Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Choosing science optionals

This post comes quite late, more than an year after Civil Services results were declared. But it's better late than never. It has been necessitated by the fact that many aspirants are asking questions regarding taking two science optionals.

My view regarding science optionals (particularly Botany, Chemistry, Engineering subjects, Mathematics, Medical Science, Physics, Statistics, Zoology). I'll call above list as 'Science optionals' even though one Science subjects - Psychology - is outside this list: Please don't pick BOTH the optionals from the above list despite your interest in the topics. This approach has two significant drawbacks.

First, Civil services as a career benefits from exposure to Humanities/arts subjects. They give a new perspective which science students usually lack. Secondly, two of them make the syllabus for examination huge. Each Science optional has different concepts which don't add to either GS, Essay or Interview preparation. One humanities optional definitely adds to GS and essay.

Some secondary considerations are: A science optional takes more time to prepare than an arts optional. Advantage of having one science optional is that consistent scoring is easier in science optionals once the subject has been prepared well. Marks can fluctuate widely in Arts optional over various attempts but not so much in science optionals.

I chose optionals solely on the criterion of my interest in them. Whatever your background, your interest in the optionals has to be your first criterion. That probably helped to study them over a four year period. But during the attempts, I had realised that I was missing out on exposure to an Arts/humanities subject.

Why did I then stick to Engineering and Physics for four attempts? Simple, I had wasted my first attempt (appeared in Prelims without preparation and didn't clear it). Any optional is worth at least 2 Mains attempts - first Mains attempt gives very good feedback into preparation for next attempt. That's how I kept these two optionals for second and third attempts. And it didn't make much sense to change an optional for one final attempt after studying it for nearly 2.5 years.

It's crazy, I know!


Rohit said...

Dear Supreet Sir,

Many thanks to you for this great blog. It really helps the aspirants.

I'm Rohit, working in VLSI MNC in noida as a Design Engineer for the last 3 yrs.

I am planning to appear in CSE 2010. Previously I was planning to take Physics as first optional but now because of lack of time (as i'm in job) and vast syllabus of Physics, I have changed my mind.

Based on some points mentioned below, I have shortlisted two optionals 1) Philosophy 2) Psychology


1) Small Syllabus.
2) Availablity of Material and resources.
3) Can be prepared through self study.
4) Analytical in apporoach.
5) Helps in GS and Essay.

Could you pls tell me whether my selection is OK or I shall choose some different combination.

In case my selection is not fitting my own criterion, pls throw some light.

Eagerly waiting for your reply.

Best Regards,

Rohit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vandna said...

gr8 blog sir..
it was d first time i landed upon ur blog...from shubhra mam's blog..
I hav just finished my masters in May...I am appearing in 2010 with Zoology n Botany optionals...started my preparation a month back...
jus wish to congratulate you on ur success...and thnx for all d insights.. :)

Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Hi Rohit,

The first criterion to pick up an optional is your interest in the topic. I could study Engineering and Physics for 4 years mainly because my interest in them carried me through.

Please go through the syllabus and, if possible, one basic book of each to understand whether you like the subject or not. Remaining criteria are secondary. Both the optionals you mention are quite common and hence you won't face much problem in preparation and they do help a lot in Essay.

Supreet Singh

Mayuresh said...

Hi Supreet Sir,

My heartiest congrats and best wishes for your bright future . .

I am appearing for CSE 2010 and my optionals are electrical engineering and public administration. Plz suggest me which subject will be more scoring for prelims examination.

I have gone through your others posts as well. Thanks for the list of books for preparation.

One more query is that sufficient numbers of numericals are not available in the books. The brilliant material as you suggested is not good, so which material is to be preferred, apart of last year questions papers of gate, IES and UPSC.

lastly, is there a difference in brilliant material for electrical engg for IAS and IES. If yes, which will be more beneficial??

Plz help me...

Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Hi Mayuresh,

In my opinion it will be easier to clear Prelims with EE. Questions are usually quite straightforward.

However, remember it is the Prelims optional which we end up studying more and feeling more confident about especially in first attempt.

