UPSC IAS TOPPER, Saurabh Dixit

Sociology Optional Strategy (289 Marks)

AIR 162, CSE 2016

First Attempt, No Coaching

Read the Part-1 Here : Preparation Journey and General Strategy

Read the Part-2 Here Prelims Strategy

Read the Part-3 HereGS Mains Strategy

Optional subject in CSE is of utmost importance and plays a deciding role in your selection.

Let’s quickly discuss what factors should one keep in mind while choosing an optional. Firstly, your comfort with the subject matter is most important. People tend to be more comfortable with subjects they’ve a background in, or the subjects whose syllabus has topics on which students are opinionated.

Likewise, you should do just two checks when deciding an optional. Will you be comfortable in writing answers to the questions asked (in past year Mains(w) paper) and how many times can you revise the optional (basically length of syllabus) before the final exam.

There are other things to keep in mind when choosing an optional, but if you’ve already read a couple of blogs earlier, you know what they are.

Let’s come to the relevant part: how did I prepare Sociology. I must first give you a timeline of my preparation.

In Part 1 of article I had mentioned I started preparation in December 2015. Sociology preparation, however needed little more homework. I knew I had no time to loose, doubting my decision of optional was not an option. If you’ve read Part 1 you already know how I ‘prepared for CSE preparation’.

I looked up for reading material list, blogs etc. and found these most helpful:
1. Kshitij Tyagi’s blog: (for paper 1)
2. Tanvi Sundriyal’s blog: (for paper 2)

I had read at least a dozen blogs on Sociology preparation and made a list of reading sources – the ones which were common in all these blogs. They were broadly:

  • Harlombos & Holborn Vth Edn (paper 1)
  • BK Nagla (Indian thinkers)
  • IGNOU – most important – it has almost all things that are required and asked in CSE. The tough task is to find what’s to be read:
    • For this, make a folder in your laptop, number them according to syllabus like 3(a), 7(b) and keep all files from IGNOU dealing with particular syllabus index in that folder. Just by doing this exercise, you’ll be ahead of others. You will know what the syllabus is, and shall help you in framing multidimensional answers. I have discussed with an example later in the post.
    • Finding out all relevant chapters took me some 4-5 days, considering I gave 2 hours (initially) each day reading Sociology NCERT and searching for material
    • Once this is done, do nothing more. Just start reading, make short notes out of IGNOU and revise them when the exam/test series is nearing
  • CEC UGC lectures – JNU/DU teachers have taken lectures here, so you know what’s required to attain a humanities honors’ level understanding ( ) [YouTube hack : always view these lectures or any video at 1.25x/1.5x speed, over few months you end up saving time]
  • Modernization of Indian tradition (Y Singh – selective reading depending what questions have been asked earlier)
  • Rural Sociology – Doshi & Jain – a good read
  • There are topics in syllabus where not all things are available in one place. I used to read (a) and (b) , for those topics
  • I also bought books like ones written by Ram Ahuja, etc but do not recommend them. The sources I’ve mentioned should be sufficient to land you above 300 in Sociology.
  • NCERT Class XI, XII (neglect them and you’re doomed)

Make short notes for revision. I made 200-250 words write up on each syllabus topic. Most questions are so direct (e.g., Karl marx’ mode of production, Sociology and common sense) that you just need to blurt out what you’ve written.

When you save time by doing what’s discussed above, you can write better answers for 20 markers. They need to be analysed and presented in a better way. So, it takes time. I remember, I was so ruthless in the exam. I started writing with first question and ended up only when the time was over. (This is not to say that you should write BS in answer sheet).

Another important thing – Optional has choice in questions. Your choice can make or break the game. Be very thorough with this decision.

Now comes the question whether to read from some hand-written coaching notes, or from some topper’s notes etc. It depends. I don’t like to read what other people have written. I consider note-making as a very personal thing.

What I don’t like in theory, I won’t include it in my notes and thus won’t write it in exam. There could be things I know (like you know square root of 4 is 2), so these things also won’t go in ‘my’ notes. But a person who’s solely relying on these notes is likely to miss out on few things.

Also important here is to know that your understanding of Sociology is put to test in Mains(w) examination.

Things need to be understood to the core and you need to have the ability to recall points in systematic form, in the exam hall. This can be done only by multiple revisions.

Exploit your strengths. My strengths are memory and analytical presentation.

My model answers: around 100 marks of questions (in each paper) compulsorily require you to write answers with a sociological perspective. So ,what’s this sociological angle? Let me explain it with an example:

Question 5(b), Paper 2, CSE 2016: MGNREGA for rural development.

A general studies answer would include things like the daily wages given, focus of the scheme (poverty alleviation, infrastructure etc), the budget, DBT helping the workers.

However, question wants you to give a wider – sociological – angle. Here’s what I recall having written in my answer: MGNREGA helps the poor in rural setting, it stops migration, when migration reduces the children of workers can go to school, and not be forced into child labour, it has given more bargaining powers to the workers (recall Jajmani system?) and has thus improved social status of workers most of whom come from deprived castes and classes, position of women (half of our society) improves, when workers stay home and earn they’ve a happy family/marriage.

The words in bold are the words mentioned as is in syllabus. I hope you get a picture on how and what to write in such questions. Again, use your own judgment.

How to make notes for Sociology, and include current affairs?

I’ll try to explain again with an example.

Question 2 (c), Paper 1, CSE 2016: Is sociology common sense? Give reasons for your answer.

This is a question, often repeated and is a direct one straight from syllabus [see mains syllabus Paper 1- 1(c)].

The general idea as to why Sociology isn’t common sense is given in Class XI NCERT. I made that note. However, for extra marks you need to apply your own understanding/reading at the society. How to do that? Read:

So, a common sense answer for reason of divorce would be dispute between spouse, impotency etc (as seen or portrayed in media generally). But in order for Sociology to not be called/regarded as common sense, it should function on data, statistics, laws (howsoever vague). And thus, as found in Delhi HC records (given in the link above), reason of present divorce reasons suggests problems with in-laws a major reason (which common sense could not suggest).

I hope this example makes you understand, how newspaper reading helps in Sociology. I have got a humble 153 marks in Paper I, so I am positive that the examiner liked my copy. If you use your faculties in best possible way, you can score even better.

All the best.

– Saurabh Dixit, AIR 162

(“ForumIAS is the best platform to help students in today’s era”, says the UPSC Topper)

UPSC Mains Scorecard

Below is the Mains Scorecard:

mains Saurabh Dixit upsc



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