(Getting Started) History Optional Strategy by Ashutosh Kulkarni AIR-44

(Getting Started) History Optional Strategy by Ashutosh Kulkarni AIR-44

Ashutosh cleared UPSC Civil Services 2019 with an all India rank of 44 in his 4th attempt. Ashutosh is a mechanical engineer hailing from Maharashtra. His father works at the C-DAC and his mother is a bank manager. He had been preparing for UPSC full-time since his college days. Before his final successful stint this year, he had reached the interview stage twice. He had also been temporarily working with mygov.in before making it to the list this year. 

Why History Optional?

Ashutosh took up History Optional as he found himself deeply interested in the subject which according to him should be the first and foremost criteria for choosing an optional. There should be a general inclination towards the subject because, for any optional, UPSC expects a post-graduation level of specialization. The next consideration for him was whether or not he can grasp the contents of the topics mentioned in the upsc syllabus which he found himself being comfortable with History. One of the main advantages of History is that it is chronological and that allows your brain to process it more easily.

Why Not History?

History is brimming with facts and one must process a tonne of information to get a grasp over it. The syllabus also happens to be vast. However, despite the long syllabus, every topic is explicitly mentioned, which leaves no place for vague interpretations. 


In History, you have 2 papers and each has 2 sections. Paper-I is divided into Ancient and Medieval History, whereas Paper-II is divided into Modern and World History. Ashutosh suggests that you keep one section in each paper very strong. For him, the choices were Ancient and Modern History. Attempt 3 questions from the stronger section and 2 from the weaker section.

Suggested Books & Sources

Ashutosh suggests limiting the sources for each section to 3-4. He recommends the following – 

5 Books to Study History for IAS Prelims Exam - ClearIAS

Ancient History

Medieval History

Modern History

World History


UPSC Mains History Optional Study Kit

Note Making Is A Must

For History, different points for the same topic will be spread over different sources. Thus, making your notes is non-negotiable. Keep in mind the idea is to compress material so keep a minimum 10:1 word ratio between the source and your notes. For ancient and medieval History, quoting sources is very important and so you must keep archeology, epigraphy, numismatics, and literature are a must. In the exam, generic statements will not fetch you marks if you don’t quote sources. Have views of Historians embedded in your notes so that you can recall and write them in the exam. For Modern and World History, sources are not important but the analysis of events is. So, make notes accordingly.

Answer Writing And Time Management

Fix a time for each question. Ashutosh had decided to spend 7 minutes on 10 markers, 10 minutes on 15 markers, and 15 minutes for 20 marker questions. Adding classy introductions and conclusions is important as that makes an impact. Facts are the building blocks, backed by sources and clever analysis. Be specific and have clarity of thought to score well. Note the keywords and answer as per instructions without going into a tangent. Quote Historians in introductions and conclusions, add in-depth analytical conclusions. The examiner must understand that you have developed a 360-degree overall view of the subject.

Answer Writing Tips For CSE Mains » Apti Plus

Generic Answer Writing Tips For UPSC CSE Mains

Message To Aspirants

Keep revising and keep practicing without fail. Use maps and keep practicing Historical sites. Finish everything before the upsc prelims so that in the time between the prelims and mains, you can simply revise the whole thing at least thrice. 

If you follow these steps, you are bound to do score enough. And with a little bit of luck, this might just push you into the final list.


Printed Study Material for UPSC IAS Exams

Online Coaching for IAS PRELIMS Exam

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