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.

  • Kaizen

    Mishra Babu Thank U….

  • HS

    Thank you so much Sir for your valued experience and guidance…I highly needed it..

  • Bhavana H S

    Thanks sir, but I have a doubt, being in Bangalore I could not afford coaching classes in Delhi but have the xerox of neetu mams notes written by my friend, do I read from them or refer the standard books as I have not attended the classes personally. Please help me.

    • Ravinder Singh

      hi…bhavana…im from mohali(punjab) and i too have got neetu singh class notes and completed part A of paper 1 and paper 2…apart from that im taking help from savinder singh(phy geo) , models and theories book by majid hussain and evolution of geo thought by majid hussain.
      i think you have to supplement those notes with test series . my suggestion is to join any good geo test series.

      • Bhavana H S

        Thanks sir, will try to, but most test series are over by now, I am relaying on insight mains geography questions.

        • Ravinder Singh

          well you still can join online test series of geo it is available…insights is good though..but you cant get expert review and model answers here…

          • pavnitkiran02

            to ravinder singh..can u plz tell let me know the online test series for geography except vision

            • Ravinder Singh

              well i know vision only…

              • Bhavana H S

                Vision is over, if you get to know any other series which is affordable please let me know. It will help me very much.

                • Ravinder Singh

                  well again confirm their test series startng from 13 sept till 22 nov total 8 test as per my knowledge
                  check their website

                  • Bhavana H S

                    Yippee…. Thanks

                    • shyam thayat

                      hey can u say how to get the notes of neetu mam? am from kerala! thnku

                    • Bhavana H S

             You can refer this for all the materials.

                    • shyam thayat

                      thaanQ 🙂

  • Tousif Mokashi

    Sir… Plzz provide optional HISTORY sub strategy… Especially Map questions.. thanx a lot..

  • SSC

    Thanks sir, can you suggest any dedicated teacher in Hindi medium for geography optional


    Nice Sir :)…Really Helpful

  • kavitha


  • mns

    Sir thanks a lot for sharing this..needed it:)

  • Gladiator

    Hi raju many congratulations …thnk u so much for ur valuable inputs..I have some specific problems..I m uncomfortable in paper-II. I find it to elaborate and explain for example the question- socio-economic impact of cauvery, make in India etc..if u can suggest how to improve upon it it would be a great help for me…thnx .

  • mns

    Sir could you please share your map related notes if any and if possible?..plz sir..would be highly indebted

  • Shashank Shahi

    pls share history optional strategy . I have chosen history as my optional. Pls let me know. Thanks

  • Sanchari

    Hello Vinay Sir, I congratulate both Raju Mishra Sir and Insights team for the commendable performance both have put.
    As Raju SIr’s optional paper is same as mine I have few questions in my mind regarding coaching material and classroom program for Geo optional. I am based in Kolkata and have started full fledged preparation for Mains 2015 from home. So, I will be highly greatful if I get to talk to Raju sir or Vinay Sir via mail or any other source so that I can walk ahead towards my goal without any speculation and hesitation.
    Thank you so much.

  • Krishna

    Best faculty for geo is shabbir sir. Blindly anyone can follow him. Sure and don’t know about neetu Singh I cannot comment on her teaching . For me i just followed sir instructions.

    • Kartik

      Hi Krishna,
      How is Shashank Atom.. I m planning to joining him..
      Eveyone pls

      • Krishna

        Sorry Karthik. I have no idea about him. Please consult those who have taken classes from Shashank atom. Thank you. All the best.

      • Amit Kumar Biswas

        Kartik…I have taken classes from Shashank sir…and I found his tactics to be obsolete…

    • EnigmaIndia

      Neetu singh ma’am also very very good….

  • Jeeves

    what about people who don’t live in Delhi, all the test series are conducted in delhi except vision has distance learning – test series!

  • raptor

    Congrats Mishra Ji…
    Thank you Insights for my only guide and friend for pre-2015 and GS preparation due course of time..
    Dear Friends,
    I am confident about clearing pre 2015 but feeling not good about mains preparation, specially optional (geography). Considering only 30% syllabus I have gone through till date from standard books, kindly suggest how I should proceed?
    I am also confused about joining any classes? as I feel better in self study and GS papers I can handle on my own. Can you suggest the strategy and study material for optional in this limited time?
    I have done with NCERT and going through savinder singh, next planning for human geography…where can I get good specified notes?

    • Guru

      I am facing the same situation, Are u preparing full time? I am finding that the method of concept building by Savindra Singh isn’t as sequential and oriented as in strahler n strahler, so I read strahler once to take help while studying savindra singh book.
      I work for a PSU so not preparing full time, i dedicate about 5 hours a day now.
      Tel me which books from NCERTs need to be referred for GEO? & New or old syllabus?

