Most Popular Optional Subjects in UPSC Mains

Many UPSC candidates are confused over what optional subject to take for the IAS mains exam. It is a decision not to be taken lightly as there are two papers for the optional subject and it accounts for 500 marks in the UPSC mains (written) exam. A lot of factors go into what constitutes an ideal optional subject and it depends on the individual.

Candidates have to look at their own educational backgrounds, prior knowledge in the subject, interest in the subject and of course, certain general factors like overlap with the general studies papers, scoring ability, etc. All these factors combined should help in the decision-making process. This article brings you a list of the most popular optional subjects based on the number of candidates taking them from the year 2010 to 2017.

Aspirants can cover the topics mentioned in the UPSC Syllabus by following the below-mentioned links:

Latest Update after UPSC 2018 Results:

  1. The IAS Topper Kanishak Kataria chose Mathematics as his optional subject in CSE 2018.
  2. As per the data provided by PIB:
    • “Educational qualification-wise the top 25 candidates belong to subjects like Engineering; Sciences; Economics; Law; Mathematics; History; Political Science; Public administration and Commerce graduating from premier Institutions of the country such as IITs, NIT, NLU, BITS Pilani, DU, Mumbai University, Anna University, Pune University, etc.”
    • Optional subjects of the top 25 candidates in the examination ranged from Anthropology, Chemistry, Commerce & Accountancy, Geography, Law, Maths, History, Political Science & International Relations, Public Administration, Psychology, Sociology, and English Literature.”

Popularity of UPSC Optional Subject – 2015-17

Candidates should note that the Department of Personnel Training releases the official date representing the numbers of candidates appeared in the civil services examination. The latest data available is for the year 2017.

Latest – Table showing the number of candidates who had taken the various optional subjects from 2015 to 2017:

Optional Subject 2015 2016 2017
Medical Science 235 98 313
Management 167 13 86
Anthropology 579 345 880
Sociology 2490 1555 1421
Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science 52 65 23
Physics 266 239 140
Public Administration 7077 3301 1165
Geography 4351 4049 2669
Geology 36 37 151
Psychology 1163 1061 193
Law 246 365 304
Political Science & IR 1107 1320 1246
Commerce and Accountancy 20015 188 224
Mathematics 325 277 441
Economics 269 326 233
Chemistry 104 124 126
Mechanical Engineering 74 96 170
Zoology 228 484 55
Electrical Engineering 126 74 193
History 2090 3870 1074
Philosophy 1116 2092 755
Botany 104 312 44
Civil Engineering 47 35 124
Agriculture 122 220 89
Statistics 16 14 3

Candidates can get the numbers for the literature optional subjects along with further details in our page – Success Rate of Optional Subjects in UPSC.

Popularity of UPSC Optional Subject – 2010-14

Table showing the number of candidates who had taken the various optional subjects from 2010 to 2014 (5 years):

Optional Subject 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Average of the 5 years (2010 – 2014)
Medical Science 149 205 235 293 356 247.6
Management 35 266 167 167 176 162.2
Anthropology 407 463 579 449 619 503.4
Sociology 1807 2152 2490 1647 1819 1983
Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science 69 50 52 32 28 46.2
Physics 243 323 266 147 151 226
Public Administration 4724 6276 7077 2840 2852 4753.8
Geography 3800 4096 4351 3158 3515 3784
Geology 24 40 28 15 28 27
Psychology 1139 1365 1163 348 373 877.6
Law 351 226 246 144 235 240.4
Political Science & IR 1165 866 1107 651 907 939.2
Commerce and Accountancy 356 232 188 200 214 238
Mathematics 279 337 325 329 351 324.2
Economics 392 354 269 188 214 283.4
Chemistry 107 123 104 85 98 103.4
Mechanical Engineering 103 103 64 60 111 88.2
Zoology 421 269 228 92 79 217.8
Electrical Engineering 132 171 126 113 192 146.8
History 3432 1761 2090 1303 1560 2029.2
Philosophy 1866 900 1116 736 908 1105.2
Botany 264 135 104 50 58 122.2
Civil Engineering 59 59 47 54 91 62
Agriculture 205 132 122 77 65 120.2
Statistics 19 19 16 6 6 13.2
Bodo Literature 1 1 1 0 0 0.6
Dogri Literature 1 1 1 1 0 0.8
Sindhi Literature (Devanagari) 1 0 2 1 2 1.2
Sindhi Literature (Arabic) 1 0 0 0 3 0.8
English Literature 30 73 64 30 33 46
Telugu Literature 118 85 100 93 122 103.6
Manipuri Literature 22 27 26 20 17 22.4
Tamil Literature 129 82 100 75 95 96.2
Marathi Literature 45 38 39 26 25 34.6
Malayalam Literature 89 99 125 69 65 89.4
Maithili Literature 48 69 75 84 95 74.2
Kannada Literature 97 93 123 75 132 104
Urdu Literature 47 22 27 28 31 31
Pali Literature* 351 356 378 0 0
Gujarati Literature 68 65 62 64 87 69.2
Sanskrit Literature 109 51 88 71 90 81.8
Hindi Literature 955 406 505 284 407 511.4
Punjabi Literature 38 48 60 54 61 52.2
Odia Literature 17 14 14 10 7 12.4
Persian Literature* 5 1 2 0 0
Bengali Literature 3 5 12 6 3 5.8
Santhali Literature 2 3 3 1 1 2
Assamese Literature 2 4 8 2 4 10
Arabic Literature* 1 1 0 0 0
French Literature* 1 3 3 0 0
German Literature* 1 1 0 0 0
Kashmiri Literature 0 2 0 0 0
Russian Literature* 0 1 1 0 0
Konkani Literature 0 0 1 0 0 0.2

* Was removed from the optional subject list from 2013.

The following inferences can be made from the table above:-

Based on the number of candidates who opted for the subject:

  1. Most popular optional subject: Public Administration
  2. Second most popular optional subject: Geography
  3. Third most popular optional subject: History
  4. Most popular literature optional subject: Hindi Literature

You can check out the optional subjects of UPSC toppers along with the tips to select the best optional subject from the links below:

Related Links:

UPSC 2021 UPSC Mains Syllabus for Optional Subjects
Optional Subjects Overlap With General Studies Most Scoring Optional Subject in IAS Exam

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