The Union Public Service Commission Optional Subject plays a huge part in standing the score-differentiator for civil service candidates. In the Civil Service Main examination, there are in total nine papers that the candidates need to appear for out of which 2 papers, Paper VI & Paper VII are the Union Public Service Commission elective subjects. Both the elective papers (Optional Subject 1 & Optional Subject 2) hold 250 marks. So, the CSE elective subjects carry 500 marks in the CSE Mains Examination. The scores secured in the CSE elective subjects are evaluated for the preparation of the ultimate merit list.

Therefore, the selection of an elective subject for the Union Public Service Commission should be made carefully. Different from the earlier days, aspirants just have to select just one elective subject for the exam. Read on to learn more about the UPSC optional subject list.

UPSC Mains Optional Subject List

The UPSC mains optional subjects list is given below that an aspirant can select. Still, it is advised to take an opinion from the experts, and follow the best strategy to select the elective subjects for the Civil Service exam.

Sl.No. UPSC Mains Optional Subject List
1. Agriculture
2. Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
3. Anthropology
4. Botany
5. Chemistry
6. Civil Engineering
7. Commerce & 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 & International Relations
21. Psychology
22. Public Administration
23. Sociology
24. Statistics
25. Zoology

List of Optional Subject for UPSC

Listed below are the list of optional subject for UPSC. Literature elective subjects that are also part of the Union Public Service Commission mains exam. You can select the elective subjects which suit you the best.

Sl.No. UPSC Mains Literature Optional Subject List
1. Assamese
2. Bengali
3. Bodo
4. Dogri
5. Gujarati
6. Hindi
7. Kannada
8. Kashmiri
9. Konkani
10. Maithili
11. Malayalam
12. Manipuri
13. Marathi
14. Nepali
15. Oriya
16. Punjabi
17. Sanskrit
18. Santhali
19. Sindhi
20. Tamil
21. Telugu
22. Urdu
23. English

Best Optional Subject for UPSC

There are few elective papers that are better scoring than others. Still, if we observe the bigger image, the Union Public Service Commission toppers have achieved 320+ in both non-technical and technical papers. The explanation why few papers are anticipated as less scoring than others is that aspirants are not able to give their full effort or they have opted for an elective paper that is not suitable for them.

Technical papers (such as Mathematics) can earn you high scores as the solutions are absolute. Practically, unlike humanities papers, the test taker’s preferences or biases have smaller of a part to play. Still, non-technical papers, particularly those which have little overlap with the General Studies syllabus, give extra preparation duration and studying material overall, therefore improving the overall Mains marks if prepared nicely.

Also Read: Which is the Best Optional Subject For UPSC? Here’s the Guide to Choose the Most Scoring Optional for UPSC

How to Know Which Optional is Best for You?

There are several aspects to determine which is the best optional subject for the UPSC examination. Before opting for an elective paper, an aspirant should question herself/himself the listed 6 questions given below.

Sl.No. Questions 
1 How vast is the syllabus of the elective subject that you are opting for?
2 How much time do you need to prepare for that particular optional paper and how much time you are left with for the preparation?
3 Do you have any previous knowledge of the elective paper that you want to opt for, like during your college time any subject that you studied?
4 What are your weaknesses and strengths?
5 Do you have study material for the elective paper or have any access to coaching?
6 Which subject do you find interesting?

Based on the reasons for the above-listed questions, an aspirant could make a ‘Personal’ choice which will be the best elective paper in the Union Public Service Commission examination for them.

Most Opted Optional Subject

However, for most of the candidates, the prime 10 Civil Service elective papers include:

Sl.No. Top 10 Optionals Which are Chosen the Most 
1 Agriculture
2 Anthropology
3 Geography
4 History
5 Law
6 Literature
7 Medical Science
8 Psychology
9 Public Administration
10 Sociology

Toppers Choice

UPSC aspirants who topped the exam by selecting different elective subjects. Which boosted their rank in the merit list.

UPSC Topper Optional Subject
Year Rank 1-UPSC Topper Name Optional Subject Opted for The Exam Cadre Home State
2020 Subham Kumar Anthropology Bihar
2019 Pradeep Singh Public Administration Haryana
2018 Kanishak Kataria Mathematics Rajasthan
2017 Anudeep Durishetty Anthropology Telangana
2016 Nandini K. R. Kannada Literature Karnataka
2015 Tina Dabi Political Science Delhi
2014 Ira Singhal Geography Delhi
2013 Gaurav Aggarwal Economics Rajasthan
2012 Haritha V. Kumar Economics & Malayalam Literature Kerala
2011 Shena Aggarwal Medical Science and Psychology Haryana

Also Read: IAS Jag Pravesh: Check-out His UPSC Preparation Strategy and Optional Subject

Why is it Important to Choose Optional Subjects Carefully?

