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Geology Optional Preparation Strategy for UPSC IFoS Mains 2021

Updated On -

Feb 17, 2021

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Exams Prepmaster

Geology is one of the IFoS optional subjects that you can choose. It is a highly scoring subject though not very popular as a choice because of the scarcity of references and materials. UPSC IFoS Prelims and Mains 2020 notification has been released and it is high time that aspirants start preparing for the exam and make the most of the available time. Geology is the study of earth’s formation and history and considered a very interesting subject that can be chosen as optional by candidates who have relevant specializations. It is considered a highly specialised subject which is another reason why there are few takers of this optional. We are going to share some tried and tested expert strategies in this article for preparing geology optional.

Success rate and average takers of Geology Optional

Geology optional is taken up by less than 50 candidates every year owing to its highly specialised syllabus. However, there are still numerous successful candidates who have aced IFoS with this optional paper despite not being a popular subject. For candidates who already have a relevant educational background, geology can prove to be a high scoring optional paper.

The success rate of the subject was highest in 2012. Out of the 28 candidates who had taken this subject as optional, 4 qualified the exam and the success rate was 14.8%. However, in 2015 there were 27 candidates who appeared with geology as optional but no one cleared the exam. 40 candidates appeared for the exam in 2011, which is the maximum number of candidates to choose the subject as an optional in a year in the past ten years.

Pros and Cons of Geology Optional

Before selecting any optional paper, it is very important to understand its advantages and disadvantages as the syllabus of the exam is huge and to successfully cover it, you must be strategic. Moreover, in IFoS, one has to be careful about choosing the combination of the optional as there are certain rules regarding it. Not all optional papers are allowed to be taken up in combination. This means, by choosing geology optional, the choice of the second paper subject gets limited and vice versa. So understanding the advantages of the software choosing the best combination is important to ace the exam.

The following are the advantages that are generally associated with the geology optional:

  • Geology is considered a very scoring subject because it is scientific and somewhat technical in nature. It is most facts and there is very little scope for independent interpretation. Hence, if you know the concepts well and answer the question accordingly, it will fetch reasonably good marks. By substantiating the answer with diagrams and charts, you further enhance the marks.
  • Geology is the subject that deals with the history of the earth and its formation. Hence, the subject does not require updation and has a static syllabus. This means, you do not have to expect latest and surprise topics and progresses to be included every year in the syllabus. This keeps the preparation plan simple and also lets you make the most of the previous year question papers.
  • Most questions are repeated either as exact matches or in a slightly modified manner. Hence, practising the previous years’ question papers thoroughly will help you cover a significant majority of the syllabus.
  • Geology optional is an excellent choice for students who are appearing for IAS and IFoS both. The optional is common to both the exams and have the same syllabus. So you can prepare for both mains at one go.
  • Many topics are connected and overlap with the topics in physical geography which is an important part of the General studies paper 1 syllabus- this is applicable for aspirants who are appearing in IAS as well as IFoS.
  • Candidates who have a thorough knowledge and basis of science till 10th standard can easily understand the various concepts in geology and will find the subject easy to master for the IFoS Mains. Geology is also considered much easier than other subjects like physics and chemistry and have slight overlapping and influence of both the subjects at a very basic level.
  • The scope for competition is much less in geology with so few takers of the optional subject. This also means that if you score good marks, your chances of qualifying are increased manifolds.
  • The subject witnesses a number of online materials, virtual class notes and lectures from foreign universities- all of which can be used for your preparation provided you dedicated at least 3 months to it.
  • Lastly, the syllabus is limited and hence requires less time for preparation when you have basic conceptions cleared.

Some drawbacks of the subject are-

  • There are very few coaching centres that teach this subject and one has to rely mostly on self-study.
  • Test series, ready-made materials and in-person guidance is almost impossible as there are so few takers of the subject.

Geology Optional- Syllabus, Important Topics and Best Books

The geology optional will have 2 papers which are further divided in section A and B. the syllabus for each paper is different. In order to smartly prepare for the exam, you must understand the syllabus thoroughly and also the question pattern. While going through the syllabus and previous year question papers, make note of the following-

  • The topics which are most repetitive in the questions over the years.
  • Topics which are more repetitive in shorter question sections and longer question sections.
  • Topics which are not asked at all or very rarely.
  • Topics which are often asked in the exam but there is almost no readymade study material in any form available on them.
  • Frequently asked topics which also overlaps with general studies syllabus and other parts of the exam.

