General Studies GS 4 – Syllabus, Books, Preparation Strategy, Past Trends etc


  • Ethics is a very important aptitude of a civil servant , this part analyses the basic aptitude of a aspirant towards the society and her command over it.
  • Scoring well in ethics paper is absolutely necessary for featuring in final list and getting one’s desired service. Like the essay paper, this paper offers maximum returns. With very less efforts one can score good marks. 
  • Thorough preparation of this paper also helps in adding the moral dimension to answers in GS Paper – 1, 2, 3 and also the essay paper. It also helps in coming across as a person who has qualities desired of a civil servant in the personality test.


What is tested in paper

  • Candidate’s attitude and approach relating to integrity and probity in public life.
  • Candidate’s problem solving approach to various issues and conflicts in dealing with society.

GS paper 4 question Pattern 

  • General Studies 4 will carry 250 marks.
  • There are TWENTY questions all are compulsory.
  • This paper is subdivided into two sections. Section A and Section B each valuing 125 marks.
  • Sections A includes theoretical questions which are generally of the applied kind.
  • Section B consists of case studies. 

How to start

  • ETHICS paper is designed to evaluate the ‘ethical competence‘, but not the ‘knowledge about ethics‘.
  • The official UPSC syllabus offers broad guidelines on what UPSC wants to test through this paper.
  • It mentions that “ This paper will include questions to test the candidate’s 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 utilize the case study approach to determine these aspects”.
  • Start making notes of all the terms and terminologies, views and ideas of thinkers and philosophers, psychological theories related to attitude and aptitude, principles of governance.Sometimes the question can also be direct. 
  • For example in 2017 GS paper 4 question Examine the relevance of the following in the context of civil service: (150 Words, 10)


  1. Transparency
  2. Accountability
  3. Fairness and justice
  4. Courage of conviction
  5. Spirit of service
  • We must act in the most efficient and effective manner keeping in mind the demands of the syllabus and of course the time constraint.
  • Relate terms and values mentioned in the syllabus with one’s personal experiences. For example – if you are honest, try to recollect events from your life where you demonstrated honesty.
  • If there is no real-life example, be ready with anecdotes from lives of social reformers, leaders, civil servants etc. and other venerable public figures to illustrate your point.
  • For example in 2017 GS paper 4 question One of the tests of integrity is complete refusal to be compromised. Explain with reference to a real life example. Here you have to illustrate with examples.
  • Focus on clarifying basic concepts and make notes only of basic concepts because once you are thorough with basic concepts you can easily write answers.
  • Ethics is the paper which truly tests your character as it comes from within you, but ethical understanding could be learned and reading widely helps you in answering such questions.

How to prepare


  • See all previous year papers. Make note of unique keywords asked like 7 sins, Weber, Rawls social justice theory etc. Use these keywords in your answers.
  • Reading is not as important as answer writing is for Ethics. Know the best answer writing structure and technique for both section-A and case studies.
  • Understand key words the question demands.
  • For example 2018 question What is meant by public interest? What are the principles and procedures to be followed by the civil servants in public interest?
  • Make note of the Philosophy of few philosophers like Gandhi, Vivekananda, kant etc.
  • Collection of good quotes.
  1. Answer writing
  2. Answers in Ethics can be written both in paragraphs or points based on the demand/type of question. Ideally, an answer shall include following:
  3. Introduction: Definition for keywords/terms mentioned in the question shall be given in 2-3 lines.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Try to provide practical solutions. Ideal solutions, if unworkable, would not fetch you marks.For example 2018 GS paper 4 question Suppose the Government of India is thinking of constructing a dam in a mountain valley bond by forests and inhabited by ethnic communities. What rational policy should it resort to in dealing with unforeseen contingencies.
  9. What to read
  10. Lexicon book- basic terminology
  11. 2nd ARC reports:
    1. 1st Report Right to Information: Master Key to Good Governance 
    2. 4th Report Ethics in Governance 
    3. 10th Report Refurbishing of Personnel Administration &ndash Scaling New Heights 
    4. 11th Report Promoting e Governance : The Smart Way Forward
    5. 12th Report Citizen Centric Administration 
  1. IGNOU Ethics material 
  2. 12th NCERT Psychology
  3. Biographies & others
  4. Experiment with Truth – Mahatma Gandhi.
  5. Verghese Kurien autobiography.
  6. Swami Vivekananda – Karmayoga and his biography.
  7. Selected articles by Immanuel Kant, Aristotle etc. 
  8. Case studies
  • Case Studies are considered as the high scoring part of Ethics paper. Therefore, it is important to develop an approach to case studies and a way to answer case studies.
  • For case studies you need to be very conscious and alert on current issues related to ethics. For this, newspaper and current affairs magazine are helpful. You can have a good command over the topic by relating the issues with ethics & morality and with answer writing practice .
  • If we look at case studies, they are basically an actual or fictitious scenario where an individual is subjected to ethical dilemmas.

