PSYCHOLOGY STRATEGY for Civil Services: Strategy, Booklist, Resources and Notes- Mittali Sethi AIR 56 (302 Marks)


PSYCHOLOGY STRATEGY for Civil Services: Strategy, Booklist, Resources and Notes

Mittali Sethi

AIR 56 (302 Marks in Psychology)

Mittali Sethi’s GS Strategy

Being a dentist – and a specialist at that – taking up Medical Sciences was not an option for me by virtue of the latter’s vastness of syllabus, unavailability of my graduation subject and my inability to de-specialise myself. A lot many people have the same problem as me and are therefore in search of a subject that they can easily relate to, that can be finished in a reasonable amount of time, is fairly understandable and preferably helps them understand another part of syllabus.

Psychology has been something that had always fascinated me and apart from the above mentioned considerations, I had a deep interest in the subject. I believe that, this deep seated interest in reading a subject, especially if it is new to you, is what should primarily drive you in case you are still on the lookout for an optional. Many a times, people back out from taking up something because coaching is not available for the subject. I would digress from the popular view here and mention that the books that you buy from the market are written by esteemed experts in the field and in a way – if you can read reasonably – can serve as coaching in themselves. Plus we are living in an age of open courses and a huge availability of online material on internet. So, I don’t think that this should be the reason for anyone to not take up Psychology if one has the passion, patience and persistence to learn and understand the subject. (Let’s call these the 3P’s that you need to have if you want to learn the 4th P well.)

My score in Psychology – P1 – 135, P2 -167. I understand that the marking is opaque and therefore, I cannot tell you what exactly worked, but I just want to mention that I left around 30-40 marks of the paper in Paper 2 – so I guess your quality of answers, and not the quantity, is what makes all the difference.

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So how does Psychology help?


  1. Psychology – in the simplest manner – will help you make sense of so many portions of Ethics paper. Because Ethics is an abstract paper, Psychology fine tunes your abstract understanding and takes away the fear of writing answers in that paper. For example – last year in GS4, there was a question on Swachh Bharat that I could answer with a flowchart only because of my reading of Applied Psychology.
  2. Psychology helps to provide a perspective on the social life around us as well as globally. In fact, as you read it, you would understand the need for us as a country to grow more in humanities since a lot of things and qualities that we accept without doubt are now being touted as “culture specific”. Inequity extends beyond science and technology alone, doesn’t it? 🙂
  3. Psychology also helps you to control your own anxiety for the exam. So many times, I could have a better perspective of the exam because I understood Motivation, Emotions and even practical things like Memory in a more nuanced way.
  4. But, largest of all, why Psychology fascinated me most was because the only medium between an institution and the people it reaches are the people who operate those institutions. And hence, the whole world runs on the basis of the minds of these “operators”. How cool would it be to know how their minds work! It is something on which the world rests, if you think about it. Imagine solving crimes with graffiti! (A popular experiment in Psychology).


How to study Psychology?


Humanities are abstract subjects – that means that sometimes, the written text has dimensions and meanings beyond what you can see. So you have to extrapolate them to the life and culture around you and then with that knowledge, find out the solutions to contemporary problems.

Here is the point where the understanding of Psychology differs from person to person. This is not science – where everything is objective – here, even the fundamental dimension of looking at something can differ between people. These differences are what we put on paper. Asking for a booklist is pretty much redundant therefore, because for the same books, the level of imagination and use of local contexts is going to make all the difference.


Nevertheless, here are the resources that I followed:

Online sources :

  1. Open course by Yale university – Taken by Dr Paul Bloom. This is great if you are just beginning and don’t have a teacher or coaching for the subject. The downside is that you don’t see the illustrations, and hence, don’t get to have the full experience. But Dr Bloom is a very engaging teacher, and you will definitely learn a thing or two about how to understand things from him.
  2. Open course by MIT university – Not as engaging as the first, but illustrations and everything that is deleted is added by a separate link.
  3. Psychology video series at the Crash Course Youtube Channel – This is wonderful! I would, however, advise that you watch this once you are done with one reading of Psychology, at least paper 1. Since this is not too much in depth, this will help you consolidate important topics.


