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IAS Ethics Paper

Study Material

Study Material

The logical steps can include 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 study material provided by the institute.

Class notes vary depending upon 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 ones 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 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 are also compilation of articles, essays and speeches by combination of above three. Each type of book has its pros and cons.

In ethics, difficulty is that notes and books become outdated quickly as the question paper format keeps evolving every year.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 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 there own documents, kits and reports (like Nolan committee, Cadbury committee of UK)

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

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

How To Prepare

How to Prepare Ethics Paper ( General Studies Mains Preparation)

  • Firstly , Best 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 upon the context. Case study format is a standard pedagogical tool in business studies, medicine, military strategies, law etc. Each of them have their own styles. Civil service is a new entrant in India and thus its format is not yet formalised. The point is to be aware of various styles of writing answer to case studies, and being 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 administrative mind is checked in some cases studies. Read some basic material on SWOT analysis, stakeholder analysis etc that gives you handle over the case studies.
  • Secondly, while reading newspaper, try to focus on actions of various people involved. It's all about three things - stakeholders, communication and decision making.
  • The key is to minimise the resources and focus on only what is required. And it is here that previous year’s papers help you.
  • Also, whichever source is picked up, one cannot forget answer writing. Ethics is about articulation. It can be improved only with the help of sustained writing practice.
  • 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.

Important Points to remember:

  • Ethics is at odds with morals. In the UPSC exam, there is not any question emerging on personal morality, but it is about ethicality as a public administrator.
  • On one occasion, search things from a layman’s standpoint, in other words from an outsider’s lookout. The action can be ethically and rightfully accurate from an individual perspective. As a community manager, in what way it has an impact on the aspect of the institution you help and signify? These are the questions you must answer in this paper.
  • It is correct that ethicality differs from one individual to the later. It is a very particular thing. But keep in mind that, you are anticipated to go along with ethicality for a public administrator, not for an individual but for an NGO, etc.
  • As a communal staff, you have a duty to uphold impartiality and independence. There is a guideline for civil servants which you must standby.
  • You should target as a minimum 120 marks in this paper, which you can effortlessly get if you keep on the plan we are talking about.
  • Questions might utilize the case study method to regulate these facets and covers area:
  • Ethics and Human Interface– Essence, determinants, and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships
  • Human Values– lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; the role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values
  • Attitude– content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behavior; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion
  • Aptitude and foundational values for, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections
  • Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world
  • Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration– Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance
  • Probity in Governance– Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information; sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption
  • Case Studies on above issues
  • Now let us see how to go about dealing with some of the topics in the syllabus:
  • Ethics and human interface – this deals with ethics and how you relate it to society. How do you judge if an action is ethical or not? You mostly get theoretical questions from this section until ‘dimensions of ethics’.
  • Human values – this topic deals with statements or sayings from eminent people from the past and applying it to the present context. Eg. Gandhi, Ambedkar, Socrates, Plato, etc. Just take 5 – 6 thinkers and analyze their quotes.
  • Attitude – This is an important concept as far as UPSC is concerned. You can expect questions from both theory and case studies from this section.
  • Aptitude and foundational values – Here, notice the keywords used like integrity, impartiality, etc. It is essential that you use these words in your answers. UPSC may not ask questions directly. They can present a case scenario and you are expected to relate it to these words and elaborate.
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world – This section can be merged with ‘Human values.’

