The Civil Services Mains examination is a subjective type exam consisting of 9 papers and overall writing of 27 hours. Of these, two are of qualifying nature- The Compulsory Indian Language paper (Paper A) and the English paper (Paper B). Here, each question will be provided with fixed spaces accordingly. Since the nature of questions is not of the standard type in the language papers, one does not have to worry about the pages as the focus should be only to answer them within the given space. For the mains exam, UPSC will be providing a booklet that comes with pre-printed questions that have a fixed space for the aspirant to write their answers.
Coming onto the next one, the essay paper (Paper I) asks for two essays to be written in 3 hours. There will be a list of topics, from which the aspirant has to select one topic from each section (Section A & B). Here, each essay has to be written adhering to a word count of 1000 to 1100 words.
Moving onto the General Studies (GS) papers (Paper II to Paper V), there are four papers, each with a maximum of 250 marks. In the GS papers, there will be 20 questions in each paper. Here, two types of questions are asked- 10 marks questions with a word limit of 150 words and 15 marks questions with a word limit of 250 words. Here, the ten markers are given two pages, and for the 15 markers, three pages are provided. The aspirants are expected to write their answers within the fixed space and word limit. Please keep in mind that you do not have to use the word limit perfectly. The idea should be to NOT cross the word limit.
Concerning the Optional papers (paper VI, paper VII), there are two, and each paper counts for 250 marks. Here, there is a slight difference in the marks distribution. Of the five questions that an aspirant has to write, each question has sub-questions, which is further subdivided into three types- 10 mark questions, 15 mark questions and 20 mark questions. These different types in various orders make the entirety of one optional paper. Here, the pages allotted for 10 marks, 15 marks, and 20 marks are two, three and four pages, respectively.
When you are ready to appear for the Mains exam, make sure that you have practised enough. The answers are expected to have quality, quantity, clarity, flow, and relevance and should cover various dimensions. While you attempt a question, the standard practice is to have an introduction-body-conclusion style. Keep writing mock tests to sharpen your skills while you learn to ace the Mains exam. UPSC will frame questions that will test your knowledge and mental calibre to withstand pressure in the actual exam. Hence, one might be pressed for time to complete the papers on time. This is another reason to take practice tests. Kindly keep in mind that the expertise in the Mains is acquired through practice. So, one should not worry if the marks they get in their mocks are less than satisfactory. While practising, make sure that you take papers that are identical to the ones used by UPSC. This is to ensure that you are accustomed to the space provided for writing as UPSC answer booklet space does not correspond to the usual A4 sheet space. There will be margins on the UPSC mains booklet, and it is wise to practice on similar lines to ensure maximum benefit. Below given is a sample specimen of the GS answer sheet.
Keep practising, and I sincerely wish you will crack the upcoming Prelims 2021 and give your best in the Mains.