Choosing the right optional subject can be a game-changer in your UPSC CSE. IAS officer Varun Reddy, who secured All India Rank 7 in 2018, strongly believes this and his trajectory is proof.

Currently serving as the Collector at Nirmal, Telangana, he recalls switching from geography to maths as his optional subject, which he says played an important role in clearing UPSC in his fifth attempt.

The IIT-Bombay computer science graduate chose geography for his first two attempts. Even though he made it to the interview stage in his first attempt in 2013, he calls it a “directionless attempt”.

“While geography contributed to my interview that year – in retrospect, it was a bad decision to pick geography. I should have picked maths,” he says.

He shares these tips for future aspirants:

Varun believes that math helped him score higher and that it took less time to prepare and revise.

1. Choose An Optional That Can be Prepared & Revised Fast

“If you put ‘x’ number of hours preparing for math, you can rest assured of getting a good result. All it requires is good syllabus planning before you,” he says.

He adds that Math should not take up more than two whole days for your final revision, if you have prepared a formula sheet to revise.

Every aspirant gets tempted to study from multiple resource materials. However, Varun, having made that mistake, advises against it.

2. Limited resources and maximum practice

“Do not get tempted to pick up an extra book or resource material. Try to keep the resource books you chose for the prelims and mains common.”

Attempt mock tests and essay questions. “This will improve one’s hold on the subject a great deal. Practice can only help you get better,” he says.

After his first two attempts, Varun changed his environment, and moved to a new locality and away from his comfort zone.

3. Shake things up

This also led to him changing his optional paper and his entire approach to the exam.

Varun studied in a library, which he says “induced a sense of seriousness”. Seeing everyone around study hard pushed him to work harder, he adds.

4. Pick a study environment that works for you

“Being in a library also has another advantage. One is away from all electronic gadgets and the disturbance that it causes. The silence is also great and adds to better self-control while studying,” he adds.