How to approach

  1. Firstly, mention the stakeholders involved in the case study.
  2. Next, mention the ethical issues/ dilemmas involved in that particular case study.It can be like 
  • Private ethics vs. Professional Ethics.For example GS paper 4 2018 Edward Snowden, a computer expert and former CIA administrator, released confidential Government documents to the press about the existence of Government surveillance programmes. According to many legal experts and the US Government, his action violated the Espionage act of 1971, which identified the leak of State secret as an act of treason. Yet, despite the fact that he broke the law, Snowden argued that he had a moral obligation to act. He gave a justification for his “whistle blowing” by stating that he had a duty “to inform the public as to that which is done in there name and that which is done against them.”
  1. According to Snowden, the Government’s violation of privacy had to be exposed regardless of legality since more substantive issues of social action and public morality were involved here. Many agreed with Snowden. Few argued that he broke the law and compromised national security, for which he should be held accountable.
  2. Do you agree that Snowden’s actions were ethically justified even if legally prohibited? Why or why not? Make an argument by weighing the competing values in this case (250 words )   
  3. Public Interest vs Individual interest.For example GS paper 4 2017 question You are aspiring to become an IAS officer and you have cleared various stages and now you have been selected for the personal interview. On the day of the interview, on the way to the venue you saw an accident where a mother and child who happen to be your relatives were badly injured. They needed immediate help.

What would you have done in such a situation? Justify your action.

Environment  vs. Human interest.For example GS paper 4 2014 question

Now-a-days, there is an increasing thrust on economic development all around the globe. At the same time, there is also an increasing concern about environmental degradation caused by development. Many a time, we face a direct conflict between developmental activity and environmental quality. It is neither feasible to stop or curtail the development process, nor it is advisable to keep degrading the environment, as it threatens our very survival.


Discuss some feasible strategies which could be adopted to eliminate this conflict and which could lead to sustainable development. 


It can be anything depending on the case study

  • Next you need to tackle all the questions asked in the case study. Or in some case studies they ask for various ways to tackle certain issue.
  • While taking a particular stand, mention that why you are taking that stand. Here comes in your skill where you use various ethics terms studied in theory. 
  • You need to bring in the theories and thinkers in your answers. 
  • Underlining wherever relevant things. In ‘case studies’ underline the various ethics terms and thinkers/philosophers you used to justify your point.  

Syllabus and trends:

Basic Theory, Thinkers and Emotional Quotient;Family and Society

  • 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.
  • Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world.
  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.

  • Work and Office:

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.

  • Public and Private Organisation
  1. 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.
  2. 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.


  • GS paper IV is perhaps the most intriguing and misunderstood part of the UPSC syllabus. Aspirants almost have the feeling that it is in your reach, somewhere in your mind, may be your subconscious thoughts. 
  • When you see those generic terms like integrity, honesty and governance and immediately have a feeling that you can nail the paper. After all it is all about ideas.
  • There is a thought that without much preparation you can score above average and good marks in this paper.
  • Till now the general impression and buzz among UPSC aspirants is that you can score well in GS paper 4 if you are reading newspapers and had practised case studies with framework formulated by some coaching centres and books on case studies.
  • However the reality is that by perusal of 2018 paper it is amply clear that UPSC is now gradually grilling candidates with conceptual questions rather than commonplace questions asked in previous years.
  • For example GS paper 4 2014 question

“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they do not have the first, the other two will kill you.” – Warren Buffett.

What do you understand by this statement in the present-day scenario? Explain.

  • Now merely preparing terminologies and some quotations will suffice. You need serious preparation for this.
  • Although it is the simplest paper, but if you don’t have any idea about it, it can become very difficult to understand. Many books are available in market now but for beginners they also may prove to be difficult to comprehend.
  • Lack of NCERTs for this paper may make it difficult to build a strong basic foundation.

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