How to prepare Psychology optional for IAS

Strategy for Psychology (Optional) Paper

In this article we will share some Psychology optional tips for civil services examination. First of all, How to decide whether you choose Psychology as an optional or not.

What are the Pros?


This is very interesting subject to study and interest should be the prime criteria for choosing any optional, If you do not have the interest in the optional you would not be able to prepare. It has been fairly scoring over the last 4-5 years comparatively to the other popular optional papers.

Direct application of lot of concepts in Paper I and Paper II reduces the amount of mugging required. Techniques learnt while reading topics like memory, intelligence, motivation etc. can be applied in your UPSC preparation. From stress management to effective parenting, the subject has lots to offer for implementation in everyday life too.

Sources to Study Paper - 1

  • NCERT (Class 11th and Class12th) Baron, Ciccarelli, Mukul Pathak Sir's classnotes and printed study material, Moegans and King (selected topics) and do lot of internet research to make your notes. For statistics part most people read AK Singh, Aron Aron Coups, IGNOU material on E-Gyankosh.

What are the Cons?


Dearth of contents in certain topics, especially in paper II because syllabus is too lengthy with 28 chapters. Remember, scoring in paper II is little subjective task sometimes unpredictable.

Sources to Study Paper - 2

  • NCERT (Class 11th and Class12th), Mukul Pathak Sir's classnotes and printed study material, Encyclopaedia of Applied Psychology. Do internet research and IGNOU material on E-Gyankosh.

Role of coaching?


Coaching classes are helpful for initial stages and specially for those who do not have any background in psychology subject. Pathak Sir has virtual monopoly in psychology coaching, he teaches well but takes a lot of time. See, study material or class notes can be a good source but you should not only rely with the his notes.

Answer Writing Tips


Adding case studies/experiments, examples/newspaper reports/drawing diagram generate lot of value to the answer specially in paper II. Quote as many as you can, no need to remember the researcher's name but the crux of the study should be written. Form a group of 3-4 students and get your answer peer reviewed (needed for paper II). Joining the test series is also beneficial.

Dealing with Paper - 1: Ensure that you have a good command over paper 1, because the concepts of paper I are foundations of paper II. Beware of chapters on statistics, they have become UPSC's favourite and require extra efforts. Certain topics are being asked repeatedly - memory, intrinsic motivation etc. prepare them well.

Few important chapters:

  • Issues in modern psychology
  • Statistics
  • Personality
  • Attitude values and interests

Dealing with Paper - 2: You should root your answers in theory, please do not write what you feel, instead write the psychological concepts/theories from paper 1 to support what you are saying. So avoid writing things just because you feel they are correct and try to give Indian examples wherever possible.

Prepare a standard format for answering questions involving attitude and behaviour change. Use principles of operant conditioning, modelling, social psychology, persuasive communication etc. in the framework and cover every nook and corner of the syllabi. It is advised to skip the questions from the dicey chapters like community psychology and instead answer ones from the topics which have defined course content.

General Guidelines


Effective revision is must: segregate material into Last Minute Revision and Non Last Minute Revision. For example - Personality theory by Alfred Addler needs to be revised just before the exam but not the behavioural aspects correlated with Nach. Make a list of all technical keywords you encounter like - Flynn effect, auto kinetic effect etc. and use them in your answers.

Also make a list of case studies/experiments topic wise whenever you read any topic. As a thumb rule, try to collect ½ case studies/experiments on each topic. Solve all the previous questions and discuss the answers with friends & mentors (specially helpful in paper 2). So look up 1 or 2 articles on the internet for even seemingly mundane topics like use and misuse of internet. But you should not end up spending all the time online for just searching and researching.

Every year, UPSC is now asking questions worth 20-30 marks which no one on earth can answer. Example - The question on language production in 2013 Paper I, Now while preparing, don't worry how to answer such questions. Don;t start digging on internet to cover such topics or every topic in such detail. In search for value addition, don't spend too much time reading random articles.

One of the very important thing which we must follow while writing answers is or ability to interlink Paper I and Paper II. For this you must remember syllabus completely. Read the syllabus everyday for 5 minutes.


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