Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude

Tips for Answer-writing

In order to score top marks in the paper of ‘Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude’, it is not sufficient to have knowledge of the subject, which is easy. What is most important and rather difficult is to develop the right aptitude of a civil servant. We, as citizens of India, hardly deal with the government on a day-to-day basis. We know about the government functioning only through newspapers and media reporting, which is mostly negative. We hear only about the corruption and inefficiency of the government departments, and so, we tend to form an opinion that the way everything works in the government is corrupt or rotten. Some people believe that civil servants are helpless before the politicians, and that they have to act as per the instructions of the latter.
The reality is just the opposite. There are good and bad people in every organisation. It is unrealistic to expect civil servants to be the paragon of virtues when the general morality of the country is low and they elect people of equivalent morality into power during elections. However, fortunately, Indian Constitution provides considerable protection to the civil servants if they are doing their job honestly and diligently. Even a Prime Minister can’t dismiss or appoint a civil servant at will, without following the due process of law.
Another differentiating factor of the civil services in India is that it clearly differentiates the role of political executives and civil servants. While political executives make laws and supervise the ministries, the actual implementation is done by the government departments—which are headed by the civil servants. The civil servants enjoy all their powers from the laws passed by the Parliament, and they are empowered to take all functional decisions without seeking any permission from politicians. For example, a tax officer assesses the tax or conducts raids on the basis of his information and intelligence, rather than seeking any approval from the minister. Even a Prime Minister can’t perform the job of a civil servant, like granting refunds or ordering arrests.
It is, therefore, important to deeply understand the power and responsibilities of a civil servant. A civil servant, in order to perform his duties, must cultivate the foundational values as discussed in the book. Our answers in civil services papers must reflect the right aptitude for the job.
Hence, writing great answers in civil services require skills which can be mastered only by practise. In this chapter, we shall learn these skills; they can improve our writing skills and help us score better marks in civil services examination.
Scheme of Paper
The paper of Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude (General Studies Paper IV) consists of two parts:
• Part A: Theory (eight-nine questions)
• Part B: Case Studies (six questions)
We shall be discussing the Case Studies in a separate chapter. In this chapter, we shall discuss Part A of the paper which deals with theory questions.
There are eight-nine theory questions in Part A, and the total marks allocated for this part is around 130. The 10-marks questions are to be answered in 150 words. Hence, the total number of words for this part would be around 2,000.
We can divide the questions in Part A in four categories:
1. Knowledge-based questions
2. Quotation-based questions
3. Analysis-based question
4. Opinion-based questions
1. Knowledge-based questions
In this type of questions, accurate knowledge of the topic is required. If you don’t have the knowledge, you can’t answer such questions. Some examples are—
1. What do you understand by the following terms in the context of public service? (CSE 2013)
(i) Integrity
(ii) Perseverance
(iii) Spirit of service
(iv) Commitment
(v) Courage of conviction
2. Discuss Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of seven sins. (CSE 2016)
3. Analyse John Rawls’s concept of social justice in the Indian context. (CSE 2016)
4. Discuss the Public Services Code as recommended by the second Administrative Reforms Commission. (CSE 2016)
5. Distinguish between Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct with suitable examples. (CSE 2018)
Such type of questions can’t be answered without having accurate knowledge of the subject. In order to answer these questions well, you must do a thorough study of the subject and cover the full syllabus.
Suppose that you don’t have much idea about the questions. Still, you must attempt to answer and write something from your general knowledge and assumption. Each mark is important in civil services and you may score some marks when you answer a question as opposed to leaving it completely unanswered. However, don’t write anything which is factually incorrect.
2. Quotation-based Questions
The syllabus of this paper includes two specific topics, whose ambit is virtually infinite. These topics are:
• Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world.
• Lessons from the lives, and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators.
We have discussed the thoughts of several philosophers, thinkers, social reformers, leaders and administrators in detail in this book. However, the list of great thinkers, scholars and leaders is virtually infinite, and it is impossible to cover the thoughts of all great thinkers in one single book. It is also not desirable to spend too much time reading books on or about various leaders, for one can utilize the same time and energy for preparing other topics of the civil services better. If you have studied the thoughts of a few great minds, it would not be difficult to understand the thoughts of others using your intuition and imagination.