Out of 2025 marks, 500 marks are for an elective paper that is around 25% of the score, and 25% entirely based on one optional paper that is too of your choice. A really intelligent being will try not to miss a single score out of it.

The rest of the portions are common and the portion of GS carries the most marks which are 1000 marks. However, with the trend of making notes, this portion is not hard to clear. Selecting the elective paper carefully so that your interest in the paper is strengthened and you do not miss a single score in it is an extremely important decision.

Factors Affecting the Decision

# Serious interest in any of the elective papers.

# Select the paper that does not have a vast curriculum –  As the main examination already has a huge area of studies that you are required to finish, it is smart to select an elective paper that is not long and should be wrapped in a much quicker duration of time. If you don’t do that, you will need to commit an enormous portion of your preparation time to it, which won’t be advisable.

# Any paper which was there in your time of graduation and you go for that subject – Like, if you are graduate in law, then it is suitable that you opt for Law as your elective papers. As you studied the same during your college time, your foundation is already created and you have a nice grip on the subject.

# Few of the papers like International Relations, Sociology, Public Affairs,  History, Political Studies, etc overlap with the major syllabus. If you select a paper out of the above presented, it will demonstrate to be very time-saving. You won’t need to start something from the bottom. Yet, you will get to know the paper with an in-depth understanding, overall enhancing a lot of your preparation duration.

Success Rate of Optional Subjects

So the first and foremost thing you need to do is understand and evaluate the earlier trends in outcomes and recommendations.

The Given below is the list of non-literature subjects, ordered based on the success rate of candidates.

List of UPSC Optional Subjects
Sl.No. Optional Subject Number of candidates appeared No. of candidates recommended Success Rate
1. Agriculture 220 41 18.6
2. Medical Science 98 16 16.3
3. Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science 65 8 12.3
4. Economics 326 37 11.3
5. Psychology 1061 116 10.9
6. Anthropology 345 37 10.7
7. Public Administration 3201 337 10.5
8. Political Science 1320 85 6.4
9. Geography 4049 236 5.8
10. Sociology 1555 89 5.7
11. Chemistry 124 7 5.6
12. Commerce and Accountancy 266 15 5.6
13. History 3870 212 5.5
14. Law 365 19 5.2
15. Philosophy 2092 84 4
16. Zoology 484 18 3.7
17. Mathematics 277 8 2.9

Also Read: 6 Best Optional Subjects in UPSC: Guide to Choose the Most Scoring Non-technical Subjects

Success Rate of Candidates with Literature Subjects as Optional

Sl.No. Optional Subject Number of candidates appeared No. of candidates recommended Success Rate
1. Assamese 5 2 40
2. Punjabi 19 5 26.3
3. Gujarati 42 7 16.7
4. Kannada 84 14 16.7
5. Marathi 42 7 16.7
6. English 40 6 15
7. Urdu 29 4 13.8
8. Tamil 225 29 12.9
9. Sanskrit 122 10 8.2
10. Malayalam 67 5 7.5
11. Pali 255 18 7.1
12. Telugu 147 9 6.1
13. Hindi 974 56 5.7

Choosing which elective paper is difficult and which one is simple is tough work in itself. I know that it all relies on your areas, from which surrounding you come from, your fields of interest. Resources that are available with you also play a part in determining the simplest elective paper of the Union Public Service Commission for you.

Factors that Need to be Considered

Given below are the factors one should consider before finalising the optional subject for the Union Public Service Commission examination

Is the Syllabus Overlapping?

Few of the elective papers like Public Administration, History, Sociology, Political Science & International Relations, Economics, Geography, etc have syllabuses that overlap with the GS curriculum in both Preliminary and Mains examination. Therefore, it may save you a little practice time.

Length of the Syllabus

Currently, you already have an essay paper and 4 GS subjects that are score oriented. Selecting an elective with a long curriculum would suggest that you will have to commit extra time for the elective subject preparation. Therefore, select a paper that you can easily finish in the given period.

Level of Competition

Few aspirants think a decent Union public service commission elective paper is the one that has a huge success rate in terms of the number of aspirants that are being recommended. Yet, it is just somewhat true. More than anything else, your paper will be examined based on your explanation’s. Therefore, select a paper that suits you.

Resources Availability

Presently, there are 47 elective papers available, but the help that we get from study materials, instructors, and related books are insufficient. As for now, with the booming of online coaching, you can have more resources for the preparation just by sitting at home in your own comfort and safety, it is crucial to evaluate the selection of elective papers based on the available resources.

