UPSC Civil Services Main Examination – Optional and Compulsory Papers

The UPSC Exam Pattern 2023 was divided into three stages: preliminary exams, main exams, and interviews. The UPSC Exam Pattern 2023 is projected to be the same. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) holds the UPSC Exam, often known as the IAS Exam, to select candidates for the IAS, IPS, IFS, and other associated services. The UPSC Civil Services Exam is held to assess candidates’ overall competencies.

It is critical to study the UPSC Exam Pattern thoroughly. It will help you organise your time more effectively, making your UPSC preparation more efficient. It is also critical to have a thorough understanding of the IAS exam pattern in order to align your preparation with all of the exam requirements.  Broadly, UPSC conducts the Civil Service Examination in three phases namely:

  • Preliminary Examination
  • Main Examination
  • Personality Test (Interview)

It is advised that candidates who pass all of the rounds enter the Indian civil service. You must qualify for each round in order to participate in the following one because they are all elimination rounds.  Let’s now talk about the UPSC Exam Pattern 2023 as well as the scoring system for each of the exams in each round.

Sr.NoPaper NameSyllabusTimeMarks
1.Indian Language (Paper A)Chosen Indian language (Class 10th Level)3 hours300
2.English (Paper B)English Language (Class 10th Level)3 hours300
3Essay (Paper 1)Essays on various topics. 2 topics are to be selected.3 hours250
4.General Studies- 1 (Paper 2)History (ancient to present), Geography, Society, etc.3 hours250
5.General Studies- 2 (Paper 3)Indian Polity, Governance, International relations, etc.3 hours250d>
6.General Studies- 3 (Paper 4)Indian Economy, Agriculture, Environment, Security, etc.3 hours250
7.General Studies- 4 (Paper 5)Ethics, Ethical theories, Case studies, etc.3 hours250
8.Optional Subject-1 (Paper 6)Part 1 of the optional subject.3 hours250
9.Optional Subject-2 (Paper 7)Part 2 of the optional subject.3 hours250
Total Marks in UPSC CSE Mains 10751075

UPSC Exams: Format and Preparation

We are aware that there are three phases to the UPSC test. While each phase has a unique strategy, many find the UPSC Prelims to be the hardest to pass. The Civil Services Aptitude Test, popularly known as CSAT, or General Studies I and II, are the two exams that make up the Prelims. These tests assess candidates’ general knowledge in the various branches of math, science, and English.

Paper‐1EssayIn Essay Papers, candidates may be required to write essays on multiple topics. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.
Paper‐2General Studies 1Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times. Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues. The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country. Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country. History of the world will include events from the 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society. Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India. Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies. Effects of globalization on Indian society Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism. Salient features of the world’s physical geography. Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent);factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries invarious parts of the world (including India)Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc. ,geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
Paper‐3General Studies 2Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure. Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein. Separation of powers between various organs; dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions. Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, the conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these. Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act. Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies. Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders. Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections. Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources. Issues relating to poverty and hunger. Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures. Role of civil services in a democracy. India and its neighbourhood- relations. Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests. Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora. Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.
Paper‐4General Studies 3Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment. Inclusive growth and issues arising from it. Government Budgeting. Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers. Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing. Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management. Land reforms in India. Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth. Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.Investment models. Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology. Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and issues relating to intellectual property rights. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment. Disaster and disaster management. Linkages between development and spread of extremism. Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security. Challenges to internal security through communication networks, the role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention. Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism. Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate.
Paper‐5General Studies 4Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values. Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion. Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker sections. Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance. Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world .Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance. Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption. Case Studies on the above issues.
Paper‐6 and 7Optional Subject Paper 1 and 2History Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Geography Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Economics Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Sociology Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Public Administration Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Philosophy Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Psychology Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Political Science Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Agriculture Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Anthropology Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Botany Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Chemistry Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Civil Engineering Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Commerce Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC .Electrical Engineering Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Geology Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Law Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Mathematics Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Management Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Mechanical Engineering Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Medical Science Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Physics Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Statistics Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. Zoology Syllabus – Civil Services Mains Exam UPSC. The literature of any one of the following languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English.

