How Many Optional Subjects in IAS Mains

In this article, you will read about the UPSC CSE optional subject list, and a few pointers on how to decide on an optional for the IAS mains exam.

The Prestigious Civil Services examination conducted by the UPSC has three stages. The aspirants who have just begun their preparations have various questions such as “How many subjects in IAS Exam”, “How many optionals in UPSC?” etc. This article attempts to clear the air and familiarise the students with the IAS Exam subjects. The UPSC mains (written) examination comprises of nine papers. This includes two qualifying papers and seven papers which will be calculated for ranking. Read on to know what are the optional subjects in IAS.
Daily Comprehensive News Analysis

How many optional subjects for IAS?

According to the new IAS exam pattern, the number of optional subjects for UPSC exam to be chosen by the candidate for Mains exam has decreased to one. The civil services mains exam General Studies papers account for 1000 marks and the two Optional Papers account for 250 marks each. Therefore it is very important for an aspirant to consider various pros and cons before choosing an optional subject for IAS Mains.
This article gives you information on how many optional papers are there in UPSC exam.

Here we give the complete list of optional subjects for UPSC IAS Mains Examination.  Aspirants can click here to know more about UPSC Syllabus and IAS Exam

General Studies Paper I to IV for IAS Mains Exam

The Four General Studies Papers are:

General studies Topics covered Total marks
General studies Paper-I Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society) 250
General studies Paper-II Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations 250
General studies Paper-III Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management 250
General studies Paper IV Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude 250


What is Optional Subject in IAS exam?

For the civil services examination, UPSC provides a list of optional subjects.  Candidates have to choose one optional for the mains exam. The optional subject has two papers and each paper accounts for 250 marks.  Candidates can choose from the list of optional subjects that also includes literature subjects (English and Indian languages).

The papers for the examination will be descriptive in nature. Each paper for UPSC mains exam will be of three hours duration. The question papers, other than the literature of language papers will be set in Hindi and English only.  The optional paper plays an important role in the UPSC mains exam.

How many optional subjects in UPSC exam?/How many optional subject in UPSC? The table below lists how many optional subjects to choose for IAS exam.

UPSC civil services optional subjects/Optional List for UPSC:

SN NO List of optional subjects in UPSC Detailed Syllabus
1 Agriculture Syllabus
2 Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Syllabus
3 Anthropology Syllabus
4 Botany Syllabus
5 Chemistry Syllabus
6 Civil Engineering Syllabus
7 Commerce & Accountancy Syllabus
8 Economics Syllabus
9 Electrical Engineering Syllabus
10 Geography Syllabus
11 Geology Syllabus
12 History Syllabus
13 Law Syllabus
14 Management Syllabus
15 Mathematics Syllabus
16 Mechanical Engineering Syllabus
17 Medical Science Syllabus
18 Philosophy Syllabus
19 Physics Syllabus
20 Political Science & International Relations Syllabus
21 Psychology Syllabus
22 Public Administration Syllabus
23 Sociology Syllabus
24 Statistics Syllabus
25 Zoology Syllabus

List of literature
 optional subjects in UPSC

Aspirants can opt for a literature subject as their optional for UPSC Mains even if they had not taken that language as their graduation subject. There will be two papers. Each paper is of 250 marks. The languages prescribed here are from the Eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution.

SN NO List of Literature optional subjects Detailed Syllabus
1 Assamese Syllabus
2 Bengali Syllabus
3 Bodo Syllabus
4 Dogri Syllabus
5 Gujarati Syllabus
6 Hindi Syllabus
7 Kannada Syllabus
8 Kashmiri Syllabus
9 Konkani Syllabus
10 Maithili Syllabus
11 Malayalam Syllabus
12 Manipuri Syllabus
13 Marathi Syllabus
14 Nepali Syllabus
15 Oriya Syllabus
16 Punjabi Syllabus
17 Sanskrit Syllabus
18 Santhali Syllabus
19 Sindhi Syllabus
20 Tamil Syllabus
21 Telugu Syllabus
22 Urdu Syllabus
23 English Syllabus

UPSC Mains Optional related queries

  • What is the success rate of optional subjects in the UPSC exam?
  • From 2015 and 2016 data, the success rate for a few Literature papers in the IAS mains exam is the highest. However, considering that few candidates opt for these subjects in UPSC mains, these success rates should be taken only as a broad reference.

