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Directives Explained: Examine, Critically Examine, Analyse and Critically Analyse




We see lots of Directive words being given in UPSC Civil Services Mains General Studies and Optional question papers every year. For example, in last year’s (2013) General Studies Paper – 2, out of 25 questions, 23 questions had clear Directives ranging from ‘Discuss’ to ‘Elucidate’ ( Other Directives given – ‘Comment’,  ‘ Examine’, ‘Critically Examine’, ‘Analyse’, ‘Critically Evaluate’, ‘Assess’, ‘Outline’, ‘Justify’ and ‘Discuss Critically’.)

These directives are not randomly given. They serve a purpose. In every question, when they are given, they demand specific response from candidates.  In the above mentioned question paper, every directive would have been just ‘Discuss’. But we see diverse directives including a directive that expects candidate to ‘Discuss Critically’ the given question.

What is a Directive?

It is an instruction that tells you what to do with content words given in the question. Directives are also called as Task Words. They ask you to follow a clear path throughout your answer/essay. You need to follow its instruction to make your answer relevant.

But, What are Content Words?

These words/phrases in the question tell you which ideas and concepts are required to be dealt with in your answer.These words guide you to establish the general focus of your answer. 

But only directives and content words do not sufficiently guide you to write a complete answer. There is something else – called as Limiting Words/phrases.

Limiting Words

These words/phrases limit the scope of your answer. You may be asked to comment on an event that took place only after certain year (For example, Comment on India’s defence policy since Kargil war). Here, the particular ‘year’ is the limiting word i.e. Year 1999. You should never write anything related to defence policy that is before 1999.

Even ‘word limit’ is part of this. Limiting words create a boundary lest you wander away from the demand of the question.

In this article, we will take up  Questions that appeared in 2013 Mains as an example and explain all the three Key words mentioned above. In this article, we will discuss only two key directives – Examine and Analyse – and their variants. 

The Question

The concept of Mid Day Meal (MDM) scheme is almost a century old in India with early beginnings in Madras Presidency in pre – Independent India. The scheme as again been given impetus in most states in the last two decades. Critically examine its twin objectives, latest mandates and success. (Question 8, General Studies-2, CSE-2013, 200 words)

(Refer this link to frame your answer)

Key Words in the Question

In this question, the directive used is ‘Critically Examine‘. First we should know the clear meaning of ‘examine‘ and what does it direct us to do in our answer.

When asked to ‘Examine’, we have to look into the topic (content words) in detail, inspect it, investigate it and establish the key facts and issues related to the topic in question. While doing so we should explain why these facts and issues are important and their implications.

If in the above question, the directive was just ‘Examine’ and not ‘Critically Examine’, what difference would have it made?

The word ‘Critically‘ is usually added when the examiner clearly demands a fair judgement from you. You can not take a single stance, or be blind to other facts.

In the above question, the directive ‘Critically Examine’ is given because at the end of the question you are asked to examine its ‘Success‘ too. Someone might think that it is not good to write negative things about the Mid Day Meal scheme because UPSC likes only ‘positive’ answers and the question itself is asking to write about ‘success’ alone. It’s wrong. Here, you should talk about its shortcomings too. You can not just write a glowing tribute to the scheme and try to impress the examiner.

But, if the directive was just ‘Examine’, can we just mention only positive or negative facts?

No. You still have to balance your answer with fair judgement, but emphasis should be more on ‘establishing facts’, not worrying much about good or bad about those facts.

In the same question paper (Q 18, CSE-2013, GS-2), see this question:

“The proposed withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan in 2014 is fraught with major security implications for the countries of the region. Examine in light of the fact that India is faced with a plethora of challenges and needs to safeguard its own strategic interests.”(200 Words)

In the above question you are just asked to establish facts and explain the implications. You don’t have to necessarily take both positions: i.e. the need for India to fill the vacuum once USA evacuates from Afghanistan or for it  to just stay away and focus on tightening its security apparatus at home. As it is clearly given in the question to support the directive that ‘… in light of the fact that India is faced with a plethora of challenges and needs to safeguard its own strategic interests’, you need to objectively establish facts here. If it was ‘Critically examine’, it was imperative for you to talk both about India’s involvement and non-involvement and their implications. But to this question you can safely answer that India’s non-involvement in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, or military adventurism, or getting entangled in regional geopolitics is good for its own security.


