Is history a good optional subject for UPSC? Pros & cons

History is one of the most popular and favourite optional subjects for majority of the civil Service aspirants preparing for UPSC mains examinations.

It is so popular subject that more than 1074 students appeared for the history optional subject exam in UPSC out of which the success percentage was 5.5 % and 59 students recommended the subject in 2017 civil service examination.

Not just that in many other years of civil service examination the success percentage is always between 5 to 10 percentage and a large chunk of students appeared for history optional exam every year.

But the question is that is history a good optional subject for UPSC exams because you have more than 20 optional subjects apart from history to choose in the exam.

And if you are new to CSE, in this article we will take a look at the pros and cons of using history as optional subject in UPSC exams.

So let’s get started.

Pros and cons of history as optional subject


1.    It helps you understand other subjects easily  

One of the main benefits of studying history as optional subject in UPSC exams is that history is interconnected with other subjects like economics, geopolitics, international relationships, political science and public administration, geography and some part of economics as well.

For example in the international relationships and geopolitics recently Taliban has took over the Afghanistan country and 

America leftover from Afghanistan which made drastic change in the geopolitics but if you have good knowledge regarding history then you can know why Taliban was created and why America attacked Afghanistan in the first place and much more in detail.

If you get a good knowledge regarding history of our India and the world you can get a clear idea of other subjects as well which can help you get better marks in the UPSC exams Because

 you will be learning about all the things that has happened in the past which are playing a huge importance today, learning history will give you a clear understanding about why the things that are happening for the way they are in the world.

ESpecially learning history can help you in getting better marks in general studies of the mains exam where paper 1,2 will contain some portions of history like Indian architecture, Indian Heritage and culture and geography,social justice and international relationships and public administration and political science, etc at the same time topics you learn in the history will also help you write better answers in the essay paper.

All of this knowledge in the subject can help you a lot in scoring better marks in the overall exam and not only in the mains examination but also in the prelims this subject, there will be Indian history and national movement of independence and 

Indian polity and governance and social economic development etc subjects will be used in prelims which are some way or the other connected with history because all of those things effect today as they have been created in the past.

2.    Easy to read 

Another big benefits of reading history is that it can be very easy to read if you are really interested and submerged into it.

You don’t have to read the history in order to learn about the history, you can also listen to podcasts and watch youtube videos to learn about the history or any specific event in the history.

Look, history is a static subject and it will not change and it is a theoretical subject.

3.    It can develop a reading habit 

Another big benefits of reading history is that it can help you develop you a good habit of reading because if you want to get good knowledge regarding history you need to read a lot of books.

And we all know how the reading helps the brain and reading is like exercise to the brain which will keep your brain active all the time and reading also improve the concentration and focus.

Apart from that reading history can also help you develop critical thinking skills and analytical thinking skills which can help you alot in other exams like civil service aptitude test.

4.    Feel proud of being indian 

Another big benefits of reading history is that it can help you feel proud of you being Indian.

It can develop a lot of patriotism in yourself and it can also develop a feeling of gratitude in you which is the main secret of happiness in the world.

Because learning history will help you understand what are the conditions and situations our ancestors have gone through in order to achieve the freedom and independence during the national movement for independence from British which we enjoy today.

Apart from that learning about our Indian history and architecture and our great Indian kings like chola and Vikramaditya, great Indian teachers like Chanakya, 

you can get immense respect to these kings in the past, because of all these reasons we can learn about why India is a great country with great history, culture and tradition.

Because of this you can develop some important qualities of life like gratefulness and patriotism in yourself.

5.    It is also fun to read history

Another big advantage of reading history is that if you have a great deal of interest in learning history and of our culture and architecture and the greatness of ancient India.

It can be a great fun for you and another advantage is that in history you don’t have to memorize or cram any formulas of theorems or anything like that.

A large percentage of the history of India and also of the world is going to be like a story which you can easily remember which is what makes it one of the favourite subjects of many civil service aspirants.

All you have to do is to understand the chronology and the concept and what are the things happened in the past in detail and present it on the exam paper properly.

