How Many Candidates take Literature Optionals in UPSC Mains?

In the UPSC civil services mains exam, there are two papers for the optional subject. Candidates can also opt for literature optionals. Check the list of optional subjects here. Not many candidates opt for the literature optionals; less than 10% of the total number of candidates taking the IAS mains exam selects a literature subject as the optional. This article presents some interesting figures regarding the number of candidates taking literature subjects as their optional in the IAS exam.

UPSC 2023

Literature Optionals in UPSC Mains

The selection of the optional subject is an important decision as far as the UPSC exam is concerned. While the number of students who opt for literature optional subject is less in general, there have been many IAS toppers who have had a literature subject as their optional subject. For example, the 2016 UPSC topper KR Nandini (AIR 1) had taken Kannada Literature as her optional subject.

In the table below, you can get the number of candidates who had taken a literature subject as their optional subject in the UPSC Mains, for the year 2017:

Language Number of Candidates
Appeared Recommended
Assamese 3 0
Bengali 3 0
Bodo 1 1
English 21 2
Gujarati 101 8
Hindi 267 19
Kannada 115 4
Maithili 78 5
Malayalam 111 8
Manipuri 13 1
Marathi 17 0
Nepali 1 0
Oriya 5 0
Punjabi 39 6
Sanskrit 70 5
Sindhi (Devanagari script) 2 1
Tamil 107 5
Telugu 72 1
Urdu 26 5

The following table shows the number of candidates who had taken a literature subject as optional in the years 2014 and 2015:

Language Candidates in 2014 Candidates in 2015
English 33 21
Assamese 4 3
Bengali 3 6
Bodo 0 0
Dogri 0 2
Gujarati 87 108
Hindi 403 421
Kannada 131 116
Kashmiri 0 0
Konkani 0 0
Maithili 95 106
Malayalam 65 65
Manipuri 17 20
Marathi 24 15
Nepali 0 0
Oriya 7 7
Punjabi 61 50
Sanskrit 89 109
Santhali 1 2
Sindhi (Arabic script) 3 2
Sindhi (Devanagari script) 2 3
Tamil 94 93
Telugu 122 132
Urdu 31 40
Total 1272 1321

As is evident from the table, the literature of Hindi language has the most number of takers. It is followed by Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Tamil and Maithili, although the exact order varies each year. Other major languages that are taken by the candidates include Malayalam, Punjabi and even Sanskrit.

Pros and Cons of Literature Optionals in UPSC Mains

One of the pros of taking literature optionals is that there is reduced competition because of the less number of candidates opting for these subjects. Another advantage is that the syllabus for these subjects is generally constant for 2 – 3 years. So, if you have been preparing for the past couple of years or so, you don’t need to update regularly, a mere revision will suffice. Most importantly, if you have a genuine interest and liking for the language, its preparation will seem less strenuous compared to the general studies subjects. Also, there is no limit to how well you can write the answers here.

An obvious disadvantage of taking the literature optionals is that being a subject of the humanities stream, it is subjective in nature. It is considered less scoring by some. In addition, there is literally no overlap with the general studies papers.

Also See | UPSC Mains: Statistics on Candidates’ Medium of Examination

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