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Strategy To Prepare History Optional For UPSC Exam

  • Categories
    Optional Subjects
  • Published
    15th Jun, 2021

Choosing an optional subject for the IAS exam is an uphill task as this decide the fate of your selection in UPSC IAS Exam. The elective subject should be chosen wisely by any student in such a way that it incorporates the syllabus of General Studies with its syllabus. History is, without a doubt, one of the most popular subjects for all those who will appear for the Civil Services Mains Examination. On an average, between 1500 and 2000 candidates select history as their optional subject. No doubt, this is due to the huge overlap history has with the GS papers, especially paper I and the UPSC prelims exam.


The subject of history is considered very broad and vast. But at the same time it also becomes very scoring if you know its syllabus. So first of all you should familiarize yourself with its complete UPSC Syllabus.

The optional subject in this exam consists of 2 papers and 2 sections of History.

Paper I: Section A – Ancient History, Section B – Medieval History

Paper II: Section A – Modern History, Section B – World History

Once you are familiar with its IAS syllabus, then you can start preparing with the help of the study material given below.

Books and Resources

  • Ancient and Early Medieval India: Upinder Singh
  • India’s Ancient Past: R.S Sharma
  • The Wonder that was India – Al Basham
  • Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas – Romila Thapar
  • Medieval India: From Sultanate to Mughals – 1 – Satish Chandra
  • Medieval India: From Sultanate to Mughals – 2 – Satish Chandra
  • Modern India (Bipin Chandra)

Additional sources

  • India After Gandhi: Ram Chandra Guha
  • Modern India History: Spectrum
  • Mastering Modern World History (Norman Lowe)
  • Spectrum culture book
  • India after independence (Bipin Chandra)

Map for practice

The Historical Atlas of the Spectrum (with Key Places) is a good book for map practice. Divide you places into time periods like pre-history (Pura / Middle / Neolithic period), historical (Mahajanapada period / Maurya period / Gupta period etc.) and after that you show them on the state-wise map and their important points on the back of the map. Write short essays on them while taking notes.

History Optional Advantages

Overlapping with General Studies

GS Paper 1 in the UPSC prelims exam and General Studies Paper I in the UPSC Mains exam has a considerable amount of overlapping with the History optional paper.

In GS paper 1 of the UPSC Mains exam, Indian art and culture, ancient, medieval and modern history, freedom struggle and world history form a good chunk of the UPSC syllabus. So, studying history as an UPSC optional will help you cover a great deal in the GS papers. Moreover, concepts like the industrial revolution, world after the Second World War that you read about in history will help you understand concepts in the economy, political science, and international relations also. Adding a historical flair of things will add more weight to your answers in every GS paper.

Essay paper

Opting history as optional subject helps you a lot while preparing for mains essay paper as you will get a deeper perception about current events. To understand the way things are today, you must understand the history behind them. A better understanding of the past helps you comprehending the present in better way.

Interesting and Easy to understand

Another plus point associated with history optional is that it is easier to understand as compared to some other conceptual subjects like political science. Here no big formulas or difficult things are found that are difficult to remember or abstract theories to learn. History optional is easy to comprehend as it moves like a fable with many characters. Additionally the abundance of material both on papers and online make it more accessible. There is no dearth of documentaries and videos in history that helps you to understand things more accurately and you can unwind yourself whenever you are bogged down by the daunting preparation.

Static versus dynamic

History optional for UPSC mains is no doubt a static subject. However the UPSC adds some dynamism to every subject (except hardcore science subjects like physics and mathematics), history is unlike polity and public administration where you need to look down all things from the current affairs angle. Also there is no need to have constant upkeep like international relations or economy.

History optional strategy

History is no doubt an easy optional for IAS mains as compared to other optional where one need to mug up a large chunk of data and keep themselves updated with the current affairs. Despite this History optional can reduce your score if dealt with lack of seriousness and proper toppers strategy. A smart strategy can not only fetch you good marks but also help you to cover the entire UPSC IAS syllabus with less effort.

Here are some tips associated with History optional preparation strategy:

Start with the NCERTs

Starting with NCERTs is considered as a good history optional strategy especially if you are a novice to this subject and have forgotten your high school history. Many candidates give preference the old NCERTs as many things have been omitted in the new editions. Old NCERTs have chronological details of events that helps to understand the timeline of rulers and events, knowledge of which can give you a clearer picture of things. NCERTs have been written in rich language that can be helpful in developing perspective for answer writing.

Divide into Parts

It become easier to study if you divide History into parts. You can conveniently divide Indian History into ancient, medieval and modern History. Before making division one should be well versed with the UPSC syllabus of history in each section. From revision point of view sections should be arranged in chronological order.

Strategy of Notes making

Good Notes can reduce your burden considering the huge syllabus of History optional. Point wise notes with proper headings such as causes, features, significance, criticism/failure, achievement, impact, etc. will help you in answering indirect questions. Apart from this it will also help you to correlate things together.  For an instance, the failure of the Cripps Mission led to the Congress Party calling for a large-scale mass movement of civil disobedience. This was one of the causes of the Quit India Movement. This way, you can relate events. Similarly, for every topic, make sub-headings and make notes.

Integration Is The Key to Preparation

Connecting the dots in history is quite important. You could easily relate personalities, circumstances, etc. by integrating the syllabus. Tabular comparisons of personalities and events could be of great worth.

Previous year question papers

Scanning the previous year question papers, especially the last 10 years question papers can give a further boost to your preparation. In UPSC mains exam especially in optional many questions have been repeated so this task makes it easy to understand the most important areas of the UPSC syllabus.

Establish Relation to modern times

Establishing a connection to contemporary times’ polity and economy will add value to your answers while writing answers.

For an example when you talk about the industrial revolution, you must remember that many of the things that happen in a mechanized manner today were all done manually before the industrial revolution. You can also talk about how the advent of the industrial revolution led to the growth of urban settlements and also led to poverty in cities in Europe. This can be compared to the problem of poverty and migration to cities that is happening in cities today in India.


You must practice maps on regular basis as one can score good marks in this section. It is advisable to refer multiple sources for this section as some sources may not give the correct information. Rigorous practice is the only way that can help you to master this section.


Adhering to the above points will certainly bear fruits and will fetch good marks in History optional. Apart from this studying newspapers and magazines related to world history and get information from different sources can also help you to master world history topics. This will help you in your effective answer writing and will increase your marks.



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