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How I prepared for the IAS Mains essay paper?

Minal Karanwal AIR 35, CSE 2018

Essay writing is certainly a challenge in the UPSC exam. But not because it’s an alien task to handle, but because it is a paper that students least prepare for and expect the most out of it.

The problem lies with both english and Hindi medium students. The latter think writing an essay requires very good English writing skills, flowery language, sophisticated reading base and the former thinks that he has all the 3 but in reality, the possession is mostly superficial.

The guidelines for the essay paper by UPSC reads the following: ‘Candidates may be required to write essays on multiple topics. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.’

Here 3 things are particularly noteworthy:

  1. Keeping close to the subject of the essay/Exact expression.
  2. Arranging ideas in orderly fashion.
  3. Writing concisely.

Why I highlight these 3 points is because of the frequent mistakes I see in candidates essay copies:

  1. They deviate from the topic a lot. It results from a failure to grasp the essence of the topic.
  2. Most of the English medium students prefer writing very long sentences along with flowery language and that doesn’t do any justice to the topic.
  3. UPSC wants to test our understanding of the topic and how ell can we explore the various dimensions through narration. Its like having a good discussion with someone, only that you have to write here.
  4. The flow of the essay is really poor. They generally jump from one dimension to another without any logical clarity.

Whatever strategy I will now elaborate, the complete credit of it goes to Shabbir Sir. His classes were extremely helpful and his strategy is a master stroke. [Its not an advertisement, I believe in being genuine to state who has helped me to score 144 in this years essay and also devise this particular strategy.]

A. The qualities of a good essay are the following [ORACLE]:



I generally don’t prefer choosing 2 kinds of topics when I write an essay:

  1. Rhetorical: Essays that are philosophicsl/rhetorical are not piece of cake. I always chose to skip them in tests. However UPSC threw a google this time and I was forced to attempt one in section B. The reason I don't attempt them is because I feel I will lose control over my thoughts and write an emotional and irrelevant piece. But then again, it depends on your capability.
  2. Generic content: Topics like that on poverty or education are Gaian not preferable for me. Maximum students will choose them and hence the relative marking can be tough and also its difficult for me to make it look little different

Hence the choice of topic should be ideally what you are comfortable with. The standards can be:

  1. You have very good content on it.
  2. a good quote or a relevant anecdote that can lead your essay
  3. You have an idea of several dimensions on it.


This IMO is the the most important stage because students tend to superficially analyse the essay topic.

Shabbir Sir had a brilliant strategy for this that I would be elaborating on :

  1. Keyword interpretation: Break down the topic into important keywords and then write down alternative words for it.

EXAMPLE: TOPIC IS- The defects of democracy are not its defects. But the defects of those who participate in it.

a. The first phrase/keyword is defects of democracy. Alternatives would be:

  • majoritarianism
  • vote bank politics
  • criminalisation
  • populism
  • dynasties politics
  • policy paralysis

These are just a few. When I develop alternative words/phrases it also means what are the key dimensions of that aspect. Here populism or majoritarianism are defects of democracy.

b. The second phrase is ‘who participate in it.’

  • voters
  • politicians
  • bureaucrats
  • media
  • NGOs
  • institutions like EC, CVC, SC

2. After developing keywords you take a ‘I am being asked….I will answer approach.[Mind it, write it all down as I am saying it.

I am being asked whether populism etc are the defects of a democratic system or they are being caused by voters, politicians etc.

I will answer that YES it is because of who operate the system that it is faltering.

And then develop your dimensions: a,b,c,d,e

This approach has led me to interpret most topics correctly and keep my answer organised.


  1. INTRODUCTION: Mostly a quote or anecdote. I wrote my 1st essay on alternative technologies for climate resilient India. Here I started with the story of a farmer who is sowing sugarcane just because it has fetched his cousin a fortune in the last season. But this year, a drought will strike because of which there is no protection. For a collection of quotes you can refer to CSE 2017, AIR1’S BLOG.
  2. THESIS: comes after the introduction, where you will elaborate briefly about how you will develop the topic. Take a stand [not extreme] but without much explanation.
  3. NARRATION: Explore SPECLIH dimensions
  4. Conclusion: Futuristic and forward looking.

An essay in UPSC needs to be written to show how coherent your thinking process is and how well can you develop dimensions. Not to showcase your English writing skills or any vocabulary.

Keep it simple. Keep it relevant and this will guarantee you at least a minimum score.

I have also elaborated on this strategy on my blog in better detail. You can read it there.


curious_kid,rahulgandhiand10 otherslike this


Hello good can I contact Shabbir sir for essay classes..
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