Selecting History as an Optional Subject in UPSC Exams
In the UPSC mains examination, candidates must choose an optional subject from a list of 48 optional subjects, one of which is History. This subject is significant for UPSC aspirants as it overlaps with the general studies syllabus, making it easier to prepare for both prelims and mains examinations. However, preparing for History requires more time compared to other optional subjects due to its vast syllabus. Nonetheless, with a sound preparation plan and strategy, it can be covered within 5 months.
Advantages of Choosing History as an Optional Subject in UPSC
The benefits of selecting History as an optional subject in UPSC include:
- Overlaps with GS Portion: Since History covers most of the General Studies (GS) topics, it cannot be overlooked for a well-rounded UPSC preparation. Furthermore, studying History also helps aspirants understand other subjects like Economy, International Relations, Political Science, Geography, and Public Administration.
- Easy to Understand: The topics in History are generally easy to understand since there are no formulas or science involved. Study materials for this subject are easily accessible both online and offline.
- Static Versus Dynamic: History is one of the few subjects in the UPSC syllabus that remains static. It doesn’t require regular updates, unlike Polity and Public Administration.
- Helps in Interview Preparation: Questions from History subjects are quite common, and aspirants selecting History as an optional subject can use it to prepare for the interview.
Disadvantages of Choosing History as an Optional Subject in UPSC
The drawbacks of selecting History as an optional subject in UPSC are:
- Boring and Tiresome: Candidates with little or no interest in History may find this subject dull and monotonous.
- Vast Syllabus: History covers a broad and diverse field, making it challenging to cover all relevant topics within a limited amount of time.
- Good Writing Skills Required: It is generally considered that candidates with good writing skills fetch good marks in the History optional paper.
- Time Limitations: Since the UPSC exam covers a wide range of subjects, choosing History as an optional subject may limit the time and resources available for other subjects.
How to Prepare for History Optional in UPSC?
Here are some strategies to prepare for the UPSC History optional subject:
- Familiarize Yourself with the Syllabus: Thoroughly understand the topics that will be covered in the exam by referring to the UPSC website’s syllabus.
- Focus on Ancient and Medieval History: These topics are crucial for the exam and form the foundation of Indian history.
- Use a Variety of Study Materials: Supplement your preparation with study notes, previous year’s question papers, and online resources.
- Stay Updated with Current Affairs: Keep up to date with current events related to Indian history and culture as the UPSC exam tests your knowledge of both history and current affairs.
- Regular Review and Revision: Consistently review and revise to consolidate your knowledge and identify gaps in your preparation.
Additionally, candidates must understand the topics and the examination’s demands and prepare accordingly. You can also refer to syllabus-wise strategies and previous paper trend analysis for effective preparation.
Effective Strategies for Preparing for History Optional in UPSC
Strategy #1: Start with the NCERTs
If you are new to the subject of History or have forgotten your high school history, starting with NCERTs can be a good strategy. Many candidates prefer the old NCERTs as they present history in the correct chronological order, making it easier to understand the timeline of rulers and events. Additionally, the NCERTs are simple to follow and comprehend. You can download the NCERT history books for free.
Strategy #2: Divide and Conquer
Dividing the vast subject of Indian history into ancient, medieval, and modern can make the process of studying and revising more manageable. Knowing the syllabus of each period and making a timeline of events in each section can aid in better preparation.
Strategy #3: Note Making
Making notes for every topic can be helpful in answering indirect questions. Organize the notes under headings such as causes, features, significance, criticism/failure, achievement, impact, etc. For ease of note-making, NCERT notes for history are available as a reference.
Strategy #4: Travelers and Sources
Reading about the observations and experiences of various travellers who visited India in the past can provide insights into Indian society, economy, and polity during their time here. This knowledge can help in better understanding of Indian history.
Strategy #5: Connect the Dots
Relating personalities, circumstances, and events can help in better comprehension of history. Making tabular comparisons of Gandhi and Lincoln/Mandela, Akbar and Sher Shar, Hitler and Bismarck, etc., can aid in better retention and understanding of historical events.
Strategy #6: Previous Year Question Papers
Going through the previous year question papers, especially the last 10 years, can help in identifying the most important areas of the syllabus. This task can also help in understanding the pattern of questions asked in the exam.
Strategy #7: Relate to Modern Times
Relating historical events to contemporary times’ polity and economy can add value to your answers. For example, comparing the problem of poverty and migration to cities during the industrial revolution in Europe to the same problem in modern-day India can help in better comprehension of historical events.
Strategy #8: Maps
Practicing maps regularly is essential as questions are asked from this section. Referring to multiple sources and rigorous practice can help in scoring marks in this section.
Strategy for History Optional Paper I
UPSC Optional Paper 1 in History comprises two main sections: Ancient and Medieval History. Despite its significance and at least 4-5 questions every year, many aspirants tend to ignore these sections and prioritize modern history. However, it is crucial to prepare these topics thoroughly to score well in the exam.
Topics to Focus on in Ancient History
- Prehistoric Period
- Indus Valley Civilization/ Harappan Civilization
- Vedic Period
- Buddhism and Jainism
- Kingdoms/Empires during the Ancient Period
Topics to Focus on in Medieval History
- Religious movements
- Ruler’s/Empires from Delhi Sultanates to Mughals
Strategy for History Optional Paper II
The syllabus of history optional paper 2 is divided into 2 main topics modern history & world history. Modern history forms an important part of UPSC prelims as well as mains exam. For modern history preparation, it is advisable to study dates that too in chronological order.
Topics to Focus on in Modern History
- Revolts/ Movements/ Agitations
- British Expansion
- Socio-Religious Movements
- Role of Famous Personalities
- India’s struggle for independence.
Topics to Focus on in World History
- Industrial revolution
- World wars
- Redrawing of national boundaries
- Political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.
|Books For History Optional Preparation||Author Name / Publications|
|Modern History Books|
|History of Modern India||Bipan Chandra|
|Mastering Modern World History||Norman Lowe|
|History of Modern World||Jain and Mathur|
|India’s Struggle for Independence||Bipan Chandra|
|History of ancient and early medieval India||Upinder Singh|
|India’s Ancient Past||RS Sharma|
|Medieval India: From Sultanate to Mughals – 1||Satish Chandra|
|Medieval India: From Sultanate to Mughals – 1||Satish Chandra|
|A comprehensive history of Medieval India||Salma Ahmed Farooqui|
|Mastering Modern World History (Palgrave Master Series)||Norman Lowe|
|World History, Modern Europe and the world||L Mukherjee|
|NCERT (Class IX to XII)||NCERT|
|The Wonder That Was India||A.L. Bhasham|
|Indian Art and Culture||Nitin Singhania|
|Spectrum Culture Book||Spectrum Books|
Toppers in History optional for the last 7 years:
|Name of the Candidate||Year of Passing||Total Marks (500)||History Paper I (250 Marks)||History Paper II (250 Marks)|
|Rajat Ravindra Ubhaykar||2020||301||151||150|
|Ishwar Kumar Kandoo||2017||316||160||156|
Considering the performance of Ishwar Kumar Kandoo, who secured the highest marks in History Optional Paper with a score of 316 out of 500 in 2017, and Shruti Sharma, an IAS topper who scored 306 marks in the same subject in 2021, one can weigh the decision of selecting History as an optional subject in the UPSC exam.