IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains 2021 Preparation Strategy for Geography Optional

Updated On -

Mar 22, 2021

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Geography is a very popular choice of optional paper among IAS (UPSC CSE) Aspirants-specifically among those who are from a science or engineering background. The syllabus for optional geography, prelims, and the Mains coincide thus making it easier to plan your study schedule and it is a scoring subject. IAS exam has a huge syllabus- this is especially true when you have to study each and every section in-depth for the optional paper. But smart studying instead of rigorously studying will pay off more and help you to stand a better chance in securing a position in the final merit list.

Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons of Taking Geography Optional

The success rate of taking geography optional has been observed to be 7.2-5.8 % since 2012. There are four toppers within the top 60 in 2017 who had geography optional, 4 from 2016 and 2014 as well. It can be concluded that geography has helped many aspirants secure an extraordinary rank in the IAS exam and hence, considered one of the most scoring subjects.

Must Read: Tips and Tricks for UPSC Mains Answer Writing


  • Geography as optional will also overlap with your mains and Prelims preparation. You will find at least 10-20 questions every year in general studies paper-1 that are directly related to the geography optional paper. It is approximately 80-100 marks of questions which you will have to prepare anyway when you are studying geography as an optional.
  • It also helps in the personal interview round where you are likely to be asked about the geography of your hometown, its climatic condition, and even vegetation.
  • It is a multidisciplinary subject that is easy to comprehend and prepare for aspirants from arts as well as science backgrounds.
  • There are theories and concepts, which are easy to understand but can help you score quite a lot of marks from multiple questions that are asked based on these theories. Moreover, there is less margin of deduction provided your concepts are clear about these theories.
  • It gives the scope to draw flowcharts and diagrams to establish your point and such a graphical representation of your answer helps to increase your marks too.
  • There are map-based questions that are very scoring.


  • There is a huge syllabus to cover and not all of it can be memorized and certain concepts are time-taking to cover.
  • Approximately 4000 candidates opt for geography every year as an optional subject and hence the competition is very high.

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General Prep tips

IAS (UPSC CSE)- Geography Optional Preparation Tips

To begin the preparation, NCERT is an excellent source. They are easy to read and particularly helpful to aspirants who are completely new to the subject and have taken it as optional since it is considered scoring.

General tips for Geography optional preparation

  • There are two papers in geography optional and the syllabus together is huge. Get well-acquainted with the topics and check the trends in previous years’ questions to figure out which topics are most frequently asked about.
  • For every topic, refer to two-three sources to ensure you have the most authentic information and there is no chance of an error in your knowledge.
  • Set a realistic goal for your study table and understand that this amount of syllabus will require 2-3months at least to be completed. Hence start your study accordingly.
  • Instead of making all the notes alone, rely more on class notes from tutors which you will find in plenty online. Shabbir and Himanshu Sir are some of the top-recommended tutors whose notes are even referred by toppers like Pratham Kaushik (AIR- 5, CSE- 2017).
  • Paper-1 in Geography optional covers two topics- namely, physical geography and human geography. Determine beforehand the section from which you want to attempt the maximum questions and plan your study table accordingly.
  • Practice find interrelations between the topics explored in the syllabus for each paper. This way you can enrich your answers. When you are able to link the topics, you can make your answers more substantial with better references and even statistics, as needed.

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Paper-wise preparation strategy for Geography optional

First and foremost, divide the syllabus for both the papers such that you can cover it thoroughly and in-depth in months’ time. This means, your optional paper preparation has to begin right before the prelims start and should be in parallel to your prelims preparation.

Paper-I Prep tips

Geography Optional Paper-I Preparation Tips

Dedicate the first month to the most important topics from physical geography. The following are the topics to cover during this time and also the methods that you can follow:

  • Geomorphology

Prepare only the topics which are specifically mentioned in the syllabus. Pay maximum attention to concepts of geomorphic cycles and landscape development. Also study the slope development, erosion, and its causes. You will find numerous diagrams depicting these topics pictorially which you must practice as they can be very substantial for making your answers richer.

  • Climatology and oceanography

There are very limited topics from this section that come for the exam and hence focusing on the material you find in online notes will be sufficient. For climatology specifically, refer to the book by D S Lal which is very detail-oriented and hence has enough materials for preparing commendable notes.

