How to choose the Optional Subject for UPSC Civil Services Exams?

How to choose the Optional Subject for UPSC Civil Services Exams?

Updated on 19 September, 2019

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The UPSC Civil Services exam has three stages (Prelims, Mains, Personality Test). Every year lakhs of aspirants apply. The exam process for every candidate is same but the things changer when it comes to the optional subject. In the Mains of the UPSC Civil Services exam, a candidate has to choose an optional subject. This optional subject has 2 papers comprising of total 500 marks. Here is the catch.  If one selects a good optional subject, it can have a difference on the final success. IAS EXAM 2020 What are the optional subjects for UPSC Civil Services Exam?
SN NO List of optional subjects in UPSC
1 Agriculture
2 Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
3 Anthropology
4 Botany
5 Chemistry
6 Civil Engineering
7 Commerce & 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 & International Relations
21 Psychology
22 Public Administration
23 Sociology
24 Statistics
25 Zoology
  Candidates can opt for a literature subject even they had not taken up that language as their graduation subject. The languages provided as optional are from the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
SN NO List of Literature optional subjects
1 Assamese
2 Bengali
3 Bodo
4 Dogri
5 Gujarati
6 Hindi
7 Kannada
8 Kashmiri
9 Konkani
10 Maithili
11 Malayalam
12 Manipuri
13 Marathi
14 Nepali
15 Oriya
16 Punjabi
17 Sanskrit
18 Santhali
19 Sindhi
20 Tamil
21 Telugu
22 Urdu
23 English
  Many factors should be considered before selecting the best possible optional subject for UPSC Civil Services exam. Some of these factors are as follows:

  1. Time availability: it is an important factor. The syllabus should not be too long to consume lot of time.
  2. Scoring chances
  3. Popularity: You can choose a popular subject but choose only if you are interested to study that optional.
  4. Syllabus: Generally, the syllabus of the optional subjects is midway between graduate and PG level. Is it easy to understand? You can choose the optional based on your understanding of the subject.
  5. Availability of good study materials/ Availability of good teachers: Proper study material, and good teachers help prepare well for UPSC Civil Services Examination.
  6. Your interest in the subject
  7. Is the subject integrated with GS Syllabus: It will simplify your GS Preparation if the syllabus of the GS overlaps with the GS Syllabus. For example:
    • Public Administration overlaps with GS paper 2 [Polity, Governance & Constitution]
    • Political Science subject overlaps little with GS paper 2 [International Relation part]
    • History optional subject overlaps much with GS Paper 1 history syllabus.
    • Geography syllabus overlaps with GS Paper 1- Geography portion and GS paper 3 Environment portion.
    • Sociology optional covers Indian Society section in GS paper 1. It is useful in Essay paper also.
  1. Analysis of previous year Mains question papers
  2. Role of Current Affairs in the Optional: Current affairs are indispensable for your preparation. It will help in the optional where the current affairs is required.
  3. Success rates in the UPSC Civil Services Exams results
  4. Know about the Competition: You should know about the competition level of the optional subject. It means to know that about a number of aspirants appearing for an optional and its success ratio. More the number of aspirants means more answer sheets before the examiners. So the success ultimately depends upon your answer writing skills.
What is the success rate of optional subjects in the UPSC Civil Services Exam? Following are the optional subjects with a high success rate. Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Public Administration, Agriculture, Medical Sciences, Gujarati Lit. Kannada Lit., Marathi Lit., Economics, Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science, Law, Commerce & Accountancy, Management & Geology Strategy for choosing optional
  • First shortlist subject you are interested taking into mind the factors discussed above
  • Read the complete syllabus of the shortlisted optional subject
  • Refer to the previous year Mains question paper. Try to understand the demand of UPSC question. If you can do that fix that subject.


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