Which is the Most Popular Optional Subject in UPSC Civil Services Main Examination?

The Mains for the Civil Services Exam conducted by UPSC allows the candidates to choose the Optional Subject. Though the list carrying the names for various Optional Subjects is a long one, you would discover it for yourself that some of the Optional Subjects enjoy a greater popularity than others.

However, there is no hard and fast rule that all the candidates would find a specific Optional Subject either interesting or otherwise. The same applies to various other perspectives as well. No Optional Subject is found easy or difficult by all. Besides, nobody can say that a specific Optional subject would be scoring for all the candidates.

Below is the list of popular Optional Subjects with Success Ratio – Source: upsc.gov.in (UPSC 68th Annual Report)

The Most Popular Optional Subjects in UPSC Civil Services Main Examination:

UPSC Civil Services Main Examination
UPSC Civil Services Main Examination


Sociology optional is one of the most popular of the Optional Subjects that many of the Civil Services Exam candidates opt for. It was opted for as an Optional subject by 1635 candidates for the CSE, Mains in 2016. Recommended to service 132 candidate and has Success Rate (Percent) 8.1.


Geography is among the most popular of the Optional Subjects opted for by the IAS aspirants. As many as almost 3000 candidates prefer to opt for Geography as the Optional Subject.

There were as many as 3427 candidates who opted for Geography as the Optional Subject in 2016 mains CSE, UPSC. Recommended to service 203 candidate and has Success Rate (Percent) 5.9%.


History is yet another of one of the most commonly chosen Optional subjects by the IAS aspirants. In the year 2016, the Optional was selected by 1427 candidates for the Mains, CSE. Recommended to service 60 candidate and has Success Rate (Percent) 4.2%.

Public Administration

A majority of the IAS aspirants is also known to opt for Public Administration. However, it should be noted that in the year 2016, 1506 candidates had opted for the subject as the Optional. Recommended to service 127 candidate and has Success Rate (Percent) 8.1%.

Do the candidates opt for one of the subjects of their graduation as the Optional Subject?

Usually NO

If you study the trends in the previous years, you will get to see that irrespective of the academic background be it medicine, engineering, humanities, science, or whatsoever, most of the IAS aspirants prefer to choose an Optional subject from the humanities. Needless to say, the trend reflects a considerable shift across the domains from various backgrounds viz., Engineering, Medical Science, Science etc., to humanities.

What makes the IAS aspirants prefer Humanities over other Optional subjects?

It can be attributed to the peer pressure. Most of the IAS coaching institutions are well equipped with the expert faculties who have been teaching the specific Optional subjects. However, the truth is that you should be opting for the Optional subject that you feel comfortable studying. In case, you do not find the subject interesting, you are not very likely to study well for the same. Hence, no matter howsoever an expert of the subject a faculty might be, it’s best not to allow them to brainwash you into thinking that no other subject can be as much scoring. If you feel keenly interested in an Optional subject, it’s advisable to opt for the same, and prepare for the Optional Papers thoroughly. And you are likely to score well.

Are there easy or high-scoring optional subjects?

Well, it all depends upon your own interest in the subject and how comfortable you are studying the same. There is no fixed parameter that can decide which of the subjects can be easy or difficult for a candidate. An IAS aspirant might an Optional subject quite easy and interesting whereas it may not be the same for you.

How should you choose your UPSC Mains optional subject?

It’s advisable to throw a careful glance at the past three years’ Papers at least for the Optional Subject Papers. As the list of the Optional Subjects issued by UPSC that you are to choose from is a long one, it’s advisable to focus on, say 2 or 3 subjects that you would like to choose from.

Now go through the questions for the subjects from the previous three years’ Papers. Also keep a copy of the syllabus for the Optional Subject ready on your study table. After going through the questions and the syllabus, you are quite likely to have a fair share of the idea as to what subject you find more interesting and easier than others. And you can choose accordingly.

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