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(Getting Started) How To Handle Loaded/ Controversial Questions In UPSC Mains

(Getting Started) How To Handle Loaded/ Controversial Questions In UPSC Mains

UPSC conducts the Civil Services Examination to select the crème de la crème of candidates who will serve this country as bureaucrats over the next three to four decades. India is a democracy and governed by elected governments. However, the government changes every five years. It is the bureaucrats and the thousands of other employees that serve the government machinery that keeps this country moving forward. Bureaucrats also handle a lot of the execution of policies that directly affect the people of this country and thus, UPSC takes great care in ensuring they select people who will do not only a good job but a just job.

The Controversy Around “Loaded Questions”

UPSC has always maintained a standard by which they can filter out candidates and select those with the least political or social bias. Doing so ensures that no matter which government is in power, the bureaucracy never becomes a roadblock in their implementation of policies. In recent years, a trend is being noticed by which UPSC has started asking questions that seem to be prejudiced towards one direction or another, often leading an aspirant into the trap of taking an extreme position. As expected, this has drawn some flak.

What Is A “Loaded Question”?

In 2019, a question was asked that led to some uproar among aspirants and others alike. The question was “What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of secularism?” As one can tell, the question seems to assume that secularism is indeed contradictory to Indian culture and has negatively affected it. Aspirants, along with serving and former bureaucrats alike, were left wondering if UPSC is indeed taking a political stance. Questions like this, that make assumptions, whether true or false, and force aspirants to take the bait of taking an extreme stance are called “loaded questions”. Another such question asked in 2019 was “Do you agree with the view that steady GDP growth and low inflation have left the Indian economy in good shape? Give reasons in support of your arguments.”

How Should You Answer Loaded Questions?

In 'loaded' question, UPSC asks about 'challenges to our culture in the  name of secularism' | The News Minute

First thing first – always know the reason why such a question was asked. It is because –

  1. UPSC wants to ensure that an aspirant is always rooted in facts and will not get carried away by fallacies.
  2. UPSC wants to ensure that every aspirant understands that their first duty is towards the Constitution of India.

Keeping this in mind, here are the top do’s and don’ts of answering loaded questions.

What Not To Do

  1. Do not find facts where there are none. For example, just because it says in the question that the GDP growth has been steady, you need not agree to it when you know that fact is that the growth has been faltering.
  2. Do not try to be diplomatic and neutral when a question calls for disagreement. The Constitution is sacred. So, there is no question of agreeing to a notion that goes against the very primal nature of our Constitution, irrespective of the tone of the question. Being diplomatic in this situation is disrespectful to the ethos on which our country was built.

What To Do

  1. Stand by your core values and answer like an upright officer. This isn’t a multiple-choice; you get to put your point forward. Agreeing or disagreeing isn’t the only option.
  2. Stand by facts and challenge assumptions made in the question. For example, if you know that the GDP is falling, mention those facts and figures before even attempting to answer the question. Talk about how the GDP calculation method change has affected the numbers. The examiner must realise that you know your facts.
  3. Compare the positives and negatives. In the secularism question, the framing seems to paint secularism in a negative light while holding Indian culture in a higher stature. However, you needn’t do that. Explain how the negatives of Indian culture such as casteism, the now abolished practices such as sati and child marriage, etc. must be weeded out. Explain how secularism, although often rejected as a western concept, helps India remain the melting pot of cultures, races, and religions, and is enshrined in our constitution.

Remember, as career bureaucrats there will be many contradictory, and in rare cases volatile, situations you will have to handle. Handling questions like this are meant to prepare you for that path, and that is UPSC’s true intention.



UPSC Exam Complete Study Materials

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(Getting Started) UPSC MAINS - Best Revision Strategy

(Getting Started) UPSC MAINS - Best Revision Strategy

Now that UPSC preliminary examinations are over, lakhs of aspirants are waiting for results. Not all will qualify but for the handful that will, the struggle has only begun. UPSC Mains is the monster they have to defeat to secure a good rank and achieve their IAS dream. Given the vast upsc syllabus, this is not the time to be learning new things. Instead, it is now time to concentrate hard on revising and polishing off the knowledge you already possess. The time constraint means that there has to be an effective revision strategy. Today, we discuss a revision strategy that will for sure give your mains preparation an edge over others.

Upsc main syllabus

Keep the UPSC Syllabus In Mind

General Studies

General Studies is a common hurdle in both prelims and mains. However, the way you approach the topics is different. If you have planned your preparation right, there are a very few additions you now need to make to your General Studies knowledge. So concentrate on revision instead.

