How to write answers in civil services mains

Answer Writing Strategy for Mains Exam

In this article we will discuss and learn with various terminologies which are used in questions by UPSC especially in the Mains examination like Discuss, Elaborate, and Enumerate etc.

Before we move into the topic we would like to suggest aspirants that "Do not leave your answer sheet blank even if you don't know the exact meaning of the world or exactly what question is asking, you should write something". Even if you don't know about the terminologies like what is mean by 'elaboration' than also you should write something in the answer. Because there is a very high overlap between various terms like discuss, analyze, expand or substantiate etc. More or less, there is a very high overlap so, answer will not be very different, and the same content remains.

Because you should know this terminologies and they will help you in getting good marks and more marks will get you a top rank. So, write something and this is the first principle for mains.

Example of a Standard Answer


Write according to the question asked by the examiner and this is the first priority and possibility. Write what you know about similar or related keywords of the topic. Another thing is writing in Bullet format, as far as possible one should follow the same format in order to conclude all parts of an answer. These are: 1. Introduction, 2. Body, 3. Conclusion

Now, some people when start writing answer they actually write Introduction, Body and Conclusion and then they start. So, do not make this mistake in exam, you don't need to literally write the terms. It is understood that these are introduction, body & conclusion, please do not make this mistake and do not do this in essay also.

Important Terms


Enumerate: It means that you just list down the points about the topic and don't need for detailed explain.

Narrate: It means you have to have time associations, 'Early to late' this is how narration occurs. So, temporal (time related) sequencing is critical and your can also predict that what will be its course in future (if is it asking? otherwise you can give a good answer).

Define: It simply means write the definition. You should try to reproduce verbatim and at least include all possible keywords and phrases which you know are the essential part of that particular definition.

Evaluate / Assess / Examine: It means detailed explanation and this is the most commonly asked type. You should write in details whatever you know, just write one to two lines of introduction followed by three to four lines favour and three to four lines in against. You have to write one to two lines implications if any then limitations of the concepts and finally conclusion of two to three lines. So, this is how you write when it is asking to evaluate, assess or examine.

Opinion / Comment / Views: Whenever it is asking your opinion it should be full of optimism and your answer should make you look like full of zeal and enthusiasm. You must give constructive opinion with optimistic, future oriented and progressive approach. But remember that your opinion should not be your own personal opinion, you need to write largely acceptable.

Purpose / Goal / Objective / Target: Just wrote what it wants to achieve, what is its purpose, goal, objectives or targets.

Analyse: When it comes to analyse, it is same as evaluation, assessment or examination plus your opinion is also needed here. So, once you give your opinion it means you are interpreting the event according to your knowledge apart from detailed explanations (details are obviously needed).

Discuss: It is the most frequently asked term and it means you write anything what you want. You write whatever you know but most important thing is write as if you are talking to the examiner. It is mostly used in framing questions and you can include different opinion into that picture.

Describe: This is the easiest thing to do and just theoretical knowledge is required here. You have to write basically its parts, what it is made up of, constituents, characteristics and attributes.

Critically: This one is the most important term and favourite of UPSC. Whenever it is asking Critically Examine, Critically Comment or Critically Analyse just remember that you have to write both pros and cons and give a fair, unbiased or value loaded judgement. It should always give a closure feeling while examiner reading the answer.

Elucidate / Elaborate / Expand / Exemplify: These are more of less similar words but not exactly the same. How? Elucidate means make it clear, so you can give examples and an explanation in simple language to make it clear. Elaborate and Expand are the same words and it means detailed explanations. Exemplify means - give a typical example of that particular category. Whenever you are give such examples in these four categories you have to include contemporary affairs connections or current affairs.

  • Implications / Consequences / Outcomes / Results: It simply means write the possible scenario or impacts which can result due to the event in question.
  • Contrast / Distinguish: It means write differences not similarities. You can write similarities as well as differences if it is asking to Compare and Contrast.
  • Significance / Importance: What happens because it exists or what happen if it doesn't exist.
  • Justify / Advocate: It means you have to argue in favour and write favourable comments as far as possible.
  • Illustrate: it means use examples; data, diagrams and charts to make it clearer (clarify by giving an example).