How to select Optional Subject for IAS Exam ?

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Aspirants might be in a state of dilemma regarding how to select  optional subject for UPSC IAS mains Exam . Although from 2013 onwards, UPSC reduced the weightage of optional paper, still students find it difficult to make the correct choice. Now you have to attempt one optional subject that consist of two papers each carrying 250 marks.

 Weightage of Optional Subject

Optional Subject for IAS MainsAs per latest pattern of UPSC , out of 2025 marks, only 500 marks will be allocated for optional. The remaining 1525 marks are triggered from general studies, essay and interview.

It is evident from here that, only a quarter accounts for your optional paper. Then also, it is a deciding factor for your rank and, hence opted service also.

From my point of view, if you have a good base over general studies, you don’t have to worry much about optional. Unfortunately, unpredictability of general studies papers are letting more aspirants to rely on optional.

 Optional subjects offered by UPSC

UPSC offers a wide basket of choices for its candidates. As this is an exam attended by students from all streams, so there are a variety of choices, therefore, nobody gets disappointed with regards to optional paper.

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
  3. Anthropology
  4. Botany
  5. Chemistry
  6. Civil Engineering
  7. Commerce and Accountancy
  8. Economics
  9. Electrical Engineering
  10. Geography
  11. Geology
  12. History
  13. Law
  14. Management
  15. Mathematics
  16. Mechanical Engineering
  17. Medical Science
  18. Philosophy
  19. Physics
  20. Political Science and International Relations
  21. Psychology
  22. Public Administration
  23. Sociology
  24. Statistics
  25. Zoology
  1. Literature of any one of the following language (Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and English)

UPSC is offering 26 subjects from all stream, students must pick out one subject from these. All of these are creating confusions to aspirants.

Certain myths regarding optional

  • Overlapping with general studies papers: Though overlapping subjects with general studies is a good option, if students do not like a specific subject it can be a hindrance for scoring high in exams. For example, an aspirant who is not excellent in history, and history as optional due to it’s a common paper for mains will not work out.
  • Graduation subjects as optional enable to score high: If you are really in love with your graduation subjects and excel in it, then it won’t be a problem. Ask yourself, you did graduation according to your choice or certain set of criteria over ride your choices during graduation. If criteria played an important role, then better to leave degree paper as your optional.
  • Following trend of certain subjects: Candidates will end up in disaster, if you are going to follow some trends. Don’t follow your seniors or peers while choosing optional. Further, some coaching institutes also misguide by showing facts and figures. To exemplify, may be your career gurus will say from last ten years first rank holders are opting economics, so better for you also. My piece of advice is please don’t believe it.

How to select optional Subject for  IAS Mains

Even though it is a cumbersome task, keep in mind that you are mature enough to decide your choices. There is no set criterion for selection. Only tip is your decision, it will be the deciding factor for entrance into service. There are certain steps to be followed while deciding for optional papers

  • Go through each optional subject thoroughly and omit subjects which you find really hard.
  • Have a through look of selected subjects and syllabus.
  • Underline or mark topics that you have an idea.
  • Think of your personal choices and go through subjects again. For example you are a doctor by profession, but you are also interested in reading literature of your local language, after going through syllabus you are interested in zoology, anthropology and literature, literature will be a nice option for you.
  • Have a look of the best coaching institutes that offers your optional coaching.
  • Discuss with rank holders or seniors regarding their selection. Remember only discussion, not to follow whatever, their optional.

Finally, always remember it’s your choice and decision going decide your service.

Popularity of Optional Subjects in Civil Services Exam

In UPSC exam preparation, some optional subjects are very popular. Although the number of candidates opting each optional for IAS mains can vary year on year, the below diagram gives an insights for the upcoming years based on previous year trends of selecting optional subjects (As per latest syllabus).

Optional SubjectApproximate Number of Candidates  selecting
 each optional Subject in IAS Mains
HistoryAround 3500
GeographyAround 2000
Public AdministrationAround 3500
SociologyAround 3500
Philosophy + Psychology + Political Science + Economics<2500
All other science/art subjects
(in total)
All literature subjects
(in total)
TotalAround 15,500

PS: The above table is just approximate in nature as the trend changes every year.

Also read : How to read Yojana magazine for UPSC Exam 

The aspirants always asking questions  and queries like Which is the  best optional for IAS, highest success ratio and scoring optional etc but these questions are imaginary when it comes to real UPSC Exam. If you analyse the optional subject of toppers in the exam, you will be surprised to see wide representation from almost all optional papers provided by UPSC, and that itself tells half of the story. One thing u always keep in mind that all optional papers are high scoring if you are excel in the subject and if you can answer the questions in an depth  level as per the standard of UPSC exams.

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