Tips for English Literature Optional by UPSC Rank Holder Gaurav Garg

This article is about IAS topper with English literature – Gaurav Garg. He is a law graduate who cleared the 2015 UPSC CSE with an all India rank of 320.  His optional subject was the Literature of English Language and he secured excellent marks in both the optional papers. His score was 123 and 121 in optional paper 1 and 2 respectively. In this article, we have compiled a few useful tips by Gaurav Garg for aspirants to prepare for the English Literature optional papers in the UPSC civil services exam. 

Handy tips from Gaurav Garg for English Literature Optional UPSC:

  • Read the original texts rather than their commentaries. It is better to read the original prescribed text three times rather than going through commentaries and other material.
  • It is important to finish the UPSC syllabus for English Literature optional. So, it is prudent to plan your UPSC preparation accordingly. Understand your pace of reading and comprehension and plan suitably.
  • History of English literature should be done at the end of the preparation, i.e., after you have done the remainder of the syllabus. Again, only a cursory glance over the history is required. No need to read all the details. You can even go through some video lectures available online for literary history.
  • To ace this optional, invest your time in reading and writing a lot. After you write answers, it is imperative that you get them evaluated by a mentor or a teacher.
  • When it comes to books, it is enough if you buy or acquire only the prescribed textbooks. You can avoid other books.
  • It is advisable to finish at least 40% of the optional syllabus before the UPSC prelims exam.
  • When you read a particular text, you will feel certain emotions and also develop your own understanding of the text. Jot these down so that you can use them in your answers later on.
  • It would help if you make a flowchart of characters of the text.
  • Read this subject daily as opposed to a few days a week.
  • Remember quotations.
  • Timely and frequent revision is important (as with all other subjects in the UPSC exam).
  • You can also create your own quotes and poetic lines. They should be deep and impactful. Don’t make up something just for the heck of it.
  • If you find it difficult to understand a certain story or parts of a story, you may refer to Wikipedia for a better understanding. It explains things in simple language.
  • Other websites you can refer are: sparknotes.com, www.shmoop.com, etc.
  • Paper 1 is more international and Paper 2 is more Indian in its content.
  • You can also refer to some text not prescribed in the syllabus so that you can get extra quotes and lines to embellish your answers. Example: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
  • Understand and use certain literary devices like euphemism, allusion, imagery, simile, metaphor, personification, etc. in your answers. This will enhance the quality of your writing.
  • You should also understand certain terminologies like feministic reading, Marxist reading, and Shakespearean idea of a play and so on.
  • An excellent tip for a better and easier understanding of some of the texts would be to watch movies or series of them online. There are plenty of standard productions like Pride & Prejudice, Tess, Waiting for Godot, etc. (This will also take the steam off your preparation!)
  • When you read a poem, try to understand it yourself first before searching for explanations externally. Understanding poetry might take time but enjoy the process and it will be easier and worthwhile.
  • Be open to ideas from all sides. Discussions with family and friends will help in getting new ideas and reflections.
  • Try to get into the head of a character and imagine why he/she behaves in a certain manner.
  • Poetry fetches more marks than novels. But this strategy works only if the quality of your answers is top notch. Otherwise, it is better to stick to novels.
  • Be yourself. This works wonders in the exam hall.

According to Gaurav Garg, a graduate degree in English makes no difference in this paper. This optional is to be taken only if you appreciate literature, and not because you think your English is good.

Other UPSC toppers with English Literature optional:

  1. Mona Pruthi – AIR 1, CSE 2005
  2. Ajay Prakash – AIR 9, CSE 2010
  3. Shuchita Kishore – AIR 39, 2010

Also See | Important books for English Literature optional for UPSC IAS Mains Exam

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