The UPSC essay and the Mains exam, in toto, is all about the quality and depth of your understanding.
But this does not necessarily mean that you should be a scholar or an expert in that topic.
It means that the UPSC expects a certain level of sophistication in your Essay-answers which reflect a wide perspective and a mature appreciation of the complexities of real life.
This is mentioned explicitly in the UPSC syllabus notification. Here is an excerpt from the relevant paragraph.
The UPSC judges your answers on some fixed criterion such as-
- What was the depth of your understanding of the topic?
- Did you identify the Core of the issue?
- How many different perspectives did you appreciate?
- Did you consider all the stakeholders in your answer?
- How well informed were your opinions about the topic?
- How balanced and well-reasoned were the reasons for your opinions?
But how to build in-depth understanding of the Question-topic? Is there a short-cut to inject these qualities in your Essay-answers?
You can convey a deep understanding of the topic, without being an expert, by using the Deconstruction method.
Deconstruction Method is a powerful analytical tool where a statement is broken up into its basic building blocks for analysis.
Deconstruction means that you look at the individual parts of the Essay topic separately first, and later see how they combine to form the Essay topic statement. It is a Bottom-up approach where you start with the small and build up to the big Essay topic statement following two simple rules. Instead of viewing the Essay topic as a whole, you must look at the individual parts of the statement.
An Essay topic is like the camera in this image.
Your job in the Essay is to analyze the camera and lay out all the parts of the camera neatly, in detail, for the examiner to read. The more neatly organized and well-reasoned the parts are, the more points you will get. This in turn implies that, the purpose of your Essay is not to talk about personal preferences, likes, and dislikes about the camera.
To do this, don’t try looking at the Essay topic as one statement.
First, deconstruct it into its main parts. Then think about what you know about the main parts, one by one, separately.
Important tip: Deconstruction works remarkably well on Essay topics and Questions which appear in the USPC Mains exam, including the Ethics paper.
Remember that all the questions in previous year papers of UPSC mains are argumentative and analytical. This implies that all papers in the Mains exam including the Ethics paper, require only well-reasoned and logical answers. Even if the topic is Ethical or Philosophical, the thrust is on the rigor and logic of your moral reasoning instead of your subjective feelings.
What are the 2 Rules of Deconstruction?
Follow these two rules of Deconstruction to analyze any Essay topic or Question.
Rule 1 of Deconstruction
- The essay topic and Questions are made up of 2 or 3 simple things or parts that I like to call, Thing 1 and Thing 2.
- Find Thing1 (T1) and Thing 2 (T2).
Rule 2 of Deconstruction
- There is a relationship between Thing 1 and Thing 2 which is the core of the essay topic or question.
- Identify the relationship (R) between T1 and T2.
Some solved examples from the previous year Question papers
Example1 : UPSC essay from Previous year paper
“Technology cannot replace manpower”
You must deconstruct the essay topic and find the two main things it is about. Find Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Obviously, this Essay topic is about ‘Technology’ and ‘Manpower’.
So, Thing 1 is ‘Technology’ and Thing 2 is ‘Manpower’.
Example 2: UPSC essay from Previous year paper
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Ask, what are the main things the essay topic is about? What two things is it about?
This essay topic is clearly about – ‘Power’ and ‘Responsibility’.
Thing 1 is ‘Power’ and Thing 2 is ‘Responsibility’.
For easy rough work, you can write the above as T1 = Power, T2 = Responsibility
Example 3 : UPSC essay from Previous year paper
“Sting operation is an invasion of privacy”
The essay topic is about ‘sting operation’ and ‘Privacy’.
So, Thing 1 is Sting operation. Thing 2 is Privacy.
“Capitalism cannot bring inclusive growth”
The essay topic is about ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Inclusive Growth’.
So, Thing 1 is Capitalism and Thing 2 is Inclusive Growth.
You can tell from the Examples above that the Essay topic becomes a bit clearer when it is Deconstructed into its mains components. Deconstruction helps in revealing the true meaning of the Essay topic and points you to focus in the right direction.
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Assignment and deadline
Your task is to find out what are the two things the following 8 essay topics are about.
In other words, Find out Thing 1 and Thing 2 in all the 8 topics listed in the image below-
Bonus points if you can find out the relationship between T1 and T2.
Post your answers in the comments before the deadline i.e. 24/5/21 , 11:59 PM.
Do not procrastinate.
All the best and tc,
Ravi Kapoor, IRS