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IAS Mains Preparation Strategy for Sociology Optional

Updated On -

May 27, 2020

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Sudeshna Bhar

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IAS Mains is the second stage of the selection process. This exam contains 2025 marks among which 500 marks are awarded to the optional subject. These marks are divided into 2 papers having 250 marks for each. The conducting body has offered 25 subjects. Sociology is one of the top most popular 5 subjects among the toppers. Almost every year 2000 candidates choose sociology as the optional subject of IAS Main and research says almost 10- 11 % of candidates get to be recommended among them.

How many candidates take Sociology optional in IAS Main?

according to the 2016 report, a total number of 1555 candidates with Sociology appeared in IAS Mains. Only 89 candidates were recommended. But in 2014, 1819 candidates took sociology in IAS Mains. 193 candidates got recommended.

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Years Number of Appeared Number of Recommended Rate of Success
2017 1421 137 9.6%
2016 1635 132 8.1
2015 1479 173 11.7 %
2014 1819 193 10.6 %

The success rate of 2016 was 5.7% whereas in 2014 the success rate was 10. 6%. On average the success rate is approx 9 - 10 % which is better than the average of other non-technical optional subjects.

Subject Performance of Sociology Over the Years in IAS Mains

Here a ratio of success rate has been presented. While one looks at the below - mentioned chart of success, one easily can calculate that the success rate of sociology optional is 9 - 10 % average. This proves why sociology has remained one of the popular optional subjects over the years.

Name of Years Success Rate
2016 5.7%
2015 11.7%
2014 10.6%
2013 9.1 %
2012 9.2%
2011 8.2%
2010 10.5%

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Who Should Choose Sociology as IAS Mains Optional Subject?

Choosing an Optional for Mains in IAS Mains is a critical task. With a share of 500 marks out of 2025, the right choice of optional will give you a safer path to achieve a better rank. Here are some reasons why any candidates can choose sociology as optional subject:

  • No special knowledge or academic background is necessary for the preparation of Sociology as an optional subject.
  • Countless pieces of evidence show that candidates without any special skill in Sociology have obtained high scores.
  • It is a subject that is made up of different elements and all the elements are interrelated with each other in one or other way. That is why it depends on personal ability on how candidates take it.
  • Sociology paper I is commonly known as Thinker’s paper. There are six thinkers namely Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, R.K. Merton and Mead which makes it a theoretical paper.
  • Sociology paper II is basically a practical paper. Its facts are required to be proved with the help of solid reasons.
  • Current Affairs also is effective in this subject because most of the recent improvements and related research studies have been arriving in IAS Mains very often.

While you choose sociology as your optional subject, make sure that you are well aware of the fact and benefits as well as difficulties of this subject. No stone should be left unturned.

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Benefits of Sociology optional in IAS Mains

There are many benefits of taking sociology as optional in the UPSC exam. As we can see the success rate of this optional subject is pretty high than other subjects. Here is some reasoning that will benefit you if you choose sociology as your optional subject in IAS Mains:

  • Sociology is generally considered to be one of the most non-technical scoring subjects and this is one of the main reasons for its popularity in IAS Mains.
  • Due to a genuinely short syllabus, any candidate depending on interest and intellectual ability can complete within 4 months.
  • The background of education does not matter here. Candidate with any educational background having at least a basic idea of some of the concepts of sociology like family, religion, etc. can find it interesting.
  • In General Studies Paper I, the common topics are:
    • Political philosophies such as capitalism, communism, socialism, etc. and their effects on society.
    • Highlights of Indian society, Diversity in India.
    • Impacts of globalization on Indian culture.
    • Role of women and women’s organisation, poverty and developmental issues, population and associated issues, urbanization.
    • Social empowerment, communalism, secularism and regionalism.
  • In General Studies Paper II, the common topics are :
    • Pressure groups and formal/informal associations, their role in the polity.
    • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population, mechanisms, laws, institutions, and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections.
    • Development processes and the development industry – the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
    • Education, Human Resources.
    • Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to health.
    • Civil services in a democracy.
    • Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
  • In General Studies Paper III, the common topics are :
    • Land reforms in India.
    • Comprehensive development and issues emerging from it.
    • Development and spread of extremism linkage – Naxalism.
    • Changes in industrial policy, impacts of liberalization on the economy, and their outcome on industrial growth.
  • In General Studies Paper IV, the common topics eneral are:
    • Human Values- the role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values; reformers and administrators, lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders.