To know the success rate of optional subjects in the IAS mains exam in detail, please click here.


  • Which subject is best for IAS Mains optional?
  • Subjects with high syllabus overlap with General Studies are usually considered to be a good bet. However, other factors like individual preference, study material availability and nature of syllabus etc are equally important.

Refer to this link to select the best UPSC mains optional subject for you.


  • Is Psychology a good optional for IAS?
  • In 2015, a total of 1163 candidates had opted for this optional out of which 92 were recommended for the UPSC interview round. That gives it a success rate of 7.9% that year.  Psychology is an interesting subject with a scope of citing real-life examples. However, there is no significant overlap with the General Studies syllabus for both UPSC Prelims and IAS Mains. To know about the pros and cons of selecting Psychology as the optional in the UPSC mains exam, please click here.


  • Is Agriculture a good optional for IAS?
  • In the recent past, Agriculture has emerged as a scoring optional in UPSC mains. The syllabus for Agriculture Paper 1 has significant overlap with GS in mains and in Prelims. However, Paper 2 has concepts related to Botany. It’s relatively contained syllabus adds to its popularity.

To know about the pros and cons of selecting Agriculture as the optional in the UPSC mains exam, please click here.


  • Is Geography a good optional for IAS?
  • Geography is one of the most popular optional subjects for IAS aspirants. The significant overlap of the Geography optional syllabus with GS 1 and CSE Prelims exam is one of the key reasons behind its popularity. In 2015, AIR 1, Ira Singhal aced the exam with the same optional. However, it’s comprehensive syllabus is a challenge.

To know about the pros and cons of selecting Geography as the optional in the UPSC mains exam, please click here.


  • In which month UPSC exams are held?
  • The three stages of the UPSC CSE exam are distributed throughout the year. For UPSC 2019, the exam date/months are given below:
    • Prelims – June 2, 2019
    • Mains – September 20, 2019, onwards
    • Interview – Jan 2020 – Feb 2020


  • Does UPSC syllabus change?
  • Yes, refer the UPSC notification for the particular exam year to see the latest syllabus. Download the pdf of the updated 2019 UPSC syllabus here.

Now that you have a clear picture of How many optional subjects are chosen for IAS, you can choose the right optional and get start preparing for your IAS exam.


  1. can we take economics and management as optional paper 1 and optional paper 2 together? or there is any limitations?

    1. hi, you can choose only one optional subject for which there will be 2 papers in the UPSC Mains.

  2. It means if I opt geography as a optional then there will be two papers of geography. Or I have to take another subject?

    1. Hi,

      Earlier aspirants had to choose two optional subjects but in the current pattern, there is one optional subject for which there will be two papers. So, if Geography is your optional, there will be two papers of Geography. You can find more information on Geography optional for UPSC at the linked article.

  3. Is it compulsory to take a literature optional?

    1. No, you can choose one optional subject of your choice out of the 48 available choices.

  4. And also will you share on which website there is new notification

    1. Hi Karan
      Please check UPSC Notification 2020 in the linked article.

  5. Anis Ayub Mangure

    I have 2 questions
    1. Is computer engineering is available as an optional subject or any other IT subject is available?
    2. Do I have to choose 2 different optionals for 2 different papers?

    1. Hi,

      1. No IT subjects (Comp Engg) are there in the optional list. Among engg subjects, there is civil, mech and electrical.
      2. You have to choose 1 optional subject for which there will be 2 papers

      Usually, in such cases, aspirants resort to choosing subjects like Socio, Anthro, Pol Sci, Pub Ad which have some overlap with GS papers.

  6. Can you please tell me which optional subjects is the best and why?

    1. Hi Joma
      The priority should be given to your interests in a particular subject. But to answer your question, you can check our page Success Rate for Optional Subjects in UPSC.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *