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Avinash Kumar, AIR-17 CSE-22, Philosophy (319 Marks) Strategy

Avinash Kumar

Hi All !! Avinash Kumar AIR-17 CSE-22 Philosophy Strategy

Philosophy optional performance over the years has been a cause of concern for those who have opted this optional. The numbers are telling as % of number of candidates in final list viz-a-viz number of candidates who wrote Mains with philosophy is 7.9% (2013), 7% (2014), 5.5% (2015), 5.2% (2016), 7% (2017), 9.1% (2018), 6.2% (2019) and 5.8% (2020). As Avinash has mentioned in his writeup, he didn’t take note of the same and as it stands, he aced CSE-22 with AIR-17 & scored 319 Marks in Philosophy Optional.

Out of 176 Marksheets that I have analyzed so far, 319 in optional is the 4th highest score and highest for Philosophy!


I am Avinash Kumar, Rank 17, UPSC CSE 2022. I cleared this exam with philosophy optional. I scored 319 marks in philosophy, 165 in paper-1 and 154 in paper-2. In this article, I want to discuss my outlook and strategy towards philosophy as an optional subject in the Civil Services Exam. I would also point out some things which may have resulted in these marks.

I had started my preparation journey in July 2020. The motivation behind my decision to quit my Power Plant job was two fold—firstly, I was not enjoying my job and was going through a lot of mental churning at that time; secondly, having taken birth in the state of Bihar, there was always an inclination towards it.

You can contact Avinash on hiInstagram Profile

When it came to choosing my optional subject, I quickly arrived at philosophy. Back then, I didn’t consider the average score being awarded in philosophy. It’s only later that I found out that philosophy was generally not being considered as a scoring subject in the last few years. I just went through the syllabus topics and previous years questions and found this to be a manageable subject. I came to think of it as an opportunity to systematically study philosophy. I have always believed that the destiny of a civilisation lies in its foundational philosophy. We often talk about looking at things from an economic angle or geographical angle or historical angle but very little from philosophical angle. For me, philosophy comes first and everything else follows up.

Anyway, let’s come to more concrete things from UPSC preparation point of view.

Why should one take philosophy optional?

1) It has a short syllabus which can be covered within 4 months.

2) Beyond a certain point, it doesn’t require much effort in answer writing. I only wrote 6 sectional tests. (Available at ). After 3rd test, I was able to understand the demand of the paper and started writing reasonably good answers.

3) Quality coaching classes are available. I took Philosophy optional online classes from Mahesh Sir (Enlite IAS). He was brilliant in his approach towards the subject. I had this habit of always diverting from the exam and ask more academic questions. But he always kept me in check by asking to limit myself within the scope of examination.

4) It makes you a wiser person. You develop a unique point of view to look at every issue. Philosophy can provide one the comfort amidst turbulence and uncertainty. During my UPSC exam preparation, I always found solace in philosophy. On my bad days, I would read nothing but philosophy.

5) Philosophy is not just supposed to be for intellectual gymnastics but also for living it in our life. The word for philosophy in India is “Darshana”. It changes your viewpoint. It changes your way of looking at the world.

6) Finally, my score proves that Philosophy is certainly a high scoring subject.

What worked for me?

1) Conceptual Clarity: Here, I must credit Mahesh Sir. He was brilliant in his approach. He would always strike at the core of any philosopher in the most simplest words. He answered all my doubts whether rational or irrational. A good conceptual clarity helps to tackle offbeat questions which is not rare.

2) Sufficient practice of expected questions: Unlike GS, topics can be somewhat predicted in optional based on the past year trends. If one manages to practice those expected questions well, it comes handy in the exam as one can write content-rich answers in limited time available.

3) Managing limited space and time: I distributed an equal amount of time for every question and always tried finishing paper on time. The space provided for the answer of a particular question is also limited. Thus, you must ensure that you’re writing content rich answers in the limited space.

4) Writing content-rich answers: Such an answer would also include passing reference of other parts of the philosophy of a particular philosopher and not just the central idea of the question. One should also include criticism of the particular philosophy, even if it is not asked explicitly. At the end, one should conclude with the importance of the philosophy or some comparison with western/indian philosopher.

5) Choosing the right questions: The “Western philosophy” section is more factual in content. As a result, one can write better answers from western philosophy section. Similarly, some topics in “philosophy of religion” can be more rewarding in terms of marks.

6) I was a bit lucky: Luck is a factor which is so prominent in this exam. Several factors came together to finally result into this. Without good luck, I could’ve missed any one of them and the result would’ve been entirely different.

Sources Referred by me

Since this was my first mains, I just put my faith on Enlite IAS (Mahesh Sir’s) coaching class notes for all sections of both papers. I didn’t refer to anything beyond them. These notes themselves were based on multiple books.

Advice to philosophy optional candidates

You must first try to develop a great conceptual clarity. For instance, you must understand how epistemology of a particular philosopher is related with his metaphysics. If Charvaka believes only in perception as the only valid source of knowledge, then naturally he will reject the existence of God and Soul.

After this, get your answers evaluated by a mentor/teacher/senior candidate etc and keep on improving upon the feedbacks.

Finally, completely shed away the thought that philosophy is a less awarding subject. In most humility, my score breaks this myth.


As a concluding remark, I would say that this subject has made me a wiser and better person.  At the risk of being termed as biased, I would say that Indian philosophy is the best in the world. It is only a matter of time when India shall rise again. And when it does so, hopefully we will be her witness.

Read more:  Virendra Kumar Meena, AIR-883 CSE-22 Prelims Strategy

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