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[ FAQs Prelims Series ] : How to prepare map-based questions for UPSC Prelims strategically?


This is the second article of our FAQ series on UPSC Prelims. We will answer one popular question every 7-10 days. We hope it helps you to better prepare for the final exam.

How to prepare map-based questions for UPSC Prelims strategically?


The question has been asked by both freshers and veterans. We discuss both general approaches and specific steps that you need to take. The list below is not exhaustive but indicative.

Use a good Atlas, such as Oxford Atlas, and supplement it with internet maps. Preparing strategically can lead to a major improvement in scores in map based questions.


1. Start from India map and then move to World maps

What to study in India map:

Physical map (rivers, hills, major plateaus, natural landscape divisions etc.) – within this, you should study the

  1. Number and name of states a particular major geographical feature passes through, for instance, what are the states through which the river Brahmaputra passes in the North-eastern region? Or match the following lakes with the states they are located in – Vembanad Lake, Pulicat Lake, Hirakud lake etc.
  2. Order in which these geographical features appear from north to south or east to west, for instance, arrange the following hills from north to south – Mikir hills, Rajmahal hills, Aravali hills, Satupura hills, Nilgiri hills etc.
  3. Major places of interest near these geographical features, for instance, what hills and rivers pass through or are located in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve? Or what major cities are located on the banks of the Ganges or Yamuna?


Political map (states, cities, administrative divisions etc.) – within this, you should study the

1. Boundaries or borders of states – both domestic and international – for instance, how many states border the state of Chhattisgarh or MP? Or what is the state with the maximum number of international boundaries?

2. Major cities and connecting lines between them, for instance, if you travel from Mumbai to Kolkata, what is the minimum number of states that you must pass? See map below.


3. Major lines such as Tropic of Cancer and Standard Meridian line and the states/major cities passing through them, for instance what cities lie very close to the Tropic of Cancer? Answers include Ahmedabad, Ujjain, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Shahdol etc. Or the Ten degree channel passes through?

4. North-south and east-west order of major cities/region/places/locations of interests/pilgrimage sites and the region where they are located in, for instance, Tirupati is located in Seshachalam hills, or what is the correct order from North to South of Hyderabad, Panaji and Amaravati (see map above)?



2. Study World map by separating it region wise

Take a good look at the World map to get yourself familiar with the major regions: Asia (focus on South Asia, South-east Asia, West Asia, East Asia and Central Asia), Europe, North America, South America, Australasia, Africa, Arctic and Antarctica.

Study these regions separately. Only one map (including both political and physical features) should be enough.

What to study in regional maps:

1. Major oceans, rivers, their borders with nations and the channels/straits/navigation lines passing through them, for instance, what nations are bordered by Black Sea or Caspian Sea? What channel/canal connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea? Where is the Strait of Malacca located or it passes via which of these countries? Order of Yellow river, Yangtze river etc. in the map? Or Ocean currents such as Gulf Stream, West Drift, Kuroshio current etc.

2. International borders of countries and whether they are landlocked or not, for instance, what are the landlocked countries in Africa and Central Asia? Or what countries border Syria? Is Syria/Jordan/Israel landlocked or not?


3. Major locations of interest in news, their location and their order in the map (North-South or East-West), for interest, where are Tashkent, Almaty, Gaza Strip, Cayman Islands located? Or arrange these European countries from north to south – Franc, Germany, Italy, Greece etc.

4. Major physical features and the regions they are located in, for instance, where are Rocky mountains, Lake Baikal, Alps, Ural Mountains etc. located? Or the Amazon or Nile river passes through which of the following countries?

5. Major lines and the countries passing through it – for instance, the Tropic of Cancer/Tropic of Capricorn/Equator passes through which countries?

6. Major biodiversity hotspots and conversation areas across the World, for instance, Ross Sea in Antarctica, Indo-Burmese hotspot, Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands etc.

7. Major international projects and the countries they involve, for instance, International North-South Transport Corridor, Ram Setu project, Kaladan Multimodal project, Chahbahar port project, String of Pearls etc.



3. Keep referring to maps to better grasp events  

  • When you come across a major place in news, immediately look it up in the map (or internet) to see its location, for instance, Herat in Afghanistan .
  • This will not only lead to a better memory of these places, but also help you grasp the news better because you can visualize it. You also learn the map gradually but surely.
  • Notice if the location of the region is of geo-political significance, especially focus on the Middle-eastern region and the Central/Southern Asian region.
  • When reading NCERTs, try to learn the following maps by heart: cropping pattern maps, soil maps, seismic maps, old Ancient/Medieval maps of Kingdoms This will also help you enrich your answers in UPSC Mains questions.


4. Solve past year UPSC map questions and mocks to do better

  • Almost every year 2-3 questions are asked from maps.
  • Solve map based questions asked in last 10 years and notice the kind of questions asked. Focus on those areas when studying a map. You will notice that a vast majority of questions fit in the specific categories mentioned above.
  • Then, solve lots of mock tests where map based questions are asked. For instance, in 2022 test series, in each of the tests we focus on one particular region and ask a variety of map based questions so that you get used to facing them.
  • Keep a World map and a map of India glued to your study desk or a wall near to you and keep referring to it for better retention.


Mastering maps requires time and gradual effort. But the efforts are rewarding and they boost your self-confidence tremendously. All the best!