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Monday, January 12, 2009

How to prepare History optional for UPSC Prelims

History is ‘The Optional’ as far as appearing in UPSC/IAS examination is concerned. Every year, the highest number of aspirants take History as their first optional in this most coveted examination. Even I had this idea of taking up History as my first optional, but after some introspection and one reading of NCERT text-books ,the realization dawned upon me that it was not my cup of tea as an optional. My very good friend Trilochan Rao has appeared in UPSC prelims successfully four times with History as his first optional and has agreed to share his experience with fellow aspirants with History optional. So here it is in Trilochan’s own words what one needs to do if one has decided to take History in UPSC Prelims ….

I (Trilochan) had done MSc Biotechnology before entering into civil services preparation and my optionals are History(1st) and Geography(2nd) .One might have this doubt that how this guy managed these optionals while coming from a science background. My answer is simple, it was my interest in knowing our hisorical facts and stories and places of ecological, economical significance that prompted me to opt for these subjects.
Few of my seniors advised me to take History as my first optional, they told me the advantages of taking history as it is safest and intake for mains from history is also more(because most people appear with history optional).
I listened to what seniors told me, that is different, but at the same time I also introspected regarding subject and important areas. One thing I have realized is that "revision and comparision" is very important to succeed with this optional as it contains more facts like years, names and other theoretical facts.
I did not attend any coaching classes for History as it is theory based and especially for prelims I feel coaching is not required. After the introduction of negative marking, safest mark to clear prelims is to get 70+ questions correct.
There are so many books in the market which helps us to become master in the subject .I, myself have studied all NCERT books for history which gave me an idea about the limits of the subject and later on i studied TMH(Tata McGraw Hill) written by Krishna Reddy .Here, I prepared my notes from NCERTs and TMH , I emphasised on facts which require at least 5 revisions ( i revised my notes 3 times and 2 times those books) . With this kind of preparation, I landed in 50+ mark which includes both direct questions and indirect questions (means through elimination process). After this home work, I opened Romila Thapar for Ancient , Satish Chandra for Medieval, Bipin Chandra for Modern (this includes both books that is struggle for freedom and after independence) . These books I revised only once which helped me to touch 80 marks.
Generally ,few of my friends studied only text books by avoiding TMH, this is also good because during mains it will save our time and one can have very good concept of any particular topic.
I also had IGNOU material, Gazetteer Volume2 (Publication Division) and Grover & Grover, but I did not get time to read all these books.
I didn’t take coaching anywhere, so naturally I committed few blunders while in preparation, later on I rectified those after taking suggestions from my friends. Facts are very important for prelims, at the same time one should not neglect their mains preparation, I mean to say take 2008 mains history paper , those who have studied texts books which I have suggested are well placed to get very good marks. Of course revision and comparision is always required, i.e. take "society", how was it during pre vedic, vedic, post vedic periods; what are the additions in the later stages and like that...this kind of analysis is important in solving assertion and reasoning type questions and true and false questions in prelims. These type of questions are most tricky and eat our marks as these had maximum weightage in 2006, 2007 and 2008 papers.
Preparing notes is the best method for remembering facts, because we'll write only those points which would need revision.

General Studies
Every time I could cross 75+ in general studies paper as my preparation was extensive which generally eats lot of time and memory power to be honest. I followed the current trend, suppose geography is my optional I have to study many things for map pointing so i focused on atlas .In prelims questions on geography part contains questions like this ... one country and capital, island, river , mountain, transport, mineral etc .So, I always kept one thing in my mind that i have to pick up the answer from the given multiple choice question. For example ,i can tell more than 100 countries and its capitals ,but i can pick up the capitals for all 200+ countries if i get multiple choice .Though i was little bit tensed regarding prelims general studies, i was never afraid even if i dont remember any fact. But I kept on revising...as general studies contains many segments we need to be perfect in at least 2 to 3 segments along with current affairs which would help us to clear prelims easily .
Last but not the least, after reading all these areas if any body feels that paper is tough ,be relaxed because paper will be much much tougher for all others and one can start mains preparation without counting on cutoff mark. Just stick to few standard books and keep revising, naturally success will come …. All the very best to you all !!!
Best Wishes
Trilochan Rao


