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Choosing the best IAS optional is the single most important decision which will determine if you secure a rank in the civil services. Here the author draws on his personal experience of appearing for the mains and interview on multiple occasions and also consulting with various coaching institutions. It has been written after detailed discussion with various serving IAS, IPS and IRS officers. There is no single best optional for everyone, you can make the best decision using a variety of analytical tools which will be described below. This concise book is primarily for those aspirants who are starting out their IAS journey and have not invested significant resources in any optional.
The IAS examination is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. It has three stages, prelims, mains and interview. The prelims is the qualification exam and the marks do not count in the final stage. The mains examination counts for 1750 marks out of which the optional is for 500 marks. The score in the optional is the deciding factor whether or not you get the interview call and also determines your rank.
Choosing the optional should be a carefully thought out decision. You cannot rely on friends’ advice, coaching institute’s marketing gimmicks or even follow a herd mentality. You have to make an optimal decision based on your own strengths and weaknesses. The first step you have to take is to understand your own academic background which gives you a clue as to where you can succeed.
Sometimes the civil services can turn out to be a long affair. You should try to choose a subject which you can sustain till your final attempt. We have seen many times aspirants get selected even in their last attempt. If you love the optional, then the optional will reward you. But if you have taken a suboptimal decision without reading the syllabus and understanding what you are getting into, then you have only yourself to blame when the time runs out and you don’t have either the time or the bandwidth to succeed in that optional.