Are you a UPSC aspirant? Amazing.

Even cleared Prelims and prepared for Mains. Wow, you are awesome. So which subject are you going to choose as your optional?

History or Itihas!

Nice choice. We all should respect our past and learn from it. History is the best representation of this.

So are you prepared? Or in search of help or the best strategy for the history optional subject?

Don’t wonder anymore, Read this article till the end and you will find most of your doubts cleared.

History – UPSC Optional Subject

History is one of the most popular subjects among UPSC aspirants. Every year thousands of candidate’s choose this as their optional subject.

This is a good choice because studying history will help you in your Prelims, Mains and Optional paper.

Isn’t this a three-in-one offer!

Is History a Good Option for IAS?

History is the choice of thousands of candidates every year. But does this make it a bad choice?

Nope! Not at all.

Benefits of History as an Optional Subject

# If your memorization is a very good use, then you should go with history as your optional subject.

# History is based on different events and dates, which is relatively an easier subject than Medical Science or Maths. Moreover, there is no need to understand any ideas or difficult concepts to address the question.

# The details and dates of the history are consistent, and won’t change over a year. It will remain the same. This can help you in your multiple attempts without the hustle of re-reading everything for the update.

# Most of the questions come in Prelims, Mains and then optional exam, therefore, it is a three in one package.

# History is an interesting subject. It covers Economic, Political, Social, and culture which is very interesting to read.

# If you have a good reading habit, studying history will help you a lot.

# There is enough material available on this subject.

Cons of Taking History

If you are not someone with a good memory or not interested in studying history, you shouldn’t opt for it.

# If you don’t have good writing skills, then you shouldn’t opt for this.

# It is not as scoring as a comparison to science and math.

# You will need to remember many events and dates.

# The History’s syllabus for IAS Exam is very lengthy and hence it will consume time

Syllabus at Glance 

Paper 1 (UPSC Mains: History)

# Sources

# Pre-history and Proto-history

# Megalithic

# Aryan and Vedic Age

# Mahajanapada Era

# Mauryan

# Post Mauryan

# Early State and Society in East Deccan

# Guptas, Vakatakas and Vardhans

# Regional States during Gupta Period

# Themes in Early Indian Cultural History

# Medieval History

# Early Medieval History

# Culture of Early Medieval history

# 13th century

# 14th century

# Society,  Culture and Economy of 13th and 14th century

# 15th and early 16th century

# Society and Culture of 15th and early 16th century

# Akbar

# Mughal in 17th century

# Culture and Economy of 17th century

# 18th century

Paper-II (UPSC Mains- History)

# European in India

# British Expansion in India

# Early structure of British raj

# Economic Impact of Colonial rule

# Social and Cultural Reform

# Social and Religious Movement in Bengal and other regions

# Indian response to British rule

# Nationalism and factors contributing to its growth

# Gandhi

# Constitutional development in Colonial Rule (1858-1935)

# Other National Movements

# Separatism

# Consolidation of India as a Nation

# Caste and Ethnicity after Independence

# Enlightenment and Modern Ideology

# Modern Politics

# Industrialisation

# Nation State

# Imperialism and Colonialism

# Revolution and counter-revolution

# World wars

# Post World war

# Liberation and colonial rule

# Decolonization and post-development

# Unification of a Europe

# Disintegration of soviet union and rise of unpopular world

Also Read: History Optional Strategy: Detailed Explanation of UPSC History Optional Syllabus and Strategy

Books recommended for Mains:

# NCERTs (Class 6-12)

Ancient History

# India’s Ancient Past by R. S. Sharma

# A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India by Upinder Singh

Medieval History

# History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra (volume I and II)

# Medieval History by Ifran Habib

Modern History

# History of Modern India and India’s Struggle For Independence by Bipan Chandra.

# Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania.

# From Plassey to Partition by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay

World History

# Mastering Modern World History by Norman Lowe

# A History of Modern World by Jain and Mathur

Other Books

# Ensemble- History through Maps

# Contemporary India: Economy, Society, Politics by Neera Chandhoke

Hindi Medium- Recommended Books

Prachin Bharat

Prarambhik Bharat Ka Parichay by Ram Sharan Sharma

Madhyakaleen Bharat 

Madhyakaleen Bharat by Satish Chandra

Adhunik Bharat

Adhunik Bharat Ka Itihas by Bipan Chandra

Bharat Ka Rashtria Aandolan by Bipan Chandra

Bhartiya Sanskriti

Bharatiya Kala, Sanskriti Evam Virasat by Meenakshi Kant

Vishwa Itihas

Samkaleen Vishwa Ka Itihas 1890-2008 

Also Read: History Books for UPSC in Hindi: Get Full Information on Best Books for UPSC in Hindi

Strategy for the History Optional Subject  

Dates and Events

One of the most important aspects of history is dates and events and it is the most confusing. Hence try to make short notes and memorise them. Rather than only memorising, study the related facts which will help to remember it better.

