I am sharing few thoughts about how to prepare for Public Administration (PA) optional in CSE. But before that, I want to share my marks in CSE-2014:
Total 956 – written 755 + interview 201
Gs 378 (98,95,81,104)
PA – 263 (160+103)
I will dwell upon PA strategy in detail after giving little bit of factual information about my performance in PA. CSE-2014 was my second attempt. In CSE-2013, I got 172 in Pub Ad (94 + 78). And this improvement in PA was not accidental or by luck, but I was confident that I will get around 100 marks more in PA this year. Yes, PA has become quite dicey in recent years due to its unpredictability and rising difficulty levels, but still there is method to madness.
Also, before starting out, I want to dwell upon whether one should take Public Administration as an optional or not as it may be helpful for many of the aspirants who may be in dilemma about it. While earlier PA was natural choice for aspirants, but in recent years it has become quite a tricky proposition. So, I am narrating both positive and negative aspects of PA as an optional, although balance is slowly tilting in favour of negatives in recent years.
- No other optional is as similar to work profile of IAS as PA. So, knowledge of PA immensely helps in one’s understanding about true nature of the job.
- New GS syllabus has taken out bits and pieces from many optional subjects, but I still believe PA syllabus has disproportionate overlapping with GS syllabus. Not only GS-2, where 60-70% syllabus is quite similar, but even some portion of GS3 (security, law & order), and substantial portion of GS4 can be prepared alongwith preparation of PA.
- Easy availability of material (although it may be biggest headache in PA’s preparation) and coaching & test series
- Uncertainty: Biggest negative of PA has become the uncertainty and inherent unpredictability in terms of types of questions asked, answer writing skills and number of marks given in exam.
- Scholar approach: Gone are the day when mere rote learning would fetch you good marks in PA. Now, UPSC demands conceptual understanding in PA in a far more refined manner and superficiality will not work anymore.
- Maximum marks still not comparable to other optionals: While many optionals have highest marks in range of 325-350, and even more may be, 282 (149+133) is highest marks this year (bravo Harshal), and mine may be second highest as far as I know.
Now, purpose of my write up here is to clear the mist and so much cluttering spread around PA’s preparation and to make you stay away from puerile efforts of going for everything and achieving nothing. Before any prescription, I am spelling out my sources and strategy, if there was any, for PA:
Firstly, I took coaching from Vajiram & Ravi for PA while I was doing job in Noida. The choice for coaching institute was purely for time scheduling reason, and not based on quality of coaching. And I must say, coaching of PA at Vajiram was quite average although I prepared class notes as all others did and it provided me a backup source for quick revision at any time. So, where ever you are taking coaching for PA, stick to it, prepare your class notes and rely on them for quick revision.
Secondly, there are many books in market for PA preparation. In the initial stages of my preparation, I read many books in bits and pieces, be it fadia and fadia, mohit bhattacharya, rajni arora, sharma sidana, maheshwari, class and printed notes from vajiram etc., but it made my preparation chaotic and biggest disadvantage was it deprived me of revision from any one source. So, in my second attempt alongwith my class notes, I made Aribam’s Paper1 and Paper2 as main source and revised both of them 3-4 times between prelims and mains. The most important key is the revision and book like Aribam is the ideal source due to its succinct coverage of syllabus in a comprehensive manner.
Thirdly, for Paper1, along with Aribam, Prasad and Prasad is must read and you should cover every scholar in it even though it may not come under Chapter2. For paper2, in addition to Aribam, Rajni Arora’s Indian Administration is sine qua non. It will provide you comprehensive details about most of the topics in Paper2 and read it as a story book written with lyrical flow rather than bothering about what I will remember or not. It will help you develop an understanding of issues not only from PA’s perspective, but also from overall administrative angle.
Fourthly, many people are asking about which test series to follow for PA. I have attended only Lukmaan Ias test series (karol bagh centre) so can’t have an opinion about other test series’. I wrote only 4 tests out of 14 in tests series and all of these from Paper1 and never wrote anything from paper2 in my preparation cycle in 2 years except 2 UPSC mains paper in Pub Ad (looking at my numbers in PA Paper2 I should have written some tests for Paper2, also it’s not a prescription for skipping writing practice as everybody has different preparation framework).
Despite not writing the full test series, I attended all 14 discussions of PA tests averaging around 4 hours per discussion. Now this 56 hour lecture in PA immensely benefitted me as the diversity, quality, difficulty and innovative level of question papers was quite good and I credit Salamuddin Ansari Sir for covering almost entire syllabus in a comprehensive question answer format in these 56 odd hours. I revised all the test papers and discussion classes during which I constantly wrote whatever was discussed, few times before mains exam. These discussions also changed my thinking process in Pub Ad as well as GS as to how to mould any concept and topic in QA format and quickly write a quality answer in limited time during real examination even if you have not read exactly about the topic (In fact my mains centre was Chandigarh and I came on 10th December to Delhi to attend last discussion of PA)
This combination of class notes, Aribam books, Prasad and Prasad, Rajni Arora, and any one good test series (lukmaan in my case) will substantially cover your syllabus and also simplify and unclog your preparation not only in PA but also in GS. Now, for any additional information on some topics you can always go back to many reports available on internet be it ARC, Punchhi, ministry reports etc, but stick to relevant portion and try to give preference to recommendations of these reports rather than reading every word of reports.
