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

Updated On -

Mar 22, 2021

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Sudeshna Bhar

Exams Prepmaster

IAS (UPSC CSE) exam is conducted in 2 stages - the IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021 Prelims will be held on June 27, 2021, and the IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021 Mains has been scheduled for September 17, 2021. The Mains exam contains 9 papers carrying 250 marks for each paper.

The optional papers are divided into 2 papers having 250 marks for each. Candidates will be given the option to choose the optional subject. Almost every year 2000 candidates choose sociology as the optional subject of the IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains exam.

In the following article advantages, preparation tips, best books, topic Wise Analysis and Previous years’ papers have been discussed.

Advantages of Sociology optional in IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021

Before choosing the Sociology in IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021 exam as an optional subject, candidates, here are some benefits of Sociology if you choose sociology as your optional subject in IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021:

  • Scoring Subject: 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 the IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains exam.
  • Short Syllabus: Due to a genuinely short syllabus, any candidate depending on interest and intellectual ability can complete it within 4 months.
  • Educational Background: The background of education does not matter here. Candidates 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.

Overlap in UPSC GS Paper-I:

In General Studies Paper-I, there are several common topics with the optional subject such as:

  • 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 organization, poverty and developmental issues, population and associated issues, urbanization.
  • Social empowerment, communalism, secularism, and regionalism.

Overlap in UPSC GS Paper-II

In the case of General Studies Paper-II, here is a list of the common topics:

  • 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.

Overlap in UPSC GS Paper-III

Sociology tends to overlap some of the topics in UPSC General Studies Paper-III as well. Here are the topis:

  • 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.

Overlap in UPSC GS Paper-IV

In UPSC General Studies Paper-IV, the common topics 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.

Who Should Choose Sociology as IAS (UPSC CSE) 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 the optional subject:

  • No specialization or academic background is required 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.
  • 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.

Preparation Strategy for IAS (UPSC CSE) Sociology Optional

Analyzing Syllabus

Before starting the preparation, analyzing the syllabus of the Sociology optional subject is very crucial. One should start preparation by following the syllabus so that candidate does no miss any topic. On the other hand, if one follows the UPSC prescribed syllabus, they won’t read irrelevant topis.


IGNOU books for sociology optional almost cover the whole Sociology paper I and II syllabus of IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains. Therefore, to clear the basic concepts, candidates can take the help of the IGNOU Books and syllabus wise notes of topics and subtopics from IGNOU books. This will ease the revision process.

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

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 to questions from other chapters as well.

Tips for Sociology Paper-II

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. Gender/women issues, caste-based issues, tribal issues, Indian values, and their erosion, Indian society, etc. are crucial for this paper.

Answers Writing

  • As the optional papers are descriptive type in nature, it is important to learn how to write for sociology optional.
  • One should know that there are various topics in Paper-I which is linked to Paper-II. Therefore, one should concentrate on the topic solely.
  • Collect various data from newspapers, economic surveys, budgets, current affairs magazines, and latest updates and incorporate them in writings.
  • Also, there is a prescribed word limit so, answers must be written in small paragraphs or points rather than writing long paragraphs.

Must Read: Tips and Tricks for UPSC Mains Answer Writing

Best Books for IAS (UPSC CSE) Sociology Optional

Here is a compact list of IAS (UPSC CSE) Sociology books along with reference books for better preparation. Here are the boos for Sociology Paper-I & Sociology Paper-II

Recommended Books for Sociology Paper-I

For the Sociology Paper-I, here are the books which will help to cover the entire syllabus:

Sociology Paper-I 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

Recommended Books for Sociology Paper-II

For the Sociology Paper-I, here are the books which will cover the entire syllabus:

Name of Books Author/ Publishers
Handbook of Indian Sociology Veena Das
Modernization 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

Topic Wise Analysis of IAS (UPSC CSE) Sociology Optional

Candidates who have already started the preparation for UPSC Sociology optional papers should know the year wise trends of the question papers and which topics are of grave importance. Here is the topic-wise analysis for Sociology Optional Paper-I & Paper-II:

Topic-wise Analysis of Sociology Paper-I

Topics Marks on Each Topis
2017 2016 2015 2014
The Discipline 30 20 20 30
Sociology as Science 40 30 50 30
Research Methods 30 40 30 20
Thinkers 50 70 70 80
Stratification 50 40 30 40
Works and Economic Life 30 30 30 30
Politics and Society 40 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-I

Here is a table and chart which will represent each year the importance of each topic.

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 20 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
Industrialization and urbanization 40 80 10 10
Politics and society 20 0 20 10
Social movements in modern India 20 20 40 50
Population dynamics 30 20 10 30
Challenges of social transformation 50 40 90 60

Subject Performance of Sociology in IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam

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.

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 %

Previous Years’ Questions of Sociology Optional

For previous year papers, there is no need to spend a penny. The previous year papers of Sociology optional of IAS (UPSC CSE) exam is given below which can be easily downloaded. Here are the previous papers from 2019 to 2014 of both paper I and Paper - II to download:

Years Name of Papers Link
2020 Sociology Paper - I Download
Sociology Paper-II Download
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

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 so 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 the 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.

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

Also, 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.

IAS (UPSC CSE) Sociology FAQs

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. Will Optional be removed from UPSC 2021?

Ans. 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. 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.