The quotation-based answers may ask you to discuss, explain, justify or elucidate certain quotes.
Some examples are as follows:
1. Given below are three quotations of great moral thinkers/philosophers. For each of these quotations, bring out what it means to you in the present context: (CSE 2013)
(a) ‘There is enough on this earth for every one’s need but for no one’s greed.’ —Mahatma Gandhi.
(b) ‘Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’ —Abraham Lincoln.
(c) ‘I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies.’ — Aristotle.
2. ‘Corruption causes misuse of government treasury, administrative inefficiency and obstruction in the path of national development,’ said Kautilya. Discuss his views. (CSE 2016)
3. Max Weber said that it is not wise to apply to public administration the sort of moral and ethical norms we apply to matters of personal conscience. It is important to realise that the state bureaucracy might possess its own independent bureaucratic morality.’ Critically analyse this statement. (CSE 2016)
4. ‘In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they do not have the first, the other two will kill you.’ —Warren Buffett. What do you understand by this statement in the present-day scenario? Explain. (CSE 2018)
If you closely observe, you will notice that not all types of quotations appear in the examination. The quotations pertain to topics like ethics, morality, corruption, public administration, probity in governance, emotional intelligence, etc. that are part of the GS-IV syllabus. If you have good knowledge of the subject, you can write excellent explanation to the quotations.
You must practise a large number of quotations on similar topics to prepare for the examination. Read some answers as given in the last part of the book (Solved Problems); they will help you write better answers within the word limit. If you have thoroughly studied the fundamentals of the course and the thoughts of a thinker/s, you must connect your knowledge of the personality and write your answer accordingly.
3. Analysis-based Questions
There are certain types of questions that test your analytical skill. It is important to understand here that when we prepare for our examinations in our schools or colleges, we usually refer to a textbook which already tells us what the right answer is. However, for the real world problems, there are hardly any right answers. For example, you will find a considerable number of people for and against issues like Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) or National Registrar of Citizen (NRC). You must have the ability to critically analyse both sides of the thoughts and come to a conclusion of your own.
Hence, you must develop the skill to analyse complex issues for which no single answer can be provided. In such type of questions, the presentation of the answer is as important as the knowledge of the topic. Let us take some such questions asked in previous year’s papers.
1. What do you understand by ‘values’ and ‘ethics’? In what way is it important to be ethical along with being professionally competent? (CSE 2013)
2. What is ‘emotional intelligence’ and how can it be developed in people? How does it help an individual in taking ethical decisions? (CSE 2013)
3. What does ethics seek to promote in human life? Why is it all the more important in public administration? (CSE 2014)
4. The Right to Information Act is not all about citizens’ empowerment alone, it essentially redefines the concept of accountability. Discuss. (CSE 2018)
These types of questions test not only your knowledge of the subject, but also your ability to analyse them and predict their impact in the real world, particularly in the context of the civil services. For example, you should not only know the specific provision of the RTI Act, but also know how it empowers citizens and brings accountability to the public servants.
4. Opinion-based Question
There is a fourth category of questions in this paper where your opinion on a particular issue is tested.
Some example are as follows:
1. Some people feel that values keep changing with time and situation, while others strongly believe that there are certain universal and eternal human values. Give your perception in this regard with due justification. (CSE 2013)
2. All human beings aspire for happiness. Do you agree? What does happiness mean to you? Explain with examples. (CSE 2014)
3. Young people with ethical conduct are not willing to come forward to join active politics. Suggest steps to motivate them to come forward. (CSE, 2017)
4. One of the tests of integrity is complete refusal to be compromised. Explain with reference to a real-life example. (CSE, 2017)
5. With regard to the morality of actions, one view is that means is of paramount importance and the other view is that the ends justify the means. Which view do you think is more appropriate? Justify your answer. (CSE 2018)
You have much more flexibility in writing an answer when your opinion is asked. However, you are more susceptible to making mistakes in answering such questions because the question often tries to misguide you into writing wrong answers. Moreover, there is no standard answer to such questions available in any text book. These questions try to test your core personality, and attempt to know you at the deepest level.
