UPSC CSE has three phases: Prelims, Mains and Interview. Each candidate has to clear these three phases successfully to become a civil servant.

The Mains exam is the second and descriptive type of paper. It is a lengthy paper and consists of nine different papers. An optional subject is the prominent one. Before 2013 candidates had to select two optional subjects but afterwards, only one was needed.

In this article, we will discuss English literature as an optional subject in UPSC CSE mains.

UPSC Civil Service Examination

UPSC is the most desired and anticipated government job. Every year thousands of aspirants give their prelims, among which only some hundreds can clear it. Moreover, only a small quantity of them gets selected.

The success rate of the UPSC exam is very low but this fact doesn’t shake the dedication of candidates. They still give their exam with full dedication and enthusiasm.

There are three phases in which this exam is conducted:

# Preliminary Examination

# Mains Examination

# Interview

UPSC Main Examination

Candidates who can qualify prelims moves to the next step i.e. Mains Examination. It is descriptive and consists of nine papers. The scores of the mains examination are added to the final merit list.

Exam Pattern

There are nine papers in the mains exam:

  1. Paper A
  2. Paper B
  3. Paper I
  4. Paper II
  5. Paper III
  6. Paper IV
  7. Paper VII
  8. Optional Subject I
  9. Optional Subject II

Candidates often are in confusion to decide which subject they should opt for as their optional subject. UPSC provides a huge list of optional subjects to choose from:

Candidates of all fields participate in the UPSC CSE examination. Therefore, every candidate is given an optional subject of his or her own choice and field. Some opt for their graduation subject while some opt for their interest. People also search about the most successful optional subjects.

Also Read: UPSC English Syllabus for 2021: Detailed Syllabus and General Preparation Tips for Literature Optional

Literature as an Optional Subject

The optional subject carries 500 marks and therefore candidates are confused about it. Some of the popular subjects are:

However, there are also some unpopular yet interesting optional subjects. Which one? Well, Literature.

UPSC provides a broad list of literature that candidates can choose as their optional subject.

Literature Assamese Bengali
Bodo Dogri Gujarati
Hindi Kannada Kashmiri
Konkani Maithili Malayalam
Manipuri Marathi Nepali
Oriya Punjabi Sanskrit
Santhali Sindhi Tamil
Telugu Urdu English

English literature is also one of them.

Also Read: Hindi Optional Syllabus for UPSC: What is the Paper Pattern for Hindi Literature?

English Literature as an Optional Subject

English literature is a unique optional subject and consists of two papers: Paper I and II. It covers the time of 1600-1990 AD.

If you are a graduate of English literature you can do it with ease. There are a lot of benefits of choosing English literature as an optional subject. Let’s find out:-

Is English Literature a Good Optional Subject for UPSC?

First, what defines a good optional subject?

A good optional subject:

# You have a clear understanding and interest.

# Familiar with the syllabus and exam pattern.

# Have an interest in a particular subject.

So, is English Literature a good optional subject?

Well, yes and no both as it depends on each individual. English Literature has its pros and cons as an optional subject.

Pros of having English Literature as an Optional Subject

#1. Limited Syllabus

The scope of English literature is limited in nature. UPSC has predefined the list of authors and poets from which questions are asked. One can easily prepare for this optional subject in just 3-4 months of full dedication.

#2. Repetitive in Nature

As the list of authors and poets are defined, therefore many questions are repeated in UPSC. If you analyze the previous year’s question paper, you will find them easily.

#3. Less Competitive

Not many candidates choose it as their optional and therefore competition is very low. All you need to do is write answers with your full potential and score well.

#4. Helpful with Other Subjects

Though there is no interlink between English literature and other general subjects, this can help you in World history. It will help you to understand Europe well.

Moreover, it can help you in your Essay paper as well as mains answer writing.

Cons of having English Literature as an Optional Subject

#1. Not Enough Material Available

English is a unique optional subject and hence there is not enough material available for your help. It is difficult to find a good test series, materials and mock tests for your preparations.

