Success Story of Shubham Gupta (UPSC AIR-6)

Shubham Gupta upsc

Here I have tried to make a compilation of all the questions that have been asked to me over the past two months or so, ranging from my own journey to certain philosophical aspects related to the exam and life before and after that. I feel these are certainly important so that a right approach and frame of mind is attained during the process. However, it doesn’t include the subject wise strategy for the exam; I will be coming up with that shortly.

I have divided the questions into six segments, containing aspects related to:

  1. My Journey
  2. General Questions related to UPSC CSE
  3. Prelims related Questions
  4. Mains related Questions
  5. Personality Test/Interview related Questions
  6. Choice of Optional Subject

Shubham Gupta

1.      My Journey

Q1. In how many attempts have you achieved this success?

Ans. This was my 4th attempt. Earlier, in my 2nd attempt, I had secured AIR 366 in CSE 2016.

Q2. You achieved the desired success in this attempt; how do you visualize your previous attempts?

Ans. I was not able to clear the preliminary examination in the 1st and the 3rd attempt. In the 2ndattempt, I secured AIR 366 in CSE 2016. This was my 4th attempt. Even when I secured AIR 366 in the second attempt, my mains examination score was decent but my interview (personality test) marks were very low i.e. 124. This year my interview score is 184.

So, overall the key areas that needed some overhaul for me were preliminary examination and the interview. Mains examination has been a key scoring area for me and I have been able to score decent marks in the same both the times. Let me also tell you about how I corrected the mistakes.

For preliminary exam, after the unfavorable result in the 3rd attempt, I realized that I needed to do something to check the inconsistency in my performance. So, I got down to correcting the same by undertaking multiple test exercises. I did almost 30 tests before the final preliminary examination. This way I was able to gain more confidence and analytical ability to attempt questions that I was not completely aware of.

For interview, I realized that I lacked confidence during my last interview and that was majorly because of the lack of preparation. Hence, I decided to undertake 2 mock interviews at different venues so that I am able to pin point the major deficiencies that needed correction. Further, I also read extensively on all the key words related to the DAF (Detailed Application Form). All these helped to identify my strengths and weaknesses as well as increased my knowledge base, thereby, helping me to increase my interview score this time.

Overall, it has been quite a learning curve for me. I have learnt things by making mistakes. Fortunately, I have been able to identify those mistakes and make due course correction.

Q3. Was CSE a planned decision or your parent’s wish?

Ans. Both. My father also expressed his desire for the same when I was very young. But It wasn’t thrust upon me. It was only when I myself figured out that this was indeed the way for me that I began to think about making my career in the civil services.

When I grew up, I realised that the end goals that I have in my life of making a difference in the lives of people around me can be facilitated to a larger extent by getting into the civil services. Here I will be able to reach a much larger mass of people and will also be able to create a much direct impact in the lives of people in a relatively short span of time.

Q4. Did you keep in mind some time-frame for the examination preparation and number of attempts?

Ans. Yes I did. Of course, I also wanted to clear the exam in my very first attempt. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I had told myself that I can give maximum four attempts and I have to stop after that if it doesn’t work out for me. Turns out, 4 was indeed the lucky number.

Regarding preparation time, I always believed that I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. Hence, I always involved myself in studies while I was preparing for the exam. For instance, I enrolled myself in Delhi School of Economics M.A. Economics two year programme between 2015-17. This was just to keep the performance pressure off me. So, considerably the preparation time was relatively less for me. However, overall one year was sufficient enough to gain enough confidence to attempt this exam.

Q5. Were you preparing for other career opportunities as well while preparing for your ultimate goal i.e. Career in Civil Services?

Ans. I believe that it is very important for a person to identify his/her ‘antardhwani’ or the inner drumbeat that showcases the purpose of his/her life. It also has to be understood that there are always multiple ways of attaining that inner drumbeat, UPSC being one of them. It will be wrong to consider UPSC CSE as the end, for it is only a means to an end.