IAS Mains: Sociology Optional Syllabus

As other optional subjects, sociology also has 2 papers. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

Sociology Optional Syllabus: Paper - I: Fundamentals Of Sociology
Sociology - The Discipline
  • Modernity and Social Changes In Europe and The Emergence Of Sociology.
  • Scope Of The Subject and Comparison With Other Social Sciences.
  • Sociology and Common Sense.
Sociology As Science:
  • Science, Scientific Method and Critique.
  • Major Theoretical Strands Of Research Methodology.
  • Positivism and Its Critique.
  • Fact Value and Objectivity.
  • Non-positivist Methodologies.
Research Methods and Analysis:
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Methods.
  • Techniques Of Data Collection.
  • Variables, Sampling, Hypothesis, Reliability and Validity.
Sociological Thinkers:
  • Karl Marx- Historical Materialism, Mode Of Production, Alienation, Class Struggle.
  • Emile Durkheim- Division Of Labour, Social Fact, Suicide, Religion and Society.
  • Max Weber- Social Action, Ideal Types, Authority, Bureaucracy, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit Of Capitalism.
  • Talcott Parsons- Social System, Pattern Variables.
  • Robert K. Merton- Latent and Manifest Functions, Conformity and Deviance, Reference Groups.
  • Mead - Self and Identity.
Stratification and Mobility:
  • Concepts- Equality, Inequality, Hierarchy, Exclusion, Poverty and Deprivation.
  • Theories Of Social Stratification- Structural Functionalist Theory, Marxist Theory, Weberian Theory.
  • Dimensions – Social Stratification Of Class, Status Groups, Gender, Ethnicity and Race.
  • Social Mobility- Open and Closed Systems, Types Of Mobility, Sources and Causes Of Mobility.
Works and Economic Life:
  • Social Organization Of Work In Different Types Of Society- Slave Society, Feudal Society, Industrial /Capitalist Society.
  • Formal and Informal Organization Of Work.
  • Labour and Society.
Politics and Society:
  • Sociological Theories Of Power.
  • Power Elite, Bureaucracy, Pressure Groups, and Political Parties.
  • Nation, State, Citizenship, Democracy, Civil Society, Ideology.
  • The protest, Agitation, Social Movements, Collective Action, Revolution.
Religion and Society:
  • Sociological Theories Of Religion.
  • Types Of Religious Practices: Animism, Monism, Pluralism, Sects, Cults.
  • Religion In Modern Society: Religion and Science, Secularization, Religious Revivalism, Fundamentalism.
Systems Of Kinship:
  • Family, Household, Marriage.
  • Types and Forms Of Family.
  • Lineage and Descent.
  • Patriarchy and Sexual Division Of Labour.
  • Contemporary Trends.
Social Change In Modern Society:
  • Sociological Theories Of Social Change.
  • Development and Dependency.
  • Agents Of Social Change.
  • Education and Social Change.
  • Science, Technology and Social Change.

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Sociology Optional Syllabus: Paper - II:

The syllabus of sociology optional paper II is divided into 2 sections.

  • Section - A: Indian Society: Structure and Change
  • Section - B: Indian Society: Structure and Change
Section: A (Introducing Indian Society)
Perspectives On The Study Of Indian Society
  • Indology (Gs. Ghurye).
  • Structural Functionalism (M N Srinivas).
  • Marxist Sociology (A R Desai).
Impact Of Colonial Rule On Indian Society 
  • Social Background Of Indian Nationalism.
  • Modernization Of Indian Tradition.
  • Protests and Movements During The Colonial Period.
  • Social Reforms.
Section B: Social Structure
Rural and Agrarian Social Structure
  • The Idea Of Indian Village and Village Studies.
  • Agrarian Social Structure - Evolution Of Land Tenure System, Land Reforms.
Caste System
  • Perspectives On The Study Of Caste Systems: Gs Ghurye, M N Srinivas, Louis Dumont, andre Beteille.
  • Features Of Caste System.
  • Untouchability - Forms and Perspectives.
Tribal Communities In India
  • Definitional Problems.
  • Geographical Spread.
  • Colonial Policies and Tribes.
  • Issues Of Integration and Autonomy.
Social Classes In India
  • Agrarian Class Structure.
  • Industrial Class Structure.
  • Middle Classes In India.
Systems Of Kinship In India
  • Lineage and Descent In India.
  • Types Of Kinship Systems.
  • Family and Marriage In India.
  • Household Dimensions Of The Family.
Religion and Society:
  • Religious Communities In India.
  • Problems Of Religious Minorities.
  • Patriarchy, Entitlements and Sexual Division Of Labour

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Previous Years’ Questions of Sociology Optional

Most of the time, candidates are out of material and right now due to COVID-19 outbreak, candidates cannot find the hard copies of previous years’ question papers So, here are some links by which you can easily find and download the previous years of Sociology Optional question papers from 2019 to 2014 of both paper I and Paper - II and print it out if you want :

