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How to choose an optional subject for IAS-UPSC Exam?

How to choose an optional subject?

Choosing the right optional subject plays a very important role in your final selection in the merit list. Many candidates are faced with this dilemma of how to choose their optional subject. Fortunately, in the new format, General Studies (GS) is much more important as UPSC has done away with two optional subjects and now the candidate has to choose only one optional subject. So don’t take this decision at the beginning. First start preparing for GS and then after some time take this decision. Because in four GS papers you will be introduced to variety of optional subjects like History, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science and Sociology. This will help you to determine your inclination to a particular subject. Every subject has its own demand (i.e. thinking pattern, writing style, presentation techniques etc). Your personality should suit to it.

Following are some basic criteria

  • Interest and understanding in the subject (about which you will come to know when you study for GS Mains)
  • Analysis of the syllabus and previous years’ question papers of the shortlisted subjects
  • Writing style and presentation techniques suitable for that particular optional (about which you will know once you start writing for GS and essay)
  • Thinking Pattern expected for a particular optional (you will come to know about yours after you prepare for GS.)
  • Availability of study material
  • Availability of guidance
  • Weightage of optional in GS
  • Graduation background
  • Apart from this, some give importance to the length of the syllabus.

The popular choices among candidates are; Public Administration, Sociology, Geography, History, Political Science and Philosophy. More than 80% of the test-takers opt for these subjects. This is because all these subjects overlap with general studies. Among them Public Administration is the most popular choice. However, question remains do they fetch high marks?

There are some thumb rules for selecting the optional subject. First, you should not select the subject, if you are not comfortable with it. Normally one should select subject studied at the graduation level. The criteria of the choice of subject should be as per your interest, rather than having studied them at the graduation level.

Also keep in mind that you may have been proficient in a subject, but lack of touch may make it tougher to re grasp the same subject. This applies for technical subjects. In such case it is advisable to take a fresh subject. If you are engineering, medicine or science graduate and have been working for some time, you may have lost touch with your core subjects of graduation days. In such case it is advisable to take new subject which is easy to grasp.

The selection of a subject should be based on the availability of the study material. Huge study material is available for subjects such as History, Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, Political Science, Psychology and Public Administration.

Remember, the competition is among the people who have opted for the same subject. The social sciences papers have huge number of takers and due to it scoring high marks in these subjects is extremely difficult. So if you are comfortable in a subject that has minimum rush, there are chances of scoring good marks.

However, it all depends on how much time you can spend every day on your optional subject. Even with the subjects of your liking some time is needed to prepare them. If your basic concepts of any science or technical subject is clear, then go for it, else opt for a social science subject. Many science, medicine and engineering students are opting for a social science subjects. They are easy to grasp provided you have a good memory.

The other rule of the selection of optional subject is to analyze the syllabus thoroughly. After that look for the question papers of the previous years, and analyze its past trends. This has to be done at the very beginning and some time has to be spent on it to make a final call on it. Once you make up your mind selecting your optional subject, take a plunge into it and never regret of not choosing any other optional subject.

Last but not the least get some feedback/advice from those who have qualified examination on the subjects they had taken as optional to write their mains examination. You must ask them how much marks they scored in the two papers of the subject. Also take some tips on the study material and the way they went about its preparations. Sometimes, such views are printed in the competitive magazines, you have to go through them and develop your own ideas based on them in choosing an optional paper.

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