UPSC Mains Economics Optional: All you need to know

Economics Optional Overview: Adam Smith, the Father of Modern Economics defined Economics as, “an inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations.” Economics, one of the most popular social science subjects is one of the most important aspects of a country. Any civil servant should be aware of the Indian Economy and the position of India in World Economics. This makes Economics an essential optional subject in UPSC Mains.

UPSC Mains economics optional

Although not as popular as optional subjects like Anthropology and Sociology, Economics as optional has seen a pretty good number of candidates achieving the topmost ranks. This includes the top-rank holder of CSE 2013, Gaurav Agarwal.

The syllabus of Economics optional paper, which is divided into two sub-papers, Paper I and Paper II, widely includes the following concepts like Microeconomics,  Macroeconomics, Money and Banking, Public Finance, International Trade, Growth and Development and Indian Economy in the post and pre-independent eras.

Advantages and Disadvantages of choosing Economics as optional

Like the two sides of a coin, choosing Economics optional has its pros and cons.

Some of them are:-


(1) One of the most important advantages of Economics is that it is a rational and logical subject, it can be grasped even by aspirants from non-economics/science/technical backgrounds.
(2) Unlike many other subjects in the optional subjects, Economics is fairly scoring.
(3) Economics syllabus for optional also covers about almost 55%-60% of the GS paper-III. Also, almost 30 marks can be scored in the prelims by preparing for this optional subject. This overlap is very significant and is a huge advantage to the ease of preparation.
(4) The UPSC syllabus for economics is very specific and clearly defined.
(5) Ease of availability of books and study materials for preparation.
(6)The scoring is majorly based on the clear conceptual clarity that candidates attain. Any aspirant who has a clear understanding of the major Economics concepts and models can be assured of good scores.


(1) Aspirants who do not have a deep love for the subject and doesn’t wish to study the technicalities of the same will find the paper to be a bit dry.
(2) Economics involves a lot of graphs and mathematical equations. To excel in the paper, you need to have a clear understanding and excellence in Mathematics too.
(3) Given the technical and logical background of the subject, at times, it might be challenging and time-consuming for students from non-economics background to orient their thoughts in the way the subject demands.
(4) While answering questions from the paper, the solutions need to be very accurate and technical. Being too vague, ambiguous or generic can reduce your scores.

Suggested Books and Materials for Economics Optional:-

  • A clear understanding of basic concepts discussed in class 11th and 12th NCERT is very important.
  • Advanced Microeconomic Theory – H L Ahuja
  • Banking – S.B. Gupta
  • Dictionary of Economics – Graham Bannock; T.E. Baxter, Ray Rees
  • Economic Survey: Twelve Five Year Plan: New Industrial Policy – Government of India
  • Economics – Paul A. Samuelson
  • Economics Choice – Koutsweanik
  • Growth and Development – M L Jhingan
  • Indian Economy – R. Dutt and KPM Sundaram
  • Indian Economy Since Independence – Uma Kapila
  • International Economics – H.G. Mannur or Salvatore
  • Macroeconomics – H L Ahuja
  • Modern Macroeconomics – Snowden and Vane
  • Monetary Theory and Public Policy – Kenneth Kurihara
  • Money Supply in India: Concepts, Compilation and Analysis: Functions and Working – Reserve Bank of India
  • National Income Accounting – Neethu
  • Public Finance – H.L. Bhatia
  • Public Finance – K.K. Andley and Sundaram
  • Public Finance in Theory and Practice – Musgrave and Musgrave
  • Current economic affairs – Newspapers like The Economic Times
  • Economic and political weekly
  • Various booklets and questionnaires of leading publishers

Economics Optional Toppers’ Strategies

Many of the toppers suggest a three-stage preparation for Economics as optional.

Stage 1 aims at reading the suggested materials and understanding concepts correctly. The aim of the aspirant at this stage must be to finish the syllabus and get hold of the basics.

Stage 2 begins after the completion of the entire syllabus. This stage focuses on getting a clearer understanding and utmost clarity of topics. The general advice is to read, re-read and revise the syllabus few times over and over again until you reach a point in which you are confident about the hold you have on each topic and is sure about how you can reproduce it on paper.

In stage 3, the aspirants are advised to try out questions and learn the strategies of answering directly as well as indirect questions that are expected.

*Economics is an optional subject that will demand you to have a strong understanding of diagrams. UPSC Economics is generally non-mathematical and diagrammatical. The aspirant should make sure that their understanding of economic models and concepts is backed up by a good clarity of related diagrams too.

* Economics, being a logical subject, also has a great room for assumptions. Many of the models are based on precise assumptions, which should be accurately noted down while answering questions of Economics optional paper.

* Statistics and Econometrics are important components of Economics. The aspirant should have a clear understanding of the statistical perspective of every answer. Although you are not generally expected to remember all the statistical data, you should be thorough with the important ones as prescribed in various books and materials.

Neeraj Singh (AIR 11, CSE 2011)

suggests the aspirants make maximum use of graphs. He also advises aspirants to be precise, logical and to-the-point while answering questions in a style that suits the question the most. He also reminds the candidates to not take a radical stand while answering questions unless they have proper data backing.

Tejasvi Rana (AIR 12, CSE 2016)

For Paper I, she advises the candidates to write important assumptions while talking about a model. There are common important topics that you’ll find while going through the syllabus. Learn these topics very well and pick them out from the paper to answer. Also, give more importance to frequent and predictable topics. Give attention to graphs and figures.

For Paper II, she says, to give more importance to managing time, while answering questions. You should be able to convey your thoughts in a precise manner, while not forgetting to add data and important information.


As said often, listen to the suggestion of everybody and devise a plan of study of your own. Refer to the suggested readings; work a lot of questions out and do it!

Download Syllabus and Past Year Question Papers

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