UPSC Mathematics Optional for IAS and IFoS

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Preparation Strategy for Mathematics (Optional) by Bhavesh Mishra AIR-58(CSE-2014)

IAS 2014 Successful Student AIR 58Why Maths?
  • Simply because it is the best performing optional subject in UPSC/IAS.
  • Extremely high scoring: If you get your maths optional right then you will make it to the final list. This year one of my batch mate in IMS Nitish K (Rank 8) has got a mind boggling 346 marks.

Certainty: If you have attempted your paper well then you are sure that you will get good marks. For example this year just by attempting 400 marks paper you could get a decent 260+ marks. Even if you don’t get good marks in first attempt but you can be sure that you will increase your marks in subsequent attempt(s).

Fun: Mathematics is a delightful subject and therefore doing maths takes you away from somewhat boring humanities.

Good Impression: The fact that you have taken Maths makes a good impression on interview board members
(it happened in my case !). They are very pleased to see that you have opted for a tough optional.

Easy paper: The difficulty level of paper is quite moderate and almost all questions are directly picked from the IMS Test Series / Standard Textbooks.

Who should take it?
  • Anyone who has done B.Tech / M.Tech / B.Sc / M.Sc and has an interest in Maths.

Myths around science subjects: Coaching institutions have mastered the art of brainwashing students and creating an atmosphere of gloom and doom around science subjects. There are lots of myths circulating among students. Let’s bust these myths.

Maths optional is only for students from IITs: Definitely not. Anyone willing to put in hard work can easily score very high marks. The best example being Nitish K (Rank 8) who is not from any IIT.

There is heavy scaling: Let the data speak for itself. I attempted 240 marks in Paper 2 and got 170 marks. Now would you call it a scaling?

It plays no role in GS: Yes it’s true that science optional subjects don’t overlap with GS but it’s equally true that GS has never been a rank decider in UPSC IAS.

There are 3 major things that decides your rank: Essay, Optional and Interview. Even if one puts in 5 years of efforts in GS the advantage in terms of marks would be around 30 marks or so but 1 year of dedicated effort in maths would give you 50+ marks advantage straightaway.

Do’s and Dont’s

Practice, Practice and Practice. The key to success in maths is filling up as many notebooks as you can, during the preparation stage. The more you sweat during preparation the less you will bleed in the battlefield!

Don’t read Maths book / notes like GS. It is a recipe for disaster. Rather always study with pen, paper and calculator.
While solving examples don’t jump to see solution first. Try giving your best shot and after making sure that you are not able to solve it using your present knowledge then only look at the answer. This will ensure that better retention.
Generally we make lots of silly mistakes while solving a question. It is best to catch these errors early and not repeat them in exam hall. The best strategy for this is to maintain a notebook of errors that you usually commit and their mitigation measures. For example, I commit a lot of mistakes when doing Integration by parts and usually the error involves missing negative (-) sign etc. Therefore whenever I come across such type of question I try to devote extra 1 minute to re-check all my steps. is the best online resource for preparation. You can create an account and get your maths questions answered within minutes.

Why did I score only 262?
Among all the students in the final list who had Maths as an optional, I have scored the least. My paper – 1 was a complete disaster and I only scored 92 marks in it. In fact I could only attempt 160 marks paper and had to leave 90 marks paper completely.

The reasons for the above situation in Paper – 1 are as follows:

Lack of written practice: In many topics (especially statics and dynamics) I used to just look at a question and its solution without solving it first. As a result I forgot the exact method in the exam hall!

Left many topics: I prepared only 25% 3-D, 80% Calculus and 25% Statics & Dynamics and had to pay a heavy price in the exam. On the other hand my preparation for paper – 2 was excellent and therefore I scored an amazing 170 marks in it.

Bhavesh Mishra
AIR-58 in CSE-2014


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