One of the dilemmas faced by aspirants for the UPSC exam is about how to choose an optional subject. The mains examination consists of 9 papers; you can choose an optional subject which is bifurcated into 2 papers.
Your choice of optional subject is crucial. If you are strong in the optional subject – which means you can score in the range of 250-300 marks out of a maximum of 500 marks (while other papers have 250 marks each) – it substantially increases your chances of clearing the examination. So choosing the optional subject that best suits you is significantly pivotal to your prospects.
3 FACTORS TO REMEMBER BEFORE YOU CHOOSE AN OPTIONAL SUBJECT
You should have an interest in the subject you have decided to opt for. About 3 months of preparation is needed, and without an avid interest, you cannot devote the amount of time that is required to be thorough with the subject. Within this short span, you will need to study the subject in-depth and practice answer-writing. Of course, interest alone will not help, even though it is an important element in the mix.
STANDARD OF QUESTIONS ASKED AND SYLLABUS
You should be aware of the standard of questions that UPSC asks. The standard of questions varies from graduate to post-graduate level. Please be sure you go through at least 3 years of previous years’ question papers. After one is aware of the standard of usual questions and the range of topics covered by them, the key is to choose a concise and comfortable study plan to navigate through the syllabus. Be aware of the length and breadth of the subject. Then make a deep dive into the aforementioned previous years’ questions and be mindful of the weightage given to the different sub-topics within the subject.
Choose an optional subject that has an ample amount of easily accessible resource materials to study from. There should also be a good number of experienced resource persons that you have access to within the chosen discipline.
BUSTING THE MYTHS
There are some widely propagated myths or misconceptions about optional subjects, and one needs to be able to separate these myths from the facts:
Opt for an optional subject which helps you in the General Studies paper as well: This is a common myth about the optional subjects; the fact is that in general studies, you only need a superficial level of knowledge, whereas an optional paper requires in-depth knowledge.
There are 2 optional subjects: Since 2013, UPSC has done away with the second optional subject, and now a candidate has to choose only one optional subject that has two papers of 250 marks each
Choose an optional subject which you have done at the graduation level: This is not a hard and fast rule. You are free to choose any subject as your option e.g. even if you have a medical background, you are free to choose public administration or any such subject of your choice.
Be wise while you choose your optional subject; it’s the key to success in the Civil Service Examination.
All the best!