Mains Answer Writing

There is already enough number of tips and fundaes being discussed on various forums to how to write better answers in Mains. Well, I would spare these repetitions and wish to share just one perspective which I got hold of during my own preparations.

Take every question being asked in the paper as a question posed to you by a media person or as simple as a child while you are interacting with an open assembly in a school. So get under the skin of a bureaucrat and try to simulate how would you have answered in the given situation with right tenor and overall temperament. For ex:

GS Paper 2 Q.No. 10 ‘In the Indian governance system, the role of non-state actors has been only marginal.’ Critically examine this statement. In the given case, imagine if same would have been asked by a reporter to you (Law enforcing officer) How would you have defended or supported the given statement with relevant examples, precedents or antagonistic cases.


GS Paper 2 Q.No. 8 ‘ What is a quasi judicial body? Explain with the help of concrete examples’ If a senior secondary child asks this question, I would focus on what exact powers are attributed to it in relation to a common legal authority. For ex summoning, issuing orders, investigation, seizures, statements etc. And I would try to highlight each of these powers by taking relevant examples of existing quasi judicial bodies like FC, EC, CAG, CVC etc.

GS Paper 3 Q.No. 7 ‘ What is water use efficiency? Describe the role of micro irrigation in increasing the water use efficiency’ In this case I would first define the term water use efficiency. Then would emphasize upon current statistics of same within the country (and if possible of other countries like Israel in this case). Then would just mention various reasons of such low efficiency in the country. And in last part how micro irrigation techniques can help (again relevant examples of other geographical locations or within the country statistics). More importantly it can also be discussed why high water use efficiency has become the need of hour in the country given the inter-state water disputes, hygiene quotients, agriculture productivity etc

This approach might actually not help in building your content(matter) but can at-least enrich your experience( i.e manner of answer writing) to how to take a bow and deliver a most relevant, succinct and compact answer to your audience.

Also, in coming years it won’t be necessary that as an officer you would always be asked only from a prescribed list of readings or would always get a time to rehearse and practice beforehand. Some statements, some answers would be given spontaneously with adequate use of common sense and already accumulated knowledge of the issue at hand. Similar is the case in UPSC mains too, where there will always be few questions which we might not know accurately but with legitimate assumptions and balanced use of language we can write about them too.

And in those cases where we might not have faintest of idea, we can leave it as we would have done in front of real audience instead of saying something really stupid.

Test Series Answer Booklets

I am uploading my checked answer copies of VisionIAS.

General Studies 1 (unchecked) Vision GS1 Test 1 (760) Answer Booklet

General Studies 2 Vision GS4 Test 1 (762) Answer Booklet

General Studies 3 Vision GS3 Test 1 (759) Answer Booklet

General Studies 4 Vision GS4 Test 1 (760) Answer Booklet



For now I have uploaded Optics answer booklet only in the Google drive folder, soon enough I would also upload others too.

PS: Post discussion of Optics test I felt that I had written a lot and had thus compromised on attempt and accuracy in couple of questions in this test, which I later tried to rectify.

Sir, has always insisted that 10 marker questions should be answered in 1 page and 15-20 markers in not more than 2 pages with all relevant diagrams, formulas and answers.

Google Drive link:

Note making and my Evernote notes of GS


As promised earlier, I am sharing my online notes of General studies. My main purpose behind this is to just share the idea that how exactly I  managed ‘all’ the relevant information and the subtopics in GS for the final output in the mains examination. I had prepared 2 set of notes: one set was handwritten – prepared from the standard textbooks. This was largely to remember things in my own way( for ex converting Ethics lexicon in 10 A4s). Second set of notes were online – prepared to manage the dynamic portion of exam. For ex day-to-day events, readings from Internet etc.

For the latter I preferred online version as I found them more handy, as in it was easier to add or take out any part from the online notes as compared to handwritten ones. (given the fact that we need them for good amount of 2 years in which various things keep on changing). Also, it is little bit easier to search and organize dynamic notes online.

How I organized Evernote Notes:

I had divided whole notes in the following format; where I divided and stacked the subtopics paperwise, like Geography, History, Sociology in GS1 and so on forth. The numerals beside each subtopic indicates the number of individual notes (for ex: in given image Agriculture sub topic of GS3 has 6 main topics to cover which are covered separately in 6 different notes.)


General Note Making:

While notes making I used to ensure the holistic viewpoint i.e. trying to prepare any topic comprehensively. That is besides knowing the factual details of anything I used to also summarize the overall +ve and -ve of anything and everything. For ex: Talking of MGNREGA, it is necessary to analyze and evaluate the scheme for both its pro and cons and also with a way ahead so as to how the cons can be managed and can be tuned down.



GS 1: 



Social Issues

GS 2: 


International Relations

Policies & Governance


GS 3:






Science and Tech


GS 4:






Committees and Models

Online world and my journey with UPSC

These days it is said that Internet is gonna be the biggest equalizer for it is largely open, accessible and contemporary. There is number of ways in which it proved to be true. Honestly speaking if one is sincere and motivated enough to keep up the momentum, Internet has got it all to take us ‘there’ where we all dream and aspire about. I am sharing my story of in what ways did I use it for good or bad while preparing for UPSC CSE 2016.

