July 18th, 2019       Civil Services Preparation

It is often seen that aspirants do not give the necessary attention to the essay paper. They spend months preparing for the optional and the GS papers but hardly give dedicated time to essay paper. This leads them to score poorly in the exam and they fail to get the edge which they could have easily achieved with a proper strategy and preparation for the essay paper. If one compares GS papers score with that of essay one can find out that it is difficult to achieve a score of 120-125 marks in the former whereas aspirants touch 150 and even 160 in the essay paper which gives them an edge of almost 30 marks.

CSE topper 2017 scored just 100 marks in the essay paper of CSE 2015 whereas after making the necessary effort and rectifying his mistakes he was able to score 155 in CSE 2017.

Firstly, it is necessary to know that why essay paper is required in a competitive exam?

UPSC notification says that “candidates may be required to write essays on multiple topics. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay, to arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.

What can one make out from this? The following quote of Abraham Lincoln very aptly answers the question…..

Abraham Lincoln Quote

‘Writing’ (essay) of the aspirant works as a window, for the highly experienced examiner, to the thought process of the candidate. Examiner will not only evaluate the content of the aspirant but also his thought process, viewpoints on critical matters, clarity in thinking, ability to explain his view point concisely and effectively, ability of coherence and putting his ideas in an orderly fashion, language. In a nutshell, it acts as a mean to bring out the traits of a potential civil servant and to evaluate if he is fit to be one.

Having discussed about the importance of the paper, it is essential to clear the misconceptions associated with essay paper before moving to how to prepare for it.

1. There is no preparation required for essay paper-GS and optional knowledge will suffice.

Truth: This is wrong way of thinking. In GS marks will be awarded just for content. But in essay, examiner will pay attention to more than content as explained above.

2. One needs to be champion in English-use technical jargons, vocabulary.

Truth: It is worth noting that in UPSC CSE, the simpler the language the better it is. There is no need of flowery jargons and expressions.

3. There is no difference between language paper essay and ‘Essay’ paper.

Truth: This is highly misconceived notion on the part of aspirants to treat the essay paper just like essays asked in the language papers. The importance of both is vastly different. One is aimed to judge the language of the aspirant whereas the other is aimed to bring out the true traits of a potential Civil Servant.

4. Essay paper can’t be prepared so easily.

Truth: This is again a misconception. There have been candidates who have drastically increased their marks from scores like 100-110 to 150-160 with proper strategy and preparation. It is worth noting that essay paper requires relatively lesser effort to improve as compared to GS papers. The rate of investment is quite high.

From where to prepare for the essay paper?

  • GS and optional preparation will give content.
  • Reading non-fiction: will help to develop thinking process.
  • Anecdotes, stories, quotes, facts and figures: A separate notebook should be kept for the same.
  • Referring to magazines: Yojana, Kurukshetra, EPW, Economic Survey, DowntoEarth.
  • Newspaper editorials, relevant lines said by eminent/constitutional posts like President, PM etc.
  • Essay transcripts of previous year toppers.

How to prepare for the essay?

  • Firstly read the transcripts of previous year toppers to get a feel of what comprises a well-written essay.
  • A separate notebook for essay should be prepared where fodder collected from the above mentioned sources should be written in point format.
  • An aspirant should prepare material on all the general topics that have been asked in the exam previously. This should include quotations, facts/ figures, anecdotes, sayings, case studies, government schemes.
  • Whenever aspirant takes a particular topic, he should to try to think of all the possible themes/ dimensions of it. For eg: Consider the topic “With great power, comes great responsibility”. Aspirant can think of the topic from SPECLIH perspective- Social, Political, Economic, Cultural, Legal, International and Humanistic. This is one way of covering multiple dimensions.
  • Next step is to write essays. Pick up the previous year papers and practice them at home in exam conditions. Self-evaluate and get a feedback from mentors, peers and teachers.

How to approach an essay?

  • Aspirant should have clear cut plan ready for attempting the essay paper. It should be clear in his mind before entering the examination hall how he is going to manage the time. The answers to following questions should be ready beforehand.
    • How much time will be devoted in choosing the topic?
    • How much time will be devoted in interpreting the topic?
    • How much time will be devoted in making a rough skeleton of the essay?
    • How much time will be devoted in attempting the essay?
    • How much time will be devoted in revising and underlining the keywords?
    • Aspirant should always keep a buffer of 10 minutes in order to meet any exigency.
  • Eg: Topic Selection: 5 minutes, Brainstorming: 10-15 minutes, writing: 1 hour, revision: 5 minutes.

  • First thing is choosing the right topic from each section. This will depend upon the aspirant’s holistic understanding of the topic. Do not get swayed by the fact that since it is an easy topic I won’t choose it. I will choose unconventional topic just to impress the examiner. This is wrong way of thinking.
  • Next thing is to interpret the topic. One should understand the theme of the topic. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT ESSAY WRITING IS PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE TOPIC AND “WRITING ON THAT TOPIC”. DOING THIS MUCH ENSURES THAT ONE WILL NOT GET BELOW ANERAGE MARKS.
  • Brainstorm and prepare skeleton of the topic:
    • Every essay should have an introduction, body and conclusion.
    • Introduction: can be a fictitious story, real life anecdote, quote, a paragraph on what all is going be covered in the essay.
    • Themes/ dimensions to be covered eg: SPECLIH, temporal, sectoral, walks of life, problem and solution format.
    • Quotes, sayings, anecdotes, facts/ figures.
    • Key words.
    • Conclusion: it should always be on a futuristic and optimistic note. Summarize the essay in 4 to 5 lines and then write the vision for future. Some saying, quote, lines of eminent personalities can be used.
  • Structuring of the essay:
    • Language should be simple and clear
    • Keep the sentences short and powerful
    • An occasional use of powerful word or jargon can give the essay an edge
    • Proper subheadings
    • Transition smoothly from one para to the next through a link sentence/ through a question

What to avoid in the essay?

  • Aspirant should never give one-sided arguments or viewpoints which are against constitutional spirit.
  • Never focus excessively on only one dimension or theme.
  • Always write what is asked not what one knows.
  • Do not give disproportionate amount of time to one essay avoiding the other one.
  • Avoid criticizing the government, its policies and schemes.
  • Avoid being seen as a person belonging to a particular ideology.
  • Avoid writing in bullets, making diagrams, figures, charts. Essay should always be in continuous para format.

The art of essay writing lies in understanding the why nature of the exam? This quote by Oscar Wilde very aptly fits here…

Oscar Wilde Quote

This is what exactly UPSC is looking to evaluate from the aspirant’s essay. Does the aspirant have the traits to become a decision maker for tomorrow? Aspirants are advised to prepare the essay in this spirit. And finally, always remember to answer what has been asked in the question rather than beating around the bush. Accomplishing this makes one win half the battle.

Best of luck for the exam!! Study hard!!

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