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 nine papers. This includes two qualifying papers and seven papers which will be calculated for ranking. Read on to know what the optional subjects in IAS are.
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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 the 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.
The UPSC Notification lists down the number of optional along with their syllabus on a yearly basis.
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 check the linked article to know more about UPSC Syllabus and IAS Exam

To know in detail about the UPSC Online Application process, visit the linked article.

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

To practise UPSC Mains Answer Writing for 2021 and 2022, submit your answers at the linked article. You will get questions from different topics of GS 1-4, tailored as per UPSC needs. 

What is the 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 subjects in UPSC? The table below lists how many optional subjects to choose for IAS exam.

UPSC Civil Services Optional Subjects/Optional List for UPSC:

S. 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.

S.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 check the linked article.

  • 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 the linked article 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 2021, the exam date/months are given below:
    • Prelims – October 10, 2021 [Revised Date]
    • Mains – September 17, 2021 onwards
    • Interview – To Be Declared

Get the UPSC Calendar 2021, at the linked article.

  • 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 2021 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 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.

  7. Sir, I have done my graduation in Arabic honours and there were two optional subjects: English and History and three compulsory subjects Bengali, English and Environmental science.
    Sir, I have dream of being IAS.
    Sir, my question is , can I take Bengali subject for language and Sociology or psychology for optional subjects, even though I have not taken these subjects in my graduation?

    1. Hi Ruhul
      Yes, you can take the Bengali language for Paper A and also sociology or any other subject for the optional.

  8. hi sir,
    in upsc we have to select 2 optional subjects which means any 2 subjects we interested or one language paper & a subject paper (eg. 1. agriculture & 2. malayalam) .Is there any condition to select the optional papers.

    1. Hi Linu
      There are two optional papers in UPSC Mains but you have to choose only one subject for these. You can choose anyone from the list of 48 optional subjects given by UPSC. You can refer to the article – Success Rate of Optional Subjects in UPSC

  9. can we take two subjects (eg:agriculture & psychology) as optional or is it mandatory to take one subject and another one as literature as optional(eg:agriculture & thamil)

    1. Hi Neera
      As per the UPSC exam pattern, you have to choose any one subject from the list of 48 subjects (including 23 language subjects.)The two optional papers will be based on the subject which you choose. You can read about the Success Rate of Optional Subjects in UPSC in the linked article.

  10. how many subjects we have to choose one or two?

    1. Hi Pranathi
      You have to choose one optional subject for UPSC Mains.

  11. I’m from science background
    Which optional is best for me

    1. Hi Akshaya
      You can choose any from the list of 48 optional subjects’ list provided by the UPSC. For your reference, you can check Success Rate of Optional Subjects in UPSC.

  12. one Optional subject we will choose and two optional paper will be conducted. Am I right?

  13. Option I and Option II, whether this two paper based on one subject which we choose

    1. You have to choose one subject for which you have two papers.

  14. Totally how many subjects are there for UPSC exam .

    1. You can refer to the UPSC syllabus to know what all subjects are asked. There are 48 optional subjects (including 23 language subjects) from which you have to choose any one.

  15. Sir,Can I take only English subject as a Literature Optional Subject for two papers? Or do I need to choose English and other 1 more language subject? Is it compulsory the other languages subject for Northeast region?

    1. As you have to choose only one optional subject, you can go for any.

  16. I’m civil engineering student , can I take different optional subj’s not related to civil engg?

    1. Hi Shankar
      Yes, you can take any optional subject from the list of 48 subjects. For your reference, you can check the Success Rate of Optional Subjects in UPSC in the linked article.

  17. Isn’t there international relationship as optional.But I heard of it

  18. Namaste sir
    Me ECONOMY rakhna chahata hu,
    To mujhe bhi 2 paper ka tayyari karni hogi,
    Or mujhe total kitne Book parhna hoga,
    Book Name comments me likh de plz

    1. You can choose from the Economy optional books mentioned in the linked article.

  19. what is the difference between Paper A and Paper B?
    Is Indian language paper compulsory?

    1. Paper A is Indian Regional Language (Official Languages) paper while Paper B is the English Language paper. Indian language paper is compulsory for everyone except for the candidates hailing from the north-eastern states of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland

  20. Which book ll b bst for basic polity nd how i can improve eng

    1. If someone is new to the Indian Polity subject, he/she could read Class 9-12 NCERTs. Then, one can follow up with M.Laximkanths’ Indian Polity book. To improve English, you can follow tips as mentioned here.

  21. Is Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry a good optional for the exam?
    I’ve seen the success rate but I’m a bit confused about the availability of proper guides and mentors in this subject and also the availability of good test series for this subject!
    So, can you please help me out here!

    1. The preferred optional is the one where study material is easily available as UPSC has a vast syllabus. So, unless a candidate has a strategy and sources to cover the subject where his/her interest lies; it is advisable to go for the smart option. Having said that, if you have an interest in Veterinary Science subject, first research about sources to cover the examination. If you find one good source, pls stick to it.

  22. can english medium candidate in upsc mains exam choose hindi as optional subject in upsc

    1. Yes, a candidate can choose any optional subject from the list of 48 subjects. You can also check the success rate of optional in UPSC Mains at the linked article.

  23. Hi Sir/Mam
    Whether I have to choose 1 optional subject and also 1 literature subject?
    Or 1 optional subject is enough?

    1. Hi,

      You only need to choose 1 optional subject out of 48 available choices. You can read more about it here

  24. Dr Nagma Nigar Shah

    Hello Sir,
    I have done my graduation in Dental Surgery and have a Masters in Public Health. Which optional subject (other than Medical Science) would be suitable for me given my educational background? And also can have some overlap with the General Studies syllabus.

    1. Hi,

      Subjects having overlap with GS include – Pub Ad, Sociology, Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History and PSIR.
      You can find all the UPSC Optional Subjects and Syllabus at the linked article.

  25. How many papers in prelims and mains???

    1. Hi,
      The Prelims has two papers, while Mains has nine papers. Go through both these stages in detail using the links given below:
      1. UPSC Prelims

  26. Is mathematics a good optional to choose if i m from science background?
    Is there any disadvantage choosing mathematics?

    1. Dear aspirant,
      It is always the right decision to study the pros and cons of any subject that you choose as an optional. You have an example of Utsav Kaushal who secured AIR 14 in the 2016 examination with Mathematics as an optional subject. Therefore, we suggest if you have a strong command of that subject, and a deep interest to practise the concepts without any doubts, you can proceed with the same.
      To understand the success rate of optional, click here.

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