The value of writing good answers in the UPSC Civil Services mains exam is as good as preparing for the exams. Even if you have prepared well for the exams, if you fail to write good answers in the Mains, your selection will be surely jeopardized.

Answer writing is an art which can be learnt. You will be bedding patience and practice to ace the skill of writing a good answer. Here we are providing you some useful tips regarding answer writing.

The UPSC provides a basic instruction on which you should focus:

“The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio‐ economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.”


The candidate must be able to take a view on the contemporary issues in relevant, effective and brief answers.

Understand the question first

Questions in the Mains examination come with certain directive keywords like ‘analyze/ critically analyze’ etc. Every directive has got a specific meaning. You should get the cear meaning of the directive in order to understand the objective of the question. 

Developing basic framework

It is an important skill which must be learnt to write prompt and effective answers. You must be able to construct a basic structure of the answer while reading the question. You must jot down whatever info you can recall about the question in a structured manner.

Writing promptly

Remember that you have only 3 hours to finish the paper. Henec it is important to recall the relevant points quickly. Students often commit the mistake of recalling all the info they have regarding the question and consume a lot of time. Even if you have 2-3 points in the mind, you can immediately start writing the answer. Do not wait for recalling more points. Write the answer with whatever info you have.

Don’t digress from the keywords

UPSC demands that your answers should be brief and to the point. So treat the keywords mentioned in the question as guiding lights. Do not write something abstract or out of the context. Stick to the keywords.

Structure of the answer

  • Step 1: Write an apt introduction to your answer. The motive is to introduce the issues discussed in the question to the examiner. If the question has many parts, then introduce all the parts briefly. Try to write the introduction in 20-30 words.
  • Step 2: Write the main body of the answer. It is the soul of your answer. You should write the main boy in bullet points rather than paragraphs. Writing in short bullet points will help you deliver effective and brief points.
    • Each bullet point must convey a unique and single point. All the common points should be covered under a single head. For example if you are writing about economic relations between India and the USA, all the points related to trade and investment should come under the heading-economic relations.
  • Step 3: Summarize your answer with a well balanced conclusion. Try to provide a balanced and positive opinion at the end of your answer. You may also provide a way forward or solution to issues highlighted. The ability to provide solutions for socio-economic problems is much desired by UPSC from future civil servants.

Writing introduction and conclusion

  • Introduction: It is mainly about introducing your answer to the examiner in brief. Choose the central idea of your answer. Now add 1-2 lines about it. You can add the keywords you are going to use in the main body.
  • Conclusion: To conclude your answer,summarize the main points/argument of your answer in just one line. Then form a positive opinion about the issues discussed. The closing sentence should be a general statement reflecting the main sentiment of the question.

An example of introduction and conclusion: For example look at the following question 

Q) As per the GDP data released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI)for the first quarter (April, May, June) of the current financial year, the GDP contracted by 24% per cent in Q1. Analyse the associated concerns and suggest a way forward. 

Its introduction can be written thus- GDP is the final value of the goods and services produced within the geographic boundaries of a country during a specified period of time, normally a year. GDP growth rate is an important indicator of the economic performance of a country.  As per the latest GDP data for the first quarter (April, May, June) of the current financial year, the GDP contracted by 24% per cent in Q 1.

The answer can be concluded thus- Since economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, Indian economy has clocked an average of 7% GDP growth each year. This year, it is likely to turn turtle and contract by 7%. Only when the government spends more by building roads and bridges and paying salaries or by directly handing out money — can the economy revive in the short to medium term. 

Writing in bullets and paragraphs

  • When a question is demanding your opinion about an issue then you can write the answers in paragraph- introductory paragraph, main in body paragraph and concluding paragraph.
  • Whenever you are asked to analyze by the question, you can write in bullet points to cover the maximum points. For factual answers employ the same strategy.
  • For example, have a look at this question from CSE 2019 – ‘It is argued that the strategy of inclusive growth is intended to meet the objectives of inclusiveness and sustainability together. Comment on this statement. 
    • It is an opinion based question so you may write the answer in paragraph form. But you can also write certain facts about the question in bullet points.
  • Take a look at the following question from CSE 2019
  • What are the reformative steps taken by the government to make the food grain distribution system more effective? (Answer in 250 words)
    • This question is demanding facts from you. So it can be answered in bullet points.

Adhering to word limit

  • The General Studies (GS) papers 1, 2 & 3, have a limit of 200 words per question. Try to write short sentences instead of complex ones. If you have to write two pints in a statement, then you can use semicolons to separate the two clauses of the sentence.
  • In GS paper IV (Ethics), there are various word limits. Mostly the questions are opinion based so they can be written in paragraph form. You should devote 1 minute to structure the answer in your mind. 
    • While answering the case study questions, write your answer in simple statements and justify your ideas with examples and paradigms like Utilitarian approach etc. Do not write unnecessary opinions.
  • Optional papers: For the 150 word limit answers, the aspirant must learn to compress the answer in 150 words. While compressing, always write the core idea. You may leave the peripheral ideas. Here you can merge two or three sentences with the help of commas to compress the words.
    • For the rest of the questions you can write answers in 150 to 300 words, keeping in mind the time factor.

Word Count


150 Words question

10 marks

250 words question

15 marks

300 words question

20 marks


Time management 

  • Remember that your target is to complete all the questions within 3 hours. So you have to be in a flow while writing the answers. Avoid artificial and flower language and write as simple as you can. Do not get stuck in a difficult question. You may leave it for later when you get an opportunity. 
  • Remember that you have to maintain quality in every answer. So do not write a few high quality answers followed by bad answers. Do not get stuck in the perfectionist attitude. Just maintain a general quality.
  • You may leave the question about which you do not have any clue. It's better than beating around the bush. Writing irrelevant answers can mar your impression in the examiner’s mind.

Answer writing practice

  • While writing answers keep in mind that you have to
    • Recall
    • Process
    • Write
  • Here recalling the facts and ideas can consume time. So you have to do a lot of practice for that. You can practice answer writing in the JV’s Mains drill. 
  • You can also practice answer writing on our daily important articles section. You can read the article and answer the question based on the article. Initially you can write the answers by copying from the article itself. Later on just write the answer based on your memory.
  • You can get your answers checked on JV Mains drill.
  • You can also begin with the CSE previous year’s Mains papers. Just select a question based on a topic which you have read recently. Read your answer any time and analyse it. Try to find the gaps in your learning. This way you can also read the examiner’s mind, looking for the desired aspects about a concept. You may get your answers checked from your friends to get a general feedback
  • Enrolling for test series gives you the following advantage:
    • Time bound practice
    • Proper feedback on your weak areas.

Understanding the directives

The Mains questions use some frequently used directives like examine, opine etc. A prior understanding of their meaning and practicing can save your time while writing the answers. A Tail word/ End word/ Key Word/ Directive is a word or a phrase in a question that gives a direction to the answer. Writing answers is very easy while writing a mains answer could be a tricky task.

With time as the size of a mole and content, that of a hill makes it precarious for any student as to ‘what to write’ and ‘what not to’. It is here that keywords/ directives come to the rescue.

One can effectively incorporate these directives when aspirants have more knowledge about the topic and have enough facts and figures to write.

The following is a list of directives that, if kept in mind can be really helpful for an aspirant while framing a proper answer and cater to what actually is asked in the question.