Most Scoring Optional Subject in IAS Exam

The UPSC civil services exam is conducted in three stages namely, the prelims, the mains and the UPSC board interview. The UPSC prelims exam consists of 2 objective papers. The UPSC mains exam, however, consists of 9 papers all of which are descriptive. Two of these nine papers are for an optional subject that you have to choose from.

The Optional Papers 1 & 2 combined total of 500 marks in the mains exam and so are very important for your final tally. A lot of candidates break their heads trying to figure out the optional subject that would do them the best. There are a lot of factors to consider while making this decision. Read on to know which is the most scoring optional in UPSC exam.

List of optional subjects in UPSC mains exam

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

You can also choose from the following literature subjects:

List of Literature optional subjects in the UPSC mains exam

Assamese Bengali Bodo Dogri
Gujarati Hindi Kannada Kashmiri
Konkani Maithili Malayalam Manipuri
Marathi Nepali Odia Punjabi
Sanskrit Santhali Sindhi Tamil
Telugu Urdu English

Also, See | UPSC Optional Subjects Syllabus

There are a variety of subjects offered by the UPSC. When you select an optional subject, you should keep in mind the following factors:-

  1. Your expertise/prior knowledge in the subject
  2. Your interest and liking for the subject
  3. Availability of study material and coaching
  4. Scoring nature of the subject
  5. Popularity

Some subjects are quite popular and are taken by thousands of candidates. For example, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science, Sociology, History, etc. are all popular. They are popular for various reasons but you should opt for them only if you feel an inclination for the subject.

Some subjects have been called SCORING.

This is a very subjective factor but in general, some subjects are deemed scoring. They are:

  • Science subjects like Mathematics, Botany, Zoology, Engineering subjects, Anthropology to a large extent because of the precise nature of these subjects. Scientific subjects are less interpretative and more factual and analytical. Because nothing is left to interpretation, candidates feel they have a better chance of scoring high here than in the humanities subjects. In the science subjects, the examiner’s personal biases do not come into the picture.
  • Geography and Geology are also considered scoring because of its scientific nature. Geography is also a very popular subject because many find it interesting and also logical.
  • If you are good with numbers, statistics is an excellent option. But this is advised only if you have a background in it.
  • Humanities students need not worry. At the end of the day, it is interest and knowledge that matters. Technically speaking, mathematics would be the most scoring subject but not everybody can take it without some background in it. Also, there is no scope for grace marks in it. For instance, in a subject like say, history, if you are faced with a question you are sure of, you may be able to write at least something and get at least a couple of marks.
  • Again, some consider literature subjects like Maithili to be scoring, but it is imprudent to take this subject if you haven’t studied it previously, or don’t know the language at all.

When you choose an optional subject, remember the following:

  • Go through the list of optionals offered by the UPSC.
  • See what is your academic background.
  • Do you have an interest in the subject?
  • Do you have some knowledge about it?
  • Go through the UPSC previous year papers.

Weigh the pros and cons of different subjects and analyse your own strengths and weaknesses and come to a decision.

For an idea on the highest scoring optional in IAS exam, you may read the following article:

Comparison of Optional Subjects’ Success Rates from 2010 to 2015

So, don’t go by scoring ability of a subject alone. In fact, subjects don’t score. It is the candidates that do!

Through the best preparation strategy and dedicated work, you can make any subject the most scoring one!

All the best!

Also, Read | List of IAS Toppers Optional Subjects

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