In this post, we’ll discuss the questions that usually newcomers have about Political Science Optional. We’ve tried to include the most prominent questions but the list is not exhaustive. We welcome you to ask as many questions as you like in the comment section. We’ll also try to add them to the post.
Should I choose Political Science and International Relations (PSIR) as an optional subject for UPSC-CSE?
The first criteria to choose the optional is your interest. A very few students clear UPSC-CSE in their first attempt. You’ve to study the optional subject repeatedly. And hence, the first criteria should be your interest in the subject.
Political Science is certainly an interesting subject. It has a good mix of both philosophy as well as objectivity. It deals with day-to-day happening at both local and global level and is also very dynamic. The topics discussed are also very significant.
The next question is the syllabus of the subject. The PSIR syllabus is actually limited. There are four sections, i.e. 1A] Political Theory, 1B] Indian Government and Politics, 2A] Comparative and International Politics & 2B] India and the World. There are around 40 topics in all, and if one studies systematically, four months are enough to cover the syllabus.
Further, there is also a good overlap of the subject with General Studies. There is a lot in common in PSIR Section 1B and GS2 (although the approach needs to be slightly different). Section 2B also helps greatly in dealing with IR questions in GS2. The first two topics of 1B rely heaving on Modern Indian History, and the knowledge of various international organizations, treaties etc., certainly helps to answer a few questions in prelims.
PSIR also helps in essay writing, and at times direct questions are asked on Political Science topics. The philosophical aspects of political theory (section 1A) also aid the study of GS4 – ethics.
Political Science as an optional is not too technical or complex (though it has a lot of depth to it). Hence even a student without a humanities background can pick up very soon. There are many examples of students from engineering backgrounds choosing PSIR as an optional and then passing the exam with a good score in 1-2 years.
So, unless you’re disinterested in PSIR or in already love with some other optional, there is no reason to choose anything else.
What should be the strategy to prepare for Political Science [PSIR] optional?
Just like the subject, the strategy is not so complicated. What matters is how much one actually implements it.
For someone coming from a completely different background, I would suggest going through the entire notes once, regardless of you understand a thing or not. The first reading can be quick. The purpose is not at all to understand the subject but just to get acquainted with the broad picture.
Second reading onward, actually things will start to make sense. But don’t expect sudden improvement. When you’re new to anything, it takes some time to get to understand the basics. At times we don’t even know the meaning of terms that the authors take for granted, and therefore patience is the key to go ahead in the early period.
However, passion – and not patience is required to score in the subject. So actually, after a thorough reading 2nd time, you should start setting boundaries. In 3rd reading, you should fix the sources of your study. After this reading, you should have a fixed textbook or notes or a set of articles to study every topic/ subtopic in the syllabus.
It is also important to understand that in humanities, it is neither possible nor required to be 100% accurate. So never expect that you would have read every possible answer to every possible question. In the exam, if you’ve studied good enough, around 50-70 % of questions can be directly answered, while the rest you’ve to think of in real-time. So, there is a dynamic balance between being comprehensive and being practical.
After deciding the boundaries in 3rd reading and then again revising the material in the 4th reading, one can actually start answer writing. Although I am suggesting writing answers after the 4th reading, you should be referring PYQs from day one. The study on every topic should be accompanied by reading PYQs asked on it. This helps us understand what we’re looking for and sets the perspective. It is essential and should not be skipped at any cost.
Answer writing is more of an art than science. So, practice is most important. It is a rigorous task. If you’re studying on your own, every day you should write a fixed number of questions. You can start with as few as two questions a day. This can be followed by its review, either by the third person or self. Also, revisit your notes to see how the answer could have been improved. Making small improvements every day actually helps you to build your muscles.
For answer writing, you can also join some standard test series. But please ensure that the institute provides timely evaluation. When you get the evaluated sheet, you should accompany it by reading your notes and seeing how your answers could have been better written.
In the early period of answer writing, don’t worry much about time constraints. But you should gather pace as you go along. Also, you can further enrich your notes as you come across new things in this phase. But always remember the balance between being practical and being comprehensive.
The answer writing stage should go at least for a month (if it’s every day). In the end, you will not need more guidance. You will get enough maturity to improve on your own.
This stage should be followed by further revisions and writing practice, refining it as much as possible.
What are the standard books and references that should be used while studying PSIR optional?
We suggest starting with our notes. They’re freely available here. You can also buy the pdf version at https://products.politicsforindia.com
Additionally, you may refer to the complete booklist mentioned here https://politicsforindia.com/political-science-optional-psir-booklist/
Do one need coaching for PSIR optional? What is your opinion about famous coaching classes on the subject?
It is really an individual choice and preference. Some students do very well on their own and can figure out things when stuck. But there are also people who actually feel lost without a teacher. And it is difficult for them to move on at times. So, know yourself well and decide accordingly.
Classes also provide you with a peer group and a competition. If you’re entirely new to the subject, joining a coaching class also helps you avoid many of the beginner’s mistakes.
People have done well with and without classroom teaching.
I will not comment on various institutions. My experience is also limited about them. But keep one thing in mind – even after joining the coaching class, you have to study on your own. Don’t rely completely on teachers. Develop independent thinking and take your own decisions.
When should I be making micro-notes on the subject? And how exactly to make them?
The micro-notes should be prepared when you’re already done with the regular studies. In continuation of 2nd answer, one can make micro-notes after the 4th revision, just before beginning to write answers. These can be made mostly from the notes you’ve made, the points you’ve highlighted and the additional content you’ve written.
You may refer to the post https://politicsforindia.com/platos-political-thought/ based on which we’ve made the following notes
Athenian, imaginative, romantic, utopian, idealist, communist, feminist.
Plato’s concern: Athens, corruption, ignorance, money power, limited, permanent things.
Method: Socrates, dialectics.
Theory of soul/myth of metals:
1) reason – gold 2) courage – silver 3) appetite – copper.
natural inequality -> reason -> idea -> rulers -> kingdom of God.
matter vs idea
Sophists (realists) vs Socratic (idealists)
Allegory of caves
ignorance, teacher, reality, idea
reality is the shadow of an idea
Theory of Justice
Purpose: Athens, God’s idea of justice, reason,
Functional Specilization, Non-interference
Four cardinal virtues
Theory of Education
To achieve theory of justice
various education stages
“Those states are best governed where rulers are reluctant to govern.”
Criticism – human psychology
Theory of communism
It’s features – for rulers and soldier class, why not for producers,
Attack nepotism, corruption, eugenic purpose, women liberation,
Aristotle: Pragmatic, golden mean,
“one should not sacrifice good for the sake of best because best is unachievable.”
Plato is an enemy of Open Society.
1] Essentialism 2] Holism 3] Historicism.
“One can be either Platonic, or anti-Platonic, but can never be non-platonic.”
We’ve started with a few generic questions that students have about PSIR optional. But we’re sure there will be many more on your list. Our purpose is to give your a discussion forum. Please feel free to ask more questions and discuss them in the comment section below.
And, there is no one way to study Political Science. You’re always free to refer to the strategy suggested by other students or teachers. It is important to stick to your choice unless you’re giving it up for the better option.