How do I improve my writing skills for the UPSC?

improve my writing skills

Keep all these points very well in your mind. I have written them after giving due thought and time:

  1. Write about 15–18 words per mark for a 250 mark question paper to be attempted in 3 hours i.e. you should be writing about 3750–4500 words in three hours. And mind it this has to be good quality stuff. UPSC in my experience demands both - quantity and quality. The ratio is this for a 250 mark question paper: “1 Mark = 15–18 words = 10 seconds”
    1. for 10 marker - it is 150 words in 6 min 40 seconds
    2. for 12.5 marker it is 190 words in 8 min 40 seconds.
  2. Come directly to the point which has been asked in the question. Do not waste time writing an unwanted introduction. At the max you may write the introduction as following:
    1. Question: How to alleviate poverty in India?
    2. Answer: Poverty can be alleviated in India in the following manner: and then start writing the answer ahead.
  3. Write as many points as possible. Target writing at least 15–20 points per answer.
    1. this is a challenging part of answer writing for which you are studying.
    2. You will need to think fast, quickly. I often say that imagination is better than recalling. What does not come to you instinctively will need to be recalled. Recalling slows down things. Imagination using common sense is much easier and faster. Practice will make it much easier.
  4. Each point as far as possible should be linked to the question asked.
    1. If the question asked is How to alleviate poverty in India? Then suppose if your point is education. Don’t just write that education will alleviate property. Write it like this → Education will bring skill, which will lead to employability, self-business and other work opportunities - all leading to increase in income and fall in poverty levels.
    2. What I mean to say is that interlink whatever you can. Link every answer directly to the question asked.
  5. Use simple English. Use apt words. No place, space or time for exhibition of your skill in language. The examiner should get to understand your maximum number of points in a minimum number of words and a minimum amount of time. Use keywords and phrases which one would like to hear. e.g. If I am describing to you what is sugar - how can the answer be complete without keyword like sweet?
  6. Use vague terms whenever you need them. Like probably, huge chance, almost, etc.
  7. Use data if you know it. Don’t use data if you don’t know it. It hardly makes a difference. I scored good marks with not much data. Actually, the trick is that you do not need to make a special focus on data. You will remember some data without really focussing on it. Like the contribution of agriculture to the GDP of India and so on.
  8. Quote some authority if you can. Not necessary. But it is good to have a name or two in answer. I hardly wrote any authority in the exam.
  9. For a ten marker in 250 mark paper in 3 hours - write at home with splendid respect for time. Write ten marker in 6 min 40 seconds. Not even a second more. Stop then and there. Do not try to reduce time from let us say of your speed at 10 minutes to 6 min 40 seconds. Stick to 6 min 40 seconds and then increase your speed.
  10. Write legibly. I improved my handwriting. It is possible.
  11. If you can draw diagrams, it is fine. If you cannot draw diagram it makes no difference. Draw diagram IF ONLY you can do very quickly without compromising on the number of points and the time limit. I drew only one diagram in the three GS papers.
  12. Create than recall if you have not so good memory. Use common sense and logic.
  13. Join test series. Do not follow them much. So many of them are in market for making money and money alone. Greedy people out there. They will first tell you this and then that. Just do what I am sharing above and you will see your score rising everywhere. Some test series people say that you get marks only when you write answers according to them. Which is a wrong approach. Israel Jeba Singh and Vision and a few others are good enough for mains. I experimented with their test series. Played a bluff many a time. And I came to all these conclusions only after much experimenting.
  14. Points Vs paragraphs. No one cares about that. Idea is to make the examiner read your answer. I wrote a mixture of two depending on the comfort I had with a particular question.
  15. Underline or not - It adds to reading for the examiner easier. It also helps you trick the examiner as when you underline a point, there is a probability that the examiner will read your that one underlined point than the whole answer. Underlining does not mean to make your copy full of lines. Just one word that can describe the whole sentence/point.
  16. Colour of pen used - Stick to blue and black or blue alone. Even for underlining. It makes a very less difference whether you used colours or not. Dont waste your time in this.
  17. Always conclude your answer with the question that has been asked.
  18. Make sure you have answered all parts of the question asked. If they ask you 5 parts in one question make sure you answer them all.
  19. Answers the questions you think you can answer well directly. Rest questions later. Low hanging fruit must be acquired at the earliest.
  20. Keep a constant check on time. You should know instinctively that the time for a particular question is up.
  21. Whenever you sit for practice always make sure that you do not write just 3–4 questions. Write atleast for 1.5 hours to begin with. By the time exam comes you should be writing 4 hours non stop so that in exam you can write for 3 hours with full energy. If you write 2–3 answers or if you write for half an hour even near exam, i can tell you it will not work.
    1. I repeat - DO NOT WRITE 2–3 answers. Your stamina in the examination hall is very important. All kind of emotions occur sitting in the examination hall. You will recall your happiest and saddest moments sitting there. Writing is like meditation. You will need full focus.
    2. The plan should be to start straight away with 1 hour. and then increasing it up to 4 hours. This is very important because you do not want to write there with stamina at its fag end in 3 hours. Horses should be in full swing during all the 180 minutes.
    3. Most people do good in the paper in the first half. Then starts the real game. To clear this exam you have to win it all.
  22. Do not try to copy other’s answers. BE YOURSELF. this is very important. Do not write what others are writing. Be yourself. This will get you many more marks.
