Saturday, May 26, 2012

How to choose Optional paper in civil service exam ?

How to choose Optional paper in civil service exam?

This is the first and most important stage of your journey and should be accomplished most carefully as coming things hinge on it and a wrong decision may prove to be disastrous. Careful analysis of syllabus, previous years' papers, your caliber, requirement of subject (Visionary, Numerical, Theoretical), comfort level with the subject and past trends should be done. Advice from seniors and fellow
candidates should also be sought. To avoid dithering in choice at later stage, initial deep thinking and consultations are a must. Having decided the subject, it is advisable to stick to your choice even if the perception of others about it is not favourable.

Please note that there is no subject that can be said to be scoring. UPSC is maintaining utmost balance between the subjects. It has brought all the optional subjects onto the same platform as far as scoring is concerned. Also, no optional is safe or unsafe despite what the coaching institutes or other experienced people might say. It is your preparation level which will determine whether the optional that you have selected will have one more successful/unsuccessful candidate

Parameters in selecting the Optional's
Consideration of all interconnected variables & choose right sets of optional subjects is necessary.
1. Interest
2. Education background vs. Reflected optional
3. Statistical Consideration vs. Reflected optional
4. Syllabus
5. Question papers
6. Reading Material
7. Teachers / Mentors

1. Interest
- Understanding yourself, your thinking pattern, Alignment your heart towards the subjects …..
- Recall your Memory, observe your vocabulary and check, you are more comfortable to express this subject, you can resonance yourself with this optional …..Analyse Properly? ~ Are you on the Right Track?
2. Education background vs. Reflected optional subject
- If you are science / Engg. / Commerce / Medical background …… which motivate to take their own core subject …. But you have more choice to choose another optional (In arts, Language etc.) Which is easy for scoring?
- If you are Art background … you can not take any optional of Science, Engg. ,Commerce, Medical ….. Choosing the optional for art background is slightly easy (but consider all related variables).
3. Statistical Consideration vs. Reflected optional subject
- Student choice (as data say): Public administration, Geography, Philosophy, Sociology,Political Science, Psychology, History etc Background does not matter .
- Choose other optional based on education background.
4. Syllabus
- Deep analysis of your reflected optional (based on above consideration) one by one and check? Are you Ok with this optional? Are you able to make interest? Are you comfortable with this optional?
Analyze the syllabus of Main & Prelim ……Check ... will you complete it within time limit ?
5. Question papers
- Analyze latest 3 years question papers and check your thinking & skill sets for exact presentation in the answer ( ex : factual & informative or analytical ) in a particular optional. Analytical people like question where they have to discuss many thing without giving many factual details. Where as some people like learning facts by pure memory and
prefer question which demand straight and factual answers
Understand the pattern of your mind and choose according to own strength & weakness.

6. Reading Material
- Availability of proper & complete reading material & Quality books.
Be Focus…...Focus …...Focus
7. Teachers / Mentors

- A Mentor for guidance, direction, simplifying the process of preparation, focus ontinuously & analyzing the performance & feedback and motivate towards goals.Ensure ….. You have an authentic Mentor

Another very important aspect one should keep in mind is amount of overlap amongst various optional subjects and also between optional and General Studies.
As an indicative example, let's take a look at a combination of GS, Public Administration and Sociology. A large portion of Public Administration viz. Union and State Government, Financial Administration and Development Administration find its use in General Studies' Indian Polity, Indian Economy and Social Issues sections. Similarly Sociology's sections viz. Planning and Development, Social Issues, Tribal Development, Family laws and socio- economic legislation find their utility mainly in Indian Economy, Indian Polity and Social Issues sections. As far as convergence between Sociology and Public Administration is concerned the areas are many. Public administration borrows heavily from Organizational theory, Concept of Bureaucracy,  Socio-Economic Planning, Financial Administration, Issues in Development Administration, Current social and political issues, Tribal Development, welfare programs etc.     What we can infer from here is that both the optional must have some synergy amongst each other as well as with GS.

