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Educational Qualifications Needed for Civil Services Exam

1. You just need a degree (graduation). It may be regular or distant.

The candidate must hold a degree of any of Universities incorporated by an Act of the Central or State Legislature in India or other educational institutions established by an Act of Parliament or declared to be deemed as a University Under Section-3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, or possess an equivalent qualification.


2. Final year students can also appear for UPSC CSE.

Candidates who have appeared at an examination the passing of which would render them educationally qualified for the Commission’s examination but have not been informed of the results as also the candidates who intend to appear at such a qualifying examination will also be eligible for admission to the Preliminary Examination.

All candidates who are declared qualified by the Commission for taking the Civil Services (Main) Examination will be required to produce proof of passing the requisite examination with their application for the Main Examination failing which such candidates will not be admitted to the Main Examination. The applications for the Main Examination will be called sometime in the month of September to November.

Some extremely important focus areas for Prelims 2018

Hello Aspartans,

Why are we talking about focus areas so early? Coz, IAS Prelims is near, very near if you consider yourself a serious aspirant. In this article, I would like to focus on the areas which might fetch you some well-needed marks to reach that thin-red-line of cut off marks. As we expect, with lesser vacancies, cut off is bound to go full monty i.e. around 118-120. So what are these focus areas I’m bragging about? let’s do this in a pointwise manner-

1. Agriculture

  • Seeds
  • Soil erosion and techniques to reduce it
  • Farming techniques
  • Irrigation in India and its methods
  • Crops and crop diversification
  • Agroforestry
  • Agriculture and non-farm activities for employment
  • Schemes related to agriculture

2. Environment and Ecology

  • All the conventions related to environment, sustainable development and climate change
  • Pollution and its agents
  • climate change and its governance
  • UN bodies on environment and climate change

3. Art and culture

  • UNESCO world heritage sites (Very Important)
  • Mahabalipuram, Ajanta & Ellora, Khajuraho, Delhi architecture, Varah Temples in India, Chola and Vijayanagara architecture
  • Festivals and Fairs

4. Government schemes

  • Ministry of Finance
  • Ministry of HRD
  • Ministry of Rural Development
  • Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare
  • Ministry of Women and Child Development
  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare


I can assure you, aforementioned topics will fetch you 20 marks if you prepared them well. This is my first hand experience from my neverending expedition of UPSC. One more thing, I have started a test series #PrelimsQuest where we will try to focus on these areas. You can join it here.



Only 782 vacancies in 2018 attempt, what to expect ?

Hello, Aspartans (aspirants + Spartans),

LuckyKabooter here. UPSC has issued the notification for 2018 attempt. Prelims i.e. #CivilWar is on 3rd of June. But the issue which is perplexing is the number of vacancies, only 782.  So what to expect from this move? Let’s analyze.

1. It will increase the cut off by at least 10 marks. I am expecting it to be around 118 if the paper quality was similar to 2017 prelims.

2. Aspirants need to attempt more and more questions. I would suggest going beyond 90 questions.  But leave the questions you can’t even guess about. I attempted around 94 questions and expecting 135+ marks.

3. Do not over emphasized on Current Affairs. You need to distribute your time among all subjects accordingly. See this-


Subject Time
Current Affairs 40%
Environment & Ecology 15%
Polity 10%
Economics 10%
History 8%
Geography 7%
Misc (S&T, Agriculture, Biology etc) 10% (4+3+3)


4. You can not afford to lose marks in fundamentals of Polity, Geography, and Economics. Revise these subjects as early as possible. We need at least 3 revisions.

5. Attempt mocks of at least 2 test series to bring variety in questions and sources.

This analysis is based on my experiences in last 5 attempts. But I believe my analysis is going to be quite right as I increased my score from 66 to 135+ through my attempts.
One more thing, we have started a test series at Join if you like.

The writer: 5 attempts, 3 Prelims, 3 Mains, 2 Interviews.

Commerce Strategy: Raj Karan Agarwal, IRS, 1st Attempt, Rank 474

Commerce Option: To Opt or not to opt?

