How to choose the right optional subject or how to choose an optional subject in the right way will be the main question that comes to the mind of any beginner or anyone who has faced the UPSC exam before. This is a very confusing question for a person. A wrong decision will not only cost you a rank but will make you regret it for the rest of your life.


One of the most common doubts about which subject he knows the most and how much it will help him in the exam. According to the latest syllabus, the number of optional subjects to choose from is reduced to one, but those who want to make the right choice or not are still confused.


Since there are students from various academic backgrounds such as Agriculture, Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Law, Literature, Management, Medical, Science, etc., UPSC offers 51 optional subjects (26 literature + 25 non-literary subjects) based on their interests and academic background.


In the current UPSC Mains pattern, candidates can select only one optional subject of two papers of 250 marks each. Let us see how to choose it.


Factors to be considered


Many factors need to be carefully examined before choosing a subject. And even a minor error could lead to a major loss. Preparation for a major exam, especially in the civil service, should be so meticulous that not even a small mistake can happen.


What should be the factors influencing the decision of a candidate to select the optional subject. Let us check out the factors and realities in detail


1. Personal interest to the Subject and Academic background of the same


Accurate preparation of GS papers makes it easy for a student to decide which subject is most interesting and can be easily modified and studied. Some aspirations see history as a curious subject, while others see it as boring and dynamic. Aspirations need to pay attention to which GS subjects they are best performing at.


In addition to the interest, academic knowledge, and understanding of the subject also plays an important role. Generally, Humanities graduates prefer to choose their degree major as an optional subject because of their prior knowledge of the subjects and syllabus.


So if the candidate is having a deep interest in the subject, he/she can select the subject as the optional one and doesn’t forget that there will not be any second choice to select.


2. Study Material Availability


The first and foremost thing that needs to be considered is the availability of study materials and is very important for structural learning to perform well in the UPSC examination.


Before choosing an optional subject, candidates are advised to check the availability of its study materials and coaching facilities near you`. It has often been observed that aspirants choose an optional subject that is convenient for them, but they struggle to gather learning materials or guidelines related to the subject.


Or else we are suggesting another option for you. Keep in mind that you may have mastered a subject, but a lack of touch will make it harder to grasp the same subject again. This also applies to technical issues. In such a situation it is advisable to take up a new subject. If you are an engineering, medicine, or science graduate and have been working for a while, you may have lost touch with the major topics of your graduation days. In such a situation it is advisable to take a new subject that is easy to understand.


The choice of a subject should be based on the availability of study materials. A great deal of study material is available for subjects such as history, sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, psychology, and public administration.


3. Investment of the learning time


Optional papers usually play a crucial role in determining a candidate’s place in the final merit list. Therefore, the optional subject should be selected according to the availability of time. A candidate must decide how much time he can spend studying an optional subject.


Perhaps the student is preparing, studying, or working at a university. But should be able to calculate the time required to study the chosen optional subject with General Studies.


However, it all depends on how much time you can spend each day on your optional subject. Even with your favorite topics, it will take some time to prepare them. If you are clear on the basics of any science or technical subject, go for it, or choose a social science subject.


4. Refer to the previous year’s question paper


Another rule for choosing an optional subject is to thoroughly analyze the syllabus. Then search for question papers from previous years and analyze their past trends. This should be done at the beginning, and some time should be spent making a final call. When you have selected the optional subject and come to mind, dive through it and never regret the fact that you have not chosen any other optional subject.


Revising the previous year’s question papers (3-4 years) of shortlisted optional topics is one of the most suitable. Read all the questions to understand the level of your interest and to know how comfortable you are in a subject. It is advisable to do this training for 3-4 optional topics that interest you the most from the list.


5. Qualification and scoring


The personal performance of a candidate can vary for several reasons compared to his or her opponents. However, there may be optional subjects (s) who do not get the required marks as compared to the efforts made by the candidates. It is important to remember that a few optional topics are re-selected and more toppers are created.


Most students make the mistake of choosing an optional subject for UPSC based on the score of the toppers in that subject, or due to other factors such as popularity and availability of study groups. However, you must be very careful when choosing an optional subject such parameters‌ may cost you an effort!


6. Subject Familiarity


Another important factor to consider when choosing an optional subject for UPSC is your familiarity with the subject. If you already have that subject as part of your undergraduate or postgraduate degree, you can choose it as your favorite subject. Or, choose any subject that you can study regularly without losing interest.


7. Length of the Syllabus


You already have four General Studies papers and one Merit-based essay paper. Choosing an optional subject with a longer syllabus means that you will have to spend more time preparing the optional subject. So, choose a topic that you can comfortably accommodate at the appointed time.




Not only this, the relevance and position of the civil service job in the society, the choice of a consistent subject among the top rankers, the possibility of scoring, and the comfort with the subject can be considered while evaluating the optional subjects. Therefore, this was a brief overview of the optional subjects available for the UPSC main exam.


There is never a single formula for selecting an optional subject for UPSC Mains. Also, there is no right option to choose from. In this regard, it is foolish for you to imitate others. Because what worked for the toppers of the previous year may not work for you. Keep the above criteria in mind, but regardless of its importance or the nature of getting marks, choose a subject that you like and make sure you are confident in it.