GS IV – Ethics Strategy by Balaji D K (AIR36)

He has secured whooping 121 in gs iv.

Dear Friends,

I intend to share my strategy for “Ethics, Integrity and Civil Services Aptitude”. Before I start, I intend to make it clear that my strategy may not be foolproof. Thus, I cannot guarantee that following my strategy would assure everyone very high score.

It is just the strategy that I followed and it has offered me a decent score of 121/250.

The opening remarks about the syllabus for ETHICS paper in CSE notification read as follows:

“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”

These words caught my attention very much and I decided that ETHICS paper is designed to evaluate the ‘ethical competence’, but not the ‘knowledge about ethics’. So, I decided not to run behind any book or any material of any institute. Now, when I see bulky material for ETHICS by various top-notch institutes, it just surprises and amazes me. That aside, I decided to understand the meanings of every term in the syllabus first. Mind you, I wanted to understand the meanings, not know their definitions. So, I decided to learn meanings from internet. Here, the links offered by helped me a lot. It just reduced my effort to visit all sites suggested by Google search engine.

After reading about every term, I started thinking deeply about it. I used to pick some 4-5 terms randomly every day and read about them and kept on thinking whenever I found time (while eating, bathing, before going to sleep etc etc). My thought process revolved around two intentions. First, I tried to express and explain the meanings of each term in my own way with my own words, in simple English. Second, I tried to link those concepts to my life or lives of people whom I know. I couldn’t connect every term to my life or lives of people whom I knew. In such cases, I did something different. I would explain that a little later.

To illustrate, after reading about VALUES, I kept on thinking about that. Later, my understanding got crystallized as below:

Values imply ‘Preferences’. Whatever is preferred or valued by an individual becomes his/her value. Whatever is preferred or valued by society as a whole becomes societal value. Thus,Indian society prefers COLLECTIVISM. So, it is Indian society’s value. Similarly, INDIVIDUALISM is valued in America and hence it is American society’s value. Values change with time. Because People and society prefer different things at different points of time. In India, before – 1947, PATRIOTISM was the most predominant value. Similarly, post-1991, thanks to the consumerist culture being set in in India, MONEY also now become a value…”

I want to emphasize that the above text is not an excerpt from any text book. It is just my understanding of VALUES being shaped by my thought process and examples are all my own observations.

I used to do like this for almost every term in the syllabus.

I took extra care in ensuring that I expressed the meaning of every term in as few words as possible. To illustrate, Values mean preferences; ethics means guide about right or wrong; Transparency means provision of access of government information to public; Accountability means holding a person answerable to his/her acts; Attitude means a person’s own evaluation of another person, idea, situation etc. Examples abound. (I have read somewhere that depth of understanding is inversely proportional to the quantity of words used to express the same).

This helped me remember things easily and express my understanding in a very effective way.


LESSON 1 – learn meanings, develop your own understanding by thinking and then be able to express the same in as few words as possible.

Then, I connected every term to my life or lives of persons I knew.

After thinking about VALUES, I thought of my values and the incidents where I have demonstrated those values in my life. I realized that HONESTY is my value. I recounted the following incidents where I had demonstrated HONESTY.

  • Incident 1 – In my 10the std Board exams, in English Paper, we were asked to write the opposite of POPULAR. I had written IMPOPULAR. Then, exam invigilator who was walking accidentally saw my answer script and told me, the correct answer is UNPOPULAR. However, I did not change my answer.

  • Incident 2 – One Saturday, I ate IDLI at Parimala Hotel in Tumakuru Bus stand. I forgot to pay the money and came out of the hotel. Even hotel people did not ask me. I realized that in the evening when I found excess money in my pocket. Then I promptly went to the hotel, said sorry and paid the money on Monday morning.

(I intentionally recollected even minute details such as Hotel name, what I ate eve, to prove that it is not a cooked up story)

I did this exercise for almost all terms. This is just a sample.

You people can also recollect such incidents from your life.


LESSON 2 – Connect your life with terms in syllabus, recollect specific incidents and use them in your answers

(The real life incidents may be as simple as offering a seat to elderly in bus, helping a visually challenged cross road and so on . Yet, bring them into your answers).

Sometimes we may not have such real life incidents from our lives. Then, what to do? If possible, quote the examples from the lives of great souls, which you may have read or heard of. Please don’t run behind autobiographies and biographies now. Whatever you know by now, just try to recollect them. One tip I can give you here – our language subjects upto 10th standard had many such anecdotes. Just recollect them. Here I give a few such anecdotes for your benefit.

  • Sir M. Visvesvrayya, then dewan of mysore state, used Government vehicle while he went to tender his resignation. After tendering his resignation, he drove back by his private vehicle.

  • He always maintained two sets of candles – one set bought out of government money and the other set bought from his money. He used the former set of candles for looking into official documents and used the latter set to read books. (The above two anecdotes are the best examples for not misusing public resources for private gain)

  • Kuvempu, jnanapith awardee was once Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University. His son Poornachandra Tejaswi was studying BA in the same university. Once, an English Professor approached KUVEMPU and told him that his son had scored marks below minimum pass-mark in English Paper and asked KUVEMPU as to what to do. KUVEMPU went through the answer script and instructed the professor to award to even lesser marks. (This anecdote is the best examples for avoiding conflict of interest)

  • A rajput Prince was conspired to be killed. Panna who worked in the court learnt the conspiracy. In order to save the Prince, she replaced the Prince with her own kid. Her own kid got killed. (This anecdote is the best example for LOYALTY)

  • A workaholic engineer was working in a major scientific project. Abdul Kalam sir was the project head. Children of that engineer once asked their father to take them to an exhibition in the evening. Engineer sought permission from Kalam sir to leave early and mentioned the reason as well. Kalaam sir agreed. However, he got so much involved in the work that he completely forgot that he had to leave early. Kalaam sir observed the engineer being engrossed in the work. So, he only took children to exhibition. (This anecdote is the best examples for EMPATHY TOWARDS SUBORDINATES)

Such anecdotes are many. You can use them in your answers. I repeat, please don’t run behind autobiographies and biographies now. I never did so. The above anecdotes were heard or read by me somewhere. I just used answers.


