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History as an Optional Subject for UPSC



History as an optional subject for UPSC Any candidate who has ever appeared for UPSC Civil Services Exam understands the importance of History as a subject. It is expected from a Civil Services aspirant to be well versed with the subject, as you can see how it overlaps in Prelims and GS Paper 1. Despite the vast syllabus, it is still one of the most chosen subjects by many candidates. With proper planning and structured strategy, any candidate can score high in the exam. Through dedicated efforts and fine guidance from the mentors, you can clear the exam, with maximum marks. Here in this article, we lay down the pathway which compliments your preparations for UPSC. Advantages of choosing History as an optional.


  • Preliminary Exam: Since 2014, a good average of 18 questions were asked in Prelims. This could be a game-changer as you could score more.

  • GS1 Paper: GS 1 paper covers Indian art and culture, ancient, medieval and, modern history, freedom struggle and, world history. Apart from these, concepts like the industrial revolution, world after the Second World War will help you understand the context about the concepts in the economy, political science, and international relations, etc.

  • Essay Writing: You will develop your narrative encircling the current events by learning History. It helps to develop perceptions about any particular given event or issue. It gives opportunities to provide back up for your narrative or opinion in essays, with historical evidence. A study of the past gives an eagle-eye view of the many current issues, which are regularly asked in papers.

  • Easy and comprehensive: If you have a curiosity for learning the past, the study of History will appear interesting. It does not require any complicated calculations or concepts. Instead, historical accounts are much easy like stories as every writer/author has provided narration in their writings. A good number of documentaries and television programs provide profound themes for a better understanding of the subject.

  • Static subject: Being a static subject, it does not requires regular brushing. Once your course is completed all you are left with periodic revision.

  • Various study material: You can choose from various resources to study, as there are a lot of books and research available for history.


Challenges of History optional.

  • If you are not interested in history, studying it can be boring and tiring. You need to be patient and dedicated to the syllabus.

  • Need to remember facts and dates, when you are appearing for the UPSC exam. Some students may find it difficult to memorize historical facts, dates, and events accurately.

  • The vast syllabus proves to be a deterrent of interest among some students. You must pursue History optional with persistence.

History optional strategy


Let us discuss, what should be your approach for History optional.

  • Complete NCERT books: NCERT develops your foundation for every subject. To understand the better and clearer chronology of dates and events, you must go through NCERT (including old). NCERT books will help you to streamline the syllabus of History optional.

  • Maintain flow charts: History becomes easier if it is studied in chronological order. You will find it easy to retain if you learn through flow charts for ancient, medieval, and modern history. It will benefit your preparation in revision also

  • Focus on Implication of the Event: Keep your focus on the causes and results of the event. If you read any event critically and examine its implications, you would be able to retain it easily. For example; If you are asked about the causes of the 1857 revolt, do not give a plain answer. You must mention Political rivalry, Socio-Economic persecution, Military mutiny, Religious dissent, and immediate causes in your answer.

  • Notes writing: To sum up the whole syllabus in a precise format you must develop a habit of taking down notes. For every topic, make points of its causes, reasons, significance, criticism/failure, achievement, impact, etc. This will help you answer twisted questions. For example, the struggle within India among Pratiharas, Palas, and Rashtrakutas failed to check on Afghan invaders, it is covered in the Tripartite struggle. In this way, you can relate events. Similarly, for every topic, make sub-headings and make notes.

  • Travelers and Authors: Various travelers who visited India and authors such as Al Biruni, Fa Hein, etc, - their works and accounts provide insight about Indian society, economy, polity during their time. Note what can be learned about our history from their writings.

  • Previous year question papers: You must go through the previous year’s question papers, especially the last 10 years. Questions may get repeated. This will also help you to anticipate the importance of respective topics, and the extent of the syllabus.

  • A co-relation with the modern world: To add bulk to your answer you are advised to co-relate historical events with contemporary times' polity and economy, and vice versa. For example, when a topic discusses the secularism of India, you can give reference to Akbar's policies from the past, and accounts from the events after Partition.

  • Maps: You must practice maps regularly as questions are asked to identify places marked on the map. Practice religiously and rigorously, as this will fetch good marks in this section. Only practice will help you to score more.

Answer writing strategy for History


● Read the question 2-3 times to understand the question properly. It is very important to understand what is asked in the question precisely.

● While writing an answer follow a pattern of WHAT is the event, WHEN it happened, HOW it has occurred, WHAT was the impact (social, economic and, political).

● Frame your answer and organize it into points.

● You must start your answer with an appropriate opening statement.

● Keep a check on the word limit mentioned. If the word limit is of an answer is 250 words, keep your answer within the range between 235-260 words.

● Organize the points to induce clarity in your answer. Keep the points in chronological order.

● You must avoid using long and complex sentences. Use comfortable language while answering your question.

● Give priorities to important points and explain them in 2-3 lines. Points of lesser importance can be sum up in one paragraph in the end.

● Do not overcrowd the answer with too many points. In certain answers, you can explain the important points in 2-3 sentences.

● Avoid any biased or prejudiced opinion in the answer.

● Keep the introduction of your answer crisp.

● Quotes from eminent historians can be included in the conclusion of the answer.

● You should always provide facts and dates in chronological order. You must keep a flow in your answer.


Reference books for History Optional.

  1. History of Modern India – Bipan Chandra

  2. India's Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra

  3. India's Ancient Past – RS Sharma

  4. The Wonder that was India – Al Basham

  5. Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas – Romila Thapar

  6. Medieval India: From Sultanate to Mughals – 1 – Satish Chandra

  7. Medieval India: From Sultanate to Mughals – 2 – Satish Chandra

  8. History of the World – Arjun Dev

  9. Mastering Modern World History – Norman Lowe

  10. NCERT History Books

  11. Indian Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania

  12. Historical Atlas of India

  13. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century – Upinder Singh


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