Guidance: what would you like to know?

I initially created this blog to answer general questions people used to ask me. However, I notice that some people continue to come back to this forum.

I would like to assist you in your endeavour to clear this examination.

However, I would appreciate if you can suggest topics on which you need more guidance. If there is anything at all, please share in comments. I would address your needs whenever I can.

Please excuse me if there is delay in my response.


Some ideas for Mains 2012 Preparation

Since there is hardly two months to go to the mains examination this year, many of the aspirants must be nervous and would have put their preparations in high gears!  I have a few suggestions which may help in preparation.

Try to finish off your optionals (First reading + one revision) by the end of this month or latest by first week of September. The reason is, you will be bombarded with a lot of material related to GS current affairs by the end of August. This material is significant in size and would require 8-10 days in itself. Then, you will also have the Statistics, International Institutions to prepare and traditional paper 1 stuff (History, Polity, Geography etc ) to revise.

Hence, you may want to keep the next month for the following activities:

  • Preparing GS current affairs (One coaching material or One standard booklet like Wizard)
  • Revising traditional GS topics
  • Revising optionals
  • Self-evaluation by writing full length tests
  • Preparing a bit for essay and language papers.

Now as you notice, you don’t have too much time to get done with your optionals. Well unfortunately, there is no other way. You will be able to finish the optionals if you plan carefully. Try not to run after multiple books and sources. Focus on finishing the syllabus of your optionals and make sure you have sufficient content to write a 20 marks question on every topic of a chapter. You do not need more content than that.

While preparing for optionals, try to revise periodically (one or few chapters). Don’t wait for your syllabus to end. It will ensure better recall and your revisions will be more efficient.

Also try to find half an hour each day for answer-writing. It is tempting to think that your time will be better utilised if you read more. But I assure you that you will reap the rewards. Regular answer writing will help you in many ways:

  • It will help you identify flaws in your writing skills in that subject. For e.g., you may be writing long introductions.  Or you may not be focussing on the core of the questions. Or you may be writing too less/too much.
  • It will enhance your confidence regarding your ability to handle the paper in exam hall. Even many revisions will not gain you that much confidence.
  • It will increase your writing speed because of better recall, practice and confidence.
  • While you are at it, you can also practice brainstorming on diagrams you can use with your answer. This will also increase your overall writing speed.
  • Practice answer writing for both the optionals as well as GS (at least a few questions per section).

You may want to practice answer writing for one of the three subjects per day! But do not wait for your syllabus to get over. Get to it now.

Those who are still taking coaching for an optional would do well to ensure that they are able to manage their syllabus well in time. If your classes are likely to extend into next month, I would suggest you prepare for latter half of the syllabus on your own, probably by purchasing class notes of the same teacher from last session. That way, you will finish your syllabus as I recommended and you will be more efficient in your classes.

All those who feel a little uncomfortable with the compulsory language paper, do not hesitate to give it a day or two. Usually, it is sufficient to go through the papers of previous years but if you don’t feel confident, set aside a couple of days for practice.

In all this humdrum, try not to ignore the essay preparation. At the minimum, write 2-3 essays on previously asked topics and improve your brainstorming capabilities. It is always a good idea to get feedback of your peers/teachers on your drafts.

Well! All the best.

How to choose optional subjects

Personally, I do not believe that selection of optional subjects is the be all and end all of preparation for civil services examination. However, it is an important constituent because the preparation involves a significant time (minimum 2 year cycle for first attempt). If you do not choose an optional subject that you personally feel inclined towards, you will be less motivated to study it during your second, third, fourth attempts.

I can think of following factors which one could consider while selecting an optional:

  • Your interest in the subject – for the reason mentioned earlier. You could preliminary (basic) material to gauge your interest. For e.g., NCERT books are available for Psychology, Sociology, Geography, History, Economy etc. They would give you a fair idea as to what kind of stuff you are likely to encounter while preparing for that optional.
  • Length of syllabus – You want to be able to finish it well before the examination and even revise it multiple times. Some subjects are preferable because of this dimension: Pali Literature, Other Literatures, PubAd, Philosophy, Anthropology etc. While some other subjects take a major beating, for e.g., Geography, Political Science, History, Maths etc
  • Your Graduation Background – If you are very comfortable with the subjects you studied in college, they could definitely give you an edge over other candidates.
  • Success Rates of the subject – Though they change every year, you preferably would want to take a “less risky” subject, i.e. the ones which have a decent average annual success rate across last few years. Science/Engineering subjects take their biggest hit due to this factor. Though they invariably produce few of the top ranks, the overall success rate is not very encouraging.
  • Availability of Guidance/Material : Some optional subjects are more blessed in this regard. For e.g., PubAd, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, Political Science, Anthropology etc.
  • Overlap with General Studies – Certain optional subjects like Geography, Political Science, Economics, PubAd, History etc, help you take care of your general studies syllabus.
  • Match of your Aptitude-Subject Requirements – Certain subjects require that you remember a lot of facts (History for example). If you are good at remembering facts, you have a match. Only some people can stand abstract concepts as enunciated in Philosophy, so if you find yourself inclined towards abstract theories, you have a match. I guess you get the drift.
  • Mains examination schedule – Not a significant factor. Though some people want to have a gap of few days to be able to revise the syllabus before the mains examination of that optional. Since UPSC uses a similar schedule every year, it enables to cancel certain optional combinations which do not allow you this luxury. For e.g., Geography and PubAd (usually no intervening holidays).
According to most recent UPSC report (2010-11), PubAd, Literature, Geography, History, Pol Science, Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology,  etc, in almost that order, are the most preferred optional subjects by the students. The ones in bold are relatively less successful in percentage terms and their syllabus is relatively large. Though adequate guidance is available for most of these.