Commerce is one of the technical optional and provides an advantage to commerce graduates as your college and professional studies are utilized in both paper 1 & 2. There are about 150 marks worth numerical, which can fetch very good marks. Besides, a large portion of the syllabus is static in nature.
However, Commerce is also one of the lengthy optional in terms of time required for preparation & revision.
The biggest hurdle is that commerce requires vast reading and then integration from different sources, for a comprehensive coverage in paper 1 and 2.
Since UPSC numericals are very unpredictable, it requires a high level of competence.
In this scenario, there is no harm in taking coaching if you’re uncomfortable. For example, I did join coaching for Paper-II, since the basics are taught in class and regular test provide a check. Besides, time is saved since you don’t have to refer to material from different sources
But a word of caution: coaching helps only around 20-25%, rest is application and hard work of student itself.

Commerce Paper 1

For CA students who have not joined any coaching classes- refer to your CA PCC/IPCC material, instead of putting time in different standard books.
You can also rely on coaching class, but only after prudently analyzing past year questions.

Topic & Prep. Source Remarks

Financial Accounting : JR Monga & DS Rawat(For AS) OR Material of CA PCC.
Focus more on Accounting Standards and presentation (for numericals) should be taken care of properly with working notes.
No need to practice again & again. Just mark the important adjustments/questions and refer them only in subsequent revisions.
Cost Accounting: Maheswari & Mittal plus theoretical part from either book itself or some compilation like CA PCC scanner. Also material of RANKER’s CLASSES (RC) provides very good compilation of numericals and theory. OR Material of CA PCC can be referred. Emphasis should be given on theory equally.
Taxation: Girish Ahuja OR CA PCC. One can go in depth initially and mark important adjustments and later on focus on basics itself. Again theoretical portion is important like exceptions to any section/rule etc. Overall questions are of graduation level only.
Auditing : CA PCC notes for relevant topics or Aruna Jha or Compilation from RC.
Financial Management : RP Rastogi OR CA PCC notes plus relevant topics from CA Final can also be seen. FM has been the most wicked portion for past few years but don’t try to control this part as question have wide range. Just see you’re aware of different models/concepts/terms that come along.
Financial Markets and Institution :Relevant Chapters from Indian Financial system by Bharati V Pathak or any other book and newspaper cuttings provided by RC. Keep track of steps/initiatives by RBI,SEBI,IRDA etc.
I did not prepare this section in detail, since it is highly unpredictable and I suggest not to waste much time in it.
For paper 1, exam day revision is impossible and therefore make chaperwise notes of important formulae and adjustment which are tricky especially for Acct,FM and Cost.For tax,one can go in slight details also.

Capsule for Exam Hall

In exam hall patience & calmness holds the key since there will definitely be bouncers (unpredictable & unexpected questions). You’ve to smartly avoid them in Choice and for compulsory questions don’t beat around the bush if you don’t know the answer.
Rather invest the time in known questions & numericals.
Even if 25-40 marks questions are unanswered, still you can achieve 140 easily. Try to attempt more numerical than theory.

Commerce Paper 2

I followed Rankers material and class notes sincerely for paper 2 together with good reading of basic books mentioned below and compiled all of them in around 80 pages Organization Theory and Behavior, Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations.
Organisation Theory & OB : SP Robbins OT book (for different models/terms/concepts),Singh & chhabra. SP Robbins OB book(only relevant chapters) PLUS RC notes and answers.
Human Resources Management (HRM) : CB Gupta,RC notes and answers.
Industrial Relations : RC notes are sufficient.


Here preparation should start with a general reading & developing the conceptual clarity with subsequent reading focusing upon important definition by authors/thinkers, establishing links with other topics/chapters and current corporate practices.
After reading the definition & basic explanation try to think before studying in detail.

Notes making for Paper 2
Note making is very important here wherein diagrams, verbatim defintions (by thinkers), examples & only core points should be noted without explanation.
Topics from all sources should be integrated at one place.
Important lines from class notes should be on the lips like NR Murthy says “ our most important assets walk out everyday and we have to make sure they return” in context of HRM.

