Civil Services Mains: Strategies for Writing Effective Answers

Civil Services Mains is one of the most challenging stages of the Civil Services exam. The syllabus is enormous, competition is cut throat and the time frame is a binding on the aspirants. Even the most hardworking individuals tend to lose their peace of mind during the course of preparation.

Yet, the best make it each year despite all odds and that is the category you should aspire for too. Answer writing is an extremely important skill and a CSE aspirant cannot skip practicing answers.

It must be dealt with methodically and patiently. The more you practice, the better it will be during the Mains stage.

I say this with my own experience and insist on you trying out the same.

Practicing answer writing has 2 benefits:

  • Helps you with remembering concepts in the exam
  • Helps you with time management

An aspirant should develop the craft of writing good and crisp answers so that the examiner understands them clearly.

Crisp and ‘to the point’ answers will make sure that you get awarded with the appropriate marks.

A lot of aspirants waste precious time in understanding concepts verbally.

 Written practice seems to be an invasion to their set schedule.

However, it will be the written answers alone that will finally feature you in the merit list.

What is the best way to practice answers?

The best way to practice writing answers is by daily assignments.

Making notes comes in handy here.

Aspirants who are in the habit of making hand-written notes are already at an advantage here.

Reason being, the same notes can be converted into full-fledged answers.

Now this will serve two purposes:

  • The fact that you’ve created answers yourself will help you retain the subject matter.
  • You’ll save time while creating answers.

Additionally, you can register at certain websites for gaining access to daily answer writing sessions.

A few of them will also provide you with gifts in the form of CSE resources, in case your answers are good enough and worth publishing.

Understanding essential terms

The terms that are used in questions set for the Mains stage should be understood be candidates at all costs.

While practicing answer writing, these essential terms should be kept in mind at all times.

I’ll try to simplify the terms for with reference to random topics from the syllabus.

1. Discuss

To express your opinion (in totality) about something.

For instance, a discussion on GST Bill will include both the negatives as well as positives.

2. Explain

To put forward a piece of information about something.

For instance explaining the phenomena of bio-magnification and its impact on the food chain.

3. Comment

To simply express one’s opinion.

For instance, commenting on the state of Indian politics.

4. Examine/Critically examine

To carefully analyse something.  

For instance, to examine the peace keeping role of United Nations in Middle Eastern countries.

5. Evaluate/Critically evaluate 

To determine something.

For instance, to evaluate the strategic importance of Indian Ocean. When the word critically gets prefixed to any word, it means that it is expected of you to judge a concept in its entirety.

Top writing hacks that every civil services aspirant must follow:

1. Handwritten notes

Make handwritten notes and modify them regularly.

They might seem traditional, but will prove immensely useful.

Stick to the prescribed word limit.

Make relevant changes according to the word limit.

This will not only help you gather useful content but also help you save time in the exam.

2. Use your own content

Use the content of the notes effectively in the exam as and when asked in the respective questions.

Using your own content will help you gain confidence.

Create and curate content yourself.

Remember it is an exam and not an extempore competition where you need to express opinions on the spot.

3. Refer to multiple resources

Always refer to multiple resources while crafting notes and hence answers.

You will be able to gather a lot of information and put it to one source.

This way you will develop an excellent grasp on the subject matter.

Also, you will have access to first hand information on multiple topics and concepts.

4. Create answers out of notes

Each note should be an answer in itself.

This will not be easy at first but eventually you’ll master the art.

Once you’re able to craft answers out of notes, you’ll be able to save precious amount of time.

Use that time in portions that require you to think more.

5. Revision

Revise your notes and answers.

Failing to revise will lead to forgetting of concepts and starting over will be an irksome task.

The more you revise, the better you’ll be able to attempt questions in the actual exam.

Revise notes daily, weekly, monthly and nobody can stop you from qualifying the exam.

6. Online answer writing assignments

A lot of websites offer aspirants the opportunity to use their platform as a way to practice answers.

A personal favourite is Insights on India. Register there and get yourself evaluated.

7. Start practicing writing answers immediately. 

There is no substitute to practice in Civil Services exam.

If you don’t practice now, you’ll waste an entire year.

Make your attempt count.

The current post has also been published on Rediff, India. 



Akriti Mattu


  1. I want to join coaching for test series(for writing practice and analysis).But I don’t want to go delhi due to pollution and high cost of living.Also I can’t study at home.Mam provide me some other city where its coaching provides good quality test series and that which can make me good in answer writing.My main motive of going outside is to have a sound answer writing capability and to have practiced a lot number of questions for prelims at the end.

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