How To Choose An Optional Subject For UPSC Civil Services Mains – Practical Tips

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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.

In the new pattern for Mains, you can opt for only one Optional subject (in old pattern it was two) which will have two papers of 250 Marks each. So, one Optional subject carries 500 Marks in Mains.

Aspirants come from diverse academic backgrounds – Agriculture, Arts, , Commerce, Engineering, Law, Literature, Management, Medical, , Science etc. That is why UPSC has given aspirants to choose from an array of 51 Optional subjects (26 Literature +25 non literature subjects) based on their interests and academic background.

It is a common knowledge that many aspirants opt for subjects other than their graduation subjects.

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So, what is the criteria to choose an optional subject?

Following are the important steps you should follow before you finalize a subject as your Optional.

  1. First go through the list of all the Optional Subjects. Read the names of the subjects again and again for 15 minutes.
  2. Now go back to your school and college days. Think about your favorite subjects then. Think hard in which subject you excelled, in which subject you showed more interest, in which subject you got good marks.
  3. Now come to the present. See which areas of news you are more interested in. Think which topics of GS you like more. Some people like history, some like polity/sociology and keep reading those books as if they are doing masters in those topics. Think of short-listing them as your Optional subject.
  4. Some people also have a hobby of reading literature of their mother language.
  5. Now see the list of UPSC Optional Subjects again.
  6. Based on above criteria, make a list of 4-5 subjects that you think you have interest in.
  7. Now go through the syllabus of each Optional Subject. Read all topics carefully. Underline/highlight the topics — that you think you know something about or have some interest — in the syllabus of each shortlisted Optional subject.
  8. Now go through the Previous Year Question papers (3-4 years) of the shortlisted Subjects. Read all the questions. Again gauge yourself the level of interest you have or residual knowledge you possess to answer each question. It’s just to know yourself how comfortable you are with a subject, don’t worry if you don’t know answer to any question.
  9. Finally, the availability of materials and guidance in the form of coaching matters a lot. For some subjects it is difficult to get standard books, for some coaching may not be available. Non technical subjects can be prepared by doing self study provided you regularly practice writing.
  10. By now you will have a clear picture about choosing between 2-3 subjects. For example, if you are an engineering student and exceptionally good at your engineering subjects, at the same time if you have extensively read literature of your native language, may be since childhood, you will be in dilemma to choose between these two subjects.

In this situation, the ‘success rate’ counts. Usually literature subjects have performed well in all years. You might end up choosing the literature of your native language as your Optional subject. It’s a good decision.

For some people who have worked in a big organization, Public Administration appeals a lot and in fact it has been the most popular optional with working aspirants or with those who have quit their jobs.

Medical students may opt for Medical Science, Zoology or Anthropology as these subjects are related to their field.

In the end what matters is how much you love the subject. If you love every topic in it, then it is the ‘One’ you should go along with. Not with the ‘most successful’ or ‘the most popular’ ones.