Novelist Stephen King put it beautifully when he said, “I write to find out what I think.” Writing is a window to your thought process. What you write on paper will tell the reader how you think, how you argue and the way you substantiate your viewpoint. This is why for most competitive examinations and academic entrance tests, the essay is mandatory. The Essay Paper is one of the nine papers in the UPSC civil services mains exam.
In the Civil Services Exam, the essay paper is worth 250 marks, equivalent to a General Studies paper. Despite its importance, essay papers often do not get the attention it deserves from aspirants. First-timers think they will write an excellent essay in the final exam itself, whereas experienced aspirants believe that since they have already studied a ton for GS, it will alone be enough to write a good essay. This is a fatal miscalculation.
Essay for UPSC – Highlights
- Number of essays to write – 2
- Time allotted – 3 hours
- Word Limit – 1000-1200 words
- Marks allotted- 125 each. Total Marks – 250
In this article, we will discuss things you should know while preparing for Essay writing in UPSC.
Importance of choosing the right topic
Read the topics thoroughly. This is the most important step in the process. You should choose one of the four topics. While selecting your topic, confirm that you have the most information about that topic out of the given topics. What to not pick: A sensitive or controversial topic like say, feminism. A topic about which you’re too passionate or feel strongly about. In this case, you’ll tend to have an urge and fail to write down a balanced essay. This can work against you. If you are not comfortable writing about abstract philosophical topics, avoid such questions. Selecting an unpopular topic only for the sake of it will be unwise. Also, if there’s a technical term within the question, ensure that you comprehend it correctly.
Examiner’s expectations from a candidate
“Candidates could also be required to write down essays on multiple topics. They will be expected to stay closely to the topic of the essay, to rearrange their ideas in an orderly fashion, and to write down concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.” This is what the UPSC says about Essay writing. Essay distinguishes itself from GS within the sense that in GS, marks are going to be awarded purely for content. But in essays, examiners will pay special attention to not just the content, but also the language, coherence and the way you organise your write-up. They look at the candidate’s grasp of his/her material and its relevance to the subject chosen and to his/her ability to think constructively.
The contribution of Essay Writing in the final score
250 marks out of 2025 (12.3 %) are the weight-age of essay papers on total Civil Services Mains Marks as per the newest UPSC syllabus. Since 2015, candidates have been asked to write two essays out of 8 choices. Each essay is for 125 marks (1000-1200 words). Check the UPSC CSE Essay Syllabus here. The time allotted is 3 hours. As the essay paper is out of 250, marks which are above 50% are often considered good, ie. 125. Marks between 110-125 is considered average. Marks within the range of 150-160 are possible for exceptional essays.
Note: UPSC may award poorly written essays marks as low as ‘0’ or ’20’. So beware and pay sufficient attention to proper practice.
How and from where to prepare?
Most of the content you write in an Essay will come from your GS preparation. Apart from this, the subsequent sources will help:
Reading non-fiction helps you develop a matured thought process: aside from imparting knowledge, they’re also going to allow you to encounter good figures of speech, the art of argumentation, powerful rhetoric and unique content, etc.
Referring to specific magazines: For various topics, you can look through the specific copies of Yojana/EPW/Economic Survey etc.
Collecting good stories/anecdotes and quotes: Anecdotes, quotes and real-life stories you see in newspapers and books which can be used in essays should be noted down.
How to write an essay?
- Sticking to the deadline – Within the CSE, one has to write two essays in 3 hours which translates into 1 hour and a half-hour for every essay. Out of this, around 45 minutes to 1 hour are going to be required to write down one essay. One can add another 10 minutes for the revision of 1 essay. This leaves us with rough half-hour of your time to organize the essay in rough, and it includes time for completing the brainstorming and outlining exercises.
- How to introduce the essay – The goal of the introduction should be to arouse the reader’s interest in the topic and to give an insight to the reader for what’s to follow. A good introduction to the essay can be a brief explanation of the essay topic itself. It is often made interesting by adding some personal experience, or some relevant anecdotes or quotes. The introduction shouldn’t be confusing or lacking in clarity, rather it should be ready to immediately clear up any doubts regarding the subject if there’s any.
- How to conclude the essay – The aim of the conclusion is to bring a smooth end to the essay. It is also important to notice that a robust finish is as important as a robust opening. Both are important for scoring better marks. The essay can be concluded in the following ways – restating the main points in brief and with different wordings (summarizing), suggesting a way forward or a course of action, or adding a stimulating personal comment or any relevant anecdote. Another way to conclude the essay is by returning to the discussion begun within the introduction. This is called the ‘cyclic return’ and tons of essays follow this easy method of concluding an essay. The conclusion should bear a positive outlook, it should see the bright side within the clouds. It should also be as clear and concise as possible.
- Revising the essay – To revise, read the essay in its entirety, underlining (preferably with scale and pencil) important words or phrases. Correct spelling or grammatical mistakes if any. Make sure the pages look clean and tidy.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts
- Include relevant quotes from famous personalities (ensure to quote verbatim – wrong quotes make you look careless or lazy).
- Mention government schemes and policies.
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to use advanced vocabulary. Your essay should be legible.
- Brainstorm before starting your essay. Take about 25 minutes per essay to come up with all the necessary points.
- Mention numbers and figures.
- Don’t mention facts, numbers, etc that you are unsure of.
- Don’t focus on multiple dimensions.
- No ranting. You must present both the positives and negatives.
- Don’t resort to name-calling. Never get personal in your essay.
- Don’t just present problems. Give possible reforms/solutions also.
- Don’t criticise the government/administration excessively.
- Avoid writing utopian solutions.