How to choose Optional Subject in UPSC | UPSC Guide

One of the trickiest question for UPSC aspirants is ‘how to choose optional subject in UPSC Civil Services exam. It can make or break your IAS dream as you could score exceptionally high or exceptionally low. While choosing your optional, you should ignore all the myth around UPSC optional subjects.

How to select optional subject for UPSC
How to select optional subject for UPSC

I had made a huge mistake initially by selecting the Zoology optional. I took coaching and one month into coaching of Zoology optional, I realised it was not right for me. Although I wasted my money and time, I did not become stubborn and left it. I will explain what mistake I made in another post.

How to choose optional subject for UPSC CSE Exam:

  1. Most important: You should choose optional only after at least 2 months of dedicated basic preparation. Then only you will know your interests and inclination about different subjects.
  2. Give preference to your graduation/PG subject. It is very logical. You have spent so much time studying it, so you will have advantage. This decision is the easiest if you are from humanities background. But if you are from science, engineering or medical background, it is tricky.
  3. If you are from Science/Engg/Medical background, do the following:
    • Go through the UPSC Optional syllabus of your subject.
    • Do they seem largely familiar or covered well during your graduation?
    • Does the syllabus appear small enough to cover?
    • Go through the last 5 years question papers asked from that subject.
    • Do you feel you can reasonably understand the demands of the question?
      If the answers to above questions are more or less positive, then you could opt for your graduation subject. If the answers are extremely negative, then you should choose one of the humanities subjects.
  4. If you are from any graduation background but want to choose some other optional subject, then you must choose one of the Humanities subjects only.
  5. To choose one of the humanities subjects as optional, do the following:
    • Give preference to those subjects for which material and guidance is available
    • Go through the syllabus and previous years questions.
    • Match the syllabus with your interests. If the subject matter matches your interest and aptitude, go for it.
  6. If at any point during preparation of Optional subject, you feel that this Optional is not for me, drop it. Go with your intuition. If you feel it right, it is right.

Important things to note while choosing optional

  1. My friend Taranjot Singh, IAS (Bihar cadre) was a Mechanical Engineer from IIT. He gave 2 attempts with Public Administration optional but every time his selection was denied due to low optional score. Then he chose his graduation subject Mechanical Engineering and directly got selected as IAS (AIR 70). He says that technical subjects have vast syllabus but if covered well, they are high scoring.
  2. We hear in the market that this optional is penalised and that optional is rewarded. See, why would UPSC unfairly penalise any aspirant? There is only one pattern that technical subjects are really high scoring. Other than that, it is all based on your own quality of preparation.
    For example, I selected Geography because I had natural interest in it even though people say it is penalised. I prepared without any coaching and without any readymade notes. Still, I scored All India highest marks in Geography Optional Paper 2.
  3. Prepare Optional only based on previous years questions from each topic. This will increase your efficiency. Only after you have covered all previous year questions, you go to other less asked topics.
  4. Practice answer writing as much as possible. If your subject involves diagrams and maps, practice them with top priority. My advantage was that I could draw maps and diagrams with high accuracy.
  5. Do not take Test Series of Optional from the same teacher who gave you Coaching of Optional. This is because they prefer their own notes to be written as answers. Stay original.
  6. Paper I is technical and Paper 2 is more like General Studies. But remember to integrate those. When answering Paper 2, always use technical terms and concepts from Paper 1. And when answering Paper I, use examples from Paper 2.

If you have further doubts or comments, please post below. I will be happy to guide.

20 thoughts on “How to choose Optional Subject in UPSC | UPSC Guide”

  1. Sir, what about literature optional? I’m 21 right now.. But I’m really confused about choosing the optional.. I’m interested in literature optional as I love reading my mother tongue literature books.. Is it a good choice?

    1. Somesh Upadhyay

      Yes. Literature optional are good. In fact no optional is good or bad. It depends on you.

  2. Sir, i got 60% marks in Jee advance in Chemistry subject and 94 marks in class 12th Boards in Chemistry. In class 10th i got 10CGPA in Social studies. So can you please suggest me between Anthropology and chemistry in optional. currently i am 2nd year undergrad engineering student. And also please give me some tips on how to manage my engineering and UPSC preparation

  3. Saket Kumar

    Sir I am planning to take Botany as my optional but after reading that Zoology wasn’t a good optional I am having apprehensions. Sir, can you tell me what problems you faced with Zoology optional.

    1. Don’t go by my experience. Many have scored well with Zoology and Botany too. I dropped Zoology because it was completely new to me and required a lot of memorizing.

  4. Pradeep kumar

    Sir i wants to take sociology an optional subject, Iam in Graduation 1st year. I have also sociology as a subject in graduation. Sir can you suggest this is right for me or not.

  5. विकाश कुमार

    मैं अभी B. Com के द्वितीय वर्ष में हूँ । क्या घर से upsc की तैयारी कर सकता हूँ।

  6. Harsh Pandya

    Sir, a heartfelt thanks for your initiative. I am a Dentist, and being from the medical background, the medical science optional is yet so near but so far for me. I really need help regarding choosing optional, as I’m confused between Sociology and Public administration. Please help me Sir.

  7. Sir, mai upsc ke optional subject me -political science ke sath jana chahta huu. please guidlines for my optional paper.

  8. Sir, is it advisable to choose English literature as one’s optional? I have genuine interest plus background in it but I am worried as there is not much guidance available. Kindly reply.

  9. Sir, I’m planning to take sociology as my optional subject as per my interest in the subject but I’m a bit confused between sociology and political science (I’m doing my graduation in it) Also because I don’t have any guidance for sociology (resources, coaching, nothing.)

  10. Shashi Kant Shashi

    Sir, I don’t know any Civil service aspirants near my relatives or in my friend circle.
    I could not in touch with any of them who is preparing for civil services, is there any source to get touch with them who cleared or prepared for UPSC exam.? Please guide me.

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