Choosing your optional subject for UPSC - Sage IAS Choosing your optional subject for UPSC - Sage IAS

The first exercise one has to go through after the decision of taking a plunge into the UPSC preparation is deciding the optional subject. It’s the only thing in the exam which is not same for all aspirants and one have to compete with a core group of those who opted for the same subject. If chosen carefully it not only helps you beat the cut throat competition but also can make the preparation lot more easier and interesting.

Five things one should keep in mind while choosing the optional subject. The list is not random and follows the step wise methodology one should adopt.

  1. The subjects available in the UPSC list.
  2. The educational background ie. The subject one pursued during graduation and post-graduation.
  3. The subject one is inclined towards or gives asthetic pleasure to him.
  4. The subject for which a good trainer or guide is available.
  5. The subject trending in UPSC exam or at least a subject which had not been persecuted recently.

The First thing an aspirant needs is to have a look on the subject list of the ‘UPSC Civil Services Exam’. Not all subjects are included in the UPSC notification and an aspirant have to look for his subject, for eg. Computer Science and Engineering is not included in the subject list of civil services exam and one cannot choose it irrespective of him being a student of Computer Science. Therefore if your subject is not on the list go to point 3.

The Second factor is the educational background of an aspirant. A subject one pursued during higher studies may or may not be his choice. In fact many of the aspirants opt for UPSC preparation due to the fact that they do not feel any inclination towards their graduation subjects and do not see a very steep growth in that career.

If your graduation subject is the one you would like to study for next few years with the confidence of achieving mastery, you should opt for it without a second thought and any apprehension. However just check the point 5 before you go. In case you don’t feel inclined towards the graduation subject you need not to opt that as the UPSC preparation is a long and tedious job and a subject you have already tested for years and cant generate a like towards, must be avoided.

The Third step is to look for a subject you feel good about. Maybe some subject you felt interesting during school days but cannot pursue because of the career in Engineering/Medical or likewise. Subjects like Sociology, History appeals to many. In this case go through the UPSC syllabus of the subject, have a look on few basic recommended books and contact with someone who passed the exam with the subject or at least preparing with that subject(one can find them on facebook in various preparation groups). In this weeklong exercise one will have the good enough idea of whether or not opt for the subject. If you feel not sure enough about the size of syllabus or something similar, repeat the process with some other subject of follow the next step.

The Fourth step deals with something you have little control on. Due to many constraints one cannot always find a good teacher or guide of his preferred subject near him. In this case you do not have very strong feeling for a subject, opt one for which a good and trained teacher is available nearby. For eg, if a good Geography teacher with a good reputation is available nearby and you are still not sure about any subject, opt for geography. The like and dislike of the subject also depends upon pedagogy and the teacher. A good teacher in all likelihood will make you comfortable in the subject.

The last step is to check whether the subject you opted for is not performing very poor. On an ideal level such advices are not given by teachers or guides but is a reality in UPSC exams. Some subjects do not perform very good for many years continuously due to unknown reasons and should be avoided, However there is no fixed time period of their poor performance and in few years they start performing well again therefore one is left only with his intuition to rely upon, for eg, The subject of Public Administration performed very poorly since 2012 to the level that average marks in it were less than quarter of average marks in other subject. However this advice is for those who are not very sure on a subject and therefore can avoid such subjects. In case you are sure about your subject, do not change it on this factor. Since 2012 many students indeed cracked the exam with Public Administration as their optional subject.

A caveat before one start to work over the process.  Generally the subjects are divided into two broad categories, ie. The Technical Subjects and the Non-technical subjects. The categorization is not by UPSC or some authority but is a general division after looking over the nature of the subjects. The technical subjects are those which largely deals with Natural sciences like Physics, Mathematics etc. The marking of such subjects are very clear and largely predictive where a student can rate his performance just after the exam gets over. The Non-technical subjects largely deals with Social sciences and Arts like Sociology and Literature etc. The marking of the essay type answers of such subjects is not very clear and student rarely gets an idea of his performance after the exam, given he did not performed very poorly. The benefit of Technical subjects is they are high scoring and many top ranks achieved are due to such subjects. On the other side not only the syllabus of such subjects is  large, the mastery over them is also difficult to achieve and do not provide any help in General Studies. The benefit of non-Technical subjects is that they do not need much of the background and helps in the General Studies part as well however they are generally average scoring and also a student is never sure about his performance in the exams.

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