Facts and only Facts

While writing answers for your mains try to state facts in your answer which will help you to get more marks.

Different aspect of History

Try to write answers which emphasise every dimension of history, not only political but also economic, social, cultural, etc. Your ability to understand the event will be scored by the examiner.

Previous Year Question Paper

Try to solve as much as the previous year question papers as this will give you a vivid idea about the question pattern and trends of the exam.

Limited but Enough Sources

Remember, you will find different kinds of book recommendations over the internet but stick to a few books for references. NCERT is the ideal choice and some of the main books are good for in-depth study.


Many make notes of each topic for better revision for your mains exam date. While taking notes, remember to divide your notes and the following parts:

Date of the event, Cause of the event, The impact of the event on social, political, and economic, The importance of the event and consequences, Criticism by major historians, Achievements and Conclusion.

Many events of the year interconnected to each other, especially INM. Therefore, you should recognise those links and use them to your advantage while writing answers.

Approach for a Topic

Choose a topic, read everything and move. It is very important to divide your topic into different parts so that you can cover each topic without any confusion.

Don’t ignore these parts of history, dates and events of history, art and sculpture.

Include topics such as:

The site of excavation, artists, etc;

travellers and their journal;

Resources and authors;

Religious figures;

Newspaper and their editors;

Governor generals;

Industrial developments and other architecture under specific Viceroy or Governor-general; Formation of political parties, and session of INC


The optional paper will also include a map therefore don’t forget to practice history through maps. Practice map pointing especially the study of undivided India for good knowledge and marks.

Toppers Answers

Try to read the answer sheets of toppers. This will give you an example of how to format your answer

Answer Format

While writing the answer remember the flow always. give an informative introduction, then an analytical body and then concluding remarks.

Also Read: History Optional Syllabus for UPSC: Here’s What You Need to Study to Crack UPSC 2021

Mains Writing Answers Tips

The best strategy for the IAS exam especially the mains includes writing answers. Therefore here is a clear strategy for formulating an answer for mains.

# Select a topic to study for a week.

# Now read all you can and want to read on that topic.

# Now write the format of the answer.


The format should look like this:

Interesting and Relevant Introduction

This should include a brief introduction to the topic. Remember to make it interesting and engaging without making it informal and personal.

Analytical Body

Now, this part is the soul of your answer. Include events, facts (date and events), cause of the event, importance, consequences, criticism by popular historians.

Concluding Conclusion

The conclusion should include your analysis of the event and how far it is relatable in the present day.


History is one of the most common and popular subjects. It has its own pros and cons. You should choose if you are really interested in the subject.

It is a lengthy subject but easier than most. One of the most important things while studying history is the main notes. Remember to make notes after studying a topic thoroughly.

Do you need more help with your UPSC CSE Mains? Well, here is a BONUS tip for you.

Visit UPSC Pathshala and you will find a new world of UPSC. It contains UPSC related information, study materials, courses, previous years question papers, mock tests, and whatnot.

It will help you throughout your UPSC journey and you can save your time. How? You won’t need cochin after this. Trust me!

They will guide you and help you to solve every difficulty and problem. Also Read: Can We Use Newer Edition of NCERT Books of History to Prepare for UPSC CSE Mains? A Guide to Crack the Tough Nut

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Are you choosing history as your optional subject for UPSC CSE Mains? Good, here is a help for you. Click here to find out the best strategy for your preparation.
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About the Author


Shilpa is a professional web content writer and is in deep love with travelling. She completed her mass communication degree and is now dedicatedly playing with words to guide her readers to get the best for themselves. Developing educational content for UPSC, IELTS aspirants from breakthrough research work is her forte. Strongly driven by her zodiac sign Sagittarius, Shilpa loves to live her life on her own notes and completely agrees with the idea of ‘live and let live. Apart from writing and travelling, most of the time she can be seen in the avatar of 'hooman' mom to her pets and street dogs or else you can also catch her wearing the toque blanche and creating magic in the kitchen on weekends.

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