This post is regarding the Strategy for LAW as an Optional subject in the UPSC Civil Service Examination. I have been fortunate to score reasonably good marks in this optional subject both times I have written the Mains exam. Just to give the readers some perspective of what is considered reasonably good for this paper, I scored 306 (Paper I: 125, Paper II: 181) in UPSC CSE 2016 and a similar score 304 (Paper I: 149, Paper II: 155) in UPSC CSE 2018 which is when I secured AIR 6.
In this post, I will be dealing with two aspects of the paper:
- How should one decide whether to choose Law as an optional paper?
- The paper-wise strategy for Law.
So, let’s begin with aspect 1!
Allow me to start by giving a brief background about myself. I studied Commerce (with Economics) in Class XI and XII. In college, I pursued B.A. (Hons.) Economics from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi (2012-15). This was followed by enrolling myself into a M.A. Economics course in Delhi School of Economics (2015-17) (Unfortunately, I could not finish my Masters course). My main background has been in the subject of Economics.
I made the choice for Law as the Optional subject for me in the year 2015, despite the fact that I had never studied Law before that in any form whatsoever. So, why did I choose Law as my optional?
- The coaching where I had enrolled myself for GS was a specialist in teaching Law as the optional subject (Nirvana IAS). With the tight schedule that I generally had along with college, I figured that staying with the same coaching for my optional subject as well would be better for me.
- My peers and some college seniors who themselves had opted for Law as the optional, instead of Economics persuaded me to opt for the same. (One of them happens to be an IAS Officer himself).
- The syllabus is very neatly defined and it is largely static along with relevant portions which are helpful for some GS papers as well such as polity in GS prelims and GS II in mains.
- I misjudged in not doing my own R&D before making a final decision about the optional subject. I was made to believe that Economics was not a high scoring subject and the syllabus is just too vast to be covered in limited time. That wasn’t entirely true. Economics is indeed a doable subject as actually a high scoring subject which makes it a good choice for the optional subject.
- There was always some fascination in me for studying Law at some point in my life. This gave me that opportunity to explore the subject in detail.
Is this the best way to choose one’s optional subject?
A BIG NO. In hindsight, I can think of two major factors that must be considered while choosing the optional subject: Scoring ability and Interest. (This has been highlighted in my earlier post as well)
One, the interest of the candidate. It is imperative that the candidate should have some interest in that particular subject just because of the vast extent of coverage that is required in an optional paper. This will help in the expression of viewpoints in the answers once they flow from an understanding point of view, rather than just by learning and remembering stuff.
Two, the general pattern of scoring in UPSC pertaining to that paper. It would be impractical of me to suggest that one should only focus on interest and not on scoring marks. Ultimately, it’s important that the candidate does his research on the scoring pattern and finds a subject where both interest and score are achievable. This will maximize the success potential of a candidate in the optional paper.
Generally, the vastness of a subject is considered a key factor for choosing an optional subject. I don’t think that should be taken as a variable for the same. Even when I choose Law as my optional when my background was in Economics, the vastness of economics was one of the factors that drove me away from it. I don’t think I was right in doing that. It is only fortunate that I have been able to do well in Law as well.
So, is Law a bad choice for the optional subject?
NO. It’s definitely not a bad choice. But it’s also not as high scoring as some of the other subjects being offered such as Anthropology or Mathematics. Let me try to give you an objective picture of the subject by highlighting some highs and lows of the subject.
- Largely static syllabus; makes it low risk in nature.
- Overlap with other topics in the CSE such as GS paper in Prelims and GS II paper in Mains, helps in saving time for GS preparation.
- Completing the paper is not too difficult in the exam.
- Questions are repeated in the exam; the paper is not too unpredictable.
- Pretty Lengthy/ Especially for a first time reader, might take up to 6 months to finish the syllabus once.
- Difficult to revise in a short time interval; the syllabus is vast and spread out.
- Average scoring; the best scores in Law centre around 300+-10. (Low reward)
- Need to remember a large number of Case Laws and Articles/Sections; form an essential part of a good answer.
- Requires a lot of awareness about the current court decisions, especially the decisions by the Supreme Court.
- Lack of availability of good material/reference books pertaining to CSE.
Although the number of highs are lesser than the number of lows, the utility of some of the highs far outweigh the number in itself.
Why did I persist with Law as my optional subject?
