Every year, lakhs of candidates apply for the IAS Exam. The IAS exam is conducted by the UPSC. It has three stages- Prelims, Mains, and the Personality Test. In the UPSC Mains exam, one has to choose an optional subject and that subject can make a lot of difference. Choosing the right subjects in UPSC can directly affect your success rate.
Confused about which optional subject in UPSC should you select? Selecting an optional subject is a popular query among IAS aspirants. As per the new syllabus, UPSC has reduced the number of optional subjects to one which makes choosing even more difficult.
Importance of Choosing the Right Optional Subject
According to the latest UPSC exam syllabus, there are 48 UPSC optional subjects from which the candidate can choose one subject. Each optional subject in UPSC comprises of two papers (Paper I and Paper II) carrying 250 marks each, making it a total of 500 marks.
Hence, the weightage of the optional paper, i.e., 500 marks out of the total 2025 marks, makes the optional subject about 25% of the final score.
Therefore, the choice of UPSC mains optional subject is extremely crucial. You have to choose an alternative subject in which you believe you can score high.
Read more about UPSC IAS Exam Syllabus in detail.
Best optional subject in UPSC
Some subjects are more scoring than others. However, if we look widely, IAS toppers usually score more than 320 in both technical and non-technical subjects. Some subjects are perceived as low-scoring because candidates cannot put in the requisite effort or they have selected an optional subject for UPSC that isn’t the right fit for them.
Technical subjects like Mathematics can fetch you high marks as the answers in it are absolute. Basically, unlike humanities subjects, the examiner’s biases or preferences don’t impact much. However, non-technical subjects, especially those which overlap with the General Studies syllabus, give you more preparation time and reading material overall, thereby helping you prepare well for the IAS Mains exam.
Certain factors can help you decide on the best optional subject in UPSC. Before deciding on an optional subject, a candidate must ask themselves the following questions-
- How much is the syllabus of the optional subject in UPSC?
- How much time for preparation do you have?
- Do you have any prior knowledge of the subject at the graduate/PG level?
- How much syllabus overlap is there between your optional subject and General Studies subject in Prelims or UPSC Mains?
- Are the study material and coaching facilities readily available?
- Do you have the required drive/interest to study the subject for UPSC exam?
Depending on the answers to the above six questions, a candidate should make the right choice in selecting the best optional subjects in UPSC for them.
List of Optional Subjects
|Agriculture||Animal Husbandry & Vet Science||Anthropology||Manipuri|
Which optional subject in UPSC overlaps the most with GS in the IAS exam?
Here is the list of UPSC optional subjects which are the popular choice among IAS aspirants from both technical and non-technical fields. Because of the high overlap with General Studies papers or other sections of the UPSC exam these subjects can appear to be the right choice.
- Public Administration – Paper II (Indian Administration) overlaps highly with the polity and governance part of GS II.
- Sociology – Information from Sociology can be used in GS I, essays, and even in Ethics papers.
- History – Relevant for both prelims and GS I.
- Geography – Important for prelims as well as GS I.
- Political Science – Relevant both prelims and GS II.
- Law – Beneficial for prelims as well as GS II.
Subjects in like Economics, Philosophy, and Agriculture are also good choices for optional subjects in UPSC.
How to Shortlist the Best Optional Subject in UPSC?
- Based on the above-mentioned criteria, prepare a list of 4 to 5 subjects that you are interested in.
- Go through the syllabus of each alternative subject. Read all topics carefully. Underline/ highlight the points that you think you know something about or have some interest in the syllabus of each shortlisted optional subject.
- Check out the previous year’s question papers (3-4 years) of the shortlisted subjects. Read all the questions. Then again, measure yourself the level of interest you have or the knowledge you hold to answer each question.
- Finally, the availability of materials and guidance through training matters a lot. For a few papers, it is hard to get standard books, for some subjects tuition may not be available. Non-technical subjects can be prepared by doing self-study.
- By now you will have a reasonable picture of choosing between 2-3 papers. For instance, if you are from an engineering background and are especially good at your engineering subjects, you can choose engineering. Or if you have an interest in literature or your native language, it will be optimal to select between these two subjects.
