DECIDING THE OPTIONAL SUBJECT
It is imminent that UPSC is trying to reduce the weightage of optional subject in CSE. In 2013, two papers of the optional subject were replaced by that of General studies. Before that, the two optional were of such importance that one could get through civil services by scoring 300 plus marks in both the optional paper even if GS scores were below average.
However, it is worth noting that even in the present scenario the optional papers determine selection and influence the rank to a large extent. We must acknowledge the fact that it is difficult to create a significant lead in GS. After a rigorous study of one year the serious competitors have more or less the same quantum of knowledge in GS. Some may have economics as a stronghold, others may fare better in history and geography. Therefore, at the end of the exam we realize that the range of marks of GS out of 1000 is not much. Here, the marks of optional subject become the rank booster. The target score in the optional subject should be 250, that is 50%. Anything above that is your bonus!
With the kind of importance the optional subject carries, it is imperative that one should do a lot of brainstorming before choosing any optional subject. If you revert back on your decision, that is, you change the optional subject at any time, the time of study increases by around 5 to 6 months at least. I have seen people changing their optional paper in the third attempt after two unsuccessful attempts and then managing to get into the list. But why to be baffled and tormented by wrong decision of the optional and waste even a single attempt? It is better to brainstorm for two months to decide which optional will go with the aspirant rather than take a quick decision and waste an attempt or two before reversing the earlier decision. For this, a broad understanding is required of the guidelines to decide the best optional subject. The final decision must rest with the aspirant, but that decision must be an informed one incorporating the following facts and factors;
1. Optional subjects must be looked upon as static or dynamic subjects:
Static subjects are those which have a well-defined syllabus that remains unchanging at the graduate level. For example, history and philosophy in art subjects, physics, chemistry and mathematics in science subjects and all engineering subjects, accountancy for commerce students, zoology and botany for medical students; these all can be categorized as static subjects. The content of these subjects remains same in any year. The variations can be made in the questions and that too in words, figures and inferences. The essence remains the same.
On the other hand, dynamic subjects are evolving subjects in both essence and content, such as, public administration, sociology, management, law. The questions from these subjects will take into account recent developments, trends, phenomenon and case studies. You have to be constantly updating your knowledge regarding these subjects. Then there may be some intermediate subject such as geography and psychology which involves both static as well as dynamic concepts in almost equal proportions.
But the question is which one to go for? Dear aspirant, you must be fully sovereign to decide for yourself. So that you can hold yourself accountable and no one else for the result of your examination. Do not be swayed by your peer circle. It does not mean that you should not hear others’ opinion. You must have a full ear for the experiences of others regarding an optional subject. Talk to those teachers and faculties who deal with general studies and extract their valuable views regarding the optional subjects. Nevertheless, don’t go to subject experts asking for which optional to choose. Why would a physics teacher advice you to go for public administration and vice-versa?
Some may find static subject more favorable as continuous deliberations on the subject is not required – once you do history you only have to revise it and not incorporate new knowledge or inferences with changing times. However, there is another school of thought which finds dynamic subjects interesting and possesses a keen eye to relate with the current issues and unfolding events to their optional subject, such as the one we find in public administration.