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UPSC Civil Services Exam And Optional Subjects With GS Overlap

A Candidate appearing for UPSC Civil Services Exam needs to choose one Optional Subject for the Mains exam. An Optional Subject consists of two Papers for a total of 500 marks.


The choice of Optional subject is left to the candidate and they can choose any one Optional subject from the list of 48 subjects provided by the Commission which includes both Literature subjects and subjects from other Academic Disciplines.


Choosing an optional subject can be one of the challenging tasks. It can be a crucial decision for any candidate who is aspiring to prepare for the UPSC Civil Services Exam and selecting the right one can step up their chances of getting selected and also in getting their desired cadre.


Factors like educational background, interest in the subject, availability of study materials and teachers, the performance of the optional in previous years, success rate, and so on needs to be considered before choosing an Optional Subject.


One of the main criteria to take into consideration while choosing an optional subject is the extent of its overlap with General studies papers which students usually study while preparing for the Preliminary and Mains Examination.


This helps to save a lot of time and help develop conceptual clarity. However, this should not be the only criteria when choosing an Optional Subject and it cannot be a good strategy.


Let us analyze the extent of overlap of few popular Optional Subjects with General Studies:



It is a specialized subject and involves the study of human beings at all places, at all times, in totality. The subject studies every aspect of human beings from social, economic, political, and biological aspects.


The Optional Subject finds overlap with both Preliminary and Mains Examination. In Prelims, it covers topics like Geological time scale, Study of prehistoric ages, Basic biology- cell, chromosomes, cell division, and so on.


In Mains, it covers topics like Indian society(GS 1), Social Justice, Constitutional safeguards, mechanisms, developments related to Scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and OBCs(GS 2), Environment, Role of media, Inclusive growth, Development vs Conservation(GS 3), in GS 4 Ethics paper, Case studies can be answered from an anthropological perspective. 


Apart from these, an Anthropological perspective will add depth and sensitivity to your mains answer. It needs some good drawing skills too which can be easily built and applied in General Studies as well.



Geography is the study of man, his environment, and interaction between the two. This definition of geography tells you about the comprehensive nature of Geography and its vastness to cover many topics of General Studies. Geography has ‘overlapping’ topics that cover Environment, Economics (Human geography- Demography), and Current Events.


It has tremendous overlap with General Studies both in prelims and the mains. With the dynamic questions, Geography also has a lot of connection with subjects like economics, environment, ecology, and environment covering most of the topics in General Studies. Aspirants can also use what they learn in Geography subject in their essay papers on various topics.



This optional subject overlaps to a large extent with the general studies paper I as well as the prelims preparation. Almost 40% of the history optional syllabus is common with the General studies syllabus, making the preparation much easier.


General studies (prelims and mains) contain portions from history. Topics like History of India and Indian National Movement, India and World geography overlaps with the preliminary syllabus, and topics like Modern Indian History, Freedom struggle, post-independence consolidation and reorganization, History of the world, and so on overlaps with GS paper 1.


History will also be helpful in the essay paper. Hence, having a historic vision gives depth to the discussion and arguments.


Public Administration:

Public administration covers almost 60% of the GS papers. It is one of the popular Optional Subjects. Its popularity stems from the nature of the Public Administration syllabus and its implementation in the civil services.


Topics like Indian Polity and Governance(from prelims), Governance, Indian constitution, Functions, and responsibilities of the Union and the States, Parliament and State Legislature(from GS 2), Disaster Management, Planning and Budgeting, Planning issues, Inclusive growth, Government budgeting, Environment, Disaster management(from GS 3), Ethics and Human Interface(from GS 4). It helps in Essay paper as well.


Political Science and International Relations:

Political science is a social science dealing with systems of governance, political thoughts and political behavior, and the analysis of political activities. It has a significant overlap with the General studies paper 2 and covers topics like Constitution, Polity, Social Justice, International Relations, and ethics papers as well.


Literature Subjects: 

Literature optional subjects overlap with Paper A(Indian language) and Paper B(English) -the language papers of mains examination which are qualifying in nature.


This can also help in GS paper 2(CSAT) in the preliminary exam which contains questions on English comprehension, Interpersonal skills like communication skills, and so on. However, Literature Optional subjects have a better success rate compared to other Optionals.


If the candidate has an interest in reading stories and poems and his/her native language is available in the list provided by the commission, this can be the best choice.


Other Practical optional subjects like Mathematics and Statistics do have their role to play in both preliminary exam and Mains exam but to a lesser extent. Topics like Basic Numeracy, Data interpretation overlaps with prelims CSAT paper.


It is common to call these Optional Subjects a disadvantage mainly due to the fact that it has very few or negligible topics overlapping with General Studies papers.


However, given the static and well-balanced nature of the syllabus and requiring less emphasis on memory, this can also be a scoring subject if a candidate has a genuine interest and passion for the subject. In 2018, Kanishak Kataria secured the top position opting for Mathematics as his optional subject.


It is important to refer to the right set of books while preparation as this keeps your preparation on track always and you don’t end up wasting time studying something that was not even required in the first place.


For the most relevant and precise Booklist, please follow the below link from one of the Best IAS Institute in Karnataka for quick reference

Thus choosing the right Optional subject will help you to integrate this knowledge, which will, in turn, result in saving your time and efforts and prepare simultaneously for General Studies and Optional Subject.


The decision of selecting the optional is a personal choice of a candidate, however, this choice should be based on proper analysis of your strengths and weakness.


Interest and prior knowledge in the subject is needed. So, while it is sometimes smarter to take an overlapping optional subject, it is, even more, smarter to take a subject you know well.


Also, it is important to note the fact 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.


UPSC exams are the supreme exams in India. The candidate should be smart and follow the right tactics to score in UPSC smartly. One such smart way is to choose the most prominent optional subject that can yield maximum results at minimum efforts.


Do enough research and settle on the best choice.


All the best!

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December 2023