It is our immense pleasure to know that Umesh N S K who has securedRank 77was benefited from Insights’ initiatives. He is 24 and it was his 3ed attempt at CSE. He has sent an article outlining how he prepared for his Optional subject – Political Science and International Relations (PSIR). He has scored 278 Marks in PSIR.
We congratulate him on behalf of all of you.
POLITICAL SCIENCE and INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS – HOW I PREPARED
By Umesh N S K Rank – 77, CSE – 2014
I am not trying to share a foolproof fit-for-all strategy to crack PSIR here because there cannot be any such strategy. Instead,I will share the sources I studied for each and every topic here. I must confess that I never did writing practice, I did not attend any mock tests and I did not take notes except for loose sheets like “List of International Organisations”,”Names of thinkers and their famous books” and other such school-level stuff. But what I had as my strength was a diverse reading habit which ranged from newspapers to magazines to works of non-fiction by Granville Austin, Ashutosh Varshney,David Malone et al. A topic-wise analysis of syllabus follows :
This section can be divided into four parts : Political Theory, Indian Political Thought,Western Political Thought and Political Ideologies.
For Political Theory, my basic text was Andrew Heywood’s “Political Theory” which helped me attain conceptual clarity in all fundamental topics like Equality,Rights,Power,Liberty and Democracy. Once Heywood is done, we can move on to O.P.Gauba. I must confess that I never completed even half of this book because of it’s convoluted style of writing. (In engineering,local authors helped me clear exams whereas in PSIR, foreign authors were more lucid).But O.P.Gauba has it’s utility because it fills the gaps in Andrew Heywood and it is written keeping in mind an Indian syllabus. So numbers 1 to 7 (refer syllabus)in Part 1 of Paper I can be mastered by thorough reading of Heywood followed by selective reading of Gauba.
For Political Ideologies, Political Ideologies by Andrew Heywood is a gift from Heaven. Look no further. Gandhism alone can be covered in Indian Political Thought.
For Western Political Thought , the book by Brian Nelson is very good. This book covers some ideologies too. Some quotes and questions from Paper 1 related to Western thinkers in 2013 were directly from this book only. Gramsci and Hannah Arendt are missing in this book.
I covered Gramsci and Hannah Arendt in O.P.Gauba’s “Political Theory” and also through some online reading.
For Indian Political Thought , V.R.Mehta’s book is a good source to study even if the language is not easy to master. Ambedkar and Syed Ahmed Khan are missing in this book which can be covered in IGNOU PDFs.I read the original texts of “Annihilation of caste” and “Hind Swaraj”.
Indian Government and Politics:
I considered this entire section as an organic whole and the basic texts for it are B.L.Fadia, Laxmikanth, Ramachandra Guha and Bipan Chandra. But ultimately,this is a current affairs oriented section and we win or lose within the pages of a good newspaper.
Answers in these sections must have contemporary examples and can quote good authors. For example, for a question on “Marginalisation of Left Ideology in India” in 2014’s paper, I quoted Ramachandra Guha’s points from a piece for Caravan Magazine in June,2011. So, every weekend, few hours can be spent to browse websites of Indian Express, Outlook and India Today etc. There is a tendency to see Times of India as a frivolous page- 3 paper but it features columns of great writers like Sunil Khilnani and Gurcharan Das on a regular basis.
I would suggest columns of Ashutosh Varshney, Ramachandra Guha and Pratap Bhanu Mehta as mandatory reading for this section.
Comparative Political Analysis and International Politics:
This can be divided into two sections : Comparative Politics and International Relations.
Comparative Politics was the only portion in PSIR’s syllabus which never kindled my interest enough to do extensive reading. All I read for this section were IGNOU PDFs.
For International Relations,a wonderful introductory text is Globalisation of World Politics. This book is an absolute delight with great illustrations,brilliant design and most importantly,quality content. Any gaps in this book can be filled by selective reading of V.K.Malhotra’s “International Relations”.
