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How to choose optional subject for Civil Services Exam (CSE) Mains?

Choose Optional Subject for Civil Services Exam Mains : The CSE Mains is planned to test the intellectual expertise of a candidate. It is intended to assess the overall intellectual attributes and depth of understanding of aspirants. This is why the most fitting Mains Optional needs to be selected before beginning IAS preparation. The decision of selection of the optional paper for CSE Mains exam is an age old predicament for Civil Services aspirants. Though the number of optional subjects for CSE Mains to be selected is reduced to one, the candidates are still confused whether they are making the right choice or not.

As per the latest pattern of UPSC Civil Services exam the weightage of the optional paper is only 500 marks out of 2025 marks. It is still a deciding factor in the final ranks due to the uncertainty associated with General Studies Papers and Interview. For the aspirants who are not strong in General Studies the decision of choosing the right IAS Mains optional subject is very important.

The Main examination has 9 papers.  All of them are subjective in nature there are 2 qualifying papers. One is English and the other is a paper on any of the Indian languages listed for selection, for 300 marks each.

Choosing the Correct CSE Mains Optional

You need to select an optional subject in which you are comfortable to score high in CSE mains. Your comfort level with the CSE Mains optional subject depends on factors like acquaintance with the subject, availability of books, study materials and faculty, scope of discussion, recent marks trend, difficulty level based on syllabus and previous years question papers etc.

Read and understand the syllabus, spend more time on it. Go through the available optional subjects and identify your favourite or comfortable subject based on the excellence in your stream of graduation or school days. Identify your area of interest in current affairs and try shortlisting them as the optional subject for CSE Mains exam. Based on these factors identify 4 to 5 subjects which attract your interest by checking out previous years’ question papers of the chosen subjects.

Measure yourself the level of interest or remaining knowledge you possess to answer each question. Analyze if your interest for the chosen subject will remain the same throughout the preparation. Lastly, the availability of study materials and coaching guidance is very important. Non-technical subjects can be prepared by self-study provided writing is practiced regularly.

It’s preferable to choose a conceptual subject because even with decent preparation one can score high marks as they are not superfluous in nature. It is better to find a group of people who are preparing the same IAS Mains optional subject as yours. This will make learning better and also reduce preparation time.

Popularity of Some Optional Subjects for CSE Mains exam


In CSE Mains exam preparation, certain optional subjects are very popular. History, Geography, public Administration, Sociology, Philosophy, Psychology, Political Science, and Economics are a few of them. There are only 3 engineering subjects in the list of optional subjects of CSE Mains. They are mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. With proper subject knowledge and ability to answer analytically, it is possible to score well in all optional subjects of CSE Mains.

Do not choose an optional because someone suggested or most students opt for it or it is the most scoring optional subject. What might be interesting/easy for one might not be the same for another. If the above mentioned details are kept in mind, CSE Mains will be easier to crack.

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