Choosing IAS Mains Optional

IAS Mains Optional

Selecting the most relevant IAS Mains Optional goes a long way in helping a student score well in Civil Services Mains Exam.

How to Choose IAS Mains Optional ?

The Civil Services Main examination is designed to test the intellectual prowess of an aspirant. It is intended to assess the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of candidates. This is why the most appropriate IAS Mains Optional needs to be selected before beginning preparation.

Civil Services Mains Pattern & Marking Scheme

UPSC has devised a new pattern for Civil Services Mains Examination.

No.  Paper Subject Marks
1 Paper A Indian Language (Qualifying) 300
2 Paper B English (Qualifying) 300
3 Paper I Essay 250
4 Paper II General Studies – I 250
5 Paper III General Studies – II 250
6 Paper IV General Studies – III 250
7 Paper V General Studies – IV 250
8 Paper VI Optional Subject Paper 1 250
9 Paper VII Optional Subject Paper 2 250
  Total   1750
Interview (Personality Test) 275
Grand Total   2025

Thus, the Main examination has 9 papers.  All of them are subjective in nature.

Let me explain the pattern in detail –

There are 2 qualifying papers –

One is English and the other is a paper on any of the enlisted Indian languages. Both carry 300 marks each.

However, their marks will are NOT taken into account in the main examination.

According to the new pattern there are 4 General Studies paper each comprising of 250 marks with a total of 1000 Marks. The syllabus of General Studies for Mains is of degree level. The Four Papers of General Studies are divided as mentioned below –

Paper-I General Studies-I 250 Marks

(Indian Heritage and Culture,

History and Geography of the World and Society)

Paper-III General Studies-III 250 Marks

(Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)

Paper-II General Studies-II 250 Marks

(Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Paper-IV General Studies-IV 250 Marks

(Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)

Marks carried by General Studies was

4 X 250=1000

IAS Mains Optional List 

Here is the Complete List –



Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science



Mechanical Engineering


Medical Science



Civil Engineering


Commerce & Accountancy

Political Science & International Relations



Electrical Engineering

Public Administration





Indian History



List of Literature Subjects Allowed by UPSC

Arabic Gujarati Manipuri Sanskrit
Assamese Hindi Nepali Sindhi
Bengali Kannada Oriya Tamil
Chinese Kashmiri Pali Telugu
English Konkani Persian Urdu
French Marathi Punjabi  
German Malayalam Russian

For viewing the detailed syllabus of each , please visit

Choosing the Correct IAS Mains Optional

  1. First go through the list of all the Optional Subject. Invest a lot of time in reading and understanding the syllabus.
  2. In case you do not want to opt for a subject you studies during graduation or if that optional is not a part of the official list, then go back to your school and college days. Think about your favorite subjects. Think about the subjects you excelled in, in which subject you showed more interest and in the subject in which you scored the most.
  3. Now contemplate on your current situation. See which areas of news you are more interested in. Think which topics of General Studies you like more. Some people like history, some like polity, some sociology, so on and so forth. Think of shortlisting them as your Optional subject.
  4. Now see the list of UPSC Optionals again.
  5. Based on above criteria, make a list of 4-5 subjects which captivates your interest.
  6. Now go through the previous year question papers (at least 3 years) of the shortlisted Subjects. Read all the questions. Again gauge yourself the level of interest you have or residual knowledge you possess to answer each question. It’s just to know yourself how comfortable you are with a subject. Don’t worry if you don’t know answer to any question.
  7. Analyse the syllabus and ponder over the fact that whether it will keep you interested throughout your preparation. This is really important.
  8. Finally, the availability of materials and guidance in the form of coaching matters a lot. For some subjects it is difficult to get standard books, for some coaching may not be available. Non technical subjects can be prepared by doing self study provided you regularly practice writing.
  9. By now you will have a clear picture about choosing the subject best suited to you.
  10. Your task is done.

Popularity of Some Optional Subjects

In IAS exam preparation, certain optional subjects are very popular.