Geology Optional Paper-1 syllabus

  • General geology
  • Geomorphology and remote sensing
  • Structural geology
  • Paleontology
  • Indian stratigraphy
  • Hydrogeology and engineering geology

Geology Optional Paper-2 Syllabus

  • Mineralogy
  • Igneous and metamorphic petrology
  • Sedimentary petrology
  • Economic geology
  • Mining geology
  • Geochemistry and environmental geology

Best reference books for geology optional

For geology you have to make most of the notes on your own. This calls for investing in some good books. Get at least 2-3 books for each paper that covers all the topics in detail, have elaborate diagrams and practice questions for solving. The following are all the good books and sources that you can choose from-

  • Engineering And General Geology by Parbin Singh
  • Delta Sedimentation: East Coast of India- Singh, I.B. & Swamy, A.S.R.
  • Geology and Evolution of the Indian Plate by SM Naqvi
  • Berkeley University Notes on paleontology
  • General geology by GB Mahapatra
  • The Elements of Palaeontology by Rhona M. Black
  • Palaeontology by Jain and Anantharaman
  • Structural Geology by Marland P. Billings
  • Trends in Objective Geology – Aussif Sayeed
  • Text Book of Geology – P.K. Mukherjee
  • Concise Geology – P.K. Mukherjee
  • Geologic Settings and Petroleum Systems of India’s East Coast Offshore Basins : Concepts and Applications- Ravi,Bastia
  • Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology by JD Winter
  • Groundwater Hydrology by David Todd
  • Principles Of Engineering Geology by KM Bangar
  • Economic Geology: Economic Mineral Deposits by U Prasad
  • Rutley’s Elements of Mineralogy
  • Delta Sedimentation: East Coast of India- Singh, I.B. & Swamy, A.S.R.
  • Dimensions of Himalayan Geology- Biyani, A.K.
  • Early Man in Eastern Himalayas : North-East India and Nepal- Sharma, A. K.
  • Geological Maps- D.K. Awasthi
  • Mineral Exploration: Recent Strategies- S. Rajendran et al.

Time management and 3 Month Preparation Plan for Geology

The IFoS mains are scheduled from February 28, 2021 which means you have more than 10 months at hand from now. But you also have prelims and other mains paper to worry about apart from the optional. So set an aim for a preparation plan such that you are able to make the most of the entire 10 months. Your preparation and study plan should be such that you can complete the entire syllabus for mains in 3-4 months at most and dedicate the rest of the time for revision and mock tests. Here’s a weekly routine for 9 hours study every day, that you can consider following over the course of three months to complete the entire syllabus-

Day/hour 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Day 1 Prelims paper 1 Prelims paper 2 Geology paper 1 Geology paper 1 Paper 2 general knowledge Paper 1 General eng. Optional2 paper 1 Optional2 paper 1 Mock test
Day 2 Prelims paper 1 Paper 1 gen. eng. Paper 1 general knowledge Prelims paper 2 Geology paper 1 Geology paper 1 - - Mock test
Day 3 Prelims mock test Prelims mock test Geology paper 1 Geology paper 1 Optional2 paper1 Optional2 paper 1 Paper 2 general knowledge Paper 1 general eng. Previous year questions
Day 4 Geology paper 2 Geology paper 2 Optional 2 paper 2 Optional 2 paper 2 Paper 2 gen. knowledge Prelims paper 1 Prelims paper 2 Paper 1 gen. eng. Prelims mock test
Day 5 Same as day 4
Day 6 Mock test on geology paper 1 Geology paper 2 Geology paper 2 Mock test on optional 2 paper 1 Optional 2 paper 2 Optional 2 paper 2 Prelims practice papers
Day 7 Mock test geology paper 2 Mock test prelims paper 1 and 2 Mock test optional 2 paper 2 Mock test mains general paper 1 and 2 Evaluate the papers

Repeat this routine for every week while noting down your weekly progress every weekend. If you are dedicated and following this routine, you can easily cover the entire syllabus including the optional papers in 4 months at most.

General preparation Tips for Geology

The following are certain generic suggestions regarding attempting the optional papers in the mains exam. By following these while preparing for the papers, you can smartly cover the maximum parts which are important and give your best performance at the exam.

  • Understand the question paper and its pattern well to determine your approach for the exam. Each optional paper has 8 questions divided into part A and B. The first and fifth questions are compulsory. Apart from these you have to answer at least one more from each section. Lastly, 5 questions in all have to be attempted which means, the last question can be from either of the sections.
  • For geology optional paper 1, attempt three questions from section A and 2 from Section B. This is because section A comprises all the basic topics for which you will find ample materials to prepare.
  • For geology optional paper 2, attempt 2 questions from section A and 3 from Section B. In the second paper, the section A comprises core geology topics which are difficult to master unless it is your subject of academic specialization. Section B topics are more generic and hence easier to master.
  • Topics which you must particularly focus on are geomorphology, geotectonic, geochemistry, petrology, ore genesis, mineral trading and lending, designing topography, underground water examination, groundwater science, etc. questions are also frequently asked from geology of energies.
  • Do not leave out any topic just because they are rarely asked in the exam. You may put less time and effort into preparing certain topics, but do not skip any of them.
  • The marks in the optional paper influences your rank in the final merit list which will affect your selection and posting. Hence, your aim should be preparing such that you get way more than the average cut-off for the paper.
  • Substantiate your answers whenever possible with diagrams. There is a lot of scope to use diagrams in a subject like geology. While selecting the questions which you want to attempt, consider the ones which give more scope for graphical depiction as this will help you to make your answer script stand out.
  • Since there are very few readymade notes and materials available, start your preparation well ahead of time as you will have to spare enough time to prepare your own notes.
  • Lay emphasis on the subtle differences between various terminologies and their definitions so that you are able to prepare the subject better and have a clear conception.
  • Practice writing questions by solving the previous year question papers to improve your speed. Even though you have to answer only five questions, do not get complacent as the questions are tricky and even three hours may not be enough to finish them without prior practice.
  • Maintain the word count and follow an organised and sound structure for every answer. Answer to the point after understanding the question and do not deviate from the primary topic of the question.

