Strategy for Medical Science Optional for UPSC

Medical science is one of the optional subjects offered by the UPSC for the civil services mains examination. It is a highly specialised optional like the engineering subjects and only an MBBS graduate or postgraduate can take it up. Every year, around 200 – 300 candidates opt for this subject and many of them feature among the toppers.

In this article, we discuss all you need to know about the medical science optional for the IAS mains exam – the strategy for preparation, syllabus, past performance, toppers with the optional and more.

How many take Medical Science optional?

About 300 candidates take up the medical science optional on an average every year. Medical science enjoys a pretty high success rate, of about 20%. Check out the following table which gives the number of candidates taking up the medical science optional and the number of candidates clearing the exam with it.

Medical science optional success rate

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates cleared Success Rate (%)
2017 313 32 10.2
2015 327 66 20.2
2014 356 71 19.9
2013 293 48 16.4
2012 235 55 23.4
2011 205 48 23.4
2010 149 28 18.8

IAS toppers with Medical Sciences

There have been any toppers with the medical science optional, some famous names being Shah Faesal, who bagged rank I in the 2009 IAS exam.

Name Year Rank
Gopal Krishna 2017 265
Nidhi Patel 2017 364
Artika Shukla 2015 4
Shrikrishnanath B Panchal 2015 16
Vipin Garg 2015 20
Vinay Goyal 2015 79
Khushaal Yadav 2014 28
Bharti Dixit 2013 5
Roman Saini 2013 18
Shaleen 2011 81
Shah Faesal 2009 1

Is Medical Science a good optional for IAS?

Medical science is a good optional for doctors who are comfortable with studying their MBBS syllabus once again. It would be a familiar subject as they would have dealt with it for five years. At the same time, the syllabus is considered vast and problematic if the candidate wishes to have overlap with the general studies papers. In this section, we discuss a few pros and cons of the medical science optional.

Medical science pros

  • As a student of medical science, you would not have to start anything afresh in the syllabus. This is a big advantage.
  • The syllabus is pretty much static.
  • The questions asked are mostly conceptual and direct.
  • If you follow the right strategy and work sincerely, you can score decent marks in this optional subject.
  • The difficulty level of the UPSC medical science optional is slightly lower than the professional MBBS exam.
  • This optional subject can be taken even by BDS or BAMS graduates.
  • Finally, medical science is a scientific and rational subject. It is not subjective and so, marks are not subject to the interpretation of the examiner.

Medical science cons

  • The UPSC syllabus for medical science is vast.
  • There is no significant overlap with the general studies papers.
  • You should have a genuine interest in studying the course, otherwise, it would be difficult to focus and finish the syllabus.

Keeping these pros and cons in mind, you should go through the UPSC medical sciences syllabus and previous years’ UPSC question papers. After that, assess your own knowledge levels and expertise and come to a decision regarding your optional subject. Choose wisely as the optional, that contributes to 500 marks in the UPSC total, can make or break your IAS attempt.

UPSC Medical Science syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for Medical Science for the UPSC mains exam.

There are two optional papers in the UPSC exam pattern. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

UPSC Medical Science Syllabus PDF:-Download Syllabus PDF

Medical Science UPSC strategy

General tips for medical science optional

  1. Diagrams are extremely important in this paper. Draw neat diagrams even if they are not explicitly asked in the question. Presentation is very important. You can score more marks with less number of words if you draw diagrams to represent what you are trying to convey in your answer. Some toppers also recommend drawing with colour pencils to make the presentation good and appealing if you get the time.
  2. Even in forensic medicine, you should use diagrams.
  3. Paper-II is more dynamic than Paper I. It contains case studies and it would be good if you can refer a few PG books for questions on the same. It is an added advantage if you can take the help of your seniors who are practising medicine for tips on such case studies.
  4. When there is a choice of questions between static questions and questions on forensic medicine, it is better to stick to direct questions. Forensic medicine deals with subjective topics like suicide, rape, etc., so it is advisable to stay clear of it when presented with a choice.