Years Name of Papers Link
2019 Sociology Paper - I Download
Sociology Paper-II Download
2018 Sociology Paper - I Download
Sociology Paper-II Download
2017 Sociology Paper - I Download
Sociology Paper-II Download
2016 Sociology Paper - I Download
Sociology Paper-II Download
2015 Sociology Paper I Download
Sociology Paper-II Download
2014 Sociology Paper I Download
Sociology Paper-II Download

Study Material

Here is a complete list of IAS books for Sociology to help you in your preparation for IAS Mains and Sociology Optional as well. You, of course, are welcome to get references for books from professionals. But these below- mentioned books are the most used and also recommended by toppers as well.

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Important Books for Sociology: Paper I

Name of Books Author/ Publishers
Classical Sociological Theory George Ritzer
Sociology Themes and Perspectives Haralambos and Holborn (Bluebook)
Sociology Themes and Perspectives  M Haralambos with R M Heald(Orange book)
Sociology Anthony Giddens
Herton and Hunt, Sociology, Mcgraw Hill International, Singapore 1984
The Sociological Enterprise: A Discussion of Fundamental Concepts  Christopher Charles Harris
Intro To Social Movements Nancy O. Wilson
Anthony Giddens: An Introduction to a Social Theorist Lars Bo Kaspersen (Author) and Steven Sampson (Translator)
Theoretical Sociology  Randall Collins
Modern Organization (Foundations of Modern Sociology) Amitai Etzioni

Important Books for Sociology: Paper-II

Name of Books Author/ Publishers
Handbook of Indian Sociology Veena Das
Modernisation of Indian Tradition Yogendra Singh
Social change in modern India M N Srinivas
Sociological Background of Indian Nationalism A R Desai
Indian Society S C Dube
Caste in Indian politics  Rajni Kothari
Caste Surinder Jodhka

Other Reference Books

  • Sociology - T.B. Bottomore
  • Sociology - Harry M. Johnson
  • Social anthropology - Madan and Majumdar
  • Social Thought - Abraham and Morgan
  • Dictionary of sociology - Dunean and Mitchel or Penguin
  • Religious and social institutions - Madan & Majumdar Neil J. Smelser- Economy and Society
  • IGNOU Material

For Current Affairs:

  • The Hindu
  • Indian Express editorials
  • Business Standards
  • Times of India

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Topic Wise Analysis of Optional Papers

Before starting preparations, candidates should know the topic-wise trend analysis of the sociology optional papers through the years 2014 to 2017 of both papers.

  • Topic-wise analysis of Sociology Paper-I

Topics Questions worth marks
2017 2016 2015 2014
The Discipline 30 20 20 30
Sociology as Science 40 30 50 30
Research Methods 30 40 50 30
Thinkers 30 40 30 20
Stratification 50 70 70 80
Works and Economic Life 30 30 30 30
Politics and Society 30 30 50 60
Religion and Society 30 50 40 30
Systems of Kinship 50 40 20 30
Social Change 50 50 50 60
  • Topic-wise analysis of Sociology Paper-II

Topics Questions worth marks
2017 2016 2015 2014
Perspectives 10 10 30 10
Impact of colonial rule 40 10 40 30
Rural and agrarian social structure 0 20 0 30
Caste system 50 60 50 20
Tribal communities in India 20 30 30 40
Social classes in India 0 10 0 20
Systems of kinship in India 30 30 50 20
Religion and society 10 20 30 30
Visions of social change in India 0 0 0 0
Rural and agrarian transformation 30 50 10 20
Industrialisation and urbanisation 40 80 10 10
Politics and society 20 0 20 10
Social movements in modern India 20 0 20 10
Population dynamics 20 20 40 50
Challenges of social transformation 50 40 90 60

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Strategy to cover and prepare Sociology Optional

  • Timeline for Preparation:

The timeline of the preparation totally depends on the individual power of grasping ability and intellectual ability to study with the course of time. To complete both papers of sociology optional, averagely 4 - 5 months is enough to cover the whole syllabus. Candidates should start their preparation with NCERT books of Sociology Theory and Fundamentals concepts. While preparing Paper II to try to link the subject matter of Paper-II with the concepts learned in the Paper I as it will help build an analytical approach to understand the problems and development in Indian Society.

  • Value Previous years’ Question Papers: 

Go through previous year papers and write as many answers as possible and get them evaluated. Going through previous papers is important. Almost 4-5 questions are repeated. Education and mobility, old age problems, ethnicity and religion, value neutrality. Questions on these have been asked in the past 5 years without fail.

