English Literature Optional for UPSC | Pros and Cons | IASBYHEART

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Understanding English Literature Optionals : https://youtu.be/QxZf_gY4i6s

Out of the 50 optional subjects, 23 are literature of languages. English literature is one of them, and is a popular optional among the language optionals.

In the 2017 IAS exam, the all-India rank 26 was bagged by Ms. Anjali with her optional as English Literature. Thus, Contrary to what many think, it is possible to secure good marks in this subject.

we help you to know about the English lit optional – toppers, success rate, pros and cons, etc.

So, if you take this optional, how many people are you competing with?
Usually, under 50 candidates opt for English literature as their optional subject. It enjoys a good success rate and every year, there are successful candidates with this optional.

In 2005, the first rank went to Mona Pruthi, who had taken English literature as her optional. Have a look at this table on number of candidates who appeared and cleared using English literature optional in the CSE mains.

English Literature Success Rate


No. of candidates appeared

No. of candidates cleared

Success Rate (%)


40 6 15


21 2 9.5








2012 64







2010 30 8


As you can see, English Lit optional has a reasonably good success rate. In-fact, as you can see these facts, lets look deeper into the year 2016. English lit has the success percentage of 15%.

Now let look at the success percentage of the top popular optional subject for the same year, 2016:

Optional Subject No. of Candidates Appeared No. of Candidates Recommended Success Rate Percentage
Geography 4049 236 5.8
Sociology 1555 89 5.7
History 3870 212 5.5


If that was not convincing enough, have a look at the next table which proves that it is possible to get even top ranks even with such a different optional.

English Literature Optional Toppers:

Name Year Rank
Anjali S 2017 26
Gaurav Garg 2015 320
Ajay Prakash 2010 9
Shuchita Kishore 2010 39
Mona Pruthi 2005 1

So, if prepared well, English Literature optional can even help you secure high ranks and put you on the merit list.

As is the case with any optional subject, English literature optional also has its share of advantages and disadvantages for the IAS mains exam.

English Literature optional Pros:

  • If you love this subject and have taken it out of a genuine interest/passion, you will find the preparation journey a smooth and enjoyable affair. English Lit will provide a great break from the stressful GS preparation. English literature is all about reading and understanding the nuances of stories written by great authors, playwrights and poets.
  • The competition is also far less here and you will only have to write better than your competitor to get a good score.
  • In this subject, there is no limit to how well you can write. If you have been in the habit of reading since your childhood, you can actually perform excellently well.
  • Since the syllabus is very specific and defined, three months is sufficient to prepare for this optional subject. This is great right? I know!
  • Although there is no direct overlap with the GS papers as such, this optional can help you in understanding the history of Europe and can be helpful in GS I.
  • This optional can help you with the essay paper as well.
  • For this optional, you will have to understand and analyse classical texts. This will help you improve your analytical skills.

English Literature optional Cons:

  • There is a dearth of professional coaching for this optional subject.
  • It is also difficult to get a good test series for this optional.
  • There is no overlap whatsoever with the general studies papers.
  • Your answers have to be really good to score good marks here.
  • Being a literature subject, it is subjective in nature making your performance unpredictable, quite unlike the sciences subjects.

To overcome these disadvantages, We, at IBH, are planning to start Exclusive classes for English Lit. The classes will be handled by experienced faculties, and our course will also include test series along with expert feedback. You will be guided through out the preparation.

Who can opt for English Literature optional?

This optional should be considered by the following groups of candidates

  • English graduates
  • Non-English graduates with good language and with a passion for literature
  • Candidates who love to read and have a good command over the English language
  • Candidates with a good command over English and have an academic background in sociology or history.

Lets have a look at the syllabus:

The syllabus, in short, includes the following:

  1. 14 novels
  2. 5 plays
  3. 60 poems (most of them small)
  4. Basic understanding of the history of English literature

English Lit Optional UPSC Books:

  • For history of literature section:
    • History of Literature – Louis Cazamian
    • The Routledge History of Literature in English – Ronald Carter & John McRae
    • A New History Of English Literature – Bhim S Dahiya
  • Practical Criticism by Oxford University Press
  • A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H Abrams
  • Literary Theory Today by Pramod K Nayar
  • All the original poems, plays and prose in the syllabus.


A graduate degree in English makes no difference in this paper. This optional is to be taken only if you appreciate literature, and not because you think your English is good.

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