Anonymous said...

well its gr8 to kno dat uve performd so well in subjcts completely difrnt 4m ur backgrnd...iv done msc in life sciences n pursuin phd in biotech now...my xam optionals r zoology n botany...im a lil unsure abt d 2nd optional though...im gona tk d exam in 2010...keepin in mind d depth of both subjcts, i guess i shud reconsider it...im comfortable wit zoology...bt im not able to decide abt d 2nd optional...ive studied botany till masters level but i duno if it wud b d right choice as far as performance in UPSC xam is considered coz d trend mattrs a lot...
cud u plz resolve dis 4 me

Abhishek said...

@ Vandana ... always go with ur interest ,as scoring fluctuates and there is no such thing as a scoring optional ,it is the individual who will score high or low .... i wud advise u to go with botany if that is where ur interest lies ...gud luck !!!

Anonymous said...

Ohh u have a new blog
helping people to find thr directions :D

Chakoli :)

Anonymous said...

hi abhishek..thnx agn..
well u r d first person iv confrontd who has been positiv abt dis n conformin wit d 'interest' idea..i think i wud do my best wit zoology n botany than wit othr subjcts..also iv gone thru them both in academic studies so it should b easier to frame them acc. to UPSC preparatn...isnt it?
well..thnx a lot! :)


Hai Abhishek,
I have selected my optionals as Psychology(prelims) and Public Administration. But, some suggest Psychology over Public Administration for prelims. Kindly specify from your experience, which optional is better for prelims out of two?

Abhishek said...

@ Chakoli ... trying in my own small way to be of some help to fellow aspirants ... thx :)

@ Vandana ... u r welcome :) and y r right , u shud go with the subjects that u r comfortable with ...all d best !!!

@Sarvana Prakash ... both optionals have their strong n weak points, compared to psychology there will be much more number of aspirants having public administration as optional in prelims and consequently more number of people will get through from PA but at the same time in Psychology the competition might be less but more intense ...so instead of thinking about which optional is better,think which optional u wud like to read in much more detail out of these two.Go with ur interest and the optional which really appeals to u ,i opted 4 psychology purely out of interest :)

Anonymous said...

hey i am interested in pol sc/ PA/ Psy for prelims. wat do u think r my chances tat i'll make it in any of the above? i've done my MBBS and currently pursuing my MHA. ;). and please don't give me the crap about "interest". hope to hear smthn nice frm u.

Abhishek said...

@Anonymous ... to be honest one has as good/bad chance depending on one's point of view in this exam ... anything shud not be taken in isolation ... u might be interested in say geography but just might not have the aptitude to remember geography terms etc ... so interest alone wud not be enuf but yes if u r interested in a subject as i was/am in psychology it will make studying a pleasure instead of it being a burden ... choice of optional shud be based on interest and aptitude if u r not satisfied with interest alone criterion ,n whether u have d aptitude 4 a particular subject is for u alone 2 decide after going thru few books n syllabus of d concerned subject ...all d best :)
p.s: i hope my answer was interesting enuf my friend ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Abhisheek
I am Adish Aggarwal doing my B.Tech first year in Mechanicle Engg. from NIT Hamirpur. I m planning to take History and Geography as my Optionals .I m prtty much sure about History but a bit confused between Geography and Mechanical Engg. Can u help me in this i have more interest in Geography but bit scared about my pointer in college so planning to study semester exams also

Abhishek said...

