Category Archives: Optional

How to prepare Optional Subject?

Physics, Ethics and Interview – by IAS Manish Bansal (AIR 53, cse 2013)

IAS Manish Bansal (AIR 53, cse 2013) shares his approach on Physics optional, ethics paper and Interview here… He got 258 marks in Physics, clearly entitling him for the title of Feynman of the batch :-P. In addition, he scored an outstanding 100 marks in the ethics paper and 198 in the interview. So presenting below his thoughts on the above mentioned subjects.

He may be reached at


Manish on Physics

Manish on Ethics

Manish on Interview



Political Science Optional Preparation – by IAS Himanshu Aggarwal (AIR 28, cse 2013)

Friends, below is the post on political science preparation by Himanshu Aggarwal (AIR 28, cse 2013) – the most charming person of our batch :-) He has medical background, yet scored very well. He can be reached on . I am merely hosting his post, the entire content is his.


UPSC / IAS Preparation: Political Science – by Subject Topper Rajat Sen (255 marks, cse 2013)

This post is written by Rajat Sen (AIR 319, cse 2013, Pol Sc. marks 255, subject topper). I am merely hosting it. His fb profile is and email id is . He had no formal background in the subject and is an engineer, yet look where his love for the subject took him!

Hello everyone. Certainly, there is a real sense of satisfaction after the grueling fight against the mammoth syllabus and finally finding myself in that sacred PDF. Well still not that uber satisfaction acquired but still enjoying each day since the holy 12th June, 2014. Well in proportion with the overhype surrounding this exam, ever since the qualification there has been a lot of praise and adulation all around and effect is such that soaking in Delhi heat seems no less than a beach holiday in Bahamas. A gazillion calls ranging from congratulations of loved ones to newly found relatives and friends has tested the limits of android in my phone. And the bills of parties since then have rendered a bigger fiscal deficit than Uncle Sam. Overall, these events certainly mean that something has changed and smiley faces of parents and family members confirm that the change is for better.

Going further, first ten days following the results passed in a moment. And then suddenly marks were displayed. Almost all of us including me were shocked by the composition of marks. Frankly speaking, most of the qualified candidates still don’t have many clues about the marks they have secured in most of the papers. In my case, shock was a bit low score in GS/interview and a bit high score in political science. As few more days passed, I came to know that I have secured the highest marks in Political Science and International Relations(PSIR). Another round of phone calls/messages started (thankfully to Shubra mam releasing message which had my phone number). An enthusiast from Mysore even called at 2:15 AM to congratulate me and asked for some life saving tips to score highest in the subject. Since then, my wife makes sure my phone remains at silent mode after 11 PM. Well, overall, calls for sharing my grand strategy of Political Science were growing.

Of course such things are very much expected from the qualified gentry. It also prompted me to look back at the tumultuous time of preparation when there were always a lot of question in the mind regarding the strategy of various papers. What to read? What to skip? Where to read from? Which source is trustworthy? And a hell lot of other questions. Also, there was a will to share my tryst with PSIR as I am a science student/engineer and have no academic link with political science throughout my whole career. And today after securing top marks in Political Science and International Affairs in civil services exam there is a sense of satisfaction (of course with a bit of pride) as the hard work done in the field of International affairs since last 10-12 years has finally paid off.

Before coming on to nuts and bolts of political science papers, first let me disclose what prompted me to take this subject. I am an active news follower of national and international affairs since my childhood. And India’s lower stature in the world always prompted me to look outside the country to see why we are in such a state. This had sparked my interest in international affairs/history and I follow it religiously. I don’t have any date of origin but I have faint memories of issues in Yugoslavia in early 90’s, bombing of Iraq in 1998. My first comprehensive international coverage was following every posssible detail of IC 814 hijacking in December 1999. I was just 13 years old at that time but followed the event as if my life savings were in that ill-fated Indian Airlines plane. Words like Kandahar, Taliban, Maulana Masood Azhar etc have since been printed in my head. I had gathered almost every bit of knowledge that I could possibly do at that time. But as I belonged to a very small town and in the absence of internet not much information could get mustered. Sincerely speaking there were a lot of unanswered questions in my mind but in that pre-internet era and in such a small town it was really difficult to quench my thirst. Still, my interest kept on increasing and as events kept unfolding, the set of unanswered questions increased exponentially. Real breakthrough came in 2004, when I came to Delhi College of Engineering and got access to decent internet connection. Google, Wikipedia and this whole web of knowledge started answering so many questions while opening new ones and links. This resulted in a chain reaction and I went on reading almost every issue on international affairs along with its history. By my graduation in 2008, I was an international affairs hawk. I used to cover every international event sincerely. Here I would like to remind that I had still not heard about any political theory or any academic link. My knowledge here was pure factual with little scope of analysis as I was still unaware of real theories and ideologies behind all the international events that I had read. Meaning of words like Marxism, Fascism, Socialism were still limited to dictionary lines. I had not even heard about famous political thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Lock etc. To sum up the above lines, after cricket, I had found made foundation of another hard core interest which had settled and consolidated in my thoughts.

