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How to choose the Optional Subject

  • Categories
    UPSC Exam Pattern & Syllabus
  • Published
    31st Jul, 2023

UPSC Optional Subject

Students preparing for the UPSC IAS Exam usually confront a very peculiar problem during the course of preparation. The act of choosing the right optional is quite significant in the UPSC CSE as the scope of achieving higher marks is more in optional than General Studies (GS) Mains exam. Choosing right optional decides the fate of your selection in the UPSC CSE. It is important to find out 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 be a hurdle in your journey.

Choosing an optional that overlaps with General Studies is generally considered to be a good choice, 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 an overlapping nature with UPSC GS syllabus as subjects like History or Geography do. It is an undeniable fact that each and every optional subject has their own potential that can assessed from GS Score. Due to the scaling effects, some UPSC 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.

Choosing UPSC Optional Subject

An aspirant should keep the following parameters in mind while choosing the right UPSC CSE Optional Subject:

  • Scoring Factor: First priority should be to check how comparative it is to score in a given optional subject.
  • Student’s Capability: Identify what is the most suitable option for you and and strategize accordingly.
  • Overlapping with GS: An optional that can be helpful in General Studies or in Essay or the Interview can decrease the burden of going extra mile for the particular subject.
  • Syllabus: Optional subject must be chosen depending upon the timeframe in which the syllabus can be covered.
  • Sources: Important aspects of choosing the right optional subject is the availability of the resources.
  • Dynamic Nature: Lesser the dynamism, better the subject.
  • Background: Not of much relevance but an aspirant with a background in a subject can be preferred while choosing optional as it might give them an advantage though not necessary.
  •  Apart from this, some give importance to the length of the UPSC 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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