IAS Mains 2020 Preparation Strategy for History Optional

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May 12, 2020

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Abanti Pramanik

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History is popularly chosen by IAS aspirants as an optional subject because it overlaps to a large extent with the general studies paper I as well as the prelims preparation. Hence, it becomes easier for candidates to plan their preparation time and schedule by choosing this subject. However, the syllabus is vast and requires rigorous study and effort to be prepared. On the positive side, it is very factual, and if you are able to memorize it well, history is a very scoring subject and helps to score a majority of the cut-off marks alone. Almost 40% of the history optional syllabus is common with the General studies syllabus, making the preparation much easier.

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Why choose Indian History as an IAS optional paper?

There are several practical reasons behind choosing History as an optional paper in IAS. As per the annual reports of UPSC, 1821 candidates in 2015 had chosen history as their option subject and 102 of these students qualified to the merit list which is a 5.6% success rate of this specific subject. In 2012, the success rate was 8.3%. It was 7.7% in 2013 and 6.5% in 2014.

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The advantages of choosing History optional in IAS Mains:

  • The subject is factual and plain and there are no concepts or theories that have to be understood in order to answer the questions.
  • The data and facts are fixed in history and hence it is a very static syllabus that never changes, giving the candidate a longer time span to study without worrying that the date will get updated in a few months or years.
  • A majority of questions come from history in prelims. It is approximately 18-20 questions which accounts for 36-40 marks.
  • In the GS-I, history has a share of over 50% marks.

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IAS Mains history optional syllabus

There are two papers in IAS Mains history optional. Paper-I is from early ancient history till the early eighteenth century while paper-II is from European penetration in India till the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990.

Paper-I- IAS Mains History Optional

The following are important topics under Paper-I of History optional:

  • Sources- Archeological sources, literary sources- indigenous, primary and secondary, foreign accounts.
  • Pre-history and Proto-history- geography, agriculture, the different ages
  • Indus valley civilization- origin, culture, society, important sites, features
  • Megalithic culture- developments of community life, agriculture, society, pastoral activities, industry outside Indus valley
  • Vedic and Aryans- expansion of Aryans in India, everything about the Vedic period and its significance
  • Mahajanapada- formation, Buddhism and Jainism, coinage, trade routes, the rise of Magadha and Nandas
  • Mauryans empire- the foundation of the empire and important kings and developments during their reign, disintegration, Sungas and Kanvas
  • Post-Mauryans Period- Indo-Greeks, Kushanas, Sakas, development of religion, Mahayana, contact with the outside world
  • Guptas, Vakatakas, and Vardhanas- Indian Feudalism, caste system, position of women, Nalanda, Vikramshila and Vallabhi, decline of urban centers, coinage by Guptas
  • Themes of early Indian cultural history
  • Early medieval India- Cholas, political development in Northern India and the origin of Rajputs, the status of Brahmins and condition of women
  • 750-1200- Shankar Acharya and Vedanta, Ramanuja, Madhva and BrahmaMimansa-Religion, Sufism, Al Beruini’s India, Tamil cults, growth of Bhakti and Islam and its arrival in India
  • 13th century- establishment of the Delhi sultanate, factors about the Ghorian Invasion, early Turkish Sultans, rule of Iltutmish and Balban
  • 14th century- Allauddin Khilji, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, Firuz Tughlaq
  • Society, economy, and culture in the 13th and 14th century
  • 15th an early 16th century- rise of provincial dynasties- Bengal, Kashmir, Vijaynagar Empire, Lodi, Mughal Empire, Sur empire, Portuguese Colonies
  • Akbar- Laws and reforms, conquests, consolidations, Rajput policy, court patronage, Art and culture
  • 17th century Mughal Empire-Administrative policies of Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, Ahom Kingdoms, Shivaji and rise of Maratha Kingdom, economy and society, condition of peasants, credit systems, evolution of the Sikh community and Khalsa Panth
  • 18th century- decline of the Mughal empire, Nizams, emergence of Afghans, 1761 Battle of Panipat

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Paper 2

  • European penetration and British expansion in India- the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French East India Companies, Carnatic Wars, the conflict between English and the nabobs of Bengal, battle of Plassey, Battle of Buxar, Mysore, Marathas, The three Anglo-Maratha wars, Punjab
  • Structure of early British raj- diarchy to direct control, Pitt’s India Act (1784), The Regulating Act(1773), Charter Act(1833)
  • Economic impact of colonial rule- Land revenue settlements in British India, The Permanent Settlement, Ryotwari Settlement, Mahalwari Settlement, Dislocation of traditional trade and commerce, Commercialization of agriculture, Rise of landless agrarian labourers, De-industrialisation, Famine and poverty in the rural interior, European business enterprise and its limitations, Decline of traditional crafts, Railroad and communication network including telegraph and postal services
  • Social and cultural development with special attention to the religious reform movement in Bengal and other areas
  • Early rebellions and response of Indians against the British rule- Rangpur Dhing (1783), the Kol Rebellion (1832), the Moplah Rebellion in Malabar (1841-1920), the Santal Hul (1855), Indigo Rebellion (1859-60), Deccan Uprising (1875) and the Munda Ulgulan (1899-1900), The Great Revolt of 1857
  • Rise of Gandhi, features of Gandhian Nationalism, the different movements and the beginning of the Indian National Movement
  • Constitutional development of India from 1858-1935
  • Muslim league, separatism, Nehru’s foreign policies,
  • Caste and religion after 1947
  • Economic development after 1947
  • Modern concepts of politics
  • Industrialization
  • Division of states based on language
  • Impacts of the World Wars on India
  • Unification of Europe
  • Disintegration of the Soviet Union