After graduation and while working in Mumbai, when I started to think seriously about Civil Services, the choice of Political Science as one of the subject became natural after reading the syllabus. Rather I would say that love for International affairs, which was sparked by nationalist Indian feelings, became the main reason for leaving a good career and jumping on this civil services wagon. To sum this up, in my case, I did not choose a subject to qualify civil services exam rather I chose to appear for civil services exam because of the love for this subject.

So well this was my background regarding Political Science as my choice. It was keen interest. So while discussing the strategy for the subject and the exam my first point is that one must thoroughly look at the syllabus and his interests while choosing a subject. Of course this may not be true for all but if one really has an interest in a subject he will surely be able to concentrate better.

Now considering one has chosen his subject as Political Science, let’s unlock the strategy to bell this cat. I have tried to share the best of the sources and points that I have personally thought while preparing this subject. Though I will admit that given the uncertainties in the UPSC paper, I personally may not be able to score similar marks even I appear again (truly speaking).

Note: I have written dynamic and static in each section below. It denotes the amount of content which is purely from books (static) or it is very much dependent on current events (dynamic)

Paper I

Part A: (100% static)

1) One must sincerely prepare notes and cover the syllabus completely. While preparing notes multiple resources must be seen.

2) Primary resources:
a) Shubra Ranjan Mam notes
b) O.P.Gauba
c) Brian Nelson (I had prepared my initial notes regarding western political thought from this book)
d) V.R.Mehta (Indian political thought)
e) IGNOU MA notes and material.
f) Sushila Ramaswamy

I had thoroughly prepared this area and had done a lot of answer writing. As this area is purely static one must really practice well and strive hard to maximize his score here (dynamic area of paper 2 can be tricky at times). While practicing answers, one must ensure habit of looking at the question which has been asked. One must write what has been asked and strictly avoid displaying the vast knowledge on the topic. Many a times we tend to write the whole theory while only a fraction is asked.

Q 1 (b) “Original Position”. (PSIR Paper I – CSE 2013)

One must write only about the original position that has been asked. Many friends I know had detailed a good deal about Rawl’s theory, which means that you know the concept of Justice but still it’s not going to fetch you the marks.

In all this section is purely based on your knowledge about the theories and thinkers. So our analysis is less required and real factual points that one has learnt must be given.

Part B: (75% static, 25% dynamic)

1) This area is more or less in continuity with the Part A with respect to the method of preparation. One more point that candidates can do is to keep tab of any constitutional development or any such issues related to Indian polity. Questions are sometimes linked to current events and can help in better preparation.

2) Resources:

1) Oxford Companion for India Politics. (shorter version available in students companion for Rs. 500)
2) B.L.Fadia (my main book)
3) IGNOU material
4) Shubra Ranjan mam notes

I must add one more point that I feel has fetched me some extra marks in this section. While substantiating my answer, I had mentioned real examples which have happened earlier. In my opinion, this gives a real feel to the examiner and he gets a proof that the candidate is really connecting with the question (if the example mentioned is correct and relevant). So mentioning examples (only where required) can add sheen to the answer.

Q 6 (c) Examine the role of Supreme Court as final interpreter of the Indian constitution. (PSIR Paper I – CSE 2013)

I had mentioned few examples too along with the answer. I think it had proved my point well.

Again as mentioned in Part A, this section is majorly based on your knowledge about the polity of India.

Many topics like following 9, 10 and 11 has dynamic elements too. One must be aware of such issues that are happening around. This area also helps in Paper 2 of GS. So there is further incentive to cover this section thoroughly.

