UPSC Mains – Should you attempt a question that you know nothing about ?

There is a popular fad that even if there is nothing that you know about a question, it is best to at least make a guess and attempt it. The virtue in such an approach being : a half mark here and there can eventually add up to an aggregate which can determine which side of the list you belong, which service or which cadre.

While there is merit in assigning so much importance to every single mark, merely attempting every question for the heck of it may get you no where.

In a limited time-frame exam like UPSC Mains, every second that you spend in the exam hall has a cost-benefit to it. A minute spent guessing an answer you know nothing about could mean : a minute lost writing an answer you know really well, a better introduction or a conclusion, more use of examples or even time spent mentally structuring an answer.

Therefore, whenever you face a dilemma on where you need to put your time, remember this maxim : A known devil is better than an unknown angelDon’t pin you hopes on wild guesses, howsoever creative or lucky you think you may be.

Let’s look at this question from GS Paper 2 , Mains 2017.

What are the main functions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)? Explain different functional commissions attached to it.

The main functions of ECOSOC may be very well known to you, but the different functional commissions attached to it ?

At this point, if there is NOTHING you know about them just answer the first part and SKIP.

Understand that there is at least one question in every paper that 99% of the exam takers know nothing about. Those one or two questions isn’t where you need to show your excellence. Draft qualitatively superior answers everywhere else. Ensure that to answers you know well, the examiner appreciates your maturity and finds completeness in the way you have understood and written an question.

Trying to fool the examiner with guesses will only make matters worse, when your other answers are already not good enough. Sometimes even just plain honesty can take you a long way.

But also remember the following points

  1. Almost every question will be drafted in a way that you find it difficult to understand. DO NOT confuse difficulty in understanding the question with complete ignorance about a topic and end up skipping it.
  2. Do not get overly involved with any particular question you know too well and end up spending 15 minutes on it ! The Main Examination hall certainly is not the place to feel emotional.


Finally, write with confidence and conviction. Confidence certainly improves recollection of facts and arguments.

During the entire 3 hours consider yourself a surgeon operating on an emergency case. Keep calm, respond with precision, don’t make wasteful moves. Time is always running-out. Many rounds of revision and at least 4–5 mock exams will put your nerves at ease.

Best Wishes !

Officers IAS Academy – Best IAS Academy in Chennai.

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