You must have the ability to imagine yourself as a civil servant and then provide an answer from their perspective. You are expected to show maturity, rationality and emotional stability while answering these questions. Your answers must display the qualities a civil servant possesses—like impartiality, objectivity, justice, political neutrality, secularism, etc. For example, when you answer the questions “All human beings aspire for happiness. Do you agree? What does happiness mean to you?”, you may either choose duty, service to nation, etc. as your aspiration rather than happiness, or you can write that happiness to you mean doing your duties and serving the nation.
You must not focus on what you expect from the job, you must rather focus on what is expected from you by your job. While writing answers always remember the words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Tips to Improve Writing Skills
A famous English writer Samuel Johnson had once said, ‘What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.’ Good writing is always a great effort. No one is a born writer; writing is a skill, and everyone can develop this skill with hard work and practise. We can improve our writing skills by following these steps.
1. Learning by Doing
There is no shortcut to develop writing skills. You can learn it only by doing. Even if you have memorised the entire book How to Drive a Car word by word, you still can’t drive a car unless you practise. You learn driving only when you sit on the driver’s seat and drive your car on a busy road. If you wish to swim, you have to jump into the water and learn swimming yourself. You have to suffer the pain of breathlessness, experience the fear of sinking under the water and learn keeping your head above the water while paddling your hands and legs. Someone wisely said, ‘No pain, no gain.’
Good writers are not the slave of their mood. Sometimes they write because they are inspired, and sometimes inspiration comes to them due to writing. You may create an excellent piece of writing either way. Ernest Hemingway, an American novelist, short story writer and journalist, had said this bluntly, ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’
2. Acquire Accurate Knowledge
There is no shortcut to success in life. The key to success in civil services examination is knowledge. You can’t write good essays unless you know the subject well. You must, therefore, learn about the variety of topics that may be relevant from reliable sources to ensure your writing is meaningful.
Nowadays, a lot of unverified and fake knowledge is shared on social media. Much of these news items are false and motivated. However, they go viral and reach millions of people because they are interesting and often sensational. Let’s not learn from the University of WhatsApp or Facebook if we wish to acquire the right knowledge.
Instead, read from books that are authored by good writers who are highly qualified, and have accumulated years of experience in their relevant subject. Sometimes, it may be better to refer to original sources, like a government website or the original reports, for accurate and factual information. However, it is better to read important issues from books or articles written by credible authors because good writers have the ability to simplify complex matters and present them in an interesting manner, which makes learning easier.
Develop the habit to read articles and reviews in newspapers, magazines and books to get a vantage point. Watch debates on Rajya Sabha TV, NDTV, India Today etc. to get varied perspective of the experts.
3. Research
It is often said that if two people think similarly, one of them is redundant. The best writing is one which is not presented in black and white with a single colour, i.e. your own opinion. Beautiful writing is like a spectrum which has various opinions and views from the best writers. You must learn the art of assimilating diverse thoughts and present a variety of opinions in order to write beautiful and interesting articles.
Robert J. Sawyer, a Canadian science fiction writer, said this aptly, ‘The heart and soul of good writing is research; you should write not what you know but what you can find out about.’ Therefore, research to find out what other people think about a particular topic. You may form your own views but you must know why you agree or disagree with a particular view. You can then present the spectrum of thoughts through your writing like a garland made of flowers of numerous varieties and colours.
You must avoid giving personal opinions based on intuition without basis. Rather, you must use references and quotes to back up your points. Try to strengthen your argument by providing documents, data, references and evidence.
Your answer must demonstrate that you have wide knowledge of your subject and that you possess in-depth knowledge on the topic. However, it is not a good idea to use too much of other people’s opinions, which may suggest that you don’t have the knowledge or confidence to explain things in your own words.
While writing an analytical answer, try to give both sides of an argument and present information impartially, and consider multiple points of view. However, you must form your own views after logically analysing all the points and after weighing the evidence comprehensively and write them unambiguously.
4. Plan Your Answer
You must answer the question which has been asked and not the question you want to answer. Don’t try to mould the question to what you know or what you like to write about. Even if you have written a brilliant answer, which is out of context, you may not be able to impress the examiner and get good marks.
