How To Study The Ethics Paper for IAS Mains – Get Your Approach Right!

How To Study Ethics Paper? Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude The General Studies IV Paper in UPSC Civil Services Main Exam checks the Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude of future civil servants. But aspirants are very much confused about how to prepare for the Ethics paper. In this post, let us understand how to study ethics paper of IAS Mains GS.

Ethics Paper is not only about Ethics but also about Integrity, Aptitude etc.

Aspirants have to first understand this. UPSC calls this paper General Studies Paper IV, and it deals with not only ethics but also integrity, attitude, aptitude and so many other important qualities expected from a civil servant.

What is mentioned in the Syllabus for UPSC CSE General Studies Paper IV?

General Studies 4 Paper Syllabus for UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam consists of the below major areas: Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude.

This paper will include questions to test the candidates’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his problem-solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilise the case study approach to determine these aspects.

So, what are the qualities that will be tested in this paper?

  1. Attitude to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life.
  2. Approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life.
  3. Problem-Solving Approach to various issues and conflict faced by him in dealing with society.

Does it ring any bell?

Using this paper, UPSC is trying to find your problem-solving approach. That’s their priority.

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Apart from that, they will also check your ethics, integrity, aptitude, attitude, and your general understanding of the associated philosophies.

Problem Solving Approach of Future Civil Servants – Yes, UPSC Focus on That!

Problem Solving Approach - Ethics Paper ClearIAS

The primary purpose of this paper is to check if the aspirants have the right problem-solving approach if they are put in the shoes of officers. For this, UPSC uses case-studies as well as the other types of questions.

For example, in 2014 UPSC asked about your problem-solving approach for issues connected with Migration (Question Number 14). You may note that this has nothing to do with your ethics, but UPSC is focusing on your problem-solving approach to issues around you.

Qn) In our country, the migration of rural people to towns and cities is increasing drastically. This is causing serious problems both in the rural as well as in the urban areas. In fact, things are becoming really unmanageable. Can you analyze this problem in detail and indicate not only the socio-economic but also the emotional and attitudinal factors responsible for this problem? Also, distinctly bring out why – (a) educated youth are trying to shift to urban areas (b) landless poor people are migrating to urban slums (c) even some farmers are selling off the, land and trying to settle in urban areas taking , petty jobs.
What feasible steps can you suggest which will be effective in controlling this serious problem of our country? (250 words) (20 M)

Attitude – The Next Important Item

Attitude in UPSC CSE Mains Ethics Paper

Apart from questions which check your problem-solving approach, you can also expect questions which check your attitude. For instance, UPSC may check your attitude by asking a case-study which evaluates if you OK with corruption or NOT. Or it can be a direct question about changing the attitudes of people around you. Consider the question from 2016 UPSC Mains.

Qn) Our attitudes towards life, work, other people and society are generally shaped unconsciously by the family and the social surroundings in which we grow up. Some of these unconsciously acquired attitudes and values are often undesirable in the citizens of a modern democratic and egalitarian society. (a) Discuss such undesirable values prevalent in Today’s educated Indians (b) How can such undesirable attitudes be changed and socio-ethical values considered necessary in public services be cultivated in the aspiring and serving civil servants? (150 words)  10 marks

Aptitude – Do you have the right taste and talent?

Attitude for Civil Service

Everyone cannot be a Sachin Tendulkar. Or a Lata Mangeshkar. It’s their taste and talent in the right field which sets them apart.

Do you have the talent to be recognized as a brilliant IAS or IPS officer?

If yes, UPSC Civil Service Exam is for you. And this is the paper which checks your aptitude for Civil Services.

Consider the question from UPSC CSE Mains 2015.

Qn)There is a disaster-prone state having frequent landslides, forest fires, cloudbursts, flash floods and earthquakes, etc. Some of these are seasonal and often unpredictable. The magnitude of the disaster is always unanticipated. During one of the seasons, a cloudburst caused devastating floods and landslides leading to high casualties. There was major damage to infrastructure like roads, bridges and power generating units. This led to more than 100000 pilgrims, tourist and other locals trapped across different routes and locations. The people trapped in your area of responsibility includes senior citizens, patients in hospitals, women and children, hiker, tourist, ruling parties, regional presidents along with his family, additional chief secretary of the neighbouring state and prisoners in jail.

As a civil services officer of the state, what would be the order in which you would rescue these people and why? Give Justifications  (20 Marks) (200 Words)

And finally, Ethics paper is also about Ethics as well…Did we mention the Ethical Dilemma?

Ethics Topics in Ethics Paper UPSC

There will be a number of questions which check the ethics, probity, and integrity of aspirants. Particularly in the days when corruption is no longer a news, this is expected.

To deal with questions on ethics, you should understand the concepts of ethics first (including the difference between ethics and morals). Learn the different dimensions of ethics from the ClearIAS infographics. Human values are also an important topic, so, know the difference between ethics and values.

Consider this questions from UPSC Mains 2016.

Qn) Explain how ethics contributes to social and human well-being. (150 words) 10 marks (b) Why should impartiality and non-partisanship be considered as foundational values in public services, especially in the present day socio-political context? Illustrate your answer with examples. (150 words) 10 marks

Also, very often, an angle of Ethical Dilemma is included in the case studies in the GS Paper IV. Situations will be presented where there will be a conflict of interest. Here, in your problem-solving approach, the additional angle of Ethics should be included.

