UPSC / IAS Preparation: Geography Optional by IAS Chanchal Rana (AIR 7, CSE 2013)

This post has been entirely written by IAS Chanchal Rana (AIR 7, CSE 2013). I am merely hosting it. Please direct your queries to him on his fb a/c or

Disclaimer: All that the esteemed reader is to find below are based solely on my experiences with the subject for 3 consecutive attempts. The tips or the sources are not full or final and hence not prescriptive in nature and the reader is expected to use his own wisdom in the course of preparation for the subject.

[I plan to answer/ help all my dear aspirants (HEREINAFTER ADDRESSED as SIR) in the form of FAQs]

My Credibility (if at all it is !!!) for scribbling in this blog::
Attempt Paper-1 Paper-II
1st (CSE 2011) /600 marks 120 145
2nd (CSE 2012)/600 marks 95 170
3rd (CSE 2013)/500 marks 88 130

1. Why should SIR choose Geography as an optional?

Ans: The importance of optional although is in a decline, has still been one of the major deciding factor for being recommended by UPSC at the end of years of patience. I choose the optional not by any rational decision but because some of my friends opted for it and because I had heard that it fetched good marks. I swear, I knew nothing more than that earth has 3 layers and that tsunami was a giant wave and had seen India and world map. But I would suggest it as an optional because :-

It is scientific in nature unlike other Arts optional. Hence, logical and rational. Good for engineers like me.

It is heavily covered directly in GS Paper-1 and also indirectly in many areas of GS Paper-3

Sufficient material is available in the form of books by Indian Authors as well as coaching institute materials.

Ample scope for diagrammatic representation.

Helps a great deal in interview.

2. Now that SIR has chosen Geography, you would ask which/is any coaching institute is better before even looking at the syllabus??

Ans: I took classroom coaching for a few months with DIRECTION IAS (Neetu Singh mam) and thereafter opted for test series with DIRECTION IAS and also with VAJIRAM for a while. My experiences with Coaching institute:-

If you haven’t read even the basic NCERT books and opted for GEO coaching, then probably u have invested your money well.

If SIR has already gone through the NCERT books and some of the standard ones like Majid Hussain, Lal etc, I would rather say, please use the money to stay healthy for the exam instead. Most of them teach from Savindra singh & Majid hussain & they would suggest you not to open those unworthy books. 

FOCUS on the way the institute makes u understand a particular topic (that the institute is well known for); how the inter linkages are made; which diagrams were relevant….

Its better to opt for test series with them, even though u don’t appear them. But make sure you at least attend the answer sessions. The test series just helps you manage the syllabus on schedule.

DIRECTION IAS is good with paper-2, VAJIRAM good with ‘Geographical Thought’ and some theories of paper 1 (Models in Geography).


3. Where from can SIR possibly refer the topics mentioned in the syllabus?

Ans: These are possibly the sources that I referred to during my preparation. I missed a number of topics for the exam. UPSC is not about learning all that you can, its about leaving all that you should. I am not suggesting to try your luck, must asking you to have confidence to write at least 5 sentences on the topic even if you have not gone through any material anywhere. (viz. the noise pollution question that appeared this year)


Geomorphology: I went through the notes both of Alok ranjan, and Neetu Singh—-PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY by Savindra singh——-NCERT text books along with the diagrams there. APPLIED GEOMORPHOLOGY is a very important part, so trying searching the internet for the various applications like in dam construction, oil exploration & surveying. etc——–Imp: Read the various other names of the same theories as in the name of the authors or any other peculiar names.

Climatology- I read the coaching notes——SAVINDRA SINGH——–NCERT Book——-Prepare well on applied climatology & urban climatology from internet. ——World climatic maps on the Atlases.

Oceanography: NCERT—– coaching notes——-SAVINDRA SINGH (see the diagrams especially) especially the local variations in salinity along with the theories of tide & coral formation.—–for marine resources & pollution refer to internet, any coaching notes & GS knowledge.