Capsule for Exam Hall

For compulsory question same as for Paper 1.Choice here is more important as little knowledge of every question shall be there.
So, after choice careful reading of question is needed before writing & while writing also.
Make use of all chapters and topics in your answers but basic tone of answer should be maintained like for HR answers, focus more on such dimensions and less of OB etc. Also avoid GS type and general answers.

Answer writing

For Long answers-Introduction can be either indirect through some lines or quotes or direct with general explanation followed by exact definition.
Thereafter topic need to be explained in short followed by establishing links with other chapters and focusing on the question again. Here give a pause, read the question again & think again. Diagrams can be used effectively.
Ending of the answers should always be visionary/positive and solution based with example if needed or with some lines.
There should be mixed use of paras and points. Examples should be quoted wherever possible but refrain from using one enterprise again & again.
For short answers, write the basic definition and then directly hit the core.
Ending should be solution based. For merit/demerit/feature use diagram or points.
Test series can be joined for practice.

Article link:

Sociology Strategy: Chandra Mohan Garg, Rank 25 CSE – 2015


Book List

  1. Upendra Class Notes – Available in Delhi Book stores
  2. Aditya Mongra Printed Notes– Available on his Fb Page(
  3. Vikash Ranjan Book ( Fundamentals of sociology): Available in Book Stores
  4. Haralambos (small one) – Also called Haralambos and Heald, small orange coloured. Available in bookstores
  5. Haralambos (the new one) – Selected pages photocopy version available in the market but a little bulky, I preferred small old one. Only initial chapter 2,3 need new one exclusively that can be photo stated from friends or use some other source.
  6. IGNOU BA– Can be downloaded from Mrunal website
  7. Ritzer – Printed copy in market

For Each chapter, I have told two or three books or sources due to few reasons. Since each chapter has many topics and one particular source won’t have all the topics covered or even if they are covered then they won’t be very good. So out of the sources mentioned you can figure out which one explain which topic in the best way and read it .Don’t try to read one topic from multiple resources until they have something extra or you lack clarity. Another reason for telling more resources is you might not have all of them; in that case, you can refer to other resources.

P.S – This is my personal Book list. Please don’t abuse me if it doesn’t suit you J . Refer it at your own risk. 😀 It is better to follow your own resources/booklist. Eg- If you are studying from Mahapatra coaching follow it/his notes. For topics there is lack of clarity or not covered you can glance my book-list.


