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By Raju Mishra, Rank 65, CSE-2014

Disclaimer : This post is to provide other students an insight into my strategy for geography optional. I would like to reiterate that these strategies worked well for me but may not be suited to someone else . I for instance have not read the book by Khullar but managed to get 138 in paper 2 so my strategy worked there . However my lack of thorough knowledge of Savindra Singh and other standard books cost me in paper 1 where I scored just 120 and I think could have performed much better had I prepared the part A from standard books . Hence make adjustments as per your own strengths , weakness and evaluation of the needs of the UPSC examination. With just 258 in optional I donot think I am the best guide for geography anyhow If my experience maybe of some help so here it is !

Book List :

Paper 1 :

  1. Physical Geography by Savindra Singh
  2. Rupa Made Simple Series
  3. Climatology by Lal
  4. Human Geography by Majid Hussain
  5. Models , theories by Majid Hussain
  6. Geographical Thought by Majid Hussain

Paper 2 :

Geography of India by Majid Hussain and relevant portions from above quoted books.

Why Geography?

Apart from having scientific orientation , easy availability of coaching-materials and the perceived high success rate , some parts of the syllabus like economic , environmental and human geography greatly appealed to me . Besides being helpful in essays and other GS papers I found topics like Human Development , Agri issues , resources distribution very interesting and hence did not mind going the extra mile in these topics specially of Part B of both papers.

( Beginning credits go to my class X teacher Mrs. Anita Dey(St. Xaviers Collegiate School, Kolkata ) who had piqued my interest in the subject and I got a gold medal in school J. It was named Ganga Singh medal and well I got all the Ganga cleaning questions in the interview 😀 Don’t know if that was the link though ! )

These perceptions about easy scoring , high scoring etc can change any year for instance the 2013 paper had certain bouncer questions . In the end your optional needs to be mastered by you if you want to tide over these bouncers and be in the top bracket in your optional. Overall for Geography I would say the syllabus is quite lengthy and needs quite a bit of effort but as said earlier if you have interest in the subject and are willing to work for it do choose it. 🙂

My geography strategy hitched on 3 things :

  1. Coverage of entire syllabus with a mixture of coaching notes , reference books .Begin with NCERTs , GC Leong and then move onto more advanced things .
  2. Regular updation of current notes on contemporary events and analyzing news from geographical point of view especially for handling part B of both papers.
  3. Test series , answer writing and diagram practice.


Well honestly it was roll of a dice between Shabbir Sir and Madam Neetu Singh . I guess it was based on certain reviews of a just successful candidate whose blog I found online that I went for Neetu Singh(NS).

NS covers about 70% of the syllabus in her class notes . Honestly this 70% formed the core of my geography preparation . After the NCERTS and GC Leong , I went through her notes repeatedly and had them committed to memory . I stuck to this one source and kept on adding information concepts from other sources like internet , test series , reference books etc . It served me well for I did not hop from one book to other and just used my time more efficiently to plug the gaps or weakness I found after having established sound knowledge in the subject . I used to consult both the syllabus , previous years papers to look out for missed out portions and covered them accordingly .

Many people get coaching notes from various coaching institutes and in the end are confused what to read what not to . About 80% all notes are repetition of each other and you will waste a lot of time .

My final take on NS coaching was this :

Pros :

  • Lot of spatial examples in most topics which are helpful in maps and makes the answers more comprehensive .
  • To the point coverage on topics . For me in the paper on most topics I had just enough matter for 200-300 words answers , hence did not have to give much time to sieve through my knowledge. It was there for me in a condensed form which I reproduced on paper especially for the theory based questions like mountain belts , their origin , plate tectonics etc.
  • Good coverage of map pointing in class. In the map questions apart from importance of place ( which you maynot know ) use your knowledge from climate , soil structure , vegetation and physiography . 10 words on each will be sufficient.
  • Good coverage of part B of both papers . I used books only for reference and adding certain points she missed or for topics like sustainable developments , disaster management which fell in the 30% she did not cover .
  • I found her coverage of Indian geography comprehensive enough for mains although not so much for prelims for which I used the book by Majid Hussain.
  • I am also a believer that facts supplemented with data make a more convincing case and madam provided sufficient data like census numbers , forest cover , etc well.

