Whatsapp 96259-93995 For Details

How to choose an optional subject for IAS-UPSC Exam?

Get Free IAS Booklet

Get Free IAS Booklet

What is the Optional Paper for the IAS/ UPSC Civil Services Examination?

Paper Subject Marks Time Questions
Paper-VI Optional Subject – Paper I 250 3 hours 19 questions
Paper-VII Optional Subject – Paper II 250 3 hours 19 questions

UPSC Mains examination has two subjective type Papers for Optional Subject totaling 500 marks. The scope of the syllabus for optional subject papers for the examination is broadly of the honours degree 1evel i.e. a level higher than the bachelors’ degree and lower than the masters’ degree. In the case of Engineering, Medical Science and law, the level corresponds to the bachelors’ degree.

Optional Subjects

UPSC Examination offers the following Optional Subjects, the syllabus for both the papers is provided in detailed in the UPSC Examination Notification.

Technical Subjects Non Technical Subjects Literature Subjects
  • Agriculture
  • Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Commerce and Accountancy
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Medical Science
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Statistics
  • Zoology
  • Anthropology
  • Optional Subject – Paper I
  • Economics
  • History
  • Law
  • Management
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and
    International Relations
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Assamese,
  • Bengali,
  • Bodo,
  • Dogri,
  • Gujarati,
  • Hindi,
  • Kannada,
  • Kashmiri,
  • Konkani,
  • Maithili,
  • Malayalam,
  • Manipuri,
  • Marathi,
  • Nepali,
  • Oriya,
  • Punjabi,
  • Sanskrit,
  • Santali,
  • Sindhi,
  • Tamil,
  • Telugu,
  • Urdu, and
  • English.

Importance of Choosing the Correct Optional

Students who perform well on the Optional paper can secure upto 350 marks which makes a huge difference for your final rank. There are also huge variations in people’s optional scores. You need expertise of the level of graduation and hence extensive preparation is required of 2-4 months. Following factors should be kept in mind while choosing the optional subject-

Breaking Myths: Do NOT Choose an Optional based on Success Ratio

Some students choose an optional based on the success ratio or the highest marks obtained by previous toppers in the subject. This is a very counter-intutive approach as scoring in Optional Subject is based on your performance in the paper, and not past performance of some other toppers. Your sustained interest and expertise of the subject will secure you good marks. For illustration, you can refer to the last 5 year’s toppers and their optional subjects -

Year of Examination Topper’s Name Optional Subject Marks Obtained (out of 500)
2022 Ishita Kishore Political Science and International Relations 313
2021 Shruti Sharma History 305
2020 Shubham Kumar Anthropology 320
2019 Pradeep Singh Public Administration 293
2018 Kanishak Kataria Mathematics 361

Choose an optional which is your strength and develop expertise in it by thoroughly reviewing previous year questions and practicing sufficient answer writing. This is a make or break subject which has the potential of deciding your rank.

How to choose an optional subject?

Choosing the right optional subject plays a very important role in your final selection in the merit list as it brings a certain level of stability to one's preparation because GS papers are vast and dynamic. Many candidates are faced with the dilemma of how to choose their optional subject. Fortunately, in the new format, General Studies (GS) is much more important as UPSC has done away with two optional subjects and now the candidate has to choose only one optional subject. So don’t take this decision at the beginning. First, start preparing for GS, and then after some time take this decision. Because in four GS papers you will be introduced to a variety of optional subjects like History, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science and Sociology. This will help you to determine your inclination to a particular subject. Every subject has its own demand (i.e. thinking pattern, writing style, presentation techniques, etc). Your personality should suit it.

Following are some basic criteria for choosing the Optional subject-

  • Interest and understanding in the subject (about which you will come to know when you study for GS Mains)
  • Analysis of the syllabus and previous years’ question papers of the shortlisted subjects
  • Writing style and presentation techniques suitable for that particular optional (about which you will know once you start writing for GS and essay)
  • Thinking Pattern expected for a particular optional (you will come to know about yours after you prepare for GS.)
  • Availability of study material
  • Availability of guidance
  • Weightage of optional in GS
  • Graduation background
  • Apart from this, some give importance to the length of the syllabus.

Book your Free Class

Book your Free Class


1. The popular choices among candidates are; Public Administration, Sociology, Geography, History, Political Science, and Philosophy. More than 80% of the test-takers opt for these subjects. This is because all these subjects overlap with general studies. Among them, Public Administration is the most popular choice. However, the question remains do they fetch high marks?

2. There are some thumb rules for selecting the optional subject. First, you should not select the subject, if you are not comfortable with it. Normally one should select a subject studied at the graduation level. The criteria of the choice of subject should be as per your interest, rather than having studied them at the graduation level. At the same time, you should stay away from myths like the best optional, only right optional for a particular stream of students, because the topper/my friend has chosen, etc., while exploring for the best Optional subject for you.

3. Also keep in mind that you may have been proficient in a subject, but lack of touch may make it tougher to re grasp the same subject. This applies to technical subjects. In such a case, it is advisable to take a fresh subject. If you are an engineering, medicine, or science graduate and have been working for some time, you may have lost touch with your core subjects of graduation days. In such a case, it is advisable to take a new subject which is easy to grasp.

4. The selection of a subject should be based on the availability of quality study material. Huge study material is available for subjects such as History, Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, Political Science, Psychology, and Public Administration.

5. Remember, the competition is among the people who have opted for the same subject. The social sciences papers have a huge number of takers and due to it scoring high marks in these subjects is extremely difficult. So if you are comfortable in a subject that has minimum rush, there are chances of scoring good marks.

6. However, it all depends on how much time you can spend every day on your optional subject. Even with the subjects of your liking, some time is needed to prepare them. If your basic concepts of any science or technical subject are clear, then go for it, else opt for a social science subject. Many students from science, engineering, medicine background are opting for social science subjects. These subjects are easy to grasp provided you have a good memory and active learning approach.

7. The other rule of the selection of optional subjects is to analyze the syllabus thoroughly. After that look for the question papers of the previous years, and analyze its past trends. This has to be done at the very beginning and some time has to be spent on it to make a final call on it. Once you make up your mind selecting your optional subject, take a plunge into it and never regret not choosing any other optional subject.

8. Last but not the least get some feedback/advice from those who have qualified examination on the subjects they had taken as optional to write their mains examination. You must ask them how many marks they scored in the two papers of the subject. Also, take some tips on the study material and the way they went about its preparations. Sometimes, such views are printed in competitive magazines, you have to go through them and develop your own ideas based on them in choosing an optional paper. Also, you can follow toppers' blogs to get a better insight.