My UPSC Journey

Ethics & Essay Strategy for UPSC CSE Mains

Hello everyone! This post is going to cover my strategy for the ethics and essay papers. I have secured 160 marks in the essay, and 111 marks in ethics. I hope this post helps you.

The ethics and essay papers should be given equal respect as the other general studies papers. Putting in a little extra effort towards these papers has the potential of doing wonders to your overall result. These two papers are where you are given considerable leeway in expressing yourself. If prepared well, they can definitely become an important factor in securing a good rank.

GS4 Ethics preparation:

Resources:

  1. 2nd ARC Report on Ethics in Governance- This report should be read thoroughly as it helps considerably with GS2 as well.
  2. Vaji Ram’s yellow book on Ethics- It covers the syllabus sufficiently.
  3. I followed DK Balaji Sir’s strategy given on insightsonindia. Accordingly, I made my own 1-2 page long notes on every keyword given in the syllabus. I wrote about the meaning of that particular value as I understood it. I also added examples from the news, from history and from my own life to enrich my understanding of the values.
  4. Youtube videos- many channels such as The School of Life have short, informative videos on thinkers. If you are unable to fully grasp any concept of ethics, I would highly recommend watching videos to understand the topic.
  5. The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das- it can be read if you have sufficient time with you. It explains certain concepts in a way that will remain with you long after you have read the book and answered your GS4 exam.

Preparation:

I first finished the syllabus by referring to the above sources. Then, I joined a test series specifically for ethics. The reason for joining a separate ethics test series was that I considered ethics to be one of my strong points and I wanted to make it stronger. Joining a test series also ensured that I covered the entire syllabus in a thorough manner.

In addition to the feedback received from the test series, I used to discuss current events involving ethical behavior (or the lack of it) with my mother, and sometimes with one of my close friends. Those discussions helped immensely, as I was able to formulate a more balanced viewpoint on various issues. I would recommend candidates to discuss and debate issues on which you are unable to take a stand with your peers. It will help you appreciate opposing or varying viewpoints and come to a more rounded conclusion.

Writing answers:

  • It is advisable to attempt the case studies first in the GS4 paper. Better solutions can be thought of with a fresh mind. For attempting the paper, time yourself. I had divided my time as follows: 1 hour 45 minutes for the case studies, and 1 hour 15 minutes for the other questions.
  • Your solutions to the case studies should be something that you as a future bureaucrat can actually execute and implement. Their practicality is as important as their being ethically correct. In addition to being ethically correct, your solutions should be legally correct. They should be in accordance with the ethos of our constitution.
  • Your answer should reflect clarity of thought. It makes it easier for even the examiner to read a solution that is logical and clear. While giving solutions, try giving innovative solutions suited to the case scenario. Multiple courses of action should be given where asked. Give reasoning to support the course of action you finally choose to take. You can also eliminate certain course of actions by providing reasons for the elimination.
  • Do not begin your answer by giving a drastic solution to the problem. If you must take some extreme measures, they should be given as a matter of last resort, and never in the first instance. A course of action that gradually gets stricter is better than something that is sudden and drastic.
  • Further, your solutions to the case study must reflect that you have actually understood the root cause of the problem. For example, suppose there is failure in the PDS machinery of a district. People are protesting, and have disrupted railway lines, road traffic and are burning buses. Other citizens are suffering terribly because of this, and it is upon you to control the chaos.
    • In answering this, you should tackle the situation by taking care of the citizens suffering due to the protests. But, you must not forget that the reason the protests are happening is the failure of the PDS machinery. Any solution that does not address the issue of the faulty PDS will be a superficial solution. Don’t get so overwhelmed with the tragic outcomes (in this case, the violent protests) that you fail to address the root cause itself.
  • In writing your ethics answers, a certain conviction must be palpable. If you believe in what you are writing, it will be evident. It also makes it easier to answer ethics questions when you truly believe in something. However, make sure that your beliefs are suited for an upright civil servant of independent India, in accordance with our constitutional values of equality, liberty and fraternity.
  • You may make diagrams/ flow charts in your answers. However, I did not. I did not make any flow charts or diagrams even in my GS3 final exam (courtesy my sickness which prevented me from revising), and yet managed to score decent marks. I therefore believe that making diagrams or flow charts is not an important requirement for scoring good marks as long as your content is there.

That’s all for ethics. Hope it helps. Now, coming to the essay preparation.