Paper I Strategy

Human Anatomy

This part can be done from Human Anatomy by BD Chaurasia (all three volumes). ‘Applied anatomy of diaphragm, perineum and inguinal region’ and ‘Clinical anatomy of kidney, urinary bladder, uterine tubes, vas deferens’ can be done from Chaurasia and Snells Anatomy. Embryology can be read from Inderbir Singh’s Human Embryology. For neuroanatomy, you can use Textbook of Human Neuroanatomy by Inderbir Singh.

Example questions:

Describe the hip joint under the following headings: (i) Classification (ii) Movements (iii) Blood supply (iv) Ligaments (2016)

Describe the dermatomes of the lower limb. (2016)

Describe in detail about the origin and distribution of the sciatic nerve. Add a note on its clinical importance. (2015)

Human Physiology

Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology is sufficient for this section of the syllabus.

Example questions:

Describe the process of thrombolysis. Write briefly about anti-coagulants. (2016)

Name the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland. Describe the role of growth hormone in the body. (2016)

Discuss the neurophysiological basis of sleep. (2016)

Differentiate between isometric and isotonic contraction in skeletal muscle. Give one example of each type. (2015)

Discuss briefly the role of different hormones in lactation. Why there is amenorrhoea during lactation and what is its importance? (2012)


For this section, you can use Biochemistry by U Satyanarayana.

Example questions:

What is the basic principle behind the RFLP technique? Outline the clinical applications of RFLP. (2016)

Outline the biochemical functions and the deficiency symptoms of sulphur containing vitamins. (2016)

What are the main important functions of pyridoxine (vitamin B6)? Explain. (2015)


For this section, you can use either Textbook of Pathology by Harsh Mohan or Pathological Basis of Disease by Robbins and Cotran.

Example questions:

Classify acute myeloid leukaemia by fab classification. What is the blood picture in the case of acute promyelocytic leukaemia? (2016)

Enumerate the major etiological factors associated with carcinoma of the lung. Give the gross, microscopic features and spread of squamous cell carcinoma lung. (2015)


You can use the Textbook of Microbiology by DR Arora. Additionally, you can read Medical Parasitology by the same author.

Example questions:

Discuss the pathogenicity and laboratory diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis. (2016)

Describe the laboratory diagnosis of AIDS. (2016)


This section should be done thoroughly with sufficient revision as it is difficult to remember all that you learnt here. The book to refer to is Essentials of Medical Pharmacology by KD Tripathi. You can even use Lippincott’s Illustrated Reviews which is really good for memorising things.

Example questions:

Discuss the mechanism of COX-2 inhibitor-induced cardiovascular toxicity. (2016)

Discuss briefly the mechanism of action, uses and side effects of the following: 5×3=15
sitagliptin, clonidine, INH (2015)

Forensic Medicine and Toxicology

For this section, you should refer to The Essentials Of Forensic Medicine And Toxicology by KS Narayan Reddy. Ensure to study the tables in this book as questions are asked from them directly.

Example questions:

Describe various possible injuries and cause of death in case of successful 15 hanging. (2016)

Discuss the physiological action, clinical features and post-mortem findings in a case of death due to alprazolam poisoning. (2016)

Define rape and write about various tests to detect semen. (2016)

A dead body of a woman aged about 30 years was found in the river water. Describe how the autopsy surgeon will ascertain on post-mortem examination that the death was due to drowning. (2014)

Paper-II Strategy

General Medicine

There are several books for this section. You can use Harrison, API, Davidson, George Mathews or SN Chugh. You should make notes on a few medical emergencies such as COPD, asthma, poisoning cases, status epilepticus, etc. Infectious diseases should preferably be read from an Indian authored book rather than a foreign authored one.

