Mains Examination

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The UPSC Mains examination is the second stage of the Civil Services Examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in India. It is a written examination designed to assess the comprehensive knowledge and understanding of candidates in various subjects.

Here’s a brief introduction to the UPSC Mains examination:


Only candidates who have cleared the UPSC Prelims exam are eligible to appear for the Mains examination.

Exam Format:

The Mains examination consists of nine papers, out of which two papers are qualifying in nature, and the remaining seven are considered for merit.


The Mains examination is conducted over a span of five days, with each paper held on separate days. Each paper has a duration of 3 hours (180 minutes).


Candidates have the option to write the Mains exam in either English or any of the scheduled languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Subject Papers:

The seven papers that are considered for merit are as follows:

a) Essay
b) General Studies Paper I
(Indian Heritage and Culture, History, and Geography of the World and Society)
c) General Studies Paper II
(Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice, and International Relations)
d) General Studies Paper III
(Technology, Economic Development, Biodiversity, Environment, Security, and Disaster Management)
e) General Studies Paper IV
(Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude)
f) Optional Subject Paper I
g) Optional Subject Paper II

Optional Subjects:

Candidates can choose one optional subject for the Mains examination from a list provided by the UPSC. The list includes subjects like History, Geography, Public Administration, Sociology, Political Science, Economics, and more.

Essay Paper:

The essay paper requires candidates to write two essays, each carrying 125 marks. The topics can range from current affairs to philosophical subjects.

Qualifying Papers:

There are two qualifying papers in the Mains examination, namely:

a) Paper A – Any one of the Indian languages chosen by the candidate from the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
b) Paper B –
English language.

Interview Stage:

After the Mains examination, candidates who qualify are shortlisted for the final stage of the Civil Services Examination, which is the Interview or Personality Test. The interview assesses the candidate’s personality traits, communication skills, and general awareness.

Final Merit:

The final merit list is prepared based on the cumulative score of the Mains examination and the Interview stage.

The UPSC Mains examination is a crucial step towards achieving a career in the Indian civil services. It requires in-depth knowledge, analytical skills, and effective writing abilities. Candidates are advised to have a thorough understanding of the prescribed syllabus, practice answer writing, and refer to standard reference books to excel in the Mains examination.

Tips for UPSC Mains Exam:


Here are some tips to improve your answer writing skills for the UPSC Mains examination:

Understand the Question:

Read the question carefully and understand its demand. Identify the key elements and the specific requirements of the question before formulating your answer.

Structure Your Answer:

Organize your answer in a structured manner. Begin with an introduction that provides a brief context or background to the topic. Then, present your main arguments or points in a logical order, and conclude with a concise summary or conclusion.

Be Clear and Concise:

Express your thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely. Avoid unnecessary jargon or complex language. Use simple and precise language to convey your point effectively.

Answer According to Marks Allocation:

Pay attention to the marks allocated to each question and distribute your time and content accordingly. Give more space and elaboration to high-mark questions and maintain a balanced approach for lower-mark questions.

Use Relevant Examples:

Support your arguments or concepts with relevant examples, case studies, or real-life instances. This adds credibility to your answer and demonstrates a deeper understanding of the topic.

Analyze and Evaluate:

Instead of providing a mere description, analyze and evaluate the topic or question. Offer critical insights, compare different perspectives, and provide a balanced view wherever applicable.

Use Diagrams and Flowcharts:

Utilize visual aids like diagrams, flowcharts, or tables to present complex information or concepts in a more organized and easily understandable manner. This can enhance the clarity and impact of your answer.

Practice Answer Writing:

Regular practice is essential to improve your answer-writing skills. Write answers to previous years’ question papers and get them evaluated by mentors or experts. This helps you identify your strengths and areas of improvement.

Time Management:

Manage your time effectively during the examination. Allocate an appropriate amount of time for each question, ensuring that you complete the paper within the given timeframe.

Revise and Edit:

Allocate some time at the end of the examination to revise your answers. Check for any grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, or incomplete sentences. Ensure that your answers are coherent and well-structured.

Seek Feedback:

Take feedback from experienced mentors, teachers, or peers. Their constructive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your answer writing skills.

Remember, answer writing is not only about providing information but also showcasing your analytical skills, critical thinking, and ability to present a well-structured argument. Practice regularly, focus on clarity and precision, and strive to present a balanced view in your answers.

Best of luck with your UPSC Mains preparation!

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