April 1

How to Choose an Optional Subject for the IAS Exam?


The Optional Subject in the second tier of the UPSC exam is a significant score differentiator for UPSC aspirants. Therefore, how to pick the proper optional subject, or how to choose an optional subject correctly, is a question that concerns the majority of IAS aspirants, whether they are new to the exam or have taken it before.

After a change of pattern in 2013, there is now only one optional subject to choose from for the IAS mains exam. IAS aspirants have complete freedom to select their optional subject from the various UPSC subjects. In this article, we will elaborate on the factors to be taken into consideration before choosing the optional subject.

Important Aspects to Consider before Choosing the Optional

  1. The interest of the aspirant– Since an optional subject requires one to have detailed information about the subject from basics to the advanced level, it is important that the aspirant must have an interest in the subject. Much of the time is needed for the preparation of the optional subject, and considering its weightage in the mains exam, an aspirant must have immense liking for the subject to be able to understand it better.
  2. Academic background– Choosing a subject from your graduation or post-graduation subject, makes it easy to cover the syllabus quickly and easily. Most of the questions in the optional subject are asked till graduation or post-graduation levels. So, the chances of increasing the output by putting in less time increases, if you choose your graduation subject.
  3. Availability of coaching/coaching materials– There are 47 optional subjects to choose from, however, resources for educators, study materials, and related books are relatively scarce. Although, with the advent of online education, you may now access more resources from the convenience of your own home. It is critical that you analyse the choice of optional based on the accessible resources. It saves a lot of time.
  4. Overlap with GS papers– History, Political Science & International Relations, Sociology, Geography, Economics, Public Administration, and other optional subjects have a syllabus that overlaps with the General Studies syllabus, in both prelims and mains. As a result, it may save you some preparation time if you take one of them as an optional subject. However, this should not be the premise of the selection of your optional subject.
  5. Availability of time and length of the subject– Apart from comprehension abilities, a candidate should consider how much time they can devote to studying an optional subject. You already have four merit-based General Studies papers and one essay paper. Choosing an optional with a huge syllabus implies you’ll need to commit more time to the preparation. Instead, it is better to choose a topic that you can easily cover in the given time.
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The fact that candidates have successfully qualified for the IAS Exam with not so popular optional subjects demonstrates that all subjects are equally scoring. Thus, choosing an optional subject in the UPSC Mains only on the basis of the scoring criteria is incorrect. There is no “one best optional subject” available to all.

If you’re still wondering what is the highest scoring subject for the IAS exam, you should know that there is no right answer; there is just the appropriate match for each individual. We’ve given you a few points to think about before deciding on an optional subject. Deliberate on them and then make a decision based on what you genuinely desire. It is preferable to rely on your judgement than on others. Whatever optional you choose, you should study diligently in order to make it a high-scoring subject.



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