  • Topics to Start: 

Start sociology preparation by reading ‘Sociology: Themes and Perspectives’ by Haralambos and Holborn. This book will provide you with a basic understanding of all the fundamental concepts of sociology. Moreover, it also contains case studies and reading it will help you apply theory to practice.

  • Focus on thinkers:

As visible in the above part of the article, the chapter on thinkers is worth a major portion of the marks in Paper I. Therefore, you must give this section its due respect. There are six thinkers you must cover namely, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Talcott Parsons, Max Weber, Herbert Mead and Robert Merton. All the theories must be covered in detail and thoroughly. This chapter will help you in writing answers for questions from other chapters as well.

  • For Paper II: 

Try to remember that newspapers are an important source of answers. This paper generally deals with India and the questions are generally about recent events that occurred. When you read the newspaper daily, make sure you watch out for topics that are potential questions in this paper. Things to watch out for are gender/women issues, caste-based issues, tribal issues, Indian values and its erosion, Indian society, etc.

  • Answer writing practice: 

It isn’t like maths or chemistry, where you can write precise and to-the-point answers. In sociology you have to write an introduction to the topic first, create a background, then talk about the issue asked, give real-life examples, relate it to thinkers/schools of thoughts, critique, and finally, give an apt conclusion.

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How to Approach Answer Writing?

Writing an answer for each optional subject is different. While you are writing an answer to the questions of Sociology, there are few common yet important things that can provide another level of depth to your answer.

  • Quote thinkers and scholar’s views wherever you can, both in Paper I and Paper II
  • Answers should be multidimensional such as if you re asked to give a sociological analysis of the Green Revolution, mention its impact on female labor force participation, sex ratio, landholding pattern, rural mobility, etc. Questions on topics like environmental movements in India are also social as women and child issues, peasants, tribes issues get interlinked.
  • Underlined keywords in all answers to make it easy for an examiner.
  • Draw diagrams wherever you find an opportunity to make the answer more attractive which can fetch some extra marks.
  • Quoting some data or studies of sociologists especially in Paper 2 like in case of village studies, etc., it would help in getting more marks.
  • Try to introduce answers well you can follow paragraph form of answer writing but you may write in pointings and bulleting forms which give a compact flow to the answer.
  • Try to provide Criticism in all answers to make answer balanced.
  • Conclusion on a positive note is a must. But giving criticism, in conclusion, is welcomed.
  • Try to put some dynamism in the answer.
  • Last but not least, in sociology try to remember that perception or experience of social institutions or events or inequalities etc will always vary from one individual to another hence there is scope for writing extremely different answers. Use this method as an advantage but wisely.

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Challenges in Sociology as Optional

Sociology is one of the most popular subjects chosen over the years in IAS Mains as optional subject. But it also has many challenges which can give you difficulties in preparation such as :

  • You must have an interest in the subject, otherwise, the concepts will bore you and you will go through a hard time in finding the right attitude required to comprehend it
  • Always be ready to scrutinize and dissect every concept. The subject is required to have the ability to go for an in-depth analysis of alternate points of view as well to provide an above the average answer.
  • You might feel bogged down by the deluge of concepts and thinkers dominating the subject. The plethora of viewpoints and hypotheses can be difficult for a beginner to handle.

FAQs Related to Sociology Optional in IAS Mains

Ques. How many questions come in each sociology paper in IAS Mains?

Ans. Approx 13 questions of 10 marks and 6 questions of 20 marks in both papers come each year in IAS Mains Sociology subject.

Ques. Is sociology tough optional?

Ans. Sociology is considered as a safer optional as it doesn't require any particular knowledge or academic background for its preparation as optional. It has been proved many times that candidates without any prior knowledge of Sociology have scored well in their optional paper.

Ques. Will Optional be removed from UPSC 2021?

Ans. last December there were many controversies about UPSC changing the exam pattern for MAINS as well as prelims. In the new mains pattern, they are planning to remove all options and replace them with subjects like Law, Economy, etc. which will be compulsory for all.

Ques. What is the highest score in sociology optional?

Ans. In 2018, Vishal Sah secured an All India Rank of 63 in the UPSC Civil Service Examination, and also scored the highest marks that year (329) in his optional paper, which was Sociology.

Ques. Is sociology a scoring optional?

Ans. As an Optional Paper, Sociology has long been a favourite among aspirants looking to get a high score. It is one of the subjects where a score of more than 300 is an achievable reality.

Ques. What is the ideal word limit for sociology optional in IAS Mains?

Ans. As per UPSC declaration, the questions of 10 marks should be around 150 words.

*The article might have information for the previous academic years, please refer the official website of the exam.

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