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How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC

Choosing an optional subject can be one of the challenging tasks. It can be a crucial decision for any candidate who is aspiring to prepare for the UPSC Civil Services Exam and selecting the right one can step up their chances of getting selected and also in getting their desired cadre. 

UPSC conducts the exam in 3 different stages namely, Preliminary, Mains, and Interview. The overall exam process for every candidate is the same. However, in Mains Examination, the candidate needs to choose an Optional Subject from the list provided by the commission. It consists of a total of 48 Optional Subjects out of which 25 subjects are from academic discipline and 23 are from Literature. All the stages of selection right from Preliminary, Mains paper, and Personality test will be common for every candidate. However, UPSC has left the choice of choosing the Optional subject to candidates’ discretion and one has to use this to maximum advantage. This should be a well-thought decision and it is the only advantage a candidate can have over other candidates. 

Choosing an optional subject requires the investment of time and money. Once it is chosen, it is not easy to part ways from it. Selecting the correct Optional subject can increase the success rate of a candidate and get the selection with better rank and also get their desired cadre. It consists of two papers for 250 marks each. It is almost 25 percent of the total marks allocated for the Mains examination. This explains the importance of Optional Paper and the need to choose the correct one. General Studies and Essay papers being common to every candidate appearing for the Mains examination and the unpredictability associated with these papers is usually high. There is an average score where a candidate scores in these papers and scoring very high marks in these especially General Studies papers is tough. However, this can be made possible in Optional Paper and it can make all the differences to get selection. A low score in General studies paper can be covered by scoring better in Optional Paper, but vice versa requires a huge effort. In short-it is the Optional Subject which decides if you can make it or break it when it comes to Civil Services Exam. 

Factors not to be considered before choosing an Optional Subject: 

  1. Choosing an Optional subject selected by a Topper, friend, or senior. 
  1. Choosing a popular or scoring optional subject without analyzing it logically and without considering the facts like its success rate, syllabus, strength and weakness, and so on. 

        These factors can render your choice baseless and it can be a bad strategy to follow. 

Factors to be considered before choosing an Optional Subject: 

  1. Personal interest in the Subject: This is the most important aspect based on which one should choose an optional subject. An aspirant needs to devote few months dedicatedly to prepare for an Optional Subject. Having an interest in the subject will give enough motivation and sustain him/her in the exam race. 
  1. Availability of time for preparation: A candidate before choosing an optional subject must ensure that if they can spend enough time for the preparation, read and revise the subject multiple times. Also, the time required to prepare for Humanities Optional subject is quite lesser compared to the Technical subjects. The syllabus of the subjects offered by UPSC is somewhere midway between the graduate and Post-graduate levels and hence the time is taken to prepare for the same can be more when a technical subject is chosen. This argument gains importance considering the data from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). The data says that in recent years, only a fraction of recruits to civil services have specialization of any kind and very few people have a Master’s degree in any subject. Thus it is important to note this before making a choice. 
  1. Reading the syllabus completely: Read the complete syllabus and understand it. This helps to figure out if one has the requisite drive or interest to study that optional subject and helps to eliminate the less interesting ones. The extent of overlap a subject has with the general studies syllabus can also be analyzed. 
  1. Graduation subject chosen: The Optional subject can be from school or a major subject from college. This helps to learn facts and understand them even better and in a short time.  
  1. Availability of Coaching and quality study materials in the language chosen: Ensure that enough study materials are available for the Optional Subject chosen. Along with this, comprehensive study material should be available in the language preferred by an aspirant. Availability of coaching and teachers guarantees the right guidance at the right time. Click here for free UPSC study materials and courses for Prelims and Mains exam from one of the Best IAS Institute in Bangalore. 
  1. Percentage of syllabus overlapping with General Studies: Selecting an overlapping optional with General Studies is a good strategy. Choosing the right Optional subject will help you to integrate this knowledge with General studies preparation, which will, in turn, result in saving your time and efforts. 
  1. Analyzing past 3-4 years of question papers: It is best advised to go through the previous year’s question papers before choosing an optional subject. This gives an idea about the questions asked. 
  1. Performance of the Optional Subject in the past 3 years: It is always good to ensure that the Optional Subject chosen by an aspirant is scoring enough. A good score helps one to make it to the list. 
  1. Choosing the Optional Subject at the right time: Choosing the correct Optional subject and choosing it at the right time is very important. Usually, candidates do not choose the Optional subject in the beginning. They usually prefer to complete their general studies and then begin with them. This is one of the biggest mistakes done by most of the candidates. It is best advised to choose the Optional subject as early as possible and prepare for it concurrently along with General Studies. 

The decision of selecting the optional is a personal choice of a candidate, however, this choice should be based on proper analysis of your strengths and weakness. Interest and prior knowledge in the subject are needed. With proper understanding of the syllabus, devoting ample time for revision, and practicing answer writing regularly will surely help to score well in the exam. Thus an Optional could make or break the deal. Make a logical decision based on the above facts and analysis. This helps you to make a better decision and improve the success rate drastically and crack the prestigious Civil Services Exam. 

All the best! 

December 2023