 Cons : ( had to work a lot to make up for them )

  • Poor coverage of part A of the topic .For instance landform development theories , slope development , channel morphology , law of sea , marine pollution etc are just a few to name which was poorly covered. I had to supplement them with additional notes of Shabbir Sir , and reference from standard texts .
  • No answer writing practice in my time . Right now she has weekly tests but don’t know how much of answer writing practice happens there .
  • Diagram work is bordering on average-poor in most topics for which you need to refer to standard texts , online material .
  • Many important topics fall in the 30% she does not cover in class. For instance Disaster Management , social forestry , major portion of environmental geography , regional development and planning amongst others .
  • Her part B coverage is very good but at times she misses out or just mentions the concepts in passing instead of explaining them in detail . For instance the concept of pay , mental maps , limits to growth etc. For these I used Majid Hussain books extensively apart from Shabbir Sir notes.

Overall her guidance helped me in the exam for I did not have to go through many books to get my basics and fundamentals of geography . They just served as reference books and there is hardly any 1 book in geography that I read fully apart from NCERTS. However this does not mean that coaching is compulsory for success in the exam . Many people take guidance from standard texts and ace the examination without coaching .

  1. Current affairs

I maintained a separate notebook for geography and had topics like IPCC , Flood control , HDI , Food Security etc as topics which were constantly updated .

Newspapers : The Hindu , Indian Express

Online : Google topics like IPCC , global warming , sustainable development etc .

Magazines : Kurukshetra ( Agri issues ) , Geography and You , Terra Green ,The Hindu Environment Survey

How to read current affairs with geo perspective ?

For instance a topic like food security . Apart from issues of lack of access to food and water , how climate change is affecting productivity of crops , how shift of cropping patterns away from pulses is affecting nutrition security , how poor and tribals are disproportionately affected in various parts of our country ( draw a map ) and solutions like biofortication , social forestry etc can be looked into .

In case of falling Child Sex Ratio apart from numbers and maps it may be linked to how regional development has led to falling numbers in Maharashtra ,, even Kerala whereas tribal regions show an uptick.

Make In India one can focus on the issues of manufacturing industries like iron and steel , aluminum ,how we lack sufficient silicon industry for electronics , transport issues due to poor regional development , spatial map of electricity shortage etc .

Newspapers are a rich source of maps and data as well . I remember an article in Express on Migration where they had given the source and destination of major migrations in the form of a map . Just cut and paste them in the notes and supplement them with any other information . For instance the civil wars in Africa and Middle east and ensuing crisis can be added as illegal migration , refugees and shown with a map incase a question on migration is asked .

These information will not be usually given in one article at one place . Hence the need to maintain topic wise notes and continuously add points to it . For instance after the Uttarakhand and Kashmir floods , I got to know about a new concept of critical power for floods mentioned in one of the magazines . It also mentioned about Ravi Chopra Committee whose recommendation I read and used in Himalayan Ecosystem fragility answer this year in Mains .

Moreover I used to be a regular reader of Insights Secure Mains which covered newspapers like Business Standard , Live-Mint , NYT etc. At times they take out very relevant articles for geography optional like recently livemint had an article series on water crisis of India which I found very useful . SO keep your eyes and ears open at all times !

  1. Maps and answer writing

In my first attempt I was just reliant of coaching notes for I hardly had time apart from coaching between May 2013 when I passed out and December 2013 when I first appeared . I just drew 2-3 diagrams in both papers . This time around it increased to about 25-30 diagrams in total .

I maintained a separate notebook for Maps . I drew the diagram on the right side and left side was used for practice later . Often we read books , or see a good diagram but fail to catalogue it properly . GC leong , NCERTs have some excellent diagrams and since we donot revise them before exams we tend to forget them .

Hence whenever I saw a good diagram , a map , I used to cut and paste or draw then and there . Even from the reference books like Majid Hussain I remember drawing world diagrams on urbanization , forest degradation and distribution , land degradation etc.

During answer writing you would always feel that there is no time / need to make a diagram for you have said it all in the answer or draw a sketch at the end of the answer . That is a very bad strategy . Infact try and make one diagram per question and at the appropriate place for a picture speaks a thousand words . For instance coal issues make a map of distribution of coal resource and in your answer link how people in Jharkhand suffer from lung disease due to it . Always have a link to the question .

