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Friday, January 23, 2009

How To Select An Optional For UPSC/IAS Exam

"Which optional/subject should I take ?" is the most often asked query in the comments section of this blog. This question like any other important question does not have a simple answer. The choice of optional may prove to be one's undoing in this exam as optionals carry huge weightage in terms of marks in all three stages. But if anyone thinks that just by choosing a safe optional one will clear all stages then one is just fooling oneself.At the same time choosing an optional in which you have more than a passing interest and one which you feel you have the aptitude for ,may prove to be an invaluable asset in this exam.Go through the syllabus and prelims/mains question papers of 2-3 subjects that you would have shortlisted from the unending list of UPSC optionals.Just see for yourself what kind of questions are being asked and whether you feel you will be able to answer them once you are thorough with the syllabus.Selecting optional remains more of an art and if you have to go by something then go by your interest in the subject alone,everything else should take a backseat.
Some of the basic factors that one must consider before zeroing down on an optional are:
1.Never choose a subject solely because everyone else is going for it.Consider your own interest and inclination for the subject especially if it is going to be your first optional as you will have to read it in much detail and get clarity of concepts.
2.The availability of resources in terms of books,guidance,coaching etc.For popular subjects ,resources are more easily available but it should be considered after you satisfy the first criterion.
3.Your subject in graduation or post-graduation should be considered if you are really comfortable with the subject.But do not go for it just because you have read it in college.
4.Once you decide on an optional ,fully back yourself to clear the exam with it no matter what others may say.In this exam individual performances only matter ,general trends count for little.
Finally, no optional is safe or unsafe despite what the coaching institutes or other experienced people might say.It is your preparation level which will determine whether the optional that you have selected will have one more successful/unsuccessful candidate.Listen to others,but do your own thing.All the very best !!!


Anonymous said...

Hi Abhishek,

I was planning on taking physics as one of my optionals. I have heard rumours that there is significant bias against maths and physics. Would you happen to know something about this?


Abhishek said...

@ Akshay ... ideally one shud decide on the optional depending on one's interest nad comfort level with the subject ... few people take up physics and maths becoz few ppl have good fundamentals n conceptual clarity in these subjects ...social sciences in comparison seem like a safer bet ....but i dont think there is any such bias against physics and maths ,people either score very high or quite low which is due to the nature of subject .... so my suggestion to u wud be to go with ur interest.... all d best !!!

Deepti said...

Hi Abhishek,

This is Deepti Jindal.. First of all , many Thanks for writing this blog. This indeed is very helpful.

About me: I am working as a software Engineer (Work ex: 1.5 years )
I have done my B.Tech in IT and I am thinking of taking UPSC-2010.

I am confused in deciding the optionals, as per now, all subjects are same for me except the Zoology, Botany ones (One with the Biological/medical) touch.

What would you advise, I should go for the ones with more takers with somewhat easy to understand syllabi e.g Geography or I should go for the ones with less number of takers e.g Electrical Engg.?

In order to talk about interest , it is somewhat difficult for me to decide.


Unknown said...

Hi abhishek, I came across this on the Braintree academy site ..Is this true..

Myth: Certain optionals have better prospects at the Preliminary.
Reality:All optionals offer equal chances of success. Usually the “proportionate method of representation” is followed. This method may be explained as follows:
Total no. candidates appearing at the examination with various optionals = 1,00,000
Total no. of candidates to be selected for the Main Examination = 10,000
Candidates taking History = 20,000
Minimum representation to be secured of candidates who have opted for History = 2,000.
Thus every optional is weighted proportionally.
If this is true then is that the final score that is taken into acount or being Topper in ur specific choosen optionals is what matters?

Bhavna Sharma said...

Hi Abhishek,

I am a computer engineer, but I had all the interest in Chemistry, so I have chosen that as my prelims optional for 2009. But I see no books on chemistry for IAS preparation. I am referring the class XI and XII NCERT books as of now for reference besides the 15 year unsolved chemistry papers as of now. Can you, by any chance, guide me for few books/refer someone who can help me in that(I hope I am not the only person in India who has chosen chemistry as the optional for prelims). Also let me know what advantages/disadvantages I should be expecting by choosing this rarely preferred subject. Although I am not expecting much from this attempt, I still wish to give it my best shot. So, a quick response will be much appreciated.

