How to Choose Optional for UPSC?

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

How to choose Optional for UPSC is one of the most asked questions among the IAS aspirants no matter if they are beginners or attempting more than once. The second stage of the UPSC exam gives full freedom to choose optional subjects. This can be the differentiator for aspirants as it carries a total of 500 marks in the UPSC Mains exam. That is why the optional subject should be chosen cautiously. Knowing how to Choose Optional for UPSC would be a game-changer for the aspirants.

Every year, many aspirants get almost similar marks in General Studies and Essay Papers, but rank in final merit is determined by the Optional subject. So, here we will discuss how to choose the optional subject for the UPSC exam and what strategy needs to follow to ace the subject as well as the exam.

How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC?

UPSC offers 48 optional subjects to choose from in the Civil Services Exam. Candidates can choose any one of the optional subjects and appear for two papers. Following are the key points one should remember while choosing optional for UPSC:

  • Read the list of optional subjects offered by UPSC and narrow down your options to three to four and make sure that the subjects you choose are comfortable.
  • After narrowing them down, look at the UPSC previous year question papers of that optional subject and analyze where you stand and whether you are comfortable with interpreting the demand of the question.
  • Also, one popular criterion for choosing the optional subject is the accessibility and the availability of study material, coaching, and guidance.
  • Study material availability and coaching facility become crucial to master the topics of an optional and also for answer writing practice.
  • Other factors like Overlap with UPSC General Studies syllabus, background knowledge, etc., should be secondary to the interest when opting for an optional paper.

There is no right answer for how to choose optional for UPSC; it is only a matter of perspective. No matter which optional subject you choose, it is only effort and hard work that decide if you will succeed or not. So after choosing an optional, make sure you stick to it and stay dedicated. Look at the data of the approximate number of candidates selecting each optional subject in the Mains exam here:

Optional Subject Approx. Number of Candidates
Geography 3000
History 3000
Sociology 3000
Public Administration 3000
Psychology, Philosophy <2000
Economics, Political Science <2000
Other Art/Science Subjects <1000
Other Literature Subjects <1000
Total 15000 (approx.)

Learn: Success Rate of Optional in UPSC

Things to Avoid While Choosing Optional for UPSC

Before discussing how to choose Optional Subject for UPSC, we need to understand what an ideal subject is described. According to the aspirants, some factors make an optional subject in UPSC stand out from others, such as:

  • It should be scoring
  • It has to be a popular subject
  • They should have studied that subject at their UG or PG level

According to the aspirants, these are the top factors that must be considered while choosing an optional subject. But in reality, these factors may not work for you when you are choosing optional for UPSC, and below we have discussed the reason.

  • There is no such scoring subject. It depends on how the candidate performs. You shouldn’t pick a subject based on its past success rate.
  • The popularity of a subject has nothing to do with the UPSC exam, and it is just one’s perspective. Many candidates have cracked the exam with not-so-popular subjects.
  • In many cases, candidates who opted for subjects different from their backgrounds scored profoundly in the UPSC Mains. It is just because they chose a subject they genuinely had an interest in.

As you can see, one shouldn’t choose the optional based on these parameters. So, what should be the right approach when choosing an optional subject? Let’s reveal the best way for how to choose optional for UPSC below.

How to Select Optional Subject for UPSC? – Popular Options

As we have mentioned above, there is no perfect answer to how to choose optional for UPSC. You can take any optional and fetch good marks if you have prepared enough for it. But below, we have mentioned some of the popular optional subjects and explained what makes them so popular.


  • A subject like Geography has a definite syllabus, but it is very lengthy to cover. Also, it requires a deep conceptual understanding. Go through the Geography Syllabus for UPSC to get a better idea.
  • It is semi-scientific in nature which makes it popular among students from engineering and other backgrounds.
  • Moreover, geography as a subject also helps in the preliminary examination and has a good overlap with the general studies paper 1.

Public Administration:

  • Public administration has a definite syllabus and can be covered within a short time span of 2-3 months. To get a better picture, download the Public Administration Syllabus for UPSC and check if it interests you.
  • Also, good coaching and study material are available in the market also it can be easily covered through self-study.


  • History is popular because every student has studied this subject in school and some during their graduation. To make an informed decision, go through the History Syllabus for UPSC.
  • Also, many find history a scoring and interesting subject, but history requires deep interpretation and analysis because the questions asked in the Mains examination require aspirants to interlink the concepts with the facts to make the answers qualitative.


  • Sociology as a subject is also popular because it is easy to understand and the topics are interesting.
  • It helps in the essay paper and covers portions of the general studies paper. Download the Sociology Syllabus for UPSC and check the overlap with the UPSC Mains Syllabus.

Importance of Choosing the Best Optional for UPSC

As we have mentioned above, the UPSC Optional subject has two papers, and each carries 250 marks. This means the optional subject will contribute a total of 500 marks in the UPSC Mains exam. Every candidate must aim to fetch maximum marks in this optional subject as it will play a huge role in qualifying for the Mains exam. Scoring big in the optional subject becomes easy if you choose the right optional subject as per your interest and other factors we have mentioned above.

Other UPSC Articles:
UPSC Optional Subjects Syllabus UPSC Physics Optional Syllabus
UPSC Topper 2018 Indian Foreign Service
How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims? First IAS Officer of India
UPSC 2024 GS Paper 2 Previous Year Questions Topic Wise
2017 UPSC Topper Topic Wise UPSC Previous Year Questions
Best Cadre in IAS 2019 UPSC Topper
Our Apps Playstore
SSC and Bank
Other Exams
GradeStack Learning Pvt. Ltd.Windsor IT Park, Tower - A, 2nd Floor, Sector 125, Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201303
Home Practice Test Series Premium