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How to select Optional Subjects in UPSC Mains Exam

Get details on How to select Optional Subjects in UPSC Mains Exam. The decision of selection of the optional paper in IAS exam is an age old dilemma for Civil Services aspirants. As per the latest civils syllabus, the number of optional subjects to be selected is reduced to one, but aspirants are still confused if they make the right choice or not. Though the weightage of the UPSC Mains optional paper is only 500 marks out of 2025 marks as per the latest pattern of UPSC Civil Services Mains exam, it is still a deciding factor in the final ranks due to the unpredictability associated with General Studies Papers (1000 marks  GS + 250 marks essay) and Interview (275 marks). Click here and read about How to prepare personality test for UPSC exam.

Selecting Optional Subjects in UPSC Mains examination

For UPSC mains students have to select one optional subject from 26 subjects provided by UPSC for mains examination .optional subject are not the part of preliminary examination and are only the part of mains per the latest pattern candidate has to select one optional from 26 subject provided by UPSC, irrespective of their graduation or qualification.this mean that doctors or engineers or anyone else can select any one subject from 26 subjects provided,according to their choice or love for subject. It is not mandatory to select their graduation subject for optional

If we analyse the question papers and mark-list of last 5-10 years of UPSC Civil Services Exams, we can collect a lot interesting and valuable data. The UPSC questions have evolved and now the bias is more towards current related aspects of polity, economy, international relations etc than conventional topics. Keeping this in mind we can also select our optional subjects.

If you are so strong in all your GS papers with consistent newspaper reading and note making habits, the decision of IAS Mains optional might  play a big difference in your results.

You need to select an optional subject in which you are comfortable to score high in UPSC mains. The level of comforts depends on many factors like – familiarity of the subject, availability of books and other study materials, availability of faculty, the scope of peer discussion, recent trends of marks, a level of difficulty as per the civils syllabus and previous question papers etc. If the subject you took for graduation is available in the list of subjects given, in most cases the same option will turn out as a comfortable option. All others (who don’t have an option for optional subject:-), look for an optional subject which you can finish in a time bound manner without encroaching the time for GS preparation.

Overlap for the optional subject with General Studies : Is this the right strategy?

Selecting an overlapping optional with General Studies is a good strategy, as the time required to study an optional subject not mentioned as per General Studies civils syllabus can be saved.There are also many who made it to the top with optional subjects like Medical Science or Law. None of these overlaps with GS civils syllabus as subjects like History or Geography do. Never take an optional just for the sole reason of GS overlap. Also never take an optional just based on advice from coaching institute gurus. Trust good mentors, but by this age, you are grown up enough to realise the commercial interests behind promoting each optional subject – be it History, Geography, Sociology, Pub Ad, Psychology or anything like that. Please understand that each and every optional subject is scoring. Due to the scaling effects, some optional might not turn high-scoring in some years, but there is no universal trend or theory. You requirement is to score maximum marks for an optional subject as well as in GS.

Popularity of Optional Subjects in Civil Services Exam

In IAS exam preparation, certain optional subjects are very popular. Though the number of candidates selecting each optional for IAS mains can vary year to year, the below table gives an average estimation for the coming years based on past year trends of optional subjects (As per latest civils syllabus).

Optional subject

Probable no of student selecting optional for Mains



Around 3000


Around 3000

Public administration

Around 3000


Around 3000

Philosophy + Psychology +Political Science + Economics

All other science/art subjects (in total)


All literature subjects (in total)



Around 15000


UPSC Optional

UPSC Optional Subjects

List of the optional subject provided by UPSC.

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
  3. Anthropology
  4. Botany
  5. Chemistry
  6. Civil Engineering
  7. Commerce and Accountancy
  8. Economics
  9. Electrical Engineering
  10. Geography
  11. Geology
  12. History
  13. Law
  14. Management
  15. Mathematics
  16. Mechanical Engineering
  17. Medical Science
  18. Philosophy
  19. Physics
  20. Political Science and International Relations
  21. Psychology
  22. Public Administration
  23. Sociology
  24. Statistics
  25. Zoology
  26. Literature of any one of the following language (Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and English)

Few Important Links for UPSC IAS Aspiratnts 2017 | 2018

UPSC Notification 2017 UPSC Syllabus UPSC Prelims Syllabus
UPSC IAS Exam Pattern UPSC Reference Books UPSC Eligibility
UPSC Mains Exams Pattern UPSC Question papers UPSC IAS Preparation Tips
UPSC IAS Exam Application UPSC Admit Card UPSC Results
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