Should Candidates Choose an Optional Subject with Some Background in Mains

Choosing an optional subject for the UPSC mains exam is a precarious affair. Candidates often scratch their heads in finalising a suitable optional for the mains exam. There is no right and wrong when it comes to an optional subject. What works for one individual may or may not work for another person. A lot of aspirants would ponder, “Should I take my graduation subject as my optional?” Read on to find out more.

Take a look at the list of optionals UPSC offers for the mains exam:

  • Agriculture
  • Animal husbandry and veterinary science
  • Anthropology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil engineering
  • Commerce
  • Economics
  • Electrical engineering
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Political science and international relations
  • Psychology
  • Public administration
  • Physics
  • Sociology
  • Law
  • Mathematics
  • Management
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Medical science
  • Statistics
  • Zoology

Literature subject optionals for IAS

  • Assamese
  • Gujarati
  • Konkani
  • Marathi
  • Sanskrit
  • Telugu
  • Bengali
  • Hindi
  • Maithili
  • Nepali
  • Santhali
  • Urdu
  • Bodo
  • Kannada
  • Malayalam
  • Odia
  • Sindhi
  • English
  • Dogri
  • Kashmiri
  • Manipuri
  • Punjabi
  • Tamil

There are definitive advantages if a candidate opts for an optional subject that he/she had for graduation at college like:

  • He/she will have a good base in the subject. Prior knowledge can help in saving time for UPSC preparation.
  • There won’t be any need to start studying from scratch.
  • Familiarity with the concepts ensures that candidate can prepare for the relevant current affairs easily.
  • The candidate will already have some of the study material for the subject.


When should the candidate take up his/her graduation subject as the optional?

  • If he/she is undergoing college education currently.
  • If he/she is a recent pass-out from college.
  • If he/she is in touch with the subject.
  • If he/she had a genuine interest in the subject and still loves to read and learn more about it.

If you have a good knowledge and interest in the subject, then even if the subject has no overlap with the general studies paper, you should go for it because you will be able to score well in the two optional papers totalling 500 marks. This good performance can notch up your final rank also.

A candidate shouldn’t take the graduation subject as the optional in the IAS mains if:

  • He/she is completely out of touch with it.
  • He/she has absolutely no interest in the subject. For instance, if a person studied civil engineering on his parents’ insistence and had no interest in it, he would be better off taking an optional that has some overlap with the general studies papers.


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