How to choose the optionals

This is one of the most important decisions one has to make while planning to take the Civil Services exam.  There are 25 optionals one has to choose from. I assume you know the list and the combinations not allowed to be taken. If not, kindly visit the UPSC website and look up in general > examinations conducted by upsc > civil services (main) exam.

Since there is uncertainty regarding the scheme of the Civil Services (prelims) exam and UPSC may introduce the Civil Services Aptitude Test from next year onwards, I am going to concentrate on the 2 optionals one has to choose for the Mains.

While choosing my optionals, I started the process by eliminating all those optionals which I wouldn’t choose anyways. So Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Medicine, Geology, Statistics etc were eliminated.

I was left with a list of 6-7 optionals from which I had to choose 2. This decision has to be based entirely on your INTEREST and APTITUDE.

To help you decide, go through the syllabus prescribed for each optional you have short listed and try to further shorten the list. When I saw the syllabus for Mechanical Engineering (since I am a mechanical engineer) I took the decision to leave it out as I felt it was very vast and I could not manage it with General Studies and another optional. But if you are confident that you have good command over a subject, it shouldn’t matter even if the syllabus is vast. I was not interested in engineering anyways, and it was a back-up for me since I knew I would take the civil services exam. So the decision to leave it out was easy for me to make.

The reason why INTEREST should be the foremost criterion is because the minimum period of time you would be studying for the CSE is 2 years- from 1 year before the prelims and another 1 year, the duration of the exam. If you find your optional boring then it is going to be difficult to study it for a long duration (both number of months as well as number of hours in a day). So go with what interests you.

Also, APTITUDE has to be one of the important factors as what interests you will not necessarily be easy to study for you. For example, I always liked Mathematics in school and had good scores in it, but the level of maths in the CSE is certainly beyond my abilities.

After going through the syllabus, kindly refer the previous 5 years’ mains exam question papers for the given subject. The papers are easily available on the net. Do not assume by looking at the questions whether the optional seems to be easy or difficult. This is because even if the questions seem to be easy, the answer you would have to write in the exam might require a very good grasp over the subject, which isn’t that easy for any given optional.

By this time, I am sure you would be down to at most 3 optionals. It would now be a question of either this or that between 2 of them. To make the decision, kindly get a basic book for each of the two. This you can easily find out from someone who has prepared for the CSE with that optional. For example, the book I read for psychology was Introduction to Psychology- Morgan and King. I immediately realised it was the right optional for me. So I guess you would also be able to make that decision.

There are some other factors which many aspirants consider- overlap between optional and GS syllabus, availability of study material, toppers’ optionals, trend, etc. I am not in a position to comment on the availability of study material as I do not have much idea about other optionals. But yes, overlap between optional and GS syllabus can also be a good reason, provided interest and aptitude have been taken care of.

But factors such as toppers’ optionals, trend, average marks last year, etc are to be avoided at any cost. Such decision-making is completely illogical. What person A has studied is entirely based on his/her interest and aptitude which is not necessarily same as yours. The average scores, etc keep on changing every year for a given optional. For example, average scores in pub ad mains were well over 300 in 2008 but the situation was completely reversed in 2009. Who knows what might happen in 2010. Moreover, average is nothing but a calculated number. What you score is entirely independent of the average.

At the end of the day, whichever optional you choose, the decision has to be made entirely by YOU. You are the one who has to study for the exam, not your parents, teachers, friends, etc. Do seek advice from others, but make the decision yourself. Coaching classes very often discourage candidates from choosing certain optionals. It is a heavily biased opinion which they offer. Moreover, it’s easy to see that they discourage taking any optional which they do not teach in their institute. Kindly guard against it.

I have tried to give an outline of the method I followed while choosing the optionals. There might be many other factors. Always remember, my advice may be one of the many you might seek, but the decision has to be entirely yours.

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28 Responses to How to choose the optionals

  1. Ajay says:

    Nicely told here how to deal with optionals.
    Since I am a B.E in EC, I had a feeling that I should select electronics as the optional.
    But after reading the blog ,I feel that I have freedom to select any optionals of my interest.

    • anaydwivedi says:

      thanks ajay…but electronics isnt an optional…neways, be confident abt any optional u choose…all the best!!!

