How to Choose the Right Optional Subject for UPSC Civil Services Examination?

UPSC and Optional Subject: –

Optional subject is very important in UPSC exam. It can take you to top and can fall you to bottom. As per the latest UPSC exam pattern, the weightage of optional paper is 500 marks out of 2025 marks. In mains examination one can easily score good marks with the help of optional subject. The aspirants can boost up his score with the help of optional subject.  They can choose optional subject as per their choice. 

The aspirants can go through the list of 48 of subjects provided by UPSC. Then they can opt for one subject in which they find themselves more comfortable. It is beneficial for student to choose a good optional subject as it is one of the important factors in scoring good marks in the examination.

Optional is a scoring subject. The aspirants can make to merit list with good optional score. So it is very strategic and important role of optional subject in UPSC exam.

You Can Read Also: 5 Most Popular Optional Subject in UPSC Civil Services Main Examination

Significance of Optional in UPSC Exams: –

In the CSE Main exam, out of the nine papers, two papers, Paper VI and Paper VII are from the UPSC Optional subjects. They are optional Subject Paper 1 and Optional Subject Paper 2. Each of them carries 250 marks. So, the UPSC optional subject carries 500/1750 marks in the UPSC Mains Exam. The marks obtained in the UPSC optional subjects are considered for the preparation of final merit. UPSC Optional Subject plays a great role in being the score-differentiator for UPSC aspirants.

Pattern of Optional Subject: –

  • The aspirants have to appear for two optional papers of same subject which they have selected for IAS (UPSC CSE) Main Exam. 
  • Each paper is of 250 marks, making a total of 500 marks.
  • Duration for each Optional mains paper is 3 hours. 

UPSC Civil Services Exam 2024: Factors To Keep in Mind While Choosing an Optional Subject

  1. Aptitude 

An aptitude for the subject is a personal decision of an aspirant. If aspirants have a keen interest in social problems, a humanities subject like sociology may be more suitable. If the aspirants have a scientific bend of mind, they can opt for an optional subject like mathematics. 

  1. Interest 

The important thing is that the optional should be a subject that aspirants enjoy reading. It is very difficult to sustain your enthusiasm over multiple attempts if you do not find the subject to your taste. So the aspirants should focus on choosing the subject in which they have proper interest. 

  1. Subject’s past performance

The aspirants should analyse the performance of students who took the subject in previous attempts. By checking aggregate number of selections in past several years and the marks they scored the aspirants can easily understand the performance of the optional.

  1. Availability of guidance 

The correct guidance is very much important for aspirants to put efforts in right direction. Aspirants will need to analyze the availability of quality guidance especially if you are not a graduate in the optional subjects that you are considering.

  1. Required time

Some of the optional subjects require more time to prepare compared to others. For instance, optionals like mathematics and political science have a lengthier syllabus than subjects like sociology and philosophy.

  1. Syllabus Overlap

Most of the humanities subjects like sociology and public administration have many topics which overlap with the General Studies syllabus and also help in the Essay paper. Subjects like Mathematics or animal husbandry will be of lesser utility in the other portions of the exam.

  1. Graduation Stream

Choosing optional from graduation stream does help the aspirants to understand the concepts easily, since they have already spent three or four years studying it. Thus, they may have a good foundation in it already. However, the aspirants should not choose the optional from your graduation stream if they had not developed an interest in it while in college.

  1. Study material 

While there is enough study material available for the popular humanities optionals, research needs to be done regarding availability of resource materials for an offbeat optional like agriculture or animal husbandry.

You Can Read Also: Which is the Most Popular Optional Subject in UPSC Civil Services Main Examination?

Rules That Might Help You In Choosing The Right Optional Subject 

  • The subject opted must excite you. 
  • The optional subject must make you to think out of the box. 
  • The study material and books must be readily available. 
  • The subject must not make you to sleep while studying or learning. 
  • It must make you want to know more about the subject.

Does and Don’t for UPSC Optional: –


  • Consider all these factors in choosing the optional subject, which will make your preparation easy, and help you in scoring more marks.
  • Select only those subjects which will help you in general studies papers like history, public administration, political science, economics and geography. 
  • If you choose physiology and sociology, it might help you in essay writing and with the ethics paper.


  • Avoid getting swayed by a particular year’s result. Evaluate the performance of a subject over several years.
  • Avoid selecting optional solely on the advice of friends
  • Never choose an optional subject just because most of the candidates are opting for that subject. 
  • Don’t pick the subject solely based on the decision of the past years’ toppers. 
  • Don’t opt the subject because most of your friends or relatives have suggested it. 
  • Don’t follow others; choose the subject based on your area of interest.
  • You may consult others but do not let anyone else choose the optional for you. It is important to arrive at your own decision after careful deliberation.