LESSON 3 – Try to use anecdotes (only If you know any) about great souls in your answers

In some cases, you may not have your real life incidents or anecdotes from lives of great souls. In such scenarios, try to create hypothetical scenarios and quote the same as example. Always start such examples with SUPPOSE….. ASSUME…. and so on.

To illustrate, for a question on ‘conflict of interes’, you can write an example as suppose an IAS officer is a part of an interview panel. While taking interviews, he/she discovers that a candidate is a son of his friend. Then that IAS officer should disclose that fact. He should abstain from taking interview of that candidate.

This kind of scenarios have to be created in exam hall depending upon the nature of the question. So, that kind of thinking has to be developed beforehand.

One more important tip – every case study you solve is a hypothetical scenarios. So, you can use the case studies you may have practised as hypothetical scenarios for your answers in the exam.

LESSON 4 – Create hypothetical scenarios on your own and use them in your answers.


Remember the following things while answering case studies.

  1. Try to provide practical solutions. Ideal solutions, if unworkable, would not fetch you marks.

  2. Give out-of-the-box yet practical solutions.

  3. Try to provide specific solutions. Avoid generalized solutions. To illustrate, don’t say, “I would take steps to promote TRANSPARENCY. Please mention how do you promote TRANSPARENCY.

  4. When you are asked to give all the options available to you. Please 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 about offer of bribe to you, mention ‘acceptance of bribe’ as one of the options. But prefer the options ‘rejection of bribe’.

  5. Do not touch upont 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 committee investigating the irregularities of colleges. You are in 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. 5crore.” In this case study, core issues is ‘whether to regularize colleges’. Most candidates would just address this issue in their answer. However, there is another issue, which I would call ‘peripheral issue’ , that is, offer of 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 complain against the person who has offered bribe.

  6. Let your solutions try to balance conflicting options, as much as possible. (Caution – such balancing may not happen always). Let’s us consider the examples mentioned in the previous point. In that most candidates would say, either “i shall recommend derecognition of colleges because errant colleges have to be punished” or “I shall recommend for regularization of colleges because of the future of students”. I would say, try to think of a solution that punishes colleges and at the same time rescues the career prospects of thousands of students. 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 proper colleges.

One more illustration – suppose an elderly couple living in a village in a dilapidated house. They need a good house. They get some pension. Unfortunately, their son who lives in city would snatch that pension away from them. You are the head of a housing corporation. They apply seeking sanction of house under some housing scheme. Upon scrutiny, you realize that their income (because of pension) is more than the minimum income limit for a beneficiary. However, you can bend the rule and sanction a house. What will you do? In this case study, most candidates would take either of the two extreme stands – bending the rule and sanctioning the house in the light of humanity and compassion towards weaker sections or rejecting the house since that is against law. I would say, try to balance both. Such solutions can be

    1. Consider this as a special case and request your higher ups to Grant you power to sanction the house

    2. Reject the house under this scheme and try to accommodate their application in another housing scheme, if possible

    3. Reject the house under this scheme and try to keep these couple in touch with some NGO or philanthropist who may help them build the house.

(Also ask the nearest police inspector to warn their son and ensure that he’d not snatch their pension in forthcoming months – this is a peripheral issue which most candidates miss)


  1. Be prepared to write about your ‘role model’ and what have you learnt from him/her. Let your role model preferably be someone whom you have seen for long time, like your parents, teacher etc., rather than some great soul whom you have not met even once. This is my personal opinion, which may not be correct.

  2. Whenever you answer some abstract question such as ‘happiness’ according to you, try to include the dimensions of ‘public life’ and ‘private life’. To.elaborate, write what is happiness , according to you in public lifeh and what is happiness according to you in private life.

  3. Let all your answers reflect your EMPATHY towards public and colleagues or co-workers.

  4. Bear in mind that you are not just a public servant, but you have some responsibility towards your subordinates as well. Thus, if media and public protest against your subordinate whom you know hasn’t breached his duty, don’t disown him/her. You stand by him/her.

  5. Always be gender neutral – use s/he rather than using just ‘he’. Use him/her instead of ‘him’.

  6. Know about your weaknesses as well. There may be a question that may ask you mention your weaknesses. Be smart in answering such questions.

  7. Be ready with even atleast one incident in which you have acted unethically. But while writing such incidents, don’t forget to mention that now you are repentant of such act and has never committed that act again.

  8. Questions in ethics may be very much unpredictable. So, even if you get a completely new type of question, don’t get shocked. Remember that it is a new type of question to every other aspirante writing with you. Just stay calm and think.

  9. It is very tough to write very short answers in ethics (personal experience in exam – I found it very difficult to shorten the answers). So, please be ready to write fast.

  10. Ethics is a simple paper. Don’t complicate it. Don’t try to master the philosophies of all great thinkers on the earth. It is neither practicable nor desirable. I know coaching institutes bringing out a separate book on the philosophies of thinkers. I doubt their utility. Don’t waste time mastering them. Again, this is purely my personal opinion, that may be altogether incorrect.

I have detailed my strategy above. Hope it helps to all of you. However, no strategy is cool-proof. You may draw inputs from my strategy. But, please draft your own strategy.

I wish all of you a heartfelt ALL THE BEST.


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