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Choosing a right combination of optional for Prelims and Mains exam is vital to come out with flying colors in IAS exams. Accomplishment with jubilation is Success. Suppose a candidate clears Civil Services Exam and gets service allocation against his will because of his position in the ladder of rankings, then that is accomplishment without jubilation. It is at this crucial point that the role of optional comes into play as the weightage for optional is 1200 marks out of 2000 marks. The wide factors which influence the selection of optionals are:


  • Inherent interest
  • Field of study
  • Scoring potential

Firstly coming to the point of inherent interest, no doubt it is very vital during the course of preparation. It always keeps your motivation level high.

Secondly coming to the point of field of study, of course one always has a natural inclination to choose a subject of his study. However there are subjects like Polymer Technology, Textile Technology and others which are not prescribed in the UPSC syllabus. In such cases candidates generally tend to choose closely related subjects like Chemistry and so on. It is very essential to note at this juncture that syllabus is very vast and choosing a closely related subjects most often do not click well. Knowing a subject alone is not sufficient to score well.

A cautious note here is that we have seen many candidates to opt for Botany and Zoology in mains exam thinking that overlapping of syllabus at many places may help in time management. The crucial point is that though there is overlapping of syllabus at many places, approach is different for each one of these optional. And hence we suggest you not to mislead by such illusions.

Thirdly coming to the point of Scoring potential, it is a very delicate issue to be discussed at length. Every subject is scoring provided you have the aptitude for that subject or put it in different words every subject is not scoring for everybody. Always Mathematics has high scoring potential. But whether Mathematics suits everyone’s aptitude and attitude is the most intriguing question? Your senior might have scored well in Geography. But does it hold equally true for you also? The answer to the above questions is absolutely “NO”. As far as scoring potential of a subject is concerned, please do not follow other’s advice. They may be expressing from their view point. However we do not mean to say that do not discuss with your seniors or coaching institutes. What we mean is, take the necessary advice from others but the ultimate decision should be yours as none knows you better than yourself.

Is there anything like Best Combination of Optionals?

As far as Civil services Exam is concerned one should always keep in mind the factor of General Studies and Essay [GS + Essay carries 800 marks out of 2000 in Mains exam]. GS plays a decisive role in both prelims and mains exams. Based on the analysis of UPSC examination pattern we have herein prioritized the Optionals based on the degree of GS and Essay friendliness.
  • Political Science and International Relations.
  • Sociology.
  • Public administration.
  • History.

The degree of GS & Essay friendly nature of these subjects is illustrated below:-

Political Science and International Relations

• In prelims almost every year 20-25 questions are related to the optional paper Political Science and International Relations (12-15 from Indian Polity + 8-10 from Current affairs related to International Institutions and International relations).

• Out of 600 marks in GS almost 300-330 marks (Indian National movement, Indian polity, International affairs, India and world etc.) is related to the optional subject Political Science. Moreover in Essay paper [200 marks] almost every year there is one topic related to politics. Hence out of 2000 marks in Mains Exam almost 1100-1130 marks (300-330 marks in GS + 200 marks in Essay + 600 marks as Political Science as optional paper) is related to Political Science. Whatever optional you choose, preparing for these 500-530 marks related to Political Science is inevitable.

• If your other optional subject is Sociology, then it would be most advantageous as approach towards each one of these subjects is same.


Best optional for Prelims as the syllabus is very much compact and simple to prepare in 3 months.

• In prelims almost every year 5-8 questions [Indian Society + Social welfare schemes] are related to the optional paper Sociology.

• Out of 300 marks in GS-I almost 30-50 marks (Social issues and Welfare Schemes etc.) is related to the optional subject Sociology. Moreover in Essay paper [200 marks] almost every year there is one topic related to Indian Society. Hence out of 2000 marks in Mains Exam almost 830-850 marks (30-50 marks in GS + 200 marks in Essay + 600 marks as Sociology as optional paper) is related to Sociology. Whatever optional you choose; studying for these 230-250 marks related to Sociology is inevitable.

• If your other optional subject is Political Science, then it would be most advantageous as approach towards each one of these subjects is same.
Public administration

• In prelims almost every year 10-12 questions (Indian Polity + Indian Administration) are related to the optional paper Public administration.

• Out of 300 marks in GS-I almost 100-120 marks (Indian polity etc.) is related to the optional subject Public administration. Moreover in Essay paper [200 marks] almost every year there is one topic related to Public administration. Hence out of 2000 marks in Mains Exam almost 900-920 marks (100-120 marks in GS + 200 marks in Essay + 600 marks as Public administration as optional paper) is related to Public administration. Whatever optional you choose, preparing for these 300-320 marks related to Public administration is inevitable.

History

• In prelims almost every year 20-25 questions are related to the optional paper Indian History.

• Out of 300 marks in GS-I almost 100-120 marks is related to the optional subject History (i.e) Indian national Movement and Indian cultural history. Hence out of 2000 marks in Mains Exam almost 700-720 marks (100-120 marks in GS + 600 marks as History as optional paper) is related to History. Whatever optional you choose, preparing for these 100-120 marks related to Indian History inevitable.

As far as the other optional subjects are concerned their degree of GS and Essay friendliness is very minimal and in some cases like Engineering subjects etc. it is almost nil.

