How can I improve my answer writing skills in civil service exams?

6th November, 2021 Mains

Given the unpredictability associated with UPSC CSE, one must realize that mains stage of the exam should be aimed at mastering the art of presenting one’s viewpoints and thoughts succinctly in writing.

The main Examination is intended to assess the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of candidates rather than merely the range of their information and memory. The questions will be such as to test a candidate’s general awareness of a variety of subjects, basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.


Many a time aspirants complain that they work hard, read so much, every year write mains, yet they fail to qualify for the Interview. But they fail to understand the very basic that it is one thing to have knowledge of a particular issue and quite different to put that opinion or knowledge concisely in paper and that too in time bound manner. And this is what this write up tries to address- how to write meaningful, relevant and succinct answers?


Important aspects of answer writing: To begin with every aspirant should have clarity and have a plan in place regarding how much time they are going to contribute to each question (both in terms of thinking and writing down of the answer). It is always a good investment if, before starting to write an answer, one spends a minute or two to understand the required dimensions and framing the skeleton of the answer. Then one can write a logical and flowing answer in the remaining time. Few things that should be kept in mind are as follows:


  • Self-evident plan: In order to ensure good flow and progression, there is a need to logically segmentize the answer. For this aspirant has to keep in mind the following:
  1. Clarity of the thought process
  2. The examiner should get bird’s eye clarity about how the answer is going to unfold.
  3. There should be continuity and linkage between different parts.
  • Answering the ‘question’ rather than a ‘topic’: aspirant should address the ‘focus’ of the question. A common mistake committed by aspirants is that they cherry-pick familiar words/ topics and fill pages on that and then expect to score well. It is worth noting that one can’t blindly write whatever one knows on a topic. MAXIMUM ATTENTION SHOULD BE DEVOTED TO CORE CONTENT OF THE QUESTION. The answer should reflect that the aspirant has understood the question and has catered to its demands. Rather than beating around the bush, aspirant should directly hit the nail on the head.
  • Proportionality: one common mistake often committed is that aspirant write too much about something or write too little. Sometimes there is inadequate intro or conclusion and sometimes too excessive. This leads to abruptness in starting or ending of the answer. Aspirants often keep repeating the same theme or dimension which leads to a lop-sided answer. ANSWER SHOULD HAVE A GOOD BUT CONCISE ‘FIRST IMPRESSION’ AND ‘PARTING IMPACT’.
  • Visual appeal: answer should be appealing enough to read. This requires neat hand writing, uncluttered presentation, underlining of key content (not to be overdone), heading of sub-parts, diagrams/ flow-charts. Aspirant should ensure that the examiner reads the strongest arguments present in the answer.
  • Creative input: answer should consist of inter-topic linkages, catchy terms, facts and figures, case studies/ illustrations/ anecdotes. The key here is to demonstrate one’s practical awareness, application capabilities. In order to ensure this the best exercise is that, “aspirant should think what he/she can write in the answer which is relevant to the question asked but is from some other topic which others won’t find as obvious part of the answer”.
  • Expressions: there should be a balance between one’s own view points on one hand and technical jargons, research studies, expert views on the other hand. In other words it should neither appear as too bookish nor as layman like. The key here is to use jargons, expert views, facts/ figures to highlight the crux of the issue that is being addressed. Rest of the answer should be in one’s own yet impactful language.
  • Concise and thoroughness: answer should be written in such a way that it concise and consists of thoughtfully framed sentences and at the same time conveys a lot. The answer should not be ambiguous, un wielding or meaningless.
  • Engaging with the reference statement mentioned in the question: Many a times a question consists of a statement. In this case, rather than going around in circles one has to quickly come to the statement at first opportunity. If possible, who said the statement, when and in what context should be mentioned. This will take the answer to a different orbit.  IT IS ALWAYS BEETER TO CONCLUDE WITH A REFERENCE TO THE ‘QUESTION STATEMENT’.
  • Addressing the specific requirement of the question: the specific requirement is indirectly indicated by a concluding word. Eg: discuss, elucidate, critically examine. The meaning of each of these words is different and each of them has a different demand that needs to be addressed.
  • ELUCIDATE/ EXPLAIN: one has to agree with the statement and just explain it through inputs. This type of question generally is asked in relation to a complex statement.
  • ELABORATE/ SUBSTANTIATE: in this case also one has to agree with the statement and further support as to how it holds true by giving illustrations, expert views, fact and figures.
  • DISCUSS: here the viewpoints of scholars, experts regarding the issue at hand should be mentioned. The viewpoints can be both against and for the motion. It is always better to offer a concluding observation that emerges from the discussion.
  • COMMENT/ EXAMINE/ DO YOU AGREE: in this case one has to go one step forward as compared to “discuss” and present their own view/ opinion. The examiner wants to know how they feel in the light of the issue asked and whether they agree and why and if they don’t then why not.
  • CRTICALLY EXAMINE/ CRITICALLY EVALUATE: here the anti-viewpoint is to be brought forward. In order to address such a question firstly the opinion/ viewpoint of the critics has to be mentioned and examined and then one’s own concluding remark on the basis of that examination has to be brought out.

Some Frequently Asked Questions by the aspirants:

  1. How to improve answer writing skill?

Ans. The one and only answer is PRACTICE. Make answer writing a daily routine. And the best source for it is previous year papers. But please do not substitute the core preparation with answer writing. Answer writing without solid content is meaningless.


  1. Can I write the answer in point format or paragraph format?

Ans. It should depend upon the type of question asked. But never write any answer only in point format. The introduction and conclusion should be in para format.


  1. How to write within the word limit?

Ans. There are two things that aspirants shall follow. First is practice and second is answering to the demand of the question- neither more nor less!!


  1. Can I use pen or pencil or multi- colored pens for answer writing?

Ans. It varies from individual to individual. However, it is adviced that use of multi colored pens is avoided. Aspirant at the most should use pen and pencil. Further, there is no need to draw diagrams with scale. But ensure they are readable or legible.


Aspirants have been provided with basic guidelines so that they inculcate an art of answer writing which enables them to SELL their answer and they are able to tell the examiner, “WHAT’S DIFFERENT IN ME” & “WHAT ARE MY CORE IDEAS ON THAT QUESTION”. Lastly, nothing substitutes good content and this requires a solid preparation, hard work and dedication…


Happy Learning!!!