Hence, I always wanted to keep a backup career option in my hand throughout my preparation journey such as having a good college degree in hand. Further, even before I qualified for the first time, I had two job offers from two very good MNCs in my hand. This is just to highlight the fact that I never considered UPSC as an end in itself in my life, but only as a means of doing what I wanted to do.

Having a career backup tends to lower down the pressure that one tends to put on himself/herself and increases your chances of clearing the paper. This was true for me. However, I have also observed that some people perform better under pressure and hence, refrain from having a backup. Each one should identify his own way.

Q6. The first step is the most difficult; how to prepare? Which optional subjects to pick? What to read? How much to read? Many such questions come to your mind when you really get serious about Civil Services Examination? From where, you did get the right advice?

Ans. It is quite natural for anyone to ask all these questions at the stage of beginning the preparation for UPSC CSE. In fact, these are some of the pertinent questions that one should definitely ask someone so as to ensure that they are moving ahead in the right direction and in the right manner.

In my case, there were multiple people who I had contacted in an attempt to get the right answers to these questions. I talked to one of my seniors who was also preparing at that time (He happens to be an IAS himself now). I also talked to some of my brother’s friends who were also preparing for the exam. Whenever I would get similar answers to certain questions, my faith in the same would rise. Further, I also went around and talked to some of the institutes and tried to gather as much information as possible. Ultimately, I felt that it is very important for a person to undertake his/her own research while arriving at a decision, especially in the current internet age when so much information is already available at the click of a button.

All these sources combined ensured that I embarked upon somewhat right track. However, still there were mistakes that I committed in the process, which I tried to correct as and when I was apprised of them.

Q7. How did you maintain consistency in preparation despite the de-motivating and often frustrating nature of this exam?

Ans. It has been a topsy-turvy journey for me over the last four years. After securing AIR 366 in my second attempt, I again failed the prelims in my third attempt. It was very unfortunate and demotivating for me at that point of time. At times, I even thought of not writing the exam again and settling down in the Indian Audit and Accounts Service.

However, I knew that my life goals are very different and in order to attain the same, I had to pick myself up and get back to work. I kept myself motivated to improve by analysing my answers and finding out my strong areas as well as the reasons for my failure that year. It was very important for me to understand and learn from my mistakes and avoid them in the future. I also involved myself in some extra-curricular activities such as sports so as to keep my mind fresh and away from the demotivating thoughts.

Moreover, I decided to well in the field that was my current job so that it doesn’t become a burden on my mind while I was preparing to improve my rank in the exam. I always tried to keep myself busy in one thing or the other and the lack of ample time forced me to focus on the studies rather than wasting time in thinking about my failures all the time. My parents and friends were always by my side and helped me a lot, especially during the low phases and helped me pick myself right back up.

Q8. What do you consider as the formula of your success?

Ans. Dedication, Commitment and Perseverance. The trinity of these three words is the formula for my success. In the preparation for UPSC, it’s very important that one is completely dedicated to the preparation in the true sense, it should come from within and reflect in his ‘antardhwani’ or the inner drumbeat. This should be followed by commitment to the end result that one is trying to achieve by the way of clearing this exam and entering civil services. During this journey, it’s equally important that the aspirant has faith in himself as well as the process so that he/she doesn’t get bogged down by the baggage of failures and is able to pick himself/herself up every single time. It needs to be remembered that the nature of the exam is such that the best of the best gets humbled here. Hence, the process of constant learning is highly significant and increases your chances of clearing this exam manifold.

2.      General Questions

Q9. ‘Time Management’ – is a key factor while making preparations as well as in writing examination papers, be it Prelims or Main Examination. How did you manage things?

Ans. Time management is a big issue for the aspirants. Let me try to address this in an elaborate manner with the help of my personal experience.

I prepared for this attempt while I was training in Shimla in the National Academy of Audit and Accounts. We also used to have many attachments across the country. In Shimla, I used to have my training from 9:30 am to 5:15 pm. Being a sports enthusiast, I used to play tennis for an hour or so after that. Hence, I could begin my studies for UPSC only around 7 pm every day. Of course, I was able to devote relatively more time to it on the weekends.