Biogeography: NCERT—-RUPA made simple for soil geography——SAVINDRA Singh for factors deciding plant & animal distribution——–internet for some topics like gene pool centres, deforestation——-KURUKSHETRA magazine for social & agro forestry as they come up with interesting examples & classification.

Environmental geography: SAVINDRA SINGH for basic concepts on ecology & cycles————-rest please refer topic wise on internet rather than buying truckload of materials from market. Use your GS knowledge extensively in your answers.
Perspectives in Human Geography: I referred to Vajiram Notes, DIRECTION IAS notes but cross checked & improvised & cross checked them from internet along with a lot of relevant examples. Please remember a timeline of the various developments in this topic. This is the most important topic in the entire optional.

Laws, Models & Theories in Geography- Coaching notes- Majid Hussain book on models in geography——diagrams very important along with the shortcomings in each models.

Regional Planning- Little bit of coaching institute notes but more of internet. (This was a topic which I never prepared extensively).

Population & settlement Geography: NCERT—-coaching notes——-A few topic from Majid Hussain on Human Geography——understand the subtle difference along with diagrams between satellite towns, Rural urban fringe, sub-urban towns, metropolitan city, leap frog & ribbon settlements—–UN departments websites on population & use internet.———spatial map on population distribution, composition very important.

Economic geography- Read Whittakers classification & the industrial location models————try to figure out their current application or the reasons for non application——-UN websites for famine, hunger (like refer to the Rio+20 document or FAO website)———-internet for mineral resources & forest resources——-human resources from UNDP HDI website.


For topics on Physical setting, agriculture, industries, trade & transportation, resources, cultural setting, settlement & some contemporary issues:- KHULLAR ——-coaching institute notes———Yojana magazine———NCERT text books———some latest developments from INDIA YEAR BOOK. Emphasis be given more on maps & diagrams in these topics.

Regional Development & planning: Refer to internet on these specific topics——–Planning Commission Website——-Indian Year Book———-Planning history in India from any source.(Special focus on Geographical aspect)

Political Aspects- GS knowledge——–international affairs websites & newspapers or magazines. (Pl. Note: All these topics must have a strong linkage to geography as in physical or human geography. Eg: discussion on india Bangladesh issues should mention land, rivers disputes, migration, ethnicity, their climate thus industries thus import export, trade & transportation links etc rather than much of political or diplomatic angles)

Contemporary Issues- Only internet or any GS material. ———keep yourselves updated on the documents released on important forums such as RIO+20, Cancun, BRICS on humanitarian & disaster issues, Planning commission reports on website (not necessarily only the 12th FYP)—–Yojana magazine.

4.What should be SIR’s answer like?

Every SIR writing the Mains are almost or even more sound than the one who topped in geography, but the rank depends on how you market your knowledge. [JO DIKHTA HAI, WAHI BIKTA HAI]

Remember it’s a geography Paper and not any GS paper. So all that you presume to be of current affairs must be viewed & attempted from a GEOGRAPHY angle.

Its better to put diversity of points than to keep on explaining a single point.

Give introduction in every answer even if its just a single line; the introduction should make the evaluator acknowledge that you have figured out which topic in being mentioned in the question. Eg: for the question that asked about impact of monsoons on climate of Gujarat Realm, you could possibly mention that Gujarat realm is one of the divisions of Planning commission classification and covers so and so areas, and then begin your main content.

Once can try using both point and paragraph format of representation. Whenever there is a classification & explanation to that, go for point wise. Detailed paragraph format could be used for short notes & like.

Try to put at least one pictorial representation in every answer—be it a map, a small chart, a summary diagram, a timeline or a graph etc.

Try underlining important words. This need not be done using colours as many do. And underlining should not be a pastime in exam.

Show some arbitrary figures where possible such as in population, migration figures, climate change etc. UPSC is surely not going to google them.