You can also find many online materials and notebooks and PDF to learn the subject.

6.    Few books needed 

Another advantage of studying history is that unlike other subjects You only need a few books in order to learn the subject and the concept and material is very easy to read and understand and clear.

You only need to purchase a few books maximum of 7 books which you can purchase on Amazon or for cheap prices from your local Book Store in order to get a complete knowledge about the history and prepare thoroughly for UPSC exams.

These are all the advantages of using history as optional subject in civil Service exam.


1.    Difficult if you hate

A big disadvantage with history is that if you hate the subject then it is going to be impossible for you to get better with it.

The reason being is you will have to memorize a lot of dates and names of the various kings and their contributions and a lot of more details about those kings and a lot of events and much more.

This can become even more challenging than memorizing the formulas and theorems that you would do in mathematics and physics and 

other optional subjects if you don’t have good memorization skills because it can be lot of confusing because there are many events and kings which are similar to each other.

And also learning history does not have any real life application of it apart from just learning the lessons from the mistakes that we have committed in the past, 

like other subjects like learning physics and chemistry and Mechanical engineering or geography can have some applications and uses in the real life.

2.    Not a scoring subject to choose 

Unlike other subjects like mathematics physics chemistry and geography history is not considered to be a scoring subject if you want to get better marks.

The reason being is when you write the answers in the history, you will have to include and articulate your own opinion along with dates, figures and facts.

There is no room for expressing your opinion in other optional subjects like mathematics and physics but it is present in history which makes it difficult to score more marks

 if you don’t present your opinions properly on the paper because even the examiner will have different opinions from you, example if, you get a question regarding Taliban controlling Afghanistan, you might agree with Taliban’s rule but others might not.

Because a lot of the subject of history is based on interpretations and there are a lot of sources in the history so, Compared to other optional subjects like mathematics and

 chemistry history is not a scoring subject and the average marks an individuals scored is not more than 250 marks in optionals of the history in the mains exams.

This becomes even more important because choosing optional subject will help you both balancing and also increase your marks and overall percentage of getting qualified in the mains examination if you lack knowledge in other subjects like general studies and languages, essay papers.

3.    Good writing skills are key 

Another big disadvantage of reading history is that you should have good writing skills in order to score better marks.

You should be able to write your opinion along with the proper facts and events and perspectives properly when you are writing essays in the history optional papers.

If you lack good writing skills then it can be hard for you to score better marks in optional subject.

4.    Vast syllabus to cover  

Another big disadvantage of history is that if you choose it as your optional subject in UPSC mains then you can have to cover and revise vast syllabus.

You need to learn from the history of India starting from paleolithic and Neolithic age to Indus valley civilization to Vedic age to Indian history during the national independence and 

learn about various kings and their contributions in the formation of today’s india and Mughal rule and much more.

It is a very vast syllabus you need to cover, there is definitely no doubt about it.

Along with that there is not a defined syllabus and chapters you need to read at the same time because of such huge syllabus to read, majority of the aspirants fail to cover all the syllabus before attending the examination.

These are all the advantages and disadvantages of choosing history as optional subject in civil Service exam.

Now let’s take a look at is history a good subject for optionals in UPSC.

Is history a good optional subject & worth it?

After learning all the pros and cons of using history as your optional subject, let’s move forward to answer whether history is a good optional subject or not in the civil Service exam.

Well I personally believe that history is a good optional subject for civil service exams.

You should consider history as your optional subject if,

  • You don’t want to memorize theorems and formulas
  • You like to learn about the history of India and its greatness
  • You like to read books
  • You have taken arts and humanities in your twelfth and under graduation 
  • You have good memorization skills
  • You have good writing skills

And you should avoid history as your optional subject if,

  • You don’t like to learn about the history which do not have any real life application and use
  • You don’t want to spend a lot of time covering the vast syllabus in the history

Now I hope this will answers your question whether history is a good optional subject or not for civil service exam.


These are all the advantages and disadvantages of using history as a optional subject in the civil service examination.

Do let me know if you choose history as your optional subject or not in the comment section below.

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