Best Optional Subject for UPSC

One of the most important decisions to make before you start your IAS exam preparation is the optional subject selection. In the UPSC mains exam, there are two papers for the optional subject. You have to choose one subject as your optional from among the 48 subjects listed by the UPSC. This list also includes 23 literature subjects. Read on for tips on how to select the best optional subject for the UPSC exam.

Why think twice before finalising on an optional?

The optional subject constitutes 500 marks in the UPSC mains (written) total marks. Focusing on the optional can make or break your mains exam results. Selecting an unsuitable option can unsettle your UPSC preparation and really demotivate you. Selecting the right subject can also enthuse you and help you score high marks in it. See the list of UPSC optional subjects available here.

There is no exact definition for the best optional subject. It is subjective to the person you ask this question. Some might say Geography is the best because of its scientific nature and overlap with the general studies paper I. Others might say public administration is the best because of its precise syllabus. Still others might say it is economics because well, he/she likes it. So, as you see a combination of factors decide which is the best optional subject for IAS exam for you.

There are a few basic questions you should ask yourself when opting for the optional. They are:

Do I like this subject?

Can I sustain interest in this subject for a long time?

Can I get enough study material for this subject?

How much do I know about this subject?

When you answer these questions, you will realise for yourself whether the subject is suitable or not. Your preparation process will be smooth if you have a genuine interest in the subject. Also, a prior knowledge can help although not in all the cases. If you are a recent graduate or have been in touch with the subject, it would make sense for you to choose that subject since you would already have covered a lot of ground and don’t have to start from scratch.

You can also look at subjects that have reasonably good overlap with the general studies subjects. Go through the IAS optional subject syllabus to reach this decision. This might help you save time during the IAS exam preparation process. Subjects with good overlap are history, geography, public administration, polity and international relations, economics and sociology.

There are many who go by the popularity of the subject. Going by the numbers, public administration and geography are really popular among aspirants. The advantage of going by popularity is that there will not be any dearth of study material and coaching on the subject. But the pitfall of taking a popular subject is that your competition in the optional papers will be really high. You will have to outdo hundreds if not thousands of candidates unlike not-so-popular subjects where you will only have to be better than under 50 candidates.

Summing up the criterion for deciding the best optional subject:

  • Interest in the subject
  • Prior knowledge in the subject
  • Availability of study material and coaching
  • Overlap with GS papers
  • Popularity
  • Scoring ability

You must make a decision on the optional taking into account all the above factors. At the end of the day, every optional subject can be called ‘the best optional’ if you study it with interest and dedication with the right strategy. A glance at the profiles of the toppers of the previous years only reveals the variety of the optional subjects they had selected. We hope this article would help you decide which optional subject is best for UPSC.

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