Again,answers for this section can be written with references to recent examples. For example,an answer on National Security can mention Syrian crisis as an example.BBC website provides great summaries of all current international crises (Sample: See this).”Frontline” is a good Indian magazine to cover international events if one discounts it’s blinkered worldview.
For Indian foreign Policy, a topnotch introductory text is David Malone’s book. Gaps in this book can be filled by reading Shashi Tharoor OR Rajiv Sikri selectively.
But as anyone who saw/wrote 2014’s paper would know, even without reading any book, this section can be mastered if we follow The Hindu and good columnists regularly. Some expert foreign policy commentators include : C.Rajamohan, Brahma Challaney ,Suhasini Haidar and Srinath Raghavan. (For a question on India-Russia relations, I almost reproduced Srinath Raghavan’s viewpoints written in the pages of The Hindu five days before the exam.) I never read a single issue of World Focus (even though I bought so many issues only for them to rest in the attic) and relied more on these commentators I have mentioned.
Thus, PSIR can be mastered by a diverse reading habit along with very good writing. Why I insist on Andrew Heywood first (and not Gauba) and Srinath Raghavan (and not World Focus) is because when we read such lucidly written prose regularly, our writing will also gain finesse with time. So,our answers for PSIR should
i) introduce the statement in the question , analyse the viewpoints associated with it and conclude it . It is important to ensure our answers have a closure to it. We must not write like students appearing for B.A Pol. Sci exam.Rather,we must write like a bureaucrat submitting a report to a higher official.
ii) Our answers should have contemporary examples and touches.For example,a question on women panchayats should mention examples of successful and popular woman sarpanches.
iii) We can quote authors and columnists in answers. It adds to the intellectual heft of our viewpoints.
iv) Above all, reading more means writing better.
The above is not exactly a strategy but a recounting of what I did to score 138+140 in PSIR this year. All the best to all aspirants who are taking up this wonderful optional.
- Study Momentum
- Strategy: CSAT (Aptitude)
- Strategy: General studies
- Approach for general Studies
- Optional Subject #1: Political Science
- Optional Subject #2: Sociology
- Optional Subject in Mains 2013?
- Compulsory papers
- Insecurity about “Profile”
- Career Backup
- Family and Friends
- Bogus marketing propaganda
|Rank (CSE 2012)||18|
|Number of Attempts||1|
|Medium for Mains Exam||ENGLISH|
|Centre for Prelim exam||DELHI|
|Centre for Mains exam||DELHI|
|Name of home town/city||PATNA|
|% in class 10||92.2|
|% in class 12||88.4|
|Graduation course and %||BDS 71.2|
|Name of college and year of passing out||GOVT. DENTAL COLLEGE,PGIMS,ROHTAK|
|Any professional courses||NONE|
|Hobbies||CREATI VE WRITING, BOOK READING|
|Did you join any Coaching?||NO, but gave 2 MOCK INTERVIEWS AT VAJIRAM AND 1 at ALS|
|Did you join any postal courses?||NO, but I had bought crackias material (not very useful though)|
|Did you join any Mock test series?||NO, but I gave free mock tests on various websites like testfunda, etc.|
|Did you appear in any other competitive exams?||NO|
For one it was a childhood dream. The other reason was my self realization that I had very diverse interests and civil services would be a good career option. Plus during my work in the hospital I realized that I needed some positive power in order to bring a change in the existing system that sometimes is very insensitive to the needs of the weak and oppressed.
Motivation can be strong only if it is internal. Thankfully I have had to read only once or twice so interest alone helped me stay afloat. I usually gave myself a treat and did not study on Saturday nights this kept me fresh for next week. For coping with mood swings I had conversations with my good friends and family and watched a movie in a while.
Q. On an average, How many hours did you study per day?
Normal day’s 4-5 hrs. One month before mains- 8-10 hrs.
Q. How many months did it take you to complete the core syllabus of GS and optional subjects?
For pre it was 3-4 months. But since I had always done everything in detail I had to give less time for gs during mains preparation. I had not done anyone subject in isolation after mains so I prepared both optionals and gs in 4 months after pre.
