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Do certain combos help your scores?

Garima Upadhyay searches for a magic formula that could help candidates crack one of the most popular exams in India

education Updated: Mar 23, 2011 09:36 IST
Garima Upadhyay

Legend has it that there are various combinations that promise sure shot success in the civil services examination. While the authenticity of the claim cannot be verified many candidates writing the exams swear that twinning of some subjects works for them.

What goes with public administration, they say, is one of these: geography, history, sociology and psychology. The reason for this, opines Srirangam Sriram of Sriram’s IAS Academy, is “because of the availability of teachers and good study material. The fact that social science subjects are inherently interesting adds to their charm quotient.”

VP Gupta of Rau’s IAS Study Circle adds, “Look closely at those who have public administration and geography as their subjects. A major part of what they study under these two subjects will suffice for the general studies exam. Indian polity, which is a part of public administration, constitutes a good deal of what is asked in the general studies paper. Similarly, all of geography comes under general knowledge. Capitals, important ports, rivers, crops grown in different terrains and the like are questions that are asked in the general studies exam.”

So, is the overlap in course content with general studies the only reason to make certain subjects click? Not really. The fact that increasingly a lot of preference is being given to a candidate’s awareness level also counts for certain subjects doing well. “Over the years the exam pattern for subjects like public administration, sociology and psychology etc, have become pretty general. Take for instance last year’s public administration paper-II. It had a question around the intent behind public interest litigation (PIL) and its current state. Now to answer this question, a candidate need not be very sound in the tenets of public administration. The question basically is gauging a candidate’s general knowledge of PIL. If you have been regular with newspapers, answering the question should have been a cakewalk. One could have interchanged the P in PIL to mean political or publicity and created a good answer around it. The trend is shifting from pure academics to its practical implementation. It is these advantages that are luring prospective civil servants to opt for popular humanities subjects rather than subjects like mathematics, chemistry, botany and others,” Sriram explains.

The Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) 60th annual report presents some interesting facts. The distribution of candidates who appeared vis-à-vis those recommended by optional subjects in the Civil Services Mains 2008 shows that geography was the most preferred subject among the optional subjects chosen by the candidates, followed by history and public administration. Subjects related to humanities, including literature of languages were opted for by 91.2% successful candidates, while science, medical science and engineering saw 6.7, 1.5 and 0.6 pass percentages, respectively. Among the candidates recommended for appointment, the highest percentage of candidates at 47.2% had a humanities background, followed by engineering at 28.2%, science at 15.2% and medical sciences at 9.4%.

The data reveals that certain successful candidates having an academic background in engineering, medical and science subjects made cross-domain shifts and opted for humanities subjects in the examination. Says Sriram, “a lot of engineering students are shifting to public administration and sociology. Earlier the sentiment was to continue with their core subjects (maths, chemistry, physics) but of late they are realising that one-year’s rigorous hard work in their core subjects won’t take them anywhere unless they are exceptionally good and enjoy a mastery over the subjects. A better idea is to opt for a humanities subject and be ready for the exam in half the time.”

So, if the mains pattern changes the way prelims have, all papers would become compulsory for candidates and will put to rest all speculation over winning combinations.

Combinations that are not allowed by the UPSC
. Political science and international relations and public admininistration
. Commerce and management
. Anthropology and sociology
. Maths and statistics
. Agriculture and animal husbandary and veterinary science
. Management and public administration
. Any two branches of engineering
. Literature of any of the following languages Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi,
Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Marati, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya and Pali