- In this scenario, the ‘success rate’ counts. Generally, literature subjects have performed well in all years. You may wind up choosing literature of your native language as your alternative paper. It’s a decent choice.
Other Factors that Matter While Shortlisting
For a few people who have worked in a big company, Public Administration is a great choice and in fact, it has been the most chosen option by working aspirants or the people who have worked in the past.
Medical students may settle on Medical Science, Zoology or Anthropology as these papers are related to their field.
Which is the best optional subject for UPSC for medical students and doctors?
Out of the available options, Medical Science is a natural choice. There have been several IAS toppers with a medical background who took medical science as their optional.
To some extent, subjects like Zoology, Animal Husbandry, and Veterinary Science can also be considered. However, if a candidate from a medical background isn’t willing to opt for medical science as the choice for the optional subject, then non-technical subjects that have some overlap with GS become their choice.
Which is the best optional subject for UPSC for engineering candidates?
A lot of candidates from engineering backgrounds perform well in the IAS exams. However, if a candidate wants to choose an optional subject based on their previous knowledge, then there are comparatively lesser options, namely Civil, Mechanical and Electrical engineering.
Obviously, no one would prefer to opt for a technical subject unless one studied the same at the graduate level.
Subjects like Maths, Physics and Chemistry can also be considered. These subjects reduce the subjectivity in marking to some extent, but the preparation time and effort is huge. So, it’s always better to go through IAS syllabus and past question papers first.
What are the top 10 optional subjects in UPSC?
After considering the latest UPSC syllabus and recent IAS results, the top 10 optional subjects in UPSC can be listed as follows:
3. Medical Science
6. Public Administration
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UPSC Exams: Format and Preparation
We know that the UPSC exam is conducted in three phases. While each phase has its own different approaches, the toughest one to crack for many is the UPSC Prelims.
The Prelims consist of two examinations – General Studies I and II, which are also known as CSAT or the Civil Services Aptitude Test. These exams test the general knowledge of candidates in the different fields of Math, Sciences, and English.
Due to its complicated questions, UPSC Prelims are considered to be one of the toughest entrance exams in the country. Therefore, students work really hard to get through UPSC Prelims. However, if you heed the following steps, you can have a better chance at cracking IAS exam.
Step 1: Understand the Exam
A student cannot excel in an exam if they do not know what the exam contains. While it is important to know the type of examination, it is equally important to understand the topics that can be covered within the examination.
The UPSC releases a document on their website consisting of all this information, including the syllabus for the exam, the type and format of the paper, and even the schedule. Students must also understand the eligibility criteria well before starting with their preparations.
All of this is categorized as the pre-preparation of the examinations. This must be done as the first step so that the student is not left confused on, or a few days before the exams about these small details. Thus, starting with these important details lets you move through the preparation journey in a more systematic and organized manner.
Step 2: Start Reading
After completing step 1, you must be aware of the syllabus and the format of the papers. With this knowledge, you can begin your actual studies for the exams. The easiest method of studying is picking up your old schoolbooks. All the syllabus for the UPSC exams can be studied from the NCERT books.
If you are unable to find your old schoolbooks, then you can download them for free. While reading, you may remember most of the concepts, however, you must go over them twice to better prepare yourself.
Additionally, you need to start reading the latest news. The majority of questions in the General CSAT exams come from current events.
Step 3: Take YouTube Lessons
Watching YouTube videos on topics of History and Science can also help students better prepare for the exams. There are many YouTube channels that give UPSC coaching.
Step 4: Read and Write
One of the habits we leave after we complete our schooling is learning by writing. While many do it in school, after it ends, people focus more on glazing through the contents of a book in order to memorize it. While this may work in schools, for the UPSC examinations, you must practice by writing.
Writing helps you learn a particular topic twice over – once when you read it out loud and once when you write it. But, more importantly, it psychologically embeds the topic in your mind. Thus, when you are done through your first round of glancing over the books, you must find your old notebooks and begin penning down your subject matter.