Thus if you take EE in Prelims, you'll spend lesser time on Public Administration. You won't be as comfortable with Public Administration in Mains as you would have been had it been your Prelims optional too.

Public Administration in Prelims would make clearing Prelims tougher but increase your confidence in the subject for Mains. The decision is yours.

Books, past years papers of IES and CSE examination are good enough for practice. I found them quite voluminous (CSE, IES-EE and IES-EC papers). Had a tough time finishing them. They'll take lots of time. Don't look for any other sources.

I haven't seen Brilliants for IES. But, as I said earlier, it is not needed.


Rashman said...

Dear Supreet Sir,

I just finished my B. Tech from IITD and have basically wasted my 1st attempt, giving the prelims with little or no preparation.
I took physics as my optional- and despite my inadequate prep, I was very comfortable with the prelims paper. However, Mains seems to be an entirely different ball game, far removed from JEE and even IIT physics.
So, as I begin preparing for a 2nd attempt, I wondered if you can advise me as to how to bridge this gap. I enjoy the subject immensely, but have been startled by its lack of popularity among my own batch-mates (Geography + Pub Ad seems to be the favourite!).
Having just started my preparation, all the talk of normalization and other such issues (not to mention that one must apparently target a near perfect paper in physics) has clearly unnerved me!

Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Hello Rashman,

I struggled with exactly the same problem for quite a lot of time, but I thought I'd already answered your query in my blog posts. I'll emphasise it again.

The only way I found out was this: Get your concepts in order, then practice out all the derivations once on your own and then practice out 10 years papers very thoroughly. Please write concepts in answers. Don't just reproduce Maths. And, start your preparation from Paper II Quantum Mechanics.

Some question will be simple and don't deserve a second look. Some questions will take 3-4 attempts before you get the right amount of practice (all concepts written in answer, answer finished in time limit). Some take even more (lets take the extreme case: hydrogen atom problem took about 15-20 attempts). Keep improving them and let them be your notes.

It needs patience and time to get answers correct. Give yourself that time. Don't hurry.

There's nothing like targeting a perfect attempt in Physics. You just do well the questions you know. I had 378 on an attempt of 550. One of my friends has 325 with an attempt of 520 this year.

All the best. Persevere.


Mayuresh said...

Dear Supreet sir,

Thanks a lot for enlightening me. Your forum is the only place where i can get all my answers as i am currently working in NTPC in a very remote place and have to prepare all on my own without any coaching.

I got answers to rest all my queries from your reply to chetan's post.

One more query, When should i start reading magazines and take GS material of vajiram ? I mean, should i start it after the prelims exam or before it?

Is only newspaper reading sufficient for GS prelims exam?
Is no magazine or any study material needed for GS prelims exam ??

Plz help . . .

Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Hi Mayuresh,

That's not what I said. Here's what I feel you should be doing regarding Current Affairs if you are taking exams in 2010.

Regular studying of newspaper from now onwards. See the syllabus and previous question papers of GS Mains and then, from the newspaper identify news items that will be useful in exam. No need to remember or take clippings as of now. Get understanding of the topics, regular habit of studying newspaper and the skill of identifying important topics from newspaper. Process of taking regular clippings, notes etc. starts sometime in February-March 2010 and it helps mostly in Mains exam.

Start ONE Civil Services oriented magazine from December 2009 issue. Remember facts from it. Prelims is factual oriented and memorising details is a must.

Also, Yojana Kurukshetra ans EPW can be done away with for Prelims and Mains. Use them mostly in interview. I used to read Yojana and EPW and they are very good for understanding, but I just couldn't use that understanding in Mains exam. Probably they are better suited for interview. Read one or two of these mostly from an interview point of view after Mains in Novemeber 2010. For those who don't like this, they can take EPW/Yojana (I don't know about Kurukshetra) regularly from January 2010 but be very selective in its reading. One advantage of this would be that it will help identify many important topics for Mains exam. But please be selective in reading these.

