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Selecting the Best Optional Subject for IAS the Right Way

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At least 10 percent of the comments this blog receives is about how to select the the right optional for IAS Mains so I thought instead of replying individually why not post an article on choosing the optional subject for the IAS exam which would benefit all the blog readers. And this includes those who have never appeared for the IAS Mains yet and even those who have appeared but are thinking about switching over to some different optional.

As you know, from 2013 Mains onward UPSC has done away with the second optional subject. So now you have to select just ONE optional subject that will consist of two papers of 250 marks each. So our task of selecting the best optional subject has become much easier.

But what does the Best Optional for IAS mean?

I am sure it means differently to different people but what does it mean to you:

  • A scoring optional?
  • The most popular optional?
  • Easy to understand or which you find interesting?
  • Subject with easy availability of study materials like books and notes?
  • Optional for which one ‘best’ coaching is available?
  • Subject with some previous base in graduation or post-graduation?
  • The optional with the best results in the IAS exam?

I hope I have covered all the points that majority of the IAS aspirants consider before selecting the right optional for Mains. Obviously, you might consider only one of the above points as the basis for selecting your Mains optional or consider multiple criteria. So let’s take them up one by one.

A Scoring Optional

Most IAS beginners choose an optional simply because it is considered ‘scoring’. Some of the optionals that are considered scoring are Public Administration and Geography. While Geography has returned marks with 400+ in IAS Mains, many candidates have been scoring 340+ and 350+ in Public Administration in the past few years. In fact the average marks scored by Mains candidates in Pub Ad in 2008 Mains was 266 which is quite high considering that it is the most preferred optional among IAS aspirants.

But should score be the sole criteria for selecting the Mains optional or are there other related basis for selecting your mains optional? This gets us to the second point.

A Popular Optional

Optionals that come within this definition are Geography, Public Ad, Sociology, History, and Psychology. These four IAS optionals alone account for about 50 percent share of the Mains pie and the rest 22 optionals, taking Literature subjects as one, for the rest.

This gives you some idea about the ‘popular optionals for IAS’. But why are these optionals so popular while the rest aren’t so popular? Here are some reasons:

  • Subjects like Pub Ad and Geog have definite syllabus and Pub Ad has quite limited syllabus especially for P2 so you can cover it within 5 months or so.
  • You require limited coaching for Pub Ad as most of the syllabus involves self-study.
  • The History optional for IAS is quite popular simply because there are so many History post graduates and even graduates with history as a subject. Also we all studied History as part of our school curriculum and most of us found it interesting and some, even scoring.
  • Geography is a semi-scientific subjects and a favourite among Engineers and Doctors for its laws, principles, and map-based questions. No wonder so many IAS aspirants opt for it.
  • Sociology is easy to understand and very interesting as the topics covered concern the very society we are a part of.
  • Psychology has pulled, I feel, simply because it is a combination of all the above attributes and also due to the fact that it is probably the only optional where only one name prevails for coaching: Mukul Pathak of Vajiram.

With this we come to another related question, are all popular optionals scoring or to put it another way are the not-so-popular optionals for IAS not scoring as well?

Let me put it bluntly. Popularity has actually got nothing to do with the scoring potential of an optional. If you want proof, read on. Shah Faesal topped the 2010 IAS exam with Urdu Litt. as one of the optionals, second being Pub Ad. Mona Pruthi, the 2006 IAS topper chose English Litt. and Sociology. Mutyala Raju, the 2007 topper took Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. Karthik Adapa aced the 2008 IAS exam with Zoology and Psychology.

What’s common to all these IAS toppers? Except one, all opted for one non-popular optional. And let me also mention that if you read their interviews they chose the optionals based on their interest and background and not because they were scoring or popular.

The fact that they have scored well in both the optionals (that’s why they topped) and not just the popular ones proves that all subjects are equally scoring. So choosing an optional based only on the scoring criteria is incorrect.

So how about the coaching criteria?

