Psychology is an optional paper you can choose for the UPSC exam. The subject to study and interpret the complexity of the human mind and its function is a topic that can be helpful later after recruitment. It is a tricky subject to choose as it is considered natural science, social science, and life science all at once. Hence writing answers for the related topics can become a very dicey affair, from the UPSC exam perspective. To ace this subject in UPSC, you must have a deep-seated and genuine interest in the topic. It is not as popular as history, geography, or public administration but still a popular choice. Not only that, but many extraordinary candidates who have qualified the exam over the years also had this subject as their optional.
In this post we are going to share a detailed study table and several tips which will help you to prepare the entire syllabus in an organized and time-efficient manner.
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Success rate of psychology optional
Before we delve further into the preparation of the subject, let us analyse the success rate of the subject over the past few years to get an idea about why it is such a popular choice despite its unconventionality.
- According to the annual report of UPSC, in 2015, 238 candidates had taken the subject as optional and 28 of them had cleared the exam making it approximately 11.8 % of success rate.
- In 2014, 373 candidates had chosen this subject, out of which 59 had qualified the exam. Hence the success rate was 15.8%.
- 348 candidates had taken up psychology in 2013 and among them, 34 had qualified the exam which means the success rate was 9.8 %.
- In 2012, 1163 candidates took up the subject and 92 qualified the exam, making the success rate 7.9%.
- 2011 witnessed 1365 candidates taking up psychology optional and 143 qualified the IAS mains. The success rate was 10.5%.
There are several toppers every year who have aced their exam with flying colours and had psychology optional in their Mains. Sneha Aggarwal, Subhra Saxena, and Adapa Karthik were all the toppers of 2011, 2008, and 2007 respectively who had psychology as their optional papers. In the more recent times, Manish Kumar who qualified IAS in 2017 and ranked 61 nationally had psychology optional too.
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Why choose psychology optional for IAS Mains?
There are several advantages of psychology optional which make it a popular choice among the candidates. However, all these advantages are applicable only if you dedicate ample time to the preparation for the Mains right from the beginning.
- Basic knowledge of human psychology can make your administrative job easier and help you perceive and analyse situations better.
- In its simplest form, the syllabus of psychology forms the base for the ethics paper in IAS mains. Hence, you can draw comparisons and references from all that you learn while studying psychology. Hence, you will have theoretical backups for your abstract understanding of moral values through your study of psychology which in turn will make it easier to frame answers for the ethics paper.
- The subject is very interesting, making it enjoyable for the candidate to study and does not feel like a burden you have to bear.
- There is lots of good study material that you can readily get which means less effort on your part.
- The subject is scoring if you can cite numerous examples and case studies in support of your answer. Real-life anecdotes are appreciated too.
- The subject helps to build your perspective of the society around us as well as on a global level. This in turn will later help you to take wiser administrative decisions from your position.
- You do not have to be a graduate in the subject to understand and prepare for it right before the UPSC- it is that interesting and simple. Hence, it is a versatile choice and any candidate from any discipline can choose it as optional.
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A few drawbacks to remember:
Besides the advantages, it is always safe to keep the cons in mind too so that you can judge all the perspectives and then make an informed decision.
- If you are not interested in the subject and only consider the point that it is scoring and helps to ace the ethics paper too, this is not the best subject to choose from. There are numerous theories that must be understood in order to frame your answers and it calls for minimum interest to go through these theories thoroughly.
- If you have a completely different background and never had psychology throughout your school or college days as a subject, it can prove to be difficult to learn independently- this is specifically for candidates who have not taken up any tutorial or classes for the preparation.
- It has negligible overlap with any of the general studies papers except ethics.
- The syllabus is interlinked and hence relatively vast as you may have to go through different topics that are not in the syllabus but for clarifying your concept, they have to be studied.
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Best reference books for UPSC psychology optional
To begin your preparation, you should get a few reference books and notes that will cover the entire course. Choose the books carefully so that you can limit the number of reference sources you use but have all the necessary topics covered within these few sources. The following is a list of the books and online sources that you can rely on-
The best reference books-
- NCERTs 11th and 12th
- Textbook of Psychology (Indian adaptation) by Robert Baron
- Textbook of Psychology by Morgan and King
- Notes by Mukul Pathak (handwritten)
- Research book by AK Singh
- Psychology by Saundra Ciccarelli
- Understanding Psychology by Robert S. Feldman
- Applied Psychology by Smarak Swain
- Social Psychology Baron & Byrne
- Social Psychology by Robert Baron, Branscombe, Gopa Bhardwaj, Byrne
- Statistics for Psychology by Aron, Aron, Coups
- Statistical psychology by Das & Das
- Systems & Theories of Psychology Krawiec & Chaplin
- The Psychology of Small Groups Shaw
- Theories of Personality Hall & Lindzey
- Open course by Yale university– Taken by Dr. Paul Bloom.