However, as I mentioned earlier, these are only indicative factors. I would suggest you pick any two optional subjects which you love and give them your best shot. I have not heard of a zero success rate for any optional subject. Why can’t you be the only one who succeeds with that optional?

Blogs of Successful Candidates

CSE 2011

Prince Dhawan

Harshika Singh

Amrutesh Aurangabadkar

Kannan Gopinathan

Swarochish Somvanshi

Kshitij Tyagi 

Other CSE Batches

Anay Dwivedi

Shubhra Saxena

Prakash Rajpurohit

Prabhjot Gujaral

General Studies – Booklist


  •  India’s Struggle for Independence (Bipan Chandra)
Art and Culture
  • Vajiram’s printed notes


  • Printed notes of Sriram IAS Coaching, 
  • Constitution of India (P M Bakshi) as reference, 
  • D D Basu (read in parts)
  • (for quizzes and news related snippets)
  • (Most updated websites on legislative activities)


  •  Printed notes of Sriram IAS, 
  • Dutt & Sundaram (in parts), 
  • Economic Survey (for data and current issues related to economy), 
  • Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh (a very very basic book).


  • NCERTs (class 11th and 12th)

International Affairs, Institutions, Bilateral relations

  •  Newspapers
  •  World Focus (at times), 
  •  Frontline (at times)


  •  “Statistics for Economics” – NCERT class 11th

Science and Technology

  • Spectrum’s S&T (for basics of nano tech, bio tech, space, robotics etc), 
  • The Hindu S&T section, 
  • India Year Book chapter on S&T, 
  • Wizard’s S&T (partly), 
  • printed notes of Sriram IAS 


  • ICSE textbooks Class 9th and 10th, 
  • IGNOU book on Environment (partly), 
  • Environment chapter in Spectrum’s S&T (for legislations etc), 
  • Website of Environment Ministry
  • Down to Earth Magazine (at times)

Current Affairs

  • Newspaper
  • Printed Notes of Sriram IAS (available one month prior to Mains)
  • Vajiram’s printed notes (glanced through once)
  • Read any material seemingly relevant to the syllabus (newspapers, magazines, Apps on your mobile, iPad etc!)

Other Resources

  • for unbiased news items 
  • India development gateway website aggregates wonderful information on numerous development related activities of Government of India
  • Websites of Ministries of – Rural Development; Social Justice; Women and Child; Home; 

Answer Writing – Fundamentals

  • How to write a “good” answer?
  • Whether to write in points or in paragraphs.
  • Whether to underline or not.
  • How to write “good” introductions and conclusions?
  • How long should the answer be?
  • Should I draw diagrams? and so on.

I have also spent a lot of time on these questions. I still do not claim to have the answers to them but the views I formulated, seem to have worked for me. Please use your discretion in using them. Though I have used examples from GS to ensure generality, these ideas are applicable to optional papers too. Let us take these questions one by one:

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Psychology Preparation

I would touch upon various aspects one by one . Let me know in comments if you want me to discuss something that I have missed. Another post on general strategy and answer-writing would follow soon.


In my first attempt, I attended Pathak sir’s classes at Vajiram andRavi. Though it prove to be a mistake since he could only finish Paper 1 and a little part of Paper 2 by September end. My plans went awry and it resulted in my disastrous score (~150/600).

Personally, I believe that Psychology is one subject where coaching would be beneficial, primarily for those aspirants like me who do not have any background in the subject. Having talked to top few Psychology teachers in Delhi, I believe there is hardly any substitute for Pathak Sir. Though, I would advise you against joining his June-October batch if you are appearing in mains that year.

A detailed and general post on whether one should join a coaching institute for any subject, will follow sometime later.


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