Top ten most scoring optional subjects in the UPSC Exam

The UPSC Civil Services Exam is a nationwide competitive examination conducted for recruitment to diverse civil services of the Government of India. It is conducted in three phases namely, the prelims, the mains and the UPSC Board Interview. The mains exam consists of nine papers all of which are descriptive in nature. Out of these nine, two are optional subject papers. Candidates have to choose one optional subject out of the list of more than 30 subjects given by the UPSC.

@ Srishti Saxena from Pune

The weightage of the optional subject is 500 marks out of 2025 marks as per the latest pattern of UPSC Civil Services Exam. Due to the unpredictability related with General Studies Paper and Interview and the level of competition involved selection of a right optional subject is very vital for Civil Services aspirants.

You need to select a subject in which you are sure enough that you can score high. Select a subject with which you are comfortable. There are many factors which will decide the level of ease that you have with a subject like your acquaintance with the subject, availability of books and study material, availability of a good faculty, the level of difficulty, recent trends of marks etc. Take a subject that you can complete in a time bound manner without affecting your GS preparations.

Selecting an optional subject which has overlapping content with General Studies is a great strategy. This way you can save your time. But you should never take an optional just because of this one reason or just because it is popular. You should also not take an optional subject which requires immense preparation. Analyze where your interest lies and where you can give your best in.
Here is a list of the top ten most scoring subjects in the UPSC exams.


Geography is a very interesting subject as you can relate it with your day to day life. It is scientific so once you understand the basics concepts you can write the answers in your own words. It covers at least 30 questions out of 100 in prelims. No other optional has such an exhaustive coverage in GS. Even if you opt for any other subject, you will have to cover 50% of the Geography optional syllabus. The students of this optional can also fetch more and more marks by making the presentation beautiful through maps and diagrams. It is scoring. With some hard work it is possible to fetch 300+ marks in this subject.  If you are curious about knowing the places, cities, countries, oceans, the geological facts about earth and so on geography is the right subject for you. However, various facts and figures require exhaustive reading.

Public Administration
Public Administration is a subject which has relevance in whichever service you go in after clearing UPSC. It has relevance in almost the entire private sector world as well.  The subject gives you an idea about implementation of government policies. As future administrators you should have the knowledge about it. The subject is generally regarded as easy and simple to understand. There is ample amount of study material available and questions are mostly straight-forward. There is also lot of overlap with General Studies paper. The syllabus is not very vast and you can complete the subject within 4 to 5 months. It mostly involves self study so you only require limited coaching for it.
Sociology is the study of human social relationships and institutions. Simply, the subject deals with the society. It helps in ‘Issues of Social Relevance’ section of the General Studies paper and also helps in the Essay paper. Students with Sociology optional have been consistently getting top ranks in UPSC. Almost all policy decisions are governed by societal norms and dynamics, therefore a good understanding of Sociology is essential. The subject has a good scoring potential as with sufficient writing practice, one can score 300+ marks in it. The syllabus also isn’t that vast and can be completed in 6 months.
Anthropology studies man, in totality. It studies evolution and diversity among humans from social, cultural and biological point of view in an integrated fashion. The subject is considered easy for science graduates. As an optional subject, it is very popular because it is considered scoring and also, its syllabus is very less now after a few portions were deleted. A good understanding of this subject also helps in your Ethics and Essay paper. The biology related topics are easier to score as they are not subjective.
Psychology is very fascinating especially to those who have always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. It is highly interesting and engaging because you will be able to relate to your own life while studying. It is not a dry subject. There is a lot of scope for using real-life examples in the exam. There is an easy and good availability of study materials. It is a good optional for MBBS graduates who do not wish to take up medical science as their optional subject.

History is a static subject where information never changes. So if you are in your subsequent attempts, your preparation will get easier as the subject won’t change. It has vast syllabus, however, it also has overlap with the syllabus of General Studies. Almost the entire Modern Indian History section is also part of General Studies. If you can memorize content then this will be a good subject for you. General studies contain portions from history. Topics in history will also be helpful in the essay paper. It is also interesting for many people as you can understand it like a story.
Political Science and International Relations
Political Science and International Relations is a subject which is not too technical and even if somebody does not have a background in it, he can understand it easily because the concepts are very general.  Many of its sections overlap with the syllabus of General Studies like Indian Polity & Governance, India & the World, and International Affairs and Institutions. Every year at least one topic comes from Political science in the essay paper so it helps there too. Many topics in this subject are also interrelated so it saves your time. This subject can also help in your current affairs preparation.

Image result for law
Law is a very general subject. Everybody has some understanding of the fundamentals of law, like what is right, what is wrong, etc. You don’t have to be experts in law to opt for this subject. It is an interesting and scoring subject as you can learn a lot about law by reading newspapers and following news. Also it doesn’t require rote learning because the papers are application based. Topics like governance issues, RTI, relationship between organs of state, etc. have significance for the GS papers. The syllabus is also limited and can be covered in a relatively short period of time. The questions are sometimes repeated and are predictable.
Philosophy has the shortest syllabus in the mains exam. It takes only about 2 months to finish this subject and hence you can save time to focus on the general studies papers. No prior knowledge is needed to take this optional. Students from any background can take it. It is theory based and hence is scoring. Topics like democracy, humanism, secularism, corruption, religion, women empowerment, etc. come in handy for the essay paper. Studying it is especially helpful in the Ethics paper and you can get lots of quotes from it too. The success ratio of Philosophy in English medium is also very high.

Though not as popular as some other subjects like Public Administration or Geography, Economics has a good success rate among candidates. There have been toppers with this optional also. It is a logical and rational subject. There is a decent amount of overlap with the General studies paper. The syllabus is very precise and even science background students can study it because of its logical nature. If you have prior knowledge in it, you can clear this subject without taking help from any coaching. If you are clear with the concepts and can understand and use graphs well, you can write better answers and eventually score good marks.

Keep in mind that all optional subjects are high scoring if you have knowledge in the subject and a desire to learn it. Any optional that you find interesting, stimulating and fun to learn is right for you. Remember that your success depends solely on you. All the Best! 

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