How to Prepare Anthropology Optional for UPSC Mains: Target IAS 2018 and Beyond

Anthropology is one those subjects which pass almost all the criteria for being a good choice of optional subject. Still, we request you to please go through it for a few days (at least, two) and then decide whether the subject interests you and if so, go for it.


A first look at the syllabus of Anthropology might scare most of you but, believe me when we say, the syllabus gives a really wrong picture of the efforts needed to prepare for this subject.


A small background about the subject settles the perspective. There is relatively very less research that happens (and happened) in the country on anthropology, only a handful of professors and PhDs are produced.

Whatever little research happens has not been yet converted into academic material, in any of the institutes with prestigious anthropology faculties. Because of this all, there is literally no change in the subject as a whole in the last twenty years or so academically.

The syllabus for the exam is a small subject of this unchanged academic material, and the syllabus too never changed substantially. Even further, there were only around 150 questions which are repeatedly asked in the subject!





Having said that, the Physical Anthropology part is relatively tougher than the rest of the syllabus as one has to go into the details of physiology of human and evolution. But as mentioned above, there are only a few set of questions (not even topics or concepts, just questions) that are going to be repeated, the toughness roughly evens out.


With only one optional to take, anthropology does fit the bill perfectly. And we don’t expect any drastic changes in the way the paper was being set all these years.


Some good points to keep in mind while preparing for Anthropology and while attempting the paper:

 Attempt physical anthropology and other theory based questions as much as possible. They are highly scoring.

Use of diagrams for physical anthropology would fetch definite brownie points, which includes anatomical-prehistoric man (skull, vertebra, bones and teeth diagrams) and modern man, prehistoric stages (tools used, artifacts).

Flow charts are also very effective in this subject. They save the time of explaining a big concept in words.

 Please go through the yearly/recent reports on Tribals (provided by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs).

 Some of the topics from tribal affairs part of the syllabus would be very useful for GS and Essay papers.


To give an idea on how much time it takes for a good coverage of the subject, with a decent effort of around three hours per day, and with decent speed of studying, one should be able to cover the syllabus in around three months.





Suggested Readings:

 Physical Anthropology: BM Das or P. Nath

 Social anthropology; Majumdar and Madan or Ember and Ember (selective reading) and newspapers

 Theories and miscellaneous topics: Any coaching center material

 Tribal India: Tribal India by Nadeem Hasnain, LK Vidyarthi, Yojana tribal issue, Reports on tribals by NC Saxena

 Annual report on Tribals by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs

 Anthropology of India: Nadeem Hasnain

 Previous papers: important because 90% questions are repeated

 NK Vaid’s books and material


Remember you are not reading these books cover to cover, but very selectively, as per the syllabus. So, though it looks like a lot of work, it’s actually very little. If all the required contents from all the books were to be made into a single book, it would be a small book of 200 pages!


Let us also mention here that Anthropology requires a bit of mugging up. This is one such unfortunate exception that probably we all have to live with.


Try to re-read the textbooks to make your concepts clear and over a period of time you will start enjoying the subject very much. There were several questions like the one on impact of industrialization on tribals or Impact of Hindu religion on tribals -in such questions try to substantiate answers with some live examples (like the fact that tribal population in Jharkhand celebrate ‘Sarhul” as well as holi/diwali with equal fervor so there has been beautiful enmeshing of customs and traditions) or relate them with some current issues. Over a period of time if you actually start “living” your optional, it no longer remains a mere study or exam’s part.




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