The UPSC optional subjects play a very important role in the UPSC CS Main Examination. It consists of a total of 500 marks out of a total of 2025 marks. If you choose wisely, then these 500 marks can make a great difference in the final total marks. The definition of the best UPSC optional subject from the list of UPSC optional subjects can vary from one candidate to another based on his educational background. Most students commit the mistake of choosing optional subjects for UPSC on the basis of toppers’ scores in that subject, or because of other factors like popularity, availability of study groups, etc. However, you should be very careful while choosing an optional subject on such parameters as it may cost you an attempt!

Here are some of the factors that you may consider to choose the best from the list of optional subjects for UPSC:

#1 Overlapping Syllabus

 Some of the optional subjects like History, Political Science & International Relations, Sociology, Geography, Economics, Public Administration, etc have syllabuses that overlap with the General Studies syllabus in both Prelims and Mains. Hence, it might save you some preparation time.

#2 Lengthy Syllabus

Now, you already have four General Studies papers and an essay paper that are merit-oriented. Choosing an optional with a lengthy syllabus would mean that you’ll have to dedicate more time to prepare the optional subject. Hence, choose a subject that you can comfortably cover in the stipulated time.

#3 Competition Level

Some candidates feel a good UPSC optional subject is the one that has a high success ratio in terms of the number of candidates appearing to the recommended candidates. However, it is only partially true. More than everything else, your copy will be evaluated on the basis of your answer’s comprehensibility. Hence, choose a subject that you’re comfortable with.

#4 Availability of resources

Now, there are 47 optional subjects available, but the resources in terms of educators, study materials, and relevant books are extremely limited. Although now, with the onset of online education, you can access more resources sitting at the comfort of your home, it is imperative that you evaluate the choice of optional on the basis of the available resources.

#5 Familiarity with the subject

Another important factor that you must consider while choosing the best UPSC optional subject is familiarity with the subject. If you already have that subject as part of your graduation or post-graduation, then that should be your choice. Otherwise, opt for a subject that you can consistently study without losing interest.

Other than these, factors such as relevance to the civil services job role, a consistent choice of subject among high rankers, scoring potential, and comfortability with the subject may also be considered while evaluating the optional subjects.

Which Is The Best Optional Subject For UPSC

There are some subjects which are more scoring than others. However, if we see the broader picture, IAS toppers have scored 320+ in both technical and non-technical subjects. The reason why some subjects are perceived as low scoring is that candidates are not able to put in the requisite effort or they have selected an optional subject that isn’t right for them.

Technical subjects (such as Mathematics) can fetch you high marks as the answers are absolute. Basically, unlike humanities subjects, the examiner’s biases or preferences have less of a role to play. However, non-technical subjects, especially those which have some overlap with the GS syllabus, give more preparation time and reading material overall, thus increasing the overall Mains score if studied well.

There are many factors to decide which is the best optional subject in UPSC. Before deciding on a subject, a candidate must ask herself/himself the following six questions.

  • How vast is the syllabus of the optional?
  • How much preparation time do you have?
  • Do you have prior knowledge of the subject at the graduate/PG level?
  • How much syllabus overlap is there between your optional choice and GS part in Prelims/Mains?
  • Are the study material and coaching readily available?
  • Do you have the requisite drive/interest to study the subject for the UPSC exam?

Depending on the answers to the above six questions, a candidate should make an ‘individual’ choice as to the best option in UPSC for them.

However, for most aspirants, the top ten UPSC optional subjects include:

  • Sociology
  • Law
  • Psychology
  • Medical Science
  • Agriculture
  • Literature
  • Anthropology
  • Public Administration
  • Geography
  • History

Which UPSC Optional Subjects Has Most Overlap With General Studies Subjects?

The following UPSC Optional subjects are popular among IAS aspirants from both technical and non-technical because of the high overlap with GS or other parts of the UPSC exam:

  • Public Administration – Highly relevant, compact syllabus, paper II (Indian Administration) has a lot of overlap with polity and governance part in GS II.
  • Sociology – the study of society, lots of material which can be used in GS I, Essay, and even in Ethics paper.
  • History – relevant for prelims as well as GS I.
  • Geography -relevant for prelims as well as GS I
  • Political Science – relevant for prelims as well as GS II
  • Law – relevant for prelims as well as GS II

Optional subjects in UPSC like Economics, Philosophy, and Agriculture are also good choices.

Success Rate Of Candidates With UPSC Optional Subjects

UPSC Optional Subject Success Rate – 2017

SubjectNo of Candidates AppearedNo of candidates SelectedSuccess Rate
Chemistry 126118.7
Accounts 2242812.5
Electrical Engineering193199.8
Geology 3725.4
Law 3041434.1
Mathematics 441265.9
Medical Science 3133210.2
Physics 1401410
Psychology 1932110.9
Sociology 14211379.6
Animal Husbandry2328.7
Botany 44511.4
Civil Engineering124118.9
Economics 233166.9
Geography 26691475.5
History 1074595.5
Management 8678.1
Mechanical Engineering1701911.2
Philosophy 755537
Political  Science 12461179.4
Public Administration116511910.2
Statistics 300
Zoology 484183.7

Literature UPSC Optional Success Rate – 2017

Optional SubjectCandidates AppearedCandidates RecommendedSuccess Rate
English Literature 2129.5
Assamese Literature 300
Manipuri Literature 137.7
Hindi Literature 267197.1
Maithili Literature 7856.4
Bodo Literature 11100
Odia Literature 500
Punjabi Literature 39615.4
Marathi Literature 1700
Gujarati Literature 10187.9
Kannada Literature 11543.5
Bengali Literature 300
Sindhi Literature 2150
Tamil Literature 10754.7
Telugu Literature 7211.4
Urdu Literature 26519.2
Sanskrit Literature 7057.1
Nepali Literature 100
Malayalam Literature 11187.2

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