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Amid meme fest on UPSC mains essay paper, here’s what experts and aspirants have to say

This wasn’t the first time that UPSC tricked candidates with philosophy-based essay topics. While experts claim the paper pattern, as usual, aspirants were baffled with the choice of topics.

Written by Sakshi Saroha | New Delhi I |
Updated: January 12, 2022 10:02:12 am
UPSC mains, upsc cse mains 2021The essay topics largely focused on self-discovery and self-awareness (Graphics by Abhishek Mitra)

UPSC Civil Service main examination essay paper has always been a tricky one for candidates appearing in one of the toughest exams in the country. And, the 2021 essay paper had many rolling their eyes—all the topics in section A and a few in section B were based on issues that demanded core philosophical knowledge.

The UPSC essay paper was widely circulated on social media, especially on Twitter, and aspirants, as well as serving bureaucrats, participated in a meme game questioning the setter. Some called it a “UPSC trick” and others shared memes and experiences from their exam days.

Experts, however, said an objective assessment of the essay paper shows it was simply focused on culling out aspirants’ thought processes and scrutinising their overview. But some aspirants were nevertheless baffled by the topics.

Shubhra Ranjan, a UPSC exam expert, said the essay paper was a clear break from the past. Before this one, the essay topics distinctly belonged to two categories— philosophical and technical—Ranjan said. She said, however, this year the focus was to evaluate the overall personality of the aspirants through the abstract topics.

“UPSC just does not want information gatherers. Rather the focus is on creative thinking. Overall, the approach was to make an aspirant think, deconstruct and then express, rather than just some assortment of facts. I think that one needs a deeper understanding and reading of standard texts around broad socio-political issues,” she said.

Sajal Singh, the founder of Civilsdaily, a UPSC exam preparation portal said the essay paper of CSE Main 2021 was “as effervescent as it has always been.” 

“UPSC tries to check the depth in one’s ability to think through a broad spectrum of subjects that a candidate studies throughout the year. There has been a trend of the increased number of philosophical essays in the past couple of years, however, this time around the benchmark was higher than the previous few years.”

Singh also said the essay topics could have been easily linked with the general studies (GS) syllabus.

“The first essay of section A, titled ‘The process of self-discovery has now been technologically outsourced’ is a perennial theme in UPSC about the challenges of science and technology derived from one of Gandhiji’s seven sins of science without conscience is the ruin of the soul. So it was on expected lines,” he explained.

UPSC aspirants also had their own take on the essay paper this year. 

Simran Jindal, who is appearing in the UPSC mains exam, said the essay paper this year was as per the commission’s “unpredictable pattern”.

“The essay topics largely focused on self-discovery and self-awareness. Even though the topics appeared to be core philosophical, they could be easily linked with the GS papers. I believe that the commission largely wants aspirants to be aware of their own ethos through which they will be able to solve societal issues as bureaucrats,” Jindal said.

On the other hand, Promod Kumar Singh from Uttar Pradesh who is appearing in the exam for the fourth time, found the paper balanced and as per the pattern.

“In my perspective, philosophical essays are easier to attempt as they can be moulded into broadest interpretation possible. Technical essays on topics like artificial intelligence, blockchain technology are harder to attempt as they are fact-based topics. The key to attempting a philosophical essay is to decode the topic and spend enough time brainstorming on the topics,” Singh pointed out.

“I attempted the topic ‘Your perception of me is a reflection of you, my reaction of you is awareness about me.’ The topic might seem philosophical but could easily be related to religious, historical and political facts we study for GS papers. From the points of secularism and tolerance and people’s perception of Ashoka and Akbar, the topic could easily be answered with reference to GS papers,” he added.

Anmol Bedi, who is currently preparing for the civil services exam, said the essay paper was a reminder that UPSC can bowl a Googly in any paper, not just GS. “I have been largely focusing on social issues for essay preparation but after analysing this year’s paper I will have to redirect my preparation,” Bedi said.

UPSC has so far conducted the essay and four GS exams this year and experts, as well as aspirants, say the commission’s focus has now shifted towards interlinking and inclusive study. 

In the GS I paper this year, where the syllabus covers topics on History, Geography and social issues, aspirants had to reply on topics such as gig economy and cryptocurrency interlinked with those on social issues.


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