How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC

What is the Optional Subject in IAS exam?

The UPSC Civil Services Examination provides a list of optional subjects for candidates to choose for the mains exam. Each of the two papers for the chosen optional subject will be worth 250 marks. From this list, candidates may choose from literature subjects including English and Indian languages.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) mains examination papers are descriptive in nature and are three hours in duration. The optional paper is an important component of the exam, and the question papers for all subjects other than language and literature will be provided in Hindi and English.

UPSC Civil Services Optional Subjects/Optional List for UPSC:

S. No List of Optional Subjects in UPSC Detailed Syllabus
1 Agriculture Syllabus
2 Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Syllabus
3 Anthropology Syllabus
4 Botany Syllabus
5 Chemistry Syllabus
6 Civil Engineering Syllabus
7 Commerce & Accountancy Syllabus
8 Economics Syllabus
9 Electrical Engineering Syllabus
10 Geography Syllabus
11 Geology Syllabus
12 History Syllabus
13 Law Syllabus
14 Management Syllabus
15 Mathematics Syllabus
16 Mechanical Engineering Syllabus
17 Medical Science Syllabus
18 Philosophy Syllabus
19 Physics Syllabus
20 Political Science & International Relations Syllabus
21 Psychology Syllabus
22 Public Administration Syllabus
23 Sociology Syllabus
24 Statistics Syllabus
25 Zoology

How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC

Figuring out which optional subject to choose is a common concern among IAS aspirants, regardless of their level of experience. I would appreciate some guidance on how to make the right selection.

Since 2013, the UPSC has changed the exam pattern by doing away with second optional subjects and allowing candidates to choose only one optional subject for UPSC Mains, which consists of two papers worth 250 marks each. Furthermore, UPSC has eliminated certain subjects at the preliminary level, which could have reduced the amount of preparation required. It is recommended to choose the optional subject for mains well in advance to be able to create a list of books to refer to, gather relevant notes, and assemble a study group.

Each IAS aspirant has different levels of familiarity with the various optional subjects offered for the IAS Mains Exam. It is not feasible to label any one subject as the “easiest” as preferences may vary from person to person. Prior to joining an IAS coaching center, many candidates inquire with the faculty on which Optional Subject to choose. It is important for each individual to assess their own skillset and determine which Optional Subject works best for them.

This article will be a valuable resource for IAS Mains aspirants, whether they are first-time candidates, or those with experience considering a switch of optional subjects.

What the best optional entails for IAS candidates?

During our recent meetings with the candidates, it became clear that many of them were unsure of which optional subject to choose for the UPSC Mains exam. When asked how they should go about selecting an optional subject, we noted that the same responses were repeated, as follows:

  • Which scoring optional subject would you recommend?
  • What is the most popular optional subject?
  • What are the optional subjects that are easy to understand or more interesting?
  • Where can I find notes and study materials for the optional subject?
  • Are there any optional subjects with good coaching available?
  • Is there an optional subject that I have a background in from graduation or post-graduation?
  • Which optional most of candidates are opting?

When deciding on an optional subject for the Mains exam, IAS aspirants may take into consideration various reasons such as scoring, popular and others. Let us now analyze each of these reasons to further understand how an optional subject is categorized.

Criteria for determining which subjects are classified as scoring Optional subjects?

What makes Geography and Public Administration regarded as scoring optional subjects for IAS beginners? The past few years of IAS mains exam results have demonstrated that candidates have scored 400+ in these subjects, and many have scored 340+ and 350+ in Public Administration.

It is true that public administration may have a higher likelihood of scoring in the IAS exam; however, no subject is guaranteed to be the most advantageous. It all depends on the performance of the candidate. While it is easy to assume that selecting a subject based on scoring criteria is the way to go, it is important to consider other criteria as well.

A Popular Choice of optional subjects

Anthropology, Public Administration, Geography, History, and Sociology are the five most popular optional subjects for IAS mains due to their interesting content, relative ease of understanding for certain backgrounds, and the ability to relate topics to current affairs. Anthropology and Public Administration have a definite syllabus that can be completed in a relatively short time, with minimal coaching and a focus on self-study. Geography requires a deep analysis of concepts and an understanding of India and World Maps. History requires candidates to link the concepts to facts, while Sociology requires the ability to distinguish between abstract theories and concepts.

It is worth noting that several successful candidates have cracked the toughest exam by taking the not-so-popular optional subjects, based on their interests and backgrounds rather than the scoring or popular options.

Prior knowledge before selecting an optional

Those who have pursued a degree or completed a Master’s in a particular subject can use that knowledge to their advantage when selecting an optional subject in the Civil Services Exam. This can be especially beneficial for those in the Arts, as many of the popular IAS optional subjects are within this field. It is important to note, however, that having some background knowledge and interest in the subject are the most important factors when selecting the optional, rather than relying solely on the subject’s popularity or score-earning potential. There are many examples of individuals who have achieved great success in the Mains Exam by taking more ambiguous subjects, such as Veterinary Science, Literature, Mathematics, and others, simply because they chose a subject they were passionate about. Contrary to popular belief, there are no easy optional subjects for IAS, but hard work and effort can make any subject more manageable.

How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC

When choosing an optional subject for the IAS Exam, it is important to consider which subject best suits your individual needs. Factors such as enthusing you, helping you to become more acquainted with the subject, and encouraging you to think out of the box, are all important considerations. Additionally, it is important to be aware that the scoring potential of a subject can vary from one candidate to another. Ultimately, it is important to rely on your own judgment when making this decision, as it is your effort and work that will determine the outcome of your optional subject.

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