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From where should one prepare quotes for answer writing in the Mains?
“As the nation mourned the death of our beloved ex Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji, almost everyone was glued to their television screens watching the last rites of the funeral process. As tears poured down across many dignitaries from across the political spectrum, people were caught off by a major visual on the TV screen. The funeral pyre of Vajpayee ji was lit by his foster daughter, Namita Bhattacharya. What was striking was that this went against the age old Hindu customs of not letting women folk enter the funeral procession. It was a powerful symbol, coming right from the highest echeleons of the power that things as t are should be ready for a progressive change. Truly, customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life. “ …….. “Since time immemorial, our social dealings, interpersonal interactions have been guided by age old customs. These customs important in their own time frame, have defined our society and social values. But at the same time, these customs have been dehumanising, exclusionary and degrading for many marginalised sections of the society, for example. women, transgenders, disabled, downtrodden, Dalits, religious minorities etc. A modern society needs a modern, inclusive, egalitarian and progressive outlook. Age old customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life.” …….. The above two are two different introductions for the essay. Customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life (UPSC CSE 2018 - Essay) Both introductions are fairly good. One is an example based, another is historical/definitional based. Which one did you like better ? I think, most of you would agree that the first one is better. It is more powerful. Emotive. Personalised. And an unique example. You won’t find that in any other of 10,000 answer scripts being evaluated. That is what an effective essay should be. It should be your own creative personalised intervention so that you express truly what you feel about the subject. I scored 163 in UPSC CSE 2016 Essay (second highest for that year). Just after writing the essay, I was sure that I’ll score well. Both the topics (women, cooperative federalism) were well prepared for me and I strongly felt on both the issues. I myself couldn’t emulate that again in my next attempt, the next year. And I knew too, just after the exam, that I haven’t done a great job. Here’s your cheatsheet for a good essay. Have ready reference material prepared on various Themes. Health - status and reforms needed Public Health (Corona) Education (NEP 2020 in news too) Women and associated issues Youth / Sports [Utility, Olympics] Globalisation ( deglobalisation ?) Cooperative and collaborative Federalism Economy / Development / Poverty / Skills/ Employment Urbanisation and issues associated Agriculture and associated reforms Democracy and problems with it Freedom of expression / Liberty . need and issues Governance issues / Corruption Global conflicts, for example. Issues in West Asia, wars (ISIS etc), South China sea, Coronavirus, US-China (trade, 5G), North Korea, Iran, African problems, theatres of cyber and space etc Terrorism / Crime control / Security issues Foreign Policy changes and challenges (Multialignment, border skirmishes, neighbourhood relations, regional groupings) Environment / Climate Change / Blue economy Land / Air / Water resources and challenges Science and Tech and current trends (AI, Blockchain, Cloud computing, nanotech, Robotics, space, 3D printing IT etc) Social Justice - Progress on that front India’s cultural diversity / Communal harmony Role of Media and issues Relevance of Gandhiji and his ideas today Moral degeneration of society and collapse of ethical infrastructure Rise of relentless consumerism and idea of minimalism You can easily expect atleast one essay every year on the above list of topics I have mentioned - Prepare relevant introductions (anecdotes, data, facts and figures, stories, quotes), various different dimensions (body part) and progressive conclusions (best practices etc) regarding every such topic. Choosing the one topic out of 4. Please, don’t choose the tough topic thinking you will score high as fewer people will write on it. That’s a sureshot recipe for disaster. Choose what you’re comfortable with. Introduction is very important. (You can see why from the way I began this answer with). Intro acts as a hook. It should be captive, catch the reader’s eye. It has the maximum impact on the reader. It is famously said that the first two pages of your essay tell the reader how your rest of the essay would be like. Quotes, facts and figures, real life examples, stories, anecdotes help a lot. Essays should have a very broad approach, reasonably holistic in nature and diverse in scope. The body of your essay should have varied dimensions. Don’t do PhD in one dimension, instead touch every aspect of the topic. Some good general body formats (won’t work in every essay) are. SPECLIH (society, political..); Indvidual, state, national, global; Causes, Issues, Interventions, Reforms; Infrastructural, Administrative, Attitudinal; Short term, medium term, long term; Public Sector, Private, Civil Society and many such ways you can think of Essay should be balanced. A reason I scored low in my second attempt in essay was that on the essay of ‘New India woman is a myth’ - I totally justified it to be a myth - in hindsight I should have devoted 30% space to how women have also grown so much in matters of rights and freedoms. My essay became quite one sided. Conclusion should be optimistic + progressive + visionary + global perspective and should have mention of government efforts in that direction. You have 1.5 hours to write an essay. For the first 25 minutes don’t write. just brainstorm, make your structure, dimensions, have relevant quotes, data written down, then while writing for next hour ensure a smooth flow while writing it. Try to brainstorm on topics while preparing - Think about each and every small thing regarding the topic and them formulate 4–5 key different dimensions on which you can elaborate You will realise that 80% of your essay content is a combine of your GS 1+2+3+4 prep. Many people forget this. But an important point to note. Don’t make your essay a long GS answer. Don’t write in bullets. Use 2 paras on each page. Underline the key words and ideas. (VERY IMPORTANT) Nobody has the time to read your full essay word by word patiently. The most important thing is to have a proper and comprehensive structure to your essay. It will only come with practice. Essay should not be a disaggregated piece of information overload but good 1200 words of coherent wisdom. Your essay should have a proper flow. Your dimensions should have some connect as one reads your essay. Try to give sub headings (max 4–5) and ensure coherence of thought throughout the essay. Real life unique examples of leaders- Indian and global, famous personalities, thinkers, etc if are mentioned, have a very good impact. Also note. Gandhiji (ideas of Sarvodaya, Swaraj, Satyagraha etc) and various ethical ideas (different theories) can become one dimension in any kind of an essay. Similarly, an international dimension can be a dimension in any essay (health, education etc) You should practice atleast 8–10 essays before the final exam. I will end with a funny point. Search for Kofi Annan’s quotes. That genious of a personality has said something on everything! His quotes are eye catching to say the least. In the end, essay is make or break. There are people who have secured an amazing rank just by virtue of a good essay score and there are people who have done everything right except the essay and found their name out of the list. Finally, make your essay a worthwhile engaging read, with good mention of examples/stories. You should really feel for the topic that you are writing on. It’s very easy to distinguish what comes from the heart, what doesn’t. If you feel strongly about education and its need for the society, it will reflect in your essay. But, suppose you don’t really care about women’s rights, then however good an essay you may write with various facts and figures, the essence of it will never be pure. It’s easy to distinguish. That’s what I feel about a good essay. It does not need excellent English. But it needs wonderful thought provoking ideas. It should be your own personalised intervention. Be creative. Be you. All the best.
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