Strategy for Public Administration Optional for UPSC

Public administration is one of the most popular optionals that candidates choose in the UPSC civil services mains exam. For many years, we see the maximum number of candidates opt for this optional. Moreover, there have also been a number of toppers who had taken Pub Ad optional. In this article, we cover all you need to know about the public administration optional for UPSC mains exam.

How many candidates take Pub Ad optional?

In 2015, a total of 1795 candidates had opted for public administration optional, out of which 151 cleared the exam. This gives a success rate of 8.4% which is pretty decent considering the number of people who take it. The average number of candidates who opt for Pub Ad in the four years between 2012 and 2015 (the latest data provided by the UPSC) is around 3500.

The following table gives the number of candidates who had taken Pub Ad optional:

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates recommended Success rate (%)


7077 359 5.1








2015 1795 151


2017 1165 119


Toppers with Pub Ad optional

Public administration optional has produced many toppers in the IAS exam. In 2016, the rank 5 spot was bagged by Abhilash Mishra, who is by training, a mechanical engineer. In the next table, we give you a list of a few toppers with public administration optional.

Name Year Rank
S Divyadharshini 2010


Shah Faesal 2009


Shubhra Saxena 2008


Roopa Mishra 2003


Iqbal Dhaliwal 1995


Srivatsa Krishna 1994


Abhilash Mishra 2016


Suman Sourav Mohanty 2016


Ashish Tiwari 2015


Public Ad optional pros and cons

Public administration optional obviously has a number of advantages because of which many candidates opt for it. In this section, we discuss some of the pros and also some pitfalls which you may face with this optional.

Public Administration optional advantages

    • The best part about this optional is that the syllabus is smaller and precise compared to other subjects. With a planned approach, this optional can be easily covered in 3 months.
    • As future administrators, you will find some of the concepts in this subject to be handy in your future career as they mostly deal with administration and governance.
    • There is tremendous overlap with the general studies papers, especially with topics like governance and constitution. Pub Ad also will help in the Ethics and Essay papers.
  • Topics in GS II with overlap with Pub Ad:
        • Parliament and State Legislatures
        • Dispute Redressal Mechanisms and institutions
        • Governance
        • Structure, organisation, and functioning of the Executive and Judiciary
        • Ministries and Departments of the Government
        • Aspects of governance, transparency, and accountability
        • Indian constitution evolution, features, amendments, etc.
        • Separation of powers between various organs
        • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States
        • E-governance
        • Constitutional, statutory, regulatory and quasi-judicial bodies
        • Role of civil services in a democracy
        • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections
        • Government policies and interventions for development in different sectors
        • Issues relating to poverty and hunger
  • Topics in GS III with overlap with Pub Ad:
        • Disaster Management, Planning and Budgeting
        • Environment
        • Challenges to internal security through communication networks
        • Security forces and agencies and their mandate
        • Role of media and social networking sites in internal security
        • Planning issues
        • Government budgeting
        • Inclusive growth
  • Topics in GS IV (Ethics) with overlap with Pub Ad:
      • Ethics and Human Interface (the foundational concept of Administrative values & ethics of Public Administration)
      • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion

Public Administration optional disadvantages

  • In recent years, there is an opinion that this subject is not scoring.
  • If you don’t have an interest in this subject, it will seem difficult and tiresome to read it.
  • The questions in public administration can be answered optimally if you have a knowledge of sociology, political science and management, as many of the concepts are rooted in these subjects. This can complicate the preparation process.
  • It is important to integrate the papers I and II during your preparation and while writing the answers. Many of the concepts and theories in Paper I are to be used in real-life examples in Paper II. This inter-linking is absolutely necessary to score good marks in this optional.
  • Additionally, you must give international examples of governance in paper II.

Public Administration Syllabus

According to the UPSC exam pattern, there are two optional papers each for a total of 250 marks. The syllabus gives the portions for both Paper-I and Paper-II.

Download the Public Administration Optional Syllabus for UPSC

Public Administration optional strategy

Before starting the strategy, let us take a look at the optional question paper analysis for public administration. This will help you prioritise your preparation.

Topic Wise Analysis of Public Administration Optional Paper 1

Unit Questions worth marks
2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Introduction 60 40 50 60 35
Administrative Thought 45 30 65 55 65
Administrative Behaviour 25 30 10 0 30
Organisation 15 45 15 30 70
Accountability and Control 30 40 50 30 30
Administrative Law 25 15 10 25 10
Comparative Public Administration 20 30 20 10 25
Development Dynamics 45 40 25 25 10
Personnel Administration 60 40 70 70 10
Public Policy 15 10 45 40 65
Technique of Administrative Improvement 10 30 30 25 10
Financial Administration 50 50 10 30 40

Topic Wise Analysis of Public Administration Optional Paper 2

Unit Questions worth marks
2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Evolution of Indian Administration 20 40 30 10
Philosophical and Constitutional Framework of Government 50 30 50 20 20
Public Sector Undertaking 10 10 20 20 10
Union Government and Administration 30 60 30 30 30
Plan and Priorities 10 20 30 10
State Government and Administration 60 30 50 50 40
District Administration 20 20 30 10 20
Civil Services 30 30 30 30 10
Financial Management 40 30 10 60 50
Administrative Reforms since Independence 50 20 50 20 10
Rural Development 20 20 10 10 70
Urban Local Development 30 40 10 20
Law and Order Administration 30 20 50 50 30
Significant Issues in Indian Administration 40 50 10 30 60

Topic-wise strategy for Public Administration

Paper I

  1. Introduction

This is one of the most important and scoring sections. This lays down the foundation for public administration and must be thoroughly understood and studied.

