Psychology is that discipline which has been with me since last 8 years. But my ultimate objective to take up psychology in first place was civil services. And that objective has been met. I owe a lot to this discipline not only in my academic success but also in making me evolve as a person.
Coming to the part of psychology as an optional for civil services exam. I would grab this opportunity in debunking the myth that psychology is not a scoring subject. I have got 262 ( though I had expected more) which clarifies the potential of this subject as an optional. No optional is more or less scoring. It’s your dedication and commitment towards it that matters. This is important for the future aspirants to understand because it’s very demotivating when someone comes upto you and leaves you disturbed by talking about less potential of psychology candidates. That’s a myth. Only you can decide what you like, no one else can.
I seriously feel that the notes available in the market for psychology should be avoided ( except for some minor topics which books don’t cover). They confuse a lot and do not make concepts clear (especially if one is not a graduate in psychology). It’s better to read from books. I referred following books:
All these are graduate level books which would cover 95% of the syllabus of paper 1. For paper 2, Smarak Swain book on Applied Psychology is sufficient. He is a real messiah for psychology candidates; otherwise preparing for paper 2 would have been a Herculean task.
While reading the books, there are four aspects which should be covered to make answers comprehensive. These are:
Basic concept ( the definitions, and understanding part)
Experimental studies (preferably with names of researchers and it’s okay even if you don’t remember all names)
Examples from day to day life (This covers the application part of the basic concept). Psychology is a subject which has examples from all walks of life. So it’s always good to include diverse examples in answers.
Flow charts (gives a sees a good presentation and also saves a lot of time)
I maintained one straight strategy for psychology. I firstly read the chapter, and then wrote previous years answers for few days. This way the chapter gets covered comprehensively. Solving previous years papers give a very clear idea about UPSC questioning style and way how to move ahead. Also, practicing writing answers leads to revision of the read material and enables a better memory of the experiments and examples as well. Moreover, what I have observed is that in optional, due to limited nature of the subject, questions keep on repeating in one form or other. So previous years papers are the key to good marks in optional.
One should complete optional study atleast 3 months before prelims exam and then take it up with full swing after prelims ( This is no hard and fast rule and one may set one’s own timings of doing things).
During the exam:
For paper 1, answer writing is very straight forward and simple if one is clear about the basics of the topic. It just needs incorporation of all what is asked in the question in a clear manner. However, it’s not advisable to completely compartmentalise paper 1 and paper 2. There can be some questions in paper 1 which are application based and requires things to be written from there.
For example, a question in paper 1 in 2015- “Keeping in view the strife in current social situation, discuss how a psychologist can contribute towards providing interventions for such problems”.
Thus, it’s always good to have an open perspective while writing the exam. Any mental restrictions would compromise with the quality of answer.
Similarly, a question in paper 2 in 2015 was such that it required points from different chapters to be picked and written – “How can psychological knowledge be put to use in changing the behaviour of children inclined to consume ‘junk food’?
This answer should have points from behavioural perspective, advertisements (consumer psychology), communication (persuasion), social perspective.
Thus, having a 360 degree perspective helps in writing such answers which one might not have come across before.
Keep as many examples ready with you as possible (which happens during answer writing practice itself). Some questions can be mostly example based.
For example, “Children are not born with stereotypes; they learn them from their family, peers, media and society.”
Now this answer requires examples from four different domains along with the basic understanding.
Sequence of writing the exam – I preferred doing the compulsory questions after the optional ones in each section. This is because of my experience of 2014 where I spent much time in doing the compulsory questions and lost time for the other ones which have a greater weightage individually. So loosing out on them can be a greater cost. Moreover, it gives a peace of mind if one writes the greater weightage answers first and enables one to sail through smoothly. Otherwise, built up of (di)stress leads to poor performance later (as psychology has taught. 🙂 ).
I would like to suggest to the aspirants having psychology optional to make full use of psychological principles to remain free from the evil called stress (though eustress is important to keep you running) and remain motivated. This is an edge which I consider we have in this exam. After all, every competition is also a psychological battle which a psychology student can win easily.
I would like to wish you all a very happy learning and winning experience.