Vajiram notes are to be arranged and read in September-October 2010 mainly for Current Affiars for Mains (I never read Vajiram notes. My own notes on Current Affairs were quite comprehensive, but freshers do feel the need). Arrange for classroom notes of Current Affairs. These are usually available at the xerox shops in Old Rajinder market where Vajiram is situated.



vandna said...

Hello Sir,
How r u doing..

I just read ur reply to mayuresh...
I am also preparing for 2010..coming to the Hindu note making part..I am making news notes as tit-bits, topic wise from June onwards...

U said it should be done from Feb- March...means am I jus wasting time..? It takes me one hour in the morning marking Hindu n S&T from TOI plus half hour in writing it down..and in d rest of d day wen I get time I read d editorials and analyse them...and I am reading one monthly magazine, yojana and frontline since said one should start from December...that makes me end up in a fix again...

well...I just want to know about the current affairs preparation...I feel I am making comprehensive notes from the newspaper...and I could supplement these with current affairs notes from the magazine...the magazine acts like a revision for me thus...
Plz tel me if my strategy is okay...I dont want to put too much time into doing something that doesnt really require so much input...although its around 2 hrs in the day as a whole..but still that counts...

I am hoping these news notes would help me with d prelims current affairs as well...not just d mains...and also they would help in covering 2 markers in d mains...plz tel me what u think abt it and plz correct me if I am going astray..

thank you

Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Hi Vandna,

If you can keep up this level of preparation for current affairs and take care of optionals and GS also, it is simply too good. What I suggested is simply based on the fact that most aspirants don't find enough time to handle all these things together.

But keep in mind this (especially if you are taking first attempt in 2010):

If you feel you have to make a trade off between optionals and conventional GS on one hand and Current Affairs on the other, AT THIS STAGE you should focus on the former. Get very thorough with optionals and conventional GS. You'll need to spend a lot of time on Current Affairs from December onwards in any case and it will be easier to devote that time if you are thorough with basics.

Regards and God bless.

vandna said...

Ok Sir..I get your point..
I was just a little too serious about current affairs due to the analytical nature of mains GS (honestly, I freaked out a little when I saw the kind of stance they expect from us)...although I am trying my best not to compromise on my optionals but I guess thats what UPSC exams are all work and adeptness where one can be really sure of good results..
Thank you very much.. :)
I really appreciate it..
All d best for all future ventures and thnx for helping us all out here..u have presented a real good raw picture of the exam before us..

srikanth4u said...

Dear Sir,
this is srikanth from hyderabad. i need u r help regarding Ele Eng Option materials and please give the Revu's mail ID or phone no or his stratagy and his reference books to study....

Thanks in advance.


Neelam said...

Dear sir, i am neelam, ppl said that it is difficult to appear Cs with science subject but you have done it. Great congratulation from me.I also want to appear CS with science subject as Physics and psychology . Physics is my subject and i love to read Psychology . so please suggest me abt my option which should be my pre or main

Neelam said...

Dear Sir,

Plz guide me abt books for physics subject.I have confusion abt essay choice. Can we choose any topic for essay writting.

Thanks a lots

Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Hello Neelam,

Aspirants with Physics and Psychology optionals usually prefer Physics for Prelims.

I don't have much to add for
Physics other than what I have already mentioned in four posts on my blog.

I don't understand your question on essay. Please communicate your question properly.


Neelam said...

Thanks you so much sir, now my doubt abt my option has clear, but i want to ask abt essay writting that some topic has given to us in exams or we hav to write the essay our own choice.

Thanks a lots again.

yogendra pratap pundir said...

Hello Surpreet Ji,

I hope you are doing great. You have a wonderful blog to help. I am from engineering background.

I have query about "political science and int relation"

1. As compared to Pub Admin, Political Sc seems to have larger portion of GS.

2. I have interest in both of the optionals.

3. But my dilemma is with some portions of poilitical science about thinkers and theories. I can prepare that portion also but I feel I would need some guidance and corrections from some one.

4. However, public admin is said to have proper guidance and materials, available.

Kindly help me on this. Intuitively I have decided for Political Sc.

It would be helpful if you can suggest any good coaching or anyone whom I can approach for guidance. Also, please guide me to chose one of these optional.

