decide in haste repent at leisure



Selecting of the IAS Mains Optional always puts Civil Services aspirants in a spot to bother. the number of optional subjects to be selected at the moment is one, but aspirants are always divided on what represents the right choice. Among the many things that need careful consideration are

1.  whether to go with subjects that have large weightage in GS papers.

2. To go with interest oriented subjects or so called high scoring subjects.

3. Finally, are small syllabus subjects worth a try as linguistics, since a lot of toppers in last few years opted for linguistics.

4. Disproportionate impact - Though the weightage of the optional paper is only roughly a quarter out of 1750 marks ( total for civil service exam).

but students at times score 35-40% of their total score.

How is safe score to get an interview call?

Analysis of last 8 years shows mean variation between 750 - 810 to be safest score in the mains written exam. Mean score in

  1. GS (1000 MARKS) - 360 - 390
  2. OPTIONAL is -         280 - 310
  3. ESSAY is  -              115 - 130

Always remember, that it is not only because optionals being high scoring that cut- off in mains rises, but is also because some standardisation between optionals leads to this incomprehensible rise.

How right selection of Optional can make or mar your chance in IAS Mains?

Even if you are strong in GS papers, it will be foolhardy to not emphasize on optionals, as it is difficult to score 45% in GS but one can score 60% in optional, which is a norm among most toppers.

Long term preparation plays a big role in deciding whether you score above average or not.

Selecting an optional with high weightage in mains GS IS THE BEST STRATEGY?

Truth is that it works but do not select an optional just for the sake of it.

Always remember that 

Other factors that should be kept in mind -

  1. INTEREST IN A SUBJECT SHOULD BE PARAMOUNT, in deciding your optional.
  2. Don’t opt for an optional subject which has an unwieldly syllabus
  3. Do not ignore the level of comfort.
  4. Account for the length of time available before exam.

Number of candidates appearing for different IAS Mains Optional Subjects

In IAS exam preparation, certain optional subjects are very popular. Though the number of candidates selecting each optional for IAS mains can vary year to year, the below table gives an average estimation for the coming years based on past year trends of optional subjects (As per latest syllabus).

Optional Subject Probable Number of Candidates  selecting
 each optional Subject in IAS Mains
History Around 3000
Geography Around 3000
Public Administration Around 3000
Sociology Around 3000
Philosophy + Psychology + Political Science + Economics <2000
All other science/art subjects
(in total)
All literature subjects
(in total)
Total Around 15,000

PS: The above chart is just indicative in nature as the trend varies every year.

The never ending questions and queries like best optional for IAS, scoring optional, highest success ratio etc queues up every year, but these questions are relative. If you examine the background of toppers in the exam, you will be amazed to see wide representation from almost all optional papers listed by UPSC, and that itself tells half of the story. Please keep in mind that all optional subjects are high scoring if you have knowledge in the subject and if you can answer the questions in an analytical frame of mind in line with the latest requirements of UPSC.



selecting the optional is a choice that each aspirant must arrive at  based on individuals strengths and weakness. Seeking advice is an action fraught with risk, as personal preferences & bias might distort decision making. Remember, only you know your strength, weakness, taste and availability of study materials. Take broad suggestion, but let the decision be yours and be based on careful research & available data. wish you all the best.




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