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Strategy – How to Prepare Geography Optional for UPSC?

Geography is a highly popular optional subject in the UPSC mains exam. It is especially popular with candidates with a science or engineering background because of the nature of the subject itself. It is a science and this makes it attractive for such candidates. It is also popular because of the overlap with the syllabus for UPSC. We discuss all this and more including a strategy for Geography optional in this article.

Why Geography for UPSC Should be Your Subject of Choice?

A very crucial step while filling the UPSC form is the right selection of the optional subject. You will have numerous people offering all kinds of diverse advice. I too was caught in this rumble when choosing the Optional and after much deliberation, I chose geography for UPSC. My reasons were simple:

Vast Amount of Information both Online and Offline.

There is an abundance of reading material on this optional subject, as this has been one of the most chosen subjects for the Mains exam. The easy availability means that you do not have to waste precious time searching and collecting the material.

Less Time Consuming

Major portions are already covered in GS. Since a major portion of the Mains syllabus has already been covered during the prelims, you will find yourself reading the same topics again. Repeated reading will help increase retention of key terms and concepts.

Connected to Other Subjects.

While most subjects of the exam are interconnected, none enjoys the commanding position of world geography for UPSC. You will find that it is related to the environment, international relations, current affairs, ecology and even economics to some extent.

World Geography UPSC Paper is Interesting to Read and Very Scoring

There is never a dull moment when studying geography for UPSC. It is fairly easy to understand and aspirants from science as well as humanities backgrounds will be able to comprehend it comfortably. Also, it is very scoring given its largely technical nature.

Understanding The Syllabus

The geography for UPSC syllabus consists of Physical, Human and Indian geography. While the first two form a part of Paper I, Indian geography is a part of Paper-II.

  • Physical geography consists of technical topics that require more understanding than memorizing. Topics like Geomorphology, Climatology, Oceanography etc., are static in nature and just require a basic understanding of the physical world.

Therefore, if the concept is clear to you, you can answer any question easily. So you either know it or you don’t, there is no scope for bluffing here.

  • Human geography is very theoretical and requires mugging up. Topics like Models Theories and Laws in Human geography, Population and Settlement Geography, Economic geography can be extensive and very time-consuming.


Economic geography requires you to know the patterns of world trade, world agriculture etc., while for Population geography you need to have an understanding of migration patterns, population problems and policies of various countries, among other things. This makes the subject dynamic as well as vast.

Paper-II focuses on Indian geography and is one of the scoring parts. It requires being familiar with the Indian setting, including the physical aspects, agriculture, settlements, transport etc. A lot of it is already covered while studying for Prelims which is a big advantage in the Mains stage. You must be aware of the  UPSC syllabus for scoring well.

Also Read: Best Geography Optional Booklist for UPSC IAS

How to prepare geography syllabus for UPSC

Geography is one of the basic and most important subjects in UPSC CSE. Questionson Geography are asked in all the three stages of the examination;and hence, it is essential to study it in detail. Since a lot of topics overlap in Prelims and Main, it is important to study it holistically. Here’s a time-tested strategy to kickstart your geography preparation for UPSC:

  1. Read NCERTs: Start out by covering GeographyNCERTs from class VIII to XII. It will make your foundation strong. Moreover, questions straight from NCERTs are asked in the exam, which is why it is important to start your preparation from here.
  2. Basic books: Next, thoroughly study the basic books of geography, which includes Certificate Physical and Human Geography by GC Leong and Geography of India by Majid Husain.
  3. Previous years’ papers: Next, go for solving previous years’ question papers. Solving thesequestions will help you in identifying important topics that need to be revised and, if needed, re-revised.
  4. Mock tests: Mock tests will allow you to assess your preparation and identify the area(s) of weakness that you need to worked on.
  5. Current affairs: Read newspapers such as ‘The Hindu’, and monthly magazines, namely ‘Yojana’ and ‘Kurukshetra’for the current affairs portion.

The Importance of A Test Series

Joining a good test series is very important, both for practice as well as testing your knowledge. A good test series on geography for UPSC can help you identify, rectify and strengthen your weak areas. Therefore choose your test series wisely. Solve as many tests as you can to get enough writing practice for the exam.

Do Not Ignore The Diagrams

Flow charts and diagrammatic representations are what made this even more interesting for me. It is a good idea to make your own diagrams rather than follow the ones in the books. I kept a diagram bank with me, which formed a major part of my geography revision notes. Even in my exam, I made diagrams for most questions.

Getting into the habit of drawing diagrams will also be useful for other papers too as it will improve your presentation.Maps Section

For world geography in UPSC, you must always keep the atlas with you when studying for geography and refer to it at least a couple of times regardless of the topic you are studying. This way the information enters your subconscious and you will be surprised about the things you remember!


Three Pearls of Wisdom

It would give me immense happiness if I can help a student in their preparation for this reputed exam. My advice, in a crux, for geography for UPSC optional paper to you would be:

  • Always connect the static parts of contemporary events. This will keep you on track and help you combine the two aspects of this paper better. For example, the Bali Volcanic eruption can be connected to the Plate Tectonics Theory, the discovery of the N.Bhupathi frog can be linked to the Continental Drift Theory etc.
  • The mapping section in Paper II is extremely scoring and must not be left at any cost. Get into the habit of referring to the atlas starting from your Prelims geography for UPSC preparation itself. Always be curious and look for the places you read about in current affairs on the map.
  • Focus on the diagrams. I cannot stress the importance of this point enough! Diagrams are crucial to this subject and must not be ignored at any cost.


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