9) Caste, Religion and Ethnicity in Indian Politics

10) Party System: National and regional political parties, ideological and social bases of parties; patterns of coalition politics; Pressure groups, trends in electoral behaviour; changing socio- economic profile of Legislators.

11) Social Movements: Civil liberties and human rights movements; women’s movements; environmentalist movements.

Paper II

After reading the introductory part of my write up, one must have guessed that my real paper and strength is Paper 2. Well, yes 133 marks in Paper 2 has really given a hearty solace as I feel that nature has personally acknowledged my work in this area and has rewarded me with such treasure.
Part A: (50% static, 50% dynamic) & Part B: (20% static, 80% dynamic)

Section A has mixed areas. It has topics 1, 4, 5 and 6 which are more or less static and emulate the basics of Paper I. But then topics like 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 have a lot of dynamic character. In my case, my historical knowledge about international affairs has certainly aided in fetching some extra marks. So I would suggest one to dig a step into history to improve one’s concept (one must refrain from getting too emotional and read hell of a history about a topic).

Section B is more or less completely dynamic. Just that topic 1 and a bit history of all relations are static topics. That is written syllabus. But if we talk about the questions that come in paper, all questions are heavily dynamic. This section requires very good follow up of current world events and it is really fruitful if one can interconnect the issues. And to be able to do that one must dig a bit of history. It is suggested to read articles from many international newspapers (not every day and not all articles). I would suggest to daily check world section of telegraph, new York times, washingtonpost, Xinhua. On an average one will be lucky to get one article on current international discourse(including all above newspapers). Though it may sound a lot of effort, 5-10 minutes of searching followed by 20 minutes of reading is what is required each day). It also helps in Paper 2 GS.

Part A

1. Globalisation of World Politics by Baylis and Smith
2. Global Politics by Andrew Heywood
3. IGNOU notes for Theory portion
4. General Internet reading for dynamic topics (with a bit of history)

Part B

1. Does the Elephant Dance? (David Malone – great book to read)
2. Indian Foreign Policy: Retrospect and Prospects by Sumit Ganguly
3. Rethinking Indian Foreign Policy: Challenges and Strategies by Rajeev Sikri
4. Current reading/Wikipedia/google

Further, mentioning examples wherever required may help in increasing the quality of answer. As this area is from international affairs, it is very much affected by the current events. So it is highly recommended to follow current developments in the world politics. New topics like environment, terrorism etc can be studied from general internet material and also from Andrew Heywood.

Again highlighting the point, that answer must be in consonance with the question. Do not expect good marks while writing anything on the topic. Focus should be on the relevance of your point as per the question asked.


Q 1(a) Identify the elements of change in India’s foreign policy. (PSIR Paper 2, CSE 2013)

One must focus on the keyword “elements of change”. Question has not asked about contemporary Indian foreign policy or any other such issue. While mentioning “elements of change” I had mentioned examples also. This I think had better presented my answer and examiner must had been convinced that the candidate knows what has been asked.

Q 1(c) Examine the recent developments in India-Japan relationship.

While answering such questions one must try to think a bit out of the box. Most of the candidates will write about the current highlights of the India-Japan relationship. Now as far as knowledge of any political science student’s is concerned, all are line by line aware of the recent developments in India-Japan relation (including all major one’s). So how are we going to score better marks when most good candidates know such similar salient points? This is where the difference could be made. In his question, as per my analysis, besides those salient points of recent development there is need to mention few lines about reasons for change (primarily China) along with desire of both the nations to look each other as political allies (not just economic allies which is prevalent in today’s world). So this way the answer can be made a bit more logical and may fetch 1-2 marks extra (which is 10%-20% of the question).

So such points and out of box thinking in this section may help in increasing the quality of the answers. Further as repeated earlier, answer writing must be thoroughly done after preparing good notes. Remember “the fairest of the ink is brighter than the best of the memory”. So whatever be your IQ do not entirely trust your memory and better practice.


