[Strategy] Geography Optional Paper-II (Marks 152) Strategy & Answer Writing Tips: UPSC IAS Topper Soumyadip Bhattacharya, AIR-147

UPSC IAS Topper Geography Optional Strategy

Soumyadip Bhattacharya, AIR-147

Geography Optional Paper-II (Marks 152)

I want to thank ForumIAS members for appreciating my previous write-up . Recently, I have been requested by some Forum members to write another article regarding my strategies for Geography Paper-II (Marks 152). Truly speaking, I had not followed any particular road map for preparing this paper. Even my marks in this paper was very poor in Mains-2014 (Paper I -133 &Paper II – 84). After analyzing my performance, first I started improving my knowledge base and along with that worked on small-small points, which helped me in scoring higher marks this time. In this article I will talk about few aspects of my preparation, which may help you to fetch good marks and then briefly discuss about the syllabus.

Map Entries

Before 2013, map entries played an important role in deciding your fate in Paper –II (60 marks question , 15X4). But, in the new pattern, its weight-age has been reduced drastically (only 20 marks). Like most of the engineers, my performance was very poor in this section (I had marked hardly four entries correct in 2014). But this time, I went through the previous year question papers and noticed that at least 60% map entries are repeated. Obviously exception may happen in a year or two. Two to three entries are generally related to current developments, which can be easily guessed by joining some standard test series. UPSC sometimes ask very odd places in one or two entries. One can either skip or make some calculated guess in such cases. Anyway, you are not going to loose the battle for four marks, so in my opinion , if two-three entries are unknown don’t bother too much – justput a dot and make GOLA around it (Doentrieskeliyejaanthodina de denge). I practiced last twenty years map entries and fortunately this time nine entries were from previous year papers. Another thing is that, I have shown main river also in case of tributary, barrage, falls etc.

Drawing Outline Maps

Drawing an outline map was really a difficult job for me – sometimes it was an elongated one, sometimes a fatty one and sometimes iteven included other countries also. Obviously a map of such an awkward shape does not look good. To rectify this problem, I had downloaded an outline map of suitable size (approx. 6”x6”) from internet and made two-three print outs in tracing papers. In free time, I went on moving my pencil over the outline again and again. This strategy worked beautifully for me and finally outline of India was started to look like ‘India’. Same thing, I have done for making world map also, in Paper-I.

Shading of Maps

In general , I had used three types of shading in maps while showing various indicators, such as population density, literacy rate etc. Dots – for lower density/ value Single line – medium Crossed line – high I had used mostly pencil for drawing maps and diagrams.

Question Selection

Selection of questions is one of the most important aspects for both the papers for scoring good marks. For last few years, questions in Paper-II are very general in nature, anybody with good knowledge in GS can also answer easily. But I always preferred questions for which a geographical answer can be written. For example: I had written question no. 2 asking about Stamp Classification, flood prone area etc. instead of question no.3, where biotic resource region, renewable sources were asked.

Answer writing

I always preferred writing in points or in small-small paragraphs and used to make diagrams in the middle of the page to make those more prominent. In any question, whether it was about criticism or evaluation or cause-effect, I had always tried to give one or two line definition or description of the core topic.

Analysis of Syllabus

First module of Paper-II (Physical setting) is the largest one and most important too, not only for Geography but for General Studies also. While reading Paper-II, generally, most of the time is devoted to either this module or agriculture and industry. But from the analysis of last few years papers, I had observed that UPSC is asking questions from all the modules and the questions from RDP, Settlement are much easier in nature. So in my opinion equal importance must be given to the modules like Population, Settlement and RDP. Political aspects and Contemporary issues can be skipped, as they are mostly covered in General Studies syllabus.

Physical setting

A detailed reading of this module is must but special emphasis may be given to structure and relief, Physiographic regions, monsoon-cyclone, flood and droughts and climatic regions. After giving 2014 mains, went through D.R. Khullar’s book and observed that it has covered all the topic and mostly according to UPSC syllabus.


This module is little bit tricky as there are lots of name to remember, but fortunately UPSC is not asking twenty marks question from this area. I had prepared notes for common resources like coal, oil, natural gas, renewable energy, nuclear energy etc. both for India and world, as this topic is also mentioned in GS Paper-I. K Siddhartha’s Economic Geography is a good book to read this module in details.


Almost every year UPSC is asking one or two question from agriculture and related topics.

For conventional topics, I had followed Khullar and Kurukshetra for current developments. Articles of Kurukshetra are very useful for GS Paper-II also.

Industry and Transport, Communication and Trade

For these two modules, I had given selective reading from Khullar and my class notes and practiced maps of various industrial regions, pipelines, waterways etc. Yojana and G&Y are very good magazines to prepare contemporary developments related to these areas.

Cultural Setting

Prepared only selected topics like tribal regions, migration, population growth – distribution and associated problems.


I don’t know why settlement is one of my favorites in the entire syllabus and obviously studied each and every topic of this module. But always, I had a holistic approach while reading this topic and covered both Papers –I and II together, which gave me a better understanding. I had followed my class notes, Rupa Made Simple for Paper-I and Khullar for paper –II.

Regional Development and Planning

I had not prepared RDP as a separate module in 2014, but after observing last two-three years papers, this module seemed to be an important one for 2016. While preparing, I found that standard text books don’t give a comprehensive coverage of all the topics mentioned in the syllabus and coaching centres’ notes are also mostly silent about RDP. Thus, I prepared my own notes for all the topics mentioned in the syllabus and two questions are directly asked from RDP this year (tribal region and causes of economic disparity)

Political aspects and contemporary issues

Never studied these modules separately for optional, as they are mostly prepared through General Studies.

Key for scoring good marks in paper –II , is obviously making maps and diagrams. So my suggestion is to always attempt questions where there is more scope of making neat and clean maps, rather than theoretical questions. Lastly, I want to thank Forum members who pushed me hard to write this article, otherwise, I am totally in a relaxing mood, now a days!!!! Going to office, coming back and waiting for service allocation. And a special mention of my first geography teacher, for whom I always learnt this subject from my heart – thank you Maa.

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