Monday, 25 June 2018

How to Prepare for the UPSC Civil Services - Choosing an Optional





Choosing an optional is one of the biggest decisions one makes while preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Examination. One has to choose an optional of 500 marks (250 marks each in Paper I and Paper II) and while General Studies Papers constitute a total of 1000 marks, Optional paper consists of 500 marks in the examination, which makes choosing the optional paper a crucial decision. 

Aspirants of this examination come from diverse academic backgrounds – Agriculture, Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Law, Literature, Management, Medical Sciene, Science etc. Hence, UPSC has given aspirants an opportunity to choose from a plethora of 51 Optional subjects (26 Literature +25 non literature subjects) based on their interests and academic background.

It is, however, not necessary that one needs to have done graduation in a particular subject to choose that optional. One can choose any of the optionals provided. I had graduated in Computer Engineering and also did an MBA later. I did not choose any Engineering subjects or even Management. I had chosen Assamese Literature and Public Administration as my Optionals. 

Back then, there were two optional subjects to be picked up. Nowadays there is only one subject to be taken up. The reason why I had chosen Assamese Literature as my optional was that I have a deep sense of belongingness to Assam and always try to keep the culture and tradition of Assam on a very high pedestal. This sense of belongingness prompted me to take up Assamese. Also, I had got good marks in Assamese in HSLC examination and though from an English medium background, I chose Assamese as an optional. 

In the process of preparation, I improved my writing skills a lot and learned a lot about the richness of my mother tongue.  Good marks in the examination followed as a result of my interest in the subject. On the other hand, during the time of preparation, I was working as a consultant to the Government of Meghalaya and was a part of projects which involved a lot of activities in the Civil as well as Police administration. Since I was having practical experience of administration, I chose Public Administration as my other optional, as I felt, it would be easier for me to understand the concepts, as I was implementing them in the field.

Hence, for choosing an optional, the two most important things are: one’s affinity or interest towards a particular subject and one’s level of understanding of a particular subject. One should take an optional subject which one is more comfortable with and has a good bit of interest and inquisitiveness.

Other factors which should impact the selection of an optional are –

1. How scoring is the subject in the UPSC examination, which can be found out by looking at the marksheets of the selected candidates by searching in google or by visiting the UPSC website,
2. Analysis of the old question papers of the one’s shortlisted subjects and finding out the subject which one is more comfortable in handing questions set,
3. Availability of reading materials in the nearby vicinity including in the Internet,
4. Time required to complete the syllabus. (one should download the syllabuses of the shortlisted subject and should go through them to understand how long one would require to complete reading the entire syllabus),
5. Finally, one should also factor in the contribution of the study of an optional towards General Studies. One should understand that subjects like Political Science & International Relations, Sociology etc also contributes towards General Studies preparation.


Following all these steps, one can zero in on an appropriate optional subject. It might take considerable time for one to decide on an optional subject, but that amount of diligence is necessary and the time spent is worth it. There are many cases of aspirants changing their optional subject after two-three failures. Hence, one should be very cautious in selecting an optional subject for the examination.

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