Try to use the concepts of “PERSPECTIVES OF GEOGRAPHY” chapter wherever one finds a opportunity. This makes a matured answer. Remember, “PERSPECTIVES OF GEOGRAPHY” domain shows that you love the subject. Even if fake, pretend to do so in exam.

Please try writing to the point & don’t write the same sentence once in active voice, next time in passive voice just to show that you have filled the page. Its very necessary to underline the important words in the question itself first.

Map: Practice the map whenever you are done with a particular chapter. Make the most use of it while studying resource geography. Refer Orient Blackswan & Oxford publications. Also don’t forget to pray to god in the break between Paper 1 & 2, so that the surprise names fall in your state or your GS memory. Pointing correctly matters more than explanations.

Try interconnecting various topics & papers of Geography. Detailed explanation in the next answer.

Also TRY NOT to leave any question. Every mark counts. And anyways, you won’t be reprimanded for writing wrong answers.

5. How should SIR tackle the unconventional questions that have made the subject dreadful?

Ans: I acknowledge to be a victim of so many surprising, bouncing questions in this optional that had made me time & again think to doing away with the optional. But what needs to be remembered that UPSC is running out of fuel itself, as in new set of questions. So, it has started pouring old wine in new bottle.

Barring some exceptions, there are no unconventional questions, there is an unconventional way of putting them. Eg: Secondary cities asked in CSE 2012 probably was very much linked to the concepts of Satellite & Suburban towns.

Try to immediately figure out which chapter can the question be related to. In most of the cases, they cover multiple topics. Eg: “Earthquake zones in India & their management” is linked to contemporary issues as well as physical setting of geography.

Try to mention the theories & concepts of Paper 1 while answering paper 2. This composes a beautiful, comprehensive answer. Eg: in the earthquake question above, one could use concepts of Geomorphology & plate tectonics.

Use “Perspectives of Geography” chapter content to address many human geography related issues in Paper 2. Eg: Behaviouralism, Humanism, & welfare geography concepts in addressing tribal issues in India.

As said earlier, try to go through the authors of various theories and the different names used in the theory. Eg: Bosche & Haldenhalg was a part of Pencks theory.
Lastly, there will be some weird questions everytime, else the rigour & toughness of the exam will be diluted. To confront this, as I told earlier, JUST PRAY 

6. Geography and Personality Test?

Revise the Paper 2 (at least a overview) and some models of Paper 1 before PT.

Try to link the news with your optional for at least a month prior to PT such as earthquakes, Hunger, Drought situation in India, Agriculture policy, etc.




63 thoughts on “UPSC / IAS Preparation: Geography Optional by IAS Chanchal Rana (AIR 7, CSE 2013)”

  1. sir very 2 thanks to you and chanchal sir……aas was eagerly waiting to such a blog…a.i have my optional as geography..i like it …it is interesting…

  2. haiii sir this is shahjahan…can u help me by giving blog links of persons who qualified CSE 2013 with civil engineering as optional…AS I TOO WISH TAKE IT AS THE OPTIONAL. SO I NEED SOME GUIDANCE…THANK U

  3. sir
    It is humble request to you that post some views on “Political Science and International Relations” as an optional subject.
    If anyone selected in your knowledge with this optional, invite him to post on this topic.

  4. Hello sir(gaurav and chanchal), have you applied for answer scripts of csm 2013 to upsc through RTI?….plz share those once u get it would be very benificial….

    PS.. U r doing a great job, gaurav.

      1. Why sir? I thought you are in favor of transparency? Are you afraid about any consequences? I hope you reply

          1. but by looking at answers which fetched more marks we can learn what is really expected from us. Off-course you don’t need it after such a fantastic success but i am asking this for all aspirants.

                1. As per the order of Hon’ble Chief Information Commissioner Shri Rajiv Mathur in CIC/SM/A/2013/001282/RM, dated June 3, 2014, he has held that every candidate has right to inspect / obtain a photocopy of his evaluated answer sheet in the civil service exam. Therefore, the said information cannot be denied / withheld under Section 8 of RTI.

