Topper’s strategy for Economics Optional- Abhijeet Sinha, AIR 19, UPSC CSE 2017

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Mar 4, 2021

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Abhijeet Singha had ranked 19 in the IAS (UPSC CSE) 2017. The optional paper chosen by him was economics. Though he graduated in Electrical Engineering in 2016, he opted for this subject out of interest developed while reading the economics sections in the newspapers. He cracked the exam on his second attempt and over the course of this time, developed substantial experience in tackling economics as an optional subject.

During his, first attempt, he has one of the lowest marks in the Economics optional which is 218. It was the only reason behind him, not being able to qualify for the final list. This may have happened because Economics was an entirely new subject for him and also because of his IAS Mains preparation strategy shortcomings. He believes not taking personal notes, and not solving previous year’s questions had been the major flaws during his first attempt.

Here, based on his experiences with the exam- both good and bad, he has shared some of his advice and strategies for future aspirants who wish to take up economics as an optional.

Preparation strategies adopted for Economics Optional

  • Solve the questions papers of the past 5-10 years thoroughly as many questions are repeated. Standard questions and answers are not easily available but you can always look for past solved papers by seniors to get an idea about the answer writing style.
  • Practice all the diagrams and flowcharts relevant to the subject. The income effect and substitution effect on the labor supply curve can be rather tricky even though it looks very simple.
  • Focus on the syllabus carefully, especially the different key terms. For example, question 6a of paper-II in IAS (UPSC CSE) 2017 simply said to explain poverty schemes and their performances. The question’s structure was exactly the same as how it was mentioned in the syllabus. Someone who has stuck to the syllabus throughout their preparation very precisely will be able to answer it easily.
  • Make your own notes while you study the optional syllabus. Relying on notes made by your coaching or tutor will not give you an in-depth understanding of the subject. Writing your notes will also help you remember the concepts better. Use the coaching notes only for guidance purposes. Moreover making a habit of writing the notes will also help you to frame better answers.
  • For paper-I opt for reference books by Indian author’s which have much more insight, specifically on the main topics. Key terms and definitions are best prepared from these resources.
  • Revision is important especially for Paper-II which has topics to be memorized. Start the preparation right after prelims so that you have enough time to complete 4-5 revisions.

Tips to write better answers

  • Refer a lot of data and quoting names of economists whose work is relevant for the answer you are writing can fetch you better marks.
  • Make the answers very concise and to-the-point. Frame them such that all key points are covered and can be easily understood by the examiner.
  • Interlink topics from Paper-I with paper-II to enrich your answers further. Take up actually case studies to substantiate your answer. If you can find relevant cases from current affairs, that can fetch you extra points.
  • Make your answers more presentable- simply switching to pencil and scale while drawing the graphs or using a different colour pen to highlight your answers can make a lot of difference in your presentation.
  • Discuss your answers with your peers, seniors and tutors at coachings if any, to find out their insights about how to approach the question and get more ideas about writing the answers.

Other key pointers:

  • Going through the mathematics section of economics is not as important while preparing for economics. Focus should be on diagrams and the concepts specifically.and you must master them well.
  • The first 5-15 minutes should be used to identify the questions which you want to attempt. Questions are often very tricky and it takes time to understand what is the exact answer expected of you. When you later find you are short of facts or points while writing an answer a lot more time gets wasted.
  • Do not let anyone demotivate you that economics is not an easy option. irrespective of the subject you are choosing, with proper study and preparation plan you can ace it easily. If you enjoy economics as a subject and have confidence in your understanding, then it is the right choice for you.

Best books for IAS Mains Economics Optional

Optional Paper-I

  • Micro Economics- Primarily follow Ahuja and find out what is important and what can be skipped by going through the previous years’ questions. If you find questions from a specific chapter frequently over the years, then it is important.
  • Online notes and summaries of the concepts in Micro Economics can be useful to clarify your concepts.
  • Macro Economics and money banking- Follow Froyen for all the major concepts in the syllabus. For definitions and terms refer to Ahuja.
  • International economics is best available from Salvatore.
  • Thirlwall covers the growth and development-related topics thoroughly. For the terms and definitions, you can study from Jhingan.
  • Public finance can be studied well from Musgrave. The book by Bhatia has all the definitions and the terms relevant to this topic.

Optional Paper-II

  • Taking a topic-by-topic approach is a smarter take on this specific paper than going through the entire syllabus. Again, this is possible when you know which topics are commonly asked every year by going through previous years’ questions.
  • Make your own notes while using senior aspirants who have cracked the exam with economics as their optional, for guidance.
  • References from Mishra and Puri and Uma Kapila’s books can be useful for this paper.

All these together helped Abhishek Singha get 288 out of 500 for both the papers on his second attempt which was enough to help him secure a rank in the final list. The key is to study every topic in the Economics Optional Syllabus that is important while understanding the concept thorougly and have a basic concept of the topics which are less common.

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