How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC Mains?

The question of how to choose an optional subject for UPSC Mains keeps bothering every aspirant. It is probably one of the first bumps in the road of preparation that candidates get stuck on.

Aspirants have to choose only one optional subject which carries 250 marks and has two papers making it 500 out of 2025 marks. This might seem like a small number of marks but it holds its importance in determining the rank of the aspiring civil servants. The students have to pick one subject from a pool of 48 subjects. This pool includes 23 literature subjects and 25 non-literature subjects.

Before choosing a subject, a candidate must consider the factors:
a. Personal Interest- It is advisable to avoid choosing a subject only based on how ‘scoring’ or ‘popular’ it is. To keep in mind one’s personal interest is necessary because the syllabus is huge and adding on another part which one might dislike is an unnecessary burden.
b. The Syllabus of the Subject- If the aspirant ends up choosing a subject which has a syllabus comparatively larger than others, he/she might have the odds on their end. It is better to choose a subject with a syllabus that is of short or moderate length.
c. Educational Background- If one is having a science background, subjects like Anthropology, Electrical Engineering, Botany, etc. can be chosen. If one is from Humanities, subjects like History, Political Science, and Literature can be taken; whereas the ones from Commerce background can choose subjects like Economics, or Commerce and Accounting.

After considering the above factors, one should shortlist the subjects down to four or five. While choosing among these subjects, the following should be considered How Scoring and Popular is the Subject is. From the subjects you like, to make a choice, you can consider the one which has been popular with those who have already cracked the exam with high ranks. Some subjects are popular because they are easier to grasp among the ones present in the field of an aspirant, while some others may be popular because they have been covered in school, making them much easier.

A few things to be kept in mind are that one should avoid following trends or stereotypes blindly. Some aspirants take their graduation subject as their optional one; some choose a subject because it overlaps with the General Studies syllabus. However, please note these are not always the necessary factors that one needs to compulsorily stick to. At the end of the day, statistics matter only if you are comfortable with the subject. The notion that there is one easy subject is wrong; easy or difficult depends on personal comfort zones, abilities, background, and interest of individual aspirants. It must excite you and make you want to learn more.