Choosing the right
optional subjects in the Civil Services Mains exam
Choosing the right optional subjects in the Civil Services Main exam will
determine your success. Most often, candidates choose their main area of study
as the first optional paper. And since a major part of the syllabus is taken
care of while preparing for the Prelims, it’s time to deal with the second
optional paper which will consume most of your preparation time.
So how do you decide your second optional paper?
Here are a few parameters that will help you decide.
First, you must be interested in the discipline. Evaluate your aptitude to learn
the subject; the choice should not merely see you graze through to the next
level. Don’t let the length of the syllabus influence your decision. History and
geography are known for their notoriously lengthy content whereas public
administration and anthropology have the least topics to learn. The secret does
not lie in selecting subjects which are short or lengthy but on how comfortable
you are in grasping them.
Here’s a litmus test. Pick up any basic book of the subject and
read the first chapter.
- Are you keen to read the next chapter?
- How much do you recall of what you read?
- Are you ready to make notes for the next three hours?
Assess these factors and you will know if this is your second optional.
The next vital step is the availability of resources. Find out how easily
study material, guidance and coaching are available. If you have studied the
discipline then you will have a fair idea about the syllabus and also the source
for books. But if it’s a completely new subject then it’s sensible to speak to a
senior who will be able to guide you.
Don’t choose a subject because it’s scoring. You may have heard
that subjects like public administration, history, geography, psychology and
philosophy are scoring but that is not true. Don’t select a subject because your
friends are picking it. The UPSC has its own set of rules which puts every
subject on a common platform. If there are more students opting for a particular
optional paper, say history, then according to the UPSC’s proportional
representational rule, more candidates with history will be selected for the
next round. Popular subjects will offer more number of seats but not a greater
Again, if you are opting for a paper which is easy, remember the
easier the paper, the tougher the competition. And last but not least, scan
through the last 10 year’s question papers to give you that winning edge.
The following combinations are NOT allowed by the UPSC:
- Political Science & International Relations and Public Administration
- Commerce & Accountancy and Management
- Anthropology and Sociology
- Mathematics and Statistics
- Agriculture and Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
- Management and Public Administration
- Any two branches of engineering
- Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science and Medical Science
- Combination of two literatures
Any two branches of engineering. e.g., Civil Engineering, Electrical
Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. not more than one engg subject is
allowed. Combination of two literature papers in the above list.
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