Your Guide To Cracking The IAS Exam With Law Optional Paper

The Civil Services Exam(CSE) is conducted by the UPSC to recruit eligible officers for various top Government posts such as the IAS (Indian Administrative Service), the IPS (Indian Police Service), the IFS (Indian Foreign Service), etc. It is considered to be the most lucrative as well as prestigious of all competitive exams in India. 

Despite being one of the toughest exams to clear, it sees close to nine lakh candidates appear for it every year. That is because it is one of the few jobs which combines the benefits of job security, job diversity, work-life balance, personal growth and prestige for self and family. More importantly, it provides immense amount of self-satisfaction resulting from being able to be of service to those who need it the most. 


The CSE takes place in three stages – the Preliminary Examination(objective type questions), the Main Examination(subjective type questions) and the Personality Test(interview). 

At the second stage, there is one Essay paper, four General Studies papers and two Optional subject papers. Each of these papers has a weightage of 250 marks. Thus, the choice of the optional subject becomes a very crucial decision as it can be a deal maker or deal breaker in this exam. Also, it is the only area where UPSC gives the candidates an option to choose a subject of their choice. Thus, it is imperative to make the best choice at this stage and what better option would a law graduate have than opting for law optional and maximising his/her chances of clearing this exam. 


Law optional has a finite and limited syllabus which is predominantly of a static nature. Thus, once a candidate covers the syllabus, it only requires repeated revision cycles rather than any updation at regular intervals.  

The syllabus of law optional is divided into two parts. Paper I consists of Constitutional Law and International Law. Paper II consists of Law of Crimes, Law of Torts, Law of Contracts, Mercantile Laws and Contemporary Legal Developments. Thus, you would be tested on just two subjects in the Law 1 paper and more than five subjects in the Law 2 paper. 


The format for both the papers is the same. Each paper is of 250 marks and each consists of some short questions which need to be compulsorily answered and some options of long questions from which choices can be made. For more details you can look up the official website 


Almost 40% of the General Studies syllabus has a direct link with the law optional syllabus and the percentage goes even higher if one considers the indirect linkages. It also helps immensely in writing better essays and better answers in the GS-IV paper on Ethics. 


Law is increasingly becoming a popular optional subject both for law background students as well as non-law background students. More and more students are opting for this subject after realising its advantages not just during the preparation stage but also upon joining the service after successfully clearing the exam.


It is a scoring optional with top scores of 300+ commonly achieved on an every year basis. In the past decade, many toppers with single digit ranks have cleared the exam with law as their optional subject, quite a few of them even being from non-law background. Law has consistently been one of the best performing optional subjects in terms of success rates and conversion ratios of candidates, second only to that of medical science. 


Law has a direct or indirect link with almost everything happening around us in society. Thus, it is not only interesting to study but it also helps in establishing the right linkages and developing a holistic understanding of even the most complex issues with utmost conceptual clarity. 

Law is based on common sense and it trains one’s mind to think differently. It helps in developing key critical thinking skills and probes one to ask relevant questions and seek answers in a conclusive way. It helps in better articulation and expression of ideas and arguments. This in turn leads to better communication of keypoints both in the written as well as verbal formats. 


Law is the most predictable part of an otherwise highly unpredictable exam. Thus, it requires a calculative and smart strategy to leverage its advantages to the maximum. 

  • The first and most important step is to understand the syllabus of the paper. Not all subjects have equal weightage. 
  • At the same time, not all syllabus topics within a subject have equal weightage. Thus, analysing the previous years’ question papers would help students get a better understanding of the important topics and important themes within those topics. 
  • The above mentioned step would enable students to prioritise their preparation according to the prevailing trends and patterns of the questions likely to be asked in the exam. 
  • The sources for preparation should be kept to a basic minimum and the approach should be to revise well from one source per subject.
  • The main focus should be on consolidation of the content in the form of self-prepared short notes, while keeping in mind the answer-writing perspective. 
  • One must practice writing answers of previous years’ questions. Once a student feels confident about the overall approach and quality of his/her answers, the next step would be to practice full length mock tests and get valuable feedback on the performance. 


There is no doubt that almost all students start their law optional preparation in the UPSC journey with the best of intentions and with the zeal to work hard and put in all the required efforts. However, it is commonly seen that they lose the zeal or lose their way and feel quite lost just after a few months. To avoid meeting the same fate, it is important to ensure that the hard work is accompanied with good amount of smart work also. It is here that I would want to share some of my past experiences in terms of hits and misses in this arduous journey. 