Strategy: CSAT (Aptitude)
|Reasoning||Few chapters from verbal and non verbal reasoning by R.S. Agarwal, practice same as above.|
|Comprehension||Hobby of book reading was helpful. practice from above mentioned sources.|
|Decision making||One special issue of chronicle, practice same as above, discussed questions with my father and the possible ramifications of each decision.|
- Comprehension– I think these questions should be attempted at the beginning with a calm mind. Develop a habit of fast reading. Practicing up to CAT level is never going to harm you.
- Decision making– varies from person to person but consider each decision in an interconnected way as to what would be the possible impact of any particular decision. Avoid emotional decisions. Be realistic in your approach. And do not try to act like you are the only honest person and rest all are corrupt. Project your faith in the system with your decisions.
Strategy: General studies
|History||Ancient||Gs manual TMH+NCERT|
|Medieval||Same but no ncert|
|Modern||Bipin Chandra+manual (same used for mains)|
|Culture||Nothing specially except spectrum|
|Economy||Basics||Gs manual + my 9th 10th icse books|
|Mains||Both above+ eco times+ chronicle special issue+ economic survey+ budget|
|Geography||Physical||Gs manual + chronicle special issue|
|Mains||Gs manual + 11th & 12 th ncerts + my 10th std geog book icse|
|Environment, Biodiversity||Basics||12th ncert bio, national open school material downloaded from mrunal.org|
|Current||Magazines and newspapers|
|Mains||Same material but consolidated.|
|Science Tech||Basics||Did not do separately as I had sc till 12th|
|Current||Hindu science tech page|
|Yearbook / Govt. schemes etc.||Read all yearbook chapters as advised on mrunal’s site. Followed prsindia.org|
Yojana and other magazines.
|IR/diplomacy||Hindu editorials + my sub was pol sc so nothing special. Followed realclearworld.|
Approach for general Studies
- From the beginning of the preparation I had one thing very clear in my mind that this is not a simple graduation exam where you read the books, learn the answer and vomit them out.
- I think this is the only exam in India that gives value to the examinee as a person. Rather than what you know it is more a test of how do you apply what you know, your thought process and power of analysis.
- The syllabus is not very vast as most of the coaching institutes would have us believe, in fact it is quite logical that if you are going to be a civil servant interacting with people from all walks of life you have to be the jack of all trades.
- There is a very simple approach to this exam just try to love what you do, be curious about things, look around there is so much to gain even from your surroundings and most importantly give some time to your thought process. If u study for 2 hrs then think about the application of your knowledge for atleast half an hour.
- This examination is a journey of self development and this is one journey more important than the destination.
- I know there are many people who would have read much more than me or many who would have read the same as me. The difference lies not in the book you read but in the person u get transformed into after reading that book.
- I made newspaper, magazines and internet the foundation of my gs preparation. Even before the serious beginning of preparation till final year I was in the knowledge gaining process.
- The newspapers and magazines I was reading till final year were not at all helpful directly but yes they gave me a strong foundation for my preparation during internship. From oct 2011 I started jotting down important events from the newspaper in a separate diary and collecting editorials and other articles.
Optional Subject #1: Political Science
Books that I followed-
- an introduction to political theory by O P Gauba
- politics among nations by Morgenthau
- modern political theory by S P Verma
- essentials of comparative politics by O’ Neil
- theory of international politics by Kenneth Waltz
- rest all topics from ignou notes
- Indian polity same as I used in gs
- TMH book on political science for mains by N.D.Arora
- bipin Chandra both books
my approach for Political Science
- Before pre I had read only Morgenthau in oct 2011. Rest all I began from June onwards as I slowly came to know about them from various discussions on indianofficer.com . I am mentioning this to just let you know that though the syllabus looks very lengthy it is not. But the problem was I could not completely revise the syllabus even once that’s why it was difficult for me to recall things.
- My priority however was to know every topic mentioned in the syllabus in detail so that I could attempt even a 30 marks answer on any topic. The best part about my optionals was that there were so many topics common in both and gs so reading one topic from any one place and analyzing it from various perspectives prepared me for all three of them. This definitely saved a lot of time.