Assistance #1 : Getting to know of the basic structure of the whole examination i.e. formats of Prelims, Mains and Personality test. I would say that in this examination the second lap of race matters the most (and perhaps requires maximum amount of dedication). In this regard, I followed a couple of blogs, Quora answers and toppers interviews on Insights and Mrunal (links followed). It was based upon these sources I could decide upon my optional subject and also the fact that whether I would want to join any coaching for GS or not.

Based upon all collected information, I broadly divided the whole syllabus in two ways

Prelims: Polity  Geography  Economy  Environment  History  Current affairs


GS1 ( History Geography Socio)

GS2 (Polity Governance IR)

GS3 (Economy Environment Security)

GS4 (Ethics)

Assistance #2 : Providing various sources to prepare from. I began one by one with each topic as follows:

Polity: I started watching Pradhanmantri and Samvidhan series on YouTube while I was in the job. Later, Lakshmikant and NCERT (our constitution at work) were sufficient to develop an understanding of basic political structure of the country.

Economy: I really had a tough time at the start with this subject. In initial 3 weeks of preparation I could make very little sense of economy sections in TheHindu. But then I came across the Mrunal’s videos on economy and they were wonderful. After doing them once for ever, I never felt any less confident in this particular topic. In fact a couple of my friends who otherwise had attended ‘prestigious’ classroom classes after paying good amount of money themselves started following Mrunal.

GeographyAnother nightmare for me. I had never been that sound at this subject. And to aggravate, XI NCERT is of little help to begin with. But once again Mrunal came to rescue for Ratanjali’s lectures were put which were very good and appropriate. I made my own hand notes while following all these lectures and gave a couple of readings to NCERT afterwards to find things had begun to come in control.

History and Environment: As they are quite static in nature. Thus, I followed the standard books (NCERTs + Spectrum + ShankarIAS) to cover it all. Except I downloaded all the relevant lists from Wikipedia related to environment like – Ramsar sites, National parks, state animals etc

Ethics: I had read about Michael Sandel lectures on justice, being recommended by one of the toppers in past and to my pleasure they were far above than expectations. Perhaps among all the video lectures I enjoyed them the most. They forced me to think and argue. They stirred the rational thinking, reason and logic to arrive to an answer by ourselves. Also, DK Balaji’s note on InsightsonIndia to how to prepare for ethics was a real guidance. I had downloaded it as Pdf and must have read for multiple times. Along with it lexicon and pdf links given on InsightsonIndia were also of good help.

Current Affairs: I used to read TheHindu to get to know daily affairs. Besides it I also followed VisionIAS monthly current affairs and Insights Daily Current affairs quiz and daily current affairs.

Besides it all I religiously followed the Spotlight, Moneytalk and Countrywide on AIR 106.4 FM. I used to take notes in bullets while listening to these talk shows. I found them to be of high quality for they often used to contain the perspectives which otherwise were missing in newspaper articles. Also, it used to be refreshing to take a break on my eyes and let the ears do some work instead.

Assistance #3 : Some online initiatives taken by various websites which were of immense help. Some of them have been briefed up as follows:

Insight’s Daily debates: In this Insights used to pose a question for instance (should women be given 33% reservation in legislatures) and I used to debate it in both for and against the motion. But as instructed by Insights I used to do it impromptu and without any background reading. That is I straight used to write pros and cons in my relevant note (here in women issues) in just 3-4 minutes. This exercise helped me developing a temperament and confidence where I became ready to talk about anything in both + and – ways (which is desired in our mains answer writing and essays).

Insight’s Mindmaps : A wonderful approach to fit it all in our heads. I used to download all the mindmaps in JPEG and later convert them in Pdf format. With the help of NitroPDF I used to convert these Pdfs editable by using OCR function in it. This helped me in highlighting and commenting on the pdfs itself. Result? I had one mindmap for each topic/issue with all the highlights and comments. Thus at the end it was very organic and productive to revise and have all the connections in my head. An example is followed.


Insights Secure : Though I followed it for very short period of time but I can say it was very helpful. In initial days I used to fill in pages taking 15 minutes to write single answer which was still felt to be inadequate and lacking the poignant points in first place. But as suggested, I started following a couple of students on Disqus (why_so_serious, nightfury and knowledgebuff) and with time, I could develop a sense to how to approach a question, to understand the basic demands of the same.

Insights weekly Essay challenges: Though I have scored less in essay but still I must admit that I started following this initiative well in advance of 6 months of Prelims. As expected at first I had no clue to how to write an essay for CSE but after following the same users on Disqus I could get hold of knack of what UPSC essay is all about.

Insights Motivational Posts: Among all the posts that I used to receive in my inbox the most awaited ones used to be the motivational ones (those in which no author was being mentioned) for they usually come randomly and perhaps at the most suited times. I still remember one post which was send prior to Prelims 2016 which is pure beauty and class.

I am a big fan of Insights and Mrunal and it is really overwhelming to click this blue colored word reading ‘Unsubscribe’. I thank you Insights and Mrunal and team for their great efforts and vision which is giving wings to the available technology to realize its real intended purpose.

Thank You!


Useful Links:

Gaurav Agrawal AIR 1 CSE 2013 blog entries: 

GS Preparation Strategy

His take on coaching

His views on how to choose an optional

Ethics preparation strategy

DK Balaji AIR 36 CSE 2014 article on Insights

Insights article to how to prepare GS IV


Michael Sandel Lectures on Justice



Mrunal’s lectures on Economy

Mrunal’s lectures on Geography