Booklist: Paper I

  1. NCERTs 11th and 12th – I read them at least 3-4 times, made notes. Please don’t underestimate them, they have a lot of extra information that other books don’t, especially in regard to Indian context of Psychology. Use these contexts to give an indigenous touch to your answers.
  2. Textbook of Psychology (Indian adaptation) by Robert Baron – This was my primary textbook and I made notes out of this too. Revised it multiple times. For concepts that I could not understand, I used to read from internet, or watch a video.
  3. Textbook of Psychology by Morgan and King – Added up some topics from here. Eg, the chapter on Attitude is given very nicely in this book. Make sure you look it up for some extra information on experiments or those topics that aren’t there in Baron.
  4. Social Psychology textbook by Baron and Branscombe – Thin, little book. This will be enough for Social Psychology.
  5. Notes by Mukul Pathak (handwritten)- I read them very, very minimally. I could not read these notes, they felt very dry to me. Just found out a few topics that weren’t anywhere, and went over these topics from the notes. Did not do the printed notes.
  6. Research book by AK Singh – Do not read it in detail. Mark a few chapters and just do them. Also, there are a few topics like Focused group discussion, and other topics of research which you will have to cover from internet since they aren’t there in this book too.

Booklist: Paper II

I studied only and only Smarak Swain – Textbook of Applied Psychology. When you read this book, make sure that you learn not only the content, but also how he has converted the content into flowcharts so beautifully. You must learn this ability, given that the paper is lengthy. Develop an ability to write a lot in less time – picturing your thoughts in a flowchart helps.



A few pointers:


  1. How to learn research studies? Research studies form an integral, although sometimes boring part of preparation. You must, however , always remember that Psychology is also a social and a life science apart from being a natural science. So the line between what comes to you intuitively and what has actually been proven by research is very thin. Don’t confuse between the two. Make it a habit that you try to support your answers with research studies. I used to write down the names of researchers in the beginning of my chapters. Here is a representation of it:

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  1. How to and how much to use internet in your preparation? Many people know a lot of websites that can add to the already given information. I never used any of these. If you read a new edition of the books, recent experiments are incorporated in all of those books. I think that much information is enough. Why to keep on adding information to your mind – try adding a little bit of understanding instead – that will help more. Apart from that, my point here is only that you must have finished your basics first before you move on to making notes from websites. Your answers need an extra punch only if you have some punch in them first! Use internet to supplement topics from Research part of the syllabus, and a little bit of the computer and artificial intelligence topics. Apart from that, internet should be used to watch videos on Psychology experiments (Piaget’s theory has some wonderful videos) and enhance your understanding, not useless information which has very little context.
  2. How to write answers? You have to go to the exam hall with a very open mind. Don’t go with presumptions, or a fixed mindset about what to write in what question. This ability, in fact, is something you must develop beforehand. Read the question, and comprehend it for a minute. Forget your notes, and what you read where. Just think about what has been asked to you, and answer that. This is why I just said that this ability must be cultivated when you are preparing – in exam, there is additional anxiety. Link Paper 1 with paper 2, and vice versa. And of course, this has been mentioned multiple times that you should mention personal or local examples. That ability comes only with practise and lot of introspection. In fact, this is why with humanities, your interest in them is the biggest factor – only then will it surprise you and you will think about it in a way that your life relates to it. So, in essence – Read a lot, but think even more. 🙂
  3. Is there a need for coaching? As I mentioned, books and videos are enough coaching. Of course, if coaching is available and you can afford it, and you are someone who learns better from a teacher – by all means go ahead. I joined only a test series from Beautiful mind IAS institute – and this was online. Test series helped me to get a feedback on my answers and seek help in areas where I lack. It also helped me to finish my syllabus in a time bound manner.

But, ultimately, you are your saviour. Teachers can push you, facilitate you and guide you but you need to walk on the path yourself and feel the pain in your feet. Nobody will ever feel that pain for you. But you also get to see beautiful sights on the path, and then, that path becomes truly and only yours. This is only and only your journey, and that is scary in a way, but exciting in another. Choose to look at the exciting, always. The colour of your goggles makes all the difference!

Reach me at [email protected]. (Please ask me a specific query and give me a while to answer it. Thank you.)

I will also be writing articles at Please stay connected there.

My best wishes to everyone who takes up this wonderful subject. Allow it to make you a better person.:)


P.S. I firmly believe that one should make personal notes and only then will they help to improve one’s understanding. However, I am sharing my notes and a few Psychology books here. Hopefully, they will help to get an idea about things in general. Please feel free to ask me – should you have any more doubts.

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