Thank you

Mayuresh said...

Thanks a tonnes sir . .

That's a lot of help . .

I will need your guidance at every milestone. .

Thanks again. .

Mayuresh said...

Some one plz tell what is the title of the book SPECTRUM MODERN INDIA. .


Anonymous said...

If possible can you pleas write about English literature as mains optional.

Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Dear Sudhir and Yogendra,

I am trying to get in touch with my batchmates for these optionals (English Litt. and Political Science). I'll have to wait for their reply.


Supreet Singh Gulati said...

Sudhir, what's your email id?

Saptarshi said...

Dear sir,

Thanks for this wonderful blog.It is of immense help.I am presently in West Bengal state civil services(I ranked first in the exam) and working as a dy-magistrate in CoochBehar.
But sir, so far I have been unsuccessful in all the three attempts in CSE.I just could reach the interview level and my journey ended there.The ongoing one is my last effort, age wise as well as attempt wise and it is really making me nervous before I gear up for the main examination.
Like you I have also sticked to the same optionals throughout, i.e, History and Animal Husbandry-veterinary science ,as in different attempts I scored well in these subjects separately but could not synchronize the good works in one attempt.
It would be great if I can get some help from you regarding how to keep myself motivated for the remaining few months, as I know you also went through such phase in your career.
Moreover,it would be nice if I can get in touch with some of your batch mates who had Animal Husbandry as their optional.
I would be eagerly waiting for your reply.My email id is

Anonymous said...

Sir, Thanks a lot for your prompt reply. I couldn't find better example of generosity and kindness for young naive aspirants.
Thank You.

Raman Kumar said...

Dear Supreet sir,

I am a final year student of Civil Engineering at IIT Kharagpur. I plan to write Civil Services in 2010. I am confused whether to take Civil Engineering as an optional. I have checked the CSE syllabus for civil engineering. Its too vast but not that difficult. Here in IIT we haven't been taught a sizeable portion of this syllabus. I must say that only 30-35 % has been taught. Can you please guide me whether I should go for it or not. Or could you please tell me who qualified CSE with civil as an optional with whom I could consult.
Thank You.

Priya said...

hello sir,
Thanks for having created this blog.I am from blore. I am like totally confused about selecting my optional s. I am very much interested in maths but i don't find enough coaching centers or study materials for the respective subject. So i fear opting for this subject. It would be of great help to me if you give me a few suggestions in this regard.

Priya said...

hello sir..
Like you said you ve succeeded in the 4th attempt.. well i wud like to ask you a question.. Were you engaged in some other job as well or were you only concentrating on your preparations for the exam..
I have this doubt cos i ve just completed my graduation and am planning to take up the preparations for upsc 2010 seriously. But i also have the fears because your success in upsc is not very certain, it will be safe to attempt for the upsc exam once you get some job experience. so that you ll not have so much to worry about.

Your suggestions in this regard will be of great help to me.

Mayuresh said...

Where can I get the previous years paper of main exam of electrical engineering ? ?

Supreet Singh Gulati said...


Raman: If you have covered only 30-35% of syllabus at college, then picking Civil Engineering as an optional is not worth the effort. Engineering subjects usually have huge syllabus. You'll easily pick up another subject by the time you cover rest of the syllabus.

Priya: UPSC exam 'usually' needs 1.5 years of dedicated effort. My opinion is that whenever one starts preparation it should be the sole occupation for nearly 1 - 1.5 years (in your case, it would be from now onwards till Mains of 2010). After that job may be picked up. It's entirely your choice. But do give yourself time initially.

I didn't take up any job from January 2005 till I cleared UPSC in May 2008. But I did have an excellent backup in ME at IISc Bangalore. So stayed in an ok mood about my career in case I didn't clear.

Remind me again in a week on wiritng about choice of optionals. I have some exams to prepare for today.

Saptarshi: Please wait. I am occupied for the coming week. I'll try to find out some help for Animal Husbandry.


yogendra pratap pundir said...

Hello Surpreet ji

You are also an IISc Graduate. Glad to know that. Sir, I am also 2007 pass out, ME(microelectronics).

