The Mains Exam for the Civil Services is a subjective type exam with nine papers and a total writing time of 27 hours. Of these, two are qualifying- The Compulsory Indian Language paper (Paper A) and the English paper (Paper B). The essay paper (Paper I) requires you to write two essays in three hours. UPSC would provide a booklet containing pre-printed questions and a fixed area for candidates to write their answers for the Mains exam. The aspirants will be given a list of themes from which to choose, one from each segment (Section A & B). Each essay must be written within a word count range of 1000 to 1100 words. Moving onto the GS, there are four General Studies (GS) papers (Paper II through Paper V), each with a maximum of 250 points. There will be 20 questions in each of the GS papers. Here, two types of questions are asked in GS papers- 10 marks questions with a word limit of 150 words and 15 marks questions with a word limit of 250 words. Concerning the Optional papers (paper VI, paper VII), there are two, and each paper counts for 250 marks.
Hence, you can see that an aspirant has to prepare extensively for each of these subjects, which has to be supplemented by good writing practice. The aspirants are requested to start their journey by studying common topics in Prelims and Mains in their initial preparation days. Once they are 4-5 months away from the Prelims exam, they can slowly shift from Mains to Prelims oriented preparation. But, in the initial period, the aspirant has to make sure that they strengthen the basics of Mains. To do this, the aspirant should start their Prelims cum Mains preparation and accumulate their knowledge, say for a month. This period will help the aspirant understand how the syllabus is designed, how questions are asked, and what information is needed for the exam. After this period, the aspirant can start their answer writing by focusing on answering simple questions. It is unwise to attempt questions that are of UPSC standard in the initial days, as one must concentrate on grasping the basics of structuring, sticking to the word limit and training oneself to write according to the need of the question. Once this is achieved slowly, aspirants can attempt questions from various sources, such as The Hindu, Indian Express, Previous Years’ Question papers etc. This will make the aspirant more accustomed to the latest developments in current affairs and help you tackle the questions asked in the actual Mains exam. While doing this, make sure to follow the standard pattern of Introduction – Body – Conclusion in your answer. And make sure the answer is compatible with the type of question asked, i.e. Evaluate/Critically Evaluate, Discuss, Elucidate, Examine, Critically Examine, Comment, etc.
The answer must contain relevant points, examples, diagrams, keywords, etc. The aspirant must try to cover various dimensions like social, economic, environmental, etc., in each answer as necessary. I want to remind my dear aspirants that answer writing is an art, and like every artist who mastered it, you must not lose faith in yourself and continue working towards it. No matter how tough it gets, continue writing answers. As time progresses, try to finish each answer within 7 to 8 minutes.
As mentioned above, the art of answer writing for Mains is something that takes time. I request every aspirant out there not to lose their hope. If you wish to start your answer writing practice and cross-check it with sample answers, click here to go to our free Daily Answer Writing Challenge program. Here, questions from current affairs/static areas are posted daily, along with tips on structuring the answer and references from which to base your answer. A sample answer will be given the next day to ensure that you have covered all the relevant points. Feel free to make use of this initiative to attempt questions from various topics. I wish you the very best in your Mains preparation.