Hiring of one Software Developer at Publications Division Headquarters, New Delhi on contract. || Subscribe print version with complimentary e-version @Rs.530 per annum; Subscribe only e-version @Rs.400 per annum. || !! ATTENTION ADVERTISERS !! Advertisers are requested to give full details of job Vacancies/ Minimum size will now be 200 sq.cm for shorter advertisements || Click here to become an e-resource aggregator of Publications Division || New Advertisement Policy || ||

In-Depth Jobs

Issue No 39, 25 December-31 December 2021


Civil Services (Main) Exam Tackling Ethics Paper (General Studies-IV)

S B Singh


In order to understand the importance of ethics in the Civil Services examination, it is pertinent to know why the UPSC included this subject in the examination scheme. Ethics was introduced as a separate paper only recently in 2013. The GS papers like history, geography, economics, polity, etc., test the aspirants' cognitive skills. In other words, in these papers, a candidate is expected to know the fundamentals of the subjects and current happenings around the contemporary issues related to these subjects. For example, in polity, one should know the constitutional provisions relating to parliament, judiciary, local governance, etc., and the problems experienced in their smooth and effective functioning. The GS papers, thus, do not test the normative skills of the candidate. By normative skills, one implies the values and moral standards a person applies in various personal, social, and official positions or real-life situations. Therefore, including a separate paper on ethics was most appropriate for the main examination. As per UPSC- "This (Ethics) paper will include questions to test the candidate's attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his problemsolving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilize the case study approach to determine these aspects." Going by this statement, it can be inferred that the UPSC intends to test some core qualities imbibed by the candidate through the process of observation and educational training. These core qualities are virtues that a civil servant needs to possess in order to make an impact on society. To decode the above statement, one should explain the keywords like "attitude," "integrity, "probity," "public life" as used by the UPSC.



  • Attitude: It refers to an individual's positive or negative evaluation of an issue, event, or person. As a civil servant, a candidate's attitude towards his duty, society, issues in public life will determine his performance. There will be questions relating to attitude formation, how attitude shapes behavior, how attitudinal changes can be integrated into one's personality. Also related to this topic are issues of social influence and persuasion. How social influence shapes our behavior, for example, our behavior towards women, weaker sections, dowry, corruption, etc. Persuasion has been found to play a transformative role in better implementation of laws, schemes because of higher acceptance by those who could e genuinely persuaded. For example, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is based on persuasion and that explains it's success.
  • Integrity: Integrity is about consistent and public adherence to a moral code. This adherence sustains even if it brings personal disadvantage to a public servant. Questions on how to promote integrity among civil servants, and case studies testing integrity in a particular situation can also be asked in the examination. Probity is defined as uprightness of character or action, or morally upright behavior in all situations. Probity in public life is essential for good, ethical governance. A range of questions can be asked on probity, from defining the term to the inculcation of this value through various methods.
  • Public life: The essence of any public service is to deal with issues in public life. A civil servant has not only to implement programs and policies of the government, but also to provide a safety net to weaker sections of society. Interventions of public servants in public life, thus, are crucial for equity, justice, and development. A good understanding of this role will help answer questions related to this topic.
  • Problem-solving approach: Good governance is predicated on solving the issues that affect the common man in his day-to-day life. As an administrator, a civil servant must have the capability to resolve these issues without delay. What does it take to solve problems in public life? Decision-making capacity, practical wisdom, workable solutions, stakeholder approach, inclusive solutions provide the answer to this question. It should be obvious from the above analysis that the ethics paper seeks to test what was not being tested earlier in the exam. Civil services require not only well informed, studious candidates, but also those who are able to relate to issues of morals and values in public service. In particular, values of honesty, integrity, probity, objectivity, and virtues like compassion, empathy, tolerance are meant to be tested through the ethics paper. Such values and virtues are acquired by a person not only through education but also learned through other agents like family and society.