Before deciding to select an optional on the basis of the coaching available first determine whether you require coaching in the first place? You must’ve realized this can only be determined after you’ve selected an optional, not before it. So I feel selecting an optional simply on the basis of the coaching available is like saying ” I can never clear the Civil Services exam without coaching”. And once you become completely dependent on coaching then good luck to you as I have already written in my Mains 2010 GS analysis how unpredictable the IAS exam is becoming not just for you but the most well known coaching classes as well.

Of course, it does help if there is good coaching available for the IAS optionals you’ve already selected.

online tests for ias

Choosing an optional with some previous background

Many people who’ve graduated or done Masters in some subject opt for it in the CSE. This is really helpful as you’re already familiar with the subject and will need to study just one subject from scratch. This is where graduation in humanities really helps as the most popular IAS optionals listed above are included within the “Arts” subjects. So if you’re pursuing graduation or masters in any of the Arts subjects and plan to take it up in the IAS mains, make sure you pursue it seriously and focus more on the syllabus common to your degree as well as the IAS Mains.

This point again proves that previous base and interest are more important factors in selecting the right optional for IAS than merely popularity or scoring potential. People who have opted for the most obscure subjects like Literature, Veterinary Science, Mathematics have scored heavily in the Mains simply because they were so much in love with their optionals.

I had the good fortune of having a chat with the 2008 IAS topper Karthik Adapa when we had enrolled for mock interview at Vajiram. He was already in the IPS that time and I asked him about the reason for choosing Psychology and he said he simply loved Psychology, that’s why. Nothing about the score or popularity.

Some thumb rules for selecting the right optional for IAS

The subject should..

  • Excite you
  • Make you know more about it
  • Should not put you to sleep
  • Make you think out of the box
  • Have books available easily

Don’t think about the score at this stage, just focus on selecting an optional with the above qualities and remember, this will differ for different aspirants. Once you have mastered the syllabus and have adequate writing practice the marks will follow.

Some common queries

I have chosen Public Administration but I find it quite boring, especially Paper 1

Remember, Pub Ad usually seems boring to most people but many fall in love with it once they have read and re-read the important books. If you still find it going over your head ask yourself why did you choose Pub Ad? Is it simply because of its popularity?

I love xyz optional but I cannot answer the questions correctly

The fact that you find the optional interesting is half the battle won. As far answer writing is concerned you might consider joining some good test series to hone your writing skills. Once you have enough writing practice marks will not be an issue.

I don’t have any previous base in any of the optionals or I don’t want to choose my graduation subjects, what should I do?

Simply go through the above thumb rules again and try reading something from the basic books of the optional you plan to take up. If you feel you can cope up with the subject then go for it otherwise try another one.

Suggest some optional subject that will be useful from GS Mains point of view

Again this is for reference purpose only. Actually every optional in some way or the other contributes towards the GS or Essay preparation.

  • Pol Sc. covers polity and India and the world part
  • Pub Ad covers polity and governance part
  • History covers the history part 🙂
  • Mathematics covers Statistics. Ditto for Statistics optional
  • Geography covers GS geography, climate change, environment and other related sections
  • Law also covers polity
  • Economics covers the Economy part of GS mains
  • Socio covers questions on social issues as well as one Essay option

Some popular IAS optionals for IAS exam

This is just for your knowledge. Nowhere am I suggesting you take up the same otherwise what I said above would be idiotic.

To summarize this long post (couldn’t help it), any optional that you find interesting, stimulating, fun to learn is right for you. Don’t worry about popularity or scoring potential. Both are just an indicator. Every optional is equally scoring provided you have mastered the syllabus and the answer writing aspect. I hope this post helped selecting the right optionals for IAS a much easier task. Eagerly awaiting your feedback!

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I am your friend, mentor and guide to help crack the IAS exam. I've cleared the Prelims everytime including the first and also reached the Interview stage. Know more about me

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 315 comments
ashok yalla

My name is Ashok.I am a semi qualified CA I.e I completed IPCC.Iam confused between the optionals which I should take whether geography or commerce.
If I took commerce then I can attempt paper 1 with out any coaching but I has take coaching for paper 2 which I don’t know any thing about paper 2 .
Please suggest me which is the best optional and which the best institute for that optional.
One more thing I would like to tell u is my first attempt is in 2018.