- Open course by MIT university
- Psychology video series at the Crash Course Youtube Channel
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Generic tips to prepare psychology optional
There are two papers for the optional subject you take up and psychology is no exception. Irrespective of the optional subject that you take up, you must begin preparations right from the time you submit the application form in order to ace the subject, simultaneous to your prelims preparation. This means you cannot wait to get the confirmation whether you qualified prelims to begin the Mains preparation. Here are a few generic tips which will help you productively use your study time for your psychology optional preparation while preparing the prelims too.
- Practice writing, answering more from your intuition than by mugging up theories. However, seek guidance and get your answers checked from someone who has a background in studying psychology.
- NCERT will help to clear your basic concept that in turn will help in grasping the detailed study provided by other reference books, hence you cannot skip reading up the NCERTs in the initial few days.
- You cannot write the answers in a factual and monotonous and generalized tone, which is usually encouraged for GS papers. The optional paper is designed to judge your expertise in the chosen subject and hence, the answers must be written like an expert.
- The more you revise the topics and make notes or write answers, the better you will be able to draw links between topics that can further enrich your answer writing and are very helpful in IAS Mains where your ability to co-relate topics is especially judged.
- Research studies form an integral part of any subject. However, in psychology, the line between intuitive understanding of the topic and actual research-based proven backup is very thin. Hence, you have to carefully choose the research studies you refer to. At the same time, you cannot skip mentioning research studies to substantiate the answer. A practical solution is making a habit of mentioning the researcher and the theory you draw the conclusions from at the beginning of the answer so that it does not get confusing for the examiner as they read through the answer.
- Use internet judicially and do not spend a lot of time researching every topic. The internet is quite helpful for supplementing the research-oriented part of the syllabus. It is also fruitful for the computer and artificial intelligence-based topics. You can also watch the psychology tutorial videos as well. The internet should be used for enhancing your understanding of a particular topic and not gaining more information which might not even have a substantial value.
- While writing answers, many times you will come across questions that cannot be written based on all that you have memorized so far or learned. In such cases, try and understand the purpose of the question alone and what you derive from it. You have to practice coming up with impromptu answers solely from your intuition that are backed up with the theories you have learned for a subject like psychology.
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Study plan for psychology optional
The first and foremost thing to do will be estimating the time you have for completing the entire syllabus and coming up with a study plan accordingly. Be consistent with the study time and if you miss any day, make sure you put some extra efforts on the next day. Maintain a planner where you make notes of the progress you are making every day. The following table is to be followed for the first three months. The consecutive months will be dedicated to revisions alone, in the same pattern. This way, you can complete the entire mains syllabus alongside the optional papers.
|UPSC Preparation Plan for Mains Papers
|Paper A – Indian Language
||2hours- every alternate day
|Paper B – English
||2 hours every alternate day
|Paper 2 – General Studies 1
||2 hrs. every day
|Paper 3 – General Studies 2
||2 hrs. every day
|Paper 4 – General Studies 3
||2 hrs. every day
|Paper 5 – General Studies 4
||1 hrs. every day
|Paper 6 – Psychology Optional Paper 1
||2 hrs. every day
|Paper 7 – Psychology Optional Paper 2
||1 hrs. every day
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Preparation tips for psychology paper-1
The following are the topics covered in paper-1 and the relevant tips to prepare-
Paper-1 comprises of the topics- Foundation of psychology, cognitive psychology, personality and contemporary psychology
- Paper 1 has conceptual topics and you must have a clarified idea about all the concepts in this paper to ace paper-2 as well.
- Emphasis on the “research methods” chapter as it is becoming increasingly popular as a topic and several questions are being asked from this chapter in the past few years.
- Questions from a few topics are repeated many times over the years and hence by studying the previous year question papers you can get an idea about the topics to be focused on.
- Some of the topics that are repeated include working memory, intrinsic motivation, attitude, values and interest, issues in modern psychology, etc.
- Episodic memory, long term memory, learning, stereotypes, adjustments, etc. are some of the topics that are less popular but are necessary for the overall understanding of the sections covered in paper-1.
- Keep your answers structurally organized and straightforward while writing the paper-1.
- Certain questions of paper-1 are application based and here, your understanding of the topics from paper-2 will be helpful. Hence, the papers are interconnected.
- Paper-1 has a more theoretical approach and hence, to make richer answers, substantiate with quotes from research works of relevant researchers alongside examples.