Now from the foregoing discussions one can easily conclude that Political Science and International Relations + Sociology OR Public Administration+ Sociology is the best combination. However even among these two Political Science and International Relations + Sociology is the best combination as owing to its dynamic nature Political Science is more GS & Essay friendly than Public Administration. Now we leave it to you to decide. But we suggest you to choose any one of these two combinations. That would be the wise decision.

Apart from these there are other subjects like Geography which are very much popular among Civil Service aspirants. However popularity alone should not be the deciding factor. In every subject there are people who have scored well as well as there are who could not score well. Hence scoring nature of the subject rests in you. It is you who is responsible for scores. Hence keep all such factors in mind before finalizing your optional. But be cautious that if you choose wrong combination of optional and fail to get through the IAS Exam you need to wait for almost another 18months or so even if everything goes fine with your next attempt.

Make sure that you would clear the IAS Exam at the earliest possible time because your career growth as a Civil Servant depends much on the age of entry into the service. Definitely a candidate who gets the service at the age of 21-24 years will have good prospects of career growth compared to a candidate who gets the service at the age of 29-30 years as seniority in service plays a vital role Government services and the retirement age is 60 years as of now. Those who enter the service at the age of 22 years will have more than 90% of chances to reach up to the post of Cabinet Secretary the topmost posting that a civil servant can attain.



How to choose Optional Subject for UPSC ( Syllabus Link here )
What criteria to keep in mind?
Following subjects can't be taken together
As per UPSC rules you can't take following combinations

(i) Candidates will not be allowed to offer the following combinations of subjects :–

(a) Political Science & International Relations and Public Administration;

(b) Commerce & Accountancy and Management;

(c) Anthropology and Sociology;

(d) Mathematics and Statistics;

(e) Agriculture and Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science.

(f) Management and Public Administration;

(g) Of the Engineering subjects, not more than one subject.
(h) Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science and Medical Science.



Your interest in the subject
You are competing for the top post in government, which means only 600 vacancies in different services (and only about 60 in IAS. ) which means you've to be in the top merit all over India, which requires scoring high in your optional subject , which require studying it for minimum 3 hours a day. And if you are not interested in the subject- then you'll be bored doing it = half hearted preparation = no success.

How to find whether you're interested in a specific subject or not?


Take the NCERT book of that subject / or some other basic book / or an article on wikipedia- read it for 1 hour, if you find it really interesting, then you can take up that subject.
Your Graduation Background


To take up a technical subject like Medicinal science, physics, chemistry, zoology etc – its necessary that you've at least done graduation in that subject. But at the same time, don't take the preparation lightly, just because you've studied it at graduation level , being a graduate in a particular subject doesn't automatically guaranty success in UPSC- if it was true then all IAS officers would be IIT grads. You've to continuously keep preparing and revising your subject. Don't go like "ok I've studied this for 3 years in college, so, I'll look it only for 1 month before the exam." don't run into the 'myth of scoring subjects'. As explained afterwards.

Don't choose optional based on following criteria.
Its scoring
Xyz subject is scoring – it's a myth. Because UPSC follows a statistical formula to put all the students on common marking scale after Mains exam. ie. After applying that formula, the literature student will gain few marks, and the maths (or any other technical scoring subject) guy will lose some marks- and then they all will be put on a common marking list – from that UPSC will invite first 1000-2000 students for interview.
Few years ago, a lady with English literature as her subject got all India 1st rank. If maths, physics or geography were the only scoring subjects, then it'd never have been possible.
Its easy
If something is easy then its easy for everyone sitting in the exam. So the easier subjects means tougher competition.
Popularity
A popular subject helps you crack prelims a little easier because of the 'proportional representation rule'

First you understand it, 'proportional representation rule'
Suppose UPSC wants to pass 10,000 students from prelims to mains.
100,000 people sit in the prelim exam and 20,000 of them were with History. Then UPSC will make the prelim list in such a way that, out of 10,000 people passing the prelims -2,000 of them are taken from History opt. subject.

Now in the same case if only 2000 people sat with Maths / Botany/ Zoology – then only 200 will be passed by UPSC from prelims to mains. And so on.
So if you've taken a popular subject like

  1. History
  2. Geography
  3. Psychology
  4. Philosophy
  5. Public Administration
Then you've more seats to compete on = more chances to pass the prelims. However it's a state of mind, in my opinion , if you are determined and well prepared then you crack prelims even if they were going to choose only 1 person from your subject.

THIS RULE Doesn't APPLY IN MAINS TO INTERVIEW / INTERVIEW TO FINAL SELECTION level
Secondly, PRELIM MARKS ARE NOT COUNTED IN FINAL SELECTION MERIT LIST.


Comparative analysis Chart



NameHow much Help in General StudiesHelp in Essay?Personal comments
PrelimMains
History8-1080:Freedom

Movement

Paper 1
YesLengthiest syllabus
Geography3030+International affairs+ Sci-TechYesEasy 2 understand, lot places to remember
Public Administration15110-PolityYes
Political Science
Same
Can't take with Pub.ad
Philosophy/psychology/

Literature
None
Yes
Zoology/Botany/Med Sci.520-30 in Sci.TechYes
Good only if you studied @ grad.level
Maths/Stat10 Mental ability30 in StatNone
Economy/Commerce/Accounting5100MYes
Sociology / AnthrorareSocial issues

20-30 M
YesEasy to understand but for everyone

One Response so far.

  1. thanks for this post...... and I have a question...
    How should prepare for UPSC Civil services by taking sociology as an optional?

    http://www.sociologybyadityamongra.com/

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