Well this is the gist of my knowledge and my experience with Political Science. I hope I have been able to present my points well. To clarify further on the issues we can always connect via my email which is

Thank you…Jain Hind….Jai Bharat

UPSC / IAS Prep: Philosophy Optional – Dinesh Bishnoi (212 marks optional)

This post on Philosophy optional preparation has been written by Dinesh Bishnoi (212 marks in Philosophy in cse 2013). I am merely hosting this post. He may be reached on

In this post, not only does he tell us about the subject and topicwise books and strategy, but also dwells a great length on answer writing and even writes few sample answers. Many thanks to him!

Words of Dinesh Bishnoi

NOTE- My marks 212 ,first attempt did coaching from Patanjali. The below written article is based on my experience and the aim is to provide guidance to new students so that they can get accurate study material.


Philosophy as a optional is one of the most popular optional. One can take philosophy if he has logical aptitude. The benefit of philosophy is concise syllabus and logical nature and it can be done in 4 months and very helpful in essay and ethics. But cons is that paper 2 of philosophy has been awarded poorly by UPSC since last 2 years. Anyway this does not matter and I can say it is one of safe bet because it provides enough time to prepare GS Papers simultaneously.

The syllabus of philosophy is divided into 4 sections-
1. Western philosophy
2. Indian philosophy
3. Social-political philosophy
4. Religious philosophy

Books Needed

1.Patanjali class notes(gives you good basic understanding)
2.Dutta and Chatterjee (INDIAN PHILOSOPHY)
7. O.P GAUBA ( selectively)


It is purely conceptual and logical. If you have firm grip on concepts you could score good marks in paper 1 itself. But it requires good understanding and writing practise.

First of all try to study basic points before starting the syllabus. These are
1. What is Substance
2. Epistemeology
3. Meaning of metaphysics
4. Induction and Deduction methods
5. Sources of knowledge

Indian Philosophy

If you are self study student start with Indian Philosophy(because its syllabus can be easily covered within 20 days and it is very easy also).Best way is to get Patanjali class notes and understand basic points from the notes. Once you are thorough with all chapters of Indian philosophy from Patanjali class notes you should buy 2 books:
1. Dutta and Chatterjee
2. CD Sharma.

One must study Dutta and Chatterjee very well and should add additional points to the classs notes of Patanjali.C.D Sharma is best for Nyaya – Vaishesika and one must read this chapter well from C.D Sharma.

This is sufficient for Indian Philosophy .

Western Philosophy

Here also Patanjali class notes are the best. Study from Patanjali class notes very well chapter to chapter. After studying all chapters well from Patanjali class notes go to Y.Masih.For good and indepth understanding study Donald palmer selectively.

For contemporary western philosophy go to Patanjali printed notes along with class notes.For value addition use Stanford philosophy Website which is best and provide you very basic concepts and in depth material.

This will suffice for western philosophy.

Further compulsory solve last 20 years paper +give tests at home by solving last 2 years paper.This will help in time management ,practise needed to handle exam situation.


Social Political Philosophy

Here INTERNET ,HINDU AND TIMES OF INDIA are the most important sources. For basic reference do PATANJALI class notes then internet is needed for various topics,example for women Empowerment go to United Nations Website.For land and property rights various articles from United Nations are important.
Hindu basically covers current affairs portion.ex- capital punishment like topics are covered through newspapers. The one question on Minority Rights under democracy are safe or not was taken from Uttar Pradesh incident. So do current affairs very well.

Solve problems from philosophical view point. Ex- if asked democracy vs monarchy write from philosophical point of view that democracy is better, here you can quote Leibnitz Monadolgy.

Religious philosophy

Basically it requires deep knowledge of paper1. If you have done paper -1 wellthen religious philosophy is all about practice. Here also class notes of Patanjali is sufficient +do hick selectively.

Paper-2 is all about answer writing. How could easily you can make your answer objective ,marks depend on it.

Answer Writing
In last two years marks in Paper 2 have been difficult to score. There are many reasons for this-

– Unexpectedly long papers

– Tough evaluation in paper 2

– Students not able to write what is expected by UPSC


First philosophy as a subject in answer writing requires good introduction and conclusion. Another aspect is comparative analysis of one thinker with another.

Sample Answers

1. Discuss how by refuting different concepts of substance Aristotle establishes his own theory of substance?

Substance is one of imp matter of discussion in philosophy.Through this concept various Philosopherstried to explain the diversity and unity of this universe.Now you should write Plato’s theory n then refutation of it by Aristotle.
After it one should tell Aristotle’s concept of Substance,but problem lies here most of people end it here only, here in 20 words we must write 2 criticism of Aristotle theory of substance that will make your answer complete, just after criticism write one importance of Aristotle’s theory.