What if the directive was ‘Analyse’ in the question (on Mid Day meal scheme)?

When asked to analyse, we have to break the question into parts and carefully examine their details and interrelationships.  Analyse is digging deeper than examine but into every aspect of the question.

In the question on MDM, already various parts are given in the question itself. History of MDM, Twin Objective (Education and Health of children), latest mandates and success of the scheme. These are interrelated.  In the answer you should clearly talk about their interrelationship. When analysing twin objectives, you have to examine in detail educational and health aspects of the scheme – provisions, their impact, shortcomings etc.

It appears to be a challenge to think about directives in the exam hall and frame a coherent and relevant answer. But if you go there with sufficient practice, these things will be easy to manage even in the pressure situation of the exam.

Though many toppers suggest that one should just go with the flow or write a simple answer, I don’t think UPSC is stupid to give so many ‘directives’ in all its question papers.  Understanding the demand of the question actually solves the 50 per cent of the problem. Directives help a great deal in this regard (along with content words and limiting words, of which we will talk shortly)

Usually the directive ‘analyse’ is given whenever that question demands  a detailed examination of various parts.

For example,

In the same question paper, UPSC gave the following question with the directive ‘analyse’:

Though Citizen’s charters have been formulated by many public service delivery organizations, there is no corresponding improvement in the level of citizens’ satisfaction and quality of services being provided. Analyse.(200 Words)

In the above question, you need to identify ‘content words’ to properly analyse the question in your answer. Citizen’s charters, public service delivery organizations (this is the most important one here – many organizations from Panchayat to PMO come here), citizen’s satisfaction and quality of services are the content words here. You have to examine these in-depth and establish their interrelationship in the answer.

If the directive was ‘Critically analyse’ in the above question, all you need to do is to be fair in your argument. Some may argue that Citizen’s Charters are just futile exercise and nothing else. Even though the question itself has a negative tone, you have to examine positive aspects and explain them well.

Critically is usually added to the directive when the topic is controversial or issues related to it clearly have both positives and negatives. You can go through previous year papers and check it yourself.

Content Words

In the first question (MDM), content words are: concept of MDM, its history, its twin objectives, its new mandates, its success and effect on states.

Limiting Words

If you observe carefully, the limiting words are ‘Latest mandates’ – you should not talk lengthily about past mandates; in Two decades – you don’t have to write about its effect  from time immemorial’.

Once you identify these key words in a given question, your job becomes easier. You just have to fill the content as demanded by the question. Remember, relevance is most important in your answer. If you maintain relevance till the end while meeting the demand of the question at the same time, examiner will be impressed.

Wait, there is one more key word!

Context Words

In the second question (India’s role in Afghanistan) we saw that the directive word is followed by a specific context. In may questions we see such a context given such as ‘in the light of…..’ type questions.  Here, you don’t have to write anything extra regarding the context. You just have to maintain a boundary in your answer within the context.

Thus, these four key words/phrases actually help you understand the demand of the question better and make your job easy. That’s why you should first try to understand these words and use them when you do writing practice here or at home.


With more practice you will be able to clearly differentiate between different directives. Without going through these words you can still get decent marks. But to be in the top league your answers must be clear, logical, relevant and straight to the point. This is why few people get very good marks in General Studies papers. If you practice with these points in mind, slowly you will learn to see things with different perspective altogether – the perspective which UPSC expects from you.

In the next article, we shall discuss other directive words: Comment, Discuss and Elucidate.

References: (extremely useful for essay writing) (for definitions of Directive words)