Tips and Tricks for IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains Answer Writing

Updated On -

Mar 23, 2021

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IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam is one of the toughest exams conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. It has Prelims, Mains and Interview rounds and is conducted to recruit officers for IAS, IPS and IFoS. UPSC Prelims is totally objective type but UPSC Mains test papers are descriptive type including all 9 papers. In this exam, answer writing especially for non-technical subjects (like Philosophy, History, Sociology, etc) has more importance than technical Subjects like Math, Chemistry, etc.

The IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains exam will be from September 17-22, 2021 and hence there is a lot of time to practice the answer writing techniques for this exam.

Importance of Writing Answers

Writing the answer in UPSC Main Exam is equally important as preparing for this exam. While you are preparing for this exam, your goal is to learn and produce an effective answer. Many candidates don’t qualify due to their writing skills and ignoring the facts depending on the mode of writing such as using keywords, a complete and crisp answer, presentation, language, word choice, word counts, drawings, etc.

Must Read: Best Books For UPSC CSE Prelims Exam

Tips and tricks for IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains Answer Writing:

Here the suggestions and tips are divided into 3 levels: Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced to gain the desired writing skills:

Primary tips for UPSC Mains Answer Writing :

These primary or basic things would be felt like not so important but a small mistake and a small wrong step can take your achievements away from you.

  • Understanding: UPSC Mains questions can get really tricky and sometimes really difficult to understand. Before you start writing any answer to any paper, read the question very carefully. Understanding the questions and the requirements mentioned in the question are the main thing. You should be able to have a clear grip over the matter.
  • Psychological framework: Portraying the structure or sketching the answer in your mind is very crucial. The very moment you read and understand the question, set your mind about the procedure in which you going to answer. In this way, it will get a lot easier to answer with the course of practice. If possible, write down the points when you remember it with a pencil so that you can erase it.
  • Utilize time: Don’t fabricate answers to remember any answer. It will just waste your time in both the practice period and exam Hall. Rather try to remember the facts and important information related to this topic which will help you to remember the answer and also it will save you time more than usual.
  • Wordcount: Another basic thing that is usually to forget to maintain, is the word count. If any question mentions the word limit or word count, you should finish up your answer around the limit. It shows your control over the power of language and choice of words.

Check IAS Practice Papers

Intermediate Tips and Tricks

The intermediate tips will guide you to handle the challenges you face in every paper and to score better.

  • Maintain a Structure of Your Answer: Almost every answer is should maintain the three stages: Introduction, body, and conclusion.


The beginning paragraph of any answer is known as the Introduction. Candidates usually get confused about what should be in the Introduction and end up giving the main information in the introduction.

  • Preferably, the introduction should be informative as well as introduce the topic or matter of the desired answer to the examiner.
  • To write an ideal introduction, make sure it is containing 10 - 15 % words of the complete answer.
  • Like you are asked to write any answer within 150 words, you will dedicate 15 - 25 words in the Introduction making it compact and straightforward.

Main Body:

There are few things that should be in mind while writing the body of any answer of UPSC Mains:

  • Start your paragraph with the most important points and try to maintain the chronology of the importance of each point.
  • If any answer requires both positive and negative analysis, divided into 2 paragraph and explain the positivity first and then the negative effects.
  • If there are fewer points to be discussed one always can combine these two paragraphs of positive and negative effects.
  • Make the body paragraphs more factual and disciplined consisting of bulletins and pointings which are to be emphasized.
  • UPSC Main questions are usually of two types: fact-based and opinion-based.
  • For the case of fact-based, give emphasis on facts and reality. This will make you and look a lot more compact.
  • In case there is an opinion-based question, don’t omit the facts. Present the facts that support the opinion you are imposing in the answer.


  • The conclusion always should be a balanced product of the whole answer leaving a positive effect on the examiner.
  • Try not to end your answer by imposing another question, it will degrade your quality by making it confusing to understand.
  • To conclude your answer, begin with a simple sentence that brings together all the main elements/points/arguments of the answer.
  • Like the introduction conclusion also should be 10 - 15 % of the whole answer containing 25 - 30 words out of 200 words.

Check How to read a newspaper for IAS exam

Practice answer writing

While practicing answer writing, keep in mind that it involves four things primarily. These are the abilities to recall, process, and write down thoughts with a timeframe. At the beginning of practice, you are always welcome to open-book practice. This will help you to recall the points more easily because the source of your learning will be open in front of you and you will comfortable writing within the timeframe. But time is valuable. Try to finish up every answer within 7 minutes at home to increase your speed.

Do not practice all the questions you come across in the beginning. First, begin with the previous years’ paper and sample question papers to get an idea about how fast you need to write in UPSC Mains and how much you need to improve.

Develop a lucid answer writing style

To develop a lucid and simple answer writing style, the first thing is one has to omit all the complex language from his/her writing. Use words that have a chance of being universally understood, Write simple, easy, and understandable sentences containing not more than 15 - 20 words.

Check IAS 2021 Preparation Tips, Important Books and Exam Pattern

Advanced Tips and Tricks

Paper-wise Word limit:

As much as it is necessary to maintain the word limit, one also should be aware of the word limit of each paper.