t is not a systematic syllabus in an academic sense. Instead, a few selected topics have been put together in the syllabus. Secondly, the syllabus is indicative in nature, not prescriptive. What this means is that the topics given in the syllabus just indicate the areas, and one needs to further build on that. Thirdly, the syllabus is more contextual and less textual. By contextual, it implies that every syllabus topic has to be understood in its proper context. That context can be personal, societal, or administrative con-text. For example, honesty, integrity, probity has a personal context. Compassion, tolerance has a societal context. Similarly, corruption, public service delivery, utilisation of funds has an administrative context. It will be wrong to assume that the entire paper deals just with ethics. Actually, the syllabus can be understood in the following broad divisions:


  • A general account of ethics: The first topic of the syllabus requires a general understanding of ethics, it's role in life, and its human interface. So, questions like: Why study ethics, what accounts for moral decline in society, how ethics can help human progress and development should be addressed. A brief history of the evolution of ethics, determinants of ethics, various dimensions of ethics will also come under the scope of this topic.
  • Social psychology: Topics like attitude, social influence, persuasion, and the topic on emotional intelligence fall under the scope of social psychology. These topics can be read in books on social psychology. NCERT books on psychology also deal with these topics. However, for emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman's writings are important. Mayor and Salovey have also contributed to emotional intelligence, and one should read them too. However, emphasis here should be on how emotional intelligence plays a role in good, responsive administration.
  • Moral thinkers from India and elsewhere: Each year, at least one question is asked on great philosophers, thinkers from India or elsewhere.
  • Public service values: This part of the syllabus contains the core values and guiding principles of public services such as honesty, integrity, probity, empathy, non - partisanship and objectivity.
  • Governance issues: Public service delivery, corruption, utilisation of funds, etc.



A total of six case studies are asked every year in the ethics paper. This comes under Section B of the question paper and accounts for 120 marks out of a total of 250 marks. Case studies provide a good opportunity to score good marks, and yet, they also pose challenges of solving them in an appropriate manner. A close look at the case studies reveals the following:


  • They are very general in nature and don't require any specialised skills to solve them.
  • The issues raised in these case studies are taken from experiences gained by observing our governance, administrative, social issues and social evils etc.
  • The candidate is often placed in a position of a civil servant, or simply a common citizen, and asked to frame his/her response to the given case study.


Guide to Tackle Case Studies

The following guidelines should be followed while answering case studies.


  • Read the case study twice and locate the main issues that need to be solved.
  • Provide a solution that sounds practical, and workable. Do not be too theoretical in your problemsolving approach.
  • Consider whether the solution you are offering will make a larger impact and benefit all the stakeholders.
  • Your solutions should consider acting within the framework of law. But in situations where law will prevent you from solving an issue, consider how you can find alternative ways to solve it without breaking the law.
  • Assess whether you alone can solve the problem, or you need help from superiors and subordinates.
  • Give reasons for taking or not taking a course of action.


A word of caution: Many candidates do not succeed in writing all the answers in ethics because of the lengthy nature of questions, especially case studies. The way out lies in rationing out time on each question and going through multiple practices before appearing in the real examination.


Compiled sources flooding the market in the form of books, study materials, case studies are not much useful as they are not able to align with the UPSC framework. Though they seem to cover the various topics, they actually do not reach the hidden parts of the syllabus. It would be better therefore to rely on newspaper reading on related issues by established authors, experts. For example, a write up on suicide, euthanasia, reproductive technology, abortion etc., comes out much better when written by a domain expert on the subject rather than by commercialised sources and nonexperts flooding the coaching market. The following sources are helpful-

1. Fourth report of ARC II: Ethics in Governance

2. BBC website on ethics

3. Markula Centre for Ethics (website)

4. Website of UN Ethics Office

5. Book by Peter Singer: Ethics in the real World

6. Book by M V Nadkarni: Ethics for our Times: A Gandhian Perspective.

(S B Singh is an academician and IAS mentor. He can be reached at: sb_singh2003 @yahoo.com)

Views expressed are personal