How to Prepare Optional Subject for UPSC Mains 2024?

How to Prepare Optional for UPSC Mains 2024

Optional Paper forms a crucial component of the UPSC Mains, significantly impacting one’s overall score and hence rank. Therefore, preparing the UPSC Mains Optional Paper thoroughly and holistically is indispensable for realizing the UPSC dream. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide on how to prepare Optional for UPSC Mains.

Carrying 500 marks out of a total of 1750 marks in the Mains, the Optional subject plays a crucial role in deciding one’s selection and rank in the UPSC CSE. Moreover, the largely static nature of its syllabus provides aspirants with ample scope to score high in the UPSC Mains Optional Paper. From analyzing the Optional syllabus to developing an in-depth understanding and effective answer-writing skills for Optional subjects, here is a complete roadmap to mastering your UPSC Mains Optional subject.

UPSC Mains optional subject.

The nature and scheme of the UPSC Optional Paper are such that acing it requires a comprehensive preparation strategy. Major elements to be incorporated in one’s Optional preparation strategy to excel in this paper are listed below under various heads.

The very first step to begin your optional preparation is to choose the right optional subject for you. One needs to consider various factors such as one’s interests, availability of resources, success rate, etc in order to make the right UPSC Mains Optional selection.

  • Once you have chosen your optional subject, the next important step is to read and analyze in detail the syllabus for your Mains Optional Paper as prescribed by the UPSC.
  • An in-depth analysis of the Optional Syllabus provides you with a clear outline of the topics you need to cover. This, in turn, helps in avoiding unnecessary topics and focusing on relevant areas.

Once done with analyzing the syllabus, one should go through the Previous Years’ Questions (PYQs) of the chosen Optional Subject. They act like a compass and help in your optional preparation in the following ways:

  • Understand the types of questions being asked from a particular topic.
  • Identify recurring themes and topics so as to focus more on these high-probability areas.
  • Get acquainted with the present trends of questions and their difficulty levels.
  • Understand the marking scheme of your chosen optional subject.

Preparing Optional Subjects requires subject-specific, in-depth study. Gathering the appropriate study materials for UPSC Optional is crucial for the same. The following pointers can help you in this:

  • Standard Textbooks: Begin with standard textbooks, as recommended by the subject experts and toppers, that cover the core concepts of your subject.
  • Optional Courses: UPSC Coaching Institutes offer Optional Courses that cover the complete syllabus for Optionals in a systematic and comprehensive manner. Thus, it is advisable to join a good Optional Course to ensure a guided and comprehensive preparation.
  • Online Resources: Utilize online platforms like YouTube, Blogs, and Educational Websites for additional help.

Explore Optional Courses offered by NEXT IAS

Optional Foundation Courses
Economics OptionalGeography OptionalHistory Optional
Sociology OptionalMathematics OptionalAnthropology Optional
PSIR Optional
Optional Advance Courses
Economics Optional Advance Sociology Optional AdvanceMathematics Optional Advance
Anthropology Optional AdvancePSIR Optional AdvanceCivil Engineering Optional Advance
Electrical Engineering Optional AdvanceMechanical Engineering Optional AdvanceGeography Optional Advance
Optional Postal Courses
Optional Postal Courses

Mastering your Optional Paper can’t be possible without a smart self-study. The following are some tips to help you prepare an effective and strategic study plan:

  • Break your study plan into weekly and monthly targets with a list of topics to be covered during each period.
    • Keep track of daily progress on these plans.
  • Divide and distribute your daily study hours in such a way that more hours are allocated to your weaker areas of the Optional subject.
  • Balancing the preparation for the Optional Subject with the General Studies papers is crucial. Hence, allocate your time wisely, ensuring that neither is neglected.

Here, it is important to mention that:

  • One should refrain from preparing a non-realistic or over-ambitious study plan as such a plan is bound to fail.
  • Preparing the Optional for UPSC CSE is a long journey. Prepare your study plan such that you don’t get exhausted mid-way and your motivation remains maintained.
  • Remain flexible and adjust your plan as needed during your preparation.

Effective note-making is a crucial aspect of UPSC Optional preparation. It helps you manage and retain the vast optional syllabus in a smart and easy way. Here are some pointers regarding the same:

  • Make brief and concise notes for each topic to aid quick revision.
  • Arrange your notes based on topics and sub-topics as per the syllabus.
  • Use diagrams, flowcharts, and mind maps to summarize complex information.
  • Incorporate case studies, key statistics, and current affairs (if applicable) to make your notes more effective.

While covering the vast optional syllabus, as one goes on studying new topics, one tends to lose hold of the topics already covered. Thus, it is of supreme importance to regularly revise previously covered topics to retain information. Here are some tips to ensure periodic revisions:

  • Devote some study hours specifically to revision as part of your daily study schedule.
  • Keep going through your notes for each topic on a periodic basis.
  • 15-20 days immediately before the Mains Exam should be devoted only to revision.

UPSC optional preparation cannot be complete unless one does sufficient optional answer writing practice. Writing optional answers helps one in the following ways:

  • Improve the structure and clarity of your answers.
  • Inculcating habit to incorporate relevant examples, and use proper keywords.
  • Develop exam temperament.
  • Improve answer writing speed.

Once you are done with covering the syllabus for your optional subject, joining a good Optional Test Series is advisable. It helps you give a final shape to your optional preparation in the following ways:

  • Get Expert feedback on your answers.
  • Experience the real exam-like environment.
  • Improve Time Management so as to complete answers within the allotted time.
  • Identify your weak areas so as to work upon and improve them.
  • The Mains Optional Paper assesses a candidate’s depth of understanding rather than merely memorization of information. Thus, one should focus on conceptual clarity rather than rote memorization.
  • A one-size-fits-all approach does not work for UPSC optional preparation. So, tailor the strategy to your individual strengths and weaknesses.
  • In order to keep your preparation more guided, seek guidance from mentors and previous years’ toppers.

Preparing for the UPSC Mains optional subject requires dedication, systematic planning, and consistent effort. By choosing the right subject, utilizing the appropriate resources, and maintaining a disciplined study routine, one can excel in the UPSC Mains Optional Subject. Tips and strategies discussed above can help one achieve this objective.

We wish you good luck in your preparation journey!


Which is the most easy optional paper for UPSC?

No particular optional paper can be called the most easy optional paper for UPSC. It is a subjective choice and depends on the individual’s inclination and interests.

Which is the toughest optional in UPSC?

With a smart preparation strategy, all the optionals can be prepared with equal ease. Thus, no particular optional paper can be called the toughest optional.

Which optional is most scoring in UPSC?

No particular optional paper can be called the most scoring in UPSC. With a targeted and comprehensive preparation high scores can be achieved in any optional subject.

How to prepare for UPSC optional?

A comprehensive plan for preparing UPSC optional is discussed above. One is advised to go through the same.


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