Some other popular combinations are- Political Science & Sociology, Public Administration & Economics, Public Administration and Pyschology, Sociology and Psychology, History and Sociology etc. In fact Psychology is getting popular with persons of scientific and engineering backgrounds also.

Some of the optionals which a majority  take are:

.Anthropology, Geography, History, Political Science and International Relations, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology and Literature.
The main advantages with these optionals are:
1. Availability of guidance, which reduces the efforts to a large extent
2. The knowledge also helps in GS, Essay and interview.
3. They are also relevant for an administrative career.

Comparitive Analysis of Optional's & their contribution in further stages of Exam:


How much Help in General Studies

Help in Essay?

Some comments





80: National Freedom
GS- Paper 1


Lengthiest syllabus, lots of matter   to be remembered, Good memory skill required.



30+International affairs+ Science-Tech


Easy 2 understand, lots of  places to remembered ,Strong memory, Good drawing skills help immensely,

Public Administration




Understanding of inter-conceptual linkages along with current aspects necessary, Can't take with Political science.

Political Science


Can't take with Pub.administration, Understanding of inter-conceptual linkages along with current aspects necessary.




Senior candidate/Coaching/Mentor is required.

Zoology/Botany/Med Sci.


20-30 in Sci.Tech


Good only if you have studied at  post-graduation level, Senior candidate/Mentor is required.


10 Mental ability

30 in Stat






Sociology / Anthropology


Social issues

20-30 M


Easy to understand but strong conceptual linkages with current aspects need to be understood.


If a person is from professional education background (i.e. Engineering /Medicine)which optionals should he choose?
 This is a basic question for many. There is a tendency to opt for the graduating subject. Lets understand the problems associated with these subjects.
• Previously, science and Engineering Optional's used to do very well. In top 20, there used to be 15-16 from IIT and engineering background. But after 2000,UPSC has modified the syllabus. It became a very huge syllabus and even the exam questions are made tough. That's the reason why, very few are writing the exam from IIT's now. Many engineers are taking arts optional's instead of
sciences. Just observe the background of the toppers and their optionals.
• There will be no guidance available for engineering/medical/science subjects.So, lots of time will have to be spent in understanding the requirements of the exam. Then, searching for the material. It becomes a trial and error process. All the energies will be spent on this, while you get exhausted when really studying. At the same time, you will also have to complete the huge syllabus of another optional and GS.
• Because of the above problem, it will take more time and more attempts. While, your friends in other fields go far ahead. So, both peer and social pressure starts. The exam is anyhow psychologically demanding, if other pressures add to it, then it becomes unbearable. Finally, your goal of cracking the exam becomes impossible.
• You will have to do every thing on your own. Initially it might be fine. But the exam is of long duration. It becomes difficult to sustain the momentum on your own.

A person might be University topper, but we have to understand the difference between an academic exam and a competitive exam. So it is very important to be careful, while choosing optionals, even though you might feel you are really good in a particular subject.

Still, if you are confident about your subject, then do take that optional.
There are some people who cleared with optional's that others don't take generally. Like Accountancy, Commerce, Law, Economics, Literature Of a language other than your mother-tounge (like Pali literature). But take into consideration the following points
• Whether you have a senior who has cleared with this optional and who can guide you well

• Whether you have close association with professors who have good understanding about this exam.

• Are you clear about the requirements of the exam? Study the previous papers thoroughly and assess yourself

• Be clear about the books to follow. Don't do trial and error process. Do a focused exam oriented preparation.

• Do not neglect other optional and GS. Give equal importance.

• Form a group of aspirants with same optional. If you prepare in isolation, then there will be no flow of information.

Do not be in a hurry to decide about the optional. Be very cautious and consult the right people about the information. Analyse carefully all the pros and cons, and then take a decision purely based on your assessment. Once optional subjects are chosen, a candidate must devote himself totally in acquiring the required expertise in the subjects and capability to tackle the examination. In the end it's the amount of 'intelligent' hard work which is the deciding factor in one's success.

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