I have quit the job after working for 2 years and coming to Delhi this month for preparation. I have three attempts left, starting from 2010.

I analyzed the electrical engineering syllabus, as my background is of instrumentation, I have never read following units:

Paper 1: E M theory, Energy Conversion, Analog Communication, Microwaves and Antenna

Paper 2: Power System analysis, Power system protection, Non-coventional energy sources and mngnt, Digital communication, Satellite Comm, radar & TV.

Above is the reason i had decided to skip Electrical as option. But still I have little thoughts in my mind.

Can you guide if there is any wise strategy to optimize preparation for electrical engg, in my situation. Or shall I go ahead with both of the humanity subjects.

One of Poli Sc & Pub Ad as first optional. For second optonal I was thinking on Geography, psychology, philosophy (with Poli sc).

can you please help on these concerns. Also please guide, if there any proper guidance / coaching available.

Kindly Reply.

Thank you!


Abhishek said...


Very Thanks for helping young aspirants!

I need your help in deciding about a second optional. I am not able chose between pub ad and geography, as syllabus of geography is too vast but many say you have to do selective study in geography.Please help me as i am too much confused about these two. Also, i know this may be difficult for you to tell as these were not your subject but as you have gone through the process you can advice. i will be thankful to you. my second optional is Physics.


aspirant said...

Respected Sir
I have taken Maths as my optional.
Can you please suggest me some resource on it or some authentic link for that

Sachin Prakash said...

Dear Supreet Sir,

I am final yr student from Mechanical engg. IIT Kgp and preparing for CSE 2010. I have been following your blog since its inception and it has been a great help to me regarding my CSE preparation.

Sir , I am taking chemistry(also for pre) and economics as my mains
optionals .But I need some advice regarding preparation for economics for mains. Can u suggest some books and materials along with strategy for economics which might be helpful for mains optional preparation.

Eagerly waiting for your reply .

Best Regards ,

Sachin Prakash

P.S. - This post greatly resolved my dilemma for the choice of 2nd optional for mains as I had been confused for quite long time over choosing between economics and mechanical engg. Hence thanks again for this post .

lalit said...

Hello Supreet Sir ,

It would be great sir if you know someone who had Chemistry as a optional. Sir I tried ,but all in vain . I desperately need guidance in Chemistry.

Eagerly waiting for your reply.

Best Regards,

SP said...

Dear Sir

I would like to thank you for your continued effort to help us.
I have done B.Tech in Electronics Engineering from ISM,Dhanbad.
Sir in 2010 i will be appearing for the first time in the Exam but i am confused about selecting Electrical Engineering as an optional for Prelims because i have heard that the number of students selected from each optional is proportional to the number of candidates appeared . And because the number of candidates appearing in EE is quite low , the number of those slected for Mains is still Lower. So although the Exam in general is tough , it gets tougher for EE guys.
So i want to go with Geography in prelims and take EE as my 2nd optional for mains.

Kindly correct me if i am wrong.

Best Regards

desseado:SMRUTI said...

Sir, Kindly help me with my dilemma. one of my fav sub in 11th and 12th was PHYSICS. I still like the sub simply becoz it had less of mugging.I haven't read BSc level Physics.i want to start preparations for it .whether i start studying for prelims or shall i start with mains .plss suggest a road map sir .

Sir seeing so many books for physics has made a dent in my confidence. So sir pls show me the way .


aditaya said...

hello sir, i'm aditaya jasrotia and i'm new to your blog.i had appeared in 2009 upsc pre with political science as optional, but could not clear it. will be very thankful if you just show me the direction to find my solutins.

narendra said...

