The Importance of Optional Subject Selection in UPSC Prelims and Mains

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Examination is renowned for its rigorous selection process. Selecting optional subjects in the UPSC Civil Services Examination is a crucial decision. It can significantly impact a candidate’s chances of success. The optional subjects chosen for both the Preliminary and Main stages of the exam play a pivotal role in determining the candidate’s score and ultimately their rank. In this blog, we will delve into the importance of selecting the optional subject in UPSC Prelims and Mains, exploring the factors candidates should consider and the implications of their choices.

Understanding the UPSC Optional Subject

The UPSC allows candidates to choose an optional subject for the Main Examination. This subject carries 500 marks out of the total 1750 marks allotted for the written examination. This means that the optional subject holds considerable weightage in determining an aspirant’s rank and, ultimately, their selection. Therefore, making the right choice is paramount.

Importance of Selecting Optional Subject

Here are some key reasons why optional subject selection is crucial:

1.Strengths and Interests

Opting for a subject that aligns with a candidate’s strengths and interests can make the preparation journey more enjoyable and efficient. A genuine interest in the subject matter often leads to a deeper understanding and better retention of concepts.

2.Scoring Potential

The Choice of an optional subject in UPSC can significantly affect a candidate’s overall score in the UPSC main exam. Certain optional subjects are known for their scoring potential. It is because of their well-defined syllabus and straightforward evaluation criteria. Subjects like Public Administration, Geography, and Sociology have consistently yielded good results. Choosing such subjects can provide candidates with an advantage.

3.Syllabus Overlap

Some optional subjects have significant overlap with the General Studies (GS) papers. For instance, a candidate with a background in history may find it easier to cover the GS history portion by selecting History as their optional subject.

4.Availability of Study Material

The availability of high-quality study material and guidance for a particular subject can significantly impact a candidate’s preparation. Some subjects may have limited study materials or outdated resources, making it challenging for candidates to prepare effectively. On the other hand, subjects with abundant and up-to-date study materials provide candidates with a competitive edge. A well-defined and structured study plan can save candidates valuable time.

5.Previous Performance

Candidates should assess their performance in mock tests and previous exams related to their optional subject. This can help in gauging their proficiency and potential score in that subject.

6.Background and Prior Knowledge

A candidate’s educational background and prior knowledge play a vital role in optional subject selection. Choosing a subject that aligns with one’s educational background can be advantageous. For example, an engineering graduate may find subjects like Engineering, Physics, or Mathematics more comfortable to grasp and excel in.

7.Coaching and Guidance

Many candidates opt for coaching for their optional subjects. The availability of quality coaching institutes and experienced mentors can influence a candidate’s decision. In subjects with well-established coaching centres, candidates can benefit from structured guidance and peer learning.

8.Overlap with General Studies

A strategic choice of an optional subject in UPSC can lead to synergies with the General Studies (GS) papers. Some optional subjects, such as Political Science and International Relations (PSIR) or Sociology, have substantial overlap with GS papers, reducing the overall workload and increasing efficiency in preparation.

9.Subject-Specific Skills

The preparation for the optional subject can also impart subject-specific skills that may be valuable during the Mains examination and in a candidate’s future career. For instance, a candidate who chooses Economics may develop a deeper understanding of economic policies, which can be beneficial in policymaking roles in the civil services.

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Challenges and Considerations

While selecting an optional subject, candidates should be aware of the challenges they may encounter:

1.Subject Complexity

Some optional subjects are more complex and demanding than others. Candidates must be prepared to invest the necessary time and effort to master their chosen subject.

2.Evolving Trends

UPSC’s optional subject preferences can change over the years. What may be a popular subject one year may lose favour in subsequent exams. Candidates should keep an eye on these trends.

3.Limited Attempts

Candidates have a limited number of attempts to clear the UPSC exam. A poor choice of an optional subject can lead to multiple failures, resulting in wasted attempts.


The choice of an optional subject in the UPSC examination is not to be taken lightly. It has a profound impact on an aspirant’s journey from the Prelims to the Mains. The right selection can provide an advantage in terms of overlapping syllabus, scoring potential, and motivation, while the wrong choice can lead to difficulties and underperformance.

Aspirants must carefully assess their strengths, interests, and backgrounds before making this crucial decision. Consulting with mentors, reviewing previous year’s question papers, and conducting thorough research on each optional subject can aid in making an informed choice.

Ultimately, the importance of optional subject selection cannot be overstated in the pursuit of success in the UPSC examination. It is a decision that should be made strategically, considering the long-term implications on an aspirant’s chances of cracking this prestigious exam and fulfilling their dream of serving the nation through the civil services.

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