You must, therefore, make a full picture of the answer in your mind before you pen the first word on paper. Don’t move back and forth. You must format the answer first and jot down the salient points in bulleted form. Prioritise the points and write your answer in such a way that you don’t miss even one, single important point.
You must always come to some specific conclusion based on your own analysis after weighing the evidence. Your opinion and interpretation matters most to the examiner for judging your suitability for the job.
5. Know Your Reader
It is always important to know the audience to whom you have to deliver your message. For example, your Facebook posts are read mostly by your friends and relatives, and your Quora answers are read mostly by young people under the age of 30. However, your answers in UPSC examination is meant for the examiner, who is likely to be in the age group of 40-60 years, with wide experience of life and in-depth knowledge of the subject. Write your answers keeping this in mind.
You should not write what is popular but what is right. You have to impress the examiner by showing your suitability for the job as a civil servant. Your purpose should be to leave an impression on the mind of the examiner about your knowledge, sincerity and commitment to serve the nation, so that he sees an ideal civil servant in you after reading your answer.
6. Develop Your Own Style
Examiners get bored reading the same type of answer since most students use the same sources for preparation. They must find something refreshing and new in your answer to award you extra marks.
You should not hide behind what other people say about the topic. You must show them that you have an independent mind, and that you have an intelligent opinion on everything.
You may use quotations to make your answers interesting and convincing. You may also add pictures and sketches for a more effective and persuasive communication. You must try to captivate your reader by the power of reasoning and the beauty of presentation.
7. Spelling and Grammar
It would be a good idea to practise answer writing on computer which can immediately point out the errors in spellings and grammar. You will thus know where you are weak and you can work upon it. If you write blogs or answers on Quora, the readers must have pointed out your mistakes and that can help you correct your errors and make your writing better.
8. Edit and Proofread
You must always edit and proofread your answer. You are bound to make mistakes even if you are extremely careful. The books authored by the greatest writers of the world undergo several rounds of editing and proofreading. Once you have written your answer, please revise it before you submit your copy.
9. Stick to the Time and Word Limit
When you are writing an answer, divide the time available to you fairly among all the answers on the basis of the marks allocated for each answer. You must keep at least 10 per cent of the time as buffer, in case you exceed the time limit in any question. Try to complete your answer before this allocated time so that you have sufficient time for revision and editing. Always follow the word limit while writing your answers. An ideal answer would be within 10 per cent of the word limit. It is only by practise that you can plan and write answers within the word limit.
10. Presentation
Presentation of an answer or an essay is like packaging of a product which creates the first impression.
The following points may be kept in mind for improving the presentation:
• Neat and legible handwriting
• No cutting or erasing
• No spelling and grammatical mistakes
• Equal-sized words on all pages
• Usage of simple words and sentences to express thoughts
• Reader should not need to read a sentence twice to understand its meaning
• No random jumping about from topic to topic, from one paragraph to the next
Common Mistakes and their Resolution
Civil services aspirants usually possess ample knowledge to achieve success in the examination. However, they often commit silly mistakes in the examination and lose marks. In this section, we shall discuss about some such common mistakes and know how to resolve them.
1. Not Reading the Question Properly
Students are quite tense when they receive their question papers in the examination hall. They flip through all the questions very fast to have a cursory look at them. As a result, they often don’t read the questions properly and end up writing a different answer than what has been asked. When they realise their mistake after the examination, they feel depressed and are angry with themselves.
You must read the question paper calmly and underline important points while reading the paper. Please remember that the time spent on reading the question is not wasted because it shall help you write better and to the point answers, saving much more time.
2. Panicking
The syllabus of civil services is vast and it is almost impossible to predict the questions in advance. When you see a large number of unfamiliar or unprepared questions, you may lose confidence, become nervous and get panicked. In such a situation, you forget whatever you know. As a result, your performance goes down drastically.
