Interview with Piyush Choubey about preparing POLITICAL SCIENCE OPTIONAL FOR IAS MAINS
1. What are the basic criteria’s of choosing an optional subject? What are the major advantages of political science ?
The basic criteria to choose an optional subject is simply based on two considerations. First, the subject should evoke interest in the aspirant and secondly it should have maximum convergence with GS syllabus so that optional preparation should rather help in GS preparation instead of reducing time for the latter. This is one of the most beneficial aspects of Political Science since it has direct overlap of nearly 40% with GS syllabus and overall convergence is more than 65% of whole GS syllabus. Once a student has finished Political Science preparation, he is already prepared content wise for the whole GS-2 paper and needs to only practice answer writing as per the tone and trend of questions. Political science covers topics included in Prelims syllabus with weightage of nearly 8-10 questions and keeps the aspirant updated about events of national and international importance till the personality test stage. Its presence at every stage of examination ensures that it is more of asset than a burden on GS preparation.
2. International Relations is one of the most dynamic portions of UPSC syllabus. How will you suggest students to prepare for this section?
International relations requires a holistic understanding of the events and issues at global level and rote based approach is simply not useful and in fact counterproductive. Good marks in this section both in GS and in political science can only be attained with ability to interlink various international developments with each other. This should be accompanied by a comprehensive study of nature of foreign policy of the key players like India, Russia, USA and China. Students need to develop their knowledge by regularly reading journals, newspapers and IR magazines. Relying only on study material available in the market or one or two books will simply not develop the depth and flexibility needed to score good marks. An understanding based approach on IR will also help a lot in Essay and Personality test where aspirants own analysis of international events will be required. My advice is to students is expand their sources of study and always try to keep a balance between factual and analytical content. It is very essential for students to have some idea about the history of events in a region in order to understand the present behaviour of players in the region for example West Asia, Central Asia and Africa.
3. What is the best strategy to deal with the Political Science since it has a good combination of both static and dynamic aspects in both papers?
Political Science contains static portions such as Political thought and theories of IR along with very dynamic portions like Indian Government and Politics and International Relations. Most students spend a majority of their time and effort in preparing the static aspect especially Western Political thought. Students need to give equal importance to all the sections and keep in mind the dynamic nature of Paper 2. One needs to focus on the pattern of questions being asked and figure out the most important topics especially in case of IR and IGP. Students need to compulsorily include views of eminent thinkers and scholars in all the papers and need to avoid their own views. Also answers in IGP and IR section need to have a good balance between factual and analytical content. For static portions related to Thought and Theory, a good understanding of the concepts is much more essential than simply mugging up the content. Consulting good books for each part of syllabus along with IGNOU study material is a must. Answer writing practice based on strictly timed tests is indispensable for success in Political Science.
4. What specific advice will you give to beginners and experienced candidates separately? What should be one's approach if he/she wants to score above 300?
Beginners should not jump directly to readymade material available in the market. Instead they should avail expert guidance available and also refer to at least 2-3 good books on each part of syllabus. Once they have developed a basic understanding of the syllabus then they should start answer writing practice and get their answers evaluated by expert faculties. One to one discussion with teacher on structure, flow and organization of answer is crucial for new aspirants. Rushing through syllabus should be avoided and one should focus more on quality of understanding than completing syllabus in a short span of time.
For experienced candidates
Aspirants who are aiming to increase their scores further should first join a good test series program which provides them quality and timely evaluation, something which can be done only by experienced faculty. Based on the evaluation, the aspirant needs to identify his/her particular areas of strength and weakness and work accordingly. Personal guidance and interaction is very crucial at this stage since I have observed that for experienced candidates it is seldom the problem of content, instead it is the poor structuring and presentation which is resulting in low marks. Aspirants at this stage need to master the art of knowing what to include in their answers and what to avoid. Instead of searching for new sources of content, one should focus on improving one’s problem by regular answer writing.
How to get more than 300 marks?
Getting marks above 300 requires a consistent and disciplined approach towards the syllabus. Comprehensive coverage of syllabus instead of selectively picking topics from syllabus is the first step. Even less frequently asked topics should be well prepared. Frequently appearing questions should be prepared well in advance. One needs to rigorously follow a good test series and should aim to for consistent improvement in his/her scores as the series progresses. Early start to preparation and long exposure to examination pressure via writing tests along with following the suggestions provided by faculty after evaluation of each test will certainly help in this.