You may have noticed that I have not given chapter to chapter source of books, strategy or preparation schedule as many of you may have expected. It is a conscious choice as my purpose is to make your preparation for PA as simple as possible. I don’t want aspirants to follow some different approach for every chapter and carry different books and sources in your pockets for these like a mechanic carries his tools to repair a destroyed vehicle. PA is not mathematics and don’t make it one by applying different permutations and combinations for different topics. Prepare it like a story, a well written story whose protagonists have the necessary ability to adapt to changing framework of governance in different contexts.
Answer writing in PA:
After spelling out strategy for PA preparation, I am going to tackle the biggest challenge and sometimes even perceived fear in front of aspirants as to how to write good answers in PA (it may also help in GS).
But I must state here that everybody has different writing style, thought process, level of vocabulary, writing speed, legibility etc. So, there is no strait-jacket way of writing good answers. Personally, I have always been hesitant to write much and as I stated earlier, did not complete even 30% of any test series (both PA and GS). But I made sure that I followed some fundamentals in answer writing and this paid dividends.
There are few prerequisites for following these fundamentals:
- One must have basic understanding and knowledge of syllabus
- Remember and revise before jumping to answer writing
- Evolve some thought process as to how to link different topics with each other and also with current happenings. You can do this by thinking about that topic for as less as 1-2 minutes after reading it.
Now, coming to crux of the matter, what are these fundamentals (in my view):
- Understand the core of the question: first step is to carefully read and understand every word of the question. You should immediately know from what part of the syllabus the question is coming and what concept to apply, what inter-linkage to be done, and if possible how relevant the question is in practicality in current setting.
- Structuring of question: Many people are frightened to see the lengthy question and they jump to single sentence questions. But irony is that a long question most of the times presents structuring on platter, while single sentence require some innovation and thinking in structuring. Anyway, formula to know the structuring is to lay out a brief intro about the concept asked, build nice body having relevant content (more on this below) that must underpin and link the conceptual understanding to the context in which that question is asked, and then sum up with nice conclusion having futuristic, optimistic, practical and not overly-ambitious tone.
- Relevant content: There is difference between content and relevant content. While with decent preparation every aspirant can fill 1 or 2 pages for any question but point is whatever we are writing must be asked in question. It’s very good to expand and pay homilies to all and sundry but examiner will give no quarter if you are deviating from the question.
- How to write answers when you have not read that topic: In recent PA papers in UPSC, some questions were asked from topics that are very abstract and seem unimportant. Now, good answers still can be written in those questions if you understand the context in which the question has been asked and can apply conceptual understanding . E.g. In this year’s exam I attempted question on governance theory & notion of governmentality without mentioning name of Foucalt even once in answer as I did not know that it was given by him. Same goes with the strategic contingency theory question. But I knew the conceptual difference between theoretical perspective of governance and notion of governments in real time scenarios (this comes from extensive reading). In same way, I knew the concept of contingency theory and question demanded its application in a strategic manner which is again relevant in present economic, political, foreign policy context. I hope you people understand the subtlety in PA answer writing.
- Conclusion: Every answer needs a perfect end and good conclusion is beneficial in fetching more marks although not mandatory. But your conclusion must not look separate from your whole answer and must not look like that you have written it for the sake of writing a conclusion. In fact this happened with me to some extent in both essays when I look back in hindsight and it led to below average marks in essay (113).
- Capital letters, underline, legibility etc: I have never used unnecessary highlighting of answers, never reproduced statements of scholars verbatim as I never remembered them, never underlined the sentences in answers, and I have quite a poor handwriting. But despite these things, I scored good marks in mains. So, my personal belief is that UPSC examiner does read the answers comprehensively although all these special effects may enhance one’s marks by extra 10-20. But, I was too lazy to apply these. So, if you are habitual to these then well and good.
I have spelled out PA strategy in a manner that I thought would be useful to you although I could have made it more detailed, extensive, topic or chapter wise but these strategies are already available in previous years blogs of toppers and you can read, adapt, synchronize and follow any or all of these strategies according to your wisdom. I also admit that this write up may be far from comprehensive for PA preparation. But the purpose of your preparation in PA should be to aid your overall examination preparation and not to reach a condition where you have to choose between optional and other components of exam while preparing. So, keep calmness and simplify your process, and you are not left behind if you have skipped any one source which others may be following. Have faith in yourself, and have guts to choose your own path.
If still, you have any doubt, comment or drop a message here or on facebook, I will try to answer your queries.
In the end, I convey my best wishes to civil service aspirants and pray to Almighty that you may achieve your dreams.
Best of Luck!!!