@ Adish ... nice to hear frm a young aspirant :) ,well for now u can just start taking an active interest in reading newspapers and do not neglect ur engineering studies ,geography remains a very good optional for engineering background aspirants as its more logical in approach and so on plus the availability of study material wud not be a constraint ... so maybe u can see the syllabus of both mech. engg. n geography at http://www.upsc.gov.in ... all the best !!!

Preetha Susan said...

Hi Abishek
I'm a network engineer in dubai b'coz of the location and time contraints in my job i'm not in a position to go for coaching.I want to clear a couple of my basic doubts.As far as i know there is only one optional paper for prelims?But why people are taking 2 optionals? another quest is abt the optional paper i can take.I'm thinking abt PA or Geography or Political science.Can u plz tell me a bit abt these optionals and the availability of resources.ALso i am very much interested in Geology.But i never heared abt anyone who took Geology as optional.

Sorry for asking this much questions.

Thnks Preta

Abhishek said...

@Preetha ... let me start by answering ur queries one by one ...
1.there is only 1 optional in prelims but once u clear prelims , u have to choose one more optional for mains (eg.i had psychology 4 prelims and psychology plus public administration in mains).This is why u hear ppltalking abt their first and second optionals.
2.PA/Pol.Science/Geography ...all these are popular optionals and u can select any of them,u can refer posts on PA and Pol.Sc. in my blog written by my friends Anoop and Vivek (see under labels)...see the syllabus from upsc website and previous years question papers(u can also refer my post on selecting an optional)...resources for all three wud not be a problem ...
3.Geology can also be taken if u have a background or interest though it is not a very common/popular optional because very few people opt 4 it ...but do go for geology if u have interest n aptitude 4 it ...
all d best :)

Preetha Susan said...

thanks a bunch abishek.
u are really doing a great job for all of us.

sorry for the delay in response , i was a bit busy with work


Abhishek said...

@Preetha ... u r welcome :)

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Anonymous said...


i am preparing IAS pre 2009 with Gepgraphy as optional, but i really don't know how to prepare maps. as i m in job and i cannot leave it thats why i dont have much time for preparation and to join coaching for the same. i m totally rely on my self preparation

i would be highly obliged, if u show me a way to prepare in such a small time.

Abhishek said...

@ Anonymous ...get hold of Ensemble's Geography Through Maps and read it end to end to start ...though geography as an optional is not my area of expertise but as afar as geography from GS point of view is concerned , make it a habit to refer all locations taht u come across while reading newspaper or any book in atlas and also nearby areas ... every night 20 minutes shud be devoted to cover one continent and all its physical features like rivers,mountain ranges, tropics of cancer/capricorn or equator etc ... all d best !!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Abhishek/Trilochan,

Thanks a lot for providing the info & help to all the aspirants. I am preparing for CSP2009 with history optional. I have a question on the cutoff marks - what is the usual cutoff limit for history & GS? You have mentioned that 70+ is good for history. Is it for General category or for others? I remember seeing in one of the sites that 80+ is must for General category ppl for History. If you could clarify this, that would be great.
Wish you all the very best for the results, guess they would be out in couple of days.


Abhishek said...

@ Srinivas ... its really difficult to pin-point prelims cut-off as it is all based on hearsay , so the best strategy wud be to score as much as possible in optional and at least have a decent performance in GS ....too much focus on cut-offs will be counterproductive ,anything over 85-90+ wud be quite safe in any optional ... all d best !!!

Unknown said...

Hi Abhishek,
I would like to thanku for doing such a nice job.My optionals are History and Geography. I had read Ur History and Geography optional articles for prelims. They are useful for newcomers. There is one request i.e Can u plz make one enhancement in these articles?
Can u plz provide guidance for History and Geography MAINS exam also?
Like how to study for MAINS ,useful books and strategy,topics,way of presenting answers for History and Geography


sachin jain said...

hey Abhishek ..
this is sachin actully ..my cousin is looking for material with Zoology subject ....she has appeared for Chhatisgarh xam and cleared prelims
so do u have any idea like from which coaching i shud get her material to go ahed .....
i just want to know which coaching instute is gud so that i can get it's material

if you can reply to my mail at sachin_iitb2003@yahoo.co.in

Unknown said...

hello sir,
i am sonal,i hav dne my mba n i am planning to give the siac entrance in mumbai,it has exam pattern similar to prlims.sme seniors suggested tmh or spectrum guide and ncerst books for prelims.
can u tel me which std's ncert books shud we refer and does the guide covers the mains syllabus as well.
i am thinking of taking pbad as my 1t option they suggested laximikant for it,wat do u suggest sir..

