How to choose the best optional subject for UPSC: A strategic approach

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By India Today Education Desk: Choosing the right optional subject for the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exam is crucial for aspirants aiming to crack the Civil Services Examination. Out of the total nine papers in UPSC CSE, the two optional papers that candidates need to choose play a significant role in determining the final score and rank.

Currently, there are 47 optional subjects available, including both technical and non-technical disciplines, as well as literature of various languages. The optional papers carry a total of 500 marks out of the 2025 marks in the UPSC Mains exam.

Well-chosen optional subjects can not only boost the score but also provide an opportunity to showcase expertise in specific areas, which may contribute to a successful career in the civil services.

Here’s a guide on how to choose the best optional subject for UPSC:

1. CONSIDER OVERLAPPING SYLLABUS AND PREPARATION TIME

Some optional subjects, such as history, political science and international relations, sociology, geography, economics, and public administration, have syllabuses that overlap with the general studies (GS) syllabus in both UPSC Prelims and Mains.

Opting for an optional subject with overlapping content can save preparation time and allow candidates to focus on other aspects of the exam.

2. EVALUATE THE LENGTH OF THE SYLLABUS

With four general studies papers and an essay paper already demanding significant attention, it is advisable to choose an optional subject with a manageable syllabus.

Selecting a subject that can be comfortably covered within the stipulated time will prevent undue stress and help in effective preparation.

3. CONSIDER COMPETITION LEVEL AND COMPREHENSIBILITY

While success ratios of previous candidates may indicate the popularity of an optional subject, it is crucial to choose a subject that the candidate is comfortable with and can comprehend well.

Ultimately, the evaluators assess answers based on comprehensibility, making it essential to choose a subject that aligns with the candidate’s strengths.

4. AVAILABILITY OF RESOURCES

The availability of resources, including educators, study materials, and relevant books, is an important consideration while choosing an optional subject.

Candidates should assess the availability and accessibility of resources for their chosen subject, especially with the growth of online education, which offers more resources from the comfort of one’s home.

5. FAMILIARITY AND INTEREST IN THE SUBJECT

Familiarity with a subject can provide a significant advantage in understanding and retaining information. Candidates who have previously studied a subject as part of their graduation or post-graduation should consider choosing that subject as their optional.

Alternatively, opting for a subject of personal interest and the ability to consistently study without losing interest is crucial for long-term dedication and effective preparation.

6. ADDITIONAL FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Other factors, including the subject’s relevance to the civil services job role, its consistency as a popular choice among high rankers, scoring potential, and personal comfortability, can also influence the decision-making process.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of the best optional subject for UPSC. Technical subjects like mathematics can be highly scoring due to the objectivity of answers.

On the other hand, non-technical subjects, especially those with overlap with the general studies syllabus, provide more preparation time and reading material, which can boost the overall UPSC Mains score if studied diligently.

Before finalising an optional subject, candidates should assess the syllabus, preparation time, prior knowledge, overlap with General Studies, availability of study material and coaching, and personal drive and interest in the subject.

Considering these factors will help candidates make an informed decision and choose the best optional subject for their UPSC exam.

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