History as Optional Subject in Civil Services Mains Exams – Pros and Cons

History is a popular and prevalent optional subject chosen by many candidates in the UPSC Civil Services IAS Mains Exam. It is an essential subject because history is included in the IAS Prelims Exam and the IAS Mains General Studies Papers.

Most aspirant’s common questions are, ‘Is it a good optional subject for the IAS mains?’ or, ‘How is history as the optional for IAS?’, ‘Is History a scoring optional in IAS?’, etc.

In the 2015 UPSC Civil Services Exams, 1761 candidates appeared for the IAS Mains with History as their optional subjects. Out of which, 150 candidates got selected, which gives it a success rate of 8.5%.

Thereby assuring the aspirants don’t have to worry about the success rate as the success percentage of History as an optional subject in IAS is quite promising. No one can say if History is a good or bad optional because it only depends on the candidate’s personal interest.

Note – Click on this link to understand the basic details of the UPSC Civil Services Exam.

Candidates need to consider an optional subject for the exam only if they are familiar with it or if they feel ease with the subject.

Pros and Cons of History as Optional Subject


  • As General Studies (Prelims and Mains) have portions of History, so for an optional subject, it becomes easy if one will master it well.
  • Helpful to use the topics of History in various papers like the Essay paper, GS-2 and GS-4 if one is capable enough to use the knowledge according to the topic.
  • Reading and knowing History is always fun (as knowing the past of our ancestors), as it doesn’t have formulas or big principles to understand. Straightforward analysis and logic are enough.
  • Also, History topics are inter-related as it is chronologically oriented. If one has enough interest, it is fun to learn.
  • General Studies (Prelims + Mains) contain significant portions from History subjects. In this, you can optimise time by preparing for optional and for the GS papers as well.
  • Topics covered in History will also be helpful while writing the Essay paper.
  • History is an exciting subject. It explains various things going on in the economy, and socio-politics, etc.
  • It is easy to understand, especially if you have an interest in history and if you are curious by nature, as it is mostly like a story. There are no tremendous scientific formulas or concepts that one has to follow.
  • Studying History is essential to develop a continuous reading habit.
  • It is enormous and a static subject. So, if you cover this subject at once, it will not change its nature in the next two to three years. If you are already in your second or subsequent attempts, your preparation will get a lot easier.
  • In GS papers, writing about the historical perspective from your approach about a lot of things – gives depth to your arguments. Here, History preparation can help.


  • The best myth on history as optional is a vast syllabus, how can one remember all those battles, kings, et.? It is however observed that the UPSC doesn’t stress much on fighting and Kings but emphasises on events which had an impact on human life.
  • The best mark ever to history as optional never crossed 230-240. If one chooses the best optional (regarding scores as many consider it as criteria while selecting optional) but doesn’t understand it very well, they end up scoring fewer marks.
  • Availability of so many sources, as said History is the beautiful lies said upon dead. So, reading authenticated sources and sticking to fewer versions and following middle path in the analysis will fetch one good marks.
  • If you are not interested in History, you may find studying this subject very difficult. You also need excellent writing skills to score good marks in your History paper.
  • It is not generally a very scoring paper. When you compare it to other subjects like science or maths, etc.  So, you do need to remember a lot of dates and prominent names in History. A good memory is required to ace the History paper.
  • A lot of things are subject to interpretation, unlike the sciences. So, your marks may vary from expectations in this subject.
  • The UPSC Civil Services Exam syllabus for History is vast.


History is an essential subject in the UPSC Civil Services Exam umbrella because history is included in the IAS Prelims Exam, as well as the IAS Mains General Studies Papers. With the vastness of History, it is best to remember that the pros and cons of having it as an optional subject still depends on the candidate’s interest of the Indian History as a whole.

Areas covered in this article

  • Pros and Cons of History as an optional subject.

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