An important decision while preparing for the Civil Services Exam is the choice of an optional subject. A candidate has to choose one subject from a list of 25 or literature of any one of 23 languages, as her/his optional subject for the main exam. The marks secured in the optional papers are crucial in determining selection. Therefore, it is important to follow the right approach. Here are some tips to do so:
Elimination: Out of the 25+ subjects, eliminate those that you won’t select for obvious reasons. For instance, if you have a Humanities background, you wouldn’t opt for a technical subject like Civil Engineering or Medical Science. Likewise, a native Hindi speaker wouldn’t opt for Tamil literature .
Possible choices: Based on your interest and other criteria, zero-in on certain subjects as possible choices.
Research: Find out more about the subjects under consideration. How have candidates who picked these subjects performed in previous years? Hear from selected candidates. Analyse UPSC’s annual reports to check the relative performance in different subjects.
Analysis: Go through the syllabus and previous years’ question papers: This will help you understand what lies ahead if you choose a particular subject.
Read up: Increase your level of familiarity with the possible subject choices. Read some introductory texts of the subjects you are considering, including their NCERT textbooks for 11th and 12th standard.
Lectures: View a few lectures for every subject online, preferably delivered by teachers who mentor Civil Services aspirants. This will help you gauge your level of interest.
Consult: Seek inputs from subject experts, students who have been preparing for a few years and mentors.
Criteria to select your optional
Your academic background, aptitude and interest in the subject matter is the main thing. Next comes the time required to complete the syllabus. How many candidates who chose this have been successful? How far will this subject help you with the Essay and General Studies papers? Are preparatory aids like specific study material easily available?
Ideally one should begin at least a year before the exam. See what strategy earlier candidates have used. This will help you formulate your own. Create a resource bank so that you can use your time judiciously. Can you study on your own or will you require guidance? If the latter, find a suitable mentor and discuss your needs. Ensure you give the subject enough time in your daily schedule. Make sure your timeline is realistic and complete the work within that. Revise regularly and make answer writing an integral part of your preparation regimen. If you can, join a test series under the guidance of a subject expert.
Don’t rush through the optional subject selection. There is no single subject, which is suitable for all students. Your choice should be an informed one. Undertake wide consultation but ensure that the final call is your own.
The writer is Director at IAS Gurukul and the Convenor of Indian Civil Services Association.