How do I choose the best optional subject for IAS?

Choosing the Best IAS Optional Subject wisely can make all the difference in an aspirant's final score. Since the changes in the examination pattern of 2014-15, UPSC optional subject plays a crucial role in IAS preparation because, in Mains written examination, all GS papers have equal weight-age, in order to qualify mains and crack IAS, it might just come down to the marks you score in your optional subject. There are also a bunch of popular optional for IAS.

So you have to be very careful while selecting the Optional paper. Many times students get confused and end up taking a wrong optional, which may cost them with a precious attempt. These are the few common mistakes they do while selecting optional subject:

So here in this article, we tried to cover all the aspect of optional subjects. We come up with the Dos and Don'ts while selecting an optional subject. this will help you make your mind for the best suitable optional subject for you.

We have made a stepwise procedure to follow up, which can make you help to get out this confusion.

What does the best optional mean for IAS exam?

First, let us assess what determines the best optional subject for IAS exam.

Here, we have listed few criteria, aspirants believe that determines the best optional subject for IAS exam.

  1. Scoring one?
  2. Popular one?
  3. Easy to understand?
  4. Availability of study materials?
  5. Availability of Study groups?
  6. Availability of Best teachers?
  7. Based on graduation or Post graduation?
  8. Success rates in the UPSC results?

1. High scoring Subject

Candidates choose the optional subject based on high scores achieved by IAS toppers in the previous years.

Suggestion: Never choose the optional subject based on the top scores of the toppers. Every year different toppers get different scores in the optional subject. There is no standard that every year that optional subject will be high scoring.

2. Popularity of the Optional Subject

Few aspirants choose the optional subject based on the popularity of the optional subject Say for example Few subjects like History, Geography, Political Science, Public Administration are some of the popular optional subjects in the UPSC exam preparation.

Suggestion: Yes you can choose those popular optional subject but it should be your choice and then only if you are interested to read that optional subject. If you decide based on popularity alone then it is not advisable to choose that optional subject.

How to Choose your Optional?

3. Understand-ability of the subject

Many aspirants choose the optional subject based on the understanding ability of the optional subject.

Suggestion: Yes, you can choose the optional subject based on your understanding and your compatibility of the subject. (But this is one of the criteria for choosing optional)

4. Based on availability of Study material, study group, and coaching

This is one of the most popular criteria for choosing an optional subject. Which is advisable and recommendable for choosing the optional subject. Because, without proper study material, peers and good mentors one cannot prepare effectively for UPSC Civil Services Examination.

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5. Optional Subject selection based on graduation courses

Few aspirants select optional subject based on the graduation and Post graduation subjects. Say for example, if the aspirant has done MBA and he has one of his/her option as Management optional.

Suggestion: The syllabus of UPSC and the syllabus of graduation may match 60 to 70% of the graduation courses. If you are interested in that subject and comfortable with UPSC syllabus then choose that optional. But never choose the optional subject because what you did in earlier graduation course.

Factors to consider for choosing your UPSC optional subject

Here is the checklist for choosing your optional Subject for UPSC IAS Mains exam.

  1. Your interest in the subject
  2. Understanding ability and confidence level you have on that subject
  3. Subject integration with GS Syllabus to simplify your GS Preparation
  4. Analyse previous year Mains question papers
  5. Mains Syllabus for optional subject
  6. Role of Current Affairs
  7. Availability of Good teacher to guide you
  8. Success Percentage over the years

Some common queries regarding choosing optional?

1. I don't want to choose my optional subject based on my graduation course, and I don't have sufficient knowledge in other optional subjects listed in UPSC notification, Please suggest?

Even you don't know in detail about the all optional subject, you will definitely have a fair idea on few subject like History, Geography, Political Science etc.

First Shortlist subject you are familiar with then do the following

  1. Read the complete syllabus of shortlisted subject
  2. Refer last 3 to 4 years mains question paper
  3. Whichever subject you feel, that I am capable of comprehending from the syllabus and understand the demand of UPSC question means you can start working on that optional subject.

2. Can I Choose an Optional Subject based on my senior s suggestion?

You are free to get opinions and suggestions from your friends and seniors, but the decision should be made from your side. Choose an optional subject based on your interest, recent trends, syllabus and Question paper pattern etc.

3. I chose one optional subject of my interest but now I feel uncomfortable, what should I do?

This has happened to many aspirants, Make a wise decision because optional subject plays very crucial role in UPSC Mains exam. If you feel uncomfortable don't hesitate to change your optional subject.

4. I am interested in choosing xyz optional, but I m not comfortable in answering the questions?

Since you are interested in reading that shows you are comfortable with that subject, that means you are facing problem in answer writing skills. Answer writing can be improved by way of writing more answers. So, keep practicing.

5. Suggest some optional subjects, which will be helpful for my General Studies Preparation too

There are few optional subjects which have overlap with General Studies syllabus. Here we have listed some optional subjects for your reference

  1. Public Administration has overlap with GS paper 2 polity, Governance, constitution and few topics in GS Paper 3 and 4
  2. Political Science subjects has some overlap with GS paper 2 International Relation section section
  3. History optional subject takes care of GS Paper 1 history syllabus.
  4. Geography Optional subject has overlap with GS Paper 1 Geography Syllabus and GS paper 3 Environment section.
  5. Law optional covers Polity section of GS paper 2.
  6. Sociology optional takes care of Indian Society section in GS paper 1 and Essay paper.