Topics General List Additional Source for Reference
1. Sociology – The Discipline:  Fundamentals of sociology
(a) Modernity and social changes in Europe and emergence of sociology. IGNOU BA
(b) Scope of the subject and comparison with other social sciences. Aditya Mongra Notes/ Bottomore
(c) Sociology and common sense. Anthony Giddens
2. Sociology as Science: Haralambos and Holborn (new)* / Fundamentals of sociology
(a) Science, scientific method and critique. Aditya Mongra Notes
(b) Major theoretical strands of research methodology. Aditya Mongra Notes
(c) Positivism and its critique. Aditya Mongra Notes
(d) Fact value and objectivity. Aditya Mongra Notes
(e) Non- positivist methodologies. Aditya Mongra Notes
3. Research Methods and Analysis: Haralambos and Holborn(new)* / Fundamantals of sociology
(a) Qualitative and quantitative methods. Aditya Mongra Notes
(b) Techniques of data collection. Aditya Mongra Notes
(c) Variables, sampling, hypothesis, reliability and validity. Aditya Mongra Notes
4. Sociological Thinkers: Upendra Class Notes + Ritzer and Fundamentals of sociology ( if you missed something). If you find ritzer difficult than Ignou is a good alternative.
(a) Karl Marx- Historical materialism, mode of production, alienation, class struggle.  IGNOU BA
(b) Emile Durkheim- Division of labour, social fact, suicide, religion and society.  IGNOU BA
(c) Max Weber- Social action, ideal types, authority, bureaucracy, protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.  IGNOU BA
(d) Talcolt Parsons- Social system, pattern variables.  IGNOU BA
(e) Robert K. Merton- Latent and manifest functions, conformity and deviance, reference groups.  IGNOU BA
(f) Mead – Self and identity.  Aditya Mongra Notes
5. Stratification and Mobility: Haralambos (small) + Fundamentals of sociology /Upendra Notes
(a) Concepts- equality, inequality, hierarchy, exclusion, poverty and deprivation. Aditya Mongra Notes
(b) Theories of social stratification- Structural functionalist theory, Marxist theory, Weberian theory. Haralambos mainly
(c) Dimensions – Social stratification of class, status groups, gender, ethnicity and race. Aditya Mongra Notes / IGNOU
(d) Social mobility- open and closed systems, types of mobility, sources and causes of mobility. Aditya Mongra Notes
6. Works and Economic Life: Fundamentals of sociology
(a) Social organization of work in different types of society- slave society, feudal society, industrial /capitalist society.
(b) Formal and informal organization of  work.
(c) Labour and society.
7. Politics and Society:
(a) Sociological theories of power. Haralambos(small one) + Upendra Notes
(b) Power elite, bureaucracy, pressure groups, and political parties. Haralambos(small one)+ Upendra Notes
(c) Nation, state, citizenship, democracy, civil society, ideology. Fundamentals of sociology+ Upendra Notes Aditya Mongra Notes
(d) Protest, agitation, social movements, collective action, revolution. Fundamentals of sociology + Upendra Notes Aditya Mongra Notes
8. Religion and Society:
(a) Sociological theories of religion. Haralambos (small one)
(b) Types of religious practices: animism, monism, pluralism, sects, cults. some part haralambos + Fundamentals of sociology
(c) Religion in modern society: religion and science, secularization, religious revivalism, fundamentalism. secularisation in haralambos(small one) + fundamentals of sociology Aditya Mongra Notes
9. Systems of Kinship: Upendra Notes + Fundamamentals of sociology + Haralambos(selectively)
(a) Family, household, marriage. Aditya Mongra Notes
(b) Types and forms of family. Aditya Mongra Notes
(c) Lineage and descent. Aditya Mongra Notes
(d) Patriarchy and sexual division of labour. Aditya Mongra Notes
(e) Contemporary trends. Aditya Mongra Notes
10. Social Change in Modern Society: Upendra Notes + Fundamantals of sociology
(a) Sociological theories of social change.
(b) Development and dependency.
(c) Agents of social change.  Sindhuri Mam notes
(d) Education and social change.  Haralambos (small one)
(e) Science, technology and social change.


PAPER – 2 Book List

  1. Mahapatra Notes: Class notes available in market or Flavido
  2. Sindhuri Mam Notes: Available in market or on Flavido
  3. Applied Sociology(Vikash Ranjan) – Available in Market
  4. IGNOU MA Mainly- Download from Mrunal website
  5. Aditya Mongra Notes – Fb Page. Link is above
  6. Dynamic Part – Newspaper, EPW, Yojana periodically for case studies and contemporary examples
  7. If you want you can selectively read Veena Das Essays, Ram Ahuja, B.K Nagla, Nadeem Hussain ( I did not read them)

P.S – Paper 2 is very confusing; you will need to refer to many resources. I am only mentioning what I referred. You may have your own resource list. Please follow it. For topics you don’t find a resource, you can take a look here. But follow your own strategy, in sync with your coaching/self-preparation.



