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Ethics Strategy (GS Paper – 4) Maximum marks: 250

Ethics Paper Preparation Strategy UPSC CSE Mains Exam consists of a total of 10 Papers which include 2 Language Papers...

Ethics Paper Preparation Strategy

UPSC CSE Mains Exam consists of a total of 10 Papers which include 2 Language Papers (qualifying in nature), 1 Essay Paper, 4 GS Papers (GS-I, GS-II, GS-III & GS-IV), and 2 Optional Subject Papers. Out of all these papers, Ethics is part of the GS-IV Paper.

Ethics Paper (GS-IV) was introduced in 2013, full six years ago, but still is shrouded in mystery. Partly because there is no single good book explaining basics in an authoritative manner, partly because the syllabus itself can be interpreted very widely, and also partly because most of us have no background in ethics as there is no directly related undergraduate course.

To clear up the confusion students have related to Ethics study material and Strategy to prepare the subject, we have compiled this Article that states some standard study material sources to be referred to and a plan of action that you can adopt to prepare for ethics paper.

Also Read:- UPSC CIVIL SERVICE-IAS Exam Eligibility, Exam Pattern And Syllabus, Booklist For UPSC CSE Complete Details

General Guidelines for Preparation of Ethics Paper

Know the syllabus – Syllabus of Ethics is your most important book and keywords list in itself. Learn the syllabus so that you can use the keywords mentioned in the syllabus in your answers.

Read limited books. Read them twice before marking important lines. Mark lines and make short notes.

Notes help in keeping keywords together in a concise form. This is A MUST as Ethics answer writing is wordplay of keywords

See all previous years’ papers. Make note of unique keywords asked like 7 sins, Weber, Rawls’s social justice theory, etc. Use these keywords in your answers.

Reading is not as important as answer writing is for ethics. Know the best answer writing structure and technique for both section-A and case studies.

Develop examples from current, social issues, professional life, your areas of interest, etc. Examples from the core of answer writing in Ethics papers.

Draw diagrams in ethics to be innovative and unique. This will give you an edge over others.

Also Read:- The Ultimate UPPSC Booklist: Expert Recommendations for Every Subject

Ethics Study Material for UPSC CSE Mains Exam

Lexicon is the starting point for most aspirants. After that, the next logical steps can include the following things –

1. Previous year’s papers

It’s the most authentic source in order to understand the scope of the syllabus and type of the questions asked.

2. Preparing from the study material provided by the institute.

Class notes vary depending on the background of the teacher. Teachers in ethics come from either of three backgrounds – philosophy teachers, psychology teachers, and public administration teachers. They all bring their own perspective which is useful and limiting at the same time. Idea is to incorporate each one’s expertise into the content.

3. As far as standard published books are concerned:

many people go for a book by Subba Rao as it gives a somewhat balanced approach between theory and practice. There are generally three kinds of authors in this field – some successful candidates have written books based on their experience, some university professors and academics have authored books, and finally, there are some practitioners like serving bureaucrats. There is also a compilation of articles, essays, and speeches by a combination of the above three. Each type of book has its pros and cons.

In ethics, the difficulty is that notes and books become outdated quickly as the question paper format keeps evolving every year. What’s good today may not be for tomorrow. So, choose the book wisely.

4. Internet :

There are very many sources here and some are very tempting. There is a course by Harvard Prof. Michael Sandel called Justice. It’s a fantastic series of video lectures exposing an uninitiated to the world of ethics. There are various topical videos on YouTube. Various Western governments and institutions like OECD or UN have their own documents, kits, and reports (like the Nolan committee, and Cadbury committee of the UK)

The Indian government has published some reports like Second ARC. DoPT has published a good manual on ethics for civil servants froman Indian perspective. Home Ministry and DARPG also have their own manuals.

So, go through the previous year’s ethics papers, notice the changing trend, and choose your study material accordingly.

Finally from IAS NEXT  Desk- Recommended books for Paper Ethics Strategy (GS Paper – 4)
Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity, and aptitude- Civil services chronicle.
Ethics, Integrity, and aptitude – McGraw-Hill education – M. Karthikeyan.

Biographies & other books

Experiment with Truth – Mahatma Gandhi.

VergheseKurien’s autobiography.

ARC 4th report.

Ethics in Public Administration – Patrick Sheeran.

Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude: G. Subbarao.

NCERT Psychology book Class XI & XII: Selected chapters.

Citizen-Centric Administration – ARC Report.

Yojana Issues- Good Governance (2013), Inclusive Governance (2013), Reforms in Public Administration (2014).

Swami Vivekananda – Karmayoga and his biography.

Selected articles by Immanuel Kant, Aristotle etc. There is a BBC website also on ethics.


Learn famous quotations from Goodreads and used them wherever possible.Refer to Fodder for the essay.

Also Read:- The Connection between Books and Culture

How to Prepare Ethics Paper for UPSC CSE Mains Exam & Score High

1) First and the most important way is by practicing through case studies. To start with read a lot of case studies, while doing this you will notice that every situation demands a certain decision-making or reaction that is different from the other. You will notice that approach to the case study varies depending on the context. The case study format is a standard pedagogical tool in business studies, medicine, military strategies, law, etc. Each of them has their own style. Civil service is a new entrant in India and thus its format is not yet formalized. The point is to be aware of various styles of writing answers to case studies and be flexible enough to apply them appropriately here.

Practical answers are more appreciated in situational case studies. Social awareness is checked more in social case studies while the application of the administrative mind is checked in some case studies. Read some basic material on SWOT analysis, stakeholder analysis, etc that gives you a handle on the case studies.

2) Secondly, while reading the newspaper, try to focus on the actions of various people involved. It’s all about three things – stakeholders, communication, and decision-making.

3) The key is to minimize the resources and focus on only what is required. And it is here that previous year’s papers help you.

4) Also, whichever source is picked up, one cannot forget the answer writing. Ethics is about articulation. It can be improved only with the help of sustained writing practice.

5) Finally remember, more than sound theoretical understating that you gather from books, what is appreciated by the examiner is personal insight. Therefore, try to come up with your own examples, analysis, and understanding.

All the Best!

Ethics Strategy,Ethics Strategy

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