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

From last 3 year the average marks which are being scored by the students in this subject is very low, we cannot attribute this low scoring to any external factor, but the advice is that if you plan to take this subject you should not think that you will cram it and will be able to perform, but rather you should try to introspect whether you are creative, whether in your real life you have habit of connecting things, whether you enjoy reading fiction or psych thriller novel, if so than go ahead and take this subject.

However for all those who are reading this, we believe each of us should give one chance to ourselves to learn this subject, you will have a lot of takeaways from this subject.


NCERT books of class XI and XII are the good source to begin with, one should remember it is these NCERT books from which few questions are being framed, and these books give us insight as how to write the answer in few words, given the present context where 10 marker are becoming the fate decider.

We should read NCERT books thoroughly and only if we have done this than can we proceed for higher level studies, however we will not be wrong to say that if you have thorough grasp of NCERT books than you don’t have to read any other book, each and every line in NCERT are a probable question in itself.



PATHAK sir’s notes are also a good repository of knowledge as far as psychology is concerned however given the bulkiness of his notes, it is scary. We can say for sure that he has used the matter from almost all sources and has prepared a holistic notes but our advice is that please do not use the same example which he has used in his notes to explain the event, rather than using his examples it will be better if you create examples relating to your life events, this will not only add uniqueness to your answer but you will also be able to correlate with the subject easily.


Go through one textbook amongst Baron and Ciccarelli. For paper II Smarak Swain or Vajiram Printed Notes will do. Psychology is something which one needs to revise everyday so that it’s retained. It does not require any skill to write the answer. You have to just write what is being asked.

It’s not about introduction and conclusion. It’s about writing proper answers. Syllabus is vast so it requires constant revision.



The subject has 2 Papers – Paper 1 deals with the theoretical aspects and basic principles of psychology, while Paper 2 talks about applied psychology and its use in various fields. After knowing this, the first step one should take is open the syllabus and go through it thoroughly.

UPSC tends to limit itself to the syllabus and so should us while preparing for the exam. Also, knowledge of the syllabus gives us an idea of what is expected of us, and how much we have to cover.


Chapter 2 and 3 of Paper One and chapter One of Paper Two can be combined together, this section is the toughest part of the psychology, as there are many mathematical models, research methodology are to be read.

So these chapters should not be read in the beginning, they can at best be started in the mid of our preparation, however there are terminologies given in this chapter should be referred on and off.


Chapters on learning, memory and emotions and intelligence can be read along with one another.


Application of psychology in educational field, application of psychology with the disadvantaged group and the chapters of Psychological problems of social integration this combination of chapters will ensure that you will able to grasp as well as correlate.

You will also start appreciating that the psychology is fun. While reading these chapter try to ensure that you visualize your friends, family members and neighbors so that you have ready references.


The chapters of interest, attitude value and personality can be taken at the next stage. Make sure that once your earlier chapters are over don’t try to scan through them as and when because you will now find their new relevance to the chapter you are studying later.

You can combine the chapter of Work Psychology and Organizational Behavior, Psychology and Economic development and Application of psychology to environment and related fields for forming correlation and interlinking with these chapter this will ensure that your syllabus is also completed in time.



Main strategy for this exam is interlinking and more you interlink, more will be your understanding. However you should never forget the learning which you had from these chapters can also be used to make your essay flowery.


Similarly the remaining chapters can be taken at the third stage or fourth stage as you wish. Each chapter will give you unique understanding of the concepts. Try to use as many examples as possible from your real life.



In a nutshell, if you study the syllabus in these stages, then it will be easier to revise, make notes and also to answer applied questions. Most of the applied questions nowadays make use of such linkages and studying the subject in this fashion makes the job very easy indeed.