Strategy for choosing the optional subject:

  1. Check the Optional Subject List: –Take a print out of the list of optional subjects offered by UPSC. 
  2. Eliminate the subject: – Cut out the names of optional that are impossible for you to study in a reasonable time frame. From amongst other subjects, cut out those that require an academic background. For example; an arts graduate should not consider medical science as an optional.
  3. Select few subjects of your interest: – Narrow down to a couple of subjects that you find interesting at the first glance. Consider subjects of your graduation in your choices if you are comfortable in them.
  4. Analyse and Research: –Do research about the availability of preparation material, coaching and length of the subject’s syllabus from other aspirants, mentors and online. Include in your consideration set some subjects which do not require an academic background for preparing and have a short syllabus.
  5. Compare with GS Syllabus: – If you have already started your General Studies preparation, try to figure out which subject you prefer to read more. This may give you a clue to the right optional for you.
  6. Understand the syllabus: – Carefully go through the syllabus, previous years’ question papers and some introductory textbooks (such as 11th and 12th NCERT books) of the subjects in your consideration set. You can also watch a few lecture videos of the subjects you are considering to gauge your interest in them.
  7. Analyse previous year Question papers: – Go through the UPSC syllabus and previous years’ question papers of the shortlisted subjects. Previous years questions will help you to understand the pattern and changing nature of the questions being asked from the subject.
  8. Consult others: –The aspirants can take guidance and consultation from  friends, teachers and mentors. Discuss with senior aspirants and some mentors who teach those subjects to UPSC aspirants to clarify your doubts regarding the subjects. But ensure that the final decision is your own. Learn from but avoid blindly following the successful candidates while selecting your optional. Identify your own area of interest and choose accordingly.
  9. Narrow your choices: –At every stage, narrow down your choices by omitting subjects you do not feel comfortable with to zero down on one.
  10. Final Selection: – the final call of choosing an optional for UPSC mains should be strictly based on your own instinct. Once a subject is selected don’t revisit the choice and get confuse. Just believe your decision and work hard for the same.

You Can Read Also: How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC? A Detailed Guide

What questions aspirants should consider before choosing Optional subject?

  1. How vast is the syllabus of the optional?
  2. How much preparation time do you have?
  3. Do you have prior knowledge of the subject at the graduate/PG level?
  4. How much syllabus overlap is there between your optional choice and GS part in Prelims/Mains?
  5. Are the study material and coaching readily available?
  6. Do you have the requisite drive/interest to study the subject for UPSC exam?

Success Rate of Optional Subjects in IAS Mains

UPSC Optional Subjects Success Rate (2017)

Optional SubjectNo. of Candidates AppearedNo. of Candidates RecommendedSuccess Rate Percentage
Assamese Lit.300
Nepali Lit.100
Commerce & Accountancy2242812.5
Bodo Lit.11100
Punjabi Lit.39615.4
Gujarati Lit.10187.9
Kannada Lit.11543.5
Marathi Lit.1700
Medical Sciences3133210.2
English Lit.2129.5
Urdu Lit.26519.2
Tamil Lit.10754.7
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Sciences2328.7
Public Administration116511910.2
Sanskrit Lit.7057.1
Malayalam Lit.11187.2
Political Science & International Relations12461179.4
Telugu Lit.7211.4
Hindi Lit.267197.1
Electrical Engineering193199.8
Mechanical Engineering1701911.2
Manipuri Lit.1317.7
Maithili Lit.7856.4
Civil Engineering124118.9
Bengali Lit.300
Oriya Lit.500
Sindhi Lit.2150

UPSC 2016 Optional Success Rate

Optional SubjectNo. of Candidates AppearedNo. of Candidates RecommendedSuccess Rate Percentage
Assamese Lit.5240
Punjabi Lit.19526.3
Gujarati Lit.42716.7
Kannada Lit.841416.7
Marathi Lit.42716.7
Medical Sciences981616.3
English Lit.40615
Urdu Lit.29413.8
Tamil Lit.2252912.9
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Sciences65812.3
Public Administration330133710.5
Sanskrit Lit.122108.2
Malayalam Lit.6757.3
Pali Lit.255187.1
Political Science & International Relations1320856.4
Telugu Lit.14796.1
Hindi Lit.974565.7
Electrical Engineering7445.4
Mechanical Engineering9655.2
Manipuri Lit.2214.5
Maithili Lit.2514
Civil Engineering3513.9
Arabic Lit.100
Bengali Lit.500
Dogri LIt.100
Konkani Lit.100
Oria Lit.400
Persian Lit.1000
Sindhi Lit.100

UPSC 2015 Optional Success Rate 

Optional SubjectNo. of Candidates AppearedNo. of Candidates RecommendedSuccess Rate Percentage
Medical Science2355523.4
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science521223.1
Commerce & Accountancy1882814.9
Political Science & International Relations110712110.9
Civil Engineering47510.6
Electrical Engineering12686.3
Public Administration70773595.1
Mechanical Engineering6434.7

UPSC 2014 Optional success rate 

Optional SubjectNumber of Candidates Appeared Number of Candidates RecommendedSuccess Rate Percentage
Literature of Santhali Language11100
Literature of Urdu Language28517.9
Literature of Bengali Language6116.7
Literature of English Language30516.7
Medical Science2934816.4
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science32515.6
Civil Engineering54713.0
Literature of Gujarati Language64812.5
Literature of Kannada Language75 912.0
Electrical Engineering1131311.5
Literature of Punjabi Language54 611.1
Literature of Maithili Language84 910.7
Literature of Tamil Language75810.7
Literature of Oriya Language10 110.0
Zoology92 99.8
Literature of Malayalam Language6968.7
Commerce & Accountancy200157.5
Chemistry85  67.1
Mechanical Engineering60   46.7
Public Administration28401766.2
Political Science & International Relations651406.1
Literature of Sanskrit Language7145.6
Literature of Manipuri Language2015.0
Literature of Telugu Language9344.3
Literature of Hindi Language284124.2
Literature of Marathi Language2613.8
Literature of Dogri Language100.0
Literature of Sindhi (Devanagari) Language100.0
Literature of Assamese Language200.0

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