Every year, aspirants are faced by a flood of decision-making challenges right before the ‘Civil Services Examination’ conducted by the UPSC. The confusion about the number of subjects available in your optional, what to cover for GS, how to prepare the essays, how to choose best UPSC Optional Subjects etc., are in volumes and enough to numb one’s brain. This is when one must keep in mind that the optional paper is a game changer.

It accounts for 25% of the total marks (2025,) including the written and personality tests altogether. Thus, your optional subject becomes the fulcrum on which you can aspire to getting a higher all total score.  To overcome a trivial problem such as choosing the best subject for optional papers VI and VII (250 each), one must go through the following

Criteria For Choosing IAS Optional Subjects

There are certain criteria you must keep in mind before choosing the UPSC optional subjects

Your Educational Background- If you have graduated whether in History, English, medical science, etc., these divided into technical and humanities subjects. According to which you are to choose your optional subject not only if you had interest but also scored evidently good marks.

Science graduates must choose their graduation subject only if they are exceptionally good at it. Humanities students shall bank on their graduation subjects if they were good at it and are comfortable studying subjects like Sociology, Political Science, which requires understanding of basic theories. 

Read: 7 Most Common UPSC Doubts Among UPSC Aspirants

The subject you choose should not be time consuming for most of the optional subjects have huge syllabus, like geography, mathematics, etc. The difficulty level of the questions for humanities subjects will be one level higher than graduation. And one level lower than post graduation level. For technical/science subject’s difficulty level is graduation level. But keeping in mind everything, short syllabus is the key to cover everything in two to three months time.

You need proper guidance and enough material in the market if you don’t have a background of that subject. Humanities subjects, especially require special attention for one has to write it in a descriptive manner. Your answer must include all the theoretical or static inputs, have a clear conceptual evaluation of your answer and get proper feedback from a person who has studied that subject. 

You must have interest. You will have to devote at least 2-3 months in that subject so that you don’t lose interest and waste time in changing subjects every week till time runs out. 

Read: How To Prepare For UPSC Along With Job?

Steps To Choose The Best UPSC Optional Subjects

  • One must go through the list of optional subjects. You will get in on the UPSC website. There will be 26 subjects. 
  • Based on your educational background, strike off subjects that you haven’t even heard of before in your academics. Please keep in mind that while striking off, look over their matter, they are about, how much preparation one needs. Many technical/science graduates strike off humanities subjects but actually lose out on an opportunity to get the extra edge.
  • Your own aptitude matters while striking off the subjects. Since a humanities graduate cannot choose chemistry or physics as their optional.
  • You will slowly end up making the list shorter, keeping in the mind the above criteria mentioned. Be cent percent sure before striking off a subject. 
  • Now, go back and check the subject from GS that you liked the most. This is a very helpful process as it makes you find your interest as well as keeps you noted about the subjects you might have struck off.
  • If you are good in Literature, preferably in your mother tongue, and if it is enlisted, you should, absolutely go ahead.


How To Short List Best Subjects According To Your Preference?

Go over the subjects again and go ahead-

  • You have already gone through the above steps to choose an optional subject. In the process have successfully stuck off all the subjects you don’t really need or have an aptitude to study further as you optional subject.
  • By now you must have created a list of 4 to 5 subjects that you think you have interest and aptitude in.
  • Now, take out previous years question papers and look up all the questions asked from the subjects you selected. Measure and weigh out all the options on the basis of your level of interest and aptitude.


  •  Keep a check on availability of material in the market and online, as well as guidance. Non-technical subjects can be prepared on your own, provided you are consistent as there are ample material available.
  • This is the point when you have sieved through everything and all that lasts are two subjects in hand.
  •  Again, success rate, popularity, scoring ability, and prior theoretical knowledge in subject are to be considered now because you realize that you have equal interest in both the subjects. Any online reports will show you the success rate of the optional subjects chosen. You can accordingly take the last decision.
  • Check whether you can study the subject you choose through self-preparation.

Read: UPSC Geography Optional: Best Preparation Strategy, Books, Coaching Institutes

What Are The 10 Best UPSC Optional Subjects One Can Choose?

10 best upsc optional subjects ias optional subjects

Going according to basic success rate data of optional subjects through years, here are the following-

  1. Sociology
  2. Agriculture
  3. Medical Science
  4. Literature Subject (Any)
  5. Anthropology
  6. Public Administration
  7. Psychology
  8. Law
  9. Geography
  10. History

However, these are just broad indicators of how frequently UPSC candidates chose these subjects and were successful. This list does not limit your choices or force you to take up a subject from here only.

Read: How To Crack UPSC in One Year?

The exam will challenge you to give your best. You can give your best only when you know very well how much interest you have in that subject. This list only helps you to have an option so it helps you find out your strength and your weaknesses. Your perspective and interest matters the most. Thus, do your research and work on finding out what optional subject suits you the best.

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If you have any doubts in selecting your UPSC Optional Subjects, then you can ask us in the comment section below.


  1. Well I followed the steps . However stuck with Psychology and anthropology optional .
    Interest lies equally for both .
    Please help in deciding.


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