- I started to enjoy the subject once I got into it. I never felt the monotonicity while reading the subject (except a few topics).
- I was able to recall most of the topics, concepts, case laws being taught in the class. The language of Law also didn’t trouble me much.
- I also didn’t want to give many second thoughts regarding my choice once I had made a decision.
- Lastly, I was pretty confident about the GS papers as well. I felt that if I can score average marks in all the papers at the same time, I will be able to secure a good rank in the exam.
So, make your own decision!
Now that you have opted for Law as your optional subject, let’s deal with the second aspect of the paper now: the preparation strategy!
At the outset, I wish to request you to take a look at my strategy for the subject and then devise your own strategy based your own experience and requirement. The purpose will be best fulfilled only when you are able to maximise your score on the basis of the combination of the two.
What were my sources/book list for the subject?
Constitutional Law: Bare Act by PM Bakshi, Nirvana IAS Notes
Administrative Law: Nirvana IAS Notes
International Law: Nirvana IAS Notes
Law of Crimes: Bare Act of Indian Penal Code (IPC), Nirvana IAS Notes, Book on IPC by RK Bangia, My notes on IPC
Law of Torts: Nirvana IAS Notes, Book on Torts by RK Bangia, My notes on Torts
Law of Contracts and Mercantile Law: Bare Acts for Indian Contract Act, Partnership Act, Negotiable Instruments Act, Nirvana IAS Notes
Contemporary Legal Developments: Nirvana IAS Notes
Some other things to keep in mind:
Newspaper reading is essential for scoring well in this paper. Although the syllabus is largely static, however, it is always an added advantage to mention the latest developments in the particular topic in the answer. (Try to remember the name of the case, if possible). This is essentially true for the Contemporary Legal Developments in Part B of Paper II.
Coaching is not essential to enrol in a coaching for preparing this subject if one is familiar with the subject, you can generally get hold of the Notes (Nirvana IAS Notes) from the book/photocopy shops in and around Karol Bagh. However, for the freshers, the subject may become a little intimidating because of the language and the quantity of material that needs to be remembered. In that case, joining a coaching may not be a bad idea. It will help you save time and understand the subject better.
As to which coaching you should join for this subject, I have found that there are two pretty good coaching institutes in Delhi where this subject is taught well: Ambition and Nirvana IAS. However, strictly from UPSC point of view, Nirvana gains a little edge majorly because of the exclusive focus of the coaching on UPSC CSE and not the judicial exams.
Further, irrespective of whether you join a coaching or source the material/notes from the market, it is essential that you make your own notes of most of the topics. It will help you understand and remember the subject better. Since revision is very important in this paper, your own notes will help you save significant amount of time in the same.
Bare Acts are essential readings for most of the topics in Law. This is because it gives a better idea of the language that needs to be used in these documents, some of which may be used as per how one is able to remember during the exam. It will also help in consolidating all important points, ingredients, explanations and exceptions at one place which really are the bread and butter for any good answer in this paper.
Lastly, reference books(I have used only RK Bangia for all the topics mentioned above) are not required to be used extensively along with the notes. The notes are comprehensive themselves. However, the reference books need to be used for topics which are not covered well in the notes or else which are not covered at all. For this, it is essential that you keep an eye on the syllabus given by UPSC for the subject and ensure that every item is ticked before you enter the exam hall.
- Reading the bare act is important.
- Certain Articles of the Constitution are asked verbatim; identify such articles based on past year question papers and prepare model answers for the same.
- Equal focus on philosophy of the Constitution and itsprinciples along with the Articles.
- Preamble carries high weightage in the exam; especially the principles of Secularism, Socialism and Equality.
- Other important areas are Fundamental Rights, DPSPs, Emergency, Judiciary.
- Doesn’t need extensive study of the entire gamut of administrative law; disproportionate allocation of time for the study of this topic should be avoided.
- Principles of natural justice are very important such as nemo judex causa sua, audialtrampartem.
- Delegatus non potestdelegare is another important concept.
- Other important topics are Separation of powers, post decisional hearing.
- The syllabus is very vast. Hence, it requires smart work along with hard work. Study the past year question papers and select the important topics accordingly. However, due to the vastness of the syllabus, leaving certain topics altogether may prove disastrous during the exam.
