Top 6 Most Scoring Non-Techincal Optional Subjects In The UPSC Exam

The 25 subject options offered in UPSC Mains can be divided into technical and non-technical subjects. Traditionally the trend among aspirants, from...

Akshay Palande Written by Akshay Palande · 7 min read >
Non Technical Optional Subjects for UPSC

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 most scoring? Here, I am going to discuss five subjects that you may choose from.


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


  • Part I consists a section called 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.

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

  • 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 is more or less static which limits the syllabus to some extent.


  • Both Part I and Part II contain topics which 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.


Anthropology is increasingly being chosen by aspirants due to the scoring nature of this subject. While none of the toppers in 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.


  • 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 subject 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.
  • 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.


  • 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 the limited time.
  • Be willing to draw lots of diagrams for every answer, from Neanderthal skulls to prehistoric Although the question may not ask for diagrams, but a graphic presentation will certainly fetch you more marks. So if the idea of sketching makes you uncomfortable, you may want to rethink this option.


Sociology as an optional has seen consistently high scores every year. It is also one of the most chosen optional in the Mains.


  • It is one of the easiest subjects offered by the UPSC. What makes it easy is its 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. For example, 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.
  • 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 the Indian society and 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.
  • Since it has traditionally been an optional of 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.


  • The answer writing for sociology will be largely subjective in nature. Be prepared to write elaborate answers 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 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.


Since it was first added in the Mains optional list in 1987, Public Administration has gained immense popularity and is a hot favourite among aspirant.  Also, the success rate for this subject is the higher than some other non-technical subjects.


  • 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.
  • 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.


  • 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 in the subject.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. For example, 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 he question well.


As per the UPSC, 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 philosophy should be your interest in it. If studying about the thinking of great Indian 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.
  • The syllabus is very compact and amongst the shortest in 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.
  • You will find that the subject matter is interlinked with other Mains GS Papers like Ethics, and Essay writing. Ethics, infact, 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 about 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.


  • 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.


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. Infact rank 4 Saumya Pande, an engineer, chose geography and cleared the exam in her first attempt.


  • Vast amount of information both online and offline. There is an abundance of reading material on Geography, as this has been one of the most chosen subjects for the 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 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.


  • There is a 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.
  • A 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 that you can opt for. The only thing to keep in mind is your interest for the subject, because that is the key to performing well.

Written by 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. Profile

3 Replies to “Top 6 Most Scoring Non-Techincal Optional Subjects In The UPSC Exam”

  1. hi sir
    your topic “Top 6 Most Scoring Non-Techincal Optional Subjects In The UPSC Exam” is very nice for upsc aspirant specially for new comer. It will increase success potential of students.

  2. Hi,
    I am a student of sociology and I am also preparing for the civil services. You have written in your article that science students may find sociology as interesting due to the non-science nature of the subject. I find your remarks contradictory to my understanding of this discipline as a social science. I am curious to know your view about what makes a subject to be regarded as a scientific discipline and non-science discipline? As far a my knowledge serves me, sociology is a science because it is committed to the use of the scientific methodology in understanding human societies. But you seem to consider it as non-science. Please do reply.

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