A good strategy is to immediately sit with the syllabus, and topic notes if you have them, and see what additions can be made and if any material can be added or updated to them. Once that is done, now devise a weekly plan on which sections you need to cover each week. You are no longer trying to deal with just facts, so start writing answers on each relevant topic that you come across in the news. And don’t forget to keep updating your study notes with the latest current affairs.

Ethics and Essays

Ethics Paper Analysis

Average upsc aspirant would leave this to the last minute, but remember, your goal is to be above average. Try to write at least 3 essays and answer 3 case studies a week. Pick topics from previous year’s questions and ensure that you have a good grip over topics that are asked about frequently. Analyze the essays you write by comparing them with toppers' answers and improve your writing skills.

Writing at least 10-12 essays before the exam will give you the much-needed edge. Practicing enough case studies will ensure you write quality answers in the exam. Always remember that most UPSC aspirants who make it to the final list have similar scores in the first three GS papers. It is Essays and Ethics that decide who ranks on top.

Mains Optional

Start your optional revision from day one. Remember that the last time you read this material was probably 6 months ago and thus, it will take time to cover again. If you have some portion of the syllabus still incomplete, take a week right at the beginning, leaving aside the rest of the papers, and complete this first. Your optional can make or break your rank too.

For optional, writing is key. Update relevant topics with Current Affairs and make compact notes. You will most definitely need to make these connections in your exam paper, so start early. Make sure you have covered each topic in the syllabus and covered all PYQs of the last 10 years again.

Write, Write, Write

UPSC IAS (Prelims) 2020: Check Tina Dabi's (AIR 1) Study Plan & Preparation  Strategy for Last 3 Months Revision

Topper Tina Dabi’s (AIR-1, UPSC CSE 2016) Revision Strategy

And finally, the key to writing good answers is to keep on writing regularly. It may not be possible to take full tests regularly, given how long each paper is, but ensure you write answers daily. Keep 2-3 hours of your day aside for this. And full-fledged tests are important. Ensure that you take at least 3 tests for each of the GS papers. Similarly, try taking at least 2 Essay and Ethics tests. For optional, at least 3 tests are required to analyze your preparation. And this also helps you figure out your time management technique and answer all questions in each paper. 

Most importantly, don’t relax just yet. Keep pushing and working hard, and you will achieve your dream.



UPSC Exam Complete Study Materials

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(Download) संघ लोक सेवा आयोग सिविल सेवा - मुख्य परीक्षा सिविल इन्जीनियरी (Paper - 2) - 2019

(Download) संघ लोक सेवा आयोग सिविल सेवा - मुख्य परीक्षा सिविल इन्जीनियरी (Paper - 1) - 2019

(Getting Started) Clearing UPSC With Geography Optional Strategy By Om Kant Thakur AIR-52

(Getting Started) Clearing UPSC With Geography Optional Strategy By Om Kant Thakur AIR-52

Hailing from a small village of Bihar, Om Kant Thakur is a story of what not giving up can help you achieve. UPSC CSE 2019 was his 4th attempt and succeeded in securing a top all India rank of 52 in this attempt. Being an engineering student from NIT, Patna, UPSC was a little removed from his graduation course. Moreover, being from a Hindi medium background and attempting interviews in English, Om Kant felt he was at a disadvantage, but he never gave up.

How To Study Geography Optional

The key to Om Kant’s optional strategy is the sources he used. Om Kant divides up Geography Optional into 3 main parts –

  1. Physical Geography

Start with NCERTs. The 11th and 12th books are mostly sufficient. Use them for definitions, diagrams, etc. and make notes.  For Physical Geography, Savinder Singh is a great book. Geomorphology can be covered by P. Dayal. But read it selectively. Geography made simple - 1 by Rupa publication covers full physical geography and is a very good book that should be read cover to cover. 

For Bio-Geography and the ALS booklet, Shankar IAS, Current Affairs, along with Rupa’s Made Simple series is a lifesaver. Use G.C. Leong for more insight into Physical Geography and related diagrams. Use any good Atlas for maps. Om Kant also used some scanned pages of Strahler for diagrams and definitions, as well as selective pages from Critchfield for Climatology. And finally, Penguin India’s Physical Geography Dictionary was always kept at hand for looking up words and definitions.

Geography Optional Online Classes by Neetu Singh

  1. Human Geography

Om Kant read Models in from selective reading of Majid Hussain, choosing chapters as per the topics in the UPSC syllabus. For Economic Geography he used the ALS booklet, NCERTs of 11th & 12th on Economic Geography, both new and old. He enriched his knowledge with Current Affairs. He also practiced the world map with economic resources, agriculture, industries, ports, trade routes, etc. and practiced trend analysis with the help of maps.