2. Explain Locke theory of substance.

Here introduction is same but here they had asked Locke theory only but here one must do comparative analysis with other two empiricist philosophers. This analysis is called as comparative analysis. Always in critical examination show both merits and demerits and write a balanced conclusion.

3. Can mystical experiences be regarded as valid source of knowledge?

Mystical experience is related to religious person. Mystical Experience is trans-empirical phenomena where unity is established between worshipper n worshipped. Spinoza, Bradley, Tagore has supported mystical experience.
But for being a valid source of knowledge from logical point of view it requires objective verification. But mystical experience cannot be objectively verified.
Mimansikaschool of philosophy has given various criteria for valid source of knowledge-
1. It must not arise from defective causes
2. It must be free from contradiction
3. It must be self- consistent
4. It must truly represent the object
On the above criteria’s mystical experience cannot be accepted as valid source of knowledge.
Again in western philosophy Logical Positivism does not accept it as a valid source of knowledge. They says only that thing can be accepted as valid source of knowledge which is analytically or empiricially verified.
But if we look from kierkegaard view he clearly says believe in order to here we may say for religious person mystical experience can be accepted as valid source of knowledge because for a religious truth objective proofs doesn’t matter.
Basically various philosophers has accepted experience, reason and verbal testimony as valid sources of knowledge .on the basis of experience it is difficult to explain mystical experience as valid source of knowledge because subject matter of mystical experience is transcendental. On the basis of reason and logical arguments we cannot accept it as a valid source of knowledgebecause logical arguments demands proof and it is very difficult to prove mystical experience.
But on the other hand Rudolf Otto has accepted it as a valid source of knowledge.This view has been supported by Wittgenstein who says skeptismabout religious matter is senseless.Here various philosophers has accepted mystic experience as a direct knowledge which one gets through intuition.Meditation,Prayer,Samadhi are also means of mystic experience.

4. Discuss Nozick theory of justice and its relevance?

Nozick defines justice as a individual we may claim over three things-
1.Our own body,soul,mind
3.Those natural things which have been modified by an individual using his talent.
Further Nozicks says that entitlement is just or valid if these three conditions are met-
1. Initial acquisition
2. Voluntary acquisition
3. Rectification
Current relevance-
Nozick defined justice in the terms of entitlement and its practical significance is relevant in today’s society also because it provides entitlement to traditional owners of land and his theory can be used to provide security to traditional forest dwellers whose rights are continuously snatched by govt and multinational companies for their own pecuniary gains.


There are 2 famous Coachings: Mitra and Patanjali. Though I do not know much about Mitra but since I had done coaching from Patanjali I can give its pros and cons

1. DHARMENDRA sir is very cooperative and ready to help you.
2. Teaches Indian philosophy and western philosophy very well

1. But problem in religious philosophy sir teaches very less and finishes it within a week.
2. Poor test series and evaluation of copies is very poor.

UPSC / IAS Prep: Management Optional – Nagendra Singh (AIR 120, CSE 2013)

Nagendra Singh (AIR 120, CSE 2013) is an alumnus of IIM Shillong and scored 230 marks in Management Optional. Very few people take this subject as it is considered to be ‘unmanageable’. Nagendra Singh tells his experiences here. For any queries, please contact him on his fb profile:

Note: I am merely hosting this post. Everything mentioned here has been written by Nagendra.
Nagendra’s Words

The management Optional (my score paper 1: 118, paper 2 – 112, total 230)

The syllabus is lengthy, the competitors are from IIM’s and the day UPSC decides to tweak the pattern of questions slightly; you may wonder why the hell did I ever take this subject! Yet, it works; somehow UPSC comes out with a slightly easy yet balanced paper that is very manageable and asks you to prepare very specific topics only.

The biggest advantage of management as an optional is that it’s logical as compared to humanity subjects. You’re either right or wrong, you will never face any potential injustice the likes of which is experienced in sociology, Pub Ad or Geography! If you do well, you’ll surely get decent marks.


