Strategy for Writing Answers in UPSC Mains Exam

Strategy for Writing Answers in UPSC Mains Exam

There are always some pre-requisites that need to be fulfilled before starting any plan or strategy or any work in real life. In the same way, the Basics section of answer writing tackles the bare minimum requirements needed for effective answer writing.

The answer you are going to write has to be effective in order to earn an advantage over the competition. To write an effective answer there are certain basic tricks that you should keep in mind. The core of this Basic Strategy for writing answers in UPSC Mains is discussed below.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Questions in the Mains examination come with certain directives like ‘discuss/ critically discuss’ etc and you should be able to grasp clearly what that particular directive is asking you to do.
  • You should consult the accompanying table on various directives and their meanings for a proper appreciation of what the examiner is expecting from you in the answer.
  • This is also the most basic and yet a very important skill that you should have for effective answer writing.


  • A basic mental framework is very necessary before actually writing anything on the paper. This is a very crucial skill that you need to develop on a war footing.
  • It should be that the moment you have read and understood a given question, you immediately start forming the structure for the answer in your mind.
  • With practice, it becomes easier and easier to do this and if required, note down (with a pencil) whatever you remember as and when you remember it.
  • The last point is important because sometimes we tend to forget or we simply are unable to recall from memory at the very last minute (or while writing) which can drastically affect the quality of our answer.


  • Don’t wait for the answer to come to you, instead force it out. It is important that you learn how to force an answer out of you. This is not something very hard to achieve.
  • Think of it in this way. You are a serious aspirant and you have prepared considerably for the Mains examination and as a result you are in the possession of a considerable amount of information, facts, ideas etc.
  • If time were not an issue you could contemplate generously before each and every sentence you write but within a given time limit you do not have such luxuries of time.
  • For example, suppose you can recall only two points (fully) for an answer and you think you need at least four points for a complete answer.
  • In such a case you should not waste time trying to recall all the points before attempting to answer and instead force yourself to write the answer with whatever information you’ve got. That way, without wasting time you give your best shot to the question.


  • UPSC requires that you have a good understanding of a given issue and that the same should be readily understandable when expressed. Thus, one should not slip into thoughts, ideas or arguments that are not absolutely necessary for writing a particular answer.
  • Overbrooding and philosophizing may lead to confusion and as such it should be left out of Mains answer writing.
  • Moreover, this can save you time and effort which can be used in answering other questions efficiently.

Structuring your Answers

Structuring your answer to suit the requirements of UPSC CSE Mains is very crucial part of the Basic strategy for writing answers in CSE Mains. Here is a step-wise guide to help you out in structuring your answer.

Step 1

  • Write a fitting introduction to your answer. Ideally, the introduction should not only introduce the topic/issue/idea to the examiner but also (very) briefly narrate the central premise of the answer.
  • If the question has two or more parts, then all parts must be introduced briefly.
  • The introduction should not be lengthier than 20% of the word limit at any cost, and its ideal length is about 10% of the word limit.
  • For 200 words, 20-40 words is what you should be looking at for the introduction (and the conclusion too).

Step 2

  • Divide the main body of the answer into paragraphs or bullets as required. Each paragraph or bullet should have one point only (unless it is very necessary to do otherwise) and the most important points or the points that you have recalled fully should go first.
  • When you are asked to discuss both positive and negative aspects of an issue, you can either list all the positives in one paragraph and then list the negatives or you can go for a positive-negative combination in each paragraph.
  • Do the latter only when there are very less points in the answer (because 3 paragraphs for 200 words looks best) and for all other purposes go with the former.

Step 3

  • Wrap up your answer with a well balanced conclusion. You can balance your conclusion with a healthy positive opinion. The opinion does not necessarily have to be original but ideally (and mostly) has to be a positive one.
  • Never end on a negative note or tone, you must be able to see the silver lining in the clouds. Also, never end the conclusion by posing another question. If you want to pose a question as part of your answer, do so in the main body of the answer only.
  • Also, avoid ending your answer in the rhetoric and instead try to put forward a solution or a way-forward. This shows a positive bent of mind and a willingness to find solutions – things that any CSE aspirant should possess.

Introduction and the Conclusion Part | Important in every aspect


  • For introducing your answer choose first the crux of the problem/issue/idea that the question is inquiring about.
  • Then add to it the one line version of the answer that you are planning to write.
  • Finally, if space permits write the ‘verdict/sentiment/judgement’ in another line.
  • So, basically the introduction is 3 sentences that lets the examiner know beforehand that you know the answer and that you are not going to beat around the bush looking for the right answer.


  • To conclude your answer, begin with a simple sentence that brings together all the main elements/points/arguments of the answer.
  • Follow it up with the above-mentioned positive opinion.
  • The last sentence should be a general statement reiterating the ‘verdict / sentiment / judgement’ mentioned in the introduction.



Whether to write in bullets or in paragraphs

If you are writing an opinion-based answer, then it should ideally be written in paragraphs. Such answers are generally essay type answers and could consist of an Introductory paragraph, Main body of the answer in paragraphs, and the Concluding paragraph.

A fact-based answer can be written in both paragraphs and in bullets or in a combination of both. A fact-based answer in bullets would consist of the Introductory paragraph, Main body of the answer in bullets, and the Concluding paragraph.

Since, most questions asked in the CSE would invariably be a mix of both facts and opinions, it is best that you develop a method that suits you naturally.

For example, Consider this question from CSE 2016 – ‘Discuss the role of land reforms in agricultural development. Identify the factors that were responsible for the success of land reforms in India.’ – and then take a look at the suggestions given below.

  • Case 1: The opinion-based question – ‘Discuss the role of land reforms in agricultural development’ – this part of the question is opinion-based and as such could be attempted in paragraphs.
  • Case 2: The fact-based question – ‘Identify the factors that were responsible for the success of land reforms in India’ – this part of the question has factual elements to it and as such can be presented in either paragraphs or bullets. Choosing the latter here could surely save time if not fetch extra marks.



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