  • You can use R B Aribam’s Public Administration book for this section.
  1. Administrative Thought

There are theories of various scholars in this section and all must be read thoroughly as it is also an important section in the paper. When you read about the theories, you should also understand the background. For instance, understand that Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy was a result of him being under the authoritative German system of the twenties.

  • You can refer to Prasad & Prasad for this section or
  • Administrative Theories and Management Thought-  R.K. Sapru
  1. Administrative Behaviour

Here, there are elementary topics which are relatively easy to understand. This section will also help in the Ethics paper.

  • Refer to R B Aribam’s Public Administration book
  1. Organisations

This can be covered from R B Aribam easily because it is a short section. Focus on System and Contingency Theories as these can be used in various other answers in this optional.

Also, focus on Economic section current affairs for Public-Private Partnerships

  1. Accountability and Control

This section can be related to current affairs. So, when you study, make connections to contemporary events especially centred around India. You can refer to R B Aribam, and also Yojana and Kurukshetra magazines. Chapter 12 of the Second ARC Report titled ‘Citizen-centric Administration’ is also important for this section.

You can get the gists of Yojana magazines from our Gist of Yojana section.

  1. Administrative Law

You can cover this section from Aribam’s book. You must read about the differences between American, French and British administrative law. You should also cover Indian tribunals and important Supreme Court judgments relevant to the topics.

  1. Comparative Public Administration

This section is important because it will help you in answer writing throughout the paper. A good understanding of the concepts in comparative public administration will help you write multi-dimensional answers. Get a good grasp over the evolution of comparative public administration, Riggsian Model and various thinkers.

  • Refer to R B Aribam’s Public Administration book
  • ‘Comparative Public Administration’ by Ramesh K Arora is a good book for this section.
  1. Development Dynamics

Although questions are not asked every year on this section, concepts like anti-development thesis and the bureaucracy versus development debate are useful for writing answers on other topics as well. This section will also aid in the Ethics paper and General Studies Polity section also.

  • You can use Aribam’s book for this section.
  • This has major overlap with Current Affairs a keen orientation towards various models and its examples must be drawn. Ex: Amartya Sen Vs Bhagawati Model
  1. Personnel Administration

This is a very important section of the paper because questions are being asked on this for the past few years.

  • You can use Aribam’s book for this section.
  • You should also read the 9th report of the 2nd ARC Report.
  1. Public Policy

You should focus on policy implementation and policy evaluation. You should also read articles on this topic which feature in the newspapers and magazines.

  • You can use Aribam’s book for this section.
  1. Techniques of Administrative Improvement

This is a simple topic and so, prepare it well so that the questions can be easily dealt with.

  • This section can be prepared from R B Aribam and sources on the internet.
  • Mohit Bhattacharya can be an add on.
  • Current developments are of importance under this section.
  • Pay heed to ARC reports and its examples.
  1. Financial Administration

This topic figures in both the papers, so try to cover it simultaneously. You must study the different types of accounting and auditing practices and also understand the pros and cons of each. Study this section thoroughly since a lot of questions are asked from here.

  • You can use Aribam’s book for this section.


  1. Evolution of Indian Administration

This is a very scoring section of the syllabus.

  • This can be suitably covered from ‘Indian Public Administration’ by Rajini Goyal and Ramesh K Arora.
  • Fadia and Fadia can be referred for Mughal Administration
  1. Philosophical and Constitutional Framework of Government

You should remember to correlate answers in this topic to the Constitution and latest parliamentary legislations.

  • You should refer to Goyal and Arora
  1. Public Sector Undertakings
  • You can cover this topic  Fadia and Fadia’s ‘Public Administration in India’.
  1. Union Government and Administration & State Government and Administration
  • You can refer to Fadia and Fadia’s ‘Public Administration in India’ and also newspapers.
  1. Plans and Priorities
  • Rajini Goyal and Ramesh K Arora with Current Affairs.
  1. District Administration since Independence
  • You can refer to Fadia and Fadia
  1. Civil Services

This is an important chapter as questions are being asked for the past few years from here.

  • The book to be referred to here is Aribam.
  • Fadia and Fadia
  • For questions from this section, you can refer to ARC recommendations and also reports of relevant committees.
  1. Financial Management
  • This section should be studied in combination with the same section in Paper I.
  1. Administrative Reforms since Independence
  • For this section, it is important to understand the reports of relevant committees. If you cannot go through the entire report, at least a summary of the reports should be read.
  • You can also read a compilation of the reports of various committees from Fadia and Fadia.
  1. Rural Development and Urban Local Government
  • These two chapters can be covered from Rajini Goyal and Arora. It is good to correlate with constitutional articles and also if possible, use case studies in your answers.
  1. Law and Order Administration
  • You can cover this portion from Fadia and Fadia.
  1. Significant issues in Indian Administration
  • Reading material is found in scattered sources for this section.

IGNOU Material on Disaster Management can be handy

You should refer to newspapers, magazines like Frontline, Yojana articles, etc. 

Book List for Public Administration Mains

  1. Public Administration (Paper I) – R B Aribam
  2. Public Administration (Paper-II) – R B Aribam
  3. Thinkers – Prasad or Administrative Theories and Management Thought –  R K Sapru
  4. New Horizons of Public Administration – Mohit Bhattacharya
  5. Public Administration (Paper-II) – Fadia and Fadia
  6. Second ARC Report – particularly those on Personnel Administration, State and District Administration, Public Order, Disaster Management, Local Government, and Ethics in Governance.
  7. IGNOU material on Public Administration

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