Though the number of candidates selecting each optional for IAS mains can vary year to year, the below table gives an average estimation for the coming years based on past year trends of optional subjects (As per latest syllabus).

Optional Subject Probable Number of Candidates  selecting
 each optional Subject in IAS Mains
History Around 3000
Geography Around 3000
Public Administration Around 3000
Sociology Around 3000
Philosophy + Psychology + Political Science + Economics <2000
All other science/art subjects
(in total)
All literature subjects
(in total)
Total Around 15,000

The never ending questions and queries like best optional for IAS, scoring optional, highest success ratio etc queues up every year, but these questions are relative.

If you examine the background of toppers in the exam, you will be amazed to see wide representation from almost all optional papers listed by UPSC, and that itself tells half of the story.


IAS Mains Optional for Engineering Graduates 

There are only 3 engineering subjects in the list of optionals by UPSC

Mechanical Engineering

Civil Engineering

Electrical Engineering

If you don’t belong to any of these branches then the best thing would be to choose another subject of your interest.

Please keep in mind that all optional subjects are high scoring if you have knowledge in the subject and if you can answer the questions in an analytical frame of mind in line with the latest requirements of UPSC.

4 Things to Avoid While Choosing an Optional

  1. “My Friends and Family have suggested it.”

Do not choose an optional because a friend or a family member suggested it.

2. “Most students opt for it.”

Do Not opt for an optional just because it is what most of the aspirants have chosen. Believe it or not many serious candidates fall prey to this and waste attempts before they even realize it and still many realize it after exhausting their attempts.

3. “Its a high scoring IAS Mains optional”

Candidates have cleared this exam with almost every optional  and not just with the so called high scoring optional. In UPSC there is no high scoring-low scoring optional but only a paper, an innocent examinee and a ruthless examiner. High scoring-Low scoring optional is a myth.

4. “The topper chose this subject last year”

Don’t let your judgment be guided by the optional chosen by the previous year toppers. Probably they topped the examination because they did not base their choice of options on the subjects chosen by still past toppers.

Useful Links for IAS Aspirants




  • Swati

    I am an engineering student in final year of B.Tech(IT). What optional should i select ? Will i be eligible for exam this year ?

    • Swati, i insist you go through the syllabus in detail before making a final choice.

      You’re in the final year of B.Tech so yes you are eligible.

  • SD – 1

    Sir, I want to take Hindi literature as my optional though i’m from a typical Bengali family. I like this subject as well as the language. But many people are suggesting me to take history as an optional. I know that many aspirants who are appearing for this Exam have done specialization in Hindi literature. They will write beautiful answers with beautiful languags. But I really like this subject. I’m totally confused. What should I do? Should I stick to my decision or change my optional and opt for history? Please suggest me…

    • See, if your subject of graduation is not hindi , then I will not suggest you to opt for it unless you have an extremely strong grip of the subject. I understand your point on liking Hindi but the UPSC expects you to have a thorough knowledge of the subject.

      This applies to history or any other optional as well. As mentioned in the article above, an optional should be decided on 3 criteria –

      Interest in the subject
      Availability of resources
      Guidance Available

      So I insist you ponder a little and then make an informed decision.
      All the best.

      • SD – 1

        Thanks a lot mam.

  • Ajay Kadam

    sir,can i choose economics and statistics as optional? what is percentage of qualifying upsc as these optional subjects?


    Hi, is the above Civil Services Mains Pattern & Marking Scheme up to date or valid for 2017 ?

  • Madhur Chauhan

    Mam i have done my graduation in commerce.. so should i take commerce or geography …, I m interested in both…

    • Ravi Rathee

      My graduation subject is mathematics but I have interest in history and knowing about our india past. Please provide me book list for history as optional and tips for preparation

  • Aarti Rao

    Hello maam, I am pursuing PhD in microbiology and I have done my graduation in BSc hons in biotechnology and msc in microbiology. Which subject I will choose for mains , I am very confused. Plz rply me.