What Is The Success Rate Of Different Optional Subjects In The UPSC Mains

The prestigious Civil Services/IAS exam is conducted by the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission). The exam comprises three stages (Prelims, Mains, Interview) and every year lakhs of hopeful IAS aspirants appear for it. Overall, the exam process for every candidate is the same. However, in the IAS mains exam, candidates have to choose an optional subject (2 papers, total 500 marks) and selecting the best optional subject can be the difference between success and failure.

Read on to know which optional subjects have the highest success rate in IAS Exam and whether a candidate should select her/his optional subject based on trends.

To complement your preparation for the upcoming exam, check the following links:

Optional Subjects for IAS 2020 Exam

There are many factors to consider before selecting the best optional subject for UPSC mains exam such as syllabi, time available for preparation, etc. To begin with, the question in most candidates’ mind would perhaps be “How Many Optional Subjects in IAS Mains”. Refer to the link to find out the number of optional subjects and the syllabus for the same.

Success Rate of Optional Subjects in IAS Mains

UPSC Optional Subjects Success Rate – Latest

The following table is taken from the figures of the 2017 civil services examination:

Optional Subject No. of Candidates Appeared No. of Candidates Recommended Success Rate Percentage
Assamese Lit. 3 0 0
Nepali Lit. 1 0 0
Commerce & Accountancy 224 28 12.5
Bodo Lit. 1 1 100
Punjabi Lit. 39 6 15.4
Agriculture 89 11 12.4
Gujarati Lit. 101 8 7.9
Kannada Lit. 115 4 3.5
Marathi Lit. 17 0 0
Medical Sciences 313 32 10.2
English Lit. 21 2 9.5
Urdu Lit. 26 5 19.2
Tamil Lit. 107 5 4.7
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Sciences 23 2 8.7
Economics 233 16 6.9
Psychology 193 21 10.9
Anthropology 880 85 9.7
Public Administration 1165 119 10.2
Sanskrit Lit. 70 5 7.1
Management 86 7 8.1
Malayalam Lit. 111 8 7.2
Physics 140 14 10
Political Science & International Relations 1246 117 9.4
Telugu Lit. 72 1 1.4
Geography 2669 147 5.5
Hindi Lit. 267 19 7.1
Sociology 1421 137 9.6
Chemistry 126 11 8.7
Geology 37 2 5.4
History 1074 59 5.5
Electrical Engineering 193 19 9.8
Law 304 43 14.1
Mechanical Engineering 170 19 11.2
Botany 44 5 11.4
Manipuri Lit. 13 1 7.7
Maithili Lit. 78 5 6.4
Philosophy 755 53 7
Zoology 55 1 1.8
Civil Engineering 124 11 8.9
Mathematics 441 26 5.9
Bengali Lit. 3 0 0
Oriya Lit. 5 0 0
Sindhi Lit. 2 1 50
Statistics 3 0 0

UPSC 2016 Optional Success Rate
The following table is taken from the figures of the 2016 civil services examination.:

Optional Subject No. of Candidates Appeared No. of Candidates Recommended Success Rate Percentage
Assamese Lit. 5 2 40
Punjabi Lit. 19 5 26.3
Agriculture 220 41 18.6
Gujarati Lit. 42 7 16.7
Kannada Lit. 84 14 16.7
Marathi Lit. 42 7 16.7
Medical Sciences 98 16 16.3
English Lit. 40 6 15
Urdu Lit. 29 4 13.8
Tamil Lit. 225 29 12.9
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Sciences 65 8 12.3
Economics 326 37 11.3
Psychology 1061 116 10.9
Anthropology 345 37 10.7
Public Administration 3301 337 10.5
Sanskrit Lit. 122 10 8.2
Management 13 1 7.7
Malayalam Lit. 67 5 7.3
Pali Lit. 255 18 7.1
Physics 239 16 6.7
Political Science & International Relations 1320 85 6.4
Telugu Lit. 147 9 6.1
Geography 4049 236 5.8
Hindi Lit. 974 56 5.7
Sociology 1555 89 5.7
Chemistry 124 7 5.6
Geology 36 2 5.6
History 3870 212 5.5
Electrical Engineering 74 4 5.4
Law 365 19 5.2
Mechanical Engineering 96 5 5.2
Botany 312 14 4.5
Manipuri Lit. 22 1 4.5
Maithili Lit. 25 1 4
Philosophy 2092 84 4
Zoology 484 18 3.7
Civil Engineering 35 1 3.9
Mathematics 277 8 2.9
Arabic Lit. 1 0 0
Bengali Lit. 5 0 0
Dogri LIt. 1 0 0
Konkani Lit. 1 0 0
Oria Lit. 4 0 0
Persian Lit. 10 0 0
Sindhi Lit. 1 0 0
Statistics 14 0 0