Essay strategy:

Essay paper was the one paper I was most excited to write. I must admit- I was initially taking the essay paper quite lightly. I wrote my first essay at home, and asked my mother to read it. My essay was not received well at all. This much needed wake-up call shocked me out of my complacency. The mistake I had made was that I had written my essay in a manner that was extremely straightforward and quite imbalanced. It also was quite heavy on the legal points, which made it not so pleasant for a non-lawyer to read.

To channel my preparation better, I joined a test series for essay preparation. Practicing essay writing helped a lot and I could see the improvement myself. Here are the things that I learned:

  1. Essay is the one paper where you can truly demonstrate your values, beliefs and thoughts to the examiner. So use that opportunity wisely. Your essay should have some emotion in it. It helps immensely if you are able to make the reader connect with your essay. This can be achieved by writing a couple of relatable sentences, or giving simple examples that most can relate to.

Further, having a well-informed opinion on issues helps a lot. Just like in ethics, if you strongly believe in something it will be evident in your writing. In both my essays that I wrote (on agriculture and women), I wrote with a strong conviction in my views.

  1. Choose a topic that you are most comfortable with. Do not avoid writing on a topic simply because you think everyone else would be writing on that topic too.

Before you start writing, spend a minimum of 10 minutes per essay for brainstorming ideas. Think of all possible dimensions to the topic, and jot down the points in the rough space. Make a rough structure before you start writing. The structure you make must be kept flexible to accommodate any fresh points that come to your mind while writing the essay. Don’t make a very detailed structure in the rough space, as that will just end up taking a lot of precious time. Rather, spend time in expanding your points in the actual essay.

  1. Format: It can be the SPECLIH format (as suggested by Chandramohan Garg Sir) or past-present-future format. It can be any other format of your liking too. Pick a format that suits the topic and helps you write a cogent essay.
  1. Introduction: The introduction of the essay should be something which builds the interest of the reader. You can start with a quote, an anecdote, or an ironical statement. Anything that captures the essence of what you’re going to write ahead can be written.

However, do not write a quote just because it will make your essay look good. Quotes should be written only when they have some rational connection with the content. Quotes can also be inserted in the middle of the essay, to further strengthen an argument. Also, if you have started the first essay with a quote, then it is better to start the second essay with something other than a quote. The idea is to not make your two essays seem monotonous in style.

  1. Content: The content should have a flow to it. The content for the essay will come naturally to you from GS prep. Reading editorials also helps, as you will learn how to make convincing arguments.

Always give both sides of the argument, as it makes your essay balanced. It is better to write about the positives first and then talk about the criticisms. But once you have given both sides of the argument, do take a stand. Do not give the impression that you don’t have your own informed opinion on the issue. Back your opinion with facts, reports etc.

  1. Optional bias: Most of us will be better placed to write points relating to our optional subject in the essay. But do not let your optional subject knowledge overpower your essay. Use that knowledge judiciously.

A special advice for law background students- do get your essay checked by a non-lawyer, as they will be able to tell you better if your essay is too technical/straightforward.

  1. Language- Use simple language. Avoid flowery sentences. Your essay should be easy to read in an uninterrupted flow. Do not make it hard for the examiner by writing complicated sentences.
  2. Conclusion- After you have written your points in the essay, conclude in a forward looking and positive way. The conclusion should be optimistic. The conclusion must also logically flow from the main content. It should not seem that the conclusion is something that you can copy-paste in any essay.

That’s all. There is a lot of scope to maximize your overall mains marks on the basis of essay and ethics paper. Seize this opportunity well. Good luck to all of you!

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14 thoughts on “Ethics & Essay Strategy for UPSC CSE Mains”

  1. Congratulations!!
    Very Comprehensive article mam. Have noted down few points regarding how I will try to accommodate in my strategy. May I request you to share your answer copies of ethics and essays along with your notes on any one key word of ethics (to get an idea). Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Please share your strategy for gs paper 3 and paper 4 as you got very very good marks…pleae madam..

        Like

  2. congratulations ma’am!
    Please Help me!
    I’m a LAW student graduated from GGSIPU,New Delhi this year, preparing for CSE’19 at home(without coaching). I have only 2 questions for you-

    1)When is the right time (considering my case) to join the Test series for GS/Law optional/ethics /essay, before pre or after pre

    2) I know you joined test series of lukmaan for Ethics. What about others like essay& GS, and specially LAW optional?
    Thanks

    Like

  3. Please answer this in the most undiplomatic way – how possible do you see one scoring good in mains without teh aid of any test series? I am expecting you to be blunt on it, as I guess you have a well informed opinion on this.

    Like

  4. mam, i am a working professional and hardly gets time to study…anything which you can advice me that can be helpful to me…

    @thanks

    Like

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