The UPSC exams are regarded as one of the nation’s toughest admission tests due to its difficult questions. Students therefore put forth a lot of effort to pass UPSC Prelims. You can improve your chances of passing the IAS exam, nevertheless, if you pay attention to the following advice.

Step 1 – Understand the Exam

  • If a student does not understand the exam’s content, they cannot perform well on it. Understanding the topics that can be included in the examination is just as crucial as knowing the type of exam that will be given.
  • All of this information is published by the UPSC in a document that can be seen on their website. Before beginning their preparations, students must also thoroughly comprehend the eligibility requirements.
  • All of this falls under the category of examination preparation. To avoid confusion on, or a few days before the tests, concerning these little things, this must be done as the first step. Starting with these crucial aspects enables you to progress through the preparation process in a more organized and systematic way.

Step 2 – Start Reading

  • The simplest way to learn is to use your old schoolbooks. The NCERT books can be used to study the whole syllabus for the UPSC exams.
  • You can download your old textbooks for free if you can’t find them. Although you may have retained the majority of the concepts while reading, it is nevertheless advisable to review them twice for better self-preparation.
  • You must be familiar with the syllabus and the paper structure after finishing step 1. Now that you know this, you can start your actual exam preparation.
  • You should also start reading the most recent news. In the General CSAT exams, current events are the source of the majority of the questions.

Step 3 –   Read and Write

  • After we finish our education, one of the habits we drop is learning by writing. While many individuals do it in school, after it is over people tend to concentrate more on quickly skimming a book’s contents in order to memorise it.
  • While this might be effective in a classroom setting, you must write in order to prepare for the UPSC exams.
  • Writing allows you to learn a subject twice: the first time when you read it aloud and the second time when you write it.
  • More significantly, though, it mentally ingrains the subject in your mind. So, after you have finished looking through the books in your first round, you must locate your old notebooks and start outlining your topic.

Step 4 – Take mock exams

  • You must take numerous practise exams after thoroughly preparing for the exam. There are many websites that provide you with sample questions from previous exams that you can take.
  • This step in your preparation is essential since it gives you a better idea of what an actual exam will be like.
  • You must follow the time constraints and take it honestly. This will not only help you better manage your time, but it will also make it easier for you to see your errors and ease your anxiety before the big paper.

How To Choose The Best UPSC Optional Subjects For UPSC Exam

The optional subject has a significant impact on how UPSC candidates score. Two of the nine exams in the CSE Main exam, Papers VI and VII, are from the UPSC optional topic. Subject Paper 1 and Subject Paper 2 are optional. They each carry 250 marks. In the UPSC Mains Exam, the UPSC optional subject hence carries 500/1750 points. The final merit is computed by taking into account the marks earned in the optional UPSC subjects. However, the ideal optional subject for UPSC selection must be made using a professional technique.

Therefore, it is important to choose an optional subject for the UPSC carefully. Since applicants must now select just one optional subject, “how to select the best optional subject for UPSC” continues to be the most often posed query among UPSC aspirants.

List of UPSC Optional Subjects

The names of UPSC optional subjects for the UPSC CSE(Main) examination are mentioned in the table below. Click on the link of the UPSC optional subject to get detailed information about the syllabus, preparation strategy, and booklist of the optional subject for UPSC:

AgricultureAnimal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
Civil EngineeringCommerce and Accountancy
Mechanical EngineeringMedical Science
PsychologyPublic Administration
Political Science and International RelationsSociology
ZoologyElectrical Engineering

Literature Option Subject

Literature of the following languages are also a part of the UPSC optional subjects for the UPSC Mains exam from which you can choose your best-suited optional subject for UPSC:


Significance of Optional Subject

Only the optional subjects are available to candidates for the Civil Services Exam (CSE) and are taken into account when determining merit. The following papers are all identical for everyone or just serve as qualifications.