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Booklist for IAS History Optional paper

The following are some of the best reference books to follow for the preparation of IAS Mains History Optional:

  • Spectrum Modern India History
  • History of Modern World – Jain and Mathur
  • A History of ancient and early medieval India- Upinder Singh
  • Modern India- Bipin Chandra
  • Comprehensive history of Medieval India- Salma Ahmed Farooqui
  • Modern India from Plassey to Partition- Shekhar Bandyopadhyay
  • World History Modern Europe and the world- L Mukherjee (Norman Lowe for topics not covered in L Mukherjee)
  • Spectrum Culture Book
  • India After Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha
  • Mastering Modern World History -Norman Lowe
  • India’s Ancient Past – R.S. Sharma (Ancient History book for UPSC exam)
  • The Wonder That Was India – A.L. Bhasham (Ancient History book for UPSC exam)
  • From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India.
  • India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra.
  • Indian Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania

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Preparation Plan for History Optional Paper

As you can see, the syllabus is vast and everything you study for Prelims and GS is included but in a much more detailed format. Hence, it can be said that if you start your history optional preparation right away even before the prelims, it will help you to cover the syllabus for GS, Prelims and Optional papers successfully. Here are a few tips to cover the entire history syllabus in-depth and also tips to smartly answer the questions that will fetch the maximum marks:

  • It will take 4-5 months and dedicating 12 hours per week to history to cover the entire syllabus for optional papers. Hence start your preparation in a decent time and set a realistic goal that can be fulfilled.
  • Dates are important and they can be the most confusing. Hence when you are studying one section or topic, simultaneously make short notes of the dates and the events. These can be later used for revision right before the exam. If your facts are correct, forming a long answer in the flow of writing will not be very difficult.
  • Practice writing long-format answers and emphasise the economic dimensions and sustainability factors of any historic event that the question is based on. Your ability to analyze the event based on these factors is particularly judged by the examiners.
  • Go through and solve the previous years’ question papers of IAS Mains to get a vivid idea about the question pattern and trends of the exam.
  • Stick to a choicest few books for reference when you are preparing for IAS History Optional. NCERT is the ideal choice for giving you a basic idea about the chronology of Indian history from ancient times to post-independence India. Reference books are for going in-depth about the events. Hence, choose a few books which cover the entire syllabus for paper-1 and paper-2 rather than too many books which leads to more confusion.

Check Best Books For UPSC CSE Prelims Exam 2020

  • When you are taking notes on a specific topic or section try to divide your notes into the following parts and create point-wise gist under each subheading.
    • Period, and date of the event
    • Causes of the event
    • Impact of the event on the socio, political, economic scenario of the contemporary time
    • Significance and its interconnection to subsequent future events
    • Criticisms by notable historians
    • Achievements if any
    • Conclusion with your analysis in terms of sustainability of the event, economy and how far it is relatable and useful in the present day scenario
  • Specifically, in the Indian national movement, the events are interconnected and one leads to the other. You will have to recognize these links and use them at your advantage when you are answering the paper.
  • When you pick up one topic, complete it thoroughly before you move on to the next to avoid confusion with timelines. For example, if you are studying ancient Indian history, dedicate the entire week’s 12hours to this topic until you finish it entirely before you move on to medieval history.
  • Make separate lists for the following topics that you simultaneously should study- it will also help you to cover objective type questions for the Prelims.
    • date and events for ancient, medieval, and modern history
    • art, sculpture- date, site of excavation or finding, maker/artist, significance
    • travellers, journals, literary sources, authors
    • religious figures and their doctrines
    • literature and author in modern pre-independence India
    • newspaper, editors
    • governor-general, acts, purpose, year
    • industrial development, administrative buildings, architecture-year-under which viceroy/governor-general
    • political parties- founder and founding year
    • sessions of Indian National Congress- year, location, significance
  • Use sticky notes- you will see as you take notes every day while studying, the bulk gets bigger and you cannot find these notes easily by the end of 4-5months right before the exam. When you are taking notes on a particular topic, mark the page with sticky notes mentioning the topics on it so that you do not have to scan the entire copy to find the necessary notes in the last moment.
  • Practice map pointing and especially study the map of undivided India as questions are asked in a rather tricky manner and a thorough knowledge of the kingdoms and provinces will help you come up with the best answers.
  • If you take note of the question pattern of history optional, you will find that questions are rather tricky and in order to answer, you have to grasp the point the examiner wants to draw out through the question.
  • While writing answers of the IAS history optional, follow and strategic flow- start with a crisp and informative introduction, an analytical body of the answer which is to-the-point and also shares neutral but new perspective on the topic and a conclusion that focuses more on the relevance of the topic to the present scenario.

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With the IAS Prelims 2020 yet to commence and likely to be postponed from its original date of May 30, 2020- aspirants have a lot of time to cover the syllabus if they have taken History optional. The key is an effective time management strategy and find out how you can cover more of the syllabus for Prelims, GS and Optional in the minimum possible time. We hope our suggestions shared above have helped you find a way out for your study-plan and wish you all the best for the upcoming exams!

*The article might have information for the previous academic years, please refer the official website of the exam.

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