Choosing the Right Optional Subject for UPSC Civil Services Mains

The UPSC civil services main exam consists of nine papers out of which there are two papers for your optional subject. Since 2013, only one optional subject is required to be selected by a candidate. Both the papers are out of 250 each making a total of 500 marks for the optional.

How to choose optional subject for UPSC exam?

Most UPSC aspirants face a tough time deciding on which optional to take. The list of optional subjects is given below:

  • Agriculture
  • Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
  • Anthropology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Commerce and Accountancy
  • Economics
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History
  • Law
  • Management
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Medical Science
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Zoology

UPSC Optional Subjects Syllabus

This article tries to throw light on some of the factors you have to keep in mind while selecting your optional subject.


Some UPSC candidates go for an optional that is chosen by most UPSC aspirants. While the merits of choosing a popular subject can be debated, there are multiple reasons for their popularity. These subjects either have limited syllabus compared to some other subjects or are scoring for some candidates, or simply because there are more candidates with these subjects as their graduation subject. The more popular optional subjects for UPSC exam are public administration, geography, history, sociology and psychology.

UPSC 2021

Scoring subjects

Some IAS aspirants select subjects that are deemed scoring. Subjects coming under this category are public administration and geography with its laws and maps. But remember, if you have absolutely no interest in these subjects and/or find them very tough, it is wise not to consider them as your optional.

Your background

Many candidates choose a subject that they have studied during their graduation or previous education. They do this because they have already studied it and just have to reshape their knowledge as per UPSC syllabus. Nothing has to be studied from scratch here. Many doctors take medical science as they feel they are most comfortable with it. This choice is especially recommended for students pursuing their education while simultaneously preparing for the civil services; or for those who start their UPSC exam preparation while in college itself.

Study material availability

Some UPSC candidates look for subjects for which study material is widely available. Such subjects include history, geography, anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology and public administration.


Certain candidates go for subjects for which more coaching is available. Again this is very subjective as a candidate can attend coaching classes but his lack of interest in the subject can render them useless. Of course, if you have lost touch with your graduation or post-graduation subject and want to start afresh for your IAS preparation, it is a good idea to go by this criterion.

Overlap with General Studies (GS)

Again, for civil services aspirants who are clueless about many of the subjects to be covered, it is a good option to choose a subject that would overlap with the GS papers. This is also advisable if you are hard pressed for time. These subjects are history, public administration, geography, sociology, political science and philosophy.


However, the most important factor while you select an optional subject ought to be your interest in it. If you are eager to learn more about a subject and love reading about it, you should definitely go for that subject. You can also quicken your pace of study in subjects that interest you.

What to remember while choosing an optional

There is no one formula for selecting an optional for the UPSC mains. There is also no correct option. You cannot emulate others in this regard. What worked for the previous topper may not work for you. Keep in mind the above mentioned criterion but make sure that you choose a subject that you like and are confident in irrespective of its popularity or supposed mark-fetching nature.

Related Links:

UPSC Prelims Syllabus UPSC 2021
Topic-Wise GS 2 Questions for UPSC Mains Topic-Wise GS 3 Questions for UPSC Mains
Topic-Wise GS 4 Questions for UPSC Mains Daily News Analysis


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