  • The UPSC CSE’s optional topic test is the key to success. You might not be able to make much of an impact on the GS Mains exam, but if you pick the proper choice and put in the necessary work, you could even lead by 20 to 50 marks in the optional exam.
  • In the UPSC CSE, selecting the appropriate optional is a crucial decision.
  • The reason for this is that there is a greater chance of getting higher marks in the optional category than in the General Studies (GS) Mains test or any other category:
  • A GS Mains topper often receives between 475 and 525 out of 1000, or 50% of the exam’s total marks, despite the fact that the GS Mains exam has a weightage of 1000 points and typically takes two to three years to complete.
  • The best scorers in optional topics, on the other hand, typically get scores between 350 and 370 out of 500, or more than 70% of the possible points.
  • Therefore, even though the optional subject exam has a lower weight than the GS Mains exam, there is a considerably greater chance of doing well in the optional exam than there is in the GS Mains exam.

Choosing Optional Subject

·  Contrary to State PSC Exams, UPSC only advocates moderation and does not scale back optional subjects.

·  Scaling is the process of comparing the results of two (or more) optional subjects. It is accomplished by assuming that the students’ academic levels are comparable.

· Assuming, for example, that the student receiving the greatest scores in Anthropology is on par with the student receiving the highest marks in Mathematics, etc.

·  This assumption is rejected by UPSC, which instead adopts a moderate stance.

· For instance, if a student received additional marks from a subject examiner, the chief examiner will reduce (moderate) the scores based on the student’s knowledge.

Which UPSC Optional Subjects Has Most Overlap With General Studies Subjects?

Because of the substantial overlap with GS or other sections of the UPSC test, the following UPSC Optional subjects are popular among IAS students from both technical and non-technical backgrounds:

  • Public Administration – Highly relevant, compact syllabus, paper II (Indian Administration) has a lot of overlap with polity and governance part in GS II.
  • Sociology – the study of society, lots of material which can be used in GS I, Essay, and even in Ethics paper.
  • History – relevant for prelims as well as GS I.
  • Geography -relevant for prelims as well as GS I
  • Political Science – relevant for prelims as well as GS II
  • Law – relevant for prelims as well as GS II

Optional subjects in UPSC like Economics, Philosophy, and Agriculture are also good choices.

Strategy for Studying UPSC Optional Papers

·  Both objective and subjective type subjects have an equal possibility of giving you a good result; neither has a greater marking pattern than the other. It is a relative standard based on one’s own abilities rather than an absolute one.

·  Some topics, like philosophy, have a smaller length and width but a greater depth. On the other hand, history is a very broad subject with a significant length and width but a limited depth. If depth is taken into consideration, the time required to fully understand any optional subject would be nearly the same.

·  You should determine the plan at the end. One of the best strategies would be to first finish the entire GS syllabus and then select the best alternative for you.

·  You have two options for studying: pipelining or parallel study (many tests; GS, essay, Optional, at once).

·  A subject must be factual in order to be considered objective, and there can only be one specific, right solution. Subjects that can be objectively studied include math, physics, and to some extent, geography.

·  Subjectivity, on the other hand, denotes the possibility of more than one correct/appropriate response to a query (and a subject). Subjective fields include political science, sociology, anthropology, literature, and more.

Best optional subject in UPSC

  • The candidates’ top three choices for optional coursework were geography, political science and international relations, and sociology.
  • Hindi literature has recently gained popularity as an elective among students taking the main exam and passing the CSE.
  • Some topics receive higher grades than others. However, if we take a closer look, both technical and non-technical areas typically yield scores higher than 320 for IAS top performers. Because applicants lack the required effort or because they choose an optional subject for UPSC that isn’t a good fit for them, several subjects are said to be low-scoring.
  • Technical disciplines like mathematics can help you score well because the solutions are set in stone. Contrary to subjects in the humanities, the biases or preferences of the examiner essentially have little bearing.
  • However, non-technical disciplines give you more preparation time and reading material overall, helping you prepare effectively for the IAS Mains test, particularly those that overlap with the General Studies syllabus.

Below is a list of these popular subjects –

GeographyHindi Literature
Public AdministrationSociology

Some Important Tips:

  • When studying the material for the optional subject exam, you shouldn’t be picky. There is still work to be done on around 90% of the subject’s syllabus.
  • It is preferable to read a reputable journal from your related field. Examine specialised journals, quality articles from reliable sources, and publications like The Hindu and Indian Express.
  • In your responses, make an effort to include recent publications, indices, polls, or the recommendations of a reputable group. Using credible sources to support your points boosts the authenticity of your response.
  • Take note of recent studies, books, articles, reports, indices, and their distinctive findings and conclusions as you analyse current events. Since it’s quite likely that the questions on the optional exam will be repeated, preparation for the optional subjects should only be finished once you’ve practiced all of the questions from the previous year.