    • mishra pia says:

      translucent..(can anything be transparent these days?pl allow me “lucent” inlieu of “parent”), lucid efforts with a dash of honesty…

  2. rohit bansal says:

    sir, i have taken geography as an option. i am not able to decide the second one. i am confused between political science and sociology. i don’t have background in eithera as i am an engineer. the thing with pol sc. is that good guidance is not available even in delhi. socio has it. secondly many says it is very vast and along with geo pol sc can be fatal and lengthy to cover. can u please let me know what to choose . and which coaching offers good guidance for pol sc.

  3. rohit bansal says:

    hello sir. I am having geography as one of my optionals. i am confused between sociology and political science as the other one. i am more interested in pol sc. but as i am coming from engineering background so i need a god and sound guidance. but from what i have come to know is that there is not a proper n good guidance available for pol sc. will u plz let me know the one n any body on blog or orkut or facebook to guide me forthe same. n how can pol sc. actually help in gs..

  4. rohit Bansal says:

    Thanks a lot sir. Sir I do have one more query as how to go about India and world and where to get the basics of economic organizations such as IMF, world bank etc. and India and international relations.. their basics and background.

  5. satyam says:

    Hello Anay!!
    started studying public ad. as my first optional . I am not sure about writing mains this year. What should be my strategy for prepration of pub ad and how I should balance it with my GS prep????

    • anaydwivedi says:

      hi satyam…start with the 4 books i have mentioned and read them only according to the syllabus prescribed by upsc…
      cant answer how to balance as u r the best judge of how to go about it…

      • antriksh says:

        hi anay i m currently in my 3rd year electrical engineering.i am confident of my first optional as public administration.for second i m considering psychology and electrical pls suggest

      • anaydwivedi says:

        hi antriksh…
        kindly go thru the post on how to choose the optionals…psych is a good optional if u have interest in it…plus guidance and notes r also available…go thru intro to psych by baron to decide whether it’s to ur liking…
        for electrical engg…plz ask prakash rajpurohit (air 2)…he’s the best person to guide u on EE…

  6. Nityanand says:

    Hi Anay,

    Thanks for such a valuable treasure of information.

    I want to ask you that as I am working and cant get time to attend a full time coaching class, and I know that my weak point is the writing part.
    So is it possible to just get my answers reviewed and checked by some teachers like Pathak sir.
    As you have mentioned that u have takes assistance for psychology and pub ad. I want to know how to contact them and ask for the same. I went to vajiram and ravi to speak with Pathak sir but they were so busy with admissions and all so could not get a chance. How can i personally meet and ask for guidance from Pathak Sir for Psychology and Pavan Sir for Pub Ad and do they entertain such requests as i wont be joining full time classes.

    • anaydwivedi says:

      hi nityanand
      as for pathak sir, yes he is extremely busy always…but if i m right, he is starting the test series soon…kindly inquire and get urself enrolled if u think it wud meet ur needs…
      as for pub ad, pavan sir is very good…u can contact him on 9911366520…he’s also very busy…but certainly will help u out if u go and meet him..u can join his test series and paper discussion session as well…
      but if dnt have time for the test series as well…then simply request them tht u will collect the papers frm the classes and answer the questions at home and submit them…i m sure they wudnt have any problem with it…

      • Nityanand says:

        Hi Anay,

        Thats really nice to hear from you. Havent yet find ppl like you who do reply to such a large no of queries like mine.

        You are really doing a great job.
        Thanks Again.

      • anaydwivedi says:

        not a problem…plz feel free to ask as many Qs as u want…

  7. antriksh says:

    hi anay ,whats your take on starting my preparation in third year of my engineering,and pls suggest on my initial approach dat is initially going through basic ncert books,and for public ad, i m initially ref fadia and fadi and awasthi’maheshwari.

    • anaydwivedi says:

      hi antriksh…
      for gs…just go thru the gs pre post…start with spectrum…
      for psych…get both the fadia and fadia- admin theories and concepts (paper 1) and indian admin (paper 2)…tht wud be enough…

  8. Dr.Atul says:

    hello sir, my optionals r pub admn & anthropology,…………for pub admn……….ur blog is blessing in disguise…………sir if u cud giv insight regarding giving any link of successfull candidates who had anthro…………….thanx a lot sir!!!!!!!!!!