6. I appeared with xyz optional subject in two or more mains but i am not getting good marks and not able to clear mains. Can I Change my optional subject?

This is the most difficult question and the important decision-making situation in your exam preparation. If you feel confident that I will get a good score with the same optional then stick to the same optional.

But if you feel, you want to change the optional subject, then decide based on your time availability and compatibility with the new subject.

Again, it is your call, if you want you are free to change the optional subject.

Factors to consider for selecting your UPSC optional:

1. Subject Orientation:

You have to check the subject orientation. you can roughly divide the subjects into three categories such as;

  • Subjects which are more inclined towards humanities.
  • Subjects which are part of science.
  • Subjects which are semi-scientific in nature.

The above mentioned classification will help you to skim off your selection. Depending upon your interest you can select any one the mentioned category.

2. Does Your Subject Overlap With GS and Prelims?

There are several subjects such as History, Geography, Political Science and International Relations, Public Administration etc, these subjects have several portions which overlap with both GS and Prelims.

This can help you to prepare in a less time for mains, as many topics will cover at once.

3. How vast is the syllabus?

While selecting the optional subject, syllabus matters a lot. Go for the syllabuses at once. There are few subjects which have a vast syllabus and some of have a relatively small syllabus. So chose wisely the optional.

4. Are Quality Faculties Available for The Selected Subject?

The role of a well-experienced mentor cannot be ignored in the UPSC preparation. There is always a scope of self-preparation, but it's always preferred to avail the benefits of the available faculties. This may help you to score more. And keep this in your mind, each mark matters in the final selection.

Don't ignore this faculty quotient while selecting the Optional.

5. Know How Dynamic Your Subject Is?

Current affairs play an important role while writing a quality answer. A better point in your answer has the potential to make you into the list. So in this part, Current affairs play a vital role.

Subjects like, Geography, Political Science and International Relations which have a current affairs connections. You can improvise your answer with reference to the Current Affairs. At the other hand subjects like History, Philosophy which considered as having Static Syllabus.

So select the optional depending upon your Current Affairs knowledge.

6. Know the Competition

You must be aware of the competition level of the optional subject. Many aspirants believe competition level based on number of aspirants appearing for particular optional and success ratio! But in reality, the success of UPSC examination is determined by your hard work and determination.

More the competition means more answer sheets to be corrected, so you need to be the best to stand out in the crowd. In the end it all depends upon individual answer writing skills.

We have gone through the UPSC Annual Report to listed out 16 subjects which have been opted by maximum number of students and having decent results.

Table for Humanities based Subjects

Factors to consider History Public Administration Sociology Philosophy Political Science and International Relations Law Anthropology Hindi Literature
Overlapping with GS and Prelims High High Medium Medium High None None None
Syllabus Vast Moderate Moderate Deifnite Definite Definite Definite Definite
Faculty Available Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Few Yes Few
Success rate in 2016 6.5 5.3 10.6 7 6.3 17 11 5.4
Success rate in 2015 7.7 6.2 9.1 7.9 6.1 24.3 11.8 4.7
Success rate in 2014 8.3 5.1 9.2 8.9 10.9 17.3 6.6 11.7
Role of Current Affairs No Yes No No Yes Yes No No
Competition (no. of students appear annually) 2000 3500 2000 1000 1000 200 700 600

Table for the Science based Subjects

Factors to consider Medical Science Mechanical Engineering Civil Engineering Electrical Engineering Mathematics
Overlapping with GS None None None None None
Syllabus Definite Definite Definite Definite Definite
Faculties Available Few Few Few Few Few
Success Rate in 2016 19.9 6.3 7.7 7.6 10
Success Rate in 2015 16.4 6.7 13 11.5 6.1
Success Rate in 2014 23.4 4.7 10.6 6.3 7.1
Role of Current Affairs No No No No No
Competition 250 100 60 100 300

Table for Semi-Humanities Subjects

Factors to consider Geography Psychology
Overlapping with Syllabus Medium None
Syllabus Vast Definite
Faculties Available Yes Few
Success rate of 2016 7.3 15.8
Success rate of 2015 5.6 9.8
Success rate of 2014 7.2 7.9
Role of Current Affairs Yes No
Competition 3500 700

These are tables which can be helpful for you while selecting your optional.

Things You Should Avoid While Selecting Optional:

  • Don't take your optional just by looking at the result. If you refer the above-mentioned tables you could find, the success rate is dependent on the students rather on the subject. So check your compatibility with the subject.
  • Don't select the subject, just because it was selected by the topper. Check whether you are comfortable with the subject.
  • Don't take your optional by just going through the advice of your parents, or by peers. Check syllabus and above-mentioned categories. This will help you to select the best suitable optional subject for you.

Again, always choose an optional subject that lies within your interest zone and you are passionate to learn more about. Don t choose your optional subject randomly. As UPSC gives equal weight-age to all subjects there is no harm in considering your favourite subject.

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