Topics General List Additional Source for Reference
A. Introducing Indian Society:
(i) Perspectives on the study of Indian society: Mahapatra Sir Notes + Sindhuri Mam Notes Applied Sociology
(a) Indology (GS. Ghurye).
(b) Structural functionalism (M N Srinivas).
(c) Marxist sociology (A R Desai).
(ii) Impact of colonial rule on Indian society: Mahapatra Sir Notes + Sindhuri Mam Notes Applied Sociology
(a) Social background of Indian nationalism.
(b) Modernization of Indian tradition.
(c) Protests and movements during the colonial period.
(d) Social reforms.
B. Social Structure:
(i) Rural and Agrarian Social Structure: Mahapatra Sir Notes + Sindhuri Mam Notes IGNOU MA* /Applied Sociology
(a) The idea of Indian village and village studies.
(b) Agrarian social structure – evolution of land tenure system, land reforms.
(ii) Caste System: Mahapatra Sir Notes + Sindhuri Mam Notes + IGNOU MA Applied Sociology
(a) Perspectives on the study of caste systems: GS Ghurye, M N Srinivas, Louis Dumont, Andre Beteille.
(b) Features of caste system.
(c) Untouchability – forms and perspectives.
(iii) Tribal communities in India: Mahapatra Sir Notes + Sindhuri Mam Notes + IGNOU MA Applied Sociology
(a) Definitional problems.
(b) Geographical spread.
(c) Colonial policies and tribes.
(d) Issues of integration and autonomy.
(iv) Social Classes in India: Mahapatra Sir Notes + Sindhuri Mam Notes + IGNOU Applied Sociology
(a) Agrarian class structure.
(b) Industrial class structure.
(c) Middle classes in India.
(v) Systems of Kinship in India: Mahapatra Sir Notes + Sindhuri Mam Notes + IGNOU MA Applied Sociology
(a) Lineage and descent in India.
(b) Types of kinship systems.
(c) Family and marriage in India.
(d) Household dimensions of the family.
(e) Patriarchy, entitlements and sexual division of labour.
(vi) Religion and Society: IGNOU (selectively) + Applied Sociology
(a) Religious communities in India.
(b) Problems of religious minorities.
C. Social Changes in India:
(i) Visions of Social Change in India: Mahapatra Notes +Applied Sociology + IGNOU MA Sindhuri Mam Notes
(a) Idea of development planning and mixed economy.
(b) Constitution, law and social change.
(c) Education and social change.
(ii) Rural and Agrarian transformation in India: Mahapatra Notes + Sindhuri Mam+ IGNOU MA Applied Sociology
(a) Programmes of rural development, Community Development Programme, cooperatives, poverty alleviation schemes.
(b) Green revolution and social change.
(c) Changing modes of production in Indian agriculture .
(d) Problems of rural labour, bondage, migration.
(iii) Industrialization and Urbanisation in India: IGNOU MA + Mahapatra + Sindhuri Mam Applied Sociology
(a) Evolution of modern industry in India.
(b) Growth of urban settlements in India.
(c) Working class: structure, growth, class mobilization.
(d) Informal sector, child labour.
(e) Slums and deprivation in urban areas.
(iv) Politics and Society: Mainly in sync with Paper-1 Applied Sociology
(a) Nation, democracy and citizenship.
(b) Political parties, pressure groups , social and political elite.
(c) Regionalism and decentralization of power.
(d) Secularization
(v) Social Movements in Modern India: Mahapatra + Sindhuri Mam + Aditya Mongra/Praveen sir Notes Applied Sociology
(a) Peasants and farmers movements.
(b) Women’s movement.
(c) Backward classes & Dalit movement.
(d) Environmental movements.
(e) Ethnicity and Identity movements.
(vi) Population Dynamics: Sindhuri Mam + IGNOU MA+ Applied Sociology
(a) Population size, growth, composition and distribution.
(b) Components of population growth: birth, death, migration.
(c) Population policy and family planning.
(d) Emerging issues: ageing, sex ratios, child and infant mortality, reproductive health.
(vii) Challenges of Social Transformation: Sindhuri Mam + IGNOU MA+ Applied Sociology
(a) Crisis of development: displacement, environmental problems and sustainability.  Can Refer Ram Ahuja, Articles of EPW here
(b) Poverty, deprivation and inequalities.
(c) Violence against women.
(d) Caste conflicts.
(e) Ethnic conflicts, communalism, religious revivalism.
(f) Illiteracy and disparities in education.



  1. Break the syllabus into parts: Chapters – Topics – Sub-topics.

Now refer to your booklist. One book/source will not have all the topics and even if they are present it will lack exhaustiveness. So out of the sources mentioned you can figure out which one explain which topic in best way and read from it .Don’t try to read one topic from multiple resources if you are able to get clarity after reading from one source, until and unless there is some value addition stuff.