Knowledge about the Subject

The next crucial component that you should evaluate while selecting the elective subject for the Civil Service exam is familiarity with the paper. If you already studied that paper during the time of your post-graduation or graduation, then you should choose that. If not that, choose a paper that you can unfailingly study without falling out of interest.

Apart from these, aspects such as applicability to the UPSC job part, a uniform choice of paper among toppers, scoring possibility, and suitability with the paper may as well be contemplated while analyzing the elective paper.

Also Read: A Detailed Guide to Choose the Best Optional Subject for UPSC Exam: Find out WHich Optional is Best!

Steps that Need to be Followed after Shortlisting the Subject?

# The primary purpose of our entire conversation is to understand which is the simplest elective paper for the civil service mains exam. So it is a moment for a conclusion, now we are about to finalise our elective paper.

# Examine the Curriculum of all the 4-5 optional papers that you have chosen. Once you go through the matters of the curriculum, if you think you understand them or you are curious about studying and learning about them then note the optional paper.

# Do the above procedure for all the 4-5 elective papers that you shortlisted. I am certain you will be able to choose two subjects out of the list in which you retain wide interest and understanding.

# If you can select one optional after the above-mentioned procedure then congratulations your work is done.

Final Step

The final part you should do is go through last year’s question papers. Grab the previous 3-year question papers, go through them and try to love them. You should remember two things while evaluating last year papers:

# Note out the questions from the last year’s question paper and mark the one which you know the explanations or you have little understanding about.

# After marking and analysing last year papers of both optional papers. You will learn which one to opt for and why to select it.

Which Optional Paper has Most Overlap with GS Paper?

The given below Civil Service elective paper are famous among UPSC candidates from both non-technical and technical because of the high overlap with General Studies or other portions of the CSE examination:

Public Administration Compact syllabus, Highly related, Indian Administration Paper-II has a lot of overlap with the governance and polity portion in General Studies-II.
Sociology Lots of elements can be utilized in General Studied-I, Essay, and as well in Ethics paper.
History Relevant for preliminary as well as General Studies-I.
Geography Relevant for preliminary as well as General Studies-I.
Political Science Relevant for preliminary as well as General Studies-II.
Law Relevant for preliminary as well as General Studies-II.

Preparation Strategy

As you are well informed about the curriculum and the study material. Another crucial aspect of the plan is to come up with a schedule that will support managing your preparation time quite effectively.

As you are appearing for a very tough exam that gives you a high ranking officer duty, it’s adequate if you begin preparing and organizing yourself beforehand with a well-planned timetable. Begin by selecting small aims and accomplishing them.

Create a schedule that suits you accordingly and obey it firmly. Create your deadlines which you have to follow keeping in mind that you have to complete this topic at a particular time. This gives you a sufficient amount of duration to complete your syllabus and also revise it nicely before the examination.

Strategy for GS Preparation

Additionally, you should keep yourself up to date with current events that are happening across the globe as it is a crucial portion of the examination. Therefore, you must dedicate over 25-30 mins every day. to read newspapers. You can choose one regional, one national and one International newspaper and read it every day till the time you appear for the examination.

Set Goals

Do not set goals that are hard to achieve, go easy on yourself. Set small goals one at a time and complete them and gradually increase your level. Do not be too tough on yourself in case you are not able to achieve them. It is alright to take a break in the middle. Your mind and body need to relax as well.

Also Read: How to Start IAS Preparation at Home without Any Coaching? Learning Strategy for UPSC


In the above article, we discussed in detail the optional subjects and how you can choose the best optional paper for yourself. Hopefully, it helps you with your Civil Service examination preparation and give the desired result that you are aiming for. For further professional assistance, you can join UPSC Pathshala where the experts will guide you on which elective paper to opt for. So hurry up and join now.

Also Read: UPSC 2022 Exam Date Calendar: Latest Updates and All-Year Round Calendar

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The optional subject that the aspirants opt for brings a huge difference in the Civil Service examination score. To learn more about which elective subjects choices you have and which one you should choose, read on.
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Shilpa is a professional web content writer and is in deep love with travelling. She completed her mass communication degree and is now dedicatedly playing with words to guide her readers to get the best for themselves. Developing educational content for UPSC, IELTS aspirants from breakthrough research work is her forte. Strongly driven by her zodiac sign Sagittarius, Shilpa loves to live her life on her own notes and completely agrees with the idea of ‘live and let live. Apart from writing and travelling, most of the time she can be seen in the avatar of 'hooman' mom to her pets and street dogs or else you can also catch her wearing the toque blanche and creating magic in the kitchen on weekends.

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