UPSC: The UPSC Mains exams pattern includes two optional papers carrying 250 marks each. The main difference between the GS and the optional paper is the candidate’s expertise on the optional subject. While the questions in GS papers are usually answered in a generic way, the candidates are expected to write detailed answers for optional papers. Now let’s discuss the preparation strategy for the mains optional papers in detail.
How to Choose the Right Optional?
UPSC offers 48 optional subjects to candidates to choose from. In the new pattern for UPSC Mains, candidates can opt for only one Optional subject which will have two papers of 250 Marks each. As the UPSC aspirants come from diverse academic backgrounds, the commission offers 48 optional subjects from various branches of science, commerce & humanities for the aspirants to choose one optional subject based on their interests and academic background. Choosing the right Optional subject is a crucial step in the preparation for the UPSC civil services exam. A wrong decision not only costs a rank but also leaves in a sense of regret, if not selected. There are many important aspects to be kept in mind while choosing an Optional Subject. You can refer to the below link to know the factors for choosing the right optional subject.
Three Stages of Preparation
Every candidate starts their preparation from scratch and eventually reach the expert level where they can easily attempt 20 questions in three hours effectively. We have broadly divided these preparation levels into three stages and how can one conquer each stage with ease.
Stage 1: Beginners Level
The first stage involves reading the syllabus. In this stage, you should only focus on understanding what you are reading. You may feel that you are forgetting the concepts you read two days ago or you do not understand half the questions which have been asked in previous years. You may begin to attempt a question and not know how to write answers in the exam. But need not to worry. Just ensure you understand what you are reading and finish the syllabus in the first reading.
Stage 2: Intermediate Level
After finishing the first reading you will now be acquainted with the concepts. Once you begin your second reading focus on understanding the concepts. This time you would find, it takes less time to understand as by now you would be familiar with most of the terms. Read, re-read and revise the syllabus 2-3 times, ensure that you can recall without any aid what was said in a given topic, and can reproduce it on paper. It can be possible that at this stage you would still not be able to understand many questions in the paper. No need to worry. Just keep revising the syllabus.
Stage 3: Expert Level
This stage will arrive after a year-long preparation and revision. By this time you would be well-versed with the knowledge and would have acquired vast knowledge of the subject. It may be possible that you may not understand but you will be able to answer most (90-95%) of the questions in previous years’ question papers now. At this stage, you are ready to attempt the mains optional paper.
How to Prepare for the Optional Subject?
As we quoted above, the preparation and answer writing strategy for optional papers is different from the GS papers. The optional subject demands in-depth knowledge of the subject as well as subject-expertise to solve administration problems. Once you are sure about the optional subject you will be appearing within the mains exam, the next step is to create a study plan and booklist for the optional. The points provided below will give you insight into how and when to begin the optional subject preparation.
★ Minimum Resources Maximum Revision
While creating the booklist it is very important that you stick to limited study material and carve your strategy around it. Your booklist should include - standard NCERT books and publisher’s books (as referred by toppers and various institutes), previous years’ papers (to understand the exam pattern), newspapers (to cover related current affairs). It is important that you revise this study material as many times as possible before the exam.
★ Keep a Check on Current Affairs
It is very important to include an hour for newspaper reading in your daily study schedule. Relate every important news with your optional and prepare notes simultaneously. These current affairs can be used as a part of your answers or for citing recent examples etc. which makes the answer rich and updated. You can also refer to monthly issues of Yojana and Kurukshetra magazine.
★ Follow Integrated Approach
Most of the optional subjects’ syllabus overlaps with the GS papers. While studying for GS papers or optional subjects follow a comprehensive preparation of each topic. This will help you in both the papers.
★ Practice Answer Writing
It is important that you practice answer writing to deliver an effective answer in the exam. Every question demands a certain specific perspective. Hence, it is important that you read the question carefully and frame your answer around it. Make sure that you don’t lose track of the question and time and cover all the points asked.