Exam Direction

Exam Direction

How to Choose Best Optional Subject for UPSC

5 min read
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This is very important decision. Fortunately in the new format General Studies (GS) is much more important. So don’t take this decision at the beginning. First start preparing for GS and then after some time take this decision. Because in four GS papers you will be introduced to variety of optional subjects like History, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science and Sociology. This will help you to determine your inclination to a particular subject. Every subject has its own demand (i.e. thinking pattern, writing style, presentation techniques etc). Your personality should suit to it.

Following are some Basic Criteria

  • Interest and understanding in the subject (about which you will come to know when you study for GS Mains)
  • Analysis of the syllabus and previous years’ question papers of the shortlisted subjects
  • Writing style and presentation techniques suitable for that particular optional (about which you will know once you start writing for GS and essay)
  • Thinking Pattern expected for a particular optional (you will come to know about yours after you prepare for GS.)
  • Availability of study material
  • Availability of guidance
  • Weightage of optional in GS
  • Graduation background
  • Apart from this, some give importance to the length of the syllabus.

The new shift in Civil Services Main examination has not resolved the dilemma of choosing the optional subject. The candidates keep on asking what subject they may take as optional to score high marks.

The popular choices among candidates are; Public Administration, Sociology, Geography, History, Political Science and Philosophy. More than 80% of the test-takers opt for these subjects. This is because all these subjects overlap with general studies. Among them Public Administration is the most popular choice. However, question remains do they fetch high marks?

There are some thumb rules for selecting the optional subject. First, you should not select the subject, if you are not comfortable with it. Normally one should select subject studied at the graduation level. The criteria of the choice of subject should be as per your interest, rather than having studied them at the graduation level.

Also keep in mind that you may have been proficient in a subject, but lack of touch may make it tougher to re grasp the same subject. This applies for technical subjects. In such case it is advisable to take a fresh subject. If you are engineering, medicine or science graduate and have been working for some time, you may have lost touch with your core subjects of graduation days. In such case it is advisable to take new subject which is easy to grasp.

The selection of a subject should be based on the availability of the study material. A huge study material is available for subjects such as History, Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, Political Science, Psychology and Public Administration.

Remember, the competition is among the people who have opted for the same subject. The social sciences papers have huge number of takers and due to it scoring high marks in these subjects are extremely difficult. So if you are comfortable in a subject that has minimum rush, there are chances of scoring good marks is more.

However, it all depends on how much time you can spend every day on your optional subject. Even with the subjects of your liking some time is needed to prepare them. If you’re basic concepts of any science or technical subject is clear, then go for it, else opt for a social science subject. Many science, medicine and engineering students are opting for a social science subjects. They are easy to grasp provided you have a good memory.

The other rule of the selection of optional subjet is to analyze the syllabus thoroughly. After that look for the question papers of the previous years, and analyze its past trends. This has to be done at the very beginning and some time has to be spent on it to make a final call on it. Once you make up your mind selecting your optional subject, take a plunge into it and never regret of not choosing any other optional subject.

Last but not the least get some feedback/advice from those who have qualified examination on the subjects they had taken as optional to write their mains examination. You must ask them how much marks they scored in the two papers of the subject. Also take some tips on the study material and the way they went about its preparations. Sometimes, such views are printed in the competitive magazines, you have to go through them and develop your own ideas based on them in choosing an optional paper.

List of Optional Subjects in UPSC

Optional Subjects Number of aspirants appeared Number of candidates recommended Success Rate (%)
Agriculture 220 41 18.6
Medical Science 98 16 16.3
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science 65 8 12.3
Economics 326 37 11.3
Psychology 1061 116 10.9
Anthropology 345 37 10.7
Public Administration 3201 337 10.5
Political Science 1320 85 6.4
Geography 4049 236 5.8
Sociology 1555 89 5.7

Following are the above 10 mentioned best optional subjects, below are the other subjects that are taken as optional by candidates who arrived for the UPSC 2016 Exam and were recommended:

Optional Subject Number of candidates appeared No. of candidates recommended Success Rate (%)
Chemistry 124 7 5.6
Commerce and Accountancy 266 15 5.6
History 3870 212 5.5
Law 365 19 5.2
Philosophy 2092 84 4
Zoology 484 18 3.7
Mathematics 277 8 2.9

Moreover, there were many applicants who decided literature as their Best optional subject for IAS, but, few literature subjects secured it in the 10 best optional, read through to identify the top literature subjects as optional.

Literature As Optional Subject

Literature Optional Subject Number of candidates appeared No. of candidates recommended Success Rate (%)
Assamese 5 2 40
Punjabi 19 5 26.3
Gujarati 42 7 16.7
Kannada 84 14 16.7
Marathi 42 7 16.7
English 40 6 15
Urdu 29 4 13.8
Tamil 225 29 12.9
Sanskrit 122 10 8.2
Malayalam 67 5 7.5
Pali 255 18 7.1
Telugu 147 9 6.1
Hindi 974 56 5.7

FAQ’s on Easiest Optional Subject for UPSC

Question 1.
Which optional subject is easy in UPSC?

Sociology, Geography, and Public Administration are easy subjects to score. Many candidates have scored more than 400 marks in these optional subjects as per the previous year’s result.

Question 2.
Which optional subject has the highest IAS Optional Subject success rate in UPSC?

Geography, as per the preference given by the candidates which is followed by History, Public Administration and Sociology.

Question 3.
Which optional has the least syllabus in UPSC?


  • Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
  • Geology
  • Civil Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Agriculture
  • Statistics
  • Medical sciences
  • Management and
  • Most of the literature subjects (except Hindi, Tamil, Telugu).

Question 4.
What are the top 10 best subjects for IAS/ best subject for UPSC?


  1. Sociology
  2. Agriculture
  3. Medical Science
  4. Literature Subject (Any)
  5. Anthropology
  6. Public Administration
  7. Psychology
  8. Law
  9. Geography
  10. History

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