In the UPSC CS Main Examination, the UPSC optional subjects are crucial. Out of a total of 2025 marks, it comprises of 500 total marks. If you make the right decisions, these 500 points can significantly alter your ultimate score. Depending on the candidate’s educational background, each candidate may have a different notion of the best UPSC optional subject from the list of UPSC optional subjects. The majority of students make the error of selecting optional subjects for the UPSC based on the performance of the top candidates in that subject or due to other considerations like popularity, the availability of study groups, etc. To avoid losing an attempt, you should use extreme caution while selecting an optional subject on such grounds.


Q.1 Which optional subject is most scoring in UPSC?

Ans. Due to its shorter syllabus compared to other courses, philosophy has one of the best UPSC scores. In addition, the subjects of sociology and public administration receive points. But a candidate’s enthusiasm in and familiarity with the subject also play a role in how well they perform on the UPSC.

Q.2 What to avoid while choosing the optional subject in UPSC?

Ans. Select the optional topic based on your interests. Never pick an optional subject merely because the majority of candidates are choosing it. Don’t choose the topic entirely based on what the winners of previous years decided.

 Q.3 Should I take an optional subject that is already covered in the General Studies?

Ans. It is always a better idea to select an optional subject for the UPSC that is already covered in the syllabus for the GS paper because it would save the student a tonne of time. Many students, including past year’s top students, choose to major in the topic they know best. Many people opt for a topic they studied for their master’s or graduation.

Q.4 Is it wise to take a subject different from my graduation course?

Ans. Many of us are compelled to study things that we initially didn’t want to study, even if it is preferable to complete the optional subject’s course until graduation. You can choose law if you have a degree in mathematics but are more interested in it. You will then need to study for it for a lot longer nevertheless. Therefore, it makes more sense to stick with the course you have already studied in order to save time.

Q.5 Which is the best optional subject in UPSC?

Ans. The UPSC optional subject that best suits your interests and abilities is that one. You should select an elective that will aid in your success. History, geography, economics, political science, and sociology are a few of the strongest disciplines.

Q.6 What are the 26 optional subjects in UPSC?

Ans. The 26 optional subjects in UPSC are:

· Anthropology

· Agriculture

· Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science

· Botany

· Chemistry

· Civil Engineering

· Commerce

· Economics

· Electrical Engineering

· Geography

· Geology

· Indian History

· Law

· Mathematics

· Management

· Mechanical Engineering

· Medical Science

· Philosophy

· Physics

· Political Science

· Psychology

· Public Administration

· Sociology

· Statistics

· Zoology

Q.7 Which is the easiest optional subject for UPSC?

Ans. Some of the easiest optional subjects in UPSC are

· History

· Geography

· Public Administration

· Political Science

· Sociology

· Philosophy

· Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science

· Geology

· Civil Engineering

· Mechanical Engineering

· Agriculture

Most of the candidates who have scored highest mostly prefer these optional subjects in UPSC. But the candidate should give preference to the subjects of his/her interest.

Q.8 How many optional subjects are there in UPSC?

Ans. There are 48 optional subjects in UPSC out of which one subject can be chosen for both Paper I and Paper II. Both the papers are 250 marks each. The optional subject syllabus is of graduation level. Candidates can choose an elective subject depending on their graduation degree or subject in which they are interested.

Q.9 What are the 5 compulsory subjects in UPSC?

Ans. The five compulsory subjects are:

· General Studies

· Essay

· English

· Indian Language

General Studies consists of four papers of 250 marks each. The essay is of 250 marks where the candidate has the option to choose any language as the medium. Apart from these, English and other Indian language paper carry 300 marks each. All the candidates will have to give these five compulsory subjects as the qualifying examination in addition to the optional subjects.

You Can Read Also:

Ganga River System
UPSC Cutoff Marks 2022
Coaching for the Civil Services Exam: Is It Necessary?
Role Of Test Series In UPSC

Leave a Reply