Many thanks in advance!

warm regards,
Bhavna Sharma

Abhishek said...

@Deepti ... thx 4 putting me in a difficult position ... since interest factor is not working in ur case ,why not chk out the syllabi of few optionals that u feel u can take up ... its going to be a trade-off between lots of resources for popular subjects but also lots of competition ...so make ur choice by thinking and evaluating the subjects on the parameters like - interest, availability of resources n guidance,previous background in d subject etc. i hope this vague suggestion helps ...all d best ...

Abhishek said...

@Yashika ...well i think braintree is spot on ... in case of prelims u r competing only with candidates with the same optional ,so if u r a geography student u will be competing only with other candidates having geography as their first optional ,and whoever is scoring more gets selected ...so in prelims ,u really need to score well in ur chosen optional plus a decent performance in gs ...all d best !!!

Abhishek said...

@Bhavna ... u r definitely not the only person wid chemistry optional ,but yes people writing this exam with pure sciences are rare ... i think its gud that u have gone with ur interest but only interest will not suffice ...plz search in google for chemistry books that shud be referred 4 civil services ,if i come across someone wid chemistry optional ,i will ask n post the name of the books here as well ...gud luck !!!

Deepti said...

Hi Abhishek,

Thanks for the comment.

As this is my first time, i am very much confused about what to study and from where to study. Right now its your blog and few more sites which are the only source of my information.

As optionals ,I will be taking Psychology as 1st optional. Have gone thru your psychology blog as well. Many thanks for sharing such valuable information.

Few more queries I have:

1) What should I start with first ??psycho or GS?
2) In GS, as there is lot to read and time is flying very fast , are there some basic notes/books to start with.
3)Also, I have heard that one should also start preparing for MAINS subjects parallely , as after prelims one cannot cover the entire syllabus of MAINs.
4) Do you know any good coaching institute in Gurgaon?As I am working in GGN and going to Delhi on weekdays will be kindof difficult for me. Also there will not be any time left for self-study.

Please bear if these queries are very generic. I will be really grateful if you reply ASAP!

Thanks in Advance,

ashirvad said...

abhishek u are a darling.u have created my confusions.thanks this is the most heart to heart talk by any blogger on upsc exam.thanks keep it up.

ashirvad said...

abhishek u are a darling.u have cleared my confusions.thanks this is the most heart to heart talk by any blogger on upsc exam.thanks keep it up.

faisal said...

hi! sir
is there any publication which is publishing Psychology preliminary solved papers topic wise. If it is so plz suggest and sir i m not able to get Mukul patakk sir class nptes as i m at bangalore i tried to get the notes by one of my friend at delhi but he didn't find it .. plz help me out in this matter
Faisal A H

maddiew said...

Hello Abhishek sir,
very glad to see people like you are sharing your experiences with others..thanks for that.I am an engineering student gonna complete maa engg on may 20th and m planning to take civils coaching in hyderabad..i am thinking of taking maths as one of the optional and m having a little bit of dilemma in second opt between psychology and public administration i dunno whether it will b advicable for a non medical student to takeup psychology .i have also heard that there will be many questions in gs paper from history??
plz gimme a suggestion in selecting the optionals...can i have u'r phone no or email id sir if u don't mind so that it will be helpful for me to get some information..maa email id is madhu_winod@yahoo.co.in

Sumit Moudgil Updates/// said...

Hi Abhishek,
I am doing computer engg. nd i have a dream to become ias i have taken chemistry as 1st optional but many saying its not good an also i am not getting any coaching centers for chem.. plz plz advice me iam very confused

Anonymous said...

Hi Abhishek,
How are you , first of all ..thanks for doing this wonderful job,and i just wanted to confirm that are you the 48th ranker abhishek singh?

venugopal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
venugopal said...

