Strategy for Mechanical Engineering Optional for UPSC

Mechanical engineering is a professional degree subject that deals with the construction, design, and use of machines. It is also one of the optional subjects that the UPSC offers for the civil services mains exam. It is one of the three engineering subjects that is on offer for engineering graduates to opt for. Being a highly specialised subject, only engineers are recommended to take it up. In this article, you can read all about Mechanical Engineering optional for the IAS exam – strategy, toppers, booklist, success rate and more.

How many take up mechanical engineering optional?

On average, about 100 candidates opt for the mechanical engineering optional for the mains. However, a lot of the successful candidates are engineers. The following table gives you the number of candidates who appeared and cleared the IAS exam with this optional from 2010 to 2015. It also gives the optional success rate.

Mechanical Engineering optional success rate

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates cleared Success Rate (%)
2010 103 6 5.8
2011 103 7 6.8
2012 64 3 4.7
2013 60 4 6.7
2014 111 7 6.3
2015 115 14 12.2

UPSC Toppers with mechanical engineering optional

Name Year Rank
Manish Kumar 2017 84
Vaibhava Srivastava 2017 98 (also AIR 1; IFoS 2017)
Nitesh Wadhwani 2017 209
Amit Kumar Bedwal 2017 224
Vivek Kumar 2017 278
Taranjot Singh 2016 70
Raveesh Gupta 2011 16

Mechanical Engineering optional pros and cons

Mechanical engineering is a technical subject and only engineering graduates are recommended to take it up as the optional for the IAS exam. There are both pros and cons of taking such a highly specialised subject in the mains exam. In this section, we have detailed the pros and cons associated with the mechanical engineering optional. If you are undecided about your optional subject, go through the list of advantages and drawbacks we have mentioned here, evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses and then come to a decision. Think thoroughly as the optional subject accounts for 500 marks of your UPSC final tally and it can make or break your IAS dream.

Mechanical engineering optional pros

  • As a graduate of the same subject, you would have studied this subject for at least four years. Everything would be familiar to you and you only need to brush up.
  • Engineering subjects are considered scoring because of their technical nature. There is scope for improving scores through diagrams, flowcharts, and other pictorial representations.
  • You can easily assess your performance level in this optional. There is no room for subjectivity and if you have written the correct answer presented neatly, you can be assured of at least average marks in that question.
  • A good portion of the question papers comprise of questions that are repeated from previous years. And, most of the questions are straight-forward and direct with no ambiguity.
  • You can also take the engineering services (IES) exam with this optional. You can make a comparison of the Indian Engineering Services and the Indian Civil Services examinations to find out if you are eligible for both.

Mechanical engineering optional cons

  • The syllabus is vast.
  • The subject itself might be tough for many and if you are completely out of touch with it, or absolutely disliked it during your college years, you might be better off taking another optional subject.
  • There is no overlap with the general studies papers.

Mechanical Engineering Syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for mechanical engineering 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.

Mechanical Engineering UPSC syllabus:-Download Syllabus PDF

Mechanical Engineering UPSC Strategy

Paper I Strategy


  • For Mechanics of Rigid Bodies, you can refer to NPTEL website for lectures. You should also practice previous years question papers for this topic particularly.
  • For Mechanics of Deformable Bodies, you should refer to Strength of Materials by Sadhu Singh.

Engineering Materials

  • You can read this section from Callister’s Materials Science and Engineering.
  • NPTEL website also offers some good material for this subsection.

Theory of Machines

  • This is a vast and important topic and can be read from Theory of Machines by SS Rattan.
  • Alternatively, you can use Theory of Machines by RS Khurmi.
  • The examples from both the above sources are really good.

Manufacturing Science

  • This topic demands a variety of sources.
  • The sources are: A Text Book on Production Engineering by Swadesh Kumar Singh; Manufacturing Technology by PN Rao; Manufacturing Science by Amitabha Ghosh.
  • The NPTEL website lectures are also good for topics under this section.
  • For Jigs and Fixtures, you can use A Textbook of Production Engineering by PC Sharma (S Chand publications).
  • For numericals, the book by Swadesh Kumar Singh is very good.
  • For manufacturing management, you should use Operations Research by Hira and Gupta.

Paper II Strategy

Thermodynamics, Gas Dynamics and Turbine

  • For thermodynamics, you should use Engineering Thermodynamics by PK Nag. This is a very important section of the syllabus because many questions are asked from here. So, you must be thorough with at least PK Nag, both the theory and the solved examples.
  • For fluids, you can refer to Fundamentals of Compressible Flow by SM Yahya. This book need not be covered in its entirely but only the parts that come in the IAS syllabus.
  • For the part on regeneration, you should refer to Thermal Engineering by RK Rajput which covers this portion better than the book by Nag.

Heat Transfer

  • This section can be read from Heat and Mass Transfer by DS Kumar.
  • There are many formulas in this section, so cover them thoroughly.
  • RK Rajput’s book also has good numericals for you to practice.

I.C. Engines

  • The best book for this section is Internal Combustion Engines by V Ganesan.

Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

  • The portion can be read from Refrigeration and Air Conditioning by CP Arora.
  • You can also refer to Textbook of Refrigeration and Air-conditioning by RS Khurmi.
  • Psychometry can be read from PK Nag.
  • NPTEL videos are also good for this section.

Steam Engineering

  • For this section, you can use Power Plant Engineering by PK Nag.

General tips for Mechanical Engineering optional:

  • Understand what kind of questions are asked by the UPSC. For this, you should go through the previous years’ UPSC question papers of mechanical engineering diligently.
  • Cover the theory portions thoroughly.
  • In the next step, practice all the solved examples of numericals from the standard textbooks.
  • The next step should be to practice numericals from the previous year question papers.
  • You should also solve papers in an exam-setting. For this, a test series will also help. Solving papers in an exam-setting will enable you to understand the particular demands of the IAS exam such as writing comprehensive answers in a limited time frame, the knack of choosing questions to answer when there is a choice, etc.
  • You should make notes for most topics in this subject because there are multiple sources for studying and this helps for revision also. Ideally, you should also have a separate set of notes for all the formulas which can help you in a quick last-minute revision on the eve of the examination.
  • The final and most important aspect of your preparation is revision. Since the syllabus for mechanical engineering is really vast and there is innumerable number of formulas to remember, it is extremely important that you revise the whole syllabus at least twice before the mains exam.
  • Draw diagrams and graphs wherever required. They increase your score and in many answers, they are absolutely necessary.

Mechanical Engineering Optional Books

  • Strength of Materials by Sadhu Singh
  • Callister’s Materials Science and Engineering
  • Theory of Machines by SS Rattan
  • Theory of Machines by RS Khurmi
  • A Text Book on Production Engineering by Swadesh Kumar Singh
  • Manufacturing Technology by PN Rao
  • Manufacturing Science by Amitabha Ghosh
  • A Textbook of Production Engineering by PC Sharma
  • Operations Research by Hira and Gupta
  • Engineering Thermodynamics by PK Nag
  • Fundamentals of Compressible Flow by SM Yahya
  • Thermal Engineering by RK Rajput
  • Heat and Mass Transfer by DS Kumar
  • Internal Combustion Engines by V Ganesan
  • Refrigeration and Air Conditioning by CP Arora
  • Refrigeration and Air-conditioning by RS Khurmi
  • Power Plant Engineering by PK Nag

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