Every year millions of students appear for the UPSC exam hoping to crack it and join the civil service of the country, however not many can be successful. The exam procedure is the same for everyone however what matters is an innate talent and dedicated learning. However, there is one more aspect that can make or break your dreams of becoming a civil servant. And that is choosing the correct optional subject for your IAS UPSC Mains. With the fast-approaching UPSC 2020 exams, the agitation to choose the proper optional is back.

Every candidate is expected to choose their optional subject from the subject list sanctioned by UPSC for their UPSC Mains. They have to appear for two papers of the subject on the syllabus provided prior. Each paper is of 250 marks each and constitutes a total of 500 marks of your total marks. Which subject to choose is totally up to you and has no eligibility criteria nor does it need a history of having studied the particular subject.

List of Optional Subjects Available for UPSC Mains

Optional IAS subjects for Social Science

  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Indian History
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Law

List of UPSC Optional Subjects for Science

  • Agriculture
  • Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Medical Science
  • Physics
  • Zoology
  • Anthropology
  • Geology
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering

Optional subjects for IAS exam for Commerce and Management

  • Commerce
  • Management

UPSC Optional IAS subjects for Indian Languages

  • Assamese
  • Bengali
  • Bodo
  • Dogri
  • Gujarati
  • Hindi
  • Kannada
  • Kashmiri
  • Konkani
  • Maithili
  • Malayalam
  • Manipuri
  • Marathi
  • Nepali
  • Oriya
  • Punjabi
  • Sanskrit
  • Santali
  • Sindhi
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Urdu
  • English

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

Top Most Opted UPSC Optional Subjects

Optional Subject (Approx) Number of Aspirants Syllabus Overlaps with
History 3500 Prelims, GS I
Geography 3500 Prelims, GS I and GS III
Public Administration 3000 Prelims, GS II
Political Science 1800 Prelims, GS II
Sociology 1800 GS I, GS II, Essay
Philosophy 1000 GS IV. Essay

Optional papers constitute 500 marks of your total mark sheet so they play an equally important role for your Mains.

Also Read : UPSC Prelims Cut Off 2020 Expectations: Effect of Covid 19 on UPSC Prelims

General Trend for How People Choose Their Optional Subject

After the already extensive syllabus for your General Papers, studying for a brand new Optional can be very harrowing. This is the reason why most candidates appearing for the exam tend to choose an option that has at least part of its UPSC syllabus common to the syllabus for Mains General Paper or at least the Prelims.

While the other team of people tries to choose a subject that they are truly passionate about, like, or have a Bachelor’s Degree in. The paper is descriptive type and questions most often than not always asks for your opinion and perspective on different case studies. It is important to have a deep insight and liking towards the subject to be able to structure your answer properly and be able to reflect things well. Most students find doing this easier for subjects that they are interested in.

Top 10 Optional Subjects for UPSC

According to statistics, the top 10 optional subjects in the UPSC topic list are:

  • Sociology
  • Agriculture
  • Medical Science
  • Literature Subject (Any)
  • Anthropology
  • Public Administration
  • Psychology
  • Law
  • Geography
  • History

How to Choose Your Optional Subjects

There has to be a reason or a technique that you follow according to which you would choose your subjects. Most reasons that people use are:

  • A scoring optional subject
  • Most popular optional subject
  • An optional subject that is easy to understand or which they find interesting
  • The subject for which notes and study materials are easily available
  • Optional for which best UPSC IAS coaching is available
  • The subject they have a background in graduation or post-graduation
  • The optional subject with which most candidates have cracked the IAS mains exam.


Following these reasons to choose the one that best suits you is the way to go. Be mindful and understand everything that your subject entails. Don’t be reckless but take your time understanding the subject and choose the one that suits you.

Be sure to go through the syllabus and understand and know every topic in it well. If your subject has the same syllabus or a part of it is the same as in your General Papers and Prelim Papers, be sure to prepare different kinds of answers so as to keep the freshness intact and not seem like you’re copying the same thing again and again.

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Which Optionals Give Maximum Selections Every Year? Statistical Results for UPSC Optionals
Worried that you are choosing the wrong UPSC optional subject and it may not give you ideal results? Learn about previous selection rates for different UPSC optional subjects.
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UPSC Pathshala
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