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How to choose an optional subject?

The new shift in Civil Services Main examination has not resolved the dilemma of choosing the optional subject. The candidates keep on asking what subject they may take as optional to score high marks.

The popular choices among candidates are; Public Administration, Sociology, Geography, History, Political Science and Philosophy.

More than 80% of the MAINS exam-takers opt for these subjects. This is because all these subjects overlap with general studies. Among them Public Administration is the most popular choice. However, question remains do they fetch high marks?

There are some thumb rules for selecting the optional subject. First, you should not select the subject, if you are not comfortable with it. Normally one should select subject studied at the graduation level. The criteria of the choice of subject should be as per your interest, rather than having studied them at the graduation level.

Also keep in mind that you may have been proficient in a subject, but lack of touch may make it tougher to re grasp the same subject. This applies for technical subjects. In such case it is advisable to take a fresh subject. If you are engineering, medicine or science graduate and have been working for some time, you may have lost touch with your core subjects of graduation days. In such case it is advisable to take new subject which is easy to grasp.

The selection of a subject should be based on the availability of the study material. A huge study material is available for subjects such as History, Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, Political Science, Psychology and Public Administration.

Remember, the competition is among the people who have opted for the same subject. The social sciences papers have huge number of takers and due to it scoring high marks in these subjects are extremely difficult. So if you are comfortable in a subject that has minimum rush, there are good chances of scoring high marks in them.

However, it all depends on how much time you can spend every day on your optional subject. Even with the subjects of your liking, you need to prepare them for the exam. If you're basic concepts of any science or technical subject is clear, then go for it, else opt for a social science subject. Many science, medicine and engineering students are opting for a social science subjects. They are easy to grasp provided you have a good memory.

The other rule of the selection of optional subject is to analyze the syllabus thoroughly. After that look for the question papers of the previous years, and analyze its past trends. This has to be done at the very beginning and some time has to be spent on it to make a final call on it. Once you make up your mind selecting your optional subject, take a plunge into it and never regret of not choosing any other optional subject.

Lastly get some feedback/advice from those who have qualified examination with the subject. You must ask them how much marks they scored in the two papers seperately of the subject. Also take some tips on the study material and the way they went about its preparations. Sometimes, such views are printed in the competitive magazines, you have to go through them and develop your own ideas based on them in choosing an optional paper.

Top 10 UPSC Optional Subjects

According to data collected above, we have selected these subjects as the top 10 UPSC Optional Subjects. This is after considering the success rate of all the subjects, the most opted UPSC subjects and lastly the syllabus overlap.

Subjects Syallbus
Medical Science
Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
Commerce & Accountancy
Any Literature Subject

IAS Optional Subjects Success Rate

Merely stating the popular optionals does not serve the purpose unless their success rate is also discussed. The success rate is dependent on the number of candidates who showed for the mains taking a specific subject and those who were finally recommended for selection. While subjects like Assamese Litt. Had the highest rate of 40 % this is largely with the fact that only 5 candidates chose it in the Mains of which 2 were at last recommended. Such a small size does not shows the exact framework which can only be clear when comparing the most popular optionals which is what the following table shows-

Optional SubjectCandidates AppearedCandidates RecommendedSuccess Rate (Percent)
Assamese Litt.No. 5No. 2Percent 40
Punjabi Litt.No. 19No. 5Percent 26.3
AgricultureNo. 220No. 41Percent 18.6
Gujarati Litt.No. 42No. 7Percent 16.7
Kannada Litt.No. 84No. 14Percent 16.7
Marathi Litt.No. 42No. 7Percent 16.7
Medical ScienceNo. 98No. 16Percent 16.3
English Litt.No. 40No. 6Percent 15
Urdu Litt.No. 29No. 4Percent 13.8
Tamil Litt.No. 225No. 29Percent 12.9
Animal Husb. & Veterinary ScienceNo. 65No. 8Percent 12.3
EconomicsNo. 326No. 37Percent 11.3
PsychologyNo. 1061No. 116Percent 10.9
AnthropologyNo. 345No. 37Percent 10.7
Public AdministrationNo. 3201No. 337Percent 10.5
Literature of Sanskrit LanguageNo. 122No. 10Percent 8.2
Literature of Malayalam LanguageNo. 67No. 5Percent 7.5
Literature of Pali LanguageNo. 255No. 18Percent 7.1
PhysicsNo. 239No. 16Percent 6.7
Political ScienceNo. 1320No. 85Percent 6.4
Literature of Telugu LanguageNo. 147No. 9Percent 6.1
GeographyNo. 4049No. 236Percent 5.8
Literature of Hindi LanguageNo. 974No. 56Percent 5.7
SociologyNo. 1555No. 89Percent 5.7
ChemistryNo. 124No. 7Percent 5.6
Commerce and AccountancyNo. 266No. 15Percent 5.6
HistoryNo. 3870No. 212Percent 5.5
LawNo. 365No. 19Percent 5.2
PhilosophyNo. 2092No. 84Percent 4
ZoologyNo. 484No. 18Percent 3.7
MathematicsNo. 277No. 8Percent 2.9

Source: Examrace

Easiest Optional Subject for UPSC

These subjects are considered easy as they have portions of the syllabus overlapping with the compulsary papers.

optional Subject Syllabus Overlaps with
History Prelims, GS I
Geography Prelims, GS I and GS III
Public Administration Prelims, GS II
Political Science Prelims, GS II
Sociology GS I, GS II, Essay
Philosophy GS IV. Essay