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How To Choose Civil Services IAS Mains Optional Subject : Detailed Guidelines, Full List, Comparative Analysis & Things to Avoid

Civil Services IAS Mains Optional Subject

Civil Services IAS Mains Optional Subject

Selecting the most scoring and vital UPSC IAS Mains Optional goes a long way in helping a student score well in Civil Services Mains Exam. The Civil Services Mains exam is designed to test the intellectual prowess of an aspirant. It is intended to assess the overall mental traits and depth of understanding of a particular candidate. This is why the most appropriate Civil Services IAS Mains Optional Subject needs to be selected before beginning preparation.

However, in the initial stages of preparation, it is challenging to make out which subject is interesting enough to sustain an aspirant’s attention for the next 1 or 2 years at a stretch. Many senior aspirants went through the same dilemma of choosing a ‘scoring’ or ‘manageable’ optional subject, for almost a month during the initial phase of their preparation.

Detailed Guidelines for Selecting Your Mains Optional Subject

  1. Divide your attention between the science and humanities subjects first up. Ask yourself which line of thought you are more ‘comfortable’ with. It does not matter which stream you graduated in, as long as you are convinced about your strengths and weaknesses in two separate fields. This is easy to decipher.
  2. Look at the list of optional subjects in UPSC CSE notification, and straightaway discard a few. There are 25 such subjects, excluding the regional languages, and you can easily make out which ones just don’t appeal to you.

    For some, such ‘straightaway rejects’ would be Botany, Engineering subjects, Management, Mathematics, Medical Science, Zoology, Statistics, Commerce and Economics. These should be the subjects in which you have ZERO interest.
  3. The list is already narrowed down, and you should not be left with more than 8 to 10 subjects after the first two steps. For the remaining subjects, check the following – Syllabus, Previous Years Question Papers, and availability of material for self-study.

    You don’t have to get into any kind of big data analysis. Still, a cursory glance at the keywords in the syllabus, and question papers will tell you whether you are feeling okay to go ahead with a particular subject.

    For example, most people don’t like reading maps at all, and they are pretty weak in identifying exact spots on a map – hence they should reject Geography even though it is not entirely out of their ambit of interest.
  4. You may still be unable to decide and be left with 2 or 3 options. In such a situation pick up the most basic book (ideally Class XI or XII NCERT) for each of the remaining subjects, and get through with it in 2–3 days each. You will yourself know the option that you will be going ahead with now.

Full List of Optional Subjects for Mains Exam

Comparative Analysis of Science and Humanities Subjects

Essential Points to Consider

Things to Avoid While Choosing an Optional Subject


There is no such thing as the “best subject”. It’s a UPSC CSE myth. The thumb rule of choosing the optional subject for UPSC CSE, accepted by most successful and aspiring candidates, is that you must be interested in it. ALL the subjects have an equally good chance of fetching good marks. It depends on YOU how you handle that particular subject.

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