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How to choose optional subject for the UPSC Mains?

How to choose optional subject for the UPSC Mains?

Selecting Optional subject is perhaps the most important decision of CSE journey. A score of 300+ in Optional can get you in top 10. At the same time, poor Optional score means you are out of list (if GS score is poor as well).

Choosing optional for UPSC CSE

Choosing a suitable optional subject for UPSC CSE is like choosing a foreign policy option. It defines who you really are, your weakness, your strength, and shapes your tryst with destiny.

First of all, some words on why optional is the game-changer. Out of the total marks (2025) of the written and personality tests put together, two optional papers carry 500 marks, almost 24.6%. So respect the weightage. More to this, if you look at the scores of the first 50 toppers, you will discover the stunning similarity of total marks secured through GS papers. But what varied was optional subject marks. Without good scores in your optional, chances of getting an interview call will be a mirage.

How to choose

While choosing optional, you should abstain from some of the myths. Some people will influence you by saying that this subject is very scoring or that one is trending or these are bogus. Don’t ever listen to other‘s opinion; don’t be a sheep in the herd. UPSC does not favour any optional. Sometime people from a specific optional may show good stat,  next time the subject will be different!! UPSC wants diversity, and you just can’t run a country with a bunch of semi historians or half scientists from the same batch!!

 Choosing an optional subject for the UPSC Mains?

Remember that an optional subject needs to be prepared as per honours degree level. The syllabus is quite extensive. So, just like college if we don’t love the subject we are going to learn- we may end badly here. But other factors also play a vital role.

1. Your expertise/prior knowledge in the subject

2. Your interest and liking for the subject

3. Availability of study material and coaching

4. Scoring nature of the subject

5. Converging nature with GS syllabus

Now follow these steps accordingly……

1. Download the list of the optional subjects from UPSC notification.

2. 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.

3. Take a look at the detailed syllabus of the subject provided in the notification before striking off a particular subject.

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. As the choices become lesser, eliminate subjects with more care. Eliminate a subject only after being 100% sure that you cannot pick it up.

6. 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. We recommend that you pick a subject you graduated in unless you have strong reasons not to do so.

7. It is smart to pick subjects which have more overlapping nature over other General Studies papers. That way, your preparation can be holistic and will take lesser time. For example, picking Geography, Sociology, Public Administration, History or Political Science will help you with other papers. Psychology also helps during the interview.

8. 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, literature of Santhali may or may not have sufficient sources.

9. 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/near the place where you live. For example, if you live in Bhubaneswar and good guidance is available offline only in Chennai, you might not want to consider selecting that optional.

10. After narrowing down 2-3 optional choices, read the basic sourcebook for the respective subject for at least a week. In a week’s time, you’ll be able to analyse your aptitude for the subject clearly 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. Narrow it further.

11. Finally, go through previous years question papers of UPSC for the selected optional and try to attempt on your own. If you feel comfortable enough to manage 30% of the questions using a week’s knowledge then it is a green signal!! Pick it up and marry it!!

Confidence is the key

 You have so many options, but you have to pick only one. You have to pick the most balanced one. You have done enough research; now, it is time to act. Like every policy, there will be some flaws or negative aspects of every subject. But you have to make them up with hard work, confidence and smartness. To quote a wazir in ninth-century Baghdad,” the basis of government is jugglery. If it works, it lasts, it becomes policy”. So, you matter more than the optional.

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