UPSC Exam: Optional Subjects

Optional Subjects in the UPSC exam offer candidates the opportunity to choose a subject of their interest and expertise. These subjects carry significant weightage in the Main Examination and allow candidates to showcase their in-depth knowledge and understanding in a particular field. Here’s an introduction to Optional Subjects:

The UPSC Main Examination consists of a set of compulsory papers, including Essay, General Studies, and the Indian Language paper. In addition to these papers, candidates are required to choose one optional subject from a list provided by the UPSC. The optional subject carries two papers (Paper-I and Paper-II), each carrying 250 marks. The optional subject choice plays a crucial role in determining an aspirant’s score and rank in the final merit list.

Candidates have a wide range of subjects to choose from, including literature, social sciences, humanities, science, engineering, and more. The selection of an optional subject should be based on an aspirant’s interest, academic background, and availability of study resources. Here’s a glimpse of the available optional subjects:

  • Literature:
  • English Literature
  • Hindi Literature
  • Bengali Literature
  • Urdu Literature
  • Tamil Literature
  • Telugu Literature
  • Kannada Literature
  • Malayalam Literature
  • Punjabi Literature
  • Sanskrit Literature
  • Assamese Literature
  • Gujarati Literature
  • Marathi Literature
  • Odia Literature
  • Social Sciences:
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology
  • Geography
  • Anthropology
  • Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Philosophy
  • Humanities:
  • Economics
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • Science and Engineering:
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Botany
  • Zoology
  • Geology
  • Agriculture
  • Civil Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering

Choosing an optional subject requires careful consideration. Aspirants should assess their aptitude, background knowledge, availability of study materials, and the scoring pattern of the chosen subject. It is crucial to dedicate sufficient time and effort to master the subject and stay updated with recent developments. Coaching institutes, subject experts, and standard textbooks are valuable resources for optional subject preparation.

Please note that the availability of optional subjects may be subject to change by the UPSC. It is essential to refer to the official UPSC website for the most updated and accurate information regarding the list of optional subjects.

Choosing the Right Optional Subject

Choosing the right optional subject in the UPSC exam is a crucial decision that can significantly impact an aspirant’s performance and chances of success. The choice of an optional subject should be based on several factors, including personal interest, academic background, availability of study materials, scoring potential, and future career aspirations. Here’s an in-depth exploration of the factors to consider when choosing the right optional subject:

Personal Interest and Aptitude: Consider your personal interest and passion for a particular subject. Opt for a subject that genuinely fascinates you and motivates you to study and explore its various aspects. Having a genuine interest in the subject will make your preparation journey more enjoyable and rewarding.

Academic Background and Familiarity: Take into account your academic background and prior knowledge of a subject. If you have a strong foundation in a particular subject due to your academic qualifications or work experience, it can give you an advantage in understanding and grasping the subject matter.

Availability of Study Resources: Ensure that there are ample study resources available for the chosen optional subject. Access to good quality textbooks, reference materials, online resources, and coaching or guidance for the subject can make a significant difference in your preparation.

Scoring Potential: Evaluate the scoring potential of the optional subject. Look into the past trends and analysis of optional subjects’ performance to identify subjects with a relatively higher success rate and scoring potential. It is advisable to choose a subject with a balanced and objective evaluation pattern that aligns with your strengths.

Synergy with General Studies: Consider the overlap between the chosen optional subject and the General Studies (GS) papers. Opting for a subject that complements your GS preparation can help in integrated studying and save time and effort. There may be areas of convergence between the optional subject and GS, which can enhance your overall understanding of related topics.

Career Aspirations: Think about your future career aspirations and how the chosen optional subject aligns with those goals. If you have a specific career path or professional interest that requires expertise in a particular subject, choosing that subject as your optional can be advantageous.

Guidance and Mentorship: Consider seeking guidance from subject experts, teachers, and mentors who can provide insights and advice on choosing the right optional subject. They can offer valuable suggestions based on their experience and expertise, helping you make an informed decision.

Mock Tests and Practice: Before finalizing your optional subject choice, attempt mock tests and practice papers for different subjects. This can give you a hands-on experience of the subject, its level of difficulty, and your comfort level in answering questions. It can also help you assess your performance and identify areas of improvement.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the right optional subject. Every aspirant is unique, and the choice should be based on individual strengths, interests, and circumstances. Take your time, thoroughly research and evaluate the available options, and make a well-informed decision that aligns with your aspirations and maximizes your chances of success.

Popular Optional Subjects and their Syllabus

In the UPSC exam, several optional subjects are favored by aspirants due to their scoring potential, availability of study resources, and the level of interest among candidates. Here’s an in-depth exploration of some popular optional subjects and their syllabus:


  • Ancient India: Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic Period, Mauryan Empire, Gupta Empire, etc.
  • Medieval India: Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire, Bhakti and Sufi Movements, etc.
  • Modern India: British Raj, Indian National Movement, Socio-religious Reform Movements, etc.
  • World History: Industrial Revolution, World Wars, Cold War, Decolonization, etc.


  • Physical Geography: Earth’s structure, climate, landforms, geomorphology, etc.
  • Human Geography: Population dynamics, urbanization, agriculture, industrialization, etc.
  • Indian Geography: Physiography, climate, vegetation, agriculture, mineral resources, etc.
  • Regional Geography: Study of different regions in India and their characteristics.

