The 25 subject options offered in UPSC mains can be divided into technical and non-technical subjects. Traditionally the trend among aspirants, from both Arts as well as Science backgrounds, has been to opt for the non-technical subjects. But amongst so many options, which ones are the best optional subjects in UPSC? Here, I am going to discuss six subjects that you may choose from. Read on to know more about the 6 best optional subjects in UPSC.

Most Scoring Optional in UPSC

Aspirants should choose optional subjects very carefully as it is going to affect their overall score on the UPSC exam. Given below are the most scoring optional subjects in UPSC.

#1. Political Science & International Relations

A popular non-technical subject, it attracted more interest after AIR 1, Tina Dabi, chose it as her optional.

Why Should You Choose It?

There are many reasons why this is considered as one of the most scoring and best optional subjects in UPSC.

# The subject can easily be understood by anyone and does not need a political science background, although having one will certainly give you an edge.

# If you have a basic awareness, follow current affairs and regularly read editorials, you will have some information about any question asked in the exam.

# For those who have a flair for writing, this subject is especially rewarding as it requires elucidating the information in a creative manner. A lot of questions are almost like essays or need you to define certain terms, which is why good writing skills will be very useful.

Part I

It consists of a section called the Indian Government & Politics. It contains topics like Organs of Government, Federalism, Constitution etc., which are already covered in Prelims prep. All the time you spent memorizing Lakshmikant will bear fruit here too. Part I is more or less static which limits the syllabus to some extent.

Part II

Here you will have India and the World, from which most topics are again covered in Current Affairs preparation. For example, you can easily write about India’s relations with other countries/ organisations by simply reading the PIB news and keeping a tab of treaties, visits etc.

H4-Things to Keep in Mind

# Both Part I and Part II contain topics that require theoretical knowledge. This is great for those who are good at mugging up information, as well as those who can write well. But if these theories are absolutely new to you, retaining and understanding them may consume a lot of your precious time.

# Vast syllabus because of dynamic elements. Both Part I and II have a lot of emphasis on current aspects. This means you will continually have to update your notes and keep a track of contemporary events related to the topics. So if you are prepared for that, only then take it up.

#2. Anthropology

Anthropology is considered one of the best optional subjects in UPSC. It is increasingly being chosen by aspirants due to the scoring nature of this subject. While none of the toppers in the past 10 years had anthropology as their optional, a number of students with other ranks have opted for it as well as attained high scores.

For those who are thinking about anthropology?, well it is the study of human societies and their development. To be more specific, anthropology means – the study of human evolutions, it also involves their biological and physiological features.

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Why Should You Choose It?

# Anthropology is by and large a static subject. Not much research is carried out on it academically and therefore the influx of new concepts and theories is less. Concepts like Marriage, Kinship, Evolution, Prehistoric cultures etc., just require mugging and retention.

# It is a very interesting subject. The subject focuses on man, his evolution, society, culture etc. These topics are grouped under the headings of Social & Cultural Anthropology, Biological Anthropology and Archaeological Anthropology. 

# If you are someone who likes to read new things and seek knowledge, then this is the right subject for you. Most of the subjects will be new to you and you will never face the boredom or lethargy you feel while studying other subjects which may seem repetitive due to their overlapping nature.

Advantage for Science Students

It is a boon for science students looking for a non-technical subject. It is the perfect combination of science and social science. Unlike other Arts subjects, the answer writing in anthropology is not based much on writing creative answers and showcasing your writing prowess. The answers will mostly be to the point and explained using diagrams, flow charts etc.

Things to Keep in Mind

Read the syllabus thoroughly and carefully and opt for it only if you find the subject matter interesting. In addition, having a good reading and grasping speed will be helpful in covering the subject matter in a limited time.

Be willing to draw lots of diagrams for every answer, from Neanderthal skulls to prehistoric. So if the idea of sketching makes you uncomfortable, you may want to rethink this option.

Anthropology Notes

Although the question may not ask for diagrams, a graphic presentation will certainly fetch you more marks in this subject.

Also Read:A Detailed Guide to Choosing the Best Optional Subject for UPSC Exam

#3. Sociology

The aspirants, who already had done some basics in Sociology, for them Sociology can be a high scoring optional subject in UPSC examination.

