MAINS IS ANSWER WRITING, ANSWER WRITING IS MAINS
• By Vinay Kumar, Content Director crackIAS.com
This is perhaps the most important quote which no serious student can deny. Mains is not about reading endless no. of books, making notes out of them, and then revising them time and again. Mains is about having optimal subject knowledge (not too less but never too much) of a topic and then utilizing that knowledge to convert a question into a right answer. In another article, I discussed and demonstrated logically how having just 5 points against various aspects of a topic are sufficient as far as content for mains is concerned. Now we have to learn how to use this 5-points optimal knowledge to write right answers.
Let me begin with my experience that answer writing is a skill and there is no shortcut but to learn this skill. The good news is that anyone & everyone can learn this skill; and once you learn it, it becomes a child’s play to write good answers. Do you know that a person who has learnt this skill well can write good answers even if he has lesser knowledge of the subject than optimally required! When you know this skill, you won’t have to bother at all about the most popular question, “How to write good answers?”
Now the valid question comes, “How can I learn writing good answers?” I generally say that answer writing is similar to learning the art of driving a car or a scooter. I assume most of you reading this article must have learnt driving something. Just recall, when you had started learning driving, how did you start? Initially you were told to press the clutch and then release it slowly & softly. You followed it and remember you always had focused so much on pressing the clutch …… and then releasing it slowly & slowly. By the end of the day, you could even remember how many times you pressed the clutch & its release. Now, today, if you have driven something, do you remember how many times you pressed the clutch & released it! Perhaps Not! This is because you have now learnt the skill of driving, and you no more need to bother about ‘how many times.’
Similarly, you will be perfectly placed to write any damn good thing on even the toughest of questions with just an optimal level of knowledge! Remember, there is NO SHORTCUT to answer writing except to learn this skill. Model answers are meant to just have a look at them, and if you try to cram them, they are the biggest disaster for you.
Now, let us see how to write good answers – practical steps towards learning a lifelong skill –
- Answer writing is a combination of following 8 parameters. If you are just good enough on each parameter, you will be able to write great answers. The % against each parameter shows approximate value of importance of that particular parameter in overall answer and the marks that parameter will carry.
- Out of these 8 parameters, ‘facts’ and ‘analysis’ will come from your subject knowledge of the topic. As discussed, just using 5-points optimal knowledge concept (as discussed in another paper) will help you have good grasp over facts & analysis. I have given its link at the end of this discussion.
- Skill about ‘Question is dissected well’ and ‘word limit’ comes from understanding of the question. A question has many components. These components can be easily identified by understanding the need of the question, that is, its keyword. For example, the need of a question with keyword Discussion will be different from that of with keyword Critically examine. This keyword help you understand what the components of a question are and how much emphasis should be given on one component (therefore helping you in restricting your word limit). I have given the list of these components and their meaning at the end of this discussion.
- Learning the ‘Presentation/ Value addition’ skill involves you to keep your eyes open when you come across some good flowchart, map, diagram, graph etc. And then either copying that in your notebook (if it is relevant for any topic) or learning the skill of making similar value addition diagrams for your different topics. It’s an easy job, but you have to be open minded for it.
- ‘Language’ matters a lot. It is perhaps the most important parameter that you must learn. It helps you in general in life in improving your inter-personal communication skills. The easiest way of having command over language is: whatever good words/ phrases/ sentences you come across while reading a book or newspaper or anything – copy them – write them in your notebook – cram them – try to use them in answers of different topics. Keep doing this for couple of month, and you will see the magical difference in your language.
- ‘Introduction’ and ‘conclusion’ are the result of your command over above 4 points. You don’t need to put any extra effort to do if you are commanding over the first four!
- Learning the skill of answer writing is a continuous process, especially in initial couple of months. Write something every day. Write just 3 lines or so, but write. Write on anything, as simple as ‘my cow.’ But write! Try to use whatever good words/ phrases/ sentences you learnt while writing. Implement your above-mentioned skills while writing. But, write every day!
- Write at least 2 answers every week. The best questions are UPSC previous year questions. Pick any PYQ from the topic you have read and write 2 answers every Sunday without failure. If you do this, I can guarantee you improving on your skills very soon.
- Now comes the problem of EVALUATION. Answer writing without Evaluation is of little use. Evaluation is a time-consuming process. When you engage an expert for this, it involves a good cost. That is why; answer evaluation programs of all good institutes are paid. If you have joined some answer writing and evaluation program of any institute, utilise it to the fullest. Discuss in detail with your evaluators. You have all rights to do so until you improve your skills. If you haven’t joined any such program, then the best way is to make a group of at least 3 and up to 4 friends. All of you write answers and evaluate each other’s answers. Whatever feedback you get from majority of your evaluators, you must stick to that and improve accordingly.
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