Public Administration:

  • Administrative Theory: Principles of administration, bureaucracy, public-private partnerships, etc.
  • Indian Administration: Evolution of Indian administration, administrative reforms, governance, etc.
  • Comparative Public Administration: Comparative analysis of public administration systems globally.
  • Development Administration: Planning, rural development, urban governance, poverty alleviation, etc.


  • Basic Concepts: Society, culture, socialization, social institutions, etc.
  • Social Structure: Social stratification, class, caste, gender, tribe, etc.
  • Social Change and Development: Modernization, globalization, social movements, etc.
  • Indian Society: Diversity, family, religion, population, education, etc.

Political Science and International Relations:

  • Political Theory: Thinkers, concepts, ideologies, democracy, justice, etc.
  • Comparative Politics: Comparative study of political systems and institutions.
  • Indian Government and Politics: Constitution, legislature, judiciary, federalism, etc.
  • International Relations: Concepts, theories, global organizations, India’s foreign policy, etc.

Literature (English, Hindi, etc.):

  • Study of Literary Texts: Novels, dramas, poems, short stories, etc.
  • Literary Movements: Renaissance, modernism, postcolonial literature, etc.
  • Literary Criticism and Theory: Approaches to literary analysis and interpretation.


  • Social-Cultural Anthropology: Societies, kinship, marriage, religion, rituals, etc.
  • Biological Anthropology: Human evolution, primatology, genetics, etc.
  • Archaeological Anthropology: Archaeological methods, prehistoric cultures, etc.
  • Applied Anthropology: Applied aspects of anthropology, fieldwork, research methods, etc.

Please note that the syllabus for each optional subject is vast and detailed. It is essential to refer to the official UPSC syllabus and recommended books for a comprehensive understanding of the subject. The syllabus may undergo periodic updates by the UPSC, and aspirants should refer to the latest syllabus available on the official UPSC website.

Remember, while popularity can be a factor to consider, it is equally important to choose a subject that aligns with your interest, aptitude, and academic background. The key to success lies in diligent preparation, thorough understanding of concepts, and regular practice.

Study Resources for Optional Subjects

Preparing for optional subjects in the UPSC exam requires a comprehensive and structured approach. Aspirants should utilize a variety of study resources to gain a deep understanding of the subject matter and develop a strong conceptual foundation. Here’s an in-depth exploration of the study resources available for optional subjects:
Standard Textbooks: Refer to standard textbooks recommended by experts and toppers in the respective optional subjects. These textbooks provide comprehensive coverage of the syllabus and help in building a strong conceptual understanding. Make sure to choose the latest editions to stay updated with any recent developments or revisions in the subject.
Reference Books: Supplement your preparation with reference books that provide additional insights, advanced concepts, and different perspectives on the subject. These books are often written by renowned authors and subject experts and can help in enhancing your understanding and critical analysis of the topics.
UPSC Previous Year Question Papers: Analyze and solve previous year question papers of optional subjects to understand the exam pattern, question trends, and the depth of knowledge required. This practice will also familiarize you with the type of questions asked and help you develop an effective exam strategy.
Study Guides and Notes: Utilize study guides and notes prepared by subject experts or coaching institutes. These guides provide concise summaries, key points, and topic-wise explanations, which can be useful for quick revision and reinforcement of important concepts.
Online Study Materials and Websites: Explore online study materials, lecture notes, and resources available on educational websites and portals. Many reputed coaching institutes offer free or paid online study materials, video lectures, and interactive platforms for doubt clearance. Online platforms also provide access to study groups and discussion forums, enabling aspirants to interact with peers and subject experts.
Subject-Specific Magazines and Journals: Subscribe to subject-specific magazines and journals that cover current affairs, research papers, and articles related to your optional subject. These publications provide in-depth analysis, case studies, and updates on recent developments in the field, enhancing your knowledge and critical thinking abilities.
Online Video Lectures and Webinars:Benefit from online video lectures and webinars conducted by experts in the field. Many educational platforms offer recorded lectures and live sessions where subject experts explain complex topics, provide insights, and address common doubts and queries. These resources can be valuable in gaining a better understanding of the subject.
Coaching Institutes and Study Centers: Consider enrolling in reputed coaching institutes or joining study centers that provide specialized guidance and coaching for optional subjects. These institutes offer structured study plans, classroom lectures, mock tests, and personalized guidance from experienced faculty members, helping aspirants in systematic preparation.
Subject-Specific Study Groups and Forums: Join or form study groups with fellow aspirants preparing for the same optional subject. Engage in discussions, share notes, exchange study materials, and solve practice questions together. Participate in online forums and discussion platforms where aspirants can interact with experts and clarify their doubts.
Research Papers and Case Studies: Refer to research papers, case studies, and scholarly articles related to your optional subject. These academic sources provide deeper insights, theoretical frameworks, and analytical perspectives on specific topics, helping you develop a more nuanced understanding of the subject matter.
Remember, while utilizing study resources, it is essential to maintain a balance between comprehensive coverage and effective time management. Prioritize high-quality resources, focus on understanding concepts rather than rote memorization, and revise regularly to reinforce your knowledge.
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