Comparison of UPSC Optional Subjects’ Success Rates

“Which is the best optional subject in the UPSC exam?” – is a question that haunts many IAS aspirants hoping to join the elite Indian civil services after clearing the civil services exam. Candidates have to choose one optional subject out of the list of more than 40 subjects given by the UPSC. Prior to 2013, candidates had to select two optional subjects. Thankfully, there is only one subject now, but it doesn’t seem to have lessened candidates’ confusion in this regard. There are many factors to consider before fixing on an optional subject in the IAS mains like academic background, interest levels, scoring ability, etc. There is no perfect optional subject since the criterion for success depends solely on the individual. However, for the benefit of candidates who are unable to make any headway in this crucial decision-making process, we bring you a comparison of the success rates of the optional subjects from 2010 to 2015.

The information for optional subjects from the year 2016 is not available as the latest UPSC annual report gives the date till 2015 only.

List of optional subjects in UPSC

Agriculture Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Anthropology Botany Chemistry
Civil Engineering Commerce & Accountancy Economics Electrical Engineering Geography
Geology History Law Management Mathematics
Mechanical Engineering Medical Science Philosophy Physics Political Science & International Relations
Psychology Public Administration Sociology Statistics Zoology
Literature of Languages
Assamese Bengali Bodo Dogri Gujarati
Hindi Kannada Kashmiri Konkani Maithili
Malayalam Manipuri Marathi Nepali Odia
Punjabi Sanskrit Santhali Sindhi Tamil
Telugu Urdu English

How to choose optional subject for UPSC?

  1. First, go through the syllabus of the optional subjects you are considering.
  2. Then, analyse your own strengths and weaknesses with respect to academics.
  3. Consider your academic background.
  4. Go through the pros and cons of the optional subjects.
  5. Go through the previous years question papers of the optional subjects in consideration.
  6. You can analyse the success rates or performances of the optional subjects in the past UPSC exams.
  7. After weighing all the pros and cons and your own strengths in the subjects, you must come to a decision.

Get more information on how to select the right optional for IAS exam.

Table showing the success rates for the optional subjects (in percentage) from 2010 through 2015:

Optional subject 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Medical Science 18.8 23.4 23.4 16.4 19.9 20.2
Management 14.3 5.6 14.4 13.8 11.4 12.1
Anthropology 12 13.2 6.6 11.8 11 14.8
Sociology 10.5 8.2 9.2 9.1 10.6 11.7
Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science 10.1 10 23.1 15.6 14.3 10.6
Physics 9.9 9.6 6.4 8.8 9.3 15.6
Public Administration 9.2 7.9 5.1 6.2 5.3 8.4
Geography 8.6 7.6 7.2 5.6 7.3 3.4
Geology 8.3 10 14.3 6.7 3.6
Psychology 8.2 10.5 7.9 9.8 15.8 11.8
Law 8 8 17.1 24.3 17 16.7
Political Science and IR 7.6 9.7 10.9 6.1 6.3 6.9
Commerce and Accountancy 7.3 6.9 14.9 7.5 10.3 13.8
Mathematics 7.2 8.3 7.1 6.1 10 12
Economics 6.6 5.6 19 20.2 12.1 10.3
Chemistry 6.5 8.9 10.6 7.1 7.1 12
Mechanical Engineering 5.8 6.8 4.7 6.7 6.3 12.2
Zoology 5.5 7.1 12.7 9.8 11.4 6.9
Electrical Engineering 5.3 5.3 6.3 11.5 7.8 9.1
History 4.8 8.5 8.3 7.7 6.5 5.6
Philosophy 4.3 8.2 8.9 7.9 7 5.5
Botany 3.4 6.7 11.5 14 0 8.9
Civil Engineering 1.7 3.4 10.6 13 7.7 5
Agriculture 1.5 12.1 16.4 9.1 10.8 12.8
Statistics 0 5.3 6.3 16.7 16.7 20
Bodo Literature 100 0 0 NA NA NA
Dogri Literature 100 0 0 0 NA 0
Sindhi Literature (Devanagari script) 100 NA 0 0 0 33.3
Sindhi Literature (Arabic script) 100 NA NA NA 66.7 50
English Literature 26.7 15.1 21.9 16.7 9.1 9.5
Telugu Literature 24.6 8.2 11 4.3 10.7 9.1
Manipuri Literature 18.2 22.2 0 5 23.5 20
Tamil Literature 16.3 13.4 25 10.7 14.7 21.5
Marathi Literature 15.6 15.8 15.4 3.8 12 6.7
Malayalam Literature 14.6 27.3 15.2 8.7 10.8 7.7
Maithili Literature 14.6 10.1 14.7 10.7 14.7 12.3
Kannada Literature 14.4 24.7 13 12 10.6 10.3
Urdu Literature 8.5 40.9 22.2 17.9 19.4 4.9
Gujarati Literature 7.4 16.9 14.5 12.5 13.8 3.7
Sanskrit Literature 7.3 11.8 11.4 5.6 10 6.4
Hindi Literature 3.9 13.1 11.7 4.2 5.4 2.8
Punjabi Literature 2.6 16.7 10 11.1 6.6 11.5
Odia Literature 0 7.1 0 10 0 28.6
Bengali Literature 0 20 0 16.7 33.3 16.7
Santhali Literature 0 33.3 33.3 100 0 100
Assamese Literature 0 25 37.5 0 0 0

It is evident from the table that medical science has been the most consistent performer among all the subjects. Please note that some of the literature subjects show a very high percentage (as much as 100%) because of the very less number of candidates who take the optional. For subjects marked ‘NA’, there were no candidates who had opted for that optional subject that year. The data for the discontinued subjects have not been included.

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