What is Sociology? It is the study of the pattern of the society, social interactions, cultures etc.

It is another of the most scoring and best optional subjects in the UPSC Mains. It is also one of the easiest subjects offered by the UPSC.  Since it has traditionally been an optional choice among aspirants, you will find plenty of material as well as guidance on the subject. 

Getting ready to read material is of great help in any subject and saves a lot of time. You will also benefit from the strategy and experience of those who had taken it as their optional subject.

Why Should You Choose It?

# The syllabus is fairly limited and mostly static in nature. Also, various topics in both Paper I and II are inter-related, thereby reducing the time required for preparation. 

# Almost the entire prelims prep is India-centric and as a result, we are aware of important changes in society, whether it be Government schemes or landmark Court judgments, this automatically takes care of any dynamic elements in the subject too.

# After studying the subject, you will have an in-depth understanding of Indian society and its structure. This will be of great help in the interview stage since you have an insight into the problems plaguing our society and be able to offer some solutions for the same.

# Direct correlation with what we see in society and the fact that you don’t need any prior knowledge or special skills to understand it. 


Paper-II, which is Indian Society: Structure and Change, contains concepts like kinship, caste, agrarian structure, religion, etc. Now, these are already familiar to us and hence even if one does not know the technical answer to a question, they can always write something based on common knowledge.

Things to Keep in Mind

# The answer to writing for sociology will be largely subjective in nature. Be prepared to write elaborate answers in the UPSC exam but with just the information required by the examiner. The delicate balance between sticking to the word limit while compressing all the information is important here.

# While those from a science background will find it very easy to understand the syllabus, it’s purely non-scientific nature might be a big change from the usual. Opt for the subject only if you feel you will be comfortable learning a theoretical subject with no scientific undertones.

#4. Public Administration

Since it was first added to the Mains optional list in 1987, Public Administration has gained immense popularity and is a hot favourite among the aspirants.  Also, the success rate for this subject is higher than some other non-technical subjects. All these naturally make it one of the most scoring as well as best optional subjects in UPSC.

It is highly relevant to your future role as an administrator. Topics like Accountability, Personnel & Financial Administration, Organisations etc., in Paper I, as well as the entire subject matter of Paper-II (Indian Administration), will be useful in understanding the setting you will eventually be a part of. This makes the subject very practical and significant.

Other than this, the following are the other reasons to choose this topic.

Why Should You Choose It?

# A very large part of Paper-II overlaps with your Political Science and Current Affairs prep for prelims. It contains topics like Public Sector Undertakings, Union Government & Administration, Urban Local Government, Philosophical & Constitutional Framework of Government etc., which have already been covered.

# The subject matter of this paper also overlaps with the Polity & Governance Paper in General Studies. It is highly beneficial to find such convergence in papers because it saves you time and energy and also provides ample material, as well as different perspectives to write better answers in both subjects.

Things to Keep in Mind

# As everyone will tell you, the syllabus is very compact. However, do not be fooled by this point. Even though the subject is well defined, public administration is all about perspectives. The same topic may be viewed from many lenses and as a result, there is a lot of reading and understanding that goes into the subject.

# Mugging up will not be as useful as conceptual clarity. The topics are interlinked and the questions asked can sometimes be tricky. So unless you are absolutely clear about every concept you will easily be misled by the questions. You can refer to public administration books for this purpose.

Other Points to Keep in Mind

Since a very large number of aspirants opt for it, there is a lot of competition. You really have to shine out in your answers to score well.

The questions asked in the exam are generally tough in nature due to their ambiguous and confusing nature. Take your time to read and re-read the question before answering it


A question in 2015 asked – “Delegated Legislation is a necessary evil.” Comment. Here, the content, as well as a coherent presentation, is equally important, and that is possible only if you comprehend the question well.

#5. Philosophy

What is philosophy? it is the study of knowledge, values, existence, mind, language etc.

As per the UPSC exam, Philosophy had a success rate of 7% in 2015-16, higher than History, Geography, Public Administration and Political Science. It was also the subject of choice of Athir Amir, CSE 2015, Rank 2.

