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LAW OPTIONAL – Strategy by Sparsh Gupta, Rank 562, CSE 2018

Law Optional Strategy- Sparsh Gupta, Rank 562, CSE 2018


This post has been pending for a while. Due to my busy schedule, I could not pen it down earlier. Based on a lot of personal requests, as promised, here is the law optional strategy which I followed and was able to crack the coveted exam by arduously following this strategy. One tip before jumping into the subject matter of the post, there is a disclaimer, do not blindly follow what I write in the post. The strategy is based on my personal experiences and my own strengths and weaknesses and also my issues due to my physical limitation as described in my earlier post on insights. So, my sincere suggestion would be to judge the suggestions and decide if it suits your strengths and weaknesses.

I have got 286 marks in CSE 2018 and paperwise breakup is, 144 in paper 1 and 142 in paper 2.

I have divided the post into two parts, firstly let us discuss some of the myths surrounding the law optional and try to bust them. The second part, I will elaborate on the paperwise strategy. So, here it goes.


Some myths busted

A little bit of a background, I am a law graduate. I completed my law degree from National Law School of India University, Bangalore, one of the most prestigious colleges going around in the country currently in the field of legal education. I finished my education in 2015 and worked  in a private law firm for about a year. This was my third attempt and law was the main reason for me not being able to clear the Mains in the first two attempts despite having a law background. This again reinforces the fact that CSE is such fair and transparent exam as I could see a lot of people from non-law backgrounds doing exceptionally well in the law optional.

This post is mainly addressed to the law graduates as I have received a lot of queries if they should actually take law as their optional or not. I also had similar doubts initially and these got reinforced after I was not able to get good scores in the first  two attempts. But, I decided to give it one more shot and with a little different approach and I was able to come out with flying colors this time around.

A few honest confessions. Firstly, law is not always the most scoring optional as compared to others like anthropology, mathematics, PSIR etc. Secondly, it has a very lengthy syllabus and it takes time to finish the same. Thirdly, there is a lot of theory involved and you need to mug up a lot of portions of the syllabus. Fourthly, the approach to this optional is significantly different from your typical law school exam which makes it doubly hard for people coming out from different NLUs. Fifthly, not only the methodology in approaching the preparation, the approach to answer writing has to be moulded to suit the needs of UPSC syllabus and that takes a bit of doing. Lastly, lack of quality coaching institutions and test series makes it really difficult to get mentoring and guidance.

But having confessed to the above, it does not mean, it is insurmountable. There are just a bit of adjustments you have to make and you could clear this exam with flying colors as my experience shows as well as so many toppers who clear with law optional every year. In the past few years, the scores in Law also have gone up and it is possible to score more than 300 now which used to be almost impossible in  the past.

The things which works in favour of law optional are manifold. The syllabus of law optional is mostly static and not very dynamic like other optional. There is a fixed scope of syllabus and most of the questions are asked from those very areas leaving no scope for uncertainty. What it does is also to have model answers for most questions beforehand. Solving the past year papers is the key to figure out the areas which one has to concentrate. It also helps in quick revision towards the end when you seem to be running out of time.

One more thing which works in favour of law optional is the fact that the syllabus overlaps with some portions of the GS syllabus helping in covering those portions while preparing for the optional. Further, since the syllabus does not cover procedural laws, it becomes a lot easier. I was never fond of law but since there were no procedural laws, I could go ahead and pursue law optional. This is also one of the reasons why non law people also end up choosing law optional do really well.

One of the biggest mistakes that most aspirants with law backgrounds make is that they approach this exam the same way they do in law school. As I mentioned above, it is a lot more descriptive paper and hence, you need to mould your approach accordingly (emphasis supplied). Breaking down sections into multiple pointers, having multiple illustrations in your answers etc are some examples of how you can improve an answer. You need to remember a lot of the provisions, especially when it comes to Indian Penal Code, Contracts, Torts and  Mercantile Laws. You really need to have these points on your fingertips to save time in the exam. The law papers are not very lengthy if you follow such an approach and you get ample time to improve your presentation. Underlining key provisions or the relevant portions of the answers which directly address the questions improves one’s chances of scoring better. Also, in some of the questions, you could use flow charts and diagrams. It especially helped me in paper 1.

For instance, for a question on social justice, you could draw a triangular representation with social justice inside the triangle and Articles 14, 19 and 21 on the three ends of the triangle. What it does is provides clarity to the examiner at the first instance that this particular person knows the answer. Paper 1 , this technique could really help as many a times, paper 1 is very philosophical and to ensure good marks, these things can really help. Paper 2 is relatively more scoring as you need to present the various components of an offence or a particular section, if you give all points, you get the marks.

One more thing which the aspirants need to keep in mind is unlike in college, you do not have to write very long answers here, you have limited space. In that light, writing as per the demands of the question becomes the key to scoring well. Generally, in college we are used to writing long answers.

