IAS mains optional subject step by step guide

How to Choose IAS Mains Optional Subject- Step By Step Guidance

After the recent changes made in the UPSC exam pattern, students can opt for one optional subject for UPSC, unlike the old pattern. (In the old pattern, students got the advantage of choosing two optional subjects). Students should choose the best optional subjects for the IAS mains exam because it carries 500 marks. 

Candidates in UPSC, come from many different academic backgrounds say Science, Maths, Commerce, Literature, Management, and so on. It’s for this reason that students are given the choice of selecting their preferred subject out of the list of more than 50 subjects. 

Usually, students select the subject in which they think they have a comfort level. So, coming to the most important question of the day - How you should choose the best optional subject for IAS mains? To answer you, here’s the step-by-step guide.

How to Choose IAS Mains Optional Subject

Choosing the best optional subject for IAS Mains may turn your odds of turning into the IAS officer. Go through the guide here to save yourself from making the mistake of going with the irrelevant optional subject choice.

Check The Complete List of Optional Subjects

It is very important to go through the complete list of optional subjects for UPSC. 

List of Literature subjects in IAS Mains.

  • Assamese
  • Punjabi
  • Gujarati
  • Kannada
  • Marathi
  • English
  • Urdu
  • Tamil
  • Sanskrit
  • Malayalam
  • Telugu
  • Hindi

 List of Non-Literature subjects in IAS Mains. 

  • Agriculture
  • Medical science
  • Animal husbandry and veterinary science
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Public administration
  • Political science
  • Sociology
  • Commerce and Accountancy
  • Chemistry
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Law
  • Geography
  • Zoology
  • Mathematics

Make a Choice Between Literature or Non-Literature

Once you get the complete list of optional subjects for UPSC mains, now it's time to scan the list and make a broader choice between literature and non-literature subjects. Some students are good at literature either due to their interest or academic history while some students are brilliant in non-literature but have a tight hand in literature. For making a choice, here there is no thumb rule. All you have to do is ask yourself your interest. If you think that you are good at literature, you can go with this category or if you think that it will be easier for you to opt non-literature subject, go with that category.

Check Out The Syllabus

Once you have decided the right category for you, check out the syllabus of each and every subject in that category. If you have made the choice of literature, go through the syllabus of all the languages falling into it. Similarly for non-literature subjects, check out the syllabus of all the subjects into that category.

Find Your Interest & Comfort Zone

People are always good in their comfort zone. They have to identify their interest and comfort zone in which subject they are good. Some are good at zoology, some are excellent at sociology while some find it easy to choose commerce and accountancy. So, students should know their level of interest in choosing the best optional subject for IAS mains.

Relevancy in Personality Test

Most of the students ignore the fact that in the personality test the panel also asks questions related to the optional subject in UPSC. Keeping this in mind, it is wise to choose the subject that fits best to maximum parameters like interest, ease, syllabus, etc. One should choose that subject upon which they can easily speak without any hesitation.

Evaluate the Time to Prepare

Your optional subject also depends on the time duration available to you for the preparation. Plus, check the depth of the syllabus to prepare. You should choose a subject that you can easily prepare well within the available time. It will be a lame decision if you choose a subject just because you find it interesting but it needs months of preparation and you think you can manage to do it in 3-4 months. Understand and make a rational decision on the basis of reality.

Nature of Subject

Every subject is different. Some are practical while some are theoretical. This is also an essential element to decide the optional subject in UPSC. If you hold good command in learning and retaining theoretical subjects, you should go with such a subject. On the other hand, if you like to do practical subjects more easily, you should choose something accordingly.

Paper Pattern

Understanding the nature of the paper pattern is equally important. Different subjects have different marking schemes and paper patterns. However, the overall marks are the same i.e 500. Choosing a subject which requires a lot of writing skills, which you might be weak at, could be a bad decision and vice versa. You need to study the pattern of the paper to know which types of questions are usually asked in your chosen subject, the length of the paper, etc. To do this, you may collect the past examination papers of that particular subject.


Choosing the best optional subject for IAS mains is not that difficult if you follow the proper guidance. You may consult your teachers, mentors, seniors, and fellow students plus, coaching faculty can help you a lot. KSG is one of the renowned coaching institutes for the preparation of IAS exams. All the students will get the right guidance.