In 2018, Vishal Sah secured an All India Rank of 63 in the UPSC Civil Service Examination, and also scored the highest marks that year (329) in his optional paper, which was Sociology.
What’s interesting here is that a year earlier, Vishal had appeared for the CSE and had secured a rank of 1048.
In this article, we spoke to Vishal to understand the changes in strategy that helped him the second time around.
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Given that he scored the maximum marks in Sociology, I begin by asking him how he prepared for it and why he chose it as his optional subject.
“There are different ways of attempting a Sociology paper, and I what I did was bring in a variety of perspectives in my answers, instead of increasing the number of thinkers and writing about them. Many times even while mentioning different thinkers, the perspective that they shared would be the same.”
The next significant change that Vishal worked on was in attempting the short answers.
He says, “In the long answers, we can choose the one which we have better content for. However, with the short answer that is not the case, and one should use their knowledge of the subject and apply it effectively to write a unique answer.”
On how to chose optional paper
Vishal urges aspirants to think through picking the optional paper. Do not choose a topic based on your interest, as that is something that will wax and wane. Go through the syllabus and understand whether or not you feel strongly about choosing it.
Make a time-table/schedule to understand exactly how much time you have on hand before making up your mind about the optional paper choice.
Pick a subject that overlaps with the overall scheme of things. Vishal says, “I found that sociology has many overlaps in the general paper as well as while attempting the essay questions.”
Also, pick a subject wherein you can collate and put together enough material. One must not spend too much time trying to find adequate material to study for a particular topic or subject.
“The sociology syllabus is comparatively shorter and thus allows aspirants to spend more time in revising.”
On making notes
Vishal mentions a very pertinent point when asked about how one should go about making notes.
He says, “While making notes keep in mind that this is what you will come back to closer to the examination. So remember to be concise, and jot down all relevant information. Making copious notes might not serve the purpose during the days just before the examination.”
He also urges aspirants to keep referring to previous year question papers as well as the syllabus while making notes. “Your notes should be like a ready reckoner when you go through them later. Use words and phrases that you will be able to recollect easily,” he says.
He also says that one should not jump into making notes immediately, he urges aspirants to spend time on the topic and read up as much as possible before making notes.
On how to write good answers
Vishal says that in terms of content, most aspirants have access to similar information, so the important thing to do is focus on presenting that content well and in a cohesive manner.
“I worked hard on answer writing, and that was one skill I felt I improved on from my first attempt. Every part of the question must be answered, and also ensure that you make your answers easy to read for the examiner. Take some time to put down sub-headings and break it up into paragraphs.”
He also mentions here that while many aspirants devour newspapers all year round while preparing for the examination, he spent the three months he had before the mains reading the newspaper.
“I would advise aspirants not to spend the entire year making notes from a newspaper. It can be done during the three months before the mains to increase efficiency,” he says.
With these pointers in mind, we wish you all the best for the examination.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)