Let’s list down some parameters that will help you in deciding your UPSC Optional:

  1. Scoring Potential
  2. Predictability
  3. Consistency
  4. Availability of Study material
  5. Availability of expert guidance
  6. Academic Background
  7. Current trends
  8. Is it in IFoS
  9. Plan B

These are few major parameters which one can think of. Now let’s weigh Mathematics on these parameters:

  1. Scoring Potential: Every year topper in Mathematics scores more than 350 marks. Highest marks scored so far in Mathematics stands at 375 which are way ahead than any other optional’s highest marks. So, Mathematics tops the scoring potential index by a good margin.
  2. Predictability: Mathematics is a hardcore science subject. It has no scope for interpretation. Every question has a definite answer. There are no multiple perspectives. This makes Mathematics a predictable optional. You are in a situation to predict your score after attempting the question paper. There is no room for surprises.
  3.  Consistency: The learning curve is always positive in Mathematics. Your score will improve with surety in every next attempt. If this year you managed to get only 260 marks , next year you can be sure that your marks will be more than 280.
  4. Availability of Study Material: There are plenty of good books available in the market that are relevant for UPSC. Moreover, plenty of free resources like NPTEL,  MIT courses etc are available for self study.
  5. Availability of Expert Guidance: Here at LevelUP IAS, you have the opportunity to learn from the best. You can refer our faculty page for more info.
  6. Academic background: If you are an engineering graduate then you  have already covered around 60% of the syllabus e.g. Vector , Calculus, Geometry, Numerical Analysis, Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations, Statics, Dynamics , Mechanics etc . Apart from this if you are still in college then you can take these courses in electives and thus cover almost 100% of the syllabus even before graduating. So if you are Science Graduate or Engineering Graduate, Mathematics is for you.
  7. Current trend: Mathematical as an UPSC optional is never out of vogue. Marks scored by selected candidates speak volume of it.
  8. Is it in IFoS: Indian Forest Service is one of the three All India Services. Art graduates are not even eligible to appear in this prestigious examination. Only Science and few engineering subjects are allowed as optional subject. Mathematics proudly is listed in this list.
  9. Plan B: It’s not a sign of weakness to have a Plan B rather it’s prudent to have a Plan B, just in case things go south. If Mathematics is your option, then there are plenty of career opportunity in the outside world like DATA Scientist /Analyst/GATE/NET JRF/JAM etc.

Choosing Optional is most crucial decision of your UPSC Journey. Take your time, think rationally. Weigh all your options. Once you have decided, there is no turning back.

Please feel free to contact us in case of any dilemma. We are here to help.

Best of Luck, May God be with you


B.Tech (IIT R), IES.

Frequently asked Questions

  1. Only IIT/NIT guys opt for maths? It’s only a myth. Many engineering or science graduates who have interest in math opt for it. With proper guidance and timely preparation, anyone can ace the paper. UPSC Math is not like the Math asked in IIT JEE. It is more subjective and may require little bit cramming. Those who have done B.Sc, hardly anything is left to cover. For engineering graduates, if you decide early, you can cover entire syllabus in college itself by choosing Math department electives.
  2. Should I prepare proofs? If time permits you should cover each and every corner of the syllabus. In some topics like Linear Algebra, proofs should be done. In ODE, PDE, Real Analysis etc, one can ignore proofs.
  3. How is the scaling in Mathematics? Don’t think about scaling, prepare well and you will score more than 310 with ease.
  4. Which books should I refer? As the saying goes, books and friends should be few and good. Don’t try to solve too many problems from any random book. Follow standard books and revise them multiple times. Here is the list of books:
Linear Algebra ·         Krishna Series /Schaum

·         For Matrix : Krishna series

Calculus ·         Savita Arora (Mathematical Analysis)

·         Shantinarayan books on Differential Calculus and Integral Calculus

Analytical Geometry ·         PN Chatterjee/Krishna series
Ordinary Differential Equation ·         M.D. Raisinghania (S. Chand)

