How To Select Optional Subject for IAS Exam?

Select Optional Subjects for IASAspirants might be in a state of dilemma regarding how to select an optional subject for 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 for IAS Mains that consists of two papers each carrying 250 marks.

Which are the Optional Subjects for UPSC Exam?

Optional Subjects Literature Optionals
Agriculture Assamese
Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Bengali
Anthropology Bodo
Botany Dogri
Chemistry Gujarati
Civil Engineering Hindi
Commerce and Accountancy Kannada
Economics Kashmiri
Electrical Engineering Konkani
Geography Maithili
Geology Malayalam
History Manipuri
Law Marathi
Management Nepali
Mathematics Oriya
Mechanical Engineering Punjabi
Medical Science Sanskrit
Philosophy Santhali
Physics Sindhi
Political Science and International Relations Tamil
Psychology Telugu
Public Administration Urdu
Sociology English

UPSC offers a wide basket of choices of Optional subjects 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 regard to the optional paper.

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

Weightage of Optional Subjects for IAS Mains Exam

As per the 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 paper, 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 for 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, the unpredictability of general studies papers is letting more aspirants rely on optional.

Certain myths regarding Selection Optional Subjects

  • 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 score 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 a certain set of criteria override your choices during graduation. If criteria played an important role, then better to leave degree paper as your optional.
  • Following a trend in 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, maybe your career gurus will say from the last ten years first rank holders are opting for economics, so better for you also. My piece of advice is please don’t believe it.

How To Choose an Optional Subject for IAS Exam?

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. The 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 thorough look at selected subjects and UPSC 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 the literature of your local language, after going through the syllabus you are interested in zoology, anthropology, and literature, literature will be a nice option for you.
  • Have a look at the best coaching institutes that offer your optional coaching.
  • Discuss with rank holders or seniors regarding their selection. Remember the only discussion, not to follow whatever, thier optional.

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

Interesting read: How to start IAS Preparation?

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 insight for the upcoming years based on previous year trends of selecting optional subjects (As per the latest syllabus).

Optional Subject Approximate Number of Candidates  selecting
 each optional Subject in IAS Mains
History Around  2000
Geography Around 3500
Public Administration Around 3000
Sociology Around 2500
Philosophy + Psychology + Political Science + Economics <2000
All other science/art subjects
(in total)
All literature subjects
(in total)
Total Around 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 Exam, highest success ratio and scoring optional, etc. Still, these questions are imaginary when it comes to real UPSC Exam. If you analyze the optional subject of toppers in the exam, you will be surprise 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 a depth level as per the standard of UPSC Exams.

Useful Posts

  1. Standard UPSC Books
  2. Free IAS Study Materials
  3. UPSC Mains Optional Booklist
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