April 19th, 2019       Civil Services Preparation

In the end, we are our own choices– JEFF BEZOS

Nothing more aptly describes the importance of choosing an optional for civil services exam…..Choosing the correct optional subject is the biggest dilemma faced by any CSE aspirant. The importance of the correct selection can be judged by the fact that if one looks at the performance of top 100 ranks in the final merit list, the deal breaker are the marks in optional and interview. Marks in GS are almost the same!!!

However, more often than not, it is observed that aspirants end up choosing the wrong optional which hampers their chance for selection. In addition to this, having chosen the wrong optional in earlier attempts they have to switch to other in the next, which leads to wastage of critical resources.

The purpose of this article is to guide the aspirants in choosing the most appropriate optional for them. The article is divided into 3 parts namely, A. debunking the myths associated with choosing optional, B. what not to do while choosing the optional?, C. how to choose an optional-stepwise?

Part A: Debunking the Myths

Myth: best optional is the one which is most trending/ popular/ highest success percentage…
Reality: UPSC never favors one optional over the other. Moreover the trend changes every year. At the end it all boils down to one’s hard work.

Myth: best optional is the one which is chosen by very few people…
Reality: it is incorrect to believe that if an optional has 500 students then it is difficult to score marks, and it is easy to score if it has only 10 odd students. Often, it is seen that out of those 500, 50 may be selected and none out of the 10. It ultimately depends on your performance. BUT ONE HAS TO KEEP IN MIND THAT IF THERE ARE MORE STUDENTS CLEARLY, YOU HAVE TO OUTCLASS ALL OF THEM TO PERFORM BETTER!!!

Myth: Going with the flow-my friend has chosen, rank 1 has chosen, my coaching institute has asked…
Reality: Remember optional subject is like love marriage. You have to love it. Arranged marriage doesn’t work here!!!

Myth: choosing the optional which is the most scoring…
Reality: usually the technical subjects are most scoring. BUT should an aspirant of commerce background take an optional of physics or math?? Moreover, some of these optional require a dedicated time frame of more than 1 year!!! Also, there is no standard that every year that optional subject will be high scoring.

Myth: choosing the optional which is your graduation subject…
Reality: Just because one is graduate in civil engineering doesn’t mean he/she has interest in that subject or has attained perfection. The syllabus of UPSC and the syllabus of graduation may match 60 to 70%. If one is interested in that subject and comfortable with UPSC syllabus then they should definitely choose that optional. But never choose the optional subject ONLY because you did it in graduation.

Part B: How Not to Choose an Optional?

UPSC CSE Optional Selection Tips

Part C: How to Choose an Optional?

****Factors to be considered:

  • Interest in the subject
  • Understanding ability and confidence level on that subject
  • Past understanding eg: graduation
  • Syllabus and role of current affairs
  • Subject integration with GS Syllabus to simplify preparation
  • Analysis of previous year papers
  • Availability of Good teachers, materials, guidance/ peer group, tests etc

STEP 1: Take out a printout of the CSE Notification.
STEP 2: Read the optional list showing the 26 optional subjects.
STEP 3: Strike out the subjects you will not take no matter what. Eg: A commerce graduate won’t take Mechanical or Civil engineering or likewise. Also, simultaneously keep going through the detailed syllabus for the subject before striking out.
STEP 4: As the number of options becomes lesser, eliminate with more care-only if you are 100% sure of not picking that one.
STEP 5: Now you will be left with 3-5 subjects. Now consider the above mentioned factors and prepare a chart as shown below as sample:

FACTORPUBLIC ADMINSTRATIONPHILOSOPHYSOCIOLOGYHISTORY
Interest in subjectYesYesNoNo
Understanding ability/ confidenceYesYesYesNo
Graduation/ past understandingNoYesNoNo
Syllabus and role of current affairsModerateDefiniteModerateVast syllabus
Integration with GS syllabusHighLowMediumHigh
Analysis of PYQSeems familiarFamiliarFacing difficultyFacing difficulty
Teachers availableYesYesYesYes
Materials availableYesYesYesYes
Success rate in 20165.3710.66.5
Competition3500100020002000

STEP 6: Now rank the above four priority wise. In this case, priority would be Philosophy> Public Administration> Sociology> History.
STEP 7: Now zero upon an optional. In the above case, it would be Philosophy. Read the basic books for at least a week. You will be able to clearly analyse your aptitude for the optional and whether you will be able to read it for long time. If answer is NO, move to next priority and follow the same process.
STEP 8: Now finalize the optional.

Remember, select an optional subject that fits within your interest zone and you are passionate to learn more and more about it. Selection for the subject should be based on logic and rationality after considering all the above mentioned factors. Do not choose optional at random and stay away from myths and rumors. UPSC gives equal weight-age to all subjects. Choose the most appropriate one!!!

Happy learning!!!

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