UPSC CSE Interview: How to Answer Tricky Questions with Confidence

The UPSC CSE interview, often referred to as the personality test, is a nerve-wracking experience for many aspirants. Unlike written exams where answers are clear-cut, the interview throws curveballs – tricky questions designed to assess your thinking on your feet, problem-solving skills, and ability to handle pressure.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that candidates who exhibited calmness and composure under pressure during job interviews were more likely to receive job offers. Here’s how you can tackle tricky questions in the UPSC CSE interview with confidence:

Understanding Tricky Questions:
  • Motive Behind the Question:

    Tricky questions aren’t meant to trip you up, but to delve deeper into your thought process and personality. The board wants to see how you analyze a complex situation, weigh options, and form a well-reasoned response.

  • Types of Tricky Questions: These can be open-ended questions with no single correct answer, hypothetical scenarios, or questions designed to gauge your opinion on controversial topics.
Approaching Tricky Questions:
  • Stay Calm and Composed: Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and remember, the board is assessing your ability to handle pressure.
  • Listen Carefully: Actively listen to the entire question before attempting an answer. Identify the key points and what the interviewer might be trying to assess.
  • Buy Time: If you need a moment to gather your thoughts, politely request a few seconds to formulate your response.
Formulating a Strong Response:
  • Clarify if Needed: If unsure about the question, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. This demonstrates your attentiveness and desire to provide an accurate answer.
  • Structure Your Response: Use the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, and Result – to structure your response logically. Briefly introduce the relevant context, explain the challenge or task faced, outline the actions you took, and then highlight the outcome.
  • Support with Examples: Back up your arguments with relevant examples from your academic background, work experience (if any), or current affairs. This showcases your knowledge and strengthens your response.
  • Show Different Perspectives: When faced with an opinion-based question, acknowledge the existence of multiple viewpoints. Briefly present opposing perspectives before stating your own well-reasoned opinion.
  • Focus on Solutions: If the question revolves around a critical issue, avoid dwelling on the problem. Instead, offer potential solutions or constructive suggestions. This demonstrates your problem-solving skills and forward-thinking approach.
Additional Tips:
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Role-play tricky questions with friends or mentors to build confidence and practice your composure.
  • Analyze Hypothetical Scenarios: Practice thinking on your feet by analyzing hypothetical scenarios in newspapers, case studies, or online resources.
  • Stay Updated on Current Affairs: Being well-informed about current events allows you to draw relevant examples and showcase your intellectual curiosity.
  • Be Honest and Authentic: There might not always be a “perfect” answer. Be honest, present your genuine perspective, and be open to discussing different viewpoints.


Tricky questions in the UPSC CSE interview are an opportunity to showcase your critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and adaptability. By remaining calm, understanding the intent behind the question, and following the tips above, you can formulate strong, well-structured responses that impress the board and project your confidence as a prospective civil servant.

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