Logical :you can guess your marks to certain degree after attempting the paper,
– Paper is predictable (you can pinpoint topics that you need to focus on!)
Less competition (so far very few people have dared to take this)
– Contrary to beliefs the papers are very easy and straightforward!

Note: those in IIM’s or just freshly out of one should definitely go for this optional (this is your best bet to clear this exam trust me!)

Even if you are from any other B school and have covered your first year books reasonably well; you should go for this optional. Non IIM students have no apparent disadvantage whatsoever in this optional!


– Impossible to cover the entire syllabus
– Paper 2 is very lengthy and managing it is a big task
– It will consume a lot of time in the first reading

There is an inherent risk with this optional due to the vast syllabus but you need to have faith on yourself as well that you’ll be able to manage it; it is after all management!

Now let us move to paper wise strategy; I would recommend all of you to go through last five year question papers from UPSC website (link is visible on home page for the same)

Paper 1

Key to success – master HR and OB topics (mandatory for good marks) and either prepare Finance or Marketing thoroughly; for all other topics you should have basic idea

Paper 1 is all theory based, the syllabus lists 6 major topics in which HR, Organizational Behavior, Finance and Marketing are the ones you need to focus on. Introduction and Accounting part you can go through once ( so far they have only asked marginal costing v/s absorption costing; budgeting techniques and inventory management). Tip – they will most likely ask about marginal/absorption costing this year (they do it every alternate year!)

The best part about paper 1 is that even in finance they ask pure theory questions like what is NPV, IRR, CAPM, leverage etc. It is so basic that even non finance experts like me could cram and answer in the paper. My strength was in HR, OB and marketing with a basic knowledge of other three topics in syllabus. You have a choice in Marketing or Finance but HR & OB is a must read for both marketing and financial experts as it makes up for 80 – 90% of section A in paper 1! (Note – I had HR as one of the specialization; so things were little smooth for me in this department!)

Honestly, if you go through previous year question papers; you’ll also be able to estimate as to which topics you would like to cover extensively. I would also suggest that you at least go through all the topics stated in the syllabus once to be secure decent marks in compulsory 10 marker questions!

Paper 2

Key to success – cover quant, Operations, Strategic management well; this paper is time consuming, you will know almost all the answers but you need to manage the time well or you’re screwed!

Paper 2 is the antithesis of paper 1! It is all application; numerical questions and case studies which make it slightly lengthy yet very scoring if you practice well! The beauty of this paper is that every year they mix extremely tough questions with easy ones; you need to watch out for easier ones Don’t get overly attached to any particular subject. Strictly attempt those questions that you feel are manageable in 3 hour window!

Case in point: 2013 paper Section A was a nightmare; Section B was a piece of cake; I first finished off 3 questions from section B in 1hr 30mins, then went on to compulsory question of section A which took me about 45 minutes and took 45 minutes for my last question! I had prepared Operations well but ended up doing the MIS case study due to lack of time!

For the case studies you need to use simple formulae and the most basic frameworks taught to us. In strategic management for example UPSC for some reason loves BCG matrix, Mckinsey framework, porter’s five why bother getting into more advanced models? Please avoid advanced models that you learned in IIMs or read somewhere, stick to the syllabus (as paper checker is a university professor who doesn’t like to be told that he knows less than you!)

In quant they frequently ask mean, median, mode, graphical method in linear programming or a basic numerical on simplex method in worst case, correlation and regression line (very basic numerical here as well); probability (maximum till bayestheorm!) and decision making (you may skip this or refer to internet documents for some basic problems), rest you can skip

In operations, I recommend you go through the syllabus well and practice previous years’ numerical questions (they are more than sufficient). So, if you are good in quant, operations and basic strategic management this paper will easily get you 120+ out of 250!

I didn’t specifically prepare MIS, Intl Busness, and Govt business relation because half of it is like GS and a basic understanding can get you through. However, again you must go through/ read all the topics stated in the syllabus once!

Tips for overall good performance in paper 1 and paper 2!

– Practice on previous year question papers frequently

– At least have a general reading of the entire syllabus; you’ll be glad you did it once (and in my opinion you only get time to do this once)

– Revise specific topics again and again, identify your strengths in both papers

– Whatever happens complete your paper, practice time management for paper 2

– Don’t use extraordinary language or models in your answer, use simple frameworks in case studies and quote the most general examples if you wish to quote one

– Whatever happens stick to the syllabus

– Be generous in using internet for topics you are not clear about; internet is the most powerful tool in this optional!