5. What mistakes do you think aspirants should avoid while preparing for this subject in particular?
Some of the common mistakes that I have observed among majority of aspirants are:
- Too much emphasis on Western political thought, sometimes at cost of even whole Paper 2.
- Underestimating the importance of Indian political thought specially thinkers like M.N. Roy, Aurobindo and Ambedkar.
- Unnecessary reliance on notes available in the market and not referring to standard books and IGNOU study material. This results in aspirants being unprepared in scenarios where UPSC opts for a dynamic and unconventional pattern of questions.
- Not paying enough attention to views of scholars and commentators, and instead using their own views in answers.
- In IR, over reliance on routine content and not being updated with recent events of geo-strategic and geo-political importance. Lack of inter-linking and holistic understanding in IR results in below average marks.
- Lack of factual date and examples in answer especially of IR and IGP and providing a generic analysis when the question is on a very specific issue or topic.
- Finally, lack of answer writing practice and in depth discussion and feedback from expert faculty resulting in lack of improvement in weak areas.
6. At last, how exactly can an aspirant gain also in General studies from his preparation of political science?
Aspirants generally make the mistake of dealing with prelims, Mains and optional preparation separately. Political science has the unique merit that its preparation provides rich dividends even at the prelims stage unlike any other optional. I always advise students to study Indian Government and Politics simultaneously with preparing Indian polity section. This not only ensures that there is no duplication of efforts and wastage of time but it also keeps the momentum going on since the knowledge of actual events of Indian politics keeps the interest of the student alive in Indian constitution as well. Exactly same strategy is suggested for IR section i.e. a common content based approach towards IR questions in Prelims, GS Mains and Optional. In fact , it is highly advisable to wrap up one’s Pol Science syllabus before jumping completely into GS preparation since this ensures that the student is already quite familiar with at least 65% of syllabus and his/her GS-2 paper for Mains is also covered beforehand. With so much convergence between GS-prelims , GS – Mains and optional, the only thing needs to be taken care of is modulating one’s knowledge as per the type and word length of the question asked.
7. What exactly is your teaching approach towards the subject and how is it any different from other guidance available in the market?
Over last few years, I have interacted with thousands of students personally including some of the top-rankers and based on this interaction I have developed a very dynamic and student centric strategy of guidance. My intention is always to ensure that each student receives a guidance which is intrinsic and unique to his/her problem and not a generic bag of tips and tricks. I do not adhere to the strategy of selective teaching (something becoming more common day by day) but I rather focus on complete and comprehensive coverage of syllabus which simply each and every topic no matter how small or easy, should be taught in a detailed and lucid manner in the class.
Then it is followed by in-depth discussion on complicated issues and questions where I actively encourage students to develop their independent opinion and I keep correcting them in a friendly manner as they progress. Though this is a tiresome process for me as a teacher, but this ensures that my students are ready in the examination against even the most unpredictable and dynamic questions. Since their learning has been shaped by articulated debate and discussion, their answers always show a balanced viewpoint, something indispensable for getting good marks.
We at GS-SCORE have a very capable and experienced content development team and every year we keep on revising and updating our content as per the dynamic nature of question paper. In spite of my high academic credentials, I still take out some time every day to study the subject’s latest developments and I always ensure that I am well prepared for any doubts raised by students in the class. I ensure that as the class proceeds, students are regularly given practice via class tests and their given a feedback on their performance on one to one basis.
As a teacher I always make an endeavour to develop ability in my students to interlink various topics in all sections of syllabus. This ability is suitably tested by our Test series program where students are thoroughly evaluated only by me not only on their content but also on their structuring, presentation and organization of the answer. Any student who requests a one to one interaction is also provided the same by Institute. Overall, my approach is balanced mixture of interaction-based teaching, careful monitoring of progress of students along with personal and detailed guidance for answer writing.
Piyush Choubey is a renowned faculty who teaches POLITICAL SCIENCE for IAS EXAM AT GS SCORE, an institute for civil services preparation based in Delhi.