Hence, I had much lesser time to prepare for UPSC as compared to my earlier attempts. It was essential for me to manage my time properly. In this scenario, my notes came to my rescue. I had prepared notes for most of my subjects which meant that I could avoid reading the complete books this time. This was immense help especially in my optional paper and helped me complete my syllabus in a much limited time in this attempt. I also observed that through these notes, I was more confident and could retain things much better.

As I have mentioned above, I was really short of time for preparation in this attempt. However, I have never been able to follow a set and pre-planned timetable for my studies, not only UPSC but school and college as well. Having said that, it is amazing if one is able to make a timetable and follow it religiously. The advantage of doing so cannot be overstated.

I used to give myself weekly targets while keeping a broad timeline in my mind while approaching a certain date for the examination. For instance, I will plan for the number of topics to be covered in a particular week but keep the sequence of the same flexible. I used to pick up the topics from amongst them on the basis of my interest on a particular day. Ultimately, the focus was on completing by the end of the week whatever I had thought of at the beginning of the same.

During the exam days, my focus was always on completing the paper. It was the gospel for me that I will be able to get through the exam only if I complete the papers in their entirety. Hence, I used to gather all my attention and thoughts and put them into the exam that I was going to write that day. I would generally have a broad idea about the number of questions that I should be able to cover in the first half of the exam and I tried to attain that.

Lastly, practicing test papers and answer writing helped me a lot in managing my time by helping me to increase my writing speed as well as by giving me greater confidence regarding attempting the questions that I was less aware/unaware of.

Q10. Considering the extensive syllabus of general studies in preliminary and main examination, what strategy did you adopt in preparing it?

The general studies syllabus of both preliminary and mains examination incorporates various fields of work such as economics, science and technology, environment and ecology, history, geography, polity, etc. as well as current affairs which naturally pertain to any one of these fields. Hence, it becomes important to take one subject at a time to study the static portion of the syllabus while constantly being in touch with the contemporary developments.

Let me explain with the help of an example. For economics, I would first read the basic glossary of terms related to the subject followed by conceptual understanding of the same, including the NCERT books for Class XI and XII. I will supplement this with the study of daily developments from the reading of the newspaper and other relevant sources.

However, it is very important to keep your sources limited so that you are able to cover all the subjects multiple times before the final examination. Generally, the aspirants have a perception of referring multiple books for one single subject. Instead, my strategy was to refer only to the NCERT books, the newspaper and if needed, any one reference book for any particular subject. This way I was able to complete the syllabus and also revise it at least two times, thereby, attaining a better understanding of the same. This will also help in avoiding the panic situation where an aspirant start feeling anxious because of not being able to complete the whole quota of syllabus he/she had devised for himself.

Q11. Did you give special emphasis to some particular sections or equal emphasis on all sections? In your opinion, can certain sections be skipped by assuming them to be not so important?

Since the paper pattern is such that the weightage given to individual subjects/sections is not defined clearly, it can’t be taken as given that the paper pattern followed last year will be repeated in the current year as well. Hence, it may not be a very good idea to give very less attention to any particular section.

Having said that, generally each aspirant has certain strengths and weaknesses in terms of certain sections of the paper. For instance, in my case, Polity, current affairs, economy were my strong areas and Ancient History, geography, science and environment were my weak points. It may be a good idea to try to utilise your strengths to the maximum while minimizing the loss incurred out of your weak areas.

The idea should be that no question out of your strong areas should be left unanswered and should most likely be correct as well, thereby, maximizing your marks there. If needed, a special emphasis may be given in the preparation of these sections in order to improve accuracy. On the other hand, one should try to cover the weaker areas comprehensively at least from NCERT books and certain tests so that the success rate in such questions increases. The minimal areas like Art and Culture may be given a cursory look and the time saved may be utilised in other areas.

Q12. How much time did you take to complete your preparation for all the three stages of preparation? Did you prepare for each stage in sequence or all the stages simultaneously?