- The other thing was I did not make any personal notes. Although it is a good strategy I simply did not have the time. It was a choice between making notes and completing the syllabus. Instead I chose to attempt questions from previous years for writing practice in all papers. The problem I faced here was that I was not able to judge the level of my answers.
I solved it partially in 4 ways:
- Downloaded the ans sheet of toppers from visionias website and saw what is the level of their answeres.
- made my friends read my answer and give reviews (although unka civils se koi lena dena nahi hai even then their reviews helped me)
- if someone had posted questions on various threads at indianofficer.com, I would try and answer them and let others evaluate my ans.
- Evaluate my paper on my own at a later date with a calm mind, thinking with the perspective of the examiner.
- It wasn’t that I was not tempted to join a coaching if only for test series and evaluation but the basic paradigm of shortage of time remained. In fact I finished my syllabus only around 20-25 days before mains and had worked at hospital till 7th sep.2012 , so I had to be content with the available resources.
- In the mains exam I had attempted a great majority of questions but I did not know if my answer were going to fetch me marks. The reason being that I had written what was best in my opinion but I had no idea if my opinion was good enough for the examiners as well. In fact after mains I had even written a panic mail to mrunal about whether I should change my optionals and go for coaching.
Optional Subject #2: Sociology
Books that I followed for Sociology
- Haralambos and heald (that tiny power packed orange book)
- social problems by Ram Ahuja (I don’t recommend it)
- notes of kshitij tyagi (I did not have h. & holborn, used it to compensate for that)
- rest all from ignou material on sociology according to the syllabus
- some study material of mumbai university that I found on internet
- Extensive internet research for Indian thinkers and their original writings.
- sociologyguide.com for topics that I could not find anywhere and then a further internet search for the same topics
- constant newspaper and magazine reading from sociological point of view
- an introduction to sociology by some writer from jnu ( the shopkeeper gave it to me –“ le jaiye madam sab padhte hain”)
- modernization of indian tradition by Yogendra singh only 1st and last chapter
- I think you will see here that I have not read many books on sociology but the thing is I did not have the time. Socio also I had started after prelims. Only the Ram Ahuja book I had read before prelims. However my focus was that I should not leave any topic in the syllabus unread. It did not matter from where I had read it. Rest strategy was similar as mentioned above.
- If you are going for sociology I would advise you to develop a sociological viewpoint.
- Socio is a very interesting subject but it requires your power of observation and analysis much more than your reading of books. See for example. There was a question about French revolution this year, now who doesn’t know that, even a history student could write that.
- The difference lies in the way a socio student would analyze the social fabric of that time, the prevailing social conditions, the actual role of this revolution in the rise and development of sociology, the way this revolution was perceived by thinkers and the interconnecting links between revolution, thinkers and society.
- It’s not important that I can’t remember what was the exact date of which event, who killed whom as long as I understand the significance of that particular event and can explain it well.
Optional Subject in Mains 2013?
Q. Instead of two, now UPSC will have only one optional subject. So if you were to give Mains 2013, which optional would you keep and why?
- Sociology, because it’s a very dynamic subject. There is always something new to discover about the world we live in.
- Basically same except I would expand my booklist. There were so many books to read that I skipped due to the shortage of time. In fact after mains I bought this Haralambos and Holborn and read it, it’s a wonderful book.
Q. Your booklist/strategy for compulsory Regional language paper.
Nothing except I bought a Hindi newspaper on the day of exam and read it.
Q. Your booklist/strategy for compulsory English language paper.
Q. How did you prepare yourself for the essay?
I did not prepare specially for essay but I wrote 2 essays that I posted on indianofficer.com. There various helpful members including Mrunal reviewed it and gave their suggestions. I understood my mistakes and avoided them in the final paper.
Q. Which Essay did you write in Mains-2012?
Working woman one.
Q.Provide some keypoints/highlights of your Essay.