Answer writing is of essence for mains as I have told earlier . some questions like tropical vs temperate cyclones , mountain –volcano distribution , Penck-Davis cycle etc are standard questions which are often repeated in the exam . I really liked Shabbir Sir’s strategy where in the test series he made you practice a lot of these questions and corrected them . These self written , comprehensive answers with sufficient diagrams , examples data are ready made material that come very handy in exams .

So practice previous year questions as much as possible !

A thing I consciously tried to do this year was interlink the various parts ( A and B ) and use my theoretical knowledge of paper 1 in paper 2 .

For instance “World is passing through a global resource dilemma.” Comment . In this question I gave reference to neo Malthusian theories in the introduction before going on to handle the core of the question i.e. resource ( food , energy , water etc ) dilemma.

Discuss the trends in emigration focusing on its major thrust.” This question was aked in paper 2 and here I discussed the trends but made sure to slip in the theories of Lee , Ravenstein and Zelinsky where appropriate.

“Account for the multiple problems of urban agglomerations.” In this question of paper 2 I used Cumulative Causation theory of Gunnar Myrdal in introduction for rise of urban agglomeration and how the loss of these earlier reasons like resources exhaustion , over population etc are causing problems.

  1. Test series

In my first attempt I did my test series with NS as it was part of my coaching and had too less a knowledge to properly evaluate myself . However I found her questions a good mix of static and dynamic and her model answers gave a very comprehensive picture . However her feedback and discussion sessions were not very helpful as she seemed in a hurry always then .

For my second attempt I took ALS test series . Let me warn you at first that it shall not be taken by Shashank Atom Sir . I find it wrong for them to give this advertisement with him as Course Director for that gave a wrong impression including to me that he will take the test series . It will be taken by Sachin Sir or someone else , so be warned .

Pros :

Good Discussions , timely tests , few bouncer questions as well , and since number of people are less than 50 so you get personal attention as well . I appreciate Sachin Sir’s inputs where he asked me to focus on diagrams , highlighting the mains points and keeping a good mix of concepts, data in the answers .

Cons :

Unprofessional at times for we were not given model answers for as many as 3-4 tests conducted out of a total 8 ! Moreover feedback especially in the full tests is so important , but sadly we never ever received the last 3 papers despite repeated attempts which was a huge letdown for me in the end .This attitude was both unhelpful and unexpected right at the crunch time in end November .

In March 2015 I joined Shabbir Sir ( VAjiram ) Test series in anticipation of my third attempt !

Pros :

Brilliant focus on answer writing , discussion and concept clarity . He provides a question sheet , discusses the answers and asks you to submit written answers for evaluation before he conducts the test on the specific topic .His dedication towards students and inspiring words are noteworthy . He goes to great lengths to research articles , material on important topics which saves a lot of time one would ordinarily waste surfing online . Besides I used his class notes extensively for filling gaps in my preparation as specified .

Cons :

Sir goes overboard at times . I felt he covered 130% of the syllabus and the information overload at times got me all confused at times . He emphasizes case studies etc which is all good but I usually found his notes lacking in spatial examples in many topics .

The number of tests are only 5-6 with no full tests .

However Shabbir Sir test series needs quite a lot of effort and time as you need to read up well and write answers to derive benefit from it .

Overall Part A of both Papers are straight forward and can be prepared from standard texts , coaching notes and with help and guidance from someone for conceptual clarity at certain points . As stated earlier part A was not my forte and I used to attempt 3/5 questions from Part B which I prepared well from the sources listed above with a lot of focus on current affairs .

Questions like Food Security Problems in developing countries were handled by me as I had a knowledge about the Global Hunger Index 2014 in news then . I drew a map regarding the same , used my knowledge of cropping patters , land degradation , climate change to frame the core of the answer . Similarly in 2014 Government of India took out a new Agro forestry policy and in the newspaper article it covered points as to why we failed earlier and what changes have been made . So my love affair with newspapers and current affairs did prove to be a boon .

In conclusion cover the syllabus , use limited books again and again , catalogue your resources for quick revision , practice practice practice and most importantly have interest in your optional for you need to spend a lot of quality time in it !

Good Luck.