I am currently working with MNC. 2005 Graduate from BITS, Pilani. Also, cleared CFA Level#1 June 2008. I want to target 2009 IAS>>>> Been away from academic life from 4 years, i am slightly confused when comes to narrow down on optionals...however, due to my strong math grades during my under grad, i am hoping i can choose maths as one of my optional...but slightly overloaded for choosing the other one...can you throw some advice>

Anonymous said...

hi im pradeep ,

im planning to take up upsc exams.how many optionals should i chose 1 or 2 n im a software engg.

Kunal Suri said...

Hello Sir,
I am B.Sc. student with math,statistics and Comp. sci as the subjects. I am quite aspiring for this exam but the problem I am facing is that I don't exactly know how to proceed. I have started with GS(seriously) and on my mathematics. I want to know which subject should I take as the 2nd optional(i have interest in economics but kindly give a frank advice). As I am in the 1st year, so on what should i focus on ( GS and maths only or even the 2nd optional).

namrata said...

Hi abhishek,

I have completed my engg in IT an year back and am working currently. I have decided to give UPSC next year. But as expected i am a bit confused abt the optionals.
After doin much research i have shortlisted some 3 subjects which are of my interest namely : botany, geography and history in that order..
Now the confusion is I am not able to get any info abt botany as an optional and history wud be too much of facts and mugging them up wud be too tedious and diffi for me..
Cud u pls help me out of this confusion??
or cud u provide me some info abt the syllabus of botany just like u did for geography..


Anonymous said...

Hi Abhishek;

i m confused for my first optional b/w maths and psychology. plz guide me.


vivekchennai said...

Hi Vivek,

I am prepaing UPSC Mains optional as Politcial science. Could you please let me know the Books and prepartion method...

Along my seconda optional as Socialoagy...Is ti ok..for GS and interview..?

singhal said...

hi abhishek,
kya tum bata sakte ho ki General studies ke paper ki taiyaari kis tarah ki jaye..mein kaunse newspaper aur magazine padun..

shruti said...


Thank You for such an effort..
I am a dual degree student in my third year at IIT Roorkee..with B Tech in Computer Science and Mtech in IT...

can you please help me out with the choice of subjects.....

I see Public Admin, Political Science as options but I think I'lll chose only one among them..

I also have a nudge for human psychology, but as I read the syllabus..it seems a bit of too much

I was also thinking about Philosophy..

I have always loved History....

and I have something for Economics I cannot explain..I had it in my 12th and in my 2nd year as well..and I always loved reading it and drawing those graphs and curves....

So the choice for the two subjects is very difficult....more so which one to have in prelims is equally hard...

please suggest something.?

maninder said...


i am planning on taking physics for my optional1, but i am confused for optional2, i have interest in both electrical engg and chemistry.as i am doing engg in e&ec, i want to go for elec, but when i give the subject paper trends i feel that chemistry is easier...please helpppppp

Piyush Meshram said...

hi abhishek..
can u tell me that not having the notes of psychology of the sir u have told of vajiram & ravi classes will cause any harm in the prelimns if psychology optional is taken & rest the books told by you are studied...??

Unknown said...

hello sir
i am planning to take maths as an optional 1
for mains ...could suggest the best coaching institute ...can u pls tell me if there is marks for each step i solving the problem

Manju said...

Hi Abhishek, Bhavna Sharma and sumit,
I'm a computer science engineer and presently working. I'm also planning to take chemistry as my first optional. But when I approach any senior/other IAS aspirants, everyone suggests me not to go for chemistry. I heard that there is less success ratio for chemistry. But i'm interested in that subject.
I'm very much confused. Could you able to help me out pls ?
Bhavan, sumit --> This is my email-id:
I would request you both to suggest me something through my above mail-id.