#2. Subjective in Nature

You cannot decide your success easily as it solely depends on your preparations. Your scores are very unpredictable until the very end.

#3. No Guidance

You cannot find peer guidance for your preparation. As there are very few people who opt literature as their optional subject and from them even less opt for English Literature.

#4. Writing Skills

To score well in this subject you need to write well. From answer structure to content, everything should be perfect. For this, you need to have a clear understanding of the syllabus, pattern and in-depth analysis of them.

Moreover, your handwriting should also be simple and clear.

Optional Subject Paper Pattern

This optional subject consists of two papers: Paper I(1600-1900 BC) and II(1900-1990 BC). Each paper has two sections: Poetry & Drama and Prose. This paper has a total of eight questions (five compulsory) and each paper is 250 marks.

Paper I

#1. Section A: Questions on Poetry & Drama (five questions carrying 10 marks each)

#2. Section B: Five questions with one question is an unseen stanza.


#1, Section A: Five unseen passages from the poems.

#2. Section B: Five short notes of 10 marks eachPaper-II.

Optional Subject Syllabus

Paper 1

Section A
Poets Poems
William Shakespeare King Lear and The Tempest
John Donne Death be not proud


The Good Morrow

The Relic

On his Mistress going to bed

John Milton Paradise Lost, I, II, IV, IX
Alexander Pope The Rape of the Lock
William Wordsworth Tintern Abbey

Odeon Intimations of Immortality.

Three years she grew


She dwelt among untrodden ways

Independence and Resolution

The World is too much with us

Upon Westminster Bridge

Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour

Alfred Tennyson In Memoriam
Henrik Ibsen A Doll’s House

Section B

Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels
Jane Austen Prejudice and Pride
Charles Dickens Hard Times
Henry Fielding Tom Jones
Thomas Hardy Tess of the d’Urbervilles
George Eliot The Mill on the Floss
Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Section A
William Butler Yeats Easter 1916

A Prayer for my daughter

The Second Coming

Sailing to Byzantium

Among School Children

The Tower


Leda and the Swan

Lapis Lazuli

T.S. Eliot Journey of the Magi

Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock

Burnt Norton

W.H. Auden Musée des Beaux-Arts


in Memory of W.B. Yeats

The Unknown Citizen

Lay your sleeping head, my love

Mundus Et Infans


September 1, 1939

The Shield of Achilles


John Osborne Look Back in Anger
Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot
Philip Larkin Next





Mr. Bleaney

A.K. Ramanujan A River

Looking for a Cousin on a Swing

Love Poem for a Wife 1

Of Mothers, among other Things

Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House


Section B
James Joyce Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Joseph Conrad Lord Jim
D.H. Lawrence Lovers and Sons
E.M. Forster A Passage to India
Virginia Woolf Mrs Dalloway
Raja Rao Kanthapura
V.S. Naipaul A House for Mr Biswas

Also Read: IAS Nandini Maharaj Biography: Click to Know the Story of Top UPSC Educator

Tips to Score Well

# Read and analyze the full syllabus in detail for a proper understanding of the subject.

# Analyze previous years question papers to understand exam patterns, types of questions and repetitive questions.

# Read as many texts as you can. Increase horizon while reading. The stories also analyze its period, belief system and moral values.

# Have a deep understanding of the socio-political setup when the work was created.

# Practice writing answers as much as you can.

# Practice handwriting for better answers and scores.

# Don’t only read novels, poems, or dramas also analyze issues, authors perspectives, and themes.

# Read the character sketch of the characters.

# Finish half of the syllabus of an optional subject prior to your prelims exam.

# Use quotations to accentuate your answers.

# Understand literary devices such as euphemism, allusion, simile, metaphor, etc.


English Literature is a good optional subject for those who have either completed graduation in English Literature or have a deep interest in Literature and reading skills.

Therefore, choose an optional subject carefully. For better preparation or English literature, notes visit UPSC Pathshala.

 Also Read: A Detailed Guide to Choosing the Best Optional Subject for UPSC Exam

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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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