By strategically and smartly determining the topics which are important and studying by making a few topics the primary focus, you can easily complete 80-90% of the syllabus in-depth.

Topic-wise preparation strategy for geology optional

Following a topic-wise preparation strategy is important to further minimize your efforts and difficulty with the subject. This means, you must be familiar with the topics in the syllabus and also have a clear vision about which topics are more important. The following are tips for individual topics which will assist you in getting the maximum utility of the time-

Topic-wise preparation for paper-1

General geology

  • This is an easy topic to master and has all the basic concepts of the subject.
  • Topics like earthquakes, tectonic plates, age of earth, and formation of the universe are very important from this particular topic.
  • Principles of engineering geology by KP Banger covers all the topics thoroughly.
  • The section is scoring and easy to prepare if your concept of school-level geography and science is clear.
  • If you are appearing for IAS as well, this section will also coincide with the preparation of general paper 1 for IAS mains.

Geomorphology and remote sensing

  • Lay emphasis on formation of rivers, mountains and soil while studying the concepts of geomorphology.
  • Indian satellites and other technologies used for remote sensing are important topics that should be covered.
  • Control and prevent disasters and how they are being done, the advantages and limitations of remote sensing and relevant studies must be covered.
  • The topic is also relevant to current affairs which means, you must keep up with relevant news and initiatives and can use them as case studies to substantiate answers in this section.
  • Remote sensing related topics can be best prepared from the website of national remote sensing authority.

Structural geology

  • Structural geology by Marland P Billings have all the topics under this chapter covered.
  • This is again a very easy section about which we have all learnt in school-level geography to some extent and hence with such basic concepts, it becomes easier to prepare.


  • This is a very factual and static part of the syllabus. It deals with the ancient life forms and fossils.
  • Evolution of humans, horses and elephants are specifically important from this chapter.
  • Set tables for each of these species and follow the pattern to remember and understand the course of evolution better.
  • Difference between different types of fossils is another important topic in this section.
  • The mode and process of fossilization is often repeated in exams.

Indian stratigraphy

  • Focus on types of rocks and the geological time scale, and the regions where they are found in this section.
  • This too, can be studied in the form of set tables which will help you to remember the answers better.
  • KM Banger is a good reference book for preparing this particular section.

Hydrogeology and engineering geology

  • This is an important section and revolves around groundwater and different engineering projects like dams, roads etc.
  • The topic is all about the different climatic and geological structure of the areas and how it influences the types of materials to be used for undertaking different engineering projects in the area.

Geology optional paper-2 strategy

The paper is based to a certain extent on the basic concepts of chemistry and hence if your conception is weak, this paper can prove to be tricky.


  • Properties of different minerals found in the rocks and their uses is important in this section. Lay special emphasis on rocks and minerals that are found abundantly in India.
  • In the past few years, applied questions are being asked from this chapter. Hence, your preparation and answer writing style should be accordingly adapted. Questions based on statements and its justification are becoming increasingly common.

Igneous and metamorphic petrology

  • This is an important section and again one of those whose basic concepts have already been covered in school.
  • Metamorphic petrology by JD Winter is particularly notable for preparing this section.
  • Sedimentary petrology is also an important section in this subject which you must study while keeping in mind as many examples from India as you can.
  • Both books and online sources are good options for this section and using a combination of both is recommended to cover the syllabus entirely.

Economic geology

  • This chapter requires you to have a thorough understanding of the economic conditions of the country too and how geology affects it in a good or bad way.
  • You must develop analytical skills to understand how geology can influence the overall economic development.
  • There is a list of minerals inclusive of the syllabus of this chapter and you have to study all of them.
  • Specifically emphasis on the distribution of coal and petroleum and the different kinds of ores and minerals used in the industries.
  • The questions are usually indirect- you will be asked about the industries rather than the raw materials and ores they use. So you must have a clear concept about which industry uses which type of ores.
  • National mineral policy, marine mineral resources and laws of sea are important topics from this section.

Mining and geochemistry and environmental geology

  • This is an important chapter owing to the number of notable mines in India. You must have a clear conception of how mining works, where to mine and recognizing mining areas.
  • Geochemistry is about different types of elements and why some are rare while others are found in abundance.
  • Natural hazards, pollution, urbanization and similar topics and their effects on the earth’s terrain and its modification is studied under environmental geology. This is a comparatively easy topic but frequently asked and hence should be prepared.

If you begin your preparation right away, you will get a lot of time and scope to revise the entire syllabus multiple times. While very few people take up this subject, it is nevertheless interesting and can add a lot of value throughout your career. We hope you start the preparation at the earliest and maximize your chances to ace the IFoS 2020 Mains in February 2021.

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