Caught in a dilemma? Here is some tips for UPSC exams..


Choosing the right optional subject in the civil services exam has been a major concern for aspirants for long, especially those who attempt it for the first time. Although the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) decision to scrap the second optional subject with effect from 2013 has reduced aspirants’ stress levels, choosing one optional subject is an important decision as it comprises two papers of 250 marks each. Choosing the right optional subject can step up your chances of getting selected. Therefore, aspirants should carefully consider several factors before picking one. .

Here are some factors that are usually looked at:

If a subject has scope for scoring, students tend to select it.

If a candidate has good command over a subject, naturally it becomes the first preference.

If a candidate has already mastered a subject in school or in graduation, it becomes easier to understand and it is natural to select it.

Geography, history, political science, public administration or psychology are the most popular choices for first-time aspirants. Statistics reveal that majority of students select geography and public administration as optional subjects. More than 80 per cent of aspirants opt for them as the subjects overlap with general studies, which students usually study while preparing for the preliminary and mains exam. In the past few years, candidates have been scoring above 350 marks in public administration and more than 400 marks in geography, which is pretty good and explains why students go for these subjects.

Why are these subjects popular? Some apparent reasons are:

Public administration is more about having knowledge of administrative traits and involves self-study and self-understanding rather than personal coaching.

Most of the students have a good hold on history, especially students from the arts stream.

Most of the students are interested in map-based questions that are asked in the geography paper, especially the students from engineering or medical background.

When we talk about which paper has more scope for scoring, there is no distinction between any of the optional subjects as it largely depends upon the personal interest of the candidate and their academic background. If a candidate is exceptionally good at a subject, he/she will obviously score more in it. So if geography is your forte, it’s not prudent to pick up history just because it is considered to be a scoring subject.

Most of the students are good at geography, history and sociology as they have studied these subjects at their schools and may have graduated in them. Many students opt for Hindi literature which is not surprising as a large number of candidates from Hindi-speaking States appear for the exam. Pali is also gaining currency and many students are opting for it. But again, it completely depends on one’s interest, academic and geographical background and knowledge. Tamil literature is being opted by many candidates from Tamil Nadu, and so on. However, most of the candidates still prefer to opt for subjects such as history, geography, public administration, sociology or psychology rather than language papers.