How to choose your Optional Subject: Target IAS 2018 and Beyond

After you make a conscious decision of preparing for civil services, the first and the obvious question that comes up here, is how to choose one’s optional subject.

Given that, after the change of pattern, only one optional subject needs to be chosen, a good choice of the optional subject might even guarantee a more than cut off score (and beyond) in the Mains (written) examination.


Before selecting any subject for your optional, please find out whether the criteria below are applicable, for being a good optional subject.

 Availability of material and good books

 Limited syllabus

 Question papers are not dynamic and almost the same for the last 15 years (or more!)

 Availability of good coaching institutes

 Availability of seniors who can help with the subject

 Scoring

 The ‘supposed’ normalizing effects are ‘comfortable’

 Useful for GS and Essay papers

 If one is from medium other than English, proper checkup of market to see availability of material.



Even when a subject is good in all the above respects, before or after the change of pattern, the primary criteria which should define what optional subject to choose must come from one’s interest towards the subject.

It’s you who has to sit with those books for long hours and in course of time have to start living with that optional as well. Please go through the subject for a while, and then find out if it is within your tastes. Most of the times, it does interest you.

Don’t worry that time would be wasted in doing this exercise, all that you read would be useful for GS or Essay and may be even in the language papers.


You will also have to understand that any subject in itself is not scoring. It is the student who makes any subject scoring. If the same answer written by two or more students, one may get more marks than others due to systematic presentation and writing answer strictly according to question.

Presenting just a general view of the analytical questions might not fetch good marks, and hence a little more in-depth analysis is required in your marks, for making it more scoring.



Of course, for those with specific background like Agriculture, Medicine, Management, Law etc., we don’t see any need for any other optional subject except for what they opted for their degree. Choosing would be definitely easy.

Here we intentionally did not go into the details of such optional subject information as it is highly specialized in to the respective domain(s). Only those subjects which are generic in nature, and are generally opted by students of various faculties are mentioned.


Even after such an exercise done to choose an optional subject, it must be the case that many of you are still confused which one to finally take for the exam. With just one subject to be opted for in the new pattern, the choices become tougher.

This is either you are unable to choose between two equally placed social sciences (like geography versus sociology, public administration versus history etc.) or you are not sure whether to take social sciences or one of your graduation subjects (like MBA versus Public Administration etc.).

Well, it is not going to be easy anytime. But always find that there will be some inclination, some bias within you towards one of the subjects. That’s the only chance to bank upon.

Choosing one out of geography, sociology, pub ad etc. would be very tough from a neutral perspective (which we, the compilers of this document, are in). If you have any inclination of geography, that’s always a better option.



These days Public Administration is on the backseat, it is being really taken for a ride, both in the toughness of the question paper as well as for evaluation.

We do not want to discourage people from taking it just for this reason, yet the facts are on our face (the 2012 exam marks would be of great help to crosscheck, although in this year’s result, Pub Ad people seem to have scored well).

If you are an MBA graduate, it is better (than any time before) to go for your degree course than taking any other subject. Similar is the case for Law, Medicine and other specialized subject graduates.

When it comes to history, it is generally seen only those who have a great liking for the subject would be willing to take it any day, but it is not a subject for all (especially because of its vastness).


In the end, we say, be decisive. This is one skill everyone has to develop, not just to clear the exam, but to do the job, later on the field. Take a decision and stick with it. There is no place for non-decision takers in the services.

In fact, this can end up being the single most important factor for you on the job as a civil servant. So, why not start from this instance. We hope you will.


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