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 2014.

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 from the link below:

IAS toppers optional subjects

For more insights on how to select the best optional subject, you can read our extensive article on the topic here.

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