Economics Optional Strategy
Economics is a subject that offers a very fine balance of theory and practical work in the form of diagrams, graphs, data, contemporary examples of government schemes. It is not so popular among aspirants because of fears or doubts regarding basics and lesser availability of notes/coaching. This is an attempt to simplify above issues.
At the onset I must admit that I have a background in economics and have studied this since 12th standard through graduation (BA hons) and work experience ( ET). Both of my parents are post graduates in Economics and I believe that it comes naturally to me. But I also believe that this subject is so interesting and relevant that anybody can score well with a balanced approach.
If you don’t have any background in this subject and want to take this, my advice for you is:
Keep a frame of 4-5 months to cover it. Firstly, start with Ncert book of class 10 social science (few chapters) then 11 & 12 Ncert. This will cover the basics very briefly and quite holistically. Also, start relating these basics to economy news when you read the newspaper everyday. For example: if you read about GDP and how it is measured. Then you should try to relate the news stories related to GDP growth and methodology from that perspective.
Once your basics are clear,the real preparation begins.
Then, study the syllabus of UPSC. This will help you zero in a compact booklist. This is what I followed:
For microeconomics Hal r Varian
Macroeconomics graduation reading ( Dornbusch and Fischer)
For public economics Musgrave.
For international economics Paul Krugman (it’s the best).
For growth and development, Debraj ray (it’s explains the theories in a lucid manner).
For money, I referred Delhi University reading. Some concepts I studied in detail from the internet.
You can choose Indian authors, if that suits you better.
As you read the books you may face difficulty in understanding. At such moments, refer the internet. Study a simpler version. Understand what its essence is. Then go back to it. If it is still too complex, leave it. Stick to the simpler version and make a small note of it.
Remember that though UPSC provides a syllabus but there is no course book. So you can answer in any way that you are comfortable with as long you don’t change the very essence of the theory or topic at hand.
In economics paper this year, there were ample questions related to incomplete information and market mechanism. This could be because the Nobel prize in Economics was given for contract theory. It is important to understand such possibilities and prepare all areas.
For paper 1, I also referred a book for UGC Net examination which covers master level course very briefly for revision. I used this book to qualify JRF. I liked it so much that I also revised it before mains 2016. It helped because honestly, there are many such topics mentioned or not mentioned directly in the syllabus which are asked and are not explained well in standard textbooks. So, one should have a brief idea of it. In worst case scenario, if the paper is skewed (as it was last year) or say unexpectedly difficult, one can attempt such questions.
Generally, paper 1 is scoring because if you know a concept or theory being asked in the question you will get the marks provided you write it well.
What’s with ‘write it well’ ? See, some of the rules that apply to general studies paper, apply to optional as well. Number one, please write in an organised manner. Really long paragraphs and complex sentences should be avoided.
You would think that optional would demand sounding like we are expert economists. So, complex definitions and statements are good. But no! You really know something (anything) when you can explain it in the simplest way. But of course, use Economics terms. That is indispensable but explain in a simple organised way.
2.State the Crux of the theory in the beginning and then go about explaining it. Not the other way.
3.Make diagrams wherever possible.
4.Try to bring in examples from Indian economy in paper 1.
5.Write in points, underline key phrases.
All of this will make it easier for the examiner to understand in one glance the main highlights of your answers.
For paper 2 Indian economy, starting point is the Ncert book for class 11. Thereafter, Mishra and Puri is a good book. I did not read Sundaram, so can’t comment on it.
Uma kapila can be used for some topics like capital formation. It is an extensive book and hence should be read selectively.
Pre independence, TK Roy and other articles from Delhi University reading on Indian Economic history.
Then pre liberalisation from standard books mentioned above and internet articles to understand different perspectives and international comparison of such policies.
Post liberalisation, same and recent years largely from EPW articles, newspapers and lots of internet surfing.
(Note: if you want to refer some coaching notes, do so for this paper. I would not recommend reading coaching notes for paper 1 though.)
How to approach it?
This paper is not like GS 3. In that, we write a generalist’s view. But in eco paper 2, one needs to write a specialist view.
The best example of it is the Economic survey. It is a treasure house of facts and how theory relates to economy.
Also, try to write in points wherever possible.
Use a lot of data to support your points.
Use examples from newspapers. Make a repository of such examples when you make notes.
Try to include flowcharts to explain your points.
Make graphs to show a trend of some data figures if it’s relevant to the question.
Have a balanced approach. Don’t write a biased viewpoint say from a very socialist angle or very liberal/ capitalist view. Include all perspectives, factors and their repercussions.
Answer writing practice is very important for both papers. Previous years questions can be attempted in time bound manner.
They may also be repeated.
On the whole, to score well in any subject you need to know it and you should be able to explain what you know in a reader friendly manner. The same applies to Economics.
Wish you All the very best.