For instance, when a question is asked about ‘innuendo’, a form of defamatory statements under the law of defamation in Law of torts, in college, you would start by defining defamation in detail, its jurisprudence, providing the components required to constitute defamation and the various types of statements and then innuendo. But, in CSE, you neither have the time to write such answers nor the space. Therefore, in such a case, what you need to do, define defamation in one line in the introduction and then provide for the three types of defamatory statements in one line each and then come to innuendo and discuss that in detail with examples and landmark case laws. One simple but significant tip would be to please look at the number of pages provided for each question in the answer booklet so that you know how much you need to write for a particular answer. As this could end up either you missing out on certain points due paucity of space or leaving the sheet blank because you did not see the amount of space in the beginning which doesn’t look good at all.

One more thing is there are certain questions which do not have so many points so as to justify the number of marks for a particular question. You have to be very smart while attempting those questions. For instance, they asked ‘communication under good faith’, one of general defences under The IPC, you could write that answer in half a sheet. But that would not fetch you the highest of marks. So what you have to do is introduce with S.6 of the IPC and list the various defences under chapter 6 and then explain ‘communication under good faith’. It enhances your answer manifold.

The biggest blunder which the law graduates make is that end up reading those huge commentaries which are totally useless for this exam. Instead, the requirement is to look at the syllabus very carefully and refer to those particular topics and having a glance at past year papers and prepare accordingly. This is why I felt, enrolling to Nirvana IAS, one of the only coaching institutions with a specific focus on preparing aspirants for law with UPSC perspective very very useful. There are other coachings as well but either they are mainly focussed on preparation for judiciary exams or are totally inadequate. Nirvana’s material and classes for law are top notch and moulded to suit the requirements of the CSE syllabus. The material provided is very crisp and to the point while sufficient for writing good answers for the questions asked in exams. Further, regular tests and group discussions over recent developments and mock answers before Mains really help you in revision and enhance your answers. Their test series is particularly good, one caveat being, you need to join the full course and they do not provide standalone test series courses. I had written almost 60-70% of the questions in their test series before attempting in the actual exam.

For people with non-law background, this is the place to go. Law is gaining popularity even for non-law graduates in recent times. The reasons being that a lot of it overlaps with GS. Then one more good reason is a lot of candidates have to opt for a different optional anyways, then why not law. It is also very logical as a subject and it does also help you in the long run as, as a civil servant, you will need to deal with laws, regulations and policies. Those who are looking for perspective on this should refer to Shubham Gupta’s (AIR 06) strategy here;


another mistake which a lot of aspirants make is that they leave some portions like Contemporary Legal Developments (CLD), mercantile laws, Prevention of Corruption Act, Protection of Civil Rights Act, Administrative Law and Consumer Protection Act for later stages. And then this is done in a hurry as there is a lot of other things on your plate to finish closer to the exam. This misfire really badly specially in case of mercantile laws as it is very factual and takes time to finish it. Hence, I strongly recommend, people appearing for this year’s mains should finish these topics before the Pre results come out. This portion has a weightage of about 75-125 marks and highly scoring and therefore, you should not miss out on this.


Paper-wise Sources

Most of the aspirants would be waiting for this, so here is the book list,


Paper 1

  • Constitutional Law- PM Bakshi’s Constitution, this has to be your bible for this portion. Nirvana notes for concepts and jurisprudential aspects. In addition, recent case laws like the Right to privacy judgement, living wills judgements and other Supreme Court landmark judgements. This will overlap with your polity syllabus.
  • Administrative law- Nirvana Notes, this is also important but you should not go into too much detail in this. Important concepts like separation of powers, rule of law, delegated legislation should be covered and other very important doctrines like Audi Alterum Partum and Post Decisional Hearing and Right against bias must be prepared well. Have model answers handy for such topics
  • International Law- Nirvana notes. This I believe is the most difficult part for most candidates as there are no specific answers and you should always attempt 2 questions from Part A here.


Paper 2-

  • Indian Penal Code- Bare Act and Nirvana Notes, here also focus more on the portions frequently asked in the past and spend least time on topics like Offences against Women, Marriage, Greivous Hurt etc.
  • PCA and PCRA- Nirvana notes and bare Acts of these legislations, also keep a lookout on any amendments in these laws.
  • Law of Torts- Nirvana notes and Bangia for some of the portions not covered like remoteness of damages etc.
  • Consumer Protection Act- Nirvana notes
  • Indian Contracts Act- Bare Act again is the most important source plus Nirvana notes. More focus on Ss. 1-75 here but do not ignore Contract of Indemnity, Gaurantee and Agency. Topics like Electronic Contracts and Standard form Contracts should also be given a cursory glance. These were asked this year for knowing their importance.
  • Mercantile Laws- Nirvaana Notes, this portion I found specially difficult as it needs multiplde revisions. Specially, negotiable instruments is difficult to understand logically and hence you need to mug it up L
  • ADR- Nirvana Notes
  • CLD- Nirvana notes, special focus should be given to Cyber Laws, IPR, Trials by Media, RTI etc. Keep a look at the current developments for this space.


This has unexpectedly turned out to be a very lengthy post. Apologies if you felt it took away your precious time at this crunch stage. But, I hope it answers most of your queries.

For any other queries, you could write to me at

All the best 🙂