  • Biogeography and environment geography

While preparing topics from this section, specifically focus on preparing topics related to ecology is details. You will get a number of questions that are based on the current affairs related to social forestry and environmental management. Use the internet to make important points and stay updated with the latest information on these topics as well as get in-depth of the basic concepts.

  • Human geography

Understand the chronology of the evolution of geographical thoughts. Prepare the theories, definitions, terminologies, along with a number of examples. Memorize relevant original quotes by Hartshorne, Fevre, and Semple along with their theories. Topics like regional languages, religion, cultural regions and HDI are essential and you have to understand how they can be linked with the geographical thought to acquire maximum marks in this paper.

  • Economic geography and regional planning

The NCERT class 11 and 12 books are particularly useful for preparing these sections. While preparing notes and answers, make it a habit to site the world map and examples in support of your perspective. For this, you must have a thorough understanding of the world map.

  • Population and settlement geography

This topic is very scoring and hence a crucial one that should be attentively studied. Prepare the definitions and have a thorough understanding of terms like conurbation, metropolitan region, slums, satellite towns, etc. Also, research to find relevant statistics that are updated and can be used in your answers. Population as social capital, social well-being, and quality of life should be specifically prepared with utmost care.

  • Once you have completed all the sections of the paper, practice the previous year papers on a regular basis.
  • While preparing each topic, simultaneously solve practice papers and mock tests on the specific topic so that you have an absolute grasp on it.

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Paper II Prep Tips

Geography Optional Paper-II Preparation Tips

  • The second paper focuses more on Indian geography, hence concentrate your entire preparation strategy in thoroughly understanding the concepts related to Indian geography. Reduce the bulk of books and notes and select 1-2 sources that cover the entire syllabus in detail.
  • You will get numerous questions that are based on the maps of the world and India in this paper and hence, thoroughly practicing the regional and country map in detail will pay off.
  • Do case studies from magazines like Yojana, Kurukshetra, Geography, and You. Have at least 10 case studies prepared that can be incorporated in the relevant answers. However, while writing the answers, make sure citing the case study does not exceed 5-6 lines. While this may seem too much of an effort for such little use, it can dramatically impact the score you get and hence it is important.
  • Studying the map- you do not have to remember exact and specific data but you can simplify it to as per the requirement of the questions. Specifically study flow maps that depict trade patterns, migration and diffusion of languages. Practice drawing partial maps as required for the answer to make your answers more enriched.

How to make your answers more enriched and scoring?

For IAS, the answers should be substantial and demonstrate your conceptual understanding of geographical theories and its implementation for the betterment of the country. The following tips will help you to write better answers for the exam and also ensure it is more scoring:

  • The presentation of your answer should be concise and easy to read. Maps and diagrams make your answer more understandable and at the same time beautifies the presentation. When the examiner will find it easier to understand your points, they are more likely to read your answer script thoroughly and judge it well.
  • Depending on the question you are answering, incorporate the physical and human geography to substantiate your answers better.
  • The answers should be to the point and also along the lines of the syllabus.
  • There should be a logical flow and structure of your answer and try to write short paragraphs and even bullet points as and when necessary.

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Reference Books

IAS (UPSC CSE)- Reference Books for Geography Optional

Every topic in geography optional is covered in the following books. For basic reading and clearing the concepts, you can always rely on the NCERT books. But for more in-depth preparation, you will need to invest in at least 3-4 of the books and notes provided in the table below:

Physical Geography Savindra Singh
Environmental Geography Savindra Singh
NCERT Class 11 and 12 NCERT
Regional Planning in India Chand and Puri
Climatology D S Lal
Models and Theories Majid Hussain
Fundamentals of Geographical Thought Sudipta Adhikari
Cities, Urbanisation & Urban Systems K Siddhartha
Human Geography Majid Hussain
Classnotes and Test Series Shabbir Sir
India A Comprehensive Geography D R Khullar
500+ notes Himanshu Sir
Geomorphology Savindra Singh

Geography has a vast expanse but with smart planning, you can study it in an organized manner and hence complete the entire syllabus thoroughly. The key is to start studying at the earliest. We hope, by following the tips shared above, you can easily ace this exam and qualify IAS with flying colors in your optional paper.

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