Answer Writing Strategy for Part A- Theoretical Portion

  • Section-A generally includes 12-13 questions of 10-marks each amounting to 120-130 marks. These are to be answered in 150 words and 2 pages are provided to do the same. A 10-marker question should ideally be answered within 7 minutes. Questions may be analytical or at times theoretical.
  • Answers in Ethics can be written both in paragraphs or points based on the demand/type of question. Ideally, an answer shall include following:
    • Introduction: here definition for keywords/terms mentioned in the question shall be given in 2-3 lines.
    • Answer body: it can be in points or paragraph. What matters is that various dimensions get covered so that the answer is multi-dimensional. Answer written in points-bullets handles dimensions much more easily, compared to one in paragraphs where the risk of digressing from the question is high.
    • Theory: theories, thinkers, and terms mentioned in the syllabus shall be incorporated in answers. This helps in keeping the answers ‘ethical’. Theory should ideally make a maximum 20% of an answer. Overdoing theories/keywords makes answers mechanical.
    • Examples: generally it is mentioned in the question to quote example(s). In such questions write 2 examples. While in questions where example has not been explicitly asked, one should still write at least 1 example.
    • Diagrams: these are important to gain the edge over other candidates. Diagrams provide the X-factor that the examiner is looking for. They also break the monotony and make for better presentation.
    • Conclusion: it is as important as introduction or answer body itself. Do not skip the conclusion in a hurry to jump to the next question(s). Just summarize the answer in 2-3 lines.


Answer Writing Strategy for Part B- Case Studies

  • There is never a set answer for a case study. The idea should be to learn from the format:
    • Actors
    • Dilemmas
    • Answer Body
    • Points
    • Keywords
    • Theory
    • Diagram
    • Conclusion
  • Try to provide practical solutions. Ideal solutions, if unworkable, would not fetch you marks.
  • Give out-of-the-box yet practical solutions.
  • Try to provide specific solutions. Avoid generalized solutions.
    • To illustrate, don’t say, “I would take steps to promote transparency. Mention how you would promote transparency.
  • When you are asked to give all the options available to you - give even the most undesirable course of action as one of the options. However, don’t choose that option.
    • To illustrate, in a case that mentions the offer of a bribe to you, mention ‘acceptance of bribe’ as one of the options. But prefer the options that entail ‘rejection of bribe’.
  • Do not touch upon only core issues. Also, touch upon peripheral issues in a case study.
    • To illustrate, suppose a case study in which “you are the head of the committee investigating the irregularities of colleges. You are in the dilemma whether to recommend for the derecognition of college and spoil the career prospects of students or to recommend their regularization in the light of future of thousands of students. You have been offered a bribe of Rs. 5 crores.” In this case study, a core issue is ‘whether to regularize colleges’. Most candidates would just address this issue in their answer. However, there is another issue, the ‘peripheral issue’, that is, the offer of a bribe. Try to address that issue as well. While addressing bribe issue, please don’t just say – “I won’t accept the bribe”. Also, say – “I would lodge a complaint against the person who has offered me the bribe”.
  • Let your solutions try to balance conflicting options as much as possible. (Caution – such balancing may not happen always).
    • Consider the examples mentioned in the previous point. Most candidates would say, either “I shall recommend derecognition of colleges because errant colleges have to be punished” or “I shall recommend for regularisation of colleges because of the future of students”. Rather, try to think of a solution that penalizes the colleges and at the same time rescues the career prospects of thousands of students. One such solution can be – allowing already enrolled students to finish their course and recognizing their degrees while prohibiting any fresh admissions. Or, accommodation of students of such colleges in other recognized colleges.


