Writing a good essay is not always easy. It requires the right approach and good practice.
It has been observed that many candidates, unfortunately, take the essay paper too lightly resulting in a score not comparable with their potential.
It is vital to attempt essay paper with the same seriousness as all other papers in GS Mains and learn the art of writing a good essay.
Practice is the key!
Practice, not talent, is the key to success.
Make reading good essays a habit. And more importantly, start writing essays from today.
Participate in the ClearIAS Answer Writing Program (AWP) for mains. It’s completely free!
Understanding Essay Paper in IAS Exam
250 marks out of 2025 (12.3 %) are the weight-age of essay paper on total Civil Services Mains Marks as per the latest UPSC syllabus. Since 2015, candidates are 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.
Time allotted is 3 hours.
Note: Before 2013, UPSC CSE essay paper was only for 200 marks with a single essay to write upon!
UPSC’s expectation from Essay Paper
Examiners will pay special attention to the candidate’s grasp of his/her material, its relevance to the subject chosen and to his/her ability to think constructively and to present his/her ideas concisely, logically and effectively.
How To Write A Good Essay In Civil Service Mains Exam?
- Make a framework (blueprint) of the essay you are going to write first.
- Our advice would be to use simple language. As Anton Chekov once said ‘Brevity is the sister of talent’.
- The idea of using ornamental language to showcase your English vocabulary may backfire at times. But, don’t make your essay sound like a General Studies answer.
- If the introduction can generate curiosity in the reader, that would be great.
- There should be a logical continuation from beginning to end.
- The essay should be organized in well-structured paragraphs coherent with the flow of the essay.
- Don’t be too aggressive or pessimistic in your tone.
- Come up with good points and express new viewpoints.
- Go through well-written essays by experts in newspapers and magazines, and understand how they frame the ‘Introduction’ and ‘Conclusion’ paragraphs.
- In most cases, there will not be any need for separate coaching or preparation for essays, and candidates’ reading and preparation for General Studies Mains should suffice. But make sure your writing and analytical skills are up to the UPSC expectations; if not, polish it.
- Write mock essays and get it evaluated by experts in the field.
Let’s analyze a few previous year UPSC essay papers.
Essay Questions Asked in the UPSC (Mains) Examination
Write an essay on any one of the following topics:
- In the context of Gandhiji’s views on the matter, explore, on an evolutionary scale, the terms ‘Swadhinata’, ‘Swaraj’, and ‘Dharmarajya’. Critically comment on their contemporary relevance to Indian democracy.
- Is the criticism that the ‘Public-Private-Partnership’ (PPP) model for development is more of a bane than a boon in the Indian context, justified?
- Science and Mysticism: Are they compatible?
- Managing work and home – Are the Indian working women getting a fair deal?
- Creation of smaller states and the consequent administrative, economic, and developmental implications.
- Does Indian cinema shape our popular culture or merely reflect it?
- Credit-based higher education system –status, opportunities, and challenges.
- In the Indian context, both human intelligence and technical intelligence are crucial and combating terrorism.
How much is a good score on the UPSC CSE essay paper?
As the essay paper is out of 250, marks which are above 50% can be considered good, ie. 125.
Marks between 110-125 is considered as average.
Marks in the range of 150-160 are possible for exceptional essays.
Note: UPSC may award poorly written essay marks as low as ‘0’ or ’20’. So beware and pay sufficient attention to proper practice.
Important Essay Topics for UPSC CSE
Topics like Women empowerment, Rural Development, Social Justice, Terrorism, Internal Security, etc. are hot topics for essays, and be prepared with various dimensions of the same in the UPSC Exam.
Books that help in Essay Writing for the UPSC Civil Services Exam
- Essays for Civil Services and Other Competitive Examinations by Pulkit Khare.
- Selected Contemporary Essays by Saumitra Mohan (MHE)
- Essay Paper for Civil Services Main Examination by Pavneet Singh and Sonali Bansal