Step 5: Take Mock Exams
After you have prepared yourself well for the exam, you must take many practice exams. There are many websites that will provide you past exam question papers for you to attempt. This step is crucial in your preparation as it helps you understand what a real exam would be like.
You must take it with honesty and stick to the time limits. This will not only help you in managing your time better, but it will also help you understand your mistakes and calm your nerves for the final paper.
Choosing the best optional subject for UPSC is entirely your decision. Only an aspirant knows their strengths, weakness, taste, and availability of study materials. Therefore, you can follow the process recommended by us and choose what suits you best.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q.1 ‘XYZ’ IAS topper scored with ‘ABC’ optional. Should I take the same?
Ans. Over the years, candidates have got top 10 AIR in IAS exam with a broad range of subjects. Be it Medical or Political Science or even Sanskrit; it is the choice and the drive of the person that makes the difference. The better way to go about it would be first to choose the subject based on what fits your case the best and then reading about the strategy of toppers who took the same optional subject for the UPSC exam.
Q.2 What to avoid while choosing the optional subject in UPSC?
Ans. Never choose an optional subject just because most of the candidates are opting for that subject. Don’t pick the subject solely based on the decision of the past years’ toppers. Choose the optional subject as per your interest.
As such, there is no restriction from UPSC’s side on the choice of optional subjects in the IAS exam. A candidate is both free to make his/her own choice but is also constrained by the effects of making that choice.
Q.3 Should I take an optional subject which is already covered in the General Studies?
Ans. It is always a smarter idea to choose an optional subjects for UPSC which is already covered in the GS paper syllabus because it is a great time saver for the student. However, this is not the only option. Many students, even toppers of previous years, end up taking the subject they have expertise in. Many choose a subject they have done in their master’s or graduation. So, while it is sometimes smarter to take an overlapping optional subject, it is even more smarter to take a subject you know well.
Q.4 Is it wise to take a subject different from my graduation course?
Ans. While it is preferred to continue the course of your graduation for the optional subject, many of us are forced to study subjects that we didn’t want to initially. If you completed your graduation in Mathematics but are more interested in Law, then you can opt for that. However, you then will have to put in much more time to study for it. That is why, in order to save time, the wiser idea is to go with the course you have already studied.
Q.5 Which is the best optional subject in UPSC?
Ans. The best optional subject in UPSC is the one that suits your interests and aptitude. You should opt for an optional subject that will help you achieve success. Some of the best subjects are History, Geography, Economics, Political Science, and Sociology.
Q.6 What are the 26 optional subjects in UPSC?
Ans. The 26 optional subjects in UPSC are:
- Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
- Civil Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Indian History
- Mechanical Engineering
- Medical Science
- Political Science
- Public Administration
Q.7 Which is the easiest optional subject for UPSC?
Ans. Some of the easiest optional subjects in UPSC are
- Public Administration
- Political Science
- Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
- Civil Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
Most of the candidates who have scored highest mostly prefer these optional subjects in UPSC. But the candidate should give preference to the subjects of his/her interest.
Q.8 How many optional subjects are there in UPSC?
Ans. There are 48 optional subjects in UPSC out of which one subject can be chosen for both Paper I and Paper II. Both the papers are 250 marks each. The optional subject syllabus is of graduation level. Candidates can choose an elective subject depending on their graduation degree or subject in which they are interested.
Q.9 What are the 5 compulsory subjects in UPSC?
Ans. The five compulsory subjects are:
· General Studies
· Indian Language
General Studies consists of four papers of 250 marks each. The essay is of 250 marks where the candidate has the option to choose any language as the medium. Apart from these, English and other Indian language paper carry 300 marks each. All the candidates will have to give these five compulsory subjects as the qualifying examination in addition to the optional subjects.
Q.10 Which optional subject is most scoring in UPSC?
Ans. Philosophy is one of the highest scoring subjects in UPSC as its syllabus is less as compared to other subjects. Apart from this, Sociology and Public Administration are also scoring subjects. But scoring the highest in UPSC also depends on the candidate’s interest in the subject and how familiar they are with it.