Dear Supreet Sir ,
I will be appearing for CSE 2010 My friends who are preparing for CSE at vajiram have choosen PUBAD Psycho as their optionals although they are science students.The reason acc to them is
1)If you think Practically statistics shows maximum selections are from these subjects
2)These subs help you a lot in GS,interview and essay prep as well
3)Syllabus is not vast as science subs have
4)these subs help a lot in prelim for eg marking objective answer of any theoritical sub wont take as much time as involved in solving a physics numerical problem and then marking the right answer.
4)Despite your interest you should take these subjects as best coachings are available for these subjects and can guide you and you will develop interest after joing coachings

I am a BE elex and comm student but I have decided to take PubAd and Psycho as my optional sub due to the above points.
Please suggest If my decision is right.
Also please suggest how much correct the above points are.
Also please share what was your daily routine while you were prep for CSE

pks said...

Dear Supreet Sir,

I am a final year student doing my majors in Statistics and Informatics from IIT Kharagpur. I will be appearing for CS 2010 for the first time.

I am planning to take Statistics and Chemistry as my optional subjects. I am interested in both of them but the syllabus looks very heavy and also I came to know about the low marks in these papers.....Can you please tell me whether my decision to take these papers(specially Statistics) is fair or not?

I will be much obliged if you can please ask any of your friends (who has taken CS with Stats as an option) to guide me......

Thanks a lot and best of luck in your future endeavor.

nitehawk said...


Many thanks for all your efforts for new aspirants...
I am from Computer Science Background
engaged in Job. I have not done physics graduation course since in B.Tech only first 2 semesters have physics. But I have a very sound interest in Physics so please guide me whether I should choose it as one of the optionals. I am confident with 12th physics only...


Deepak said...

Hello Supreet Sir,
I m deepak from Mumbai University I wish to write CSE in 2011.I have done my M.Sc in Physics although i m not very confident of the subject. I wish to opt for any other arts subjects like,geog,philosophy.can u guide me in this context.

Deepak T

Amit said...

I don't completely agree with you on the point that the syllabus is vast in science subjects as compared to arts. On the contrary i find the syllabus to be smaller and easier. Look at maths for example, the syllabus is simple and straight forward. The questions asked are ordinary and i know after studying that i WILL score in it. I am a firm believer of the fact that people from science background should stick to their strengths and go for science subjects rather than taking an arts subject and competing with arts students who will be always better in answering arts questions because of their sheer experience.

Himani said...

Hello Supreet Sir
I am Himani III year Civil Engg student of IIT Roorkee.
I have lot of interest in Geology and want to choose this as an optional but searching on the net I have never come across any tips or strategy for this optional.
Plear guide me about this optional.

Milan Damji said...

Thanks for the informative questions. I'm an ias exam prelims aspirant and being enrolled in I was looking for similar information. Thanks for the useful information. Please post some Ias mains exam questions.

Manoj said...

Hi sir,
I have completed my second year of BTech at IITBombay. I am a civil services aspirant. I have been pretty comfortable in chemistry all my student life and I have a lot of interest in this subject. I have to admit that my chemistry was instrumental in getting me through JEE. Please give your opinion on this issue considering the newly announced one optional system for mains. Please give info about study material, coaching classes, pros/cons, merits/demerits. Thanks in advance!!

Manoj said...

Hi sir,
I have completed my second year of BTech at IITBombay. I am a civil services aspirant. I have been pretty comfortable in chemistry all my student life and I have a lot of interest in this subject. I have to admit that my chemistry was instrumental in getting me through JEE. Please give your opinion on this issue considering the newly announced one optional system for mains. Please give info about study material, coaching classes, pros/cons, merits/demerits. Thanks in advance!!


Hi sir,
I have completed my first year of BTech at NSIT, Dwarka. I am a civil services aspirant. I am pretty comfortable in chemistry and I have a lot of interest in this subject. Please give your opinion on this issue considering the newly announced one optional system for mains. Please give info about study material, coaching classes, pros/cons, merits/demerits.
Thank You Sir

free antivirus said...

Hello Sir,

I have just come across your blog and felt like the best place to share my problem. I am a graduate from not so known college . I am very much passionate about CSE and have decided to go for it. But the problem i am facing is what would be the optional. I am thinking of Electrical Engineering but somehow inside me apart from huge syllabus a fear of two different streams is striking. Would it be a wise decision ? Here i would like to confess i was not a very good student in college.Please enlighten me.

Thanks for your blog and being so kind . . .