How to Ace the Essay Paper in UPSC Mains? UPSC IAS RANK 292 Arushi shares how she managed 141

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Essay though is one of the most scoring papers in Civil Service Exam, it is also the most vague when it comes to preparing a good strategy. An essay paper is for 250 marks and generally contains two questions which are to be broadly answered in about 1000–1200 words.

After extensively reading, researching and following the strategies given by previous year toppers, certain institutes, writing various mocks etc this is the strategy I have arrived at. I guess it must be a decent strategy because I ended up scoring 141. This was my first attempt.

Hope this can help those like me who were very confused about how to ace the essay paper.

I had attempted the following essays:

  • Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man more clever devil.
  • Can capitalism bring inclusive growth?

Before I start in depth about writing a good essay, some important pointers to remember:

  • Always stick to the question asked in the essay. Eg: Here the capitalism question specifically talks about whether or not it can bring inclusive growth, so the answer should be around that too. Don’t start writing about everything you know about capitalism because that wont fetch you marks.
  • Include many examples. Specifically pertaining to current events. Try to relate the topic to current events as much as possible. Eg: In the capitalism essay you can write about how PMJDY which is for inclusive growth can be fuelled by Private sector banks or how initiatives like Make In India can provide employment and thus increase the purchasing power of many Indians. NOTE again examples are sticking closely to the question asked.
  • Do not write theoretical jargon. Essay is a generalist paper and thus writing theories of economists at length or other subject heavy jargon will not result in good marks. If at some places you want to mention some theorists that is fine as long as you relate them to the essay question and try to explain their theories in as simple language as possible in not more than one to two lines.
  • Do not write flowery english. Please remember this paper is for UPSC selection process. It is to understand your analytical skills along with your command over writing but it is no way a test of your english writing capabilities! It is not a test of how literary capable you are. Please refrain from using english words which you wouldn’t otherwise use in everyday language.
  • Do not lean on only the positive or the negative! Overall take a balanced stance weighing both sides of the question. Eg. In the essay on capitalism do not write the entire essay with a tone of “yes it can support inclusive growth” or “ no it cannot”! Try to give a critique looking at both sides. A balanced approach would be to say “It seems that capitalism cannot bring inclusive growth because of examples in the past like example 1,2,3 but at the same time it may lead to inclusive growth if example 4,5,6,7 are followed.”
  • You may or may not divide the essay in sub headings. In my case, I divided my first essay in various subheadings but in the second one I did not have enough time to do it, so I wrote the entire essay without sub headings. Both worked.
  • Underline! This is all about presentation. Notice here in my article I have written certain parts in Bold, the sole intent of this is to make the content easy on the eyes of the reader. Same goes in the exam. Underline your key ideas. But please do not overdo it to the extent that the non underlined parts get highlighted!
  • While dealing with philosophical essays topics, please remember that you are attempting an essay in the CS Exam. Even though the topic is philosophical, the essay doesn’t have to be. The essay must still include examples from current developments apt for the topic and you must again try to analyse the topic from both dimensions. Giving philosophical theories or writing a philosophical essay with “literary” worth will still not fetch you marks. Eg: If the essay topic is “Grass is greener on the other side” then you can quote tangible examples with respect to India like the problem of Brain Drain that happens or how the societies in developing nations try to ape the West blindly. Do not instead write the whole essay about how this philosophy affects you individually or what it means to you.

Ingredients to a good essay:

  1. Structure

When it comes to structuring the essay, I broadly chose the theme of Past-Present-Future. Follow this theme across the entire essay i.e introduction should start with past, then the major body talking about present and concluding the essay with the future. The idea here is that once you start an essay on a topic, you give a background which essentially means that you start with what has already happened in that context in India or the world. Eg: In the capitalism essay a good idea would be to start with how across the world in the past capitalism created a divide in terms of creating categories like developing, developed nations or why capitalism was the ideology followed in India until 1991 after the LPG reforms.

Next the major body should talk about the recent developments in the given topic. Here try to give as many examples pertaining to current affairs as you can.

Finally end the essay with what is expected in the future. What can be the major developments or whether it will be a paradigm shift from the past etc. Eg: In the context of capitalism you can talk about how the CSR initiative might help in capitalism taking a more society oriented goal rather than pure profit orientation, in the future.

2. Introduction

The introduction should be powerful and must make the reader feel excited to read further. A good idea would be to start with a story, the story can be a made up one or an actual story about some happening of recent time. This is the only part in the essay where you can have be a little “dramatic” and try to create suspense or interest. Eg: In the essay on education, you can start with the story of an individual who is taught nuclear science but instead uses it to create weapons of mass destruction.

The introduction can also be a famous quote related to the topic or the findings of some great individual qualified to talk on that topic. (Again please note don’t get technical and try to keep it at a layman’s understanding.) Eg: The capitalism essay can be started with some substantial finding of Angus Deaton or Amartya Sen on this topic.

3. Dimensions

This is the most important part to writing a good essay. A well written essay though must have enough depth but it must also have good width. What that essentially means is that the essay must touch varied dimensions. For example, if we look at the essay on capitalism, our basic instinct is to highlight purely the economic aspects of the essay. That is the worst mistake to make in a CSE essay. For a good essay, try to touch varied dimensions. These can be broadly:

  • Political
  • Social
  • Environmental
  • Ethical
  • Technological etc.

While writing any essay, always brainstorm about how that essay can affect these various dimensions. Create as many linkages as you can. These links definitely fetch more marks. Eg: The environmental aspect of “capitalism” affecting inclusive growth can be that Industries result in pollution and even sometimes lead to catastrophes like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy due to negligence. In such a case, looking at capitalism as a pure initiator of employment would be wrong as it is affecting the quality of human life and may thus hamper development.

Or the social aspect can be how capitalism creates a divide in the world in terms of developed and developing nations leading to notions like Westoxication (aping the west) or even notions like Mc Donaldization or certain similar examples in India.

4. Conclusion

Always conclude the essay on a positive note with solutions to address the given question – what can be done, what should be better implemented etc. Here you can be innovative at the same time don’t write impractical solutions which are impossible to implement.

Eg: The essay on education can be ended with solutions such as introducing subjects like moral science or ethics as a part of compulsory curriculum in school or adding Emotional Intelligence as a measure of child’s capability too. Other solutions can be to introduce children at a young age to spirituality etc. The conclusion can also elaborate on how purely education with values i.e theoretical aspect will also not ensure good citizens, education must be such that it incentivises behaviour with good morals.

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