·         For Laplace- Class lectures

Dynamics and Statics ·         Krishna Series
Vector Analysis ·         Krishna Series

·         For TNB system : Class Lecture

Modern Algebra ·         Khanna and Bhambri
Real Analysis ·         Savita Arora (Mathematical Analysis)

·         Elements of Real Analysis

Complex Analysis ·         Krishna Series book by Vashishtha
Linear Programming ·         RK Gupta Krishna series
Partial Differential Equations ·         M.D. Raisinghania (S. Chand)
Numerical Analysis and Computer Programming ·         Shankar G Rao
Mechanics ·         Krishna Rigid Dynamics I

·         For Lagranges/Hamiltonian: Class lectures

Fluid Dynamics ·         M.D. Raisinghania

·         Class lectures


  1. Can I prepare Mathematics without joining any coaching Institute? What one needs to clear UPSC examination is hard work, dedication and proper guidance. If you have someone to guide you, if you understand the demand of the UPSC and if you have group of 2/3 dedicated friends with whom you can discuss your doubts then you may not join any coaching classes. But everyone may not be that lucky. Actually, Coaching plays the role of facilitator. It provides the proper mentorship which is required to clear this examination. UPSC is a marathon. You are supposed to stick to the routine for almost a year. Coaching provides that ecosystem where you can maintain your rhythm and tempo throughout the year. CSE is highly competitive examination. Exam cycle is lengthy. One mistake may cost you an entire year. So, it leaves no scope for taking risks/chances. Moreover, you get to know your fellow aspirants; with them you can collaborate and clear your doubts. Remember, many of the deserving candidates fail to clear the exam just due to lack of proper guidance at proper time. So if you have none to guide you then you should join some coaching institute to save time, energy and money.
  2. To what extent NPTEL/youtube videos are helpful? See, NPTEL videos are not relevant for UPSC CSE. It will be a complete waste of time.
  3. How much time will it take to cover the entire syllabus? If you invest 5 to 6 hours daily, then it will roughly take 6 months.
  4. How much time should I devote to Math on daily basis? It depends on your target. If you plan to finish the entire syllabus within 6 months, then you might have to study 5 to 6 hrs daily. Once you are done with the first round, devote minimum 2 hours daily. By doing this, you won’t forget whatever you have prepared in last 6 months.
  5. Should I solve previous year questions? This is must. Not just CSE PYQs, try to cover IFoS PYQs too. You understand the syllabus in much better way while solving PYQs.
  6. When should I start preparing Mathematics? Minimum one year before writing the prelims exam. You cannot prepare after prelims, so plan in such a way that you are able to complete your 80% syllabus before prelims.
  7. How to attempt question paper in Exam Hall? Adopt the strategy of 2 2 1. This is for time management. In first hour, try to complete any two questions; in the next hour, again complete two questions. Complete rest of the paper in the last hour. Space is limited in the answer sheet; hence, use smartly. In Math, you generally don’t use entire page from left to right. Try to use entire breadth of paper. Use calculator extensively to save time and space.
  8. Which calculator is allowed in UPSC exam hall? All scientific non programmable calculators are allowed. You can buy Casio FX-991ES or FX-991EX.
  9. Can I leave physics topics mentioned in the syllabus? If you are targeting more than 350, then you cannot ignore any part of the syllabus. Also entirely leaving any topic will be blunder as the competition is really tough. So even if you want to leave some topic, you should at least prepare easy portion so that you can attempt 10M questions.
  10. Space for answer writing is enough? It is enough if you have practised well at home. Remember the saying, the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in battle. So practise hard and you will not feel any space crunch.
  11. Should I join any test series? The test series is must. If you have not joined any classes then at least join any yearlong test series. This will keep your brain sharp and your preparation will remain on track throughout the year. Continuous evaluations will also help you in identifying the weaker areas.