I started my preparation in a full-fledged manner after graduation and attempted the mains exam in that year as well which means it took me about a year’s time to completely prepare for all three stages of the exam. I think everybody has a different pace of learning. Hence, one should be the best judge of his/her own pace and thereby determine the time needed to prepare for this exam.

The whole journey of UPSC is an integrated one. It starts with giving us a brief about all the events happening around us, both in India and the world. This is followed by study of subjects which are common for all three stages of the exam, only the way of expression is different. Hence, all three stages of the exam are prepared simultaneously, especially the first two stages of prelims and mains examination. This is also true because there is no equal division of preparatory time between the various stages of the exam process.

However, there are certain phases in this year long process where the way of approaching the different subjects changes with the stage of the exam. For instance, for preliminary exam stage, the better approach would be to focus more on remembering facts and concepts. For mains, the focus is on expression, writing style and speed and understanding the concepts rather than remembering them.

Hence, overall the preparatory strategy is to prepare for all the stages simultaneously while keeping in mind the upcoming stage and tweaking the style of preparation to a certain extent accordingly.

Q13. How important do you think is preparing your own notes? Please share your own experience.

It has always been my belief that making your own notes (using multiple sources of information including the internet) is very important while preparing for this exam. There are various benefits of undertaking this exercise. One, there is a better understanding of the concept. Two, there is better retention of the topic and the related news once you write it on your own. Three, the revision is easier, quicker and impactful. Four, it’s a huge help if there is a need to give any further attempts. Five, in the process, you also acquire some writing practice.

As I have mentioned above, I had much lesser time to prepare for UPSC as compared to my earlier attempts in this attempt. In this scenario, my notes came to my rescue. I had prepared notes for most of my subjects which meant that I could avoid reading the complete books this time. This was immense help especially in my optional paper and helped me complete my syllabus in a much limited time in this attempt. I also observed that through these notes, I was more confident and could retain things much better.

Q14. Did you rely on any electronic material (e-notes/videos) and other social networking sites for your preparation? If yes, did you find them useful? Please share some websites you frequented.

My preparation strategy has always been to stay organic in my studies. Hence, I avoided reading the pre-compiled material as much as possible throughout my journey. I was also very selective in referring specific websites/video channels for my studies. Further, I was always active on social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, etc. and I was able to utilise them constructively by choosing carefully the pages and the people that I follow and receive updates from.

Some of the websites that I frequented were (for information about current bills and acts), gktoday (for short and crisp information about topics) and Wikipedia. I also referred to the Youtube channel of Rajya Sabha TV and selectively followed the show “The Big Picture” there.

All these sources were useful in my preparation since I considered them trusted sources of information and hence, saved time on browsing through other sources. I was also able to stay updated on various issues and understand the nuances behind the same.

Q15. How did you decide which books, magazines and periodicals to study and which to ignore/leave.

Due to the lack of extra time for my preparation throughout my journey, I have not been able to focus much on the magazines and periodicals that are available in the market. It has majorly been books, newspaper and the internet as my three principal sources of information.

In deciding about which book to read for a particular subject, I tend to use a few criteria for the same. This becomes even more important for me because I refer only one reference book at max for all my subjects, if needed. So, if I have to choose a reference book for, say, international relations, firstly I will see that the reference books should have the topics which are elaborately explained in it having referenced from the NCERT books. Further, I will also take advice from my classmates, friends and my subject teacher before I finally narrow down on a particular reference book for myself.

Overall, the criteria should be that the reference book should contain relevant content as per the syllabus of the examination and not unnecessary information. Further, the book should only be used as a reference book and not as the principal source of information. Also, focus on the quality of a particular book rather than reading too many of them.

Q16. In your opinion what role do the Competition Magazines play when you are preparing for an examination like Civil Services?

Ans. Due to lack of time throughout my preparation journey, I have not been able to refer to a vast number of sources for gathering insights on issues, competition magazines being one of them. However, I have observed that if a candidate has time in his/her hands, certain good quality magazines can be of help them form perspectives on certain key issues and events which can be useful for them during the exam. However, the candidate must be very selective while narrowing down on such sources of information so that they don’t end up underutilizing their time.

