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UPSC Mains - How to Answer English Compulsory Language Paper

How to write and Answer English Compulsory Language Paper for UPSC Mains

Owing to the diverse workplace in the UPSC civil service exam, it is difficult to find a link that is common to all the exam-takers. Here comes the role of English. It works as a medium that connects all those in service and those to be administered. However, owing to the regional, linguistic and cultural  diversity, not everyone has equally good command over the language, hence the, and to express his ideas clearly and succinctly and this is the reason for qualifying nature of the compulsory English Language paper, ie- the marks obtained in this paper are not counted to decide the final rank. UPSC says that 25% marks in English is the minimum qualifying standards in this paper.


Also See : UPSC Exams 2018


UPSC Mains English Exam Pattern:

Question paper usually begins with Essay, asking topics of social concerns or contemporary issues of India or the world. Out of 4 given choices you will have to attempt one of them. The word limit is generally 600 words and it consists  of  100 marks.


How to write a good essay:

Try to read a range of other essays, including those of your peers and of academics, read essays on a wide variety of subjects. You can also read topper's notes or answersheets for better guidance. Most importantly, effective use of advanced vocabulary decides the fate of an essay. Usage of the right words at right places have the best effect rather than use of very flowery language or very advanced vocabulary, what is important is to convey what you want to say most effectively. Be concise in your thinking and choice of words. Remember  that 600 words is the word limit.


Previous year's questions: 2016

Indian Girl Child- still a victim of exploitation

Industrialisation should not affect but contribute  to agricultural growth in India.


With the objective to check the understanding and ability of the candidate to to choose from various given options and interpretation of the text UPSC frames such questions this can be improved by engaging  with current events presented in written form, such as news reports, editorials etc. Watching discussions on LSTV, RSTV will also help. The skill comes in handy  for properly understanding and responding to all workplace correspondence, such as reports, memos etc. It consists  of 75 marks.


Previous Years Comprehensions: 2014

Himalayan ecosystem is highly vulnerable to damage, both due to geological reasons and on account of the stress caused by increased pressure of population, exploitation of natural resources and other related challenges. These aspects may be exacerbated due to the impact of climate change. It is possible that climate change may adversely impact the Himalayan ecosystem through increased temperature altered precipitation patterns, episodes of drought and biotic influences. This would not only impact the very sustenance of the indigenous communities in uplands but also the life of downstream dwellers across the country and beyond.Therefore, there is an urgent need for giving special attention to sustain the Himalayan ecosystem. This would require conscious efforts for conserving all the representative systems.Further, it needs to be emphasized that the endemics with restricted distribution, and most often with specialized habitat requirements, are among the most vulnerable elements. In this respect the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, with rich endemic diversity, is vulnerable to climate change. The Threats include possible loss of genetic resources and species, habitats and concomitantly a decrease in ecosystem services. Therefore, conservation of endemic elements in representative ecosystems/habitats assumes a great significance while drawing conservation plans for the region.Towards achieving the above, we will have to shift towards contemporary conservation approaches, which include a paradigm of landscape level interconnectivity between protected area systems. The concept advocates a shift from the species-habitat focus to an inclusive focus on expanding the biogeographic range so that natural adjustments to climate change can proceed without being restrictive.

1. Consider the following statements:

According to the passage, the adverse impact of climate change on an ecosystem can be a1. Permanent disappearance of some of its flora and fauna.

2. Permanent disappearance of ecosystem itself.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor


Precis Writing:

It is a concise summary of all the essential points, written from a long passage. Englishgrammer.org says that "A precis is the gist of a passage expressed in as few words as possible. A precis should give all essential points so that anyone reading it will be able to understand the idea expressed in the original passage." You need to remember that rewriting of the same sentences as given in the paragraph, however important it may be, cannot be done. You have to remodel the sentences in a way that it contains the very idea that the paragraph wants to iterate in fewer words, skipping over the themes in the paragraph that are not significant enough. The most important part of precis writing is choosing the themes which are central to the paragraph and removing which are not.

In the life of a bureaucrat this skill is very necessary because one will have to review documents of thousands of pages and present the reports in just few pages. This is perhaps the easiest part of the paper here you will be given the question as well as the answer you just have to choose what to keep and what to skip.


General Grammar: This consists of 50 marks worth questions. Includes :

  • Sentence corrections
  • Supply the missing  word
  • Use of correct form of verb
  • Synonyms and Antonyms
  • Change of sentence form
  • Idioms  and phrases

This part is so general that anyone with a very basic knowledge of grammar could sail through very easily. Lots of online practice papers, mock tests are available for it. As this part is mostly of one word/ sentence answer type, depending  upon  candidate's comfort level with the question paper can be done in the beginning  or end. I, however, suggest this to be done in the beginning as this section fetches you easy marks. You either know the answer or don't, so it takes not more than 15-30 minutes, leaving you free for the rest of the paper.


Sources to Study from:

Word Power Made Easy- Norman Lewis
The Hindu Vocabulary Builder (Application)
Learn English-British Council website

To conclude, remember what George Orwell said, "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” Be simple in your language, clear in your ideas and precise in their presentation.


Happy preparation, guys!


Author: Anushka Mishra

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