Reading Material

IGNOU booklets released by their department of management studies : these are short, sweet &the most ideal partner for this exam. I relied solely on these at times for HR, Finance, Accounting, Strategic management (actually they are the best source to cover UPSC level questions!) and international business! – do whatever it takes to get hold of these!

Topic wise books used by me are under, you can happily rely on your institute provided books/ ppts; they are also more than sufficient –
• Organisational Behavior – Robbins, judge &sanghi
• Human resource and personnel management – Ashwathappa
• Marketing – Kotler
• Financial management – ross, westerfield and jaffe
• Theory of organizational development and change – Thomas cummings (this is optional, you may only refer to IGNOU notes)
• For Quant : Complete business statistics: Aczel−Sounderpandian
• Operations Management: david collier
• Strategic Management: IIM class ppts/ Mostly IGNOU notes!
• MIS: laudon and laudon
• Intl Business: some local author book/ IGNOU
• Decision making : internet documents/ class PPts

Remember you don’t need to be master of every topic; you just need to have a broad area of study. All other things eventually come down to common sense and your good luck on that given day! Also, there is a simple test to choose whether you should take this optional or not; here’s how you can decide – just open the last two years’ question papers and read them, if you can at the current moment without any preparation feel that you can attempt 30 – 40% of the paper easily then you must not waste your time looking anywhere else!

Wish you all the best for your journey with UPSC!
Please forgive me for this long post, management is like this only, lengthy yet simple! 

Nagendra Singh
AIR 120

PubAd Hidden Topics: Lohit Matani (AIR 182, CSE 2013)

Friends, people often complaint of butchering of pubad or pubad junta being punished by upsc. A big reason thereof is the recent trend of asking unconventional or ‘out of syllabus’ questions or questions which hit our face directly.

Lohit Matani (AIR 182, CSE 2013) has written this wonderful article where he decodes such questions and tells us the ‘hidden’ topics they come from so that one can study for these. His fb profile is and below article is directly from his blog.

Click here to see the article.

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.




UPSC / IAS Prep: Psychology Optional Strategy by IAS Ravi Ranjan (AIR 92 CSE 2013)

Hi, this article on psychology optional preparation has been written by Mr. Ravi Ranjan (AIR 92, CSE 2013). His facebook page is . I am merely hosting this on my blog. Pleas direct all queries to him. Thanks, Gaurav.

Hello everybody! In this note i am going to share the strategy i followed for preparation of Psychology as well as the booklist for the same.First let me talk about this optional a bit.

It’s quite an interesting optional not only at the face of it but also when u are deep into it. It has tremendous applicability not only in daily life and to manage one’s own self, shape one’s personality, attitudes, behaviour but also in administration. In a nutshell i have realized that wherever there is human involvement, psychology as a study of behaviour and mental processes has a role to play. Now the revised General Studies syllabus talks about Attitude, Emotional Intelligence, Aptitude which are staight out of the syllabus of Psychology. Psychology aids in the understanding of social issues like Communal violence, Juvenile delinquency, Voilence of all forms against women to name a few. It also aids in essays, personality test. Hence it’s a nice optional to take with multiple interlinkages with various stages of this examination as well as portions of GS syllabus.

But, the nice words end here and the somewhat discomforting picture about psychology is the low scores awarded by UPSC. After all, what is the use of the optional if one cannot score in it and get into the preferred service? This is the general concern about this subject. Statistics also buttress this notion. The highest marks have been barely touching 50% at times crossing it marginally. This year i had a tough time finding fellow psycho aspirants and strength in the test series batch of Vaziram was drastically less.

Analyzing closely, i find that this dismal trend of score is just not true for psychology but also in other optional subjects. As i feel, UPSC now checks for greater conceptual clarity across optionals and sets more difficult papers.Also, this is perhaps the way of UPSC to reduce the undue impact on selection due to spiking of marks in optionals, particulary in a few particularly popular ones.I can find similar assessment elsewhere in another piece where Mr. Rahul Pandey AIR 52 has shared his experiences with Public Administration. I quote him ” In the last two years, UPSC has deliberately increased the difficulty levels of question paper as they are more interested in those students who have conceptual clarity and ability to write those concepts in a simple manner.” Actually, marks are therefore awarded when there is conceptual clarity, originality in analysis and connections highlighted between theoretical concepts and the real life examples. This is simply the logic of whole process of studying optionals for Civil Services, where as an administrator, one is supposed to use the same concepts while performing in the service. A good indicator of whether a person will do that is whether s/he is able to do that on paper in the examination.

