How to Select Optional Subjects for UPSC Civil Services Exam

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Choose UPSC optional subjects

UPSC exam is conducted in three stages; Preliminary exam, Main exam, and Interview. Prelims is considered as tough because the number of candidates appearing is very high, followed by Mains exam which is a tougher, crucial and important phase. In main exam, only shortlisted candidates appear, but that makes competition harder. In IAS Main exam, the aspirant has to clear 9 different exams. Out of these 9 exam papers; two exams are based on optional subjects chosen by the candidates.

Choosing the right optional subjects for civil services mains is of utmost importance to crack the civil services exam in first attempt. Are you still in a confused state? You are not sure what subject to choose? Then you landed at the right place, this post will help you make the rightest decision.

Having a right strategy for UPSC exam is crucial, so is the selection of optional subject.

So, so far we know that Civil Services exam is one of the most difficult competitive exams in India and you cannot choose any random subject for its main exam. According to the latest pattern of UPSC, the weightage of the optional paper is 500 marks out of 2025 marks and you simply cannot ignore these 500 marks if you are aiming for success.

Without any further ado let’s know how to choose the optional subjects to clear Civil Services Exam in the first attempt.

How to Select an Optional Subject for the Civil Services Exam?  

If you have a strong grasp on GS subjects and you believe that your newspaper reading habit could be of great help here, go for it. If you prepare notes of current affairs from newspaper then you are 70% sure to choose GS. But you will need a strong strategy and study plan to get shortlisted in the mains.

The most common practice of UPSC aspirants is that they pick their graduation subjects as their optional subject civil services exam. But this is not a right strategy for every candidate, if you have good grasp on the subjects then only choose them. 

Here we have divide subjects based on scoring, most popular, easy to understand, based on the choice of previous toppers and more. Let’s know them in detail:

· A Scoring Optional Subject

The scoring optional subjects are those that can help you gain more marks. These are usually the first choice of most of the IAS aspirants. Generally, a technical subject like Mathematics is considered as a scoring subject as you get full marks if you know the logic. Also, you need to remember less and be sure of the basic concepts and logic.

For those that are not good in Mathematics, below is the list of non-technical subjects that are considered as scoring;

  • Political Science & International Relation
  • Sociology
  • Public Administration
  • Anthropology
  • Geography
  • Philosophy

If you are ready to work hard and want to choose the most scoring subject, then you can choose one of the aforementioned subjects.

· A Popular Optional Subject 

If you want to pick the optional subject which is most popular and is chosen by a lot of IAS aspirants, then you can choose one of the following;

  • History
  • Geography
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Political Science and Economics

Before picking any option from the most popular optional subject keep in mind that popularity has nothing to do with score and success. They are the subjects that most aspirants choose, but you have to know your skills in the subject before making it a final choice. So, choose wisely.

· Easy to Understand and an Interesting Subject

Are you looking for an easy and interesting subject? Then Sociology is the answer. Sociology is considered as an easy and interesting subject that can be choice for UPSC mains. Subjects like History, Public Administration, Agriculture also fall in this category. But it is suggested if you want to pick agriculture or any other similar subject, then do it only if you have done your graduation in it.

· Subject with Lots of Study Material


All the subjects that fall in the most popular category have vast syllabus and a lot to remember. Whereas technical subjects are scoring as they are more about logic and less about memorizing. So, here IAS aspirants need to understand the quality of study material should matter most not the quantity.

· Subject in Graduation or Post-graduation

It is believed that you have a stronger grip on the subjects that you have read in your graduation and post graduation. But this might not be true for many. If you haven’t chosen the stream of your graduation out of interest, you might not have studied it with interest too. So, pick them as your optional subject only if you are super comfortable and confident. 

Making write choice is of great importance, else you might end up scoring below cut-off because of the wrong choice.

· The Optional with the Best Results in the IAS Exam

Many IAS aspirants pick their optional subjects on the base on the subjects selected by previous years’ UPSC exam toppers. I would suggest you to not to follow other’s  footstep. Do not choose a subject because some else scored good in that, pick that optional subject that you find interesting. Your interest and skills in a subject might not be similar to the toppers. However, you can take help from their strategy to frame yours.

So now you know thinking process of an UPSC aspirant before picking the optional subjects for the main exam. Now, let’s discuss the points that you should keep in mind while choosing an optional subject for UPSC Mains Exam.

Important Steps for Choosing the Optional Subject

Now you already know the segregation of optional subjects based on their popularity, availability, and other factors. Now let’s take a look at the important steps for choosing the optional subjects for Civil Services Mains exam.

  1. The very first and basic step should be to have a close look at the list of optional subjects for Civil Services Main exam.
  2. Sort out the subjects based on aforementioned category and then make a list of 3-4 subjects based on your interest.
  3. Remember that it’s totally fine to have a look at the optional subjects of previous toppers but do not follow their footsteps blindly.
  4. Some nontraditional subjects like agriculture, medical science, and Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science also turned into most scoring subjects in Civil Services Mains exam. So if you have completed your education in any of these, this might prove to be a good choice for you.
  5. If reading literature is your hobby, then you might think of picking literature as your optional subject but keep mind it you have to go deep into the subject if you choose it for UPSC mains.
  6. In Civil Services Main Exam most of the aspirants pick common subjects like History, Geography, Economics. But when you will look at the list of optional subjects then you will find some technical subjects related to engineering as well.  If you are an engineering graduate and you are confident enough, then pick engineering subjects as not many candidates will pick them so competition is less here.
  7. Don’t be a sheep. Think wisely before choosing the subjects. Invest a little extra when making a choice because it is about getting success.

The Bottom Line

The article discusses how to choose optional subjects for Civil Services exam. Now you know that how to make a choice to be in the list of shortlisted candidates. I again say, do not follow any topper’s strategy blindly, use it for inspiration and create your own.  If you have made the right decision, success will surely follow.

Still wondering, what would be the right subject to choose? Then write to us in the comment box below.

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