Keywords Of Ethics For IAS Exam
  • Agnostic: One who believe that nothing can be known about God/religion. Such a person claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.
  • Authoritarian: a strict adherence to the authority, even at the expense of personal freedom.
  • Autonomy: the ability to  think and act freely , without any external compulsion.
  • Deduction: The art of ruling out the incorrect options and arriving at the right choice. This method moves from the ‘General to Particular’
  • Discipline: Subject
  • Empathetic: characterized by empathy, that is, a sensitive attitude to others’ feeling.
  • Etymologically: It means the study about the history and origin of the word. It studies about the evolution of the word.
  • Existentialism: A philosophical idea that views the individual as a free and responsible agent determining his own development through the acts of his will.
  • Foundational Base: a principle that is the main source of other ideas. also known as the First Idea/Principle.
  • Hedonism: concerning about pleasure and pain only
  • Indoctrination: process of inculcating of a set of particular ideas, attitudes, and behavior, while not considering any other ideas or perspective.
  • Legitimately: according to the law and customs of the society.
  • Materialism: A tendency to think only about the material aspects of life. Pursuing only the material gains.
  • Moral Codes: The ideas defining what is good and bad, set for a particular society
  • Normative: Value-based
  • Objective: based on impersonal ideas, and not influenced by personal feelings. Objective ideas are generally seen as universal.
  • Pathological: deviant or contrary to the generally acceptable view and norms
  • Reciprocity: The principle of give-and-take. Human behavior is often based on what is experienced. Thus, good experiences evoke good responses, while bad experiences evoke bad responses.
  • Subjectivists: it is a philosophical idea that believes in the validity of the self experience only. It views the world according to the individual’s perspective
  • ‘svabhava’: one’s true self/nature, which can be realized through self-realization.
  • Transcendental: something related to the spiritual or non-physical realm, like soul, spirit, God
  • Illegal Gratification: It is defined as taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act.  Gratification is not limited to pecuniary gratifications or to gratifications estimable in money. It also includes favouring or disfavouring one person over the other. Ex: The 2G spectrum scam involved politicians and government officials in India illegally undercharging mobile telephony companies for frequency allocation licenses, which they would then use to create 2G spectrum subscriptions for cell phones.
  • Malfeasance: It is the commission of an act that is unequivocally illegal or completely wrongful or the commission of an unlawful act done in an official capacity. It affects the performance of official duties and may cause harm to others. It results in legal liability for the person who commits the act. It is a tort.
  • Misfeasance: It is engaging in proper action or duty, but failing to perform the duty correctly. The performance of duty is riddled with errors caused by mistakes or carelessness, but is without evil intent and/or violation of law.
  • Diligence: Diligence is steadfast application, assiduousness and industry—the virtue of hard work. It is one of the seven heavenly virtues. Diligent behaviour is indicative of a work ethic — a belief that work is good in itself.
  • Diligence in Buddhism-The last words of the Buddha was “Strive on with diligence”. Diligence is an integral part of all Buddhist teaching, and is considered the fourth of the paramita. In Mahayana tradition diligence is the third paramita and the first which is said to lead to liberation. The practice of diligence will bring an increase of qualities.
  • Bureaucratic inertia: Bureaucratic inertia is the inevitable tendency of bureaucratic organizations to perpetuate the established procedures and modes, even if they are counterproductive and/or diametrically opposed to established organizational goals. This unchecked growth may continue independently of the organization’s success or failure. Through bureaucratic inertia, organizations tend to take on a life of their own beyond their formal objectives.
  • “The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.” –Oscar Wild
  • Example: The United States Department of Agriculture has offices in almost all U.S. counties, even though only 14% of counties have valid farms or existing agricultural relevancy.
  • Intuition: it is the ability to acquire representation or knowledge about things apparently without reasoning or usage of reasoning in general. It is often conceived as a kind of inner perception. Sometimes it develops with age, sometimes maturity, sometimes with experience, in some with intellect. It teaches guides and motivates us. We experience Déjà-vu’s coz our intuition might have felt it or comprehended it much before.
  • Prudence: Prudence is the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason.[1] It is classically considered to be a virtue, and in particular one of the four Cardinal virtues.  It is often associated with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. In this case, the virtue is the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place. Although prudence itself does not perform any actions, and is concerned solely with knowledge, all virtues are to be regulated by it. Distinguishing when acts are courageous, as opposed to reckless or cowardly, for instance, is an act of prudence.
