UPSC Mathematics Optional for IAS and IFoS

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Preparation Strategy for Mathematics (Optional) by Yogesh Kumbhejkar AIR-13 (IFoS-2014)

IAS 2014 Successful Student AIR 143MY BACKGROUND

I am Yogesh Kumbhejkar. (AIR-13 in IFoS-2014 Examination & AIR-143 in IAS-2014 Examination Kumbhejkar Yogesh Vijay – Classroom Student)

I am an Electrical Engineer from IIT Bombay. I secured AIR 13 in Indian Forest Service Exam (IFoS) 2014 with Mathematics & Physics as the optional subjects. For Civil Service Exam (CSE) also, my optional is Mathematics. In IFoS exam, I scored 231/400 (118 + 113) in maths. In 2013 CSE Mains, my maths score was 250/500 (109 + 141).

Hence mathematics has helped me in clearing mains in both CSE and IFoS. I was not selected in the final list of CSE 2013. In my second CSE attempt also I appeared for mains in 2014 with Maths as the optional subject. Now i am awaiting the Mains result. This article is a humble attempt to share my experience of maths optional preparation for CSE/IFoS exam. I would be glad if it helps any UPSC aspirant who is undecided about choosing the optional or those who are already preparing with mathematics as their optional.


It is very important for a UPSC aspirant to have genuine interest in mathematics if he/she wants to choose this optional. Maths used to be my favourite subject in school and in IITB also I had pursued additional courses in mathematics out of interest. Since the syllabus is large & requires considerable practice, it is necessary to have a genuine interest. Apart from my inherent inclination, this optional offers certain advantages which made it an obvious choice. In this optional, the marks you get are almost proportional to your efforts. With proper hard work, a candidate can comfortably attempt all the questions in exam and expect to score around 50% marks even after heavy scaling which can offer the necessary edge in this intense competition. Such candidate generally would not find any question surprising in mains. This kind of certainity is not present in humanities optionals.


The prescribed syllabus for maths is quite large which makes it necessary to stick to limited sources. I relied on notes provided by Venkanna Sir at IMS for covering the syllabus. Since these notes were very comprehensive, I didn’t have to spend time scanning reference books for relevant material. Venkanna Sir’s classroom coaching helped me in completing the syllabus in a disciplined manner. Initially I would underline important theorems, formulae, results mentioned in the notes. Then i used to compile them in a notebook and this was useful for revision. So eventually i had a notebook with just the crux of the matter. I would advise all candidates with maths optional to prepare such a summary for all topics. Due to large syllabus, there is a natural tendancy to skip a few chapters. But for the sake of compulsory questions, it is necessary to know at least basics of each chapter. The physics related chapters of statics, dynamics, mechanics are generally left untouched while preparing maths optional. Regarding these chapters, my preparation was such that i would be able to solve the compulsory 10 mark questions. They are quite manageable once you know the basic theory and there is no point in unnecessarily losing marks. The real analysis/calculus & modern algebra chapters are time consuming but candidates can’t afford to skip them.


Just knowing theory is not enough. It needs to be accompanied by consistent problem solving practice. It is best to solve questions that have already been asked in mains. If some problem seems very non-intuitive, it would help if the trick to solve such problem is written in your notebook.


Test series is very important for this optional. I had joined IMS test series which helped me in identifying my weak areas. In both CSE and IFoS mains, there were many questions similar to those covered in IMS test series. With enough practice, a candidate can achieve the ability to complete the maths paper in 3 hours. It is important to assess your performance after each test. Necessary steps should be taken to rectify common mistakes that you are commiting in the test series. You should be alert not to repeat the same mistakes again & again. As your performance improves with every test, the actual mains paper will seem just like any other test & you will be able to comfortably complete it. Presentation of your answer matters a lot. Your aim should be to make examiner’s life as easy as possible so that he/she will award you maximum marks. Only the final answer doesn’t matter. Writing proper steps is also imortant to show the logical flow with which you arrived at the solution. Specifically mention whichever theorem or property you are using in a particular step. Wherever possible, draw neat diagrams with proper labelling. Such small things will collectively fetch you the extra marks that you are expecting from this optional. The habit of writing such detailed answers will not develope overnight and hence you have to consciously work through the test series in this direction.


The mains exam schedule does not provide much gap between General Studies & Maths papers. You will generally have 1 day in between. Your notebook containing important formulae & theorems will be very useful at such times. You will be able to go through this summary of each chapter and it will provide much needed confidence before the actual paper. During the main exam, I would advise completing the compulsory questions 1 & 5 first. Then you can choose 3 out of remaining 6 questions. Easier questions like those from topics like linear programming, numerical analysis, linear algebra etc. should be the priority. Even if you don’t know the complete answer to any question, write as many steps as you can since partial marks also matter.

Once you finish paper 1, don’t start immediately analyzing your performance. Irrespective of whether you are very happy or deeply unsatisfied about paper 1, try to forget about it and stay calm for paper 2.


In the interview, you can expect some questions related to mathematics optional. Generally you won’t be asked to solve a problem because that ability has been tested in mains. They would like to see whether you have a genuine curiosity regarding mathematics outside what is mentioned in syllabus. In both my UPSC interviews, I was asked about Ramanujan’s work. There were questions on Vedic Mathematics, National Mathematics Day, important Indian Mathematical Institutions, Field medalist Manjula Bhargava etc. Hence while preparing for interview, try to be aware about these non-theorotical aspects of maths as well.

I hope above tips provide some clarity regarding maths optional to UPSC aspirants. All the best!


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