Choosing the Best UPSC Civil Services Mains Optional Subject

The UPSC civil services main exam is made up of nine papers, two of which are for your optional subject. Since 2013, candidates have been required to choose only one optional subject. Both papers are worth 250 points each, for a total of 500 points for the optional. 

How do you select an optional subject for the UPSC exam?

Most UPSC aspirants have difficulty deciding which optional subject to take. Here is a list of the optional subjects that are mentioned below:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
  3. Anthropology
  4. Botany
  5. Chemistry
  6. Civil Engineering
  7. Commerce and Accountancy
  8. Economics
  9. Electrical Engineering
  10. Geography
  11.      Geology
  12. History
  13. Law
  14. Management
  15. Mathematics
  16. Mechanical Engineering
  17. Medical Science
  18. Philosophy
  19. Physics
  20. Political Science and International Relations
  21. Psychology
  22. Public Administration
  23. Sociology
  24. Statistics
  25. Zoology


Some UPSC candidates choose an optional which is selected by the majority of UPSC candidates. While the merits of selecting a popular subject can be argued, there are numerous reasons for their popularity. These subjects have a smaller syllabus than others, are more important to some candidates, or simply have a higher number of candidates with these subjects as their graduation subject. Public administration, geography, history, sociology, and psychology are the most popular optional subjects for the UPSC exam.

Subjects to score:

Some IAS aspirants choose subjects that are considered scoring. This category includes public administration and geography, which includes laws and maps. But keep in mind that if you have no interest in these subjects and/or find them difficult, you should not consider them optional. 

Explore the availability of materials.

A few UPSC candidates look for subjects with a lot of study material. History, geography, anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology, and public administration are examples of such subjects.


Some andidates choose such subjects where there is more coaching available. Again, this is highly subjective, as a candidate may attend coaching classes but be uninterested in the subject, rendering them ineffective. Of course, if you have lost touch with your graduation or post-graduation subject and want to restart your IAS preparation, this criterion is a good place to start.

Your educational background

Several candidates select a subject that they have studied during their previous education or graduation. They do this because they have already studied it and only need to reshape their knowledge in accordance with the UPSC syllabus. Nothing has to be learned from the ground up here. Many doctors study medical science because it is where they feel most at ease. This option is especially recommended for students who are pursuing their education while also preparing for the civil services, or for those who begin their UPSC exam preparation while still in college.

Crossover with General Studies (GS)

For civil service aspirants who are unfamiliar with many of the subjects to be coated, selecting a subject that overlaps with the GS papers is a good option. This is also recommended if you are short on time. History, public administration, geography, sociology, political science, and philosophy are among them.


Nevertheless, an important consideration when choosing an optional subject should be your focus on it. If you want to learn more about a subject and enjoy reading about it, you should undoubtedly pursue it. You can also accelerate your studies in subjects that appeal to you.

 Keep this in mind when selecting an optional.

For the UPSC mains, there is no single formula for selecting an optional. There is no correct answer. In this regard, you cannot imitate others. What worked for the previous champion might not work for you. Keep in mind the criterion mentioned above, but make sure you choose a subject that you enjoy and are confident in, regardless of its prominence or presumed score nature.