There is no way anyone can predict the examination paper of UPSC. While some questions may be asked as prepared, many questions may be new. You have to solve them using your general knowledge and imagination. The more questions you practice and the more sample/practice tests you have done before the examination, the more easily would you be able to tackle such unexpected questions. If you are depressed or panicky, you can’t be creative. Hence, maintain your cool and answer all questions one by one starting from those questions whose answers you know well. You will soon get your confidence back and you can then write answers of those questions as well which are unprepared.
3. Failing to Plan Time
In the GS-IV paper, you have to answer around thirteen questions in Part A and six case studies in Part B. Thus, the total writing to be done is almost 4,000 words. It is easy to lose track of time and spend more time on some questions, which leaves one with less time to answer other questions.
It is better that you divide the time fairly among all the questions in proportion to the marks they carry. For example, in GS-IV, the total time is three hours (180 minutes) while the marks are 250. You must aim to finish your paper within 160 minutes, giving yourself twenty minutes of time for revision and editing. This will also act as a buffer to absorb extra time spent over writing a few questions. It means that you would have around 6-7 minutes for the questions carrying 10 marks and 13-15 minutes for the questions carrying 20 marks, i.e. case studies. Keep a close watch on time and check your progress every half an hour in the first two hours, and every fifteen minutes in the last hour.
4. Over-generalising
Many candidates start writing general answers even though the questions asked are very specific. Let us take the following questions of CSE 2014:
All human beings aspire for happiness. Do you agree? What does happiness mean to you? Explain with examples. (150 words)
This question has three parts:
1. Do you agree that all human beings aspire for happiness?
2. What does happiness mean to you?
3. Explain with example.
In this question, the second part is the fulcrum of the question. The answer to this question would depend on what happiness means to you. If happiness means serving the nation, your answer would be different than if it meant acquiring wealth, power or fame; or achieving excellence. Hence, first decide the answer for the second part and then the rest should follow. You are not expected to give formal definition of happiness here but your own interpretation of happiness. You can even choose not to agree with the statement and write that you consider service to the nation more important than happiness; and you would be willing to sacrifice your happiness for it.
Keep the word limit in mind while answering this question, and be precise so that your answer covers all three parts within 150 words. While answering, it is best to be as specific as possible in whatever you write.
It is advisable in general to back up what you say with evidence, data and reference, if possible.
However, don’t provide incorrect information here, which may be counterproductive.
5. Spelling and Grammatical Mistakes
Nothing puts off an examiner more than frequent spelling and grammatical mistakes. If you commit spelling and grammatical mistakes, it spoils your image in the mind of the examiner and you end up getting lesser marks in all your answers than what you really deserve.
Hence, choose simple words or the words whose spelling you know correctly. You must also ensure that your sentences are simple and small. This would reduce the chances of making grammatical mistakes. Revise your answers before you submit your answer sheet so that you are able to correct these mistakes.
6. Not Sticking to the Word Limit
Many candidates fail to follow the word limit while writing their answers. Their answers are either too small or too long. It would be prudent to stick to the prescribed word limit, and keep the answer within 5 -10 per cent of the prescribed word limit.
While practicing your answers at home, develop the habit of counting words at the end of your answers. This will help you develop the intuition to know the number of words written in an answer, which should be quite close to the prescribed word limit. You must also make a good approximation of the words of your answers in the examination.
7. Answers Lacking Flow
A good answer has a flow; each sentence follows from the previous one. This is possible only when you are able to capture the whole thought in one go and then write your answer in a systematic manner. If you keep getting new ideas while writing your answers, there can’t be a flow and the examiner is likely to be put off by the randomness of your thoughts.
You must make a map of the answer in your mind arranging all the points to be covered in the answer before writing it. Your answer should look like one single piece and not broken into different parts. This skill too can be developed with practice.
Practise, Practise and More Practise
There is no shortcut to developing any skill except by regular practice. In his bestselling book Outliers: The Story of Success, writer Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’, claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is—to a large extent—a matter of practising the correct way for a total of around 10,000 hours. We may not need as much time for civil services preparation, but we certainly must devote considerable time for improving our writing skill. Follow the words of Louis L’Amour: ‘Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.’
If you write even one page per day, you can eventually develop great skills for writing impressive answers in your civil services examination.
Tips for Answer-writing
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