Selecting the optional subject for UPSC Civil Services Exam? – Factors you must keep in mind 7

The story begins with a decision to join UPSC Civil Services and bring a change in the society. And the decision comes with thousands of more dilemmas; such as right guidance, choosing right coaching, right books, right preparation strategy, right surroundings and a lot more. Out of all these dilemmas, the most common one is choosing the right optional subject.  Since from 2013, UPSC has reduced the number of  optional subject from 2 to 1 now, aspirants still face difficulties and confusion while choosing one optional subject. Now as per the notification of UPSC, 1 optional subject consist of 2 papers of 250 marks each. Therefore, though the weightage of marks for the optional subject is 500 out of the total 2025 marks, but the optional subject is still a major deciding factor in the final merit marks of Mains examination.

The aspirants have to select 1 optional subject for UPSC Civil Services Examination out of total 26 subjects.

Let’s check out what are those 26 subjects which UPSC offers as optional subject

  1. Botany
  2. Geology
  3. Law
  4. Electrical Engineering
  5. Chemistry
  6. Philosophy
  7. Anthropology
  8. Political Science and International Relations
  9. Civil Engineering
  10. Commerce and Accountancy
  11. Economics
  12. Geography
  13. History
  14. Agriculture
  15. Medical Science
  16. Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
  17. Zoology
  18. Psychology
  19. Physics
  20. Literature of any one of the following language (Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and English)
  21. Sociology
  22. Management
  23. Mathematics
  24. Mechanical Engineering
  25. Public Administration
  26. Statistics

So, looks like a long list of optional papers when you have to select just 1 and that too for most coveted UPSC CIVIL SERVICES EXAMINATION. So the dilemma is quite natural, isn’t it?

Factors on the basis of which most of the IAS aspirants choose an optional subject for UPSC Civil Services Examination?

  • Which is the most scoring one?
  • Which is the easiest subject to understand or study?
  • Which subject’s notes or study material are easily available in market or online?
  • Which subjects are available in most of the coaching academies?
  • Which is the most popular one these days
  • With which subject candidates are getting best results in IAS exam these days?
  • Subject with some previous base in graduation or post-graduation

More or less, I guess these are the factors on the basis of which most of the IAS aspirants consider selecting the right optional subject for UPSC Civil Services Examination. Let’s discuss these factors one by one to help you decide the right optional subject for you.

The most scoring optional subject

Most of the IAS aspirants especially in the initial stages of preparation consider choosing the optional subject which is most scoring. Talking about which are the most scoring optional subjects, public administration and geography are the ones. Looking at the past few years result trend, Geography as an optional subject helped students fetch 350+ marks while candidates have been scoring 300+ marks in Pub Ad.  But score shouldn’t be the sole criteria of choosing an optional subject for UPSC Civil Services Examination, let’s discover why. Let’s discuss the next factor.

Availability of optional subject in coaching

True, that aspirant will never get a single coaching institute that has all the optional subjects which UPSC offers. But can this really be the factor to decide your optional subject? Students cannot be completely dependent upon the coaching; therefore, selecting the optional subject on the basis of availability in the coaching institutes is completely unadvisable. Do correct me if I am wrong! You always select an optional subject first and then select a right coaching institute for you; so individual classes for an optional subject can be taken from any other academy as well; ways are thousands, you just have to decide where to go first.

Popularity of the subject

Geography, History, Psychology, sociology and Public Administration can be listed in this category. Let’s check out reasons why;

  • For public administration, most of the syllabus involves self-study, own brain and personality traits and common sense, therefore require limited coaching.
  • Subjects like Geography and Pub Ad have a definite syllabus which can be covered in 4 to 5 months.
  • Most of the IAS aspirants from arts background or have history in post-graduation consider choosing history as an optional subject. Also, most of the students find it very interesting and therefore, choose it as an optional subject.
  • Geography, on the other hand, is a favorite subject among most of the students with engineering background.
  • Psychology, I personally feel people choose because of their own interest
  • Sociology again depends upon person’s own interest as it covers the concerns of our society, where aspirants wish to make a difference and therefore choose to study about it in detail.

To summarize the point, in reality, popularity has got to do nothing with the potential of an optional subject. Tina Dabi, topped UPSC Civil Services Examination in 2015 with political science as an optional subject, Athar Aamir got All India 2nd Rank in CSE 2015 with Philosophy as optional subject, Gaurav Aggarwal aced the 2013 UPSC Civil Services Examination 2014 Economics as an optional subject.

All these candidates opted for the subjects which neither come in the popular category nor in the scoring category, but they still are the toppers. Why? If you watch their interviews; they all chose their optional subjects based on their interest and academic background, and not because they are popular or scoring.

Choosing optional subject with previous academic background

Most of the candidates take a smart decision of choosing the subject they studied in graduation or post-graduation as optional in CSE.  This is helpful as you are already familiar with the subject and have a stronger hold on it. Therefore, if you did your graduation with arts background, consider choosing that subject in Mains, but keep a good check on your interest level too for that subject.

So, it proves that previous academic background and interest are the major factors in selection of the right optional subjects.

So while choosing your optional subject for UPSC Civil Services Examination, see if the subject excites you, is fun to learn, makes you eager to know or study more about it in detail, should not make you get bored or put you to sleep, and yes see the availability of books of that subject as well. Do not worry about the popularity, scoring potential, and such other silly factors.

Read here: Recommended books for IAS Preparation

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