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The Essay paper in UPSC CSE is marked out of 250, equal weightage to other GS and Optional papers. The catch lies in the disproportionately high marks that can be secured in this paper even at the average score - in relation to other papers. GS papers would average around 95-100, given 2020 marks observed among toppers. Essay averaged around 115-120. This 15-20 mark gain can actually make or break a selection or choice of service.

My Strategy

I relied on writing practice essays at home and getting it checked by mentors and peers for the first 3 attempts. I got scores of 130, 105 and 124 in my previous 3 attempts. This year I joined the essay test series at Vision IAS, and found the feedback, lectures and strategy to my liking, ended up getting a 147 in CSE 2020


Although I did follow strategy of Vision IAS, I also finalized some basics at my end, basis my own experience writing essay over the years. They are as follows -

  • Introduction, Body, Conclusion - as the basic format 

  • 10 pages per essay - 110-120 words per page

  • 1-2 page introduction and body linkage, 7-8 page of Body with 5-6 ideas, 1/2 - 1 page of pre conclusion and 1 page of conclusion

  • In 3 hours

    • 5-10 minutes to choose both topics - basis topic clarity and understanding, knowledge, anecdotes and quotes (in that order)

    • 20-25 mins to brain storm the topic and make rough notes

    • 1 hour of writing one essay

    • Brainstorm individually - do not spend first one hour choosing the topics and brainstorming both. Brainstorming second essay after writing first will do two things 

      • Sense of completion of one essay - will give confidence

      • Rest to hands and mind after writing for 1 hour

      • Ideas from first essay will be out of your mind, you will not repeat the same ideas and come up with fresh ones since now some space in your mind has been freed and dumped on paper

    • Body ​

      • 5-6 ideas

      • Every idea in 1-2 paragraphs

      • Every paragraph 3-4 lines maximum.

      • Every line as simple and short as possible

      • 2-3 Paragraphs per page

    • Idea​

      • Introduce your idea/hypothesis

      • Additional statement to explain

      • Example or Data to substantiate the argument

      • Concluding remark and link to next idea


  • Stick to the demand of the topic - do not write everything you know about the topic. If you have less material - rather choose another topic, or explain less ideas with more depth. 

  • Write with flow and logic - the introduction, body and conclusion should be one single entity, not various ingredients lying separate. Try to complete every argument in the body. If there are 10 areas that you come up with while brainstorming, stick to 5-6 and do not try to shove all ideas into the essay. It may end up looking like an apple, a dosa and a pasta kept in one plate - non coherent and non aesthetic. Instead, choose few arguments and complete them logically.

  • Have a set of 20-25 topics prepared in one-pagers - this can be done from GS knowledge

    • Basic knowledge​

    • Quotes

    • Anecdotes 

    • Personalities

    • Schemes, Govt. initiaties etc

    • Data

    • Books 

  • Broad anecdotes that can be used in various topics (Will explain later)​

  • Set of quotes that can be extensively used 

  • Use headings for ideas, conclusion and pre-conclusion

  • Keep a track of time while writing - do not give 1.5 hours to one essay and 45 minutes to other 

  • Summarize your ideas and give a sense of completion before conclusion in a 'pre-conclusion'

  • Give a futuristic and hopeful conclusion

  • Check out essays written in Yojana, Kurukshetra magazine - they will give a good sense on how to approach a topic

  • Check out copies of previous essay toppers - pick some traits on your own wisdom


  • Force fit anecdotes or quotes

  • Leave an essay unfinished. Even if you have written 5 pages and are short on time, complete with a short conclusion

  • Start a new idea in the conclusion

  • Focus too much on data and facts -focus on flow, connectivity and cohesiveness

  • Use too many inks in essay 

  • Use flowcharts, unless absolutely necessary (Max 1 diagram or flowchart)

  • Only criticize or only eulogize the topic - write both sides, even if the percentage may not be the same (Eg:- 65% criticism and 35% pros and benefits)

My checked copies from 2020

Essay Strategy Session at Shankar IAS - Kindly refer to the session presentation attached 

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