The most important reason to choose this one of the best optional subjects in UPSC, philosophy should be your interest in it. While reading Indian philosophy If the thinking of great Indians, as well as foreign philosophers, excites you, then this is definitely the subject for you. It is an extremely satisfying, knowledgeable and interesting subject, provided you have an inclination to it. And if you do, then no one can stop you from scoring high here. Let’s find out the other reasons.

Why Should You Choose It?

# Compact and amongst the shortest in syllabus UPSC. It is very clearly defined and absolutely static in nature. You just need to read about and understand the philosophical thoughts of the listed thinkers and be able to reproduce it in a coherent manner.

# The subject matter is interlinked with other Mains GS Papers like Ethics, and Essay writing. Ethics, in fact, derives from Philosophy, so you will find a lot of common ground. The essay paper too focuses on topics like gender, religion, justice, democracy, etc., which are covered when you study the various thinkers and their views on these themes.

# You virtually need little or no guidance to understand this paper. If you do get stuck somewhere, there is plenty of material available online that presents the thoughts of the philosophers in an easy and simplified manner. All you need is an appetite for this kind of knowledge and it can be one of the most scoring optional in UPSC for you.

Things to Keep in Mind

The paper requires very strong writing skills. But this should not be a problem if you have a genuine interest in the subject and are willing to put in extra hours of writing practice.

#6. Geography

Most of the aspirants choose Geography as their optional subject because it is noticed that it is the highest-scoring option in UPSC and most popular among the candidates. Last year also there were a lot of toppers with this optional.

Geography is an interesting mix of technical as well as non-technical and that makes it popular with both arts and science background students. In the 2016 exams itself, geography was the subject of choice for 3 students in the top 20. In fact, rank 4 holder, Saumya Pande, an engineer, chose geography and cleared the exam in her first attempt.

Also Read: What are Endogenic and Exogenic Forces? IAS Geography Notes

Why Should You Choose It?

# A vast amount of information is available both online and offline about Indian geography as well as world geography. There is an abundance of reading material on geography, as this has been one of the best optional subjects for the UPSC mains exam.

# Less time consuming because major portions are already covered in GS. This means you will find yourself reading the same topics again. Repeated reading will help increase retention of key terms and concepts.

# While most subjects of the exam are interconnected, none enjoys the commanding position of geography. You will find that it is related to the environment, international relations, Current Affairs, ecology and even economics to some extent.

# Interesting to read and very scoring. There is never a dull moment when studying for geography. It is fairly easy to understand and aspirants from science as well as humanities backgrounds will be able to comprehend it comfortably. Also, it is very scoring given its largely technical nature.

Also Read:Tips to Prepare for Disaster Management Topic for UPSC Civil Service Mains Exam

Things to Keep in Mind

# There is great stress on models and theories in the mains paper, especially the lesser-known ones. This means you cannot afford to leave out even the seemingly unimportant theories, leading to increased study hours.

# In Paper II, there is an emphasis on regional planning and contemporary issues. This makes the paper very dynamic and hugely increases its scope. So the tough part here is not so much the content but rather the vastness of it.

# Deep knowledge of maps is mandatory for this subject. So if the idea of mapping seems an onerous task for you, then you may want to skip the subject.


These were a few non-technical subjects and some of the best optional subjects in UPSC that you can opt for. The only thing to keep in mind is your interest in the subject because that is the key to performing well. The aspirants who are preparing for the UPSC examination should join UPSC Pathshala as it provides you with better guidance, detailed and quality study material, one on one sessions to clear doubts and understand different topics and many more. So join now and get the best for yourself.

So, what is your take on this? Which subject are you going to prepare for? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below.

Also Read:UPSC Prelims Preparation Strategy: How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims?

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6 Best Optional Subjects in UPSC: Guide to Choose Most Scoring Non-technical Subjects
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6 Best Optional Subjects in UPSC: Guide to Choose Most Scoring Non-technical Subjects
Optional Subjects depend on the aspirant's interest in that subject. An optional subject plays a major role in the scores of the UPSC exam. Read on to learn more about the Optional subjects in UPSC.
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About the Author

Akshay Palande

Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.

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