How To Choose An Optional Subject In The UPSC Civil Services

Undeniably, the Civil Services stands as the toughest examination in the country. This year-long examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) selects candidates for various services including the All India Services such as IAS, IPS and IFS.

Aspirants should be familiar with the examination pattern of the Civil Services that consists of a preliminary round, a main examination and an interview. After qualifying in the preliminary paper, aspirants have to take the main examination that consists of a total of nine papers.

Choosing An Optional In Civil Services


The English and Indian language papers are qualifying papers. The essay along with four papers of general studies are common for every aspirant. However, a candidate can opt for one optional subject out of the total 26 subjects that include literature. There will be two papers on the optional subject and each paper will carry 250 marks in the main examination.

Compared to the previous years, the importance of the optional subject in the Civil Services Examination (CSE) has been lowered with the changes such as introduction of the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) paper in 2011 and general studies paper in the main examination. Despite the changes, the optional subject in the main examination still plays a vital role in cracking the examination.

Even after the removal of the optional subject in the preliminary round and change in main exam pattern, many aspirants, specifically freshers, still find it difficult choose the better optional which can help them earn more marks. Here is the best way to choose the optional subject in the Civil Services.

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Go Through The Detailed Syllabus

The first and foremost step is to read the detailed syllabus of every optional subject in UPSC's official notification. Reading the complete syllabus not only makes you familiar with the respective subject but also the general studies in the main examination.

While reading the syllabus in the optional subject, highlight which topics you are familiar with. Based on the familiarity, one can choose the optional.

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Assess Based On Your Graduate Studies

It is not a bad idea to choose the optional subject based on the graduation stream. If you find similarities between the optional subject and the subject you specialised in during your graduate studies, you can choose the same without any second opinion.

If you still prefer to opt for another optional, make sure you have a good reason for the same because an explanation may be required during the final interview.

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Know How Many Marks You Require

You should analyse whether this optional subject will fetch the required marks you need or not. There is a myth that there are a few subjects that have very less syllabus and one can score easily. Frankly, there is nothing like that and every optional subject has its own pros and cons.

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Work On The Syllabus Of General Studies For The Main Exam

One can also select the optional subject based on the general studies in the main examination. The syllabus of the optional subjects, such as history, polity, public administration and geography, is almost similar to the topics in the general studies paper.

By choosing these subjects it will reduce the exam preparation time. Hence, many aspirants follow this strategy.

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Only Opt For A Subject You Are Passionate About

Apart from all the strategies and suggestions, the selection of the optional subject should be based on the candidate's interest and passion. If you are very passionate about a specific subject, opt for that one but make sure you find necessary study material and reference books.

These are some of the tips for choosing the optional subject. One should also consider various things such as coaching institutes before finalising their decision. Share how you have selected your optional subject for the Civil Services!

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