Q17. In your opinion, how useful is participating in mock test series at different stages of this exam? Please share on the basis of your experience.

It is very important to focus on practicing for the exam before the D-day. This must be in the form of giving regular tests and utilising the same in understanding your weak areas and analysing your mistakes. In doing so, it doesn’t really matter whether you enrol yourself in a proper mock test series or not, what matters is that there is a framework in your mind about attempting the paper and that framework should be setup on the basis of your continuous practice.

For instance, for prelims, I solved around 30 full tests before the final exam. It was not the case that questions were asked out of those test series, what matters is that it helps to increase the confidence and helps in avoiding some structural mistakes. For mains, I would strongly recommend that one should write at least two full tests for each paper. This will help in increasing your writing speed as well as prepare you for pressure situations.

Also, it’s equally important to stay true and honest to yourself while you are giving the tests. If these tests are taken as seriously as they should be, it may be of immense significance in your overall performance in that paper as well as the final result.

3.      Preliminary Exam

Q18. What was your approach towards Paper I (General Studies) and Paper II (Aptitude Test) during Preliminary Examination preparation? How much time and effort you divided for each?


For GS PAPER I (General Studies)

Most of my preparatory time was spent on studying aspects related to Paper I. My approach was to try and complement the study of static part of a subject with the current events and developments related to that subject through a comprehensive reading of the newspaper. Further, I always felt that picking up one subject at a time and finishing it before picking up another has worked better for me. A test on the same followed the study ensuring regular checks on my learning process.

I had also taken a decision for myself that apart from NCERT books and the newspaper for current events, if needed, I would refer to at most one reference book for a particular subject rather than multiple books. This was to ensure that I was able to understand the things better and in a more comprehensive manner. This also ensured that there was some bit of quality in my learning process, given the fact that I always had only limited time for preparing my subjects. (I always had regular college/training during my preparation).

In addition, I always made sure to attempt a certain number of practice tests (especially for Paper I) so that I am able to manage my time better and also so that I am able to develop a technique to attempt the questions which I was not completely sure about.

For GS PAPER II (Aptitude Test)

By the time I started my preparation for UPSC CSE, Paper II had become only a qualifying paper for the preliminary exam requiring only 33% marks for getting through. Having studied mathematics in some form until the graduation level, I devoted very less time for the preparation of Paper II. Only about a day or two were given by me for preparing certain other areas of the paper such as English comprehension, data analytics, decision making and certain other areas.

Having said that, I have observed that a lot of people find it difficult to score the qualifying marks in Paper II due to lack of practice. Hence, it is imperative for people who need some practice to solve the aptitude questions to take this paper seriously since unless you score those minimum marks, your Paper I won’t be evaluated.

Q19. How did you manage to tackle the ‘Negative Marking’ in Prelims?

Ans. Everyone has a different way of handling the negative marking in prelims examination. In my case, I always felt that attempting very less number of questions may turn out to be a bad strategy for me given the fact that I was able to reasonably guess the answers for certain questions that I wasn’t completely aware of, based on the technique of elimination. I generally used to attempt 90+ questions.

I also attempted a technique of identifying my strong areas and weak areas in the Paper I. For instance, Polity was one of my strong areas whereas Geography wasn’t. So, while taking guesses at certain questions, I would have relatively more confidence on me while dealing with my strong areas and vice versa. What this ultimately did was to ensure that the net result was a positive addition to the overall marks.

I would like to reiterate that everyone has their own way of attempting this paper as well as for tackling the negative marking in prelims. Some people are able to handsomely clear the paper even while attempting a relatively lesser number of questions.

4.      Mains Examination

Q20. What shift did you adopt in your strategy for MAIN EXAMINATION (Written)?

Ans. Although the preparation strategy for UPSC CSE is an integrated one for all three stages of the examination, there are some shifts which one has to make, especially at a time when certain stage’s exam date is approaching. For instance, for the Main Examination, the nature of the exam is such that the candidate is required to apply the conceptual understanding to analyse the events and happenings across the world. Hence, there is a shift from remembering the facts to understanding and analyzing them.

