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Choosing Mathematics as an optional For UPSC Exam

Blog By Nitish K, IAS (Rank – 8, CSE – 2014)  Mathematics Optional In UPSC

Who can take Mathematics as an optional in UPSC ?

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Many aspirants called or messaged me saying that they have decided to or wanted to take Mathematics as optional in UPSC Mains Exam and asked me to share my strategy. When I asked them why they wanted to choose Mathematics Optional in UPSC, most of them told that it was because of good performance of Maths in recent years.

Is Mathematics Optional really performing well in UPSC recent years?

On the surface it might look that Maths is doing well. This time around 25-30 candidates have got in the range 290-310. But the problem with Maths optional is scaling. Due to scaling (I don’t know how UPSC does it), a very few numbers of candidates get high and remaining ones get very low. The ones who get high would have obviously done better than the rest. But due to scaling, difference in marks between the highest and the lowest increases drastically.

If the difference in correct attempts is say 60-70, then after scaling the difference becomes 110-120. Thus, in Maths, marks are binary. Either you get high or you get low. There are no average marks in Maths, unlike humanities optional. Therefore, one should not get attracted to Maths by marks obtained by a few successful candidates. A huge majority would have got very low marks in Maths. Thus, Maths is performing well for say around 10% and poor for 90%.

Who are the ones who usually take Mathematics as an optional in UPSC?

Many those who take Maths as optional come from reputed institutions like IITs, BITS and NITs etc. Due to this the competition is very high.

So back to first question, who can take Mathematics as an optional in UPSC?

I feel only those who are very strong in Maths and have genuine interest should take Maths. Unlike humanities optional which can be taken by anybody, Mathematics requires aptitude. As there is huge competition, unless one is at the topmost part of the pyramid, Maths would result in low marks. I have seen many people who take Maths in haste, waste attempts and later change optional.

Also See Can UPSC Exam Be Cleared in One Year’s Preparation

I was not from any IIT, BITS or NIT. Still I went for Maths because I felt I am good in Maths. Mine previous performance in Maths boosted my confidence. I had got 99/100 in 10th (CBSE), 100/100 in both 11th and 12th, 10/10 grade in all four semesters in Engineering Maths. This is not to boast about myself, but to press the point that Maths should be taken only if you have good track record in Maths.

Also given the complexity of topics and huge syllabus, I don’t think any coaching institute will be able to fully cover all the topics. I feel coaching has a limited role and own effort matters more.

Booklist and Strategy                                                     

Book List

Paper I

Strategy for Paper I:

Paper I being easier compared to Paper II, all the topics have to be covered in detail.

For Analytical Geometry, read all the solved examples given in above mentioned books. Regularly revise particularly skew lines, sphere, cone and conicoids. In many problems you would have to remember how to start the problem i.e. you would have to mug the approach to solve specific problems.

For Calculus, focus more on Calculus of many variables. This is well covered in Malik and Arora. Also many topics of Paper I and Paper II overlap, which can be prepared simultaneously from the above mentioned book.

In Statics & Dynamics, try to solve all the problems. You can leave very complex problems which are usually given at the end of every chapter.

Make formula sheet for every chapter and revise it regularly. Otherwise you might forget many formulas in exam.

Practice makes perfect. Try solving problems with pen and paper with book closed, instead of just reading.

Paper II :

Booklist and Strategy

Paper II

Strategy for Paper – 2:

Usually Paper II is tough for many. Hence if you are able to master it, then you will able to score very high compared to others

Abstract Algebra is a unique topic.

Either you like the topic or you don’t. In first case it will be easy otherwise very tough. I loved the topic and did not read it from exam point of view. If you are finding it tough, I would suggest you to do it from 10 markers point of view. There is no point in spending a lot of time on Abstract Algebra as you won’t be rewarded proportionately. The same time could be used for studying other topics of Maths or GS, which would fetch much more marks.

For 10 markers point of view, read books (a) and (b) mentioned above. Memorize all the theorems. Skip proofs of theorems which are big, particularly in Permutation groups, Cayley’s theorem, PID, Euclidean Domain and UFDs. On the other hand, if you are comfortable with Abstract algebra and want to do it in a detailed manner, I will shortly share various e-books, pdfs etc.

For Real Analysis

Malik and Arora is the best. You can supplement it by MD Raisinghania. I felt it is better to leave the proofs. Focus more on Riemann Integral, Improper Integrals and Series and Sequences of functions.

Linear Programming:

I feel books for MBA like JK Sharma are written more clearly that Krishna Series.

PDE: Even though not mentioned in syllabus, Charpit’s method has to be covered as questions are regularly asked. For Boundary Value problems (heat equation etc.) first read from Grewal. For more types of problems you should refer to book (c) mentioned above in the booklist.

Mechanics and Fluid Dynamics: From last year UPSC has started mixing questions from PDE, Numerical Analysis and Fluid & Rigid Dynamics. Therefore to score high it has become imperative to cover this topic. But the problem is the syllabus has been vaguely defined and there is confusion about which topics are there in syllabus. By analyzing past years question papers. I covered only the following topics. In Fluid dynamics cover Kinematics of Fluids in Motion, Equations of Motions of Inviscid Fluids, Sources and Sinks, Vortex Motion. No need to see proof of any theorems. From Navier Stokes equations, just try to see only solved examples. For Rigid Dynamics, cover those topics mentioned in booklist above.


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The fixed space for each question in Mathematics causes parcel of burden versus other discretionary, especially humanities. On the off chance that you committed an error while taking care of an issue and have devoured the greater part of the accessible space, at that point in spite of knowing the right technique you would not have space to redress your mix-up. To handle this, work on tackling issues and compose many counterfeit tests. By more noteworthy practice you will have the option to decrease unforced mistakes. Additionally if the issue is new or new, I used to quickly fathom it in the last page with pencil, later moving it to principle page.

A great deal of hopefuls face the quandary of how long to give for Maths contrasted with GS. There is no immovable standard. I used to give half of my time (say around 5 hrs for each day) for Maths and half for GS. Attributable to gigantic schedule of Maths, up-and-comers for the most part will in general disregard GS and Essay.

It is critical to finish in any event 80% of schedule before prelims. Likewise among prelims and mains, attempt to do the two Maths and GS regular. Try not to lose bit of Maths. The most recent one month before Mains is significant. During this period continue modifying equations and rehearsing issues.

Join Test Series program among Prelims and Mains. This encourages you to finish the prospectus as expected, gives you practice, improve your speed and precision and so on I had joined Venkanna’s (IMS) test arrangement multiple times (2011,12,13,14) and discovered them accommodating. I didn’t go to their homeroom training and went uniquely for test arrangement program.

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