My list of common mistakes includes: 

  • Trying to follow the law school/college approach in preparing for the syllabus. The topics need not be covered in too much detail, rather the focus should be on having multi-dimensional and comprehensive coverage of the topics. Ultimately, you need to know how much of what you have read, can you actually write in the exam, given the time and space constraints. 
  • Not consolidating the content prepared in the form of short self-made notes. Skipping this one last step before moving on to the next topic, ultimately leads to revisiting the entire content from scratch in the next revision cycle and thus requires double and unnecessary time and efforts. 
  • Leaving answer writing practice till the very end. The preparation of any syllabus topic cannot be considered complete unless you write an answer on that topic. The art of writing relevant yet concise content in the answers is a special skill which needs to be acquired by practising answer writing before actually attempting a full length mock test or directly the mains exam. 
  • Not revising at regular intervals. The lengthy and detailed syllabus of law optional cannot be studied and retained in just one study cycle. Thus, one must space out their revision cycles at a gap of every fortnight or month in order to brush up the content multiple times. It is here that the consolidated short notes prove to be extremely useful. 
  • Never feeling content and confident about the topics already covered. The fear of missing out makes many students to constantly be on the lookout for more and more content from different books and online sources. The truth is there will never come a point when any topic can be 100% prepared. So, one must not let the best become the enemy of good. The focus should be on having sufficient relevant content on all syllabus topics rather than do a mastery in few and leave others underprepared. 


The exam can be cleared with self-preparation and there are many success stories in support of this. Coaching is not required in most cases, however, it can help in saving valuable time and effort and guide the preparation in the right direction from the start to the end. But even then, a lot depends on the students’ sincere and diligent efforts as there is no substitute for hard work. Eventually, it is going to be a personal choice and would depend on the individual needs of the students.


There are some myths and ill-conceived notions of the law optional preparation which deter many students from taking up this subject. However, the advantages far outnumber the challenges involved and a good strategy from the very start can help keep the preparation on track and clear the exam with flying colours.

Shalka Kumar is an experienced mentor of Law Optional for IAS aspirants and a RMLNLU alumna. She guides students through various courses under CHRYSALIS IAS ACADEMY ( ; E-mail: info@chrysalisias.comWhatsapp: 8260930294. Register for a free counselling session:   


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  • Very nice blog, very much helpful for me… thank you for sharing such a wealth of information.

  • Well explained content about UPSC preparation.

  • The main focus should be on consolidation of the content in the form of self-prepared short notes, while keeping in mind the answer-writing perspective when you are preparing for IAS mains exam

  • Your Blog is very nice. Wish to see much more like this. Thanks for sharing your information.

  • The crash course for UPSC prelims 2021 covers the whole syllabus of UPSC CSE Prelims comprehensively along with full-length mock-tests, answer-writing sessions, MCQs practice tests every day, and essay-writing sessions every week, the static portion of the syllabus, and also the dynamic section of the current affairs which help the students to prepare well for the exam with confidence.

  • My opinion will differ on the point, that the syllabus is a finite and limited syllabus and of static nature. The 2 vast laws- Constitution and International Law which are regularly updated from the Superme Court judgments. How can we treat this part as a static portion? The basic laws+ updates are very frequent in both the domain. One needs to be updated in both the domain vigorously. To the second paper- The laws like Contract, Torts, Crime, are updated by various SC judgments. One needs to understand the basic concept behind the laws and then update themselves with the recent updates and judgments. That’s a lot of literature to read and to prepare.

    • Mr. Manan,
      Most of your queries can be answered by re-reading the article itself.
      1. “….of static nature” – [It is predominantly of a static nature.]
      2. “…One needs to be updated in both the domain vigorously…..” + “….then update themselves with the recent updates and judgments….” – [The fear of missing out makes many students to constantly be on the lookout for more and more content from different books and online sources.] + [Ultimately, you need to know how much of what you have read, can you actually write in the exam, given the time and space constraints.]
      You don’t need to constantly try and update yourself on all the topics. The focus needs to be on inclusion of landmark judgements and not necessarily latest judgements. If any latest case falls into the landmark category, there is a very good chance you would get to know about it from mainstream newspapers also. It is then that you should try to look it up in a bit more detail and pick out the most relevant 1-2 lines or the important guidelines laid down, to be used in an answer, nothing more than that.
      3. “…The laws like Contract, Torts, Crime, are updated by various SC judgments…” – The above logic applies even more to topics of Paper II. Try to understand that you mostly use cases in Paper II for illustrative purposes which can be done through any case and not necessarily any latest case. For eg. you need to prepare the Joseph Shine case as it declared adultery to be unconstitutional but you don’t need to check latest cases for each and every topic of Paper II.
      4. “…That’s a lot of literature to read and to prepare…” – [The sources for preparation should be kept to a basic minimum and the approach should be to revise well from one source per subject.]
      To sum it up, I can just say that any aspirant who wants to adopt a smart strategy for law optional preparation needs to give up the old law school approach of focusing too much on case laws, and rather should focus on using cases only from constructive utility point of view. My last piece of advice would be that instead of trying to spend valuable time and effort on looking up latest content on all topics, one must try to consolidate what they have already learnt and practise writing answers. All the best!

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