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How To Select The Optional Subject

  • Categories
    Exam Pattern & Syllabus
  • Published
    9th Jul, 2021

Students preparing for the UPSC IAS Exam usually confront a very peculiar problem during the course of preparation. This problem pertains to the selection of suitable and right optional subjects that will help them to sail through the Civil Services Exam. Choosing right optional decides the fate of your selection in the UPSC exam. Fortunately in the new format importance of UPSC GS papers has increased manifold. It is advisable to choose optional subject without any haste or carelessness. Most of the students commit mistake to choose wrong optional and later on remorse on their decision when they face the failure. It is required to find out that which subject lures you the most. To seek where your interest lies one should start preparing for GS papers and develop your interest. Because in four GS papers you will be introduced to variety of optional subjects like History, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science and Sociology. This will help you to determine your inclination to a particular subject.


Every subject has its own demand (i.e. thinking pattern, writing style, presentation techniques etc.). If you are strong in all your Mains GS papers with consistent newspaper reading and note making habits, the decision of IAS Mains optional might not play a big difference in your results. But unfortunately, very few aspirants fall into the “strong GS” category of students and it’s not easy to get into the club without serious long-term preparation.


Choosing an optional with an overlapping with General Studies is considered as a good strategy, as the time required to study an optional subject can be saved. However this is also not a universal phenomenon. There is no dearth of such students who have cleared UPSC IAS exam with unconventional optional subjects such as Medical Science or Law. None of these subject has overlapping with UPSC GS syllabus as subjects like History or Geography do. So just because of overlapping with GS Syllabus choosing an optional subject is not a wise idea. It is an undeniable fact that each and every optional subject has potential to GS Score. Due to the scaling effects, some optional subject might not turn high-scoring in some years, but there is no universal trend or theory. Scoring maximum marks in the optional subject as well as in GS is the utmost priority. Availability of time, the effort required and the possibility of scoring maximum marks are three crucial factors to ponder upon before you select the optional.


The following points needed to be kept in mind before making selection of an optional:

  • Interest and understanding in the subject (about which you will come to know when you study for GS Mains)
  • Analysis of the UPSC syllabus and previous years’ question papers of the shortlisted subjects
  • Writing style and presentation techniques suitable for that particular optional (about which you will know once you start writing for GS and essay)
  • Thinking Pattern expected for a particular optional (you will come to know about yours after you prepare for GS.)
  • Availability of study material
  • Availability of guidance
  • Weightage of optional in GS
  • Graduation background
  • Apart from this, some give importance to the length of the IAS syllabus, which is an unfound criterion.


Choosing a right Optional subject is a crucial step in your preparation for the UPSC civil services exam. A wrong decision not only costs you a rank but also leaves in you a sense of regret for the rest of your life.


Aspirants come from diverse academic backgrounds – Agriculture, Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Law, Literature, Management, Medical, Science etc. That is why UPSC IAS has given aspirants to choose from an array of 51 Optional subjects (26 Literature + 25 nonliterature subjects) based on their interests and academic background. It is common knowledge that many aspirants opt for subjects other than their graduation subjects.


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