  23. There can not be a question to which you do not know the answer. It is a myth that you know nothing about the question asked. You will know something at least about every question. Do not take absolute bluff like if I ask you what is pink revolution? this is a very specific question. You can not say that Pink revolution is about the pink flowers blooming in Netherland. that will be wrong. But if there is a linked question like how will it help improve health of people? it is certain that it is about health of people. so you can say that with pink revolution more nutrition will reach people with low costs leading to improvement in health of people. so be careful here. And if it is related to health of people then chances of it being related to anything other than flowers is high
    1. Practice will playa great role here. You should be spending more time writing than reading. You will get marks for what is on your answer sheet and not what you actually know. You might know a lot more than what is on answer sheet. This should not become a hindrance. So a very good balance tilting in favour of writing is required.
    2. Attempting an answer which is unknown to you can be a little difficult, nevertheless, if you learn this art, then it will help you.
    3. Do not write everything that you know. Write what has been asked.
  24. Do not ever feel that you are repeating some point. If question demands repetition of points, it is not your problem. It is a problem of question paper setter. So need not worry at all about this.
  25. The judgment of SC is more important than the name of the case in which it was held. You may use words like “in a pre-decided case” than name of judgement if you do not recall it. For data part - analysis of data is more important, the conclusion out of data is more important than the data itself. e.g. ~48% population of India is dependent on agriculture is a good data to quote. But what are its implications? that is more important. If you are quoting anyone - the quote is more important than the person who said it. It is ok to mess up a quote and not write in toto. You can do so by using single inverted commas (‘’) than double (“”).
  26. When you start writing answers do not waste your 1–2 minutes having a glance of the question paper. Your thoughts might get cluttered with the thought of some question asked in paper.
    1. Just start writing with the first question that you see. Just read that particular question. Answer it. Now read next question answer it.
    2. Yes, like many of us here, I also had temptation to have a cursory glance of the question paper. But it is of hardly any use. In relative terms saving 1–2 minutes is more important than cursory glance.
      1. Rather use this 1–2 minutes if you really want to, after 90 minutes. This small break in middle will refreshen your mind. Idea is to keep the brain as fresh as possible for those three hours so that you can concentrate well.
    3. Your joy and excitement will know no bounds when you will see that exactly after 90 minutes you are done with half the paper. That is the trick.
  27. Write what is asked, not everything that you know.
  28. Keep your stomach filled when you write. Do not over eat or remain hungry. Both conditions will create problem. Curd mixed with sugar is best thing to eat before exam. It keeps stomach filled and keeps it away from acidity.
  29. Do not get distracted from anyone’s gaze, thought of any emotion including love, revenge etc. Do an act of kindness before exam days - like give away money/food to needy. This will calm your mind in a big way and that in effect will mean better performance.
  30. Make headings. That helps reading answers for the examiner easy. This is specially true for questions which have multiple questions asked in a single question.
  31. One good trick that helped me a lot - This is what my wife taught me → The length of the answer is predetermined. The space given to you on answer is predetermined. Now use this thing. When you first start writing, rather than writing the answer from one end to other end - You may divide the whole answer space given into various headings. Since the thoughts in brain are random, you can write those thoughts as it is but under the relevant heading which you have already written on paper. This way you need not waste your time organising the answer. It also takes lesser amount of toll on the brain for those three hours meaning thereby that you will be more fresh and thus write better answers.
  32. Review of your answers: Keep in mind all the things I have mentioned here. See to it if you are able to write in the constraints and in the way I have mentioned. You just do this much and you will be good to go. If you want review from someone else - tell them these criterion. Simple as that. If you know you have taken more than the given time - then the review is of poor use. Performance when you write answer of 12.5 mark question in 8 min 40 sec and when you write same answer in 10 min is drastically different. Do not mess with time at any cost.
    1. Rather than spending too much time on reviewing, just check if you doing what is suggested here before moving on. Still got questions let me know and I will be happy to answer them.
    2. You want me to review? - mail me or text me on phone.
  33. Grammar and spelling etc have a bleak role to play in answer writing. I have seen people who are bad on both accounts getting good marks. Content matters much more people. Time is limited. Use it to your advantage. Focus on right thing.

I will add more point if needed be.

Please do comment and let me know about how it goes. Your comments encourage me to write more and write better.

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Below this line you may like to save your one minute by not reading it as it is not really related to the question asked. Just sharing my experience. Still interested? Read on:

PS: Spilling the beans. I learned these lessons with great difficulty. There was no one to help. There was no one to tell me what to do about this. When I asked few teachers they 'proclaimed' that this is a stupid question and can be resolved in less than five minutes.

Then there were some ‘thug’ coaching walas if I may call them so, who ‘proclaimed’ that they can teach me anything specially the art of writing if I give them few thousand rupees.

I avoided them both.

It was the answer to this question which played an important role, in clearing the civil services exam, for me.

Sharing what I learned with the world so that at least some of you don't have to suffer the same agony again.


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