For Perspective Geography he again used ALS class notes, a book by Sudipta Adhikari, and picked up some diagrams and additional topics from Majid Hussain. The population geography part is covered very well in Majid Hussain and he kept updating his notes from current affairs. And once again, Rupa’s Geography Made Simple - 2 helped him complete Human Geography.

Once again for Settlement Geography, he chose the ALS booklet, and read the topics mentioned in the syllabus selectively from K Siddhartha for urban settlements. Regional Planning was again covered from the ALS Booklet and Current Affairs. The glossary section in Dictionary in Human geography completed his preparation.

  1. Indian Geography

D R Khullar is the most important source for Geography optional paper-II. All chapters in the book are as per the UPSC syllabus It is the bible for Indian Geography. He also recommends practicing Indian map pointing using the ALS classroom technique and pointing out places mentioned in the news on maps.  And to make the best impact, use current affairs as an example throughout the paper.

How to Prepare for Geography for UPSC Prelims | NeoStencil

Final Words

Make your own notes, read each source at least thrice, and keep practicing answer writing – this is the best advice Om Kant has for you. 

He wishes you all the best.



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(Success Story) UPSC 2021 TOPPER, AIR-5 Utkarsh Dwivedi Winning Strategy for Cracking IAS Exams

(Success Story) UPSC 2021 TOPPER, AIR-5 Utkarsh Dwivedi Winning Strategy for Cracking IAS Exams

Utkarsh Dwivedi has secured the 5th rank in UPSC Civil Services Examination, 2021. Originally he hails from the holy city of Uttar Pradesh Ayodhya but he has been living in the Indore from the last 12 years. He has given the UPSC exam thrice: 2019, 2020 and 2021. He appeared for the interview twice but didn't crack. He scored 160 marks in the interview for Civil Services Exam, 2019 and 157 marks in the 2020 interview. Finally in his 3rd attempt he secured AIR 5. He opted International Relations as his optional subject. During an interview by India today, he said 

"My end goal is to contribute to the country’s development in every possible manner. Further he adds my idea of governance is to have a country with empathetic bureaucrats and administration which stands strong for the ones in need".


He completed his graduation from Vellore Institute of Technology in Mechanical Engineering. After graduation he decided to opt for civil services preparation. He was offered a job in PSU but he declined it for his goal. He said, I declined the opportunity to prioritize my goal.



Utkarsh used to prepare a study timetable on the basis of his subjects and followed it every day. He did a thorough analysis of all subjects and categorized it priority-wise. He prioritized optional and Ethics subjects more. He was consistent with his study schedule and also routinely monitored his progress. He sought guidance and support wherever needed.


Utkarsh followed daily newspapers like The Hindu, The Times of India, The Indian Express and The Mint to keep himself updated on the ongoing issues around the world. Reading relevant articles from various newspapers helped him in his optional subject which was International Relation. He used to prepare the notes and also collect the clips of newspapers.


Like every topper he also used to refer to previous year question papers and mock tests. He advised the aspirants, solve the previous year question papers, you get the idea about what kind of questions are asked from different topics, which areas are more important, whether questions are more from the static part or the dynamic part, etc. Regular mock test practice gives you a sense of writing the actual exam




He chooses International Relation as his optional subject. He advised the aspirants choose your optional subject carefully. Optional subject is one of the factors that have helped him score well in the mains examination. He scored 168 in paper 1 and 146 in paper 2. For optional, he only referred the notes of Subhra ranjan ma'am and prepared a digital notes with lots of photos, data and all.

For value addition he used to refer toppers ' copies, newspaper and YouTube videos like National Security Conversations and Bharata First Channel.

At last Utkarsh advised the aspirants, don’t give up. With right guidance and support, be consistent towards your goal. Keep your strategy simple and most important be honest towards it. For sure you will succeed. 

Best of Luck.



UPSC Exam Complete Study Materials

Online Coaching for IAS PRELIMS Exam

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(Download) संघ लोक सेवा आयोग सिविल सेवा - मुख्य परीक्षा सिविल इन्जीनियरी (Paper - 2) - 2020

(Download) संघ लोक सेवा आयोग सिविल सेवा - मुख्य परीक्षा सिविल इन्जीनियरी (Paper - 1) - 2020

(Download) संघ लोक सेवा आयोग सिविल सेवा - मुख्य परीक्षा सिविल इन्जीनियरी (Paper - 1) - 2021

(Download) संघ लोक सेवा आयोग सिविल सेवा - मुख्य परीक्षा सिविल इन्जीनियरी (Paper - 1) - 2021


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