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Abhishek, My optionals are History and Public Administration. Im doing self study unable to streamline things in both GS and optionals.. what to read first? Which Approach?
In GS which segment should be stressed?
Can you please help me out..

Anonymous said...

what is probable cutoff for geography and gs in prelims 2009

Unknown said...

hi abhishek sir i m prashant can u help me the study material for sociology?and plese also help me how to choose optionals...i m in final year of civil engineering...i m getting confused to choose optionals....can u help me whether i have to take civil engineering as optional or not...bcz i have seen very rare cases where the students go for science subjects...hope i will get the reply

Kumar said...

sir i really eulogise you for what you are doing,taking time out of your preparation and helping new comers like me.sir i've wasted so much of time deciding my optionals but still struck.i've following subjects in mind and related problems choosing them.
history-have good interest but its huge syllabus is holding me back
geography- since it makes up good proportion of GS,makes me go for this but not really interested in the subject
philosophy-have good interest but lack of proper guidance and the fact that i haven't heard much of this subject makes me reluctant
pub admn-don't know much about it

sir please help me i refuge in you
i'll take your words as final
please please please help me

Anand Kumar Singh said...

Hello Abhishek,

I am working in a BPO and recently became interested in Civil Services. Althought I have started the preparation but I do not know how to go ahead with it. I devote abot two to three hours a day and in weekends ten hours a day. I have opted History and Public Administration as optionals. I studied History in graduation kept Pub. Ad. as administraion interests me.
What do you think about such a slow preparation? Please guide me.

Thank you


theju said...

hello iam tejus doing second year BE in mechanical engineering . i would like to take my optionals history and geography .For history i have a clear cut idea and interest .But now i am confused whether to take history and geography or history and mechanical engineering . So kindly please help me to tackle this dilemma.

Unknown said...

Hello Abhishek,

It's great to see that you are sharing your experience with all cse aspirants...
I am working in IT industry and preparing for CSE with Pub add as first optional.
Can you please share approximate cut off marks for preliums for pub add and GS?.. Also, can please share ideas about prepration of GS?.

Tulika said...

well i m student from electronics branch and i m interestd in civil services .after seeing the syllabus i m most comfortable with electrical engg and cmpletely confused about the 2nd optional. so can u suggest any subject.

mull3r said...

hi abhishek,
im appearing for civils pre this may, i have gone thru your blog,very helpful must say.
i have taken psych for pre, but with all the resources you have mentioned...there are still some areas that they keep asking from like the books authored by some scientists..and the quantit analysis part... i havent come across many good books for that even mukul sirs notes dont suffice for them,
how did you prepare for these areas.

thanking you

girijesh said...

hi abhishek, i m girijesh pursuing btech from nit allahabad in mechanical engineering.i m planing for ias with mechanichal engg but so confused for second subject. please suggest me which subject should i choose

mehak said...

hi abhishek,
i started preparing for IAS about a month ago. I am still confused about the choice of my optionals.
The optionals i can go on with are sanskrit, physics, public ad. (coz its easy), geography and psychology (interests me).

I wanted to consider sanskriot and phyics - but i am not sure about physics - how much time it would take up, how much of preparation would it need and what are the major areas to focus on .. Plz help me in this regard

------- i am currently doing my engineering in electronics -----

Unknown said...

Hi, what should one study for history mains?