This is what I learned from my seniors and toppers. There are plenty of articles on internet on how to prepare the essay (=read editorials daily etc.) I'm writing one about how to 'actually' write it inside the exam hall.
In the Essay paper, they give you 4-5 essays and you've to write only one. Time limit -3 hours, Max-marks=200.
In a 2 marker question, UPSC specifically mentions that answer it in 20 words. So with that logic, you're expected to write an essay containing around 2000 words for the 200 marks.
Tip#1: Think for 30-45 minutes before you start the Essay writing
Take this example.
They asked an essay on Gandhi, I start writing it. I write something like
Gandhi was born in Porbandar & then He went to England…africa..come back…freedom struggle..Gandhi-Irwin..2nd round table….partition…etc.
After 1 hour of writing, I realize that I forgot mention about Champaran's Indigo Struggle when Gandhi got actively involved in Indian Freedom struggle for the first time! Now I can't add it. Because there is no space in initial pages. However I can still try to add it in the conclusion like
…in 1947 Gandhi won the fight he started with Champaran…"But when Examiner doesn't find the mention of Champaran in the initial pages, then he gets an impression you forgot it = less marks. Hence everything has to be written in its place.
That's why you must…..
Think for 30-45 minutes before you start the Essay writing
You've 3 hours to write the essay. Don't immediately start
Once you're done adding everything that you can think about, regarding the essay- then give those topics, order of preference. 18.104.22.168.
The order is very important, just like in wedding parties you start with Soup…dal-roti and…Ice cream in the end.
The order should be
everything has to be written in its place. Gandhi's Champaran must come in the beginning not in the end.
Tip#2: SOME DON'Ts: What not to write in essay
1. Autocracy is better than democracy. (know that it's the democracy that's allowing you to criticize it) so you should never justify certain solution to India's problems.
2. Excessive criticism of Govt. / administration (I mean the frontline and The Hindu's stand)
3. Seeing negative sides with out suggesting reforms in it.
Tip#3: Provocative Essays:
Sometimes the essay topics are given in such a way, that you want to agree all the way. E.g.
In such cases - just because he gave you statement doesn't mean you've to sing in his tone throughout the paper.DO NOT forget to show the other side of the mirror.
Its Easier to criticize a non working things than to fix it. (Remember this all time during essay.)
Filmy things or Filmy solutions to real life problems. (Munna Bhai MBBS / Slum Dog Millioner.)
Tip#4: Donot get personal
Same applies for
1. Religion / culture/ language-literature (in philosophical essays)
2. States (in polity / federalism / Development)
I'm not saying you should transform into a sterile person writing the essay with out having any personal view/ opinion or righteous anger but, you mustn't become too much passionate about certain things.
I'm saying all this because you can never be sure about what will be the political / ideological / religious / regional alignment of the examiner.
This suggestion also applies while dealing with Public Administration (optional subject).
1. Don't make mistakes in writing who said what. E.g. you quote Abraham Lincon's sentence and write George Washington said it. nothing will make you look more stupid in the eyes of the examiner than that.
2.Quote Exactly as it was said. Mao said "Power flows from the barrel of a gun" so you should not write it as
"barrel of the gun contains power" orYou must quote the quote verbatim. If you're not sure then don't quote it.
Tip#6: Padding & Deviating from the subject
Even in the worst case, you're supposed to write 1200-1500 words for a 200 marks essay.
Padding means, you don't know the exact answer so you just beat around the bushes and write the garbage stuff to fill up the pages, while this tactic does work in the school and college exams but don't try it in the essay paper.
Don't write too many proverbs / quotes/ (invented) case studies/examples per page. It makes the examiner think that you've no input of your own so you're just filling up the pages.
Donot pick up the subject where your idea or thought content is very low.
Essay is not something that can be learned reading one book or reading for 1 month.
It's a continuous and long process takes some diverse reading before you've enough content to write something decent and something big enough to fill 20 pages to fetch 100+ marks.
Me and my ruined essayIn 2009's mains attempt, I got only 20/200 marks in the Essay. It was about 'are we a soft state?'. I wrote it only from the foriegn policy and law-n-order point of view, without seeing the cultural -historical contexts. It was a monotonous essay without any spark. Moral of the story: First 30-40 minutes, do try to see different angles of the subject and give a thorough thought before you start writing.
-Some veterans are in opinion that you should pick up the essay on technical subject, example space-technology, advances in medical science, how IT has changed lives and so on. Because only a few people attempt them, and due to technical nature, your ideas are unlikely to be in conflict with the examiner so you'll get more marks. But then again you need enough 'content' to write 1500+ words else the padding route=digging your own grave. And there are enough toppers who wrote the non-technical essay and still got in the top-merit list so as usual for every generalisation made about UPSC, you'll find a counter example!
Predicting Essays for 2011 Mains paper
As usual coaching classes try to anticipate which essays will be asked, and UPSC makes sure they are not asked. So be prepared for everything- don't just rely on selected hot-topics like Lokpal and Civil society.
In old times, it was quite predictable, see the papers from 1997 to 2006: almost every year there is an essay on polity-judiciary, one on women empowerment, one on Science-tech, one on democracy and governance. But nowadays UPSC is rapidly breaking the trends.
Lets look @ the 2010 paper. People predicted: there will be some essay on games, due to CWG or Asiad or even on corruption and good Governance given CWG and 2G scams. But there was nothing.
I'm putting the comparative list of essays asked in last two years (2009 and 2010). Make your own judgement and prediction and prepare accordingly.
Vulnerable groups of society (India vs. Bharat Debate)