How to Solve Case Studies for Ethics Paper - UPSC Mains 2022

How to Solve Case Studies for Ethics Paper - UPSC Mains 2022

Do you struggle to solve case studies and ethical dilemmas? If yes, you are on the right page!  

In this blog post, we will go through a framework to solve case study questions in Paper IV of the UPSC CSE Mains exam. 

The General Studies Paper IV of UPSC Mains, titled Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude, can be a tricky and easy paper at the same time. It has two parts, Theory and Case Studies.

Ethics has a smaller syllabus than the other subjects, making it easier to tackle. However, it is tricky to solve as the questions in the paper tend to be subjective and without a single correct answer.

Case Studies in the Ethics paper are designed to bring out logical reasoning and ethical dilemmas in your answers. Case studies are based on real-world situations that you might come across as an administrative officer of the government. 

UPSC aims to prepare you for your field experience through these questions. As an administrator, you will come across many situations where you will face a conflict among competing values. 

For example, here is a situation. Would you suspend a star performing subordinate for misconduct and thereby cut off his income, or overlook his misdeed, considering his dependent family, thereby giving the impression that bad behaviour is tolerated in your office? 

This is just an example, but a civil servant faces such serious issues on a daily basis. The examiner will check to understand whether you are mentally equipped to deal with such types of situations. 

In fact, the entire paper of Ethics will assess to check if you can handle such difficult situations. Read Tips to Prepare for the Ethics paper in UPSC Mains if you want a detailed overview of how to solve the entire paper. 

Let’s move on to the next part.

You will come across two types of case studies in your UPSC Mains exam. 

Type 1 – Right vs. Wrong.

This is an image of a person standing at crossroads and on the left-hand-side lies the road to wrong decision and on the right-hand-side lies the road to right decision

This type is easy to answer. Here you are dealing with an issue where there is a clear right choice and a clear wrong choice. For example, if you take any step towards personal gains by accepting a bribe, allowing nepotism in your department, or taking any step against the public interest, those are clearly wrong choices. 

The right choices can be working for the public interest and welfare and following rules and regulations. 

Type 2 – Right vs. Right

This is an image of a tarazu or the scales of justice. Here on both sides are right decisions equal in weight and in the middle, the bar that is balancing them both is ethics

This type is difficult to answer. Here you are faced with finding a solution between two equally right answers. For example, what will you choose if you are given a case study where you have to choose between development or the environment?

In this scenario, development that generates employment and the environment that protects the planet are both important enough to demand equal consideration. This is exactly the type of situation where you face ethical dilemmas and what UPSC wants you to solve.

Before we move on to the next section, here is a video that you must watch. It is the 2021 UPSC CSE Mains Ethics Paper Analysis by Atul Garg sir. In this video, he discusses case studies and answer-writing, among other important topics. 

Now, let us move on to how you can solve case studies in a way that impresses the examiner.

How to Solve Case Studies for Ethics Paper – UPSC Mains

Follow the steps below to ensure that you always write good answers for the case study questions. 

Follow a Standard Framework

You must have a standard framework for writing case study answers. This ensures that your answer is well structured and easy to understand for the examiner. 

Otherwise, you waste time figuring out where to start and what to write. You also run the risk of moving away from addressing the core issue. 

Here is a standard framework you can use

  • The Core Issue

Here you have to capture the essence of the entire case study in a few lines. Let us take the earlier example of development vs. environment dilemma. 

On one hand, you are dealing with the dilemma of deciding whether or not to approve the construction of a factory that will generate thousands in employment and bring hope to many families. 

On the other hand, you are dealing with the issue that factories will generate a lot of non-biodegradable waste, pollute the environment and cause the life expectancy of the people around them to decrease. 

Here, the core issue can be summarised as a “dilemma of choosing between development and the environment. ”

  • Stakeholders

Here you need to list the people directly or indirectly affected by the problem. 

To continue the above example, the stakeholders are the employees, the government, the public, local families, investors, shareholders, and yourself.  
The stakeholders involved will differ according to the case study you are given.

  • List the Ethical Issues Involved

Here you have to list all the ethical issues you will face. For example, in a whistleblowing case you as an IAS officer have to decide whether to let the public know about some wrongdoing in your department that harms the public interest or ignore the matter and be loyal to your organisation. 

If you decide to be a whistleblower, you know that you will be ostracized and your colleagues will stand against you. 

The ethical dilemmas, in this case, will be “Personal Loss as against Public Interest” and “Organisational Loyalty as against Public Interest.”

  • Write the Options Available and Their Merits and Demerits

Study the given situation and write 3-4 choices you have along with their merits and demerits. One or two choices might be too extreme to be considered. Nonetheless, you still have to list them as they are options. 

  • Decide Your Final Course of Action 

Here you list the final course of action that you would pursue. This can be one of the options you listed above or a combination of them. 

Once you have decided the course of action you want to take, present clear arguments along with quotes and examples to support your view. 

Usually, the best course of action is the most practical one. Try to come up with an action that you believe will be easily doable amidst all government rules and regulations and is possible with the available resources that you as an administrative officer at that time would possess. 

Be Specific

When you are listing out your final course of action, be specific in mentioning what you aim to do. Put yourself in the shoes of an administrator and think like a civil servant. 

Let’s assume you have to decide whether to allocate land to a helpless, lonely, widowed woman without proper documentation that verifies her claim to the land. 

Here the dilemma is, “Upholding the law as against Public Interest.”

In this situation, you should not simply write, “I will follow the law and refuse to allocate the land as she lacks the proper documentation. However, I will ensure that she gets help.”

You have to list concrete steps that you will take in this situation. Write something like this, “I will follow the law and refuse to allocate the land as she lacks the proper documentation. However, I shall contact the nearest relevant NGO and ensure she gets food and shelter for the next few days. In addition, I will discuss with my seniors and direct the NGO to the best possible course of action in getting the widow proper documents so that she can stake her claim.” 

Towards the end of your answer, you can insert a relevant quote by an iconic or famous personality. For example, you can write Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “The only way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” 

Although it is not necessary to include a quote, doing so can make your answer more presentable to the examiner. 

Practice Writing 

To score high in the case study section of the Ethics paper, you must be articulate and able to provide practical, actionable solutions to real-world problems. 

Go through previous year’s questions (PYQs). Case study questions have a common theme, so practicing PYQs will give you a fair idea of how you need to write your answers and give you confidence. 

Track Your Time

Avoid spending too much time writing the case study answers as you have to complete the rest of the paper. In 2021, UPSC allotted 120 marks to the case studies section of the Ethics paper. Assuming that the marks distribution will remain the same for 2022, you still have an additional 130 marks to attempt. 

You can start with either the theory portion or the case studies. However, dedicate your time according to the weightage of marks. 

And with that, we have come to the end of the framework for writing case study answers. 

If you want to write answers that impress the examiner, you must practice with high-quality QBank and Mock Tests. 

Mains is coming near, so don’t waste your time searching for them now. Save your time, download the PrepLadder App and easily access the best QBank and Mock Tests that will elevate your answer writing skills.   

In addition, you will find high-quality notes, NCERT Summary and PYQs, based on the latest exam pattern to help boost your UPSC CSE Mains preparation.

The PrepLadder App has everything you need to achieve your IAS dream, including the Dream Team’s concise, effective, well-planned video lectures, comprising India’s top UPSC faculties. 

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Arindam Goswami

Arindam is a Content Writer who covers the UPSC category at PrepLadder. He. He aims to help aspirants crack exams and realize their dreams through his work.