  1. Please refer to last year questions topic wise they will help in guiding you what to cover from a topic. Also try to answer them once the chapter is over to check is you able to tackle them. That is the simplest way to check if you are on right track.
  2. In the initial stages it will be very difficult to understand sociology especially if you do not have a background. So be patient. Initially focus on understanding thinkers they are the base of sociology. Once you have clarity here, sociology will not be difficult.
  3. Sociology will require 2-3 readings of the topic before you will start understanding it. Once you are able to grasp things, it is better to consolidate and make notes of it.
  4. Making notes is very important since you are trying to collate information from multiple sources at one place. It will always help you.


If you can join a coaching it is good since subject is technical needs some help. If not possible to join than too no issues, with some initial efforts you will start getting things.

Most renowned teachers are Mahapatra and Upendra Sir. Other good teachers include Aditya Mongra, Praveen Kishore, Vikash Ranjan Sir and so on. I am not going to compare and tell who is better. Take your own judgement since it is a very personal decision.

Test Series for sociology

Check out here –

P.S – it’s my own point of view.

Answer Writing

  1. Learn the syllabus topics and sub-topics .It helps a lot in making linkages.
  2. Once you complete a chapter please do write some last year questions and get them evaluated.
  3. Once you complete the syllabus completely do join a test series.
  4. In sociology first and foremost thing is knowledge without it nothing will happen, second is using it in context of question, third is structuring your answer properly (you have to have an Intro – Critical Analysis – Conclusion) if the question demands.
  5. Do not mind even linking paper 1 with contemporary examples. That will help in enriching answers
  6. In Paper -2 try to link theory and examples in your answers. Also you can use paper -1 thinkers. Q- Impact of privatisation on educational disparities. Here you could present both sides. Use Marxian Perspective, Aser Data, some Indian thinker/activist perspective etc. Same with the functionalist perspective.
  7. For GS type questions Like MNREGA. You need to relate it to topics of the syllabus. MNREGA is linked with rural transformation, poverty, women upliftment, migration, social change/development, environmental change, rural development, rural labour etc. You can easily frame your answers once you know how it links to my syllabus. Try to write some social reports/analysis on MNREGA. Or some perspective if you can give. ( eg- Role of state in social development , Policy as a tool of social change etc. Just for example I sighted)
  8. The only way to improve answer writing is firstly knowledge and then its presentation. This will happen when u are well versed with complete syllabus. Have consolidated it and done enough answer writing practice. Do self evaluation and evaluation by teachers/friends. This helps in knowing where you are missing and accordingly you can improve.

Any queries still?

You can ping me on my Fb Page –

History Optional Strategy – Books to follow



  1. UPINDER SINGH- A history of ancient and early medieval India: The most important book, according to the current trend of questions being asked on socio-economic aspects of history
  2. IGNOU B.A notes- very crisply written
  3. IGNOU M.A NOTES – helpful in understanding various political, economic and socio- cultural aspects
  4. Romila thapar- Early India( only a very selective reading)
  5. NCERT Class 6, NCERT Class 11


  2. Satish Chandra is another important source to compliment IGNOU.



  1. SHEKHAR BANDOPADHYAY- From Plassey to partition
  2. SUMIT SARKAR- Modern India:
  4. IGNOU B.A and M.A


  1. IGNOU BA and MA
  2. RANJAN CHAKRABARTY- A history of modern world
  4. DAVID THOMSON (Selective reading)
  5. NCERT CLASS 9 and 10

Philosophy Optional Strategy, Booklist and Answer Writing for UPSC Mains by Ambarish V L Vemuri, Rank – 150, CSE 2015.


Indian Philosophy – Dutta and Chatterjee, CD Sharma. Notes of Patanjali and Mitra’s IAS Coaching classes.

Western Philosophy – Y Masih for classical western philosophy. Mitras and Patanjali Notes. Then, Internet encyclopedia articles for Contemporary Western Philosophy, some research from Wikipedia as well.

Philosophy of Religion – Notes from Patanjali and Mitras, then, Y Masih, read multiple times. Focus especially on Indian arguments in Philosophy of religion topics through notes.