STUDY MATERIAL – Next come the most asked about questions – What books to study, whether to join coaching or not, which coaching? The approach towards this should always be to study one book multiple times, rather than multiple books one time. The usual books followed are –

 NCERT Psychology- Class 11, 12

 Morgan and King- Paper I

 Baron- Paper I

 Ciccarelli- Paper I

 Applied Psychology by Smarak Swain- for Paper II




Ideally, one should start the preparation around one year before the prelims, and complete the syllabus by end of December. Then one can start with revision of the subject right after prelims, and complete it in time for mains.

Go through the syllabus topic wise, and try to complete one unit at a time. Refer to the standard books and notes and try to develop a basic understanding initially. Don’t try to mug up the figures or names, focus should be on the concepts.

After completing basic psychology for paper 1, start with applied psychology for paper 2. Try to develop a timeline and decide how you aim to complete your syllabus. I used to prepare broad frame, and then develop a monthly and daily schedule and would try to stick to that. It helps to maintain the focus and doesn’t allow any deviation from the task at hand.

One can also make use of various articles in the newspapers and magazines or the internet to gather more material, but this should come at a later stage. For many topics of paper 2 like gender psychology, military psychology, terrorist psychology, environmental psychology, work psychology, education psychology, social psychology etc, try to use contemporary examples from the Indian context to make the answers more relevant. This will highly enhance the value of the answer and fetch much more marks.


It is advisable to revise the same material multiple times. You can also make concise notes in your own language to help in easy revision later. Try to develop the gist of every topic in the form of a flowchart or diagram. This will save time later and help in making the answers more effective.


Practice answer writing to ensure that you can convey your answers in an effective manner. Every good answer has two components- content and presentation. First read the question thoroughly to understand the demands of the question – what is it asking about, whether the details of any theory, or its comparative advantages and disadvantages with another, or if it is asking about the application part.

Just jot down the points you would want to cover in a few seconds and only then start writing. This will make sure that you don’t lose track of the question and cover all the points asked. Most of the people do well on the content part but lack in presentation. Always try to put yourself in the examiner’s shoes and then you’ll realise what kind of answer you should write- it should be crisp and clear, in a legible writing, and preferably with some diagrams or flowcharts to make the same answer more effective.

Try to highlight the important points and avoid repetition. Thus effective answer writing is an art which can be only mastered by regular practice. Try to make such mind maps and diagrams while studying and recapitulating the information. One can either join the test series of any coaching institute for the same or practice writing answers at home.

Go through the previous year question papers and test your knowledge and practice writing answers to those. It would be better if you can get these checked by a teacher so that you’ll get a better idea of your mistakes and further improvements that can be made.  This helps to analyse one’s answers and improve them the next time.


Another thing to keep in mind is to make efficient utilisation of the exam time of three hours. Spend the first few minutes going through all the questions and deciding about the questions you know best and would attempt. This exercise should not take more than 5 or 10 minutes. Then divide the time equally amongst all the 5 questions, while keeping 10-15 minutes in the end as reserve or extra for revision or unseen situations. So you’ll have approximately 30 minutes per question.

Try to stick to the word limit, with some deviation on either side. These days in psychology, we don’t generally get 60 mark questions, but 10, 20 or 30 mark questions. For a 10 marker, just stick to the points and give the information asked. For a 20 or 30 mark question also, first focus on the content required and then you can just supplement it with a brief introduction or conclusion with regard to word limit and time availability. This time management skill and speed improvement can also be developed with repeated practice.



The last few days before the exam should be spent wisely in revising the syllabus covered earlier. Don’t try to learn new things in this time. One day before the exam, try to finish the revision on time and then relax for some time. A fresh mind will have a better memory recall and will help in writing fresh and innovative answers.


So, in the end, make sure –

 Go through the syllabus and collect the relevant study material.

 Make a long term plan and complete the syllabus in time, topic wise.

 Focus should be on understanding rather than rote learning.

 Do multiple revisions of the same material.

 Try to enhance the answers by including contemporary examples from newspapers, magazines and internet.

 Read the question carefully to understand the demands of the question.

 Practice answer writing and make use of flowcharts, graphs and diagrams to make your answers more effective.

 Make efficient utilisation of the time and stick to the word limit.




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