At this stage, the editorials and opinion articles from the newspaper would come in handy so as to gather good content about the nuances of a particular subject. It, thus, becomes a good exercise to keep oneself updated with the newspaper articles and making notes out of the same.

Further, for the Mains, my focus was especially on answer writing. My strategy was to write at least two tests per paper before the final examination. This was to ensure that I am able to complete my paper within the time limit while staying true to the content while at the same time enabling me to attempt questions which I was not completely aware of.

Q21. In your opinion, to what extent is success in main examination dependant on the answer writing style? What approach did you follow in developing the right style of answer writing?

The style of answer righting is a key determinant of your success in the examination. By style, it doesn’t mean whether you write in point format or paragraph format, both are equally successful and there is no perfect style. (I preferred the paragraph format). It means the way you express your point and drive it to a conclusive logical end as per the demand of the question. If the answer writing style is not decent, it will be difficult for the examiner to understand the points made by the aspirant, even though there might be some excellent points. This is why continuous practice becomes imperative.

In my case, studying in University of Delhi complemented my preparations for UPSC. I was generally able to write more and write well along with driving home my point at the end. The exercise of undertaking answer writing tests helped me improve my style by analysing my own answers once I had written them and seeing whether I was able to communicate all that I wanted to.

Generally, my approach to a question would be to start with a brief introductory paragraph followed by the main body of the answer and I would end the answer with a small conclusion summing up my observations and the demand of the question. The key is to follow this structure religiously and consistently, irrespective of the lack of time during the examination. This will help to create a good impression in the mind of the examiner and help score higher marks.

Q22. Was there any special effort for effective preparation for ESSAY Paper?

Ans. For essay, it’s essential to first choose the right topic that you wish to right on. It may not be a topic which you like or which is very close to your heart, but it should be the one which you can find good content on. There is no alternative to good content in an essay paper, as much as in other papers as well. Hence, I used to write a couple of essays a day before the exam so as to get into the groove of writing essays as well as being able to adhere to the general structure of the essay that I had in my mind.

My strategy in the essay paper would be to divide my 180 minutes in intervals of 100 and 80 minutes for the two essays respectively. I allotted more time for the first one because I am generally slower at the start of a paper. In the 100 minutes, I would allot 40 minutes of brainstorming and the rest 60 minutes for writing about 11-12 pages for an essay.

In the content, my focus was always specially on a good introduction and conclusion so that the introduction, main body and conclusion form a good flow of thought. Further, I generally tried to use a quotation or two (sayings by certain famous and respected people) since I found that such quotes are able to say much more in a few words. I also used examples in order to explain a point. The example may be in the form of a philosophical anecdote or related to a current event. Moreover, refrain from writing long paragraphs.

Q23. Time management and strategy for writing essay?

For essay, it’s essential to first choose the right topic that you wish to right on. It may not be a topic which you like or which is very close to your heart, but it should be the one which you can find good content on. There is no alternative to good content in an essay paper, as much as in other papers as well.

My strategy in the essay paper would be to divide my 180 minutes in intervals of 100 and 80 minutes for the two essays respectively. I allotted more time for the first one because I am generally slower at the start of a paper. In the 100 minutes, I would allot 40 minutes of brainstorming and the rest 60 minutes for writing about 11-12 pages for an essay.

In the content, my focus was always specially on a good introduction and conclusion so that the introduction, main body and conclusion form a good flow of thought. Further, I generally tried to use a quotation or two (sayings by certain famous and respected people) since I found that such quotes are able to say much more in a few words. I also used examples in order to explain a point. The example may be in the form of a philosophical anecdote or related to a current event. Moreover, refrain from writing long paragraphs.

Similarly, I used to divide my time accordingly in the second essay as well. But please remember that the choice of topic is one of the most important determinants of your success in the essay paper.

5.      Personality Test/Interview

Q24. How did you prepare for the interview? Does the preparation done during that short period immediately after mains actually help in the interview?

