The recent news on 17th November 2017 from Baswan committee appointed by the UPSC which recommended removal of optional papers along with a reduction of upper age limit, which is yet to be finalized. According to the news, most aspirants feel it would be a game-changer as there is a huge difference in the award of marks in the optional, while some subjects have innate advantages. The news also states the trainers of Civil Services’ aspirants feel the removal of optionals may work to the advantage of urban youngsters since it would test their general knowledge and would be on other governance-related subjects like public administration and law.
The CSE Mains exam consists of two optional papers (Paper I & II) out of nine total papers. A list is provided by UPSC which consists of variety of subjects from fields of Humanities, Literature, Commerce, Science, Medicine, Engineering etc. The difficulty level of these subjects is up to graduation and/or honours in that particular subject.
The factor that needs to be considered is what are the real pros and cons of optional papers in CSE Mains.
Let us first discuss the positives:
1. The optional paper ensures that a candidate preparing to become civil servant is not losing the hard work put to study the subject in graduation, also gives them an advantage of scoring well since they have already studied the subject.
2. Optional paper judges a candidate’s ability of analytical thinking as well as application-based thinking.The CSE must not be only general studies oriented, as there may arise a possibility of reduction in the quality of civil servants the nation gets.
3. The candidates are obliged to study a subject for optional paper, this makes them smarter, gain knowledge and be well prepared to be able to serve the nation as responsible civil servants.
4. There are few optional subjects like Political Science, History, Geography, Economics, Public Administration etc which also cover syllabus for Prelims paper I and General Studies paper II, III,IV and V in Mains. So, candidates opting these subjects get a better advantage to prepare for Prelims and Mains thus saving study time.
5. Candidates, in fact, learn humanities just because they want to appear for the Civil Services Exam. In the absence of Optional, students will refrain from learning humanities such as Sociology, Philosophy, Public Administration. Enrollments in colleges will drop considerably, which seems like a domino effect. Having studied these subjects, they also have a backup since they use the same subjects for NET & SET exams.
Let us now discuss the negatives involved with optional papers:
1. Candidates have to study an extra subject and not just basics but in depth, this increases the duration of preparation required for civil services. The syllabus that can be covered in few months will require more months to be allotted as the aspirant also has to prepare for the optional subject.
2. The overall difficulty level of civil services examination increases as the candidate needs to have the knowledge of the optional subject up to graduation and/or honours level.
3. The list of optional subjects provided by UPSC does not include a lot of subjects, specifically from Engineering and Medical fields. Therefore, an Engineering or a Medical Science candidate is left to choose a new subject and learn it from scratch. This is cringing for them as the Engineering or Medical students have to undergo tough competition right after higher secondary level and now they have to study a new subject from basics and score well.
4. Even though a big list of optional subjects is provided by UPSC, it is observed from previous years statistics that candidates usually choose the subject which is easy to learn and scoring whether or not it is related to their graduation field. Public administration, Geography, History, Sociology, Political Science and Psychology are the most preferred subjects and subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Management, Statistics etc are rarely chosen as they are not easy and less scoring. Thus the nation gets civil servants with ample knowledge of frequently chosen optional subjects.
If instead of removing the optional papers, the choice of optional subjects can be revised. This way, there can be a possibility of raising the standard of the importance of CSE optional papers for the betterment.
Author: Akshay Palande
Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.