1. The first and the foremost thing is to READ the question well and UNDERSTAND what has been asked! You may think its trivial but due to paucity of time in the mains exam, people write what they know and NOT what has been asked! I used to underline the key terms in the question and also used to look back at the question mid way to ensure that I was notstraying from the track
2. Point wise vs Paragraph form: Writing In points increases the readability of the answer and makes life easier for the examiner. Whenever I had sufficient points, I wrote in point formats. BUT in questions where I did nt have enough points, I had to write in paragraph form to beat around the bush. NOTE: beating around the bush is not advisable as it only consumes your time without giving much return. It better to answer comeback to this question later after answering questions that you know well.
3. Answer writing ‘skills’-There is NOTHING- let me emphasize again- NOTHING called ‘answer writing skills’. Just write down all the points that you have!! Completing the paper in itself is such a tough task, forget anything else! CONTENT is the single most important thing. I recommend first thinking for a minute and jotting down all the points in rough and then arranging them in order of importance in the final answer.
4. SPEED SPEED SPEED: If you see, the questions this time around were not very tough but the papers were very lengthy. Writing speed is hence of PARAMOUNT importance. Increase it any cost. I still painfully remember leaving out questions like string of pearls, maldivian crisis in paper 2 because I had spent too much time on the earlier questions
5. Underlining key words helps.
6. Stick to the word limit: there are few questions about which you will know a lot. One feels tempted to write down pages and pages for that question (out of sheer joy!). I must have written at least 3 pages on that Nagaland petroleum exploration license question. Avoid doing this! Not sticking to the word limit will cost you time. Hence I recommend sticking to the TIME limit for every question rather than the word limit.
7. Practise Practise Practise!: form a group of 2/3 people. Take up a predecided topic and write 2 questions DAILY on the topic chosen. Get yourself peer reviewed. We used this technique in Psycho. We formed a online group of 3 people and used to fix up a chapter a day earlier and then used to write down 2 random questions from the old question papers the next day. Spend at least 30-40 minutes on answer writing
8. Test series: enrol yourself in at least one test series. A test series gives you a schedule to stick to ensuring that you complete the syllabus well within the time and in a balanced way. Writing a paper for 3 hours gives you the actual feel of the exam. Many of my friends used to skip the tests because of non completion of syllabus. Please NEVER do this and appear in all tests and write as much you know. I had joined synergy test series for GS and found it to be very useful. Over 1000 candidates appear in that and my rank used to hover around 30.
I had joined vision IAS test series (psycho and geo) during my first attempt because I was preparing from Chittaurgarh, my hometown. Initially they used to evaluate my answersheets promptly but as mains approaced, their processing time increased. Vision’s review varies from subject to subject. But in general its allright for people who are not in delhi. The good thing about them is obviously the flexibilty to choose where and when to write.
Don’t enrol in too many test series. I did not join any for Psycho. Lastly and the most importantly,
DO NOT MISS THE FULL SYLLABUS TESTS HELD JUST BEFORE THE EXAMS
9. Pen: I am a big fan of flair’s writo meter. Its smooth and the fastest but not comfortable. Choose a pen which suites you and is comfortable. Some people write in black ink too.
10. Hand writing: needless to say, it should be legible. But those like me who have horrific handwriting need not worry! Just write in bigger sized fonts with greater spacing to improve the readabilty
11. Language: you don’t need to be a Kalidas or a Shakespeare. Use simple and short sentences. Language is no issue if you have good content
12. Examples: giving examples always help. Specially while explaining technical terms/phenomena
13. Diagrams: in questions of geography specially and even otherwise, a diagram always help. But make sure its clear and does nt eat up much of your time
14. Long term approach for improving Answer writing and Essays: start blogging!
To sum up, answer writing skills are nothing but content and time management. It’s a difficult task to complete the paper itself, forget adding frills!
I have tried to cover as many aspects of answer writing as I could. In case I have missed out anything, please feel free to ask in the comments section below!