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How to choose Optional Papers for IAS mains Exam.
  • How to choose Optional Papers for IAS mains Exam.


    Civil Services Examination these days have become one of the toughest nuts to crack. Looking at the competition involved in this exam, one can sail through this hurdle race in flying colours only by proper planning, hard work, perseverance and patience. Proper planning is must for getting good ranks in this exam. And first step in proper planning is right selection of optional. In my opinion optionals should e chosen on the basis of one’s interest in that subject, scoring pattern of that subject in previous few years, availability of study material.

    Once you have decided to get into in the preparation the first and foremost thing to decide while aspiring for Civil Services is the judicious choice of subjects for the Mains examinations. With new syllabus from 2011 we have to choose one optional for Mains exam, the second stage of whole examination process. Earlier we had to opt one optional subject for Prelims as well. The selection of subjects should be done most carefully, if it goes wrong, everything will go wrong. Aspirants to the Indian Civil Services may be forgiven for thinking that choosing the right optionals for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) selection examination is more than half the battle won.

    Normally students have the advantage of selecting one of the optionals, which they are familiar with, or have at least studied till graduate level. If you are not comfortable with the subject, you should not select the subject as an optional. Example: One who studied History in his/her graduation may have to refer many books for one topic. On such occasions it is better to take a subject of one's interest.

    One should analyse the syllabus of previous years and the question papers. The comfort levels with the subject opted for and the past trends should be analysed. While going through the questions of previous years, one can judge himself/herself about the knowledge base and comfort level with the subject. After a detailed analysis one should decide the subject for the first optional. One can get some feedback/advice from seniors and fellow students who are well versed in the subject. To avoid confusion at advanced stages of the examination, one should have some consultation with experienced/senior colleagues. They can guide you better than any coaching class.

    Given that optional papers in main examinations determine a candidate's scoring pattern, and that questions in the final interview are also usually based on the choice of optionals, the decision seems an extremely difficult one to make.

    There is a vast choice of optionals, since students belonging to various streams of education aspire for the Services. The optionals may be broadly categorised as science subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Botany and Zoology; Humanities subjects like History, Political Science, Public Administration, Geography and Sociology; and languages like Hindi, English, Urdu, and Pali. The UPSC also allows for subjects like Anthropology, Psychology and Philosophy. The subjects are many but choices are not easy.

    Among the optionals like History, Psychology, Sociology, Public Administration etc in which even the candidates not having special or additional educational qualifications have been doing reasonably well, while the subjects like Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering are considered to offer tougher questions and the candidates with exceptionally good preparation only may expect to do well. But this observation may not be taken as the universal truth. Moreover, the aptitude and proficiency of a particular candidate in a given subject also plays an important role in arriving at a decision.

    An optional may be evaluated on the basis of a number of parameters. While some optionals are considered to be "scoring", others are preferred for their relevance to either the General Studies papers or Current Affairs and essay questions. Still others are chosen for their comparatively short, clearly defined syllabus. Availability and access to good and prescribed books is yet another consideration and often the candidates are also guided by this factor, particularly in smaller towns.

    Students point out that with a little bit of planning, it is possible to choose combinations of optionals which have common syllabi - thereby reducing workloads and improving scoring chances. For instance, Botany and Zoology are examples of two complementary optional subjects, there is almost a 50 per cent overlap between the syllabi of these two subjects, apart from this Botany and Zoology prove to be useful as they provide students inputs on emerging issues such as genetically modified (GM) foods, cloning, biotechnology and environmental sensitisation. However, students must obviously display an aptitude for the subjects they choose as they require a fair degree of specialised knowledge.

    Public Administration is another subject that can be usefully coupled with an Optional like Sociology or even History. Public Administration also covers significant sections of the General Studies papers, and essay questions invariably relate to the themes of administration and current affairs. Another advantage is that this optional subject does not require a previous background in it.

    Philosophy is another subject that may be profitably combined with other humanities subjects. Philosophy maybe coupled with Political Science or Sociology as there are several similarities in their subject matter. It is also very useful for the essay papers. The subject is also a scoring one and requires no previous background. Since the Philosophy paper is usually scheduled towards the latter half of the examination date-sheets, students get ample time to prepare for it.

    Geography is another option that is open to students from varied academic backgrounds. Objective nature of the paper - with its tables and maps - makes it extremely scoring; at the same time it has the merits of a semi-technical subject, such as a well-defined course.

    Economics is another optional that is often shunned by students as it is seen as a difficult subject. However Economics has helped some students top the rank list in the past. Hence methods and strategies of study are more important than the nature of subjects.

    One subject is Sociology, which is very useful in the "social issues" section of the General Studies paper and in answering essay questions.

    However, it is believes that the primary criteria should not be the nature of the subject or whether it is perceived as scoring. Student interest in the subject is of paramount importance. Any optional can be scoring if the student approaches it strategically and systematically.

    While preparing for an optional paper, it is often advisable to first go through the whole syllabus of the subject.  This gives the student an overview of the subject and allows him or her to specialize in certain scoring areas. Since 2010-2011, the trends in the question papers have become more and more unpredictable and so questions may come from any part of the course, and more than one question may come from the same section. In such a situation, it is imperative to be thorough in one's preparation.

    The mantra to crack civil services exam:

    • Planned studies, hard work and inner motivation are the keys to success.
    • Strong willpower and focused approach and faith in God are stepping-stones to success.
    • Dedication, good planning and positive approach, time management and hard work are secrets of success.
    • Motivation and Self-confidence are the keys to success.
    • Patience, selection of optionals, hard work and good luck will land you in safe place.




    please share your tips also.



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