ABC of Civil Services | Scope of Malayalam as an optional subject

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When the result of this year’s civil service examination was announced, media reported that 11 persons from Kerala cleared the test with Malayalam as an optional subject. This created a kind of interest among the general public and there were enquiries about the scope of Malayalam in many webinars. Few people went a step ahead as they started promoting writing the whole examination in Malayalam medium. Many might not be aware of such a possibility. So, let us examine the potential of Malayalam as a medium for examination as well as an optional subject.

The selection of an optional subject should ideally be based on one’s interest and aptitude. But along with that, the availability of guidance plays an important role as it is a practical concern. Certain popular optional subjects like Anthropology are not very popular in Kerala because we lack experts as the colleges in Kerala does not teach this subject much. When it comes to a subject like Malayalam, there is no dearth of experienced teachers. That is one reason for this popularity.

Earlier when there were two optional subjects for civil service examination, many people from Kerala took their own graduation/post-graduation subject as one optional and Malayalam became their second optional because of the ready availability of guidance. Between 2000 and 2013 (the year the exam pattern changed to one optional), Kerala had 12 people in top-10 and five of them had Malayalam as the optional subject. Interestingly, an equal amount of top results was with Economics as an optional, thanks to expert guidance again. So, this trend continued in the new pattern also as study materials and classes for Malayalam were well established in Kerala. After 2013, a greater number of professional graduates started appearing for civil service and particularly many engineers took Malayalam as optional. In 2018, the top-five candidates from Kerala were engineers who had taken literature as an optional (four took Malayalam and one went for English).

Importance of reading

I have found that people who score good marks in Malayalam are those who had cultivated the habit of reading. I still remember a Malayalam topper who even after clearing the examination was quick to point out a newspaper article to me as very useful for Malayalam optional! The attitude of reading rather than mugging notes is very important in scoring well in any literature paper. So, people who want to take up Malayalam as an optional should be comfortable with literature and ideally should be good readers. I have seen many people who took Malayalam just because they thought that it is “scoring” and fail to clear civil service even after multiple attempts. A proper aptitude is essential to score well in any subject and Malayalam is no exception.

When it comes to taking Malayalam as a medium for examination, the very first thing you need to understand is except the Literature Optional and compulsory Indian language papers, all other question papers will be printed in English and Hindi only. Apart from this, there is a compulsory English paper in which one needs to score minimum mark. In the preliminary examination too, there is English comprehension questions. So, a minimum comfort in reading and understanding English is a must. Let me now take the examples of two of my students who wrote and cleared the civil service in Malayalam so that you understand the possibilities.

One person said that his English was good enough but he found it difficult to write essays (the general essay paper demands the candidate to write two essays of 1,000 words each). He said that he was able to write better in Malayalam. After checking his essays written in both languages, I said to him to go ahead with Malayalam medium as his Malayalam essay was far better. He had Malayalam as optional too and cleared the examination. One need not stick to Malayalam optional to write answers in Malayalam. The other successful candidate had history as his optional. His answers in General Studies papers were crisper and more apt than those who wrote in English. He too came out with flying colours as he was really good in Malayalam.

If you have better comfort in Malayalam, go ahead but make sure that you check your answers with some expert. It is easy to say things like “Why not Malayalam medium for civil service?” But such decisions should be based on one’s potential. It should never be viewed as an easy way or short cut to success.

(Remya Roshni, ex-IPS, is a civil service trainer and author of "How to Ace Civil Service Interviews”)

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