Socio-political Philosophy – Notes from Mitras and Patanjali. OP Gauba. Then, Wikipedia for every term in socio-political philosophy (from liberty, justice to individual, rights, duties, environmentalism, feminism, etc. ), also read Internet encyclopedia articles. Google research for Contemporary thinkers such as Amartya Sen, Alisdair MacIntyre, and debates on Multiculturalism, Communitarianism, etc.


Recommended. Difficult to read by ourselves. I went to Patanjali, but I find Patanjali to be more useful if you choose Philosophy last minute, I.e. just before mains, and need to be taught in short and simple way. But this is not helpful for getting top marks. For that, have to put a lot of self-effort. On the other hand, Mitra’s Coaching is better if you are studying one year before your mains, and want to learn the optional syllabus comprehensively. Ultimately, both centers will leave out some part of the syllabus for self-study (Patanjali excludes more aspects), and for that self-study is a must. 

Recommended reading more books? Or go through same books multiple times?

Here, I suggest – read the same sources number of times, rather than go for new books. Read Y Masih for Religion 5-6 times. Remember the arguments. Pointless going for more sources. It takes 5-6 readings to understand one topic in Philosophy. Go for depth, not for breadth.

Efforts required:

Finished the whole syllabus as well as made first round notes before the first attempt in January 2015 itself. After that, it has only been writing answers, adding more content to notes based on fresh and repeated readings of the sources. Revised whole syllabus once more in May-June, before switching to prelims prep. Then, gave test series before mains.

I compiled and prepared my own notes from all the above sources, for each topic. So for the exam, I had 40 sets for the 40 chapters of Paper 1 + Paper 2. Includes all the major points and topics of each chapter. It had many layers, many revisions from subsequent readings. Ultimately, before the exam, I only read my notes. This made preparation very convenient.

This optional has less syllabus, but more technical terms and they require an in-depth understanding, as well as ability to connect one concept with another. For this, multiple revisions (10-20) and in each revision, we should try to see how concepts link with other concepts. This is especially relevant for Paper 2. Cramming content is only the first step. Making mind maps for how one concept relates to others is crucial for writing good answers. I suggest aspirants to spend time doing this rather than merely cramming content.

Test Series:

Hugely recommended. Test series is a must. I gave Mitra’s for the first attempt, and Vision for the second attempt. Mitra’s test series during Feb-April 2015, much before prelims. It was very useful. Sir was able to dedicate 30-45 minutes of personal time to help improve my answers. I have heard that Sir is not able to dedicate time to the test series just before mains though.

Vision IAS – Questions were good. But correction and feedback were very slow and not up to the mark. Would suggest going through the questions and answers if not writing this test series. Do not take the marks seriously, focus on checking model answers and improving your own strategy.

You can view my answer scripts for Paper 1 and 2:

Important Points for Paper 1:

As far as possible, go with Indian Philosophy. Then, read the question, what it is demanding, and answer accordingly. Philosophy is all about articulating effectively.

As far as possible, remember the Sanskrit terms in Indian Philosophy and use them.

If you are able to, link Indian Philosophy with western concepts wherever possible. For example – Abhava is very similar to negative fact of Bertrand Russell. So, the Abhava debate between Prabhakara and Kumaril Bhatt is similar to the Negative Fact debate between Wittgenstein and Russell. Use these in your answers, but verify and be sure that they are appropriate.

For contemporary Western Philosophy, try to watch some videos. Such as in School of Life youtube channel (recommend School of Life youtube channel for Paper 2 as well. Helps clear concepts) and some sources from Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, as well as Wikipedia. They are actually much simpler than we assume. These topics like Russell, Heidegger, Sartre, Quine, etc. are not taught well in coaching centres, but are actually quite easy.

DO NOT try to remember whole answers. Try to remember only the core argument of each philosopher and each aspect in 1-2 lines. You will be able to reconstruct the whole answer in the exam by following the strategy I give for how to answer questions below:

Most Important points (especially for Paper 2):

I have seen that in this optional, the content of the answers is largely the same with everyone. If we read the coaching notes and basic reference books thoroughly, everyone knows the same thing. However, the most crucial aspect of this optional is to understand the question effectively, and answer according to its demands. Here, I have seen many people make errors.