From the data given above, the success rate for few Literature papers appears to be the highest. However, considering the low number of total candidates who opted for those optionals in IAS mains, these success rates should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The following table is taken from the figures of the 2015 civil services examination.
UPSC 2015 Optional Success Rate (This list does not include Literature optionals)

Optional Subject No. of Candidates Appeared No. of Candidates Recommended Success Rate Percentage
Medical Science 235 55 23.4
Economics 269 51 19
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science 52 12 23.1
Law 246 42 17.1
Agriculture 122 20 16.4
Commerce & Accountancy 188 28 14.9
Management 167 24 14.4
Geology 28 4 14.4
Botany 104 12 11.5
Zoology 228 29 12.7
Political Science & International Relations 1107 121 10.9
Chemistry 104 11 10.6
Civil Engineering 47 5 10.6
Sociology 2490 230 9.2
Philosophy 1116 99 8.9
History 2090 174 8.3
Psychology 1163 92 7.9
Geography 4351 314 7.2
Anthropology 579 38 6.3
Mathematics 325 23 7.1
Physics 266 17 6.4
Electrical Engineering 126 8 6.3
Public Administration 7077 359 5.1
Mechanical Engineering 64 3 4.7
Statistics 16 1 6.3

Here we give you UPSC 2014 Optional success rate as given by the commission-

Optional Subject Number of Candidates  Appeared Recommended Number of Candidates Recommended Success Rate Percentage
Literature of Santhali Language 1 1 100
Law 144 35 24.3
Economics 188 38 20.2
Literature of Urdu Language 28 5 17.9
Literature of Bengali Language 6 1 16.7
Statistics 6 1 16.7
Literature of English Language 30 5 16.7
Medical Science 293 48 16.4
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science 32 5 15.6
Botany 50 7 14.0
Management 16723 13.8
Civil Engineering 54 7 13.0
Literature of Gujarati Language 64 8 12.5
Literature of Kannada Language 75 9 12.0
Anthropology 449 53 11.8
Electrical Engineering 11313 11.5
Literature of Punjabi Language 54 6 11.1
Literature of Maithili Language 84 9 10.7
Literature of Tamil Language 758 10.7
Literature of Oriya Language 10 1 10.0
Zoology 92 9 9.8
Psychology 34834 9.8
Sociology 1647 150 9.1
Agriculture 77 7 9.1
Physics 147 13 8.8
Literature of Malayalam Language 69 6 8.7
Philosophy 73658 7.9
History 1303 100 7.7
Commerce & Accountancy 20015 7.5
Chemistry 85  6 7.1
Geology 151 6.7
Mechanical Engineering 60   4 6.7
Public Administration 2840 176 6.2
Political Science & International Relations 65140 6.1
Mathematics 32920 6.1
Geography 3158 178 5.6
Literature of Sanskrit Language 71 4 5.6
Literature of Manipuri Language 20 1 5.0
Literature of Telugu Language 93 4 4.3
Literature of Hindi Language 284 12 4.2
Literature of Marathi Language 26 1 3.8
Literature of Dogri Language 1 0 0.0
Literature of Sindhi (Devanagari) Language 1 0 0.0
Literature of Assamese Language 2 0 0.0

How to select the best optional subject for UPSC

  • Start with the syllabus of a few subjects
  • Check the success rates in UPSC 2020 exam
  • Depending on personal background/interest, shortlist further
  • Analyse how much time you can devote for the optional
  • Check whether the optional subject has any overlap with other parts of IAS exam (Prelims, GS papers in mains, Essay)
  • Research availability of quality study material/teachers

The best optional subject for candidate A is not necessarily the same for candidate B. So, the question “Which Subject is best for IAS Mains Optional” has to be answered from an individual’s perspective. Refer to the link above to get more information on optional subjects for IAS mains.

More UPSC Optionals related queries

  • What is the syllabus of UPSC 2020 exam?
  • The syllabus for the first stage of the IAS exam (UPSC Prelims) can be divided into:
    • General Studies (GS) Paper I – History, Geography, Economics, Current Affairs
    • CSAT/ GS Paper II – Analytical and Comprehension questions ( Class X level)

Refer the article UPSC Prelims syllabus for the detailed analysis.

  • How many subjects are there in IAS?
  • There are a total of 48 optional subjects in UPSC Mains out of which, a candidate has to choose one.
  • Is History a good optional subject choice in IAS exam?
  • History is part of both UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains syllabus so preparing the optional subject will help with the GS part as well. However, the syllabus of history is quite vast so candidates often find it hard. Refer this link for the syllabus of History and the remaining 47 optional subjects in the UPSC exam.
  • 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, its 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.

  • How can I start my preparation for UPSC 2020?
  • For all your IAS preparation needs including free study material, strategies, trends, daily news analysis and more, bookmark this link.

UPSC Preparation:

3 Comments

  1. This site very useful for every IAS aspirant

  2. If I have zoology in my bachelors then can I choose any other subject as my optional subject?

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