In the Mains examination, the candidate is to choose one Optional Subject from the UPSC list of 26 Optional Subjects. Each Optional Subject has two papers of 250 Marks each thereby making about 30% of Mains Exam. Thus selecting the right optional subject becomes a crucial part of civil services examination.


  • SYLLABUS: Going through the syllabus of the Optional Subjects, gives one a fair idea about the subjects. This helps one to narrow down the list of 26 items to preferably one containing 3 to 5 items.
  • ACADEMIC BACKGROUND : Learning a subject one is already familiar with will be relatively easier than learning a new one from scratch.
  • INTEREST AND LIKING FOR THE SUBJECT : If one doesn’t have any interest in the subject, then the whole process of preparation gets boring and syllabus completion becomes a nightmare.
  • OVERLAPPING WITH THE GS SYLLABUS : Some of the Optional subjects like Public Administration, Geography, History, Sociology, Political Science, Economics have a component in the GS Syllabus and hence form part of General Studies (GS) papers. Choosing one of these subjects gives an added advantage of covering GS syllabus while preparing for Optional.
  • AVAILABILITY OF MATERIALS : Whether you decide to self-prepare or seek coaching, you have to cover the entire portion. So your study sources are extremely crucial in developing first-hand knowledge in the subject area.
  • PREVIOUS YEAR UPSC QUESTION PAPERS : As a final step go through previous years question papers of UPSC for the selected optional and make sure that the questions asked can be tackled through the sources/guidance that one have.

Some of the popular optional subjects in the last 5-6 years are : Geography, History, Public Administration, Sociology , Philosophy, Psychology, Political Science Economics and Anthropology.

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