Comparing History and Geography Optionals for UPSC Mains

The UPSC civil services mains exam is the second level of the UPSC Examination. This stage of the IAS exam consists of nine papers out of which two are the optional papers. The two optional papers combined count for 500 marks, so it is very important to choose your optional with due consideration. Scores of candidates ponder over what optional subject to take for the UPSC CSE. The subjects Geography and History are quite popular with candidates. Both are important subjects in terms of their coverage in the IAS prelims and the general studies papers. This article compares History and Geography optionals for UPSC mains.






Syllabus is one of the vastest in UPSC.

Syllabus is shorter than history’s.


It is not as scientific as Geography. It deals with things that happened in the past.

It is more scientific in nature.

Scoring Potential

It is considered less scoring than Geography because answers are descriptive generally. There is some scope for diagrams but not much.

It is more scoring because of the nature of the subject. Also, you can use a lot of diagrams and pictures which fetch marks.


Maps in history are more difficult because you have to write the names of places already marked on the map. This is tough since there are innumerable numbers of places you have to remember.

Maps in Geography are easier because you have to mark the river or place that is mentioned in the question.

Difficulty Level

Interest levels of a candidate determine the difficulty level.

Interest levels of a candidate determine the difficulty level.

Writing Skills

History demands good writing skills.

Writing skills are not as prominent for Geography.

Questions Pattern

Questions focus on economic, social and cultural history.

Questions focus on application of Geography to the current times.

General Studies Overlap

Huge overlap with GS paper I.

Huge overlap with GS paper III.

Prelims Advantage

“History of India and Indian National Movement” part will be covered.

“Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World” part will be covered.

Candidates who take

Candidates with any background can take up history.

Candidates with any background can take up Geography.

Success Rate

Generally greater than 5%.

Generally greater than 5%.


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