First, understand the question – if it is examine, analyse, critically analyse, short notes, explain, describe, etc. Each question type expects a different response from the aspirant. Vision IAS has a pdf for what each term means. Use this pdf titled – Understanding meaning of key words and framing your answers accordingly. Anyone giving Vision IAS optional test series will have this pdf in the ‘study material’ section.

Let me take up an example: A question from philosophy of religion this year:

‘Examine the Nyaya arguments in favour of the existence of God.’

Now, every aspirant knows the Nyaya arguments for existence of God – karyat ayojnat dhrityadeh shruteh vakyat padat moral-governor law-of-karma etc.

So as soon as we see the question, the first instinct is to list down the arguments and explain them. Then perhaps a few criticisms, and then we move on to the next question.

However, an alternate strategy is – read the question – it says – EXAMINE. So we must delve on each argument, articulate the nature of the argument, and then try to analyse each of them. Also add a line that we are referring to Udayana’s arguments.

So, I approached it this way – First, I bundled the first three arguments –karyat, ayojnat, dhrityadeh – and said, these are cosmological arguments. Linked to Aquinas. Then, criticisms from Indian philosophy – Yoga philosophy (as far as possible, use Indian philosophy arguments for Indian philosophy questions) then some western criticisms.

Then, vakyat – as author of vedas – here write Mimansa criticism – they accept vedas as apaurusheya, so no need for author. Similarly, padat – to give potency to words – here as well, mimansa – say that words have innate potency.

Then, moral governor – write Buddhist, Jaina, Sankhya critique – Ishwar Asiddha, or Buddhist – karma and morality are autonomous, impressions, no need for governor.

Shruteh – proof of testimony given in the vedas – here write limitation of shabda praman – that it is imperceptible, depends on the faith we have on the speaker, and also, that vedas may be giving conjectural statements, not literal ones. For instance, Sankhya Mimansa also accept vedas, but not God, etc.

This way, we can establish that all the arguments of Nyaya in favour of God have counter arguments from different schools, thus, they cannot be ascertained to prove God. God remains a matter of faith and belief.

If the question were elaborate- we would go in depth into each of the arguments. If it were critically analyse, we would do similar to above.

For socio-political philosophy, I suggest that we build our answers based on elaborating the important terms given in each of the questions, and then associating them with Thinkers who have argued on the respective subject.

“Equality will be of no value without fraternity and liberty. Discuss”

Here the main terms are equality, fraternity, liberty. And question asks us to discuss. So, we do not have to argue only in favour or against, we can build our argument as we seek.

First, what is equality – RH Tawney – rationalising the gap between the peak and the valley. What does it require – positive affirmative action – redistribution – etc.

Now, how is this related to liberty? – Libertarians (Nozick, Friedman, Hayek) say that equality and liberty are incompatible. However, we disagree with this conception. Why? Liberty – we define as the freedom for the individual for complete development of his capacities as per her aspirations – this when extended to all individuals – becomes equality of liberty. But, what comes first? For Marx equality comes first, for Rawls, liberty comes first. What is question asking? That equality is of no value without liberty. Thus, it is tilting towards Rawls’ position. So, use Rawls. Even Sen. That social contract, we are first autonomous self-interested individuals, If we do not enjoy liberty, then equality may result in subjugation or state excess. Thus, we need liberty to truly promote equality.

Then, fraternity and equality – equality requires redistribution – according to Rawls- deviations should benefit least privileged. Affirmative action etc. All this requires a moral motivation – this is provided by fraternity – or brotherhood – give example of Rousseau – social contract- links equality with fraternity. Sense of belonging and community essential for advancing the interests of all individuals rather than a few. Hence Rousseau – promotes fraternity between citizens. Gandhi’s RamRajya and Marx’s community – all have fraternity for equality. Thus, fraternity is the most compelling plea for advancing and sustaining equality.

Conclusion – yes, all go together. Thus, Indian Constitution – places them in same light – liberty equality and fraternity among people.

Hence, summarising – I recommend, read the question – based on what it asks, the content has to be delivered. Then, focus on the key words, elaborate upon them with the help of thinkers, then, connect all the key words together, and finally, draw a conclusion.

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