UPSC Mains Series: Understanding the demand of a question through key-words

The key difference between a top scorer and an average scorer depends on how well one understands the question and addresses its core demand. Most of the questions in UPSC start or end with Critically Analyse or Examine and Analyse. Let’s get into the details on how to approach each one of them.

  1. Critically analyse:

Let’s take this question as an example.

India’s first National Disaster Management Plan may fulfill the legal requirement of having a plan, but it may not be very effective in achieving its objective of building resilience. Critically analyse.

In a critically analyse question, a proposition is given to you. It’s always wise to assume that the proposition has a solid basis and reason behind it. So start your answer with “why aspect” aspect of the question. Explaining the basis for why that statement was made.

In this example, the weakness and the loopholes in the Disaster management Plan will bring out the essence of the reason why the statement was made. One can say that the plan did not set any targets, it did not talk about its source of finances, etc.

Next point, follow it up with why the statement isn’t entirely right.

In this example, although the NDMP does not have any specific targets, it allows the states to set their own targets. Likewise, the NDMP also allows the states to raise its own sources of finance and allocate them accordingly.

Towards the end, conclude with a futuristic solution that is both innovative and pragmatic.

  1. Examine and analyse:

Examine question is usually posed for an event that has already happened. The question is based on a fact.

Let’s take this example:

Examine and analyse the effectiveness of MGNREGA.

MGNREGA has been in force for over a decade now. So, there is enough data for you to examine the facts. The aspects where MGNREGA has been effective and where it wasn’t, why and how, are ways to approach this question.

In analysis of facts, try and use a small graph or flow charts to depict the effectiveness/impact/change etc. To be able to do this, you need to have collected interesting pieces of information to support your arguments. Pick only interesting data, not boring numbers. The Economic Survey or Yojana Magazine is good place to look for such data.

Drafting your answer layered with supporting information and small charts can earn you a bit more marks than those who don’t add them.

Do’s and Don’ts of Answer Writing in general 


  • If the question has two sub-questions, answer each of them equitably and also chronologically.
  • Give Sub-Headings in your answer to address the different parts of the question. It gives the examiner clarity on how much is written under which part.
  • Underline key-words that form the core of your answer
  • Try and use pointers rather than writing lengthy flowery paragraphs. More points – shorter lines.
  • Always end the answer with a futuristic solution on the way forward. It should give the examiner a feeling of “closure” while reading your answer.
  • If you’re somebody who doesn’t have a great hand writing its okay,but leave adequate space been words, lines, paragraphs in an orderly manner to at least give the appearance of neatness.


  • Don’t spend too much time on a question you know too well at the expense of other questions.
  • Never dump your knowledge on the examiner. Never try to educate the examiner. Never stray away from the demand of the questions. The only time you go a little beyond the demand is when you propose a solution to the problem. Even that is only after you have met the demand of the question.

Finally, always remember. There is no set, fixed rule to approach an answer but always go for the bulls-eye, the core demand of the question. Every question has a pulse, only with training and practice, can you catch it. Just like a doctor.


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