IASbaba on How to Choose an Optional-Part I

  • IASbaba
  • July 26, 2015
  • 59
How to Choose Optional, IASbaba's Mains Strategy, Mains Examination, UPSC
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

M S Srikar, topper of 1999 batch wisely remarked “90% of the battle is won at the time of choosing optional itself”. 

Words of wisdom often not realized by an aspirant till he fails for the first time, second or perhaps ever due to the choice of wrong optional.

And why does this happen? Let us narrate our own experience.

  • You attend a coaching institute for gyan on civil services. And here they will bias you that Optional X is good, Optional Y has highest scoring opportunity.
  • Oh, you are an engineer then you need to take this optional since it’s technical. Geography is plain mug and vomit and you will be in top 100
  • Generally they will bias you to the subject which they teach, so that you join their coaching institute.

Consider this Vijayalaksmi Bidari, 2001 rank 1, a computer science engineer created a record unbroken till now. She scored 394/600 in Political Science, an optional which hardly anyone recommends.

My own experience of being that of- 

  • Went to Delhi in summer break of third year of my engineering. Took Geography and Psychology as the market was far with these two subjects.
  • Realized that it is impossible to crack Geo in prelims (given I was working in Strand Life Sciences constraints) and shifted to Sociology. A subject which found to my liking.
  • Failed to get interview call in the first attempt missing the call by 50 marks due to poor score in Geography (200/600)
  • Left the job, travelled to Delhi and joined one of the most sought after geography coaching center only to realize the fraud in a month.
  • With the mains form in hand, chose to change the optional to Public Administration realizing that that his is calling.
  • Everyone I met suggested not to do so – citing too late including my aunt in USA – who had no idea on civil services 🙂
  • Went on to score a top rank with  score in Public administration ranking amongst the top 10 (in Pub Ad) in the country.

So what went wrong the first time? And what went right the second?

  • Every person has certain strengths and certain weaknesses (or for choice of better word let’s call it shortcomings)
  • For example: When it comes to remembering facts and figures certain people have an upper hand while some are very good in interpretation(legally and constitutionally)
  • Every subject requires certain strengths and only a person who is able to master that will succeed in that.
  • To be successful in Hindi literature then if you were a good writer, an ardent ready of Munshiji’s novels.

And you used to do the above without any incentive.

And now that you have an incentive your chances are significantly bright compared to the other candidates (who would have taken the subject for reasons like: the shortest syllabus? Oh! My friends notes is available et al)

And success comes to those whose strengths and weaknesses matches with that of the subject. Having said that what else our team member did before choosing Public Administration? It wasn’t entirely a leap of faith but a very rational decision in the end.

Having realized that reading newspapers/accumulation of polity from childhood narrowed down on Pol Science and Pub Ad.

Based on availability of resources such as time/reading material and comparing his thought process with people have scored high in the subject , chose Pub Ad.

So if you want an algorithm on how to choose an optional subject, here it goes:


  • Go through the entire list of optional .You can directly chuck subjects like Russian Literature, Chinese etc which are more suited for Aspirants with Masters degree in them.


Now answer the question:

What defines you as a person – methodical? Fact oriented? You have an analytical bent of mind?

What is your core strength?

An IITian rank 1 in electrical engineering can crack any question in that subject. If so, it is his obvious choice to take that.

But you love your mother tongue to the extent you have read major novels? Can debate on few and form a group. Go for literature as a shortlist.

Now go through the syllabus of these shortlisted 4-5 subjects.

See if anything adds to the decision you are going to undertake.

For example: I would want to take psychology just for the reason that it has 5 of my favorite topics.

  • Take a paper and do an ROI (Return on investment
  • If I Take Pubic Administration, it will help me in essay and General studies.
  • If I take Maths, it would not help me GS but I can score higher to make up for the lacunae in other subjects.
  • Take Basic books in these subjects – like Nicholas Henry for Pub Ad or Majid Hussain for Geography.
  • See where you are enjoying intellectually the most.
  • Now take the Previous Year Question papers (3-4 years) of the shortlisted Subjects. Read all the questions and do an objective analysis of your ability, interest and the subject fit. Do not jump the gun here itself. A good beginning only half done.
  • Then fit into the decision equation other variables such as time availability, whether you are working/not, access to material ?
  • Now that you have factored in all the constraints. Have the courage and conviction to follow your heart and mind.

Bingo!! You now have a fool proof system of selecting the optional which would trigger you to great heights.

Check out the Part 2 where in we bring you offbeat gyan on choosing optionals (highly recommended) on next Sunday – To be continued


By Yeshwanth Gurukar

Works with President, Alshaya in a highly analytical – finance and supply chain role. IIMB Grad and Aditya Birla  Group Stratos Winner

He cleared UPSC with a rank of 107 and will be soon joining Flipkart in a senior management role

For a dedicated peer group, Motivation & Quick updates, Join our official telegram channel – https://t.me/IASbabaOfficialAccount

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel HERE to watch Explainer Videos, Strategy Sessions, Toppers Talks & many more…

Search now.....

Sign Up To Receive Regular Updates