IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains 2021 Preparation Strategy for Essay Paper

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Mar 22, 2021

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The Essay paper of IAS (UPSC CSE) in mains is for evaluating the thought process of the candidate. The way you present your arguments regarding any topic gives a fair idea about what you think and your viewpoints. This is elemental to understand your temperament and suitability for certain posts as important as an IAS officer. There are 250 marks in the essay writing paper which is equivalent to the marks weightage of the GS papers. A major mistake made by most first-time candidates is taking this paper lightly. Many believe their preparation for the GS alone can help them write a good essay on any topic which is not the case in reality.

Must read: Common Mistakes In UPSC IAS MAINS Exam

By properly understanding the requirements that must be fulfilled while writing the essay and practicing accordingly, you will be able to write an above average essay in the IAS mains exam.

Essay Highlights

IAS (UPSC CSE) Essay paper

The essay paper has a marks weightage of 250 out of the total 1250 marks of the entire Mains test. It is almost 12.5 % of the total and hence has a crucial value in determining whether you will qualify for the exam or not. According to UPSC, the candidates may have to write essays on multiple topics. The key is to stay as closely relevant to the given topic as possible. Maintain a steady flow in your essay by creating a proper structure and having a logical flow of the ideas. The ability to exactly express the views perfectly through words will be appreciated the most.

It differs from the GS papers in many ways as marks in GS is solely based on the content. However, the essay paper is used to judge the candidates’ grasp on language, coherence in ideas, and ability to organize their thought process and produce them in writing and fundamental grammar and spelling. Securing approximately more than 50% of the marks is considered good. Hence 125 and above is a good mark in this paper while 110-125 is considered average.

Check IAS 2021 Preparation Tips, Important Books and Exam Pattern

IAS (UPSC CSE) Common topics for Essay Paper

The following are a few examples of the essay topics that IAS mains often set. Having a clear conception of the essay topics will help you make a study plan accordingly:

  • How is both human intelligence and technical intelligence crucial in combatting terrorism with context to India?
  • Are science and mysticism compatible?
  • Managing home and work- is it a fair deal for Indian working women?
  • Indian cinema is the reflection of the popular culture of the country and not influencing shaping society.
  • Status, opportunities, and challenges of the credit-based higher education system.
General Tips

IAS (UPSC CSE)- General Preparation Tips for Essay Paper (Mains)

The following are basic tips to note for writing the essays better. When you keep these points in mind and implement them, rest assured that your essay will be good enough to qualify for the minimum required marks.

  • Practice essay writing on a variety of topics while keeping in mind that your essay should be understandable to the general people who have no idea about the issue- hence the language should be simple yet grammatically correct and express your opinion exactly.
  • Before you attempt writing an essay, practice making a framework. It should be an overall structure inclusive of all the points that are going to be discussed in detail in the essay.
  • Use ornamental language very carefully as it can backfire instead of being appreciated. There should be a balance between the simplicity of the essay and the ornamentation such that it keeps the readers hooked while giving them a vivid idea about your perception.
  • Pay attention to your introduction and conclusion. The introduction should make the person curious to read further while the conclusion should remind the person of everything the essay has covered so far, in a nutshell.
  • The tone of the essay should be impersonal-your opinion should be voiced with logical backup but must be done such that it does not express disdain or disregard of other views on the same subject.
  • Irrespective of the topic you are choosing and going through different samples, try and come up with new viewpoints on them that have not been discussed before.
  • Read through the editorial sections of any reputed newspaper. There will be essays on different topics by renowned writers and editors. Try to grasp their writing style and implement some of them in your work.
  • Get your practice essays evaluated by someone who is an expert in this field- it can be anyone who has sound knowledge of history, English, and current affairs or someone who has cracked a UPSC exam before.

Must read: Best Books For UPSC CSE Prelims Exam

Preparation Stretegy

IAS (UPSC CSE)- Strategy to prepare for Essay paper (Mains)

We have also shared a few more tips that take up each aspect of essay writing and share tips on how you can improve them. Aspirants can have different strong and weak points like someone with sound knowledge of the current affairs may not have a strong vocabulary or someone with impeccable grammar fails to maintain structural coherence while writing any long article. Here we address each of these aspects and how you can work on improving them:

Where to start?

