Nov 30, 2022
If you want to become one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the country, then your UPSC optional subject is your make or break.
UPSC demands general and accurate knowledge in all subject areas from Civil Service exam aspirants. However, it expects you to be a master of your optional subject. Therefore, you need to be confident about your subject of choice and make sure you can achieve a top score. If your competition is scoring around 230-250 marks then you need to score around 300 marks.
Before you choose your optional subject for UPSC, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. According to Samyak, the factors given below will decide how well you perform in your optional subject in the exam.
The first factor you must consider before choosing your UPSC optional subject is whether you are comfortable with studying the subject. It is a bonus if you have a background in the subject.
For example, if you were a political science honours student in your Bachelors or Masters or both, it would be a good idea for you to choose Political Science and International Relations (PSIR) as your optional subject for UPSC CSE.
You can still choose an optional subject even if you lack an academic background in the subject, provided you are comfortable with studying that subject. For example, if you are a civil engineering graduate but you have a strong interest in psychology or philosophy, you can definitely go for it.
Not every optional subject approved by the UPSC has adequate study material for aspirants. This is because there are few optional subjects that are preferred over the others by UPSC CSE aspirants.
For example, here is the list of the most popular UPSC optional subjects chosen by IAS aspirants every year:
So, even if you are interested in a particular subject, the next factor to analyse is whether that subject has enough resources in the market to help you prepare for it.
As Samyak Jain says, “I was equally comfortable with both English literature and PSIR. But English literature was not a common choice and the support system of coaching classes, test series and study materials is not as widely available as it is for PSIR. This is why I chose PSIR.”
The availability of resources plays an important role in determining your success in clearing the optional subject in UPSC CSE. The more you have access to subject tests, test series, great faculty and widely recommended study materials, the easier it will be for you to prepare.
You can improve your writing skills with high-quality test series and mock tests, reduce the mistakes made while solving mock tests, and get all your doubts cleared with expert faculty before the exam.
It becomes easier for you when your choice of optional subject for UPSC overlaps with the syllabus of any of the other GS subjects. For example, the syllabus for optional subjects like History, Geography and Political Science are often overlapped with their respective topics in the GS papers.
When your syllabus for the optional subject overlaps with the syllabus for UPSC GS paper topics, the effort of studying reduces. Also, since optional subjects cover their respective areas in greater depth than GS subjects, you can use the additional knowledge while writing answers for your GS papers.
However, it is not mandatory to choose a subject that overlaps with GS paper topics. Even if your choice of subject has no overlapping syllabus you can still score high marks if you are comfortable studying it.
Before you move on to the next topic, here is an amazing video for you. Watch celebrated YouTuber Gaurav Thakur of GetsetflyFACT explain how North Korea is funding its missile program despite being one of the poorest countries in the world.
Your choice of optional subject for UPSC should not consume a huge amount of time to be completed. If the time to complete the subject is too long or the syllabus is overwhelming, it is best to choose another subject.
After the Prelims exam, you have close to three months during which you must finish revising your optional subject at least once. Make sure you choose your UPSC optional subject accordingly.
Another factor you can consider while choosing your optional subject for UPSC is how easy it is to score in that subject. For example, many of the aspirants choose sociology or anthropology as their optional subjects because these subjects have limited syllabi which makes them easier to revise and score in.
Now that you’ve got the idea of how to choose the optional subject wisely, let’s dive straight into the tips shared by AIR 07 Samayak Jain, UPSC’ 21 on Optional preparation.
Samyak Jain’s overall score in PSIR optional paper was 258. He managed to achieve such an amazing score because of his well-thought-out preparation strategy. He says the fundamental idea behind his preparation that helped him is minimum preparation and maximum revision.
PSIR subject has two papers in it. The first one is Paper A which has two static sections. The other one is Paper B under which, section 1 is static and section 2 is dynamic.
Since PSIR is a commonly opted optional subject among aspirants, the materials and resources for it are easily available. He read Andrew Heywood’s and Rajiv Bauba’s books on the subject which are widely known among aspirants.
Another highly recommended book is Pavneet Singh’s book on International Relations. Pavneet Singh is a celebrated UPSC faculty and a part of PrepLadder’s UPSC-GS Dream Team. His book will help you understand the history of India’s foreign policy clearly. For additional reading, he suggests ‘The Indian Way’ by Dr S. Jaishankar and ‘Does the Elephant Dance’ by David M. Malone.