For the readers’ information, I scored a paltry 124 in my first personality test when I had secured AIR 366. Fortunately, my mains score was good enough to land me a decent rank. This year my score in the personality test is 184. So, it was essential for me to bring in a few changes in my preparation in order to manage a better score in the interview.

First of all, be very careful and clear while you are filling the DAF (Detailed Application Form). All the information that you put in there is crucial. This year I decided to put in limited information but that which was the highlight about me. For instance, I have co-authored a book. Last time, I had skipped this information from the DAF.

Second, all the key words from your DAF should be keenly researched upon such as your city, your state, your academic background, your optional subject, current events related to your background as well as your optional, etc. as well your hobby which is generally a key interest area for the interviewer. The questions may not specifically be from the same but it will certainly help you to gain more confidence when you walk into that room on the interview day.

The major change brought about by me in the two attempts has been in terms of the extensive study of all the key words that are there in my DAF. That helped me gain confidence and reflected in my answers during the interview as well. And hence, the preparation done during that short period immediately after mains actually helps in the interview. In fact, it is one of the crucial times when you have to handle the pressure while trying to widen the knowledge base as well.

Q25. Is it necessary to support/justify/endorse the policies and views of the government while writing the answers of CSE or replying in the interview?

No. It isn’t necessary. However, one should not be unnecessarily overtly critical of the same as well. What is needed is a constructive approach to any policy or scheme of the government, irrespective of the affiliations of a person, and the critical analysis of the pros and cons of that policy/scheme as per him/her. Further, whatever views you may have, you should be able to reasonably defend the same in your answers as well as your interview. Having a solution to the problems/negatives highlighted about a particular scheme might give you an extra edge showcasing your reformatory approach towards things around you.

6.      Choice of Optional Subject

Q26. What was your optional subject?

Optional Subject: LAW

Q27. While making final choice for optional subject, what’s important and what’s not?

Ans.  In my opinion, there should be two factors which one should keep in mind while making the final choice for the optional paper.

One, the interest of the candidate. It is imperative that the candidate should have some interest in that particular subject just because of the vast extent of coverage that is required in an optional paper. This will help in the expression of viewpoints in the answers once they flow from an understanding point of view, rather than just by learning and remembering stuff.

Two, the general pattern of scoring in UPSC pertaining to that paper. It would be impractical of me to suggest that one should only focus on interest and not on scoring marks. Ultimately, it’s important that the candidate does his research on the scoring pattern and finds a subject where both interest and score are achievable. This will maximize the success potential of a candidate in the optional paper.

Generally, the vastness of a subject is considered a key factor for choosing an optional subject. I don’t think that should be taken as a variable for the same. Even when I choose Law as my optional when my background was in Economics, the vastness of economics was one of the factors that drove me away from it. I don’t think I was right in doing that. It is only fortunate that I have been able to do well in Law as well.

Lastly, it is also not important that one should choose the same subject as his optional as the subject for his/her academic studies in college. Its veracity may vary from person to person. A lot of times candidates opt for different subjects as their optional based on their interest as well as the scoring trend over the years and they are able to achieve success as well.

Q28. What is your opinion regarding the general view that Science subjects have better chance to score than Humanities?

Ans. Over the years I have noticed that certain science oriented subjects tend to fare better in terms of scoring in the exam. For instance, Mathematics and Anthropology have been high scoring subjects over the past few years. This is primarily because these are mainly objective in nature and it’s difficult to do subjective marking in these papers. However, this also increases the responsibility of these candidates to write to-the-point answers as opposed to other humanities related subjects where there is relatively greater scope for opinion based answers.

Further, it is not the case that humanities subjects are incapable of scoring high in the CSE. There are multiple cases every year where people belonging to subjects such as Political Science, Law, etc. end up getting the top ranks while also scoring reasonably high marks in their optional paper. Hence, ultimately the interest of the candidate should be the driving force behind picking a subject for the optional paper.

I hope it helps settle some of the doubts. All the best!


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