Aspirants often are confused about where to start with practicing essay writing when there is no fixed syllabus to follow. Here are a few things you can do to kick-start your essay practice:

  • Read non-fiction as it helps to develop a mature thought process. In UPSC Mains essay paper you will need a logical mind and maturity more than a creative ability with words. Non-fiction includes essays and theories, reports, and even newspaper editorials.
  • Magazines like Yojana, economic survey, etc. have specific editions that deal with different social, political, and economical issues. Look for these editions if you do not have a regular subscription.
  • Most importantly, whatever material you are reading, if a quote or anecdote seems particularly relevant to the kind of topics asked as essay topics in UPSC, note them down. They will eventually be helpful to establish your arguments better during the test.

Check IAS 2021 Eligibility (Preliminary), Age Limit, Qualification, Medical test

Improving your language and expression

Our writing styles are unique and each of us develops a style subconsciously without realizing how far it is advantageous in putting forward our ideas. In order to ace the essay paper in IAS Mains, your write-up should have a logical flow, crisp sentences that are complete and the style should not be open-ended yet diplomatic. Here are a few tricks to improve these aspects in your generic writing style:

  • Every time you write anything, read it multiple times to see how far it is understandable and easy to read. This exercise can also be done with a third-person neutral and unfamiliar to your writing style to get a better idea about the flaws.
  • Avoid writing compound and complex sentences that exceed 30 words. These sentences can be difficult to read and often lack logical flow.
  • If you are using a complex theoretical term in your write-up, give a brief explanation of the word keeping in mind the factor that it should be readable even to the novice in the subject matter.
  • While reading your essay, if any part or sentence makes you feel out of breath and by seeming to forget what it was about by the time you reach the end, it is a sign that the sentence or paragraph lacks logical flow and needs to be broken down further.


Lack of vocabulary can often pose a hindrance in expressing your opinion correctly. However, vocabulary does not mean difficult jargon but occasional powerful words that can explain your view in a word instead of writing a whole explanatory sentence. 

  • Make notes of good phrases, idioms, and words you come across while reading and also search their exact meaning.
  • Building the vocabulary takes time and goes hand in hand with your reading habit. Hence if you can make it a habit to read non-fiction on a daily basis, you are likely to come across useful terms that can enrich your essay, every day.
  • Conversing in English may not have any direct relation to your writing but can surprisingly improve your vocabulary and words will come spontaneously to you when you are doing a practice essay.

Check IAS 2021 Syllabus for Prelims and Main, Pattern and Books

Structuring the essay

This is a crucial part of essay writing where aspirants often fail to maintain coherence. However, if you make it a habit to create a rough draft of the subheadings and framework, you can easily complete the essay in three hours while maintaining a crisp flow throughout.

  • Understand the topic well first and when you are reading the question make a mental note of the points that are most important to be mentioned in the essay.
  • The structure should complement your argument the best and at the same time give a layman a thorough idea about all the possible perspectives of the topic.
  • Make separate subheadings for each point. Keep the paragraphs short and crisp.
  • If you are inserting quotes, do so in a separate line and not as a part of the paragraph’s ongoing flow.
  • Follow the standard formats of writing- like underlining scientific names, writing the year of publication in brackets beside the name of any work you are mentioning, putting the name of any essay/report/short story you are quoting from, in double-quotes, etc.
  • Be innovative about the subheadings you are choosing so that they stand out and do not seem too flat to read.
Things to Avoid

What not to do in essay writing?

  • Do not focus excessively on only one point- this will be interpreted as being biased towards a particular perspective or idea. The essay will as a result lack multi-dimensional depth.
  • We can get carried away while writing about a topic we are passionate about. However, in IAS mains essay you have to strictly ensure that your passion or perception does not get expressed through your write-up.
  • Do not choose topics you are not comfortable with writing, simply to stand out in the crowd. This can, in turn, backfire on you and highlight your weakness.
  • Steer clear of highly controversial and unpopular opinions- you are free to have them in the privacy of your mind but to crack IAS, diplomacy, and going with the flow and yet standing out by adding more value to the general opinion, is the key.
  • Time management is essential in the IAS exam. Make sure you divide the time equally between the essays you have to write. This can be difficult to maintain when you get carried away while writing on one topic.

Read IAS Exam Pattern 2021, Syllabus, Marking Scheme and Compulsory Papers

IAS Mains is a prolonged exam and essay writing can be like a relief as it lets your creativity flow to some extent. But do not let that cloud your strategic mind and maintain a balance while you are attempting this paper. Practice well to strike this balance when you finally have to sit for your IAS Mains essay writing exam.

*The article might have information for the previous academic years, please refer the official website of the exam.