1. Selecting an optional is the most important step in CSE. But the prevailing trend is that one opts the subjects in which the largest number of students get through. I would like to mention that the most important factor is not the “numbers”, but the percentage.
1.1 The syllabus prescribed by the UPSC in all subjects is a little tougher than the degree level, but a little lighter than PG level. The reason is that the standard of Delhi University or Calcutta University is taken as the benchmark by the UPSC. In most of the universities, obtaining a Degree is easier than passing CBSE XIIth standard. The reason is lighter syllabus and liberal evaluation. As a result, a candidate who goes through the UPSC syllabus may think it very tough. The interesting aspect is that this toughness is felt in one’s own subject only. For example, a botany student may feel the botany syllabus in CSE is very tough. But when going through the syllabus of any other subject, he may feel it “easier”. The reason is that he has no basic knowledge of that subject, and hence, he feels it is not as tough as his own subject. On the other hand, a candidate who has a background in that subject may find that subject “tough”. In simple words, it is natural to feel that your subject is tough because you know something about that subject. On the other hand, you are not able to realise the toughness of other subjects because of two reasons;
a. Your mind is already gloomed by the disappointment of finding a tough syllabus. It is natural in this situation to think that only you are at disadvantage, and thus, feel a little envy of the others.
b. As I have already stated, the syllabus of some other subject may seem lighter because you do not know much about the subject. For instance, when a geography student sees the sub-topic “ocean currents and tides” in the syllabus of geography, he can understand how deep is this sub-topic. But when a history student sees this, he may think that “oh, how light is the geography syllabus!” because he does not know what are the points to be studied in this sub-topic; how many ocean currents are there, how many are cold and how many of them are hot, where do they flow through, what are their effects on climate, etc. In fact, a non-geography candidate cannot grasp that this sub-topic requires a thorough knowledge about the oceans. This is true in respect of any optional.
1.2 Many science candidates (especially medicine and engineering degree holders) tend to opt social subjects because of the following reasons;
a. As I have mentioned in the beginning of my previous thread, some coaching classes fool them to believe that only humanities are scoring subjects. The reason is that these coaching classes have no faculties in science subjects. The failed science candidates have many other career avenues. But many brilliant humanities candidates opt to teach in the coaching centres, because they want to utilise the knowledge they gained during the preparation for CSE. By reading this, do not think that there are not enough coaching centres in science. Good coaching centers are available for these subjects also, and I’m happy to guide you in this regard in future also.
b. The second reason is the so called “ripple effect”. A science student who opted humanities subjects as per the advice of the coaching centres may advice their friends also to do the same. When they quote the coaching centres also, the friends who hear this will be in a dilemma. Here, my advice is to watch the results. You have to watch out as to how many science students opted entirely for humanities subjects get through. In my observation, the number of such students is negligible. But it is a fact that many science candidates who have opted one science subject and one arts subject as optionals pass every year. This is an advisable approach because they retain their subject of graduation and avoid the risk of studying two non-familiar subjects.
c. Another reason is the consideration that by studying two optionals from humanities, a large portion of the syllabus of General Studies will be covered. This is somewhat reasonable, but not entirely because of the following reasons;
i. By studying two subjects from the social studies stream, you will cover approximately 33% of the GS Paper. Even then, you will have to cover the remaining portion from the other subjects.
ii. To attend the GS paper in Mains, you have got no need to study that subject in thorough. For instance, only 25% of Public Administration optional is required to be studied for GS. In such a case, what is the benefit of “sacrificing” your own optional and venturing into an un-known zone?iii. The arts subjects require a wide – range of reading and preparation from various materials. This style is not known to the science students.
iv. Ordinarily, the grip of science students over language will be poor, as compared to arts students. The arts subjects require the answers to be presented in well –constructed sentences. Otherwise, you may convey an idea that you did not intend to.
v. Ordinarily, some arts streams such as Sociology and Psychology have no common syllabus with GS. Even then, many candidates who opt these subjects also get through.
vi. Above all, while selecting a new subject, you have to keep in mind that you are competing with students who have already studied that subject. In a competitive exam, this will give the others a head start. It will be like running the Olympics 100 M finals wearing a pair of shoes bigger than your feet, but thinking that the last year’s champion wore the same size of shoes and hence, the athletes who wear shoes of this size would win the race.
Neither you, nor the shoes are going to benefit from it. The benefit will be to the others. As I have already mentioned, you have to select the subject where you are comfortable and where you can bring out your best performance.
d. However, if you want to study arts subjects because of your real interest in any of them, it is advisable that this subject may be selected along with your subject of graduation. Also, in case of those science subjects which are not included in the UPSC syllabus (like electronics & Communication, Computer Science, Nursing, Pharmacy, etc), there is no other option than studying two new subjects. In such a scenario, you will have to study two entirely new subjects. In such eventuality, there is no meaning in applying the above logics.
1.3 The other criterion to be applied in selecting the optionals, I have already mentioned in my previous thread.