      • raptor

        No, I am a part timer too 😀
        Gone through ncert, I feel good enough with new. Time management is the major challenge. I am proceedings in similar way for the physical geography as you have mentioned. How you are planning human geography and paper 2? Seems huge but need passion and preservance.

        • Guru

          Human & population geo by Leong and Morgan is good and I treat this particular subject like a stress buster cuz the writeup is not as intense as other areas of geography so treat it lighter (don’t get casual though),
          Physical:- Savindra & Strahler
          Human:- Majid
          Models n theories:- Majid
          (diagrams are too good).
          Indian geo:- Selective study of Khullar (read unit 1 in entirety, leave unit 2 & read 3 and chapters on water resources and multipurpose projects to be done.
          Read Geography & you, it is a distinguished magazine which will help you design your answers creatively with focus on the conceptual core.
          Preparation for geography must be integrated, if we start treating the various areas as separate entities and dont try to integrate them we start seeing the subject like insurmountable heaps of books.
          As you rightly said managing time is a challenge and staying energetic mentally after job for the next 5 hours for me is a bigger challenge brother.

          • raptor

            Bro… You mentioned about “geography and you”, initially I am planning for 3-4 latest edition to fit in schedule. how many you are going through?
            From where you are planning for economic geography part?

            • Guru

              These magazines are bimonthly n quite thin, take magz from sep-2014 onwards, the topics in it are current and pertinent so 6 magz for that period of one year should be fine, the analysis of topics is really good.
              Few editions are available for free download or you can read it on magzter as well.
              For Economic geography there is a book by rupa made simple series but make sure that u r highly selective with the topics. Keep the syllabus with you while studying.
              I dunno how well jumping to coaching notes directly helps, m not a great fan of them, scribble your own notes based on your understanding, I really feel that the person who prepares on his own has a distinct advantage over those who cram notes n reproduce because all their answers will look the same 🙂 design your answers uniquely.

        • Sujeet Kumar Pandey

          same here, a part timer too. I have started with khullar(of course after NCERTs and GC leong ) and kind of enjoying it. I am having doubts regarding paper 1 as I have Savinder Singh(not started yet) and have notes of alok ranjan and Neetu singh. So please guide me how to start with it?

          • raptor

            Don’t know about notes but many suggested to plan each topic according to convenient source because you may find neither books nor notes perfect. I am going with books and taking help from other sources too.. (Internet). Physical geography is taking more time. I have started with topics which I like most to speed up 🙂
            Suggestion: I feel, don’t fumble with many sources. Time is limited 🙂
            Which chapters you have selected from khullar for paper 2?

            • Sujeet Kumar Pandey

              No such strategy, just trying to cover whole syllabus from khullar only. I think it’s enough for paper 2. As time is limited, it is difficult to look for all relevant sources. Btw I have decided to continue with Neetu singh notes and use Alok Ranjan as substitute.

              • Swetha Sri

                Hi Sujeet,

                May i know from where did you get Neetu singh and alok ranjan notes?Its becoming difficult for me to find as i am staying outside delhi

                • Sujeet Kumar Pandey

                  There are sellers in Delhi who can courier the notes if you are living outside Delhi.

                  • Swetha Sri

                    I just want to know whether Reading notes for both the papers will suffice .As I have some textbooks but it is difficult in making notes for last min revision

                    • Sujeet Kumar Pandey

                      Notes can never supplement books but for last minute revision they are life saver.
                      Sorry swetha but since I have not written mains I am not in a position to answer your question.

                    • Swetha Sri

                      Ok thanks 🙂

  • upj

    thank you for in depth guidance.

  • Ayush Raghuvanshi

    For 2016 upsc aspirant with geography optional

  • amit 004

    nice for new one like me ,to known hw to prepare geography as optional subject.

  • sagar

    Is there any social media group to discuss about optional? If not, is anyone interested in forming a group on Telegram or something like such?

    • Khemraj Sankhla

      What about video chating for discussion geography optional…? I have geography optional. I am preparing self. If you are interested than we can discusse weekly or monthly.

  • P Srikrishnareddy

    Hi Everyone,
    I bought Human geography by Majid Hussain .But the contents are not matching the syllabus for paper 1 Geo optional..Please tell me which are the relevant topics frm this book .

  • ZIMS

    Is it essential to join coaching for geography optional. can it not done by self study.

  • Illu Jain

    Can any one tell me about majid hussain sir’s classes???