Essay paper strategy and resources – CSE Mains

It is one THE most rewarding paper in the Mains Exam.

When I first started preparing I use to wonder how would it be possible to write 1000-1200 words on two topics in 3 hours. Where would I get the content from? How would I frame the argument? My friends who had appeared in CSE before dismissed these doubts as trivial saying that it is one of the easiest paper in CSE which require least preparation compared to the marks you get.

In the hindsight I would say they were partly correct.

For any UPSC aspirant content is not an issue at all. What one study in GS is actually fodder for essay. The challenge here is to recall those ideas in first 20 minutes and frame a coherent and sensible argument. And this demands practice.But this can only take you so far. Once you get a hang of writing 1000 words on a topic you should start working on structuring your content, getting innovative ideas into your essay, giving a broad perspective to a topic, using quotes and anecdotes.

My strategy

  • I used to choose a topic which has lots of dimensions to it. Usually this was the topic on which most people were going to write a essay. While there are advocates of choosing a non mainstream topic, it has inherent risk of backfiring. So I would suggest stick to the popular topic.
  • Then I use to list down the random keywords and ideas that use to come to my mind as i start thinking on the topic.
  • After 5 minutes I will write the questions that I want to answer in my essay- 5/6 of them – this gives structure to your content
  • Now for next 10 mins I use to connect my ideas with the questions. I would try to recall any quotes, data points, anecdotes, movies, books, authors, philosophers, leaders that I could relate with the topic
  • In this time I also use to frame a coherent argument alongwith a decent Introduction and conclusion
  • Introduction
    • Hook – something catchy – a quote, data point, short story which catches attention
    • thesis – Brief outline of your argument
    • Background – you can give a historical perspective of the issue or define the topic
  • Use of rhetorical questions – at times as they help in giving a structure to the essay.
  • Use of headings – not more than 3 in an essay, Your essay should look like a editorial in the hindu
  • Use of diagrams – I am not in favour. An essay is test of your language and writing skills in my opinion.
  • Dimensions
    • SPECLIH – Social (Education, Health, Women, Children, other vulnerable groups), Political, Philosophy, Environment, Economic, Cultural (beliefs, attitude, values, ethics ), Linguistic/Local, International, Humanistic, history, Governance, Administration
  • Stakeholders to analyse from different perspectives
    • Individual, Family, Community , Society, Nation, Humanity
  • Conclusion
    • Suggestion, Reiterate your core argument, Positive, Reserve best for here
    • I would try to use parallelism if i can. For Ex – Read MLK I have a dream speech

Few more tips

  • Choose a topic where you can argue in a reasonable and balanced manner
  • Find the spirit of the topic
  • Argument should be coherent.
  • Present opposite side
  • Introductory Hook, Thesis, Background – should be positive unlike “the world is in chaos, or pollution will kill us”
  • Avoid using contraction – it’s , should’ve etc
  • Use as less numbers as possible. 2/3 should be used as two thirds
  • Bring some originality – give your opinion,
  • Substantiate each argument with a “why?”
  • You can use an anecdote from a movie or a book. The more contemporary it is the better it would be



2 essay approach –

  • 80 min for each essay then. (60 min for writing + 20 min for thinking)
  • First 10 min choose the topic.
  • Last 10 min to revise.
  • 8-9 pages for each essay

My essay notes

  • Certain keywords which can be used in essay
  • Essay notes
    • There are a set of openings and ending which you can use in various essays
    • for each topic I’ve divided it into
      • Data
      • Issues
      • Importance
      • Suggestion
      • Quotes
    • Since most of the topics are covered in GS, the notes standalone are not sufficient
    • There are ample number of references from movies, philospohers, books etc
  • Few articles/speeches as food for thought
  • Shabbir sir class notes  – Vajiram
    • A big credit goes to him. I was able to get a decent score in essay for 3 continuous years following his template

Essay workbook I used – courtesy GS Score

Previous years topics – courtesy ForumIAS

Topper’s booklets from previous years

Some of my essay copies – Orient IAS Test series 2017,  ForumIAS MGP Test 2, ForumIAS MGP Test 3, Universal heatlh coverage

I would say that your efforts should be in the direction to get a above average score and not the highest marks. At times, many have done miserably in this paper by experimenting with topic, structure, language or content. You should adopt a risk free approach and stick to the conventional wisdom.

My best wishes.


PS – My essay marks 126(2014), 136(2015), 148(2016) and 136(2017)


6 thoughts on “Essay paper strategy and resources – CSE Mains

  1. Thanks Abhishek.
    Really helpful, reading about your experience and feedback. Appreciate your personal notes for Essay segment.

    Have a great time!

  2. hello please see this: my essay notes link of evernote gives 3 notebooks out of which: table of contents-essay has so many links but are not shows the note refers to note which you may not acces.please look into this.there are so many topics like book notes,gs1, gs2 ,gs3 ,gs4 which are not opening.

  3. Mannu, I’ve not shared all the notes yet. Thats why you are not able to open all the links. Will do so in next few weeks.

  4. thank you abhishek bhai for your generosity in sharing all your notes with the are our next supermanreturns GA.wish you success in IAS career and happiness in your life.

  5. Hi Surana, Link for essay notes is not working. I am getting a blank page when redirected to evernote. Could you please check.

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