How to Choose Optional for UPSC?

by Vajiram & Ravi

How to choose Optional Subject for UPSC is one of the most asked questions among aspirants when they begin their Civil Services exam preparation. Selecting an Optional Subject for the UPSC Mains Exam is a pivotal decision that can significantly impact your chances of success. With a plethora of options available, it's crucial to make an informed choice that aligns with your strengths and interests. This article will provide you with valuable insights on how to choose the right Optional Subject for the UPSC Mains Examination.

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How to Choose an Optional Subject for UPSC?

The UPSC Mains exam is a demanding one, and your choice of Optional Subject is one of the most important decisions of the exam. The Optional Subject Paper 1 and Paper 2 accounts for up to 500 marks in the UPSC Mains exam, so it is important to choose an Optional Subject that you are interested in and that you are confident you can score well in.


To choose Optional for UPSC, begin by evaluating your academic background, interests, and strengths. Your familiarity with a particular subject can be a strong foundation for choosing your Optional Subject. Assess your aptitude, as certain subjects demand analytical skills while others require a broader understanding of concepts. For example, if you have a background of Graduation in History, you could choose history as your Optional Subject. However, please remember, it is not mandatory to have a background in a particular subject to choose it as your Optional.

Syllabus and Overlap

While choosing your Optional Subject, carefully go through the syllabus of each subject. Look for overlaps with the General Studies papers, as this can give you an advantage. Shared topics can streamline your preparation and save time.

Interest and Passion

Opt for a subject that genuinely interests you. Enthusiasm will keep you motivated throughout your preparation journey. Passion for the subject can make learning enjoyable and contribute to better retention.

Availability of Study Material

Consider the availability of quality study material and resources for your chosen Optional Subject. Adequate study material can make your preparation more effective and efficient.

Coaching Availability

Evaluate whether coaching for your preferred Optional Subject is available in your vicinity or online. Coaching can provide you with structured guidance, valuable insights, and a competitive edge.

Scoring Potential

Some UPSC Optional Subjects have a reputation for being scoring, while others might be relatively challenging. Research the historical trends of Optional Subjects' performance and success rates to make an informed decision.

Avoid Herd Mentality

While considering popular Optional Subjects is natural, avoid choosing one solely because others are doing so. Your success lies in choosing a subject that suits your aptitude and interest, not in following trends.

Time Management

Evaluate the time required for preparation. Some Optional Subjects might demand more time than others due to their vast syllabus. Balance your preparation for both Optional and GS papers.

How to Select the Best Optional Subject for UPSC?

When it comes to selecting an Optional Subject for UPSC Mains, there is no such thing as the best Optional Subject. The Best Optional Subject for UPSC Mains is the one that you choose based on your individual interests, strengths and background.

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best Optional Subject for UPSC. Here are six questions you should ask yourself before making a decision:

  • How vast is the syllabus of the optional? Some optional subjects have a very large syllabus, while others have a more manageable size. Consider how much time you have to prepare for the exam and how much you enjoy studying the subject.
  • How much preparation time do you have? An Optional Subject requires at least 5 months of preparation and completion of the syllabus.
  • Do you have prior knowledge of the subject at the graduate/PG level? If you have already studied the subject at the graduate or postgraduate level, you may have a head start in preparing for the exam. However, even if you don't have any prior knowledge, you can still succeed in the exam with hard work and dedication.
  • How much syllabus overlap is there between your optional choice and GS part in Prelims/Mains? Some optional subjects have a lot of overlap with the General Studies paper in the UPSC prelims and mains exams. This can be helpful, as it means you will be familiar with some of the material already. However, it is also important to choose an optional subject that you are interested in, even if there is less overlap with GS.
  • Are the study material and coaching readily available? It is important to make sure that there are good study materials and coaching available for the optional subject you choose. This will make it easier for you to prepare for the exam.
  • Do you have the requisite drive/interest to study the subject for the UPSC exam? This is perhaps the most important question of all. You need to be passionate about the subject you choose, and you need to be willing to put in the hard work required to succeed.

Choosing the right optional subject for UPSC is an important decision. By carefully considering these factors, you can make the best choice for you.

List of Optional Subjects for UPSC Mains

The Commission offers a list of 26 Optional Subjects for the UPSC Mains Examination for aspirants to choose from:

Agriculture Management 
Animal Husbandry and Veterinary ScienceMathematics 
Anthropology Mechanical Engineering
Botany Medical Science 
Chemistry Philosophy 
Civil Engineering Physics 
Commerce and Accountancy Political Science and International Relations
Economics Psychology 
Electric Engineering Public Administration
Geography Sociology 
Geology Statistics 
History Zoology 
Law Literature


How should I choose my optional subject in UPSC?

Your choice of Optional Subject should be completely on the basis of your own individual interest, passion and resource availability. Make sure that the syllabus of the Optional Subject that you choose is within your capacity to complete and that you have enough available resources to study from.

Which is the easiest optional subject for UPSC?

There is no such thing as the easiest optional subject for UPSC. The Optional Subject that you choose based on your individual interest and understanding is the easiest optional subject for you.

Which optional subject is chosen most in UPSC?

While the choice of choosing an Optional Subject is based on Individual interest, here are a few Optional Subjects that are chosen commonly by aspirants - Sociology, Public Administration, Political Science and International Relations, Philosophy, Mathematics, History, etc.