Gaurav Agarwal IAS Topper: How to Improve Answer Writing
Gaurav Agarwal IAS Topper 2013: UPSC GS Mains: How to Improve Answer Writing
Article shared by Gaurav Agarwal
Disclaimer: These are just my inferences from my experiences last year. May be all this is wrong… may be I get as bad or even worse marks than last years. No guarantees. But that is life… When obstacles come, we change course and try to steer our way around them somehow 🙂
I gave my first mains in 2012. My preparation was excellent and I thought I had written all the papers reasonably well. That my preparation was not lacking can be seen from the fact that I got in 130s in prelims GS paper and since prelims I had only improved the preparation. The interview was good as well.
Yet I could secure a rank in only 200s. Everybody except me thought I would have got less marks in History since I had no background in it (took it only out of interest). Economics was my other optional. But when the final marks came, the picture turned out to be entirely different – and frankly darker for me. For it turned out that it was not history which sunk me, but GS and Essay. I had scored reasonably good marks in Economics (280s) and History (240s) and interview (210s) but failed miserably in GS (170s) and Essay (80s). GS and Essay combined took me over 80 marks below average!
I was disappointed and frustrated – for I didn’t know what went wrong in GS and Essay. And the bad news was that from 2013, weight of GS and Essay, where I had scored miserably, would become more than double while that of optional, where I had done well, would be halved. Had history been the culprit, I could have simply dropped it next time and given the exam again without doing anything extra. But it was now GS, with double marks, and I didn’t know what went wrong and what to improve – forget about how to improve. Its like being stranded in the middle of Pacific on a small boat without sails and rudder in a dark hurricane night… And yet we are expected to find the coast on the next morning!
Anyways, one thing would be clear to anybody given the above marks distribution – the main problem lay not in preparation but in answer writing. And so it had to be answer writing alone which had to be improved drastically, even at the cost of preparation.
So how to write better GS answers
So I analyzed, joined 3 test series, wrote answers, sent them to some friends for feedback, discussed with my father and finally felt following things were important.
– GS and optionals answers are completely different. In optionals, one can write a PhD types answer and be confident of getting good marks – because the examiner who is checking an economics paper would be an economist herself. But in GS this will not work. The examiner who is checking the economics answer in a GS paper in more likelihood would not be an economist. She would be a generalist with limited knowledge and interest in the subject.
– So if you write some specialized answer or use some specific terms or models from your optional while writing a GS answer, good luck! Most probably the examiner would not understand/appreciate it. And she would not spend additional time or effort in going back and study the term/model you wrote. She would simply give a zero.
– Similarly, if you write any unconventional answers like say Aadhar cash transfers are not going to increase inflation and even give a logic based proof from basic economics, the examiner will not give any marks. Because she would have read mainstream media where everybody is saying Aadhar transfers would increase inflation. And she has no interest in taking the pain to understand a contrarian view point in your answer. Her life would be much simpler if she just gives a zero.
– So the bottom line is, our answer should be such that they make the life easier for the examiner. She would be happy while reading them and would give us more marks. So no PhD types stuff… just stick to basic points and present them in a way which is easy to read.
– Next, this exam is not a science exam. This is a generalist exam, a humanities exam. Its like a BA or MA exam. In a science exam, if there are 5 points in an answer but point number 1 is the most important point and rest are insignificant as compared to point 1, so if you cover point 1 only in your answer in great detail showing good understanding, you would get good marks. But in a BA, MA exam this doesn’t work. You have to not only write those 5 points, but also invent 2 more points and write. Only then the examiner would feel that you have covered all ‘relevant’ points. So one cannot ignore the trivial points and has to blindly write everything.
– Going further, in BA MA exams, if the question asks something say what is RBI doing to contain inflation and you answer all the points (including the trivial points) on what is RBI doing to contain inflation, you still won’t get good marks. Your answer still won’t be considered complete. In BA MA exams, an answer would be complete if we also write a bit about what preceded the question and what succeeded it. For example, in this RBI question, if I also write 1 para in the beginning on what is causing this high inflation and 1 para in the end on the effect of high inflation if RBI is not able to control, my answer would be considered better (even though a science student would find all this utter stupidity).
– Now the question arises, how to think of so many points in the exam hall? Well, because this is a BA MA exam and doesn’t require any specialist knowledge, the good thing is, if we just pause and think for 1-2 minutes before writing an answer in the exam hall, we would be able to recollect 70-80% of the points.
– Another thing which helps is to beforehand prepare a list of points for few broad topics. For example, one can remember 10 points on how to improve citizen charter, 10 points on how to remove corruption, 8 points on how to contain inflation, 7 on small states or not, 10 on problems of panchayats and so on… The good thing is these broad topics are limited and most questions in the GS exam come only as a subset of these broad topics or ask a particular aspect of these broad topics. Once you remember this block of points on any broad topic and a question comes asking you to look at the topic from a particular angle, you can easily and very quickly modify your existing points to meet the demands of the question. Then you just have to write 1 para each on what came before the question and what happens after the question, and your answer is complete.
– Finally on presentation style. Many coachings tell many things. Don’t believe in any of them. Just use common sense. The examiner is a human being who is checking your copies not because of any interest but because its her job. She would like to get over with it as soon and with as little mental pain as possible and attend to rest of her life. So just present your answers in a way which you think makes her life easier. Personally, I preferred writing point and section wise answers this time with proper section and sub sectional headings. It gives an impression that I have covered all aspects, given a thought to the answer before writing and created a structure. But the choice is yours.
Through this article, I just hope to help some others who may be finding themselves in the same small, rudderless boat in the middle of the Pacific as I found myself after the result last year – and may be again will find after this year’s results.
Anyways, I understand that merely reading the above words is not sufficient in improving answer writing. One has to practice. I didn’t have any systematic guidance and practiced in near darkness. May be I am still in dark. But I want to try my best to make life easier for other deserving students.