How to choose Optional Subject for the UPSC exam

While preparing for the UPSC Civil services exam, one question haunts most UPSC aspirants, whether they are beginners or are already attempting the exam to choose the right optional subject for the UPSC Mains exam. Earlier, the aspirant has to choose two optional subjects. Since 2013, when the UPSC changed the exam pattern, they have to choose one optional subject for the Main exam.

UPSC mains exams have two papers from the optional subject, each of 250 marks. The weightage of the optional subject is 500 marks out of 2025 marks making it a deciding factor in the final ranks.

So, selecting the right optional subject is an important part of exam preparation. But candidates find it difficult to select. Even some candidates who have given one or more than one attempt are still in a dilemma whether to continue with the same or to switch over the present optional subject with a different one.

Some popular choices among the aspirants are Public Administration, History, Geography, Sociology, Political Science, and Philosophy.

In this article, we discuss some important aspects to keep in mind while selecting an optional subject.

Comfortable and interesting subject

Normally, candidates go for the subject they have studied at their graduation level. The criteria for selecting a subject should be as on your interest and comfort level in reading it.

Before choosing the optional subject, identify your interest-related subject which is comfortable for you. You can do this by going through its syllabus and exploring it through school-level NCERTs, preferably in classes 11 & 12.

For example, candidates who have studied History, Geography as their graduation subjects have the option to choose them as their optional subjects. Students from commerce backgrounds look for what they have studied in their college. But it is advisable for candidates from technical backgrounds like engineering, medicine, and science, to check the syllabus and content of the subject if you are choosing a graduation subject as your optional subject.

If you’re selecting a technical subject as your optional subject, keep in mind that you may have proficiency in it because a lack of touch with the subject makes it uncomfortable & tougher to read and re-grasp it. In these cases, it is advisable to select a fresh subject that is easy to grasp. You can check other optional subjects like Anthropology, Psychology, Geography, Public Administration, Sociology, etc.

Availability of study material

The selection of an optional subject should also be based on the availability of its good notes and study material. There is huge study material available for subjects like Geography, History, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, etc. Remember that what not to read is most important rather than what to read in exam preparation. The best way to choose good study material is by growing through the syllabus of the subject and the previous year’s question papers. Study material from a good source will accelerate your exam preparation.

Time management

Time management is another crucial factor to consider before choosing the optional. The aspirant should decide how much time he/she would be spent on studying their optional subject. If the candidate is running short of time, choose the optional paper that requires less time for a decent level of preparation. Compromising the General studies marks for the optional paper preparation can also impact the overall performance. Aspirants who might be studying at college or doing a job while preparing should have to estimate the time required for studying an optional subject along with general studies.

Go through the previous year’s question paper

Going through the previous year’s question paper on an optional subject helps you better understand it. Analyze the past trend of the optional. It gives you an idea about what type of questions are asked and how much effort to put in and time is required to prepare for optional. You can check the performance of the optional subject in recent years.

Contribution of an optional subject to GS syllabus

If it’s still difficult to choose an optional subject, you can check out the subject that also contributes to General Studies. You can go through the syllabus of the optional subject and check its overlapping with General Studies. Optional subjects such as History, and Geography, which help you in your General studies preparation. You have to find on your own which subject is related to your interest and its contribution towards General studies.

When we select an optional subject, keep in mind that we have to study it for a few years while going through the UPSC exam preparation. So, when choosing it, be clear and always go through its syllabus. Lastly, get some feedback/ advice from your seniors, teachers, and those who clear the examination with the subject.

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