Example questions:

A 40-year-old non-resident Indian visiting India develops acute, sudden breathlessness one week after landing in India. A resident of the USA, he has no such previous history of breathlessness. (i) List the differential diagnosis. (ii) How would you investigate this patient? (2015)

An 18-year-old young girl has attacks of restlessness, insomnia, cold sweating and fear. Discuss the differential diagnosis. Outline the principles of management of “generalized anxiety disorder”.(2016)


You should refer to Essential Pediatrics by OP Ghai.

Example questions:

Describe the clinical features of bilirubin encephalopathy in the early neonatal period. (ii) Enumerate the factors contributing to bilirubin encephalopathy in newborn infants. (iii) Name the long-term pathological and clinical sequelae of bilirubin encephalopathy. (2016)


The book on the skin by Uday Khopkar is quite useful for this section.

General Surgery

For this section, Manipal’s Manual of Surgery is sufficient. For the section on Differential Diagnosis, you should use Clinical Surgery by S Das.

Example questions:

Discuss the clinical features, investigation and management of varicose vein in RT lower limb. (2016)

A 30-year-old female presented with thyroid swelling. hers. T3, T4 and TSH are within normal limits. (i) Discuss the differential diagnosis of the thyroid swelling. (ii) throw light on the investigation of the above-mentioned condition. (iii) Discuss the management of papillary carcinoma of the thyroid. (2016)

Obstetrics and Gynaecology including Family Planning

You can use two books for this section: Text Book of Obstetrics by DC Dutta and Shaw’s Textbook of Gynecology.

Example questions:

Enumerate the causes of the unengaged head in a primi at 38 weeks of pregnancy. describe different stages of labour. How will you diagnose each stage of labour? How will you manage a case of prolonged 1st stage of labour in a primigravida patient? (2016)

Enumerate few commonly used methods for 1st-trimester abortion. Briefly mention the immediate and remote complications of surgical method of abortion. (2016)

Community Medicine

For this section, Park’s Textbook of Preventive and Social Medicine is sufficient.

Medical Science books for IAS

  • Human Anatomy by BD Chaurasia
  • Snells Anatomy
  • Human Embryology by Inderbir Singh
  • Human Neuroanatomy by Inderbir Singh
  • Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology
  • Biochemistry by U Satyanarayana
  • Textbook of Pathology by Harsh Mohan
  • Pathological Basis of Disease by Robbins and Cotran
  • Textbook of Microbiology by DR Arora
  • Medical Parasitology by DR Arora
  • Essentials of Medical Pharmacology by KD Tripathi
  • Lippincott’s Illustrated Reviews
  • The Essentials Of Forensic Medicine And Toxicology by KS Narayan Reddy
  • General Medicine – Harrison/API/Davidson/George Mathews/SN Chugh
  • Essential Pediatrics by OP Ghai
  • Skin Diseases by Uday Khopkar
  • Manipal’s Manual of Surgery
  • Clinical Surgery by S Das
  • Text Book of Obstetrics by DC Dutta
  • Shaw’s Textbook of Gynecology
  • Park’s Textbook of Preventive and Social Medicine

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  1. Sir,
    Are PHYSIOTHERAPIST allowed to take Medical science as an optional subject in UPSC CSE?

    1. Hi Srishti
      An aspirant can choose any optional subject for the UPSC Exam. So, if you wish to take Medical Science as an optional subject, you can go ahead with it provided you finish its syllabus before the Mains examination. Check the booklist for Medical Science optional in the linked article.

  2. Thank you so much for the information on medical science optional. Could you provide monthly strategy for preparation for 2021 UPSC including prelims and mains? My optional subject is medical science.

    1. Hi Famna
      We suggest you devise your own monthly strategy based on the UPSC Syllabus. For holistic preparation, you can check our strategy pages:
      1. GS 1 Strategy
      2. GS 2 Strategy
      3. GS 3 Strategy
      4. GS 4 Strategy

  3. what is the best optional for a nursing graduate?

    1. Hi
      You can choose any optional subject that suits your interest. Some close subjects related to medical fields are zoology, botany, chemistry and anthropology and medical science. Read the success rate of optional subjects here.

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