Civil service aspirants must choose their optional subjects after careful consideration of all aspects including the availability of reference materials.

Choosing the optional subjects for the Civil Services examination involves a crucial decision. We have to select one optional subject for the Preliminary and two optional subjects for the Main exam. There is no rule that we should select a subject that we studied in the college. Anyone has the freedom to select any subject provided in the menu. But there are certain points one should keep in mind, for the sake of ensuring convenience in preparation.

The subject chosen for the Preliminary may be chosen as one of the optional subjects for the Main. We may make a thorough study of this one subject with the Main also in mind, so that we can focus on the second optional subject after the Preliminary examination. This thorough preparation will help us to score well in the Preliminary.

We may normally select our subject of specialisation in the college as the optional subject in the Preliminary. But this is not a hard and fast rule.

Students of science or technology often choose subjects such as public administration, sociology, Indian history, geography and political science and international relations. However, it is not advisable for students of humanities to trespass into the domains of science or technology. So also, students of biological and physical sciences attempting to switch sides may not yield good results.

We should select a subject in which we have a passion or at least a natural interest. Our aptitude is important.

We should select a subject which we feel would give us the best scores. We have to remember that we cannot get any unfair advantage by going for science subjects, since the scaling system is likely to bring candidates in science / engineering on a level with those in Arts subjects like history and sociology.

Guidance of experts in the field may be gainfully sought for the crucial decision of selecting the optional subjects. There are special advantages for certain subjects. Take for example public administration. Some of the topics that come under this have to be mastered for answering questions in the General Studies. This advantage of overlap may reduce our burden in preparation to some extent, if we select public administration as an optional subject. Again, there are certain common areas in sociology and public administration. So also, economics and public administration have common areas of contents.

Once the optional subjects are chosen after careful consideration of all related aspects, be firm in the decision. Try to get as much knowledge as possible in the subjects, with the type of possible questions in mind. Many candidates often vacillate and change the decisions on optional subjects midstream with the result that they waste precious time in preparation. When they are back to square one with a different subject, all their efforts put in earlier to master the original subject comes to naught. This situation spoils their confidence and becomes a stumbling block in their otherwise smooth preparation.

The weightage for the optional subject in the Preliminary is twice that of General Studies. This has to be in our mind during preparation. In the Main, the optional subjects have a total of 1200 marks out of the total 2000 marks. These figures indicate the significance of the optional subjects in the Civil Services exercise.

Two significant factors that determines the quality of performance in the Civil Services examination are

Good general knowledge, and Proficiency in English language (There are, of course, candidates who manage well with their proficiency in Hindi).

These two cannot be developed overnight. It requires sustained effort stretched over a long period. So it is advisable that students who nurture the hope of reaching Civil Services focus on these two elements right from the time they are in the high school classes.

Elements of classical general knowledge such as countries / capitals / currencies / language, inventions, books and authors, largest / tallest / longest can be learnt gradually over a period of several years. Current affairs can be mastered only during the last few months before the examination. This is a general statement. However, there are several successful candidates who have spent only 15 to 18 months of intensive studies for the examination. It is not the duration alone that counts, but the quality of utilisation of the time at our disposal. If we start concentrating on the Civil Services by the time we are in the graduate classes, long-range preparation would be effective and relatively easy. In any case, intensive preparation with the examination in mind has to be for nearly 15 months.

Even though we take the examination as a three-part exercise, we can consider the Preliminary and the Main as one single unit for the purpose of preparation. There is an interval between the Preliminary examination and the announcement of its result. This period can be gainfully utilised for mastering the optional subject, which we had not opted for the Preliminary. The gap should not be taken as rest period.

The General Studies paper in the preliminary covers current events of national and international importance, general science, history of India and Indian national movement, Indian and world geography, Indian polity and economy, and general mental ability. Questions on economic geography of India, planning, budgeting, developmental schemes, electoral reforms, amendments of the constitution, panchayati raj, national level committees and commissions are common. Updating the information is important for this paper. We should undergo some self-training in answering the mental ability questions, so as to familiarise ourselves with the types of questions and to develop speed in answering. Our reasoning and analytical ability would be tested in this segment. That the general studies paper has only half the marks of the optional subject paper should not lead us to neglecting the former.

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