I wrote on 4th in the following way
- intro with Marx and women’s position in the present world
- evolution of female sex thru various periods of history in about a page
- divided essay into two parts
- first part dealt with how has govt and society evolved to accommodate women’s interests as working and homemaker
- I divided it into subheadings of social change, legal change, economic change, specific schemes for women as Gayathri Krishnan (2011 topper) had suggested me that I could do
- concluded this section with a connecting para for second part with some examples
- brought out the other side by analysing the kind of problems that remain with a stress on class specific conditions.
- concluded the essay with a hopeful note combining both perspectives and the possible ways the present situation could evolve into.
- kept my sentences short and used less connectors as Mrunal had suggested.
hope i can get a respectful score. thanks to Mrunal and Gayathri for helping me improve. total 19 pages about 1900 to 2000 words.
Insecurity about “Profile”
Q. Many aspirants fear the interview, thinking that “my profile is not good because I’ve low marks in SSC/HSC/College, I don’t have any extra-curricular certificates, I don’t have work experience, I graduated from some unknown college, I’m from non-English medium and so on…” what’s your taken on this?
Ans. I think it might be a conversation starter but it’s not the only criteria you are evaluated upon. If you have a pleasant personality, honesty and integrity and intelligence (based on board’s evaluation) then nothing matters. Your personality has to tower upon everything else in your profile.
Q. Did they ask any uncomfortable question from your profile during the interview?
I would have prepared for it till the last attempt i.e.4th but along with it I would have started working part time as a dentist. Because four yrs is a long time and UPSC is totally unpredictable so there is no point keeping all your eggs in the same basket.
Family and Friends
My parents and my friends. My college friends were more confident of my success than even myself. When I would be like “ no yar, it doesn’t look possible I haven’t yet done this and that” , they would say “ tu pagal hai kya, tera nahi hoga to kiska hoga.”
Thank you guys, for being so confident about my abilities and happier than me on my success.
Q. How did you prepare for the interview?
- 2 mock interviews at vajiram, first was a total disaster(it was the first interview I had ever faced) and made me think that I should leave this and go home. But my cousin and her husband motivated me and helped me prepare further.
- Before the second one I wrote down all possible questions from my profile along with answers and then practiced them. Second mock was a lot better and I got very good feedback.
- personal interview with Ravindran sir at Vajiram was very good.
- the classes at Vajiram were not at all good, lengthy and boring. Although I attended only one some economics class, I had to walk out before I dropped dead.
- I tried one other thing. I took my interviews myself and recorded them on my laptop’s camera and then reviewed them myself.
- I gave one more mock interview at ALS. It was ok ok types. But the comments on my presentation were very positive and that was just one day before final interview.
- used internet extensively to research answers on questions related to my profile.
- Read the book given by vaji people. It was good.
- one week worth newspaper. But I gambled as I neither read my optionals nor the budget or economic survey.
Q. Who was the chairman of you interview board?
Q. How long was the interview?
Q. Provide the list of questions asked (and if possible answers also)
My interview transcript
|GENRAL STUDIES Paper1||118|
|GENRAL STUDIES Paper2||140|
|Political Science Paper1||122|
|Political Science Paper2||128|
Q. Through this journey, what have you learned about life and competition? What is your message to future aspirants
I am copy pasting something from one of my favorite books The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand –
“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”
Bogus marketing propaganda
You are well aware of the unwritten golden rule of conducting toppers’ interview. Final question has to be about bogus marketing propaganda. So,
Q1. Were you a subscriber/ regular reader of Mrunal.org. If yes, then Since when? You can even say “no”, I’ll publish it without editing, unlike certain magazines hahaha.
Yes I was. I first stumbled upon this site in dec.2011 and in a few moments I realized that I have discovered a treasure trove. I was one of the most frequent visitors and since then I have been recommending it to anyone who approaches me for help regarding UPSC.
Q2. How did Mrunal.org help you in your preparation?
Mrunal has been my guide. His work on economy is phenomenal and much more interesting than anything I have ever read. Good writing with a great sense of humor. Whenever in doubt I used to send him panic mails and he would answer it. I am so thankful to him. Thank you so much Mrunal, you are one of the best teachers I have ever known in my life.