  • Perseverance: Steady persistence in adhering to a cause of action, a belief or a purpose etc. in spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement.
  • Example: Medicine is a field which requires dedication and perseverance.
  • Red tapism:Red tape is excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to governments, corporations, and other large organizations. It is the bureaucratic practice of hair splitting or foot dragging, blamed by its practitioners on the system that forces them to follow prescribed procedures to the letter.  Red tape can also include filing and certification requirements, reporting, investigation, inspection and enforcement practices, and procedures.
  • Probity: It is the adherence to the highest principles and ideals. It is the quality of having strong moral principles, honesty and decency. Probity in governance is an essential and vital requirement for an efficient and effective system of governance and for socio-economic development.  An important requisite for ensuring probity in governance is absence of corruption. The other requirements are effective laws, rules and regulations governing every aspect of public life and, more important, an effective and fair implementation of those laws, etc. Indeed, a proper, fair and effective enforcement of law is a facet of discipline.
  • Intellectual Integrity: It is defined as recognition of the need to be true to one’s own thinking and to hold oneself to the same standards one expects others to meet. It is to practice what one advocates to others and to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one’s own thoughts and action.
  • Esprit de corps: The common spirit of comradeship existing among the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honour of the group.For example, a military unit.
  • Fidelity: It is defined as faithfulness to obligations, duties or observances; exact correspondence with fact or with a given quality, condition or event; accuracy in reporting detail; adherence to truth. A public servant is expected to be at all times a trustworthy person in the public services. An unfaithful public servant tarnishes the image of the entire system.
  • Moral turpitude: Criminal law describes it as conduct contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals. It involves gross violation of standards of moral conduct, vileness, such that an act involving moral turpitude was intentionally evil, making the act a crime.
  • Moral objectivism: The position that certain acts are objectively right or wrong, independent of human opinion. It doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks is right or wrong. That is, the view that the ‘moral facts’ are like ‘physical’ facts in that what the facts are does not depend on what anyone thinks they are.
  • Moral scepticism: “Moral Scepticism” names a diverse collection of views that deny or raise doubts about various roles of reason in morality. Different versions of moral scepticism deny or doubt moral knowledge, justified moral belief, moral truth, moral facts or properties, and reasons to be moral. Ex: Questioning the Rajya Dharma.
  •  Indriya nigraha: It means not letting our sense organs run astray. ‘Indriyas have to be our slaves-we should be theirs’. IT is one of the most practical aspects of Sanatana philosophy.
  • Stithaprajnata: It is the concept discussed in the saukhya yoga of the Gita. A sthithaprajna is one whose mind has become absolutely still, quietened and tranquil. One who accepts pleasure and pain with equanimity.
  •  Moral Universalism: it is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally. That is, for all similarly situated individuals, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality or any other distinguishing feature. It is opposed to moral nihilism and moral relativism.
  •  Moral Nihilism: It is the meta-ethical view that nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral. For moral nihilists, morality is without universal or even relative truth in any sense.
  •  Moral Absolutism: It is an ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other circumstances such as their consequences or intentions behind them.
  •  Moral Relativism: It may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgements across different people and culture.
  •  Meta-Ethics: It is a branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties statements attitudes and judgements.
  •  Normative Ethics: It is the study of ethical action. It investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.
  •  Applied Ethics: It is the philosophical examination from a moral standpoint, of particular issues in private and public life that are matters of moral judgement. It attempts to use philosophical methods to identify the morally correct course of action in various fields of human life.
  •  Neutral Bureaucracy: Here, bureaucratic officials function strictly according to the principles and ideals laid down in the constitution.
  •  Committed Bureaucracy: Here, bureaucrats, in addition to following the principles and ideals laid down in the constitution, also follow the policies and programs of the party in power. Ex: in China.
