How to select IAS Mains optional

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 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 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 GS 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 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 syllabus).

Optional subject

Probable no of student selecting optional for Mains

History Around 3000
Geography Around 3000
Public administration Around 3000
Sociology Around 3000
Philosophy + Psychology +Political Science + Economics <2000
All other science/art subjects (in total) <2000
All literature subjects (in total) <1000
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)


Every year lakhs of aspirants appears for the prestigious Civil services examination which is conducted by UPSC,  there are three stages 1st one is prelims (for screening purpose), 2nd one is mains and finally the interview.
Earlier there use to be 2 optional subjects, but now as per the new syllabus you have to deal with only one. So here we are sharing some practical tips which will help you to decide best optional subject for examination.

1. Familiarity with the subject

You may choose a subject, which you have already studied in school or college, as it will be easier for you to complete and score good marks.

2. Liking for the Subject

It should be based on your liking for the subject as the interest in the subject has to be carried till the time you clear the exam.

3. Familiarity with the syllabus

Although you have already studied the subject in school or college, but it is also necessary to consider the syllabus, as state universities syllabus are totally different from national universities, and UPSC syllabus are based on national universities’ s syllabus.

4. Easy Availability of Books and Materials

If you are considering a subject, which is easily not available in the market than you have to work harder for preparing the content. The advantages of available books and materials are that, it is prepared by expert and they have already invested their mind  and time into it, so with that accumulated work you can easily finish your syllabus.

5. Dedicated friends’ study circle

Its advantageous to have group of people doing with same optional subject, not only it will make learning better but also reduce preparation time.

6. Overlap and utility  in GS and Essay

Having a optional which is covering the subject of GS and also helpful for essay than its a bumper choice, as it will improve you writing and essay skill simultaneously.

7. Conceptual subject

The benefit of conceptual subject is that, they are scoring, scientific and are not superfluous in nature. Even with decent preparation you can score better marks.

8. Contemporary nature

With the increase of current affairs portion in examination, it has become compulsory to integrate current and static topics of subjects, if your optional is like that, than some how it will prove advantageous for you.

9. Don’t care marks trends

Lastly don’t go with mark trends, it might have proved advantageous for some aspirants, but you have to do justice with your likes and preferences. Now a days questions are conceptual not factual and concept can be developed only with dedication in subject. So always choose a subject upon which you can invest your 101% dedication.


How to select IAS Mains optional
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