Candidates must choose their optional subjects carefully. There have been cases when candidates could not score well in a particular optional subject and switched to another optional subject after one or more attempts. To prevent this wastage of time, money and efforts, following steps are suggested to help the candidates select optional subjects:
1) Browse through the list of all optional subjects provided in the UPSC notification.
2) Shortlist a few subjects that you find interesting.
3) Go through the syllabus and previous UPSC question papers of these subjects and decide which ones you find more interesting and easy to understand.
4) Find out if good study material is readily available for these subjects or if you can gather it on your own.
5) Find out if good guidance is available so that you can clarify conceptual doubts through discussions and get your answers evaluated.
When you have selected your optional subjects, begin with the following method of study:
a) Go through the syllabus of the optional subjects daily and gather the study material for all the topics in the syllabi. It is possible that ready material is not available for many of the topics/subtopics. Sometimes the available material is not updated, hence less useful. In such cases, we must be able to use Internet, magazines, newspapers, resource persons, etc to produce our own study material. In some cases, a particular book/notes is useful for only one/two topics. Hence think before you buy any material. Piled up study material increases your tension.
The process of gathering study material must start when we start preparing for the Prelim. However, we must also wait for some updated materials and latest editions that arrive only in the month of June and after.
b) Next step is to use the strategist to find out the focus areas from every topic. Make a list of the focus areas from each topic.
c) Gather points under each subtopic from various sources. However, use one book as your base book. You will revise this book frequently. Points from other sources will be merely an addition to the content of this book. You may choose any book as your base book that you find easier to read and that comprehensively covers most part of your syllabus.
d) After you have read the material for a topic once, start making micro-notes i.e. try to fit all the content under one topic on one A4 sheet. Use short forms, diagrams, charts, etc so that you can revise maximum information at one glance later. This shapes your thinking, helps you write concise and focused.
e) When you revise, revise only your micro-notes instead of going back to the multiple hefty books.
f) Writing practice is the key to score high in the Main Exam. Every day, write one long and short answer from each paper. The more you write daily, the faster you improve. Get these answers evaluated only from someone who has good judgment of the requirements of UPSC exam or has scored well in the Main Exam before. Work on the suggestions given by them.
g) After you have developed enough understanding of the topics in the syllabus, start discussing with your fellow aspirants about different aspects of the topics. Brainstorm to get more points for topics for which material is scarcely available. It helps you clarify your doubts and develop originality.
h) Do not exceed the word limit. They cut marks as penalty for extra writing. Also, if you write too much in one answer, you will fall short of time to complete the paper. In any case, try to complete the paper.
Usually UPSC prescribes word limit in GS papers. When not specified, write 10 words for every 1 mark. Practice writing the stipulated words in 1/3 time of the total number of marks. (e.g. 60 marks answer in 35 minutes)
i) The syllabus for the Main Exam is too vast. It is impossible to cover all the topic properly. Hence read all the topics at least once but prepare some of them better than others. Study at least 85% of the syllabus properly.
j) Develop a balanced approach in answer writing. Do not take a radical stand for a social or political issue. Try catagorising all the points to write a well-structured answer. For instance, divide the causes of tribal underdevelopment in social, political, economic, technological, legal etc.
k) Make your answers multidisciplinary. Substantiate your arguments by giving relevant examples from current affairs. In essay, examples from several subjects, quotes and anecdotes of famous personalities, etc would enhance it.
l) Wherever necessary, use diagrams. Underline important points. Do not use colour pens or underline each and every line.
m) Have confidence and know that the answer to any difficult question can be written with the help of the theories and concepts you have already learned.