Looking at the scores of optionals, it appears that if one can obtain about 45%-50% marks in optionals then one has done reasonably well to quite good job.Hence, to expect that one will become IAS just by studying the optional is going to be suicidal. Every Paper counts now including the Personality Test.

Here’s my booklist for Psychology:

Paper 1

Introduction to Psychology Robert Baron
Psychology by Morgan and King
Psychology by Ciccarelli
Psychology NCERT XI XII
Vaziram class notes by Mukul Pathak sir
Tests, Measurements and Research Methods in Behavioural Sciences by A K Singh (Bharti Bhawan publications)
Statistics for Psychology by Aron, Aron, Coups
Cognitive Psychology by Sternberg

Paper 2
Vaziram class notes by Mukul Pathak sir
Applied Psychology by Mr. Smarak Swain
Social Psychology by Robert Baron, Branscombe, Gopa Bhardwaj, Byrne

Besides i also frequently visited for latest updates on applied part and research in psychology.Not to forget, i followed columns dealing with latest practices in organizations in newspapers. These can be readily found in The Hindu, TOI, The Business Standard, The ET. Also, keeping an eye on the news articles from the point of view of psychology syllabus gave me fresh perspective in writing answers.

In the next note i’ll specifically talk about how I read paper 1 and paper 2 and practised answer writing.I’ll try to upload snapshots of some answers i wrote during test series.

I thank Mr. Rahul Pandey for sharing his valuable insights for the benefit of the aspirants.

Thanx and All the best!

History Optional Strategy

Hi, This post is divided into 3 parts..

Part 1
The main purpose of this post is to reblog the history preparation post by Gaurav Gupta (part 3). However, I too had history optional last year (cse 2012) and got 235 marks in it. Gaurav Gupta has given his book list. Additional books referred by me are here:

1. From Plassey to Partition by Shekhar Bandopadhyay (best book, most scholarly work I read)
2. “Bharat Ka Itihaas” (hindi) by Aashirwadi Lal Srivastava
3. “Madhyakaleen Bharat” Part 1 and Part 2 by Harish Chandra Verma
4. Delhi University Compilation for Ancient India, Medieval India and Modern India.
5. Romilla Thapar on Ancient India
6. Europe Since Napoleon by David Thomson
7. For map, I got a book “Indian Historical Places” by Dr. H.C. Jain and also a blackboard and chalk and duster. My father would then take a quiz where he would take the name of the place and I would mark on the board and tell stuff about it. Of course this is no longer the pattern now.
8. A. L. Basham.
9. Satish Chandras for medieval.

Still I found my preparation lacking. There were some questions which were asked out of the blue. Basically in History, historians often debate among themselves on various topics. A question may be asked out of that debate and to get good marks, we have to read those debates and write material discussed there. Although I haven’t read it, I am told the book by BL Grover on modern India which has many such debates.

My notes for history optional can be downloaded from my other post..

Part 2

D. Amarkesh (AIR 217, cse 2012) is one of the strongest history students I know. His notes are available at

Amarkesh Notes

Amarkesh Notes Alternative Site

I will request him to add more.

Part 3

3. I am reblogging here the History optional preparation post by Gaurav Gupta who got 239 marks in it (highest so far heard). Pls direct all queries to him at or his blog


Abhipraay: The Blog

History as optional –

First of all one should take optional based on his interest as this subject is you would be reading for next 1-2 years or more so you must have zeal to go deeper, read new books by new writers to learn and understand various perspectives. And that is why I took History as optional despite being told by some people that it is not ‘scoring’, or it has ‘large syllabus’. However once I decided, I made sure that I should not get such thoughts. In UPSC all subjects are scoring provided you are answering what is asked.

Other benefits of History as optional (once you have decided that you have interest in it) –

  • I take history as very scientific, analytical and objective subject as you have to frame your answer based on historical evidences/facts and records.
  • I liked to read about how was our past…

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