answer.
Regular writing practice
Last but not the least, developing a writing style in sync with the needs of the UPSC examination requires rigorous writing practice. Regular writing practice is one of the most vital and also most neglected aspects of the UPSC preparation.
The candidate may start with writing at a lesser frequency. As he proceeds in preparation, the candidate may increase the number and frequency of questions attempted. Particularly after the preliminary examination, the candidate must attempt several full length practice tests. With practice, the candidate’s answer writing technique will evolve.
Evaluation of answers
Candidates may get their answers checked by an experienced examiner. They may also compare their answers with model answers prepared by teachers and mentors. Alternatively, one can benchmark against the answers written by previous years’ successful candidates. Continuous evaluation of one’s answers by self as well as others is very important. Feedback offered by others should be a source of learning, and lead to improvement. Any shortcomings that are noticed should be rectified in the subsequent answers.
Importantly, most of the successful candidates attempt all the question papers fully, which requires a lot of speed and practice. Each successful candidate eventually develops a unique and individualized writing style. Even a few more marks earned here and there can transform your story of struggle into a success story.

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