English Literature as an Optional

In the last few weeks, a lot of aspirants have left queries about English Literature as an optional. In my current post, I’ll try my best to address them and also share my personal experience with the optional.

I appeared with English Literature as an optional for Mains in the year 2014 and scored really well. In 2014 only those aspirants who had graduated in Literature of a particular language could appear for the subject. But now that condition has been relaxed so anybody can opt for it.

The advantage I had back then was that i have done my graduation (BA Hons.) as well as Masters (MA) in English Literature. So, appearing for the exam did not come across as something new. Nevertheless, anybody with a passion for literature can score well in the subject.

‘Must Read’ Points before opting for English Literature

  • Choose English Literature if you’re really interested in the subject. Remember, English Literature isn’t only about reading stories. There’s much more to it.
  • Make sure you read and prepare each and every aspect of the syllabus. Selective study will prove detrimental to your performance.
  • For aspirants new to the subject, a fair deal of time should be spent on improving the reading (and understanding) speed of the texts as well as on history of literature.
  • Once you start making notes, refer from multiple sources and write the most beautiful thoughts in the simplest possible language.
  • Refer to a good glossary like M.H. Abrahams for understanding any complex terms and relate it to your syllabus.
  • Don’t ever refer from cheap guides. 
  • Understand the fact that english literature and english grammar are not the same things. A literature student is expected to have strong grammar, sure. But literature is way expansive.
  • Go through the English Honours syllabus for University of Delhi and do your research on the additional sources prescribed to them. This will prove immensely beneficial.
  • Become a member of the nearest library or ask a friend enrolled in an university to help you out with issuing books. Take home a ‘Casebook series’ and include information from them in your notes. You are expected to use them as references. Buying them is not possible . They’re hugely expensive and not available largely in India.
  • Be sure of the fact that reading original texts is just the initial stage of preparation. You are expected to know the entire History of Literature right from the origin of literature up till the contemporary times i.e from the time of Geoffrey Chaucer to Post Modernism.
  • Lastly, have a good command on different elements of literature – symbolism, figures of speech, imagery etc because you’ll need this knowledge in the compulsory question on Unseen passage where you’re expected to critically analyse it completely. You’ll do it well once you have practice. I insist buy a good glossary. I’ll suggest you to buy – A Glossary of English Literature by M.H.Abrahams.

How to Proceed ??

Start with the History of English Literature and choose one prescribed text at a time and try to read it within a week. Make sure that you read each and every book prescribed in the syllabus cover to cover. No selective study recommended.

Along with the history of literature, begin reading one text at a time chronologically. You will need some time in drama and poetry (especially if you’re a fresher). But it’ll seem more and more interesting as you keep going deep into the narrative.

Once you have a strong foundation, you will have to study Literary Theory as mentioned in the syllabus. For example – Cultural Studies, Feminism, Deconstruction etc. Once you’re done with Literary Theory, learn to apply various theories to the texts that have been prescribed.




Akriti Mattu


  1. Hi,
    I am BTech preparing for CSE 2018. I am unable to decide the optional as I am confused between psychology and anthropology. Have equal interest in both of them. I am in search of a more static subject(not very dynamic with respect to current affairs ). The length of syllabus is more or less similar in both. How should I proceed with the right optional in this case?

  2. Actually I find some of the topics interesting in both the subjects. Like Marriage, Family, Indian Social System in Anthropology whereas Motivation, Attitude, Interests etc in Psychology.
    Also I am okay-ish in handling open ended questions, not very comfortable. Hence, looking for a more of static subject.

    • I had Psychology as an optional for my state service exam. Its a very good optional. However, make sure you have excellent guidance for it. Else you’ll lose track of whats important.

      • Okay.
        Also in how much time can the syllabus be covered for upsc in psychology? tentative months required?

  3. Since you have command on the subject and you said we should prefer reading text,I can’t read the older reads,I like to but it takes more time than usual like Shakespeare’s plays but I want to read the original. Can you help me?

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