How to write the Ethics Paper (GS-4) for IAS Mains

Many of us wonder, why did UPSC introduce a subject of this kind?

The whole framework of the Ethics paper has been based on values and ethical principles, that guide the actions and behaviour of an administrator. Given the frequent complaints in the public administration, no wonder there is a growing emphasis on ethics in public servants.

Decision making in Ethics Paper

The experience of the previous years paper has proved a few facts:

  • UPSC did not care to ask the legal-constitutional provisions regarding the ethical codes of administration;
  • Emphasis was on ethical ideas and concepts;
  • Paper was more application-based, instead of being theoretical or ‘bookish’;
  • Equal weightage has been given to the theoretical questions (Section-A) and the case studies based section (Section-B).

The Structure of the Ethics Paper = Theory Weds Practice

The ethics paper has been divided into two parts-

  1. Theoretical Part, which expects the candidate to have a grasp of various concepts and issues of Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude. Thus, a candidate needs to be comfortable with the various issues related to ethics and morality. The weightage of this section, in the paper, is worth 125 marks, that is 50% of the paper.
  2. Situation Based Questions– this part deals with a series of situation based questions, which present the candidate with hypothetical situations. The candidate is expected to provide a response to the given situation. Here the candidate is judged for his decision-making skills, along with the presence of mind and personal integrity. Again, the weightage of this part of the paper is worth 125 marks, that is 50% of the paper.

So, What to Focus in this Paper?

Contrary to all expectations, the Ethics paper included questions on values, correlation between ethics and competency, and other related theoretical concepts. To the surprise of many, there was hardly any question related to a committee or legal provision.

Thus, there is an urgent need to revamp the strategy for the Ethics paper. To begin with, you should shift your focus on studying more about the philosophical base of ethics paper. Here, it is more important to focus on developing an understanding of the terms and concepts of ethics and values.

Also, what is important for this paper is-

To Understand, rather than learn, about the connections between ethical principles and the administrative framework.

Since the purpose of the paper is to evaluate the integrity of the candidate, it is necessary that you develop an ethical perspective towards different things. To develop an ethical perspective, it is necessary that you understand the purpose of civil services and public organizations.

It is also important to learn why things are valued. An ethical perspective cannot be developed merely by learning. You need to understand and develop the art of free rational thinking. A free rational thinking refers to an unbiased thought about things. When our thoughts are unbiased, they are based on an benevolent attitude, which is the essence of ethics.

How to tackle the Ethics Paper?

Ethics, Integrity Aptitude

Ethics paper needs to be tackled with a different strategy. This paper needs less of the ‘bookish gyaan’ (gyaan refers to knowledge), and more of internalizing the concepts and issues. Thus, you cannot rely completely on the textbook material, to deal with the Ethics paper. Rather, you need to internalize the idea, and write what is ethical.

How can you develop such a rational thinking??


  • Start questioning things and values around you;
  • Think logically;
  • Do not assume the validity of any moral idea;
  • Do not be judgemental;
  • Learn how to prioritise different ends and principles;
  • Do not try to write some out-of-the-world language in your paper. Write Simple, so as to communicate your ideas.

About Section B: Situation Based Questions

While you might think that there is no need to study theoretical aspects of ethics for the Section B of the Ethics Paper, you must understand that this section cannot be dealt without a firm theoretical base.

The questions of the Section B are of the nature that they test your integrity and emotional intelligence. Now, these things cannot be developed only by reading books. While you might get some similar questions for Section B, in different books and sources, it is difficult to get the ‘perfect answer’ for such questions, as their answers are subjective in nature.

Thus, you performance in the section B mainly depends on your clarity of thought and understanding of the crucial ethical issues.

Thus, we highly recommend that- since there is quite some time available for the IAS Mains, the aspirants should spend time on developing their understanding of the ethical issues and principles.

Buy Books on Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude

Buy Ethics Integrity, and Aptitude books from Flipkart

The Evaluation of Your Performance

The evaluation of the ethics paper is not done on lines followed in other papers. Rather, the purpose of the ethics paper is to evaluate your integrity and decision-making ability. The paper seek to judge your ability to take decisions in the complex situations.

The Ethics paper has been introduced as a practical exam, to judge the decision-making ability and moral-ethical standing of the candidates. Thus, do think assume that writing a particular point will definitely fetch you marks. You might lose your marks if there is an inconsistency or conflict in your ideas.

Thus, the most important point in this paper is to write with clarity of thought and an ethical paradigm.

Ethics paper is an opportunity where you can really boost your marks. Thus, don’t take it lightly.

All the Best to those appearing for the Exam.

We are always ready to help our brethren in any way possible.

Team Aspirant Forum


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