The never ending questions, like best optional for IAS, scoring optional, highest success ratio, etc keep on haunting most of the civil services aspirants. As in the changed scheme of IAS exam, the number of optional subjects to be selected is reduced to one, hence the weightage of the optional paper is only 500 marks out of 2025, Yet it is a deciding factor in the final ranks due to the unpredictability associated with General Studies Papers.

    The percentage of top ranks in IAS exam has come down from 58-60% in last few years to 49-50 % in 2013-14, while the last rank of a successful candidate in General category is around 40% marks in 2013-14. In the year 2014, the highest marks in optional (Geography) was around 320/500 (63+%) whereas the highest marks in GS was around 420/1000 (42%). Since most of the students fall in the “average GS” category, the decision of IAS Mains optional is very crucial. You need to select an optional subject in which you can score high in UPSC mains. So contrary to the popular belief, the role of the optional is as significant as it always was. Thus the aspirants should be very careful while choosing their optional.

    Here arises the most important question:” What are the points that one should deliberate upon while considering any optional subject and how does one zeroes down to a subject.

    1. Interest in the subject: An Optional should not be selected just on the basis that someone known has/had opted for it. It should be primarily based on the interest in the subject which differs individual to individual. To find out the subject of your own interest, you should devote enough time. If you can think beyond the books and foresee and interrelate the subject matter of a particular subject, the same should undoubtedly be taken up; because such zeal in the subject makes the whole preparation very easy irrespective of one’s academic background or the length of the syllabus etc.

    2. Trend analysis of Civil Service Exam: This is another indicator which one should keep in mind while selecting an optional. Some of the Optional may have the inherent nature to perform better as compared to others. You must choose the same if it is falling in the category of the subject of your interest, However, this should never be the first criteria.

    3. The convergence of Optional and GS: Selecting an overlapping optional with General Studies is a good strategy, as it provides an extra advantage to the students not only to write a better answer of the GS part but also saves a lot of time. Though one should never take an optional just for the sole reason of GS overlap.

    4. Availability of guidance and study material: The nature of questions being asked in the optional paper has also undergone a sea change in the past few years. Hence the questions asked are such that the ability to write a good answer requires not only better conceptual clarity but also the integration of intra and interdisciplinary topics and issues. Besides, one has to inculcate the art of on-the-spot-writing and handling the tricky questions.

    Finally, the decision of selecting an optional must be a personal choice of each aspirant according to his/her strengths and weakness as only you know your strength, weakness, taste, and availability of study materials.




    Geography has been one of the most popular subjects as an optional among the civil services aspirants throughout. Many students, with geography as their optional, have secured top positions in this exam. In the year 2014, 6 out of the 10 top rankers had geography as their optional subject. The graph continues to rise and there are grasping reasons for this success rate/ performance which can be listed as follows.

    1. High level of objectivity in the subject: The objectivity in geography brings it closer to the science subject. It takes out the “many opinion syndrome” from the subject, unlike other humanities subjects. This makes it not only easier to prepare but also enables the students to score higher. Besides learning becomes fun through easy integration of topics.

    2. A multidisciplinary subject: Geography contains matters derived from many other disciplines which goes well with the new-age interdisciplinary questions. Besides broadening the horizon of the students, it enables them to have a grasp over a wider range of subjects. A better understanding of the subject is very helpful in writing GS papers through interconnections.

    3. Great contribution in General studies: Almost 40% of the GS syllabus is directly covered with Geography as an Optional: Specially paper 1 and paper 2 of General Studies. Besides direct overlapping with GS syllabus questions, there are many indirect help of geography in general studies and essay. Information of geography is very handy in answering questions on International Relation specially the Geopolitics, sea lines communication, Social studies etc. Even in essay at least one question is directly related to geography is asked. Even in other topics in essay except the philosophical topic knowledge from geography can be helpful in writing essay                       





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