  • In an Essay paper, you have to write two essays within the 1000-1200 word limit to maintain a plan of brainstorming, outlining, idea/argument placement, and structuring.
  • The General Studies (GS) papers, with the exception of GS paper IV which is the Ethics paper, has a limit of 200 words per question. In the case of GS paper IV (Ethics), word limits are 150, 250 or 300, and 99% of the time the questions are opinion-based. Here are two tricks: avoid compound sentences and keep in mind the one-word substitutions as well as write in simple small sentences.
  • Most Optional subject papers carry 150 words per question limit for the short-note section (the optional History is a notable exception). Here if you need to compress a 400 - 500 words answer into 150 words, first make a gist of the points and express the root information of it.

Confusion of Attempt Unfamiliar Questions:

In such cases that whether you leave the unfamiliar question unanswered or attempt it, here are 2 things advisable:

  • Leave unfamiliar questions when you have the opportunity to utilize the time in another question in which you are more likely to gain marks better. Sometimes revising the written questions are better if the unfamiliar question is totally out of your concept.
  • Attempt unfamiliar questions only if it crosses certain minimum information to you. In case you can only recall 40 - 50 % of the appropriate answer, only then you may attempt an answer. Though the standard will be a bit low in comparison to other answers but the containing information served by the answer will help you to gain more marks than leaving it unattended.

Directives of Questions and Styles of Answering questions:

UPSC asks different kinds of questions. Basically, questions can be divided into 4 types. The following paragraph will guide you on how to write what kind of answer for what questions:

  • Comment: Question asking for your comment, or any sort of comment or your opinions, means actually your position on the topic/issue. First, introduce the topic, then provide arguments with facts/examples in favor of your opinion, and conclude it with a critical comment on both sides.
  • Examine: If any question is directly asking to examine, give an analysis, or analyze, it simply means to probe deeper into the given topic and Support your answer with details like causes, implications, and the way forward. Try to begin with a brief discussion of the various issues on the topic and provide details and conclude in the same paragraph if possible.
  • Critically examine: Questions starting with or asking for critical analysis, critically examine, or critically evaluate or critical discussion, you simply need to go into details along with causes and reasons, strengths and weaknesses, and mention the consequences, implications, and action taken for the issue at hand. In such cases, strengthen your answer give the positive and negative effects in different ways and different paragraphs. you can add up consequences and effects etc and but the conclusion should be a bit natural taking no sides if possible.
  • Discuss: if the questions are asking to discuss, discuss elaborately, critically discuss, explain, elucidate, the answer has to contain broadly, mentioning strengths/weaknesses and positives/negatives, mention causes/ consequences, mention the worthiness or usefulness of the statement, and bring out the value.

FAQs related to UPSC Mains Answer Writing

Ques. Do toppers attempt all questions in UPSC mains?

Ans. As it is understandable that it is quite difficult to prepare the whole syllabus where there is so specified syllabus in detail of each topic at all, UPSC has a tendency to ask 2 - 3 questions that are not covered by the syllabus as well as the current affairs. This makes it laborious to attempt successfully. Rather attempt the question in those which are you are confident enough and fabricate the answer in a very close-packed manner.

Ques. How can I count words in UPSC mains?

Ans. To count the words of your answer in UPSC Mains, here are some suggestions:

  • One of those words which contain more than 3 letters is considered a words. Such as, of, the, etc.
  • You are always advised to practice the UPSC Sample answer sheets or Sample questions to maintain your word limit as required in each question.
  • If the word limit is not mentioned, then make a space of 150 - 200 words. This limit is usually considered as the ideal word limit for UPSC Mains.
  • This word limit caution should be maintained because you will be given a fixed amount of pages. Hence if you exceed the word limit in each answer, it is possible that you will not be able to attempt all the answers.

Ques. How many pages should an essay be in UPSC Mains?

Ans. It is hard to ensure the number of pages is required for one essay because it depends on words as well as the mode of handwriting. Since 2015, candidates are asked to write two essays out of 8 choices. Each essay is for 125 marks (1000-1200 words). So do try to maintain the word limit rather than remembering the number of pages.

Ques. How can I increase my writing speed in UPSC?

Ans. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Get an appropriate pen for writing.
  2. Do not use several types of writing tools. Practice with one sort of writing tool. gel pen is the fastest but one has his/ her own choice.
  3. Loosen the grip over the pen. If you hold it too tight, it will slow you down.
  4. Minimize your handwriting. Larger handwriting takes more time and more space.
  5. Try to use your arm and not just your wrists. If you do so, you lessen the strain on your wrists thus enabling you to write faster for longer periods.
  6. Always sit in your comfortable posture. If you hunch, you would be adding more weight to your arms. This makes your arms tired more easily.
  7. Always write to the point. Don’t waste time beating about the bush.
  8. Always take a couple of minutes to frame answers in your head before putting your pen on the sheet.
  9. Always write according to the marks allotted to the question. Elaborate only where it is required as per the word count.
  10. Last but not least, Do Practice. Only proper practice can improve your speed.

Ques. Does handwriting matter in UPSC?

Ans. Handwriting does not matter to a great extent in UPSC written Exams but it should be LEGIBLE and examiner do not need to put extra effort in reading answers. One should not compromise on the speed in making handwriting beautiful. Answers with good handwriting will not fetch good marks, only answers with good content.

Ques. How long should an answer of UPSC Main question take?

Ans. There will be 3 hours to answer 20 questions ( of 10 marks and 15 marks). Statistically, you will get 9 minutes for each question. But there is a loophole. You will get no breaks in that period. In the given 3 hours, you have to read the question and understand it and also recall the question. So, you will have approx 7 minutes for each question whether it is of 15 marks or 10 marks.

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