  5. Haha , I wonder How world has changed for this blog.from few hundred hits to upto 5 lakh hit .Well done gaurav :).Can you please coordinate with tommy verghese and other toppers to share strategy of sociology.Moreover Thanks a lot chanchal Sir for helping,geography optional students.

  6. sir i hav one doubt plz reply. Sir my height is jus 161cm, and 25yrs 6 months old. Sir i want to choose IPS as my first preference.but min height for for Ips as u know is 165cm. What shall i do. Plz suggest me if some excercise , so dat i can grow 4 cms till my final result.Its my childhood dream to become IPS. Jus came to know abt min h8 for IPS n now feeling bad.
    Plz rply.

  7. Hi Gaurav Sir and Chanchal Sir, I know many people have asked this question several times but again I want to ask is it really necessary to join any coaching when people like you are providing such a nice guidance ?

  8. Sir grover-modern india should also be read for history optional or shekhar bandh.’book on modern india is quite sufficient?

  9. Well Gaurav Congrates for your achievement.

    I have a query. I was also prepared well in 2013 but did not do writing practice. Now as you have mentioned that you had joined Vision IAS and Synergy Mains Test SEries. So were they useful ? And how did you attempted the question of Test series. I mean by taking references of the model answer provided by the test series or writing your own answer. Plz give your feedback.

  10. Sirjee, koi English Literature waala ho to zara help kijiyega hukum..
    Syllabus to kar lenge par answer writing ke liye lamp-posts chahiye..
    BDS here, so no previous exposure to english literature, except that I had read half the poems and novels given in the syllabus before I even decided to start preparing for civil service.
    Will be grateful for some honest guidance with regards to answer writing…
    Shukriya __/\__

  11. hello Sir, congratulation for the splendid performance.
    As you
    said that you have never studied geography but still you
    cracked the exam with geography as optional, my question is
    that is it really possible to crack the exam by opting a subject
    which you have studied only till your school level,I mean is it
    possible to cover the entire syllabus of such subject in a year
    or so.
    I’m a management graduate and I want to opt public
    administration, so will it be fine for me (provided that I have
    interest in the subject)
    Thank you Sir, waiting for the reply.
    Gaurav bhai what are your views on this
    Today at 02:02

  12. hello sir..
    i am new in this arena of civil services, and planning for geo as an optional.
    sir can you please suggest me how to prepare for world geography section and human geography.
    Also from where to get the details of geography scholars like question which came in 2013 mains about.. contribution of semple in geography. how to get these information to write in civil services mains.

    please suggest.. i am waiting for that.


  13. read it twice.
    felt really relaxed that having done NCERT, GCL, i have a base and can go for it w/o coaching. the fear of not having coaching was so dominating that i have almost lost all hopes for qualifying .this blog really worked. Thank You really.

  14. Dear Sir,
    First of all congratulions!
    I want to choose Geo as a optional.this is the only chance my parents are providing to me for prooving myself, So I want to know if I opt for Geo then it will be possible to crack in one attempt,No Geo background earlier,and which coaching is best for Geo as a Optional,Seats are full in VajiRam as I contacted today only in their office,so it is mandatory to join Vajiram…Please Sir Help Me!

  15. sir u really are an inspiration for us. and its not just for getting rank 1 but for also selflessly helping aspirants. it will be even more useful if u help us in getting insights of ashish vashisht (cse 2013 rank 15) strategy for civil engg as optional.Thanx in advance and wish u best of luck for future success

  16. I want to opt geo as optional but my mapping is very bad i don’t know how to draw a good map and don’t know the position of countries. Should i go for geo?? Is Mapping too important?? And should i go for english medium ? I am hindi medium student but i have 2 or 3 years time should i port to endlish medium?

  17. Sir jee then pgdm and then IPS and than ias.. Simply awesome sir.. Apni to karke hi lag gai or vo bhi required time period se jyada mai hui..
    Simply awesome sir..

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