  • Deontology: It is the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a rule or rules. It is sometimes described as duty or obligation or rule based ethics.
  • Consequentialism: It is a class of normative ethical theories which holds that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgement about the rightness of that conduct.
  • Utilitarianism: It is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering.
  • Hedonism: It is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good. In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure.
  •  Altruistic Hedonism: Propounds that we ought to sacrifice personal happiness in order to bring any increase of happiness to others.
  • Benevolence: Showing morally correct behaviour; inclination towards charity; ethical thinking; disposition towards doing good and being kind.
  •  Performance Accountability: Every govt servant should feel answerable or responsible for his non performance or under performance, for not meeting standards, under utilizing his resources to the govt, to the people and to his conscience.
  •  In house reporting system: In house reporting system means a system established by an organization to meet the standards of effective functioning to prevent and detect violations of law shortfalls, achievements, problems and issues in policy making by consultations co-ordinations, reprimands and rapprochement.
  •  Rapprochement: Establishing cordial relations with employees and other people who have direct relationship with the organization.
  •  Gray Areas: The areas (issues) in which we (organization) are deficient or lagging. It may be due to misunderstanding, miscomprehension, overlook or overlap. Guidelines are often provided in these areas for minimizing gray areas.
  •  Summum Bonum: Summum bonum is a Latin expression meaning “the highest good”, which was introduced by Cicero, to correspond to the Idea of the Good in Greek philosophy. The summum bonum is generally thought of as being an end in itself, and at the same time as containing all other goods. The term was used in medieval philosophy and in Kantianism, to describe the ultimate importance, the singular and overriding end which human beings ought to pursue.
  • Ergonomics: Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.
  • Teleology: Theory of morality that derives duty or moral obligation from what is good or desirable as an end to be achieved. Also known as consequentialist ethics, it is opposed to deontological ethics (from the Greek deon, “duty”), which holds that the basic standards for an action’s being morally right are independent of the good or evil generated.
  • Equanimity: It is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experiences of good or bad, pain or pleasure, or other phenomenon that may cause the normal people to lose the balance of their mind.
  • Rationality: It is a concept which believes in the use of reason which is detached with passions, emotions and beliefs. If our personal beliefs or sentiments are not in conformity with rationality, they should not prevail over rationality. It means bringing out a practical solution to a practical situation.
  • Commitment: Being always responsible and genuine to the words, deeds and promises. It is the most important ingredient of public servant. There might be a chance to flout promises and rebuild our relationships in personal life. But in official capacity, breaking a promise or vow can’t be undone or taken back because it affects public at large.
  • Initiative: The power or ability to take up a new task exploring a new area making a new beginning for a progressive development, energetically with enterprise and determination.
  • Apathy: Lack of interest or concern. It is a state of indifference or not showing concern, motivation, excitement, passion etc. Being indifferent towards others problems, towards systemic lapses, towards progressive change.
  • Sentient: Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or to experience subjectivity. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In modern Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to experience sensations (known in philosophy of mind as “qualia”). For Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that requires respect and care. The concept is central to the philosophy of animal rights, because sentience is necessary for the ability to suffer, which is held to entail certain rights.
  •  Karmaphala Siddhanta: As you sow, so you reap. (replete in all Indian texts)
  • Varnashrama-dharma – duties performed according to the system of fourvarnas (social divisions) and four ashrams (stages in life). Focus is on responsibilities (which naturally fulfil the rights of others). Four varnas – brahmanas (priests, teachers, and intellectuals),kshatriyas (police, army, and administration), vaishyas (farmers, merchants, and business people), shudras (artisans and workers). Four ashrams – student life, household life, retirement, and renunciation.
  •  Kleptocracy: Kleptocracy,alternatively cleptocracy or kleptarchy, is a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often with pretence of honest service. This type of government corruption is often achieved by the embezzlement of state funds.
  • Rectitude: righteousness or consequences in procedure or being honourable and honest.

