UPSC Mains GS Paper 4 Strategy

As the essay paper, UPSC Mains GS  paper 4  offers maximum returns in terms of scoring marks. With very fewer efforts one can score good marks and increase the chances of listing their name in the final list.

The opening remarks about the syllabus for ETHICS paper in UPSC CSE notification read as follows: “This paper will include questions to test the candidate’s problem-solving approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his problem-solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society”

These words clearly indicate ETHICS paper in UPSC Mains is designed to evaluate the ‘ethical competence‘, but not the ‘knowledge about ethics‘. So instead of reading bulky books, you should try to develop your own understanding of topics in the syllabus.

scoring in ethics paper depends on how well u can make use of keywords, express your own views and thoughts, project yourself as an individual who is pragmatic and productive with a commitment to personal and professional ethics.

So, know the syllabus by heart, and make a note of the keywords in your own simple words like

  1. Transparency = openness, accountability = answerability
  2. Develop examples from current and social issues (from newspapers), personal life, professional life, lives of great personalities, and some hypothetical examples can also help
  3. See all previous year papers. Make note of unique keywords asked like 7 sins, cognitive dissonance, Rawls social justice theory, etc. Use these keywords in your answers.
  4. Read model answers of previous year questions thoroughly and make notes of useful examples, quotes, thinkers, etc. By doing so u can improve your ability to apply different examples, quotes as per the demand of the answer
  5. Read google reviews of important books (remember you need not read the entire book) and make small notes of them to quote in answers

Some Important Books for UPSC Mains GS Paper 4:

My Experiments With Truth by MK Gandhi, S Vivekananda, BR Ambedkar, Ethical Dilemmas of A Civil Servant’ written by ex-Secretary to GOI Mr. Anil Swarup sir, etc

Your answer strategy for PART A- it includes theoretical questions.

  • Introduction
  • Body with quotes, thinkers, theories, examples, diagrams to give the edge and conclusion that summarizes your view

For case studies (practice 25-50 case studies)

  • Stakeholders
  • Ethical dilemmas/ issues involved
  • Answer body with all possible options
  • Try to provide practical and specific solutions
  • Some out of the box ideas
  • Cover peripheral issues in addition to core issues mentioned in the case study
  • Keywords, theories, examples, diagram
  • Select the balancing option

Best Sources for UPSC Mains GS Paper 4: 

Lexicon, 2nd ARC reports: Ethics in Governance, Promoting E-gov, RTI, Citizen-centric Administration, Personnel Administration. Read all ARC reports completely, memorize only recommendations, Diademy IAS content enrichment notes

Keep these in mind for success in Ethics:

GS 1 to GS-3 papers have 20 questions each, Ethics has only 14. But don’t let that number 14 fool you. GS Paper 4 is the lengthiest paper of all. Every question in Section A has many subparts that take a lot of time. In fact, if we go by the absolute numbers, we write more words in GS Paper 4 than in other papers. So to manage your time well: Abide by the rule that you must complete at least 80 marks worth of questions in each hour, irrespective of whether you start with Section A or Section B. Just before GS 4, you would have had written three stressful GS papers that would put your body condition under severe mental and physical strain. But it’s important to stay mentally tough during this crucial period and push your endurance limits so as to survive another 3 hours of relentless writing.


Attached: some examples from toppers notes 

  1. Can quote MS DHONI for his cool and calm captaincy, leadership skills.
  2. The Paralympic Games have placed a device inside the medals that use tiny steel balls to make a sound when they are shaken, allowing visually impaired athletes to identify which type they are. The bronze medals have 16 steel balls and make the lowest sound. The silver ones have 20 balls and the golds have 28, producing the loudest noise. All of the medals also have the words “Rio 2016 Paralympic Games” written on them in Braille.
  3. Sir M. Visvesvrayya, then Dewan of Mysore state, used a Government vehicle while he went to tender his resignation. After tendering his resignation, he drove back by his private vehicle.
  4. He always maintained two sets of candles – one set bought out of government money and the other set bought from his money. He used the former set of candles for looking into official documents and used the latter set to read books. (The above two anecdotes are the best examples for not misusing public resources for private gain)
  5. Kuvempu, Jnanapith awardee, a poet and Karnataka’s pride, was once Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University. His son Poornachandra Tejaswi was studying BA in the same university. Once, an English Professor approached KUVEMPU and told him that his son had scored marks below the minimum pass-mark in English Paper and asked KUVEMPU as to what to do. KUVEMPU went through the answer script and instructed the professor to award to even lesser marks. (This anecdote is the best examples for avoiding conflict of interest)
  6. A Rajput Prince was conspired to be killed. Panna who worked in the court learned the conspiracy. In order to save the Prince, she replaced the Prince with her own kid. Her own kid got killed. (This anecdote is the best example for LOYALTY)
  7. A workaholic engineer was working on a major scientific project. Abdul Kalam sir was the project head. Children of that engineer once asked their father to take them to an exhibition in the evening. The engineer sought permission from Kalam sir to leave early and mentioned the reason as well. Kalaam sir agreed. However, he got so much involved in the work that he completely forgot that he had to leave early. Kalaam sir observed the engineer being engrossed in the work. So, he only took children to the exhibition. (This anecdote is the best examples for EMPATHY TOWARDS SUBORDINATES)
  8. Satish Dhawan was the chairman of ISRO during the first launch of SLV, the mission failed. He took the responsibility for failure. In the next attempt, when the launch was successful, he gave full credit to the team that had worked for it (This anecdote is the best examples for LEADERSHIP and TEAMBUILDING)
  9. Sagayam, an IAS officer from Tamil Nadu has disclosed his and his family’s assets on the website. (Best Example for PROBITYTRANSPARENCY)
  10. K. Jairaj, Karnataka-cadre HAS officer was to approve the dismissal of a lady typist on the grounds of unruly behavior by her against her colleagues. Jairaj sir delved a little deeper into the issue and found out that she had been a widow and one co-worker misused her, promising her a new life. And this had pushed her into depression. Adding salt to the wound, her co-workers started abusing her in filthy language. This had made her lose her temper. Later, considering her precarious financial condition and need to educate her son, two increments were cut and she was reinstated to service. Later, her son got a very good job in Infosys. (Example for COMPASSION TOWARDS WOMENEMPATHY TOWARDS SUBORDINATES; WORK CULTURE)
  11. In my 10the Standard Board exams, in English Paper, we were asked to write the opposite of POPULAR. I had written POPULAR. Then, the exam invigilator who was walking accidentally saw my answer script and told me, the correct answer is UNPOPULAR. However, I did not change my answer.
  12. Stopping at a red light signal at 3 am in the night, even when the entire road was clear. This is an example of my integrity
  13. Lincoln’s fight against slavery is an example of moral courage. Dr. Kalam’s commitment to space and the nuclear field is a testament to his professional competence.

The ethics paper of UPSC relies mostly on case studies, so you need to have a strong command of case studies. Your approach matters more than the content in the Ethics paper. Keep on your practice with logical writing. And finally, do not only read moral and ethical stuff but also practice these too.









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