Science of answer writing in civil service mains

Yes, you have read it right, answer writing in civil service mains is a science!! There is a fixed formula to maximize your score but its complex. Let us understand various parameters in this formula.

(1). Type of question

  • I KNOW IT : You know “The perfect” answer and understand the topic in question in-out
  • I AM CONFUSED: You have fair idea about the topic but the question is not clear to you i.e. you are not 100% sure what to write
  • WHAT THE HELL: You have no clue about what is being asked, but you can still make something up from the keywords in question

(2). Type of answer

  • THE PERFECT: Answer hit’s bulls eye from the first line itself. You start explaining what is being asked. No intro/basics. Can fetch >60% marks
  • PLAY SAFE: Standard answer. Intro – Body – Conclusion. (Body may be points or paras). Can fetch 40-50% marks
  • BLUFF MASTER: You have no clue. So you pick keywords from question and write something around those keywords. No guarantee of marks but can fetch upto 20-30% marks


  • I KNOW IT questions should be answered in THE PERFECT way because you can give maximum focus on the issue being asked.
  • I AM CONFUSED questions should be answered in PLAY SAFE way because you are not 100% sure and thus intro – conclusion will help you fill some line
  • WHAT THE HELL questions should be answered in BLUFF MASTER way, if time permits. It is always better to write something. Because each mark makes a difference of 7-8 ranks in final list.

(3). The TIME : Let’s assume there are 20 questions. So, ideally each question should be allotted 9 minutes. But depending upon how many questions fall in I KNOW IT, I AM CONFUSED and WHAT THE HELL category, you have to dynamically increase/decrease time allotted to different questions. WHAT THE HELL types may be written in 3-4 minutes and I KNOW IT types in 12 –  13 minutes. Difficult part is, you can not take time to analyse all questions and then decide how much time to give to each question. You have to do it while you are writing answers itself, that makes it difficult.

Let us understand it with an example. Following question was asked in UPSC 2015 GS II

Khap Panchayats have been in the news for functioning as extra-constitutional authorities, often delivering pronouncements amounting to human rights violations. Discuss critically the actions taken by the legislative, executive and the judiciary to set the things right in this regard.

Khap Panchayats used to be a major news few years back (2010 to 2012), but it was not a main issue this year. A major SC judgement came in 2011 which declared Khaps illegal. So no one would have guessed that it would be asked this time.

Now, leaving this question doesn’t make any sense as everyone should have known something about this issue as its a social issue and now-and-then we get some spicy news related to them. So, lets analyse this question in light of our parameters.

(1). I KNOW IT question -> THE PERFECT answer -> 10 to 12 minutes

Means student knows the issue well. So he should be well aware of SC judgement, legislative apathy  and executive helplessness in the issue. Instead of writing what khaps are? where they are found? etc s/he can straight away start explaining the issue in hand, SC judgement, why legislature is not doing anything and what steps executive takes in such case.

He can end answer with Thomas Jefferson’s word (Used by SC judge in this judgement ) and put up his view forcefully what he suggests.

(2). I AM CONFUSED question -> PLAY SAFE answer -> 7 to 9 minutes

Student know the issue but he is not sure about SC judgement and whether legislature/executive have taken any action or not. So student should start with an intro i.e. khaps are social groups, their historical significance and their political clout in some regions. Then he should write about the illegal judgments given by them in recent past which transgress fundamental rights given by constitution of India. Since, the issue comes up frequently in news, so it can be assumed that no concrete action has been taken so far otherwise these things would have stopped. So, instead of clearly mentioning L/E/J (due to doubt), it should be written that no action is being taken and issue arises time and again.

In the end, conclusion should suggest measures to tackle this issue and how it will be against our constitutional ideals if it is not stopped.

(3). WHAT THE HELL question -> BLUFF MASTER answer -> 3 – 4 minutes

Whatever one can remember about khaps, any recent case (khap judgement on noodles eating, no mobile phone with girls, wearing jeans, same caste marriage etc) can be written in 3-4 lines. It can be deduced from question itself that there is inaction in administration, so middle portion of answer can be about that. Try to bring Constitution, Fundamental Rights, Human Rights etc to provide some fodder.

So, same answer can be written in these many ways. Our focus should be increase increase scope of I KNOW IT and I AM CONFUSED type questions so that one could get at least average marks in all the questions.

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