Hi….m Rahul from Assam. Stdyng in JNV class 12 with bio sc. Can I prepare for IAS? and how can I prepare?


    Hi Rahul
    I am nikhil
    You start preparation from now so you must focus on the subjects of civil but being your are from science stream you may be interested or pressurised to do science degree but if your lucky you can opt for any degree in humanities and social sciences
    After you enter into either streams you must prepare like for competitive exam regularly that you done in pu
    You should make time free to study in this order
    1.History-bipin chandra
    3.constitution-dd basu
    4.ethics-subba rao
    5.geography-g c Leon and culture- nithin singhania
    All these before you complete degree along with this daily Hindu paper at least editorial section must be read and monthly vision ias mazines available in vision ias app

    For any query and doubt please refer toppers talk and get their way of approach and startegy and be mentally prepared learn any thing in free time

    Completing degree you can join coaching or get your year syllabus regularly see to know what to read and what not to

    Have confidence in the you then you you succeed in first attempt like tina mam where mam have decided to prepare for civil from 12 only like you

vikram yadav

Hello sir
Mai ye janna chahta hu ki kya ias ke mains me jo optional subject hai woh jaroori hai ki bacheler degree se ho kya other nhi le sakte
Please fast Reply

Sahil kumar

Sir,I am a student of class 10th and want to crack UPSC by good marks.So, please tell me that which stream I choose in classs 11th for achieve my dream.

Aman Jha

I have done my 10th and 12th from ICSE board and scored high marks .
Then I have done B.Tech Marine Engineering.
Please tell me which subject would be an optimum selection for me.
Is there any technical subject?


Sir I am a mechanical graduate ..completed in 2013 …still I am not doing any job.. Will it create any problem…?? I have prepared for group exam which were conducted by state public service commission.. But I can’t crack it… But I have a goal that I have to crack Civils…
Shall I choose mechanical as an optional subject..or else as u said apart from my subject such as law…can u suggest the right path…. And one more thing is…language . I am from Telugu medium background… Is Telugu better for me to write mains in Telugu…. Please suggest me right path..please give me reply

Athulya S Rajan

I am a second year MBBS student.I would like to prepare for CS exams.So am quite confused about the optionals.I am not too much in love with the medical subjects so am pretty doubtful of the subjects I should chose.Psyhology appears good for me and apart from that I would like to take some eng/mal literature, but since I haven’t graduated in any of those subjects am not sure about it.Can you please help me sort this out Sir.


Greetings Sir,

I am a MCA student and working in a IT firm. Which optional subject will be good for me. I found sociology quite interesting. But may be writing matters in case of Sociology. Which optional subject will I prefer ? Could you please guide me ?

Viswjeet kumar

I wan to prepration for IAS EXAMINATION.
But my honers is physic .now i am in part -1.
Can i do .that is right choice.
Please suggest me sir.

I am in confuss. i am not very well in honers subject

Aasif Hamid

Sir I have done Bsc MLT on (lateral entry) basis am I eligible for CSE and also plz suggests me how to opt subjects fr it bcz I don’t knw any thing abt it

Raman Kumar

Sir I m MBBS with pg DIPLOMA in child health,what sub will be gd for me other than medical science ?


Sir, I finished B.E biomedical. I’m preparing for UPSC exam and I don’t know to select my optional subject please help me. Thank u in advance

Mamatha v

How to select optional as I finished my BE in electronics and communication


I had done my graduation in physics and maths.. But not so good in any subject and have no link from arts subject


i have done btech in mechanical which subject would be best for me


which subject should i opt in 11th and 12th for ias

S.K.Hari vishnu

can you give me clear explanation to take physics as optional paper. It has an interesting subject to me

Mangri bittu

With respect to the subject selection I would like to inform that I am a undergraduate in civil engineering and in regard to UPSC exams I felt like I could not mae it through opting my subject .so,could you please suggest me?


hi, iam pursuing MCA, and i am preparing for IAS exam.

may i choose electronics as optional exam is it best option for me??

please help me…

devanshika singh

Which is better optional subject in social work and sociology? Plz give me suggestion.