    • anaydwivedi says:

      hi atul…
      m sorry, i dnt knw any1 with anthro optional personally…iva sahay (air 3), narayana bharath gupta (air 17), kartikeya goel (air 43), nishi kant singh (air 82) r some who had anthro…u can look up on orkut or fb to c whether they r there or not…

  9. aish says:

    hi,am a final year student.can u suggest me the books that shud be read for the prelims?
    and and the books to be read ,if am takin public admin as optional?
    can u plz suggest me good coaching institues for ias?
    and wich is the optimum tym to start preparation?and how many days preparation does it need to crack the exam?
    i shall value ur guidance wid the highest esteem sir.,
    thank u.

  10. Simran says:

    Hi Anay,

    I m a comp engg graduate. Planning for UPSC-2011. While choosing optionals, out of pure interest I chose Psycho and after reading Baron for the feel, I know its right for me. But for the 2nd subject, while following your method of elimination and then selection , I am confused between Pub Ad and Socio.
    1) Pub Ad syllabus looks huge as compared to socio.
    2)Also, the material and all seems to be too much distributed and no proper guidance. Not 1 source like MP Sir for Psycho.
    3) Went through just the syllabus and question papers ( No book) , I felt tooo much to study ( which i didnt feel for psycho mebe coz of great interest)

    But the advatanges are : 1) A very good help in GS and overall working of administration which may help in interview as well.
    2) Not sure want to confirm from you , but the questions would be more technical compared to socio ( since i m from a non -arts bkground) . So that would give fact based answers or rather 1 kind of answer along with little analysis. Where as in Sociology , it would lot of writing skills involved.

    –I m not sure which one out of Psycho orPA/Socio should I take for prelims? I like Psycho but since not even decided 2nd subject…cant make a right decision.

    Your views on it . Please .

    • anaydwivedi says:

      hi simran
      1. dont worry abt pub ad syllabus…on the contrary, it is an optional which requires least preparation…u may ask others…this aspect may b an advantage but it is balanced by the fact tht lot of answer-writing practice is required…
      2. for pub ad guidance…pavan kumar sir at srirams is the best…but u will need to shift to delhi…as i said, without answer-writing practice and constant feedback, pub ad is gng to be a bit tricky…
      3. yes, the overlap between gs and pub ad is one of the biggest advantages…i dont knw abt socio…but frm wht i knw after talking to frnds who have socio and pub ad as their optionals…pub ad requires more answer-writing practice…

      i suggest u get in touch with tanvi sundriyal…air 6…she had both socio and pub ad as her optionals…so wud be in a good position to advise u…she’s there on orkut and fb…her blog is
      u may also contact garima mittal…air 8…she had psycho and socio as her optionals…her views on it might also be helpful… she’s there on orkut and fb…

  11. Simran says:

    Is there scaling done? What I mean to ask is , if in Maths you get 300/300 , but after comparing it with other subjects (descriptive like say psycho ) , will it be levelled down to say , 270, after scaling? Actually, Shubhra says it happens. But I m not sure since a lot people say its not sure how the marking is done. Just wanted to know if you have any idea about it. Thanks in advance.

  12. Simran says:

    Hi Anay, wasnt online for long. Just wanted to say thanks for all ur answers ( ithese and also psycho posts). Great that you uploaded the notes.
    Have few queries:
    1) DD Basu book’s name is ” Introduction to Constitution” or something else?
    2) I m still confused abt my 2nd optional.
    After going through 3 subjects that i shortlisted, finally read the syllabus for pub ad and geography thoroughly. Went through the question papers. Infact, I read geo 9 to 12 ncert ( since it will be helpful in gs mains).
    This is what I think :

    Pub Ad- syllabus compact to geography , has an edge over geo in terms of my interest, but the questions require a lot of answer practice . also, in exam time, u need to think n write since almost all questions are opinion based.
    I mean its good it helps bulding ur analytical skills , would help in interview and essay also. But then its seems a little tough job for me.
    Havent read any book for pub ad though to make a solid opinion.

    Geography , syllabus too vast..too much to mug up …maps an issue…but when i see the question paper , it seems a blessing. They are so straight….Its 1 expected answer. U know it or u dont.
    No tension abt answer practicing…and thinking in the exam to beautify your answer and include all aspects…( compared to pub ad)
    I read 9 to 12th ncerts.

    I find them almost equal..Not understanding what to do. Ur opinion would be of gr8 help. Should i read a pub-ad book to further find out?
    If yes, which one?

    Thanks in anticipation.

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