Unknown said...

hello abhishek , I am shashank , Computer science student 2nd yr . I am always downhearted , whenever I see the test paper or any practice paper,specially of the general studies , after a little bit of study. I want u to tell me what should I do to update myself about the current affairs and the latest updates and more importantly , answer the questions. I follow CSR magazine and the hindu newspaper. Still I feel the questions very strange and new to me every time. Please give me advice about this problem and I would be grateful to you !!!
thank you ,

Unknown said...

hi shanky

myself umesh Agarwal(AIR-237) would like to share my experience in response to your query.

I used to read current affairs from Hindu,Chronicle,News Notes and Brain Tree monthly notes.

I feel that this sources will suffice your requirment and i m sure ,out of 40 questions , asked in the upsc , u will b able to ans 30 question.

Peerless said...

hey abhishek
firstly great job man .. really a big help .. keep up this gud work.

No need to say i am one of many IAS aspirants
it will be my first attempt and presently i am in a stage to start of with everything and thus analyzing every bit of the journey... from how to prepare what to prepare and most imp which optionals to choose ...

there are few queries yaar

I pursued my b.tech + m.tech in electrical, so i am planning to take electrical and maths as my optionals
wat are ur views for this ?
and can u suggest which among the 2 should i choose for prelims

and can u assist me in getting in touch with someone who has taken these optionals before and appeared for the exam ... ll really be a great help ..

I have read ur full blog ... couldn't find ur suggestions on the above query .... only then i am posting my request ...

it ll really nice to hear from u


Unknown said...

I have selected psychology for my prelims, so i am not getting any question bank and any other material as such, can anyone please guide me if any correspondance/postal guidance is available. And books.


Anonymous said...

@bhavna -- u can use upkar publication or unique publication book for chemistry prelims .....these are the books which is sufficient for prelims.

by deepak(deepakv.iitk@gmail.com)

R.V. said...

hey Abhishek...
I am pursuing b.tech in computer science from nitw. i am in 2nd year. i wish to start preparations for ias now. but i am highly confused for my optional subjects. one i am zeroing on is physics.help me to select the other one. what had u chosen?

Anonymous said...

Hi ,
I want to know how much marks in physics are sufficient to clear the prelims.During practis i normally score 200-220 marks out of 300 marks.

Anonymous said...

this is lakshmi, preparing for civils..i m a computer science & engg. AMIE student and optionals are new to me. I prefer Pub.Ad, anthro...as well as pub Ad, Geography ..U please suggest me which would be the best combination.
Thanks and regards

Aarthee P said...

Hi Abhishek,

Glad that i came across your blog. I have jus completed by B.Tech in Information Technology. Your blog was indeed very useful.

I am planning to take up public administration and either political sciences or sociology as my optionals. I heard political sciences is a bit tough. Can you please advice me on selecting my optionals and also on how to go about in my preparations!!


chitra said...

hello,im chitra from pune...can u please tell me the scope of the chemistry as a optional sub? i"m having pharmacy background..choosing a chemistry as a optional..will be scoring or not? how is the feedback or the success of the students chemistry as a optional..? is it scoring sub.or not?

sidharth said...

sir, i am pursuing btech(electronics,2ndyear) i hav opt for publc adm as my 1st optional, wl u sgst me for 2nd as physics or geography...will it b btr 2take physics bng science stdnt or geography???.. m waiting 4ur reply sir.

Statesman said...

hi abhishek,can yu please tell me how is law as an optional.............

Nikhil said...

Hi Abhishek,

I am a medical graduate. I want to take up Chemistry as one of my optionals as I have a deep interest in this subject but that was way back in higher sec level.
Will it be a good option to go for it given my interest? And secondly is it scoring as I've heard that it is very vast and people usually dont secure much? Any help would be appreciated.


Chandru said...

I chosen chemistry as one of the optionals and i'm confusing of choosing another subject as i'm a basic science graduate. please suggest me to which i have to take (which should save time)in a short time,,,, Hope quick reply would be appriciated...

Anonymous said...

cracking ias is not an easy task but choosing which course to be done for preparation is more difficult becoz if you dont hav the aim in mind then you need to be sure
For this
this will really help you as they have many options regarding whats your interest or where do you want to go
Thank you