Nishtha Singh

I have completed my B.Tech in mechanical engineering, I had also prepared for IES earlier. Now after completing my M.Tech, I want to prepare for IAS. Should I choose another subject, as mech. engineering is time taking. I am confused. Please guide.

mark kruger

I hve graduate in science. & i hve interested in physics. But i heard that physics is nt scorable subject. Then which subject is best for me……..


Sir , I am in mechanical 2nd year . can i prepare for gate first and then give ias with mech engg and if i dont make it then give again with psychology ? please help me regarding this .

sri harsha

hey guys i’m civil engineer by profession and i’m confused which subject to choose as an optional, please help


what subjects i have to select in the intermediate means in 11th and12th standard.for up coming I.A.S.COURSE/EXAM. which subjects are helpful for me for the above pattern.please advice me i shall be thankful ever and ever..


Sir,I’ve just completed my +2.can i prepare parallely for civils along with btech.
If so from where should i start,what optional subjects,I should chose?
please guide me.


Thank you so much sir,for clearing all our doubts for selecting right optional sub.from school days geography is one of my fav as I m going to select that subject as my optional. Ty


hi guys
my question is can we take two different subject for optional 1 and 2 and is it compulsary to for the student to give paper 1 for the first subject means if he likes the syllabus of paper 2 and he want to give it in paper one and same in the 2 second paper is it possible


I have done my 12th in science subject nd tried gor neet tooo…
So which sub. I choose for optional subject??
Should i stick to medical science or chemistry or should go for geography nd public administration??


What can i choose as my optional subject after my ayurveda course or BAMS COURSE? please help


What about choosing philosophy?? Kindly Guide


I found history so fascinating ,geography too while public administration is so informative and constructive for future aspect . what to do?


If I take mathematics as optional subject so whether I can write all other subjects in kannada language reply me sir


Good morning sir

Iam mukesh studiying physics 2nd year

The problems in the physics are so hard to solve

So can it take other 2 optional sub like history and geography


Please refered scoring optional subjects

Shalini Gupta

I m Bsc nsg graduate. which subject I should choose for mains

Z.Abdul Hussain

I am studying b.e computer science which optional paper can I choose


I compelted my graduation B.COM(p). Can i also give exam IAS, and which subject i have to choose


hello sir myself is mohd raza
sir i wana tell you my some past events
sir when i was 10th my prepartion was advanced for my age coz i wana become a scientist my classmates called me albert instine
indeed i had enough understanding to explain things
i knew the cause of it
that was my Lowliness my poverty
it gave me crave to thing more and more about things about universe about life etc
i was fond of books
but my condition was that i could not purchase my all books in 10 th
after completed it
i enter in bio stream because i loved sciense affais
i determined that i will become sincere doctor and during it i will start my search to be depend at goverment expendeture
i obtain first position in my class in HEWETT MUSLIM INTER COLLEGE MBD it was very honorable
in +2 my home condition was distressing me
i was only 17 year old that time my father had 8 lak fine due to my big bro’s business loss
we had to sell our house
i left study and doing work in shope
but my i could not forget my beloved books and my desire to be a scientis
inspite of my diverse circumstances i passed out +2 with 72 %
i had obligation to earn money for my home
i left my study
one day i was reading a news paper
the headline was, a pitable guy kraked ias who was a maid’s son
after it i left work and went home i appeared my wish in front of my parents
that i wana study
they agreed and after 1 year gap
now i m studying in bsc part 1bio in mBD hindu college
sir i wana become an ias but my conditions are hostile
sir give me suggestion how i do preparation for ias


sir this year i clear 12 exam with pcm and my dream is want to be ias so please give me sugestion to which sub is best for graduation and help to prepair ias exam…


Hello.sir iam 12th passed out instersted in civill services examination but dont know how graduation subjects i am a science student with pcm and economics what best for me


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