Rau's IAS Study Circle

How to write an essay

Print edition : June 07, 2019

V.P. Gupta, CMD, RAU's IAS Study Circle. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Interview with V.P. Gupta, CMD, Rau’s IAS Study Circle.

How does an essay impact overall performance in a competitive examination?

Most students score a standard level of marks in four General Studies papers, but the same is not true of the Essay paper. The Essay provides an opportunity for a student to display her knowledge and analytical understanding. It is this 250-marks Essay paper that catapults a student towards a high score in the main examination in the UPSC.

In the UPSC main examination, what are the likely topics for essays and how can students access such material during their preparation?

Thematic areas that are frequently asked in the Essay paper are: Governance reforms; Education reforms; Economic issues—for instance, agriculture reforms, fiscal federalism, issue of jobless growth; Women’s empowerment; Social justice and development of India’s society.

Other topics that are occasionally asked are: Environment conservation; Security issues; Combating terrorism; Multipolarity.

Essay writing requires comprehensive knowledge and an understanding of a broad range of issues. There is no single source to master it. The task of the student is to connect the dots of knowledge from multiple sources—school textbooks, newspapers, guidelines and practice provided at coaching centres, audio and visual media, movies, documentaries, and so on.

What are the key requisites of a good essay? What should be the structure of the essay?

The structure comprises an introduction, the main body and a conclusion. For a 1,200-word essay, the introduction should be around 100-120 words, the main body some 1,000 words and the conclusion around 100-120 words. The introduction should be like an attractive movie trailer that gives a hint/glimpse of the things to come. So, the best way of an introduction is to illustrate a topic with an example.

The main body should analyse the historical/cultural, political/legal, economic, geographical/environmental, psychological, and behavioural aspects of the topic. It is expected to analyse gaps, look into challenges and opportunities, and suggest logical solutions with respect to the topic. Opinions should be substantiated with authentic data. The conclusion should be optimistic, providing a silver lining and benefiting society.

How much time should a student allocate towards essay writing in the examination? How can the student get started in writing an effective essay?

In the Essay paper, three hours are allotted for writing two essays. One will get 90 minutes each for the essays. So, it boils down to effective time management.

The UPSC tests the planned response of a student. As such, the first 10 minutes of the 90 minutes should be utilised in collecting all the points with respect to the topic, noting them in rough space, and arranging them in the order that each idea is to be developed. This will indicate a coherence of thought and reflect the writer’s approach to proper planning and response.

How important is language in essay writing? If a student is weak in English, what reading should he/she do to improve his/her language proficiency?

The language should be simple and effective. Class 10-level English is more than sufficient to put thoughts effectively. Whatever the student writes should be easy to understand and this is a workplace requirement.

To increase effectiveness in writing, one should read interesting texts such as school story books, English comic books and easy-to-comprehend newspapers.

What should be the tone of the essay—formal/lighthearted or a combination of both?

Both. The topics are formal, but they should be dealt in a lighthearted manner with the use of examples, case studies, anecdotes, historical incidents, and life observations.

How many hours of practice is required for essay writing in a competitive examination?

Writing is an art which cannot be developed in a day. The logical way of approaching an essay is to start mastering 200 words on polity, economy and society. This gradually results in combining the knowledge of various thematic areas to create a 1,200-word essay.

The right time to attempt essay writing is four to six months after one has started preparation for the examination. Eventually, one can move on to writing two practice essays a week.

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