This paper will include questions to test the candidates’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his problem solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilise the case study approach to determine these aspects. The following broad areas will be covered.

  • Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships.
  • Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values.
  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.
  • Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service , integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections.
  • Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world.
  • Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance;
  • Ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance.
  • Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information
  • sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s
  • Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.
  • Case Studies on above issues.
About Ethics Paper Of IAS Exam

Ethics paper or the General studies paper 4 of IAS mains exam is one of the most challenging aspects of the IAS mains exam. The quality that makes is paper tricky is its unpredictability and vagueness in the ethics syllabus. This paper Of IAS Examis more about individualistic opinions rather than the facts and figures mentioned in some report or study. Many IAS aspirants underestimate the ethics paper as the syllabus has very generic terms such as happiness, attitude, aptitude, values or morals which are regarded an easy to write by the candidate but the same vagueness of these terms makes this paper highly unpredictable.

Mains Exam consists of total 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 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.

Let’s understand certain points related to the ethics paper and what should be done the candidates.

1. Ethics paper is more scoring than the other general studies papers

Moreover, many candidates think that rather than spending time on an easy paper like ethics, then should spend more time on the tough concepts of general studies paper 1, 2 and 3. But IAS aspirants should remember that all the 4 papers are of 250 marks and the ethics paper is the most scoring of all the 4 as it has a crisp syllabus and can be practised more. IAS aspirants should remember that it is the ethics paper, the Essay Paper and Optional paper that can fetch them more marks apart from the other GS papers (I, II, and III).

2. Case studies form the core of the Ethics paper

Case studies are a classic way to test the candidate’s intrinsic decision making power and what is his/her way through logic in a crisis situation. That is why when a case study is taken; UPSC will always ask your opinion as an officer should do in the same situation. The answer should be based on both the factors that are from the point of view of morality and ethics. The action taken by you as mentioned in your answer should be morally correct for you and ethically to the others as well.

3. Ethics paper is the true test of a candidate's administrative aptitude

The unique aspect of this paper is that ethics or values may be different for different people and this is the best space for IAS aspirants to showcase their governance talents. Here, candidates can truly establish a tone with the examiner by giving unique solutions to regular crisis problem as given in the case studies.

4. Ethics paper as the rank booster paper

Ethics paper is gaining popularity among the IAS aspirants due to its small and crisp syllabus and easy availability of study material. It’s often mentioned by IAS Toppers that a good score in the ethics paper can shoot up your rank and can also determine the service that you might get.  One and only technique to score well in this exam is writing practice as much as it becomes an art for the students. Unique expression and observation of each issue in this paper are the only two factors which can make your answer stand out.

5. Ethical issues in the current scenario

Ethical school of thought is a budding subject and there is still so much to explore in this field. Moreover, while reading the latest happenings students should be able to point out the ethical or moral aspect of the issue. If students are able to incorporate the current ethical debates in their answers the chances of them getting good increases exponentially. Some of the hot ethical debate issues are food versus fuel, bioethics in biotechnology research, medical ethics in health for all and ethical dilemma in human rights issues.


The important element to think is why UPSC introduced the ethics paper in the first place. The need for the introduced of the ethics paper in the civil services examination was the long felt so that an ethical sense can be inculcated among the budding civil servants. And what can be better than making one's ethical ideas as one of the grounds for choosing the future IAS, IPS and IFS.

The contemporary society has witnessed a declining standard of ethical and accountability values among the civil servants. The adverse impact of corruption is felt in every aspect of administration and society. Thus, the introduction of ethics paper has come as an attempt to restore the new generation of civil servants.



Theory vs Case Studies Ratio in GS4-2018

Year Theory Case-Study Total
2013 125 125 250
2014 130 120 250
2015 120 130 250
2016 120 130 250
2017 130 120 250
2018 130 120 250



Topicwise Ethics Papers since Syllabus Change (2013-18) 

Category Sub Topic 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018


& Basics

Basic Theory 20 10 20 20 20 20
EQ 30 10 0 10 10 20
Thinkers 30 10 20 40 10 0


& Society

Family 0 30 35 30 0 0
Social Influence 0 0 0 10 0 0
Attitude 10 10 0 0 10 0


& Office

Neutrality & other values 25 30 40 10 30 30
Work Culture 60 60 25 0 10 0
Compassion 25 0 20 20 20 40
Pub Org Theory & Dilemma 10 60 20 30 0 70
Code of Conduct 0 0 0 10 0 10
Charter 0 0 0 0 0 0
Corruption 0 10 0 25 50 30
RTI 40 0 20 0 20 30
IR/Funding 0 0 10 0 10 0
Private Org. Corporate 0 20 40 45 60 0
Total   250 250 250 250 250 250



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