How To Choose Optional Subject For UPSC CSE Mains?
Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher, famously remarked – “We are our choices”. Nothing else more aptly describes the importance of selecting an optional subject for the Civil Services (Mains) Examination.
Importance of optional
- Optional papers (Paper VI and Paper VII) of the Mains Examination carry 500 marks together which is almost 25% of the total marks (2025) of the written and personality tests put together. So, with so much weight, the options can be a deal maker or a deal-breaker.
- If you’d have analyzed the General Studies marks of a particular year’s topper and the person who’d scored the 100th rank, the range of their marks will not be as much variance. Toppers become toppers through their Optional subject and the Essay paper. These are the most controllable parts of the Written Test. So to say, if you perform very well in these two areas, the chances of you becoming a topper are very high, if you fairly perform well in the General Studies part.
- Marks in the Optional paper decide whether or not you’ll get your Interview call, your dream service, and your dream cadre.
Now having stressed upon the importance of Optional let me first tell you “How not to choose an optional” before suggesting how to choose one.
Points Which Will Help You To Choose Optional Subject For UPSC CSE Mains Examination
1. Download the latest Civil Services Examination notification from UPSC’s website and take a print out of it.
2. Find the optional list in the notification. There is a list of 26 optional subjects.
3. Start by striking out the subjects you definitely know that you cannot take up. For example, if you are a Mechanical Engineering graduate there’s a high possibility that you may want to strike out Medical Science or Commerce and Accountancy.
4. While striking off subjects you should also consider your own aptitude for a particular subject. For example, if you are someone with a humanities background such as Philosophy, you may want to strike off a science-based subject such as Physics or Chemistry
5. In any case, take a look at the detailed syllabus of the subject provided in the notification before striking off a particular subject.
6. As the choices become lesser, eliminate subjects with more care. Eliminate a subject only after being 100% sure that you cannot pick it up.
7. At the end of the above iterative process, you should ideally be left with 2-3 optional subjects. Ideally, one of the subjects out of the three should be the subject you graduated in. For example, if you have graduated as a doctor, then there is already enough reason for you to pick Medical Science as your optional subject. But for some reason, if you don’t like the subject, you can pick allied subjects like Psychology or Zoology. I recommend that you pick a subject you graduated in unless you have strong reasons to not do so.
8. It is also good to pick subjects that have more spread over other General Studies papers. That way your preparation can be holistic and will take lesser time. For example picking Geography, History or Political Science will help you with other papers.
9. Carefully consider the options by repeatedly going through the syllabus because all the 3 have an equal chance to be selected by you.
10. Next, make sure good source materials are available for the subjects selected. If any of the three falls short on this count, then that optional can be eliminated. Having good sources for the selected optional is a very important criterion. You do not want to be left scrambling for credible sources after zeroing upon an optional. For example, the literature of Dogri may or may not have sufficient sources.
11. The next important criterion to consider is whether the optional subject can be studied through self-preparation or requires additional guidance. If additional guidance is required, you need to check if there are any good mentors/teachers/institutes online or offline from whom/where you can seek guidance. If there is only offline guidance available, the question that you should ask yourself is whether it is accessible from / nearby the place where you live. For example, if you live in Chennai and good guidance is available offline only in Delhi, you might not want to consider selecting that optional.
12. Finally, go through previous years question papers of UPSC for the selected option and make sure that the questions asked can be tackled through the sources/guidance that you have. If you think that the questions asked do not conform with your resources, either change the resources or consider a different option.
13. After zeroing upon an optional, read the basic sourcebook for the respective subject for at least a week. In a week’s time, you’ll be able to clearly analyze your aptitude for the subject and whether or not you’ll be able to study it for a long time and repeatedly. If you are not comfortable with the subject please change it. Just because you’ve zeroed in upon it, you are under no compulsion to stay with it. You can move on to the other optional and follow the same process with it.
- Interest in the particular subject
- Background in that subject (Graduation or any other).
- Your expertise and prior knowledge in the subject
- Scoring nature of the subject
- Availability of study material and coaching
- GS relevance