To answer questions under section 2 of Paper B, you have to keep up with current affairs. Samyak read The Indian Express as a part of his newspaper reading. He particularly read the opinion articles of C. Rajamohan and P. B. Mehta and extensively quoted them in his answers.
You have to know how to read the newspaper like a pro if you want to answer this section correctly.
In addition, if you want some help with your current affairs preparation, here are 6 best monthly magazines for UPSC preparation.
Writing answers for optional subjects is different from writing answers for GS papers. That is because UPSC expects you to be a master of your choice of optional subject. You are expected to know everything there is to know about that subject. It is important to know how to show the depth of your knowledge in your writing.
For example, if your choice of subject is PSIR, you must supplement your answers with relevant quotes from popular scholars. In political science, there are a lot of scholars and thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Hobbs and Machiavelli among others. Make sure your quotes are added in a way that enhances the answer while maintaining its flow.
Note-making is a crucial part of your optional subject preparation for UPSC. The syllabus of any optional subject is larger than its counterpart in the GS papers. Therefore, it is all the more important to revise your optional subject. Make notes and revise them as much as you can.
A reason many aspirants take PSIR as an optional subject is that you can find many repeat questions in this paper. if you go through the PYQs of PSIR you will notice many questions that are repeated year after year. For example, “Dalit Perspectives on the Indian Free Struggle” is a common question.
Since we are on the topic of PSIR, here is an interesting video for you. Watch M. Puri sir analyze and explain the GS Paper-II for Polity of UPSC Mains examination 2022.
There is no best optional subject for UPSC. The best optional subject for you depends on you alone.
Keep in mind the five factors mentioned above and you will be able to able to choose your optional subject with ease. It will also save you a lot of time during preparation and allow you more time to revise.
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Here is what AIR-07, Samyak Jain suggests when it comes to preparing for your optional. This is also the same method he followed himself while preparing for his optional subject, PSIR.
Step 1 - Download the syllabus and get a broad understanding of what you need to study going forward.
Step 2 - Download the previous year's question papers (PYQs) and go through them. This will give you an idea of the kind of questions that are asked for your particular subject.
Step 3 - Pick up recommended textbooks for your choice of optional subject and read them two to three times. Multiple readings will allow you to understand the subject matter better.
If after two or three readings you still find it difficult to understand, you can readily take the help of online classes.
“Even if you have taken coaching classes, there is no alternative to self-study”, says Samyak.
Samyak recommends that the best time to complete the UPSC optional subject is at the beginning of your preparation.
During the first three months of your UPSC preparation, complete your optional subject and keep it aside. Completing your optional subject early gives you an advantage.
Many aspirants make the mistake of starting their optional preparation after their Prelims. This is a mistake. If you push your optional preparation towards the end of your preparation period, you will have to study under a severe time crunch. As a result, your preparation and revision will be affected.
Similarly, right before your Prelims, you will have no time for your optional. Right before your Prelims, your prime focus should be preparing for CSAT, GS Paper-I, and attempting multiple mock tests.
And if you want more helpful tips for your overall preparation, here are some of the common mistakes to avoid during UPSC preparation.
To complete the USPC optional subject syllabus it will take you around three months. This is why Samyak suggested completing your optional subject at the beginning of your UPSC preparation.
If you practice writing answers and complete a few test series after you are finished with the syllabus, it will not take you more than a month and a half to complete revising your optional subject.
Now let us look at how Samyak Jain prepared for his optional subject, Political Science and International Relations (PSIR). If you want information exclusively for Polity, check out this blog on how to prepare Indian Polity for UPSC Prelims.
And that is everything you need to know about optional subject preparation for UPSC and Samyak Jain’s recommendations for the same.
If this is your first attempt you will require a reliable partner in your UPSC journey.
You can make your UPSC journey easier by downloading the PrepLadder App. Our leading UPSC Faculty like M.Puri, Vivek Singh, Himanshu Sharma and Hemant Jha will help you with every subject and paper to take your preparation to the next level.
It has high-quality study tools, concise, effective and well-planned video lectures by the Dream Team, high-yield QBanks and PrepTests based on the real exam pattern, and PYQs.
Everything you need to ace the UPSC CSE is available on the PrepLadder App.
Keep following our blog for more interesting posts around UPSC optional subjects like Preparing for UPSC Optional? Here are some tips by AIR-07, UPSC’21, Samyak Jain. You can also follow our Telegram Channel to keep up with the latest information about the exam.
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