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How to Tackle Ethics Paper in Civil Services Exam?

Ethics is the most intriguing and misunderstood part of the Civil Services Exam (CSE) syllabus. With the inclusion of Ethics Paper in IAS Mains General Studies (GS Paper 4), CSE aspirants are in a predicament. As ethics is not a subject taught in schools/ colleges, it is quite natural from the candidates’ point of view to contemplate about the questions to be asked from the same. There is no need to panic and this area. If properly handled, in an efficient and effective manner, keeping in mind the demands of the syllabus and of course the time constraint, this paper can be high scoring.

Ethics as a Subject in IAS Mains GS

Ethics is a separate subject with no definite syllabus. The objective of the paper is to check the ethical side of a person. Good conceptual knowledge along with ability to use that knowledge contextually will be enough. The key is with how much simplicity and clarity one can put these views into words. To score high in ethics paper in CSE one needs a fresh writing style, clear thinking and wide reading.

Candidates’ attitude and approach in Integrity, probity in public life and problem solving approach are the areas tested in this paper. The paper is of 250 marks, comprising of theory questions and case studies. However the presence of case studies is not certain. Ethics and Human Interface is one area where theory questions covering the basics of ethics, human values and lessons from the life of great leaders can be expected in the ethics paper in CSE.

Previous year CSE question papers, makes clear that conventional learning will not help and one needs awareness about himself/herself. Dedicated time for preparation and reading will make one more equipped. Though extensive preparation is not necessary for this paper, trying to attempt Ethics directly at exam hall without preparation is not advised.

Preparation of ethics paper in CSE requires lot of self-analysis, developing a proper awareness regarding the subject. Ethical concepts have to be related to real life situations unlike other papers. Clarification of understanding about justification and moral obligations is needed. One has to explore practical solutions to different behavioral problems in the society.

Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Public Administration should be focused upon, in order to prepare for the ethics paper in CSE. The case studies asked by CSE are unique and there is no single solution to a case. There can be many elucidations of a case and different solutions. But here, one needs to have the attributes that are expected from a civil servant.

The question should not be approached as a simple problem statement where you are only supposed to provide solutions. One must identify core attributes that the case is trying to examine by going deeper into the case. All cases are different and are meant to test whether you are able to apply the concepts mentioned in the syllabus.


Ethics paper in CSE needs to be tackled with a different strategy as it needs more of internalizing the concepts and issues, based on what is ethical. Thinking logically, not being judgmental, not assuming the validity of any moral idea and learning to prioritize different principles will help a candidate tackle the ethics paper in CSE, successfully. One has to understand that section B which comprises of case studies, cannot be dealt without a firm theoretical base. All the answers in ethics paper in CSE are basically subjective in nature and would mainly depend on your clarity of thought and understanding of the crucial ethical issues.