In the case of questions on Ethical Dilemma, try to come up with out of box thinking. Be innovative and different. This will help you score high marks.

No…not over…You need to add Philosophy!

Ethics and Philosophers

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You need to prepare a little bit about prominent philosophers, leaders, and able administrators around. Otherwise, you would find it difficult to answer questions like the ones below.

“Max Weber said that it is not wise to apply to the public administration the sort of moral and ethical norms we apply to matters of personal conscience. It is important to realize that the state bureaucracy might possess its own independent bureaucratic morality.” Critically analyse this statement. (150 words) 10 marks. – UPSC CSE Mains, 2016

How Should a candidate prepare for Ethics Paper? Should You prepare at all?

Good question.

Yes, you should prepare.

You might be able to spontaneously answer a few questions if you have good creative thinking. But this may not be the case with every question.

As with every other thing, experience and practise help in this paper.

And, believe me, Ethics can be taught 🙂

As you now have clearly understood what exactly UPSC expect from a candidate, it’s time to polish your –

  • (1) Problem Solving Approach
  • (2) Attitude
  • (3) Aptitude
  • (4) Ethics and Integrity
  • (5) Core Philosophies.

Start from the basics.

Build your concepts.

And then move on to case studies.

Make sure you follow the notes and study materials on Ethics available on

Give Ethics Paper (Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude Paper) it’s the due credit!

You can ignore this paper only at your own peril!

Rather if you put the right kind of effort in this paper, you will be surprised at the results!

If you have a creative blend of mind, good language command, great speed of writing – the sky is the limit. There are aspirants who scored 140+ marks (out of 250) for this paper!

Treat Ethics as a Subject in IAS Mains GS but focus on the Application Part and on NOT the Theory (too much)

Yes, this is how you should treat ethics for IAS Mains – treat it as a subject. Just like History, Geography or Polity, consider Ethics as a separate subject with more or less a definite syllabus.

Ethics as a subject has its roots in Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Public Administration. But the difference of Ethics in UPSC perspective is that – rather than concentrating on the theory part, you should focus on the application part – ie problem-solving approach.

Remember that the requirement of UPSC is not to mug too many things for this paper – unlike the agenda propagated by many coaching institutes. UPSC does expect candidates to write a technical answer to ethics paper, as this paper is part of General Studies.

A fresh writing style, clear thinking and wide reading are what you need to score high in ethics paper.

Conventional rote learning will not turn fruitful here.

What one needs is awareness about himself/herself.

Devote time for preparation and reading; that will make you better equipped

Let’s re-emphasise the requirement:

“This paper will include questions to test the candidates’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his problem-solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilize the case study approach to determine these aspects.”

Orignal Thinking and Personal Examples are Better than Anything Else

It’s easy to score very high marks in ethics if you get the idea of cracking this paper (explained above).

Use personal examples, rather than the cliched examples you get from textbooks.

Be original and simple.

Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude Paper Syllabus – Made Simple

  • Ethics and Human Interface: This is one area where you can expect theory questions covering the basics of ethics, human values and lessons from the life of great leaders.
  • Attitude: Your attitude in relation to thought and behaviour.
  • Aptitude: Checks whether you have an aptitude for Civil Services.
  • Emotional Intelligence: A crucial mental quality, don’t confuse with IQ.
  • The contribution of moral thinkers and philosophers: See the relationship of the ethics paper with Philosophy and Sociology.
  • Ethics in Public Administration: This is one major area where you can expect a lot of quality questions covering topics like Corporate Governance, Rules, Laws, Conflicts etc.
  • Probity in Governance: RTI and related matters.

Books to Prepare Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude

Though the entire problem-solving approach, attitude, and ethics cannot be learned from textbooks, they can really help. Now there are many good books available, and you can buy them online. 1-2 books from the below list would be enough. Links below.

For extra reading for those who have the luxury of time!

  1. Ethics and Integrity of Governance: Perspectives Across Frontiers
  2. Public Administration Ethics for the 21st Century
  3. Corruption, Ethics and Accountability: Essays by an Administrator
  4. Ethics and Integrity in Public Administration: Concepts and Cases
  5. Politics and Ethics of the Indian Constitution
  6. Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions
  7. Managerial Ethics: Managing the Psychology of Morality
  8. Ethics – by Frankena K William (Used in many universities)
  9. Human Values and Professional Ethics with Case Studies
  10. IGNOU Text Books on Ethics (BA and MA philosophy)
  11. Psychology Text Book – NCERT
  12. Sociology Text Book – NCERT
  13. 4th report of ARC – Ethics in Governance
  14. Justice with Micheal Sandel (Harvard University Video)

To conclude…

Ever since the introduction of Ethics Paper in IAS Mains General Studies (GS Paper 4), Civil Services aspirants are in a dilemma. As ethics is not a conventional area taught in most schools/ colleges, it is quite natural from the candidate’s point of view to ponder about the questions to be asked from the same. But there is no need to panic and if properly handled, this area is really high scoring.

In fact, UPSC used to check the decision making and problem-solving approach of candidates, much before the introduction of Ethics Paper in Mains. The Decision Making/Interpersonal Skills section seen at the last pages of Prelims CSAT Paper 2 (2011-2013), was to check the Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude angle of Civil Services Aspirants. Now as a dedicated paper in Mains, GS Paper IV has much wider dimensions.

A candidates attitude and approach is the focus area here – and you should always remember this.

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