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

Geography as a subject, especially for UPSC examination, requires you to have a slightly scientific bent of mind. Since geography is a subject of locations, it is important to have an aptitude for understanding locations, understanding maps, processes and theories.

Choosing this subject without liking it or just for the sake of scoring in the exam may prove costly.


First paper deals with World Geography and the second paper deals with Geography of India. While Paper I deals with Processes and Theories, Paper II deals with application of Paper I purely from India’s perspective.

For both papers, NCERT books of Class XI and Class XII form the basic foundations. Also refer to NCERT books from Class VI – X if you feel the need.



The syllabus is vast and requires you to know the concepts in depth. One book to suggest is Spectrum Geography by Rajiv Ahir IPS for some selected topics and diagrams.


Paper I:

The structure of the paper has changed over the time. So the demand is that the candidate is required to cover the entire syllabus, short notes have become compulsory too. So it is always advisable to know something about everything rather than everything about something. If somebody knows 2/3rd points about a topic, it is good enough to write a 12 marker short note. So don’t leave any chapter or topic. At least have some basic knowhow about all the subtopics written in the syllabus.


Paper II:

It is totally based on India and the questions are generally open ended. Hardly any questions would be direct. There is no single material, which can be referred to as source.

Since they are application oriented, understanding of concepts is most important. Reading extensively will help. Everybody will know the answer to these questions, but do keep mind that to make any answer geographical, drawing maps, diagrams and referring to locations is important.

Yojana and Kurukshetra may help. That will make the difference between a normal answer and a geography answer.

The most important approach to studying geography is through maps. You may study weather, rainfall, soils, vegetation, and agriculture. Draw them with another pen than that you used for writing your answers and use free hand as much as possible while drawing, to save time.

Make sure you study them and understand them through maps. Try to overlap them and understand how they are all related. Put up huge maps in your room and whatever you study, mark them on it.



Paper I:

Books and References:

 Geomorphology: Savindra Singh and Strahler & Strahler

 Climatology: D.S.Lal

 Oceanography: Vatal and Sharma

 Biogeography: Savindra Singh, Rupa made simple

 Environment: ICSE books of 9th and 10th Class

 Human and population Geography: Rupa made simple, Leong and Morgan



Paper II:

Books and references:

 Physical Geography – Savindra Singh

 Human Geography – Majid Hussain

 Models and Theories – Majid Hussain (this book has good compilation of diagrams)

 Indian Geography – Khullar (Unit 1 has to be thoroughly read. Unit 2 can be avoided. Unit 3 is good, some chapters like water resources, multipurpose projects can be read)

 Dictionary by K Sidhartha

 Any institute’s notes can be supplemented for timely revision

 Geography and You for case studies

 Newspapers and Yojana for other related matters.


Start preparation before one year of the prelims. Make a strategy to complete the syllabus topic wise.

The basic concepts of each topic should be clear so that one can write in his language in examination.

Try to incorporate maximum figures in your answers. Geography is the subject where one can make answers crisp and attractive by figures. Wherever map is required draw it.

Between two questions of choice in exam attempt the question in which chances of drawing figure are more. The most important fact which one should keep in mind in geography is time management. Each aspirant feels difficulty in attempting all questions in geography. What we suggest is continuous writing practice.



We have to solve the question paper of 300 marks in 3 hours i.e. 180 minutes. Thus we get 0.6 minutes for one mark. It can easily be calculated that ideally for 15 marks question we get 9 minutes and almost 150-200 words and for 30 mark question we get 18 minutes and almost 300-350 words.

So what one can do, pick a question randomly from last year question papers start stop watch and try to complete the answer in above time limit and word limit. After time limit stop writing and then check the answer yourself as well as show it to your friends or guide. Make sure that answer should be legible as well as of good quality.

Practice 3-4 questions daily. You will be amazed to see that there is a drastic improvement in your writing skill and time management skill. This type of writing practice will help you not only in geography but in other optional and G.S. also.


Mapping has come out to be a real challenge in recent years. The strategy to handle India map question is again practice. What one should do is to practice map every day for one hour. Start from mountains first day, then rivers, then waterfalls and then important cities and so on. Also mark important places which are in news from newspaper.

Regular practice of mapping will make you more confidant.



In recent past it is also being seen that second paper is evolving as a challenge for aspirants. Its applied nature is responsible for making it uncertain. So one should be careful in preparation of second paper. For effective preparation one should be able to incorporate current topics in geography.

Thus while reading newspaper mark the topics which may be important for geography and try to search material for those topics from internet. Start writing on those topics. Read each and every issue of magazine ‘Geography and You’.


Courtesy: Successful Candidates


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