- The most important topics are Philosophy of International law, sources of international law, validity of international law, recognition, extradition, statelessness, law of the seas and the air, humanitarian law.
- Topics like UN and its organs, human rights law, terrorism law can be read in a more general sense.
- Case laws are very important; it gives an added advantage to remember the names of the cases.
- Since the topics are mainly static, making model answers on such topics is likely to enhance the quality of the answers as well as save time during the exam.
Law of Crimes:
- Reading the bare act is important.
- The most important concepts are the theory of malice, General exceptions, Culpable homicide and murder, Joint liability, Abetment, Crimes related to property.
- Other concepts related to crimes against women are generally not asked in the exam. The candidate may just give these a reading so as to broadly understand the concept.
- Topics such as Plea Bargaining, PCA, SC-ST Act, Death penalty are also important. Candidates tend to take these topics lightly.
- The case laws and illustrations are highly significant in this paper; even if one can’t remember the name of cases, illustrations must definitely be highlighted in the answers.
Law of Torts:
- The most important topics are the philosophy behind law of torts and its development in India, Strict Liability, Absolute Liability, Vicarious Liability, Negligence, Nuisance, Defamation, Malicious Prosecution, Joint tort feasors, remedies.
- Consumer Protection Act is also an equally significant area of study under this part.
- Again, the case laws carry very high significance in this part as well.
Law of Contracts and Mercantile Law:
- Indian Contract Act is the most important constituent under this part of the paper. Bare Act should be the primary book that is read for this act, especially from Sections 1 to 75. For the rest, summarized notes may be used.
- Indian Partnership Act, Sale of Goods Act, Negotiable Instruments Act are the other three major acts covered here. Selected topics may be covered from these acts based on the analysis from past year question papers.
- Other important areas are Standard form of contracts, e-contracts.
- Case laws (except landmark case laws) may not be remembered in this. The main focus may rather be put on the illustrations.
Contemporary Legal Developments:
- The most important constituents of this part are Intellectual property law, Cyber law, ADR mechanisms.
- Other important areas are PIL, RTI.
- It’s very important under this part that the answer is linked to the latest developments in that particular area such as latest policy decisions, legal judgements, etc.
How should you read Law from CSE point of view?
Given the vast extent of theoretical concepts and case laws that need to be studied and remembered in this subject, the key to score well in this subject is to try to form a mental image of the answer at the same time you are reading a particular topic. This is possible, especially because most of the questions that are asked in the exam are straightforward and, hence, the mentally prepared answers will help to save time and enhance quality. This will also help in dealing with the issue of not being able to remember key points or significant case laws/illustrations during the exam.
What was the general format of an answer for me?
The general format of an answer was the classic format of Introduction+Main Body+Conclusion. I religiously followed this format for each and every answer, which helped me to give a holistic framework to the concepts being asked.
Specifically, for Law, my idea was to give at least two examples in each question as far as possible, keeping in mind that the landmark case laws are never missed while explaining a particular concept. These examples can be either case laws or illustrations (from the bare acts). The normal ranking for using these examples is:
2 case laws > 1 case law, 1 illustration > 2 illustrations
It should also be remembered that reproducing the names of case laws serves only an ancillary purpose from exam point of view; the key is to make the examiner understand the concept clearly using takeaways from these case laws.
I am attaching a practice test paper of Paper I that I had written some two years back. This will give you a brief idea as to how these questions may be attempted.
How much revision is advisable?
Multiple revisions areadvisable in this paper primarily because there is a lot to by heart and remember in order to get that extra 30-40 marks in the exam, the paper being an average scoring one.
For instance, my strategy was to read the whole syllabus once before the preliminary exam (makes notes as well, if needed). After preliminary exam, I would again pick up each paper once and read it making an effort to memorise some stuff and understand most of it. After that I would pick up Paper I again and revise it followed by a Practice test. The same for Paper II as well. Next, read Paper I and II both and give a combined practice test of the two on the same day. Lastly, revise once again before the final exam and you are set to go!
Which test series should you join?
I don’t think there is any particular test series which is really good for the Law optional paper. The whole objective behind writing these practice tests is to get into the groove of things and get a feel of how the paper should be attempted ultimately. This helps in time management as well.
My strategy was to attempt past year questions papers of any two years which I had not written earlier and write those with all the real exam constraints so as to prepare myself best for the D-day.
Hope it helps. All the very best!