The prestigious UPSC civil services exam consists of 3 stages - Prelims, Mains and Interview.

Amongst them Mains is the most crucial stage, as in your final selection depends upon mains (Total marks: 1750 marks) and interview marks (Total marks: 275 marks), while prelims is merely of qualifying nature.

Now with respect to mains, there are 9 papers, having two papers of optional subject - signifying a weightage of 500 marks ( Paper 1 and Paper 2- 250 marks each). Though weightage seems to be less, the marks one can fetch in the optional subject makes it most important.

This means that with a smart strategy one can achieve 60-70 % Marks ( 300-350 marks out of 500) while for other GS papers getting close to 50% is itself a mammoth task.

Therefore choosing a good optional subject is a sine qua non for clearing UPSC exam.

Decoding geography as an Optional:    

The optional consists of two papers - 





Physical Geography : 

1. Geomorphology: Factors controlling landform development; endogenetic and exogenetic forces; Origin and evolution of the earth’s crusts; Fundamentals of geomagnetism; Physical conditions of the earth’s interior; Geosynclines; Continental drift; Isostasy; Plate tectonics; Recent views on mountain building; Volcanicity; Earthquakes and Tsunamis; Concepts of geomorphic cycles and Landscape development; Denudation chronology; Channel morphology; Erosion surfaces; Slope development; Applied Geomorphology; Geomorphology, economic geology and environment. 

2. Climatology: Temperature and pressure belts of the world; Heat budget of the earth; Atmospheric circulation; Atmospheric stability and instability. Planetary and local winds; Monsoons and jet streams; Air masses and fronto; Temperate and tropical cyclones; Types and distribution of precipitation; Weather and Climate; Koppen’s Thornthwaite’s and Trewar Tha’s classification of world climate; Hydrological cycle; Global climatic change, and role and response of man in climatic changes Applied climatology and Urban climate. 

3. Oceanography: Bottom topography of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans; Temperature and salinity of the oceans; Heat and salt budgets, Ocean deposits; Waves, currents and tides; Marine resources; biotic, mineral and energy resources; Coral reefs coral bleaching; Sea-level changes; Law of the sea and marine pollution. 

4. Biogeography: Genesis of soils; Classification and distribution of soils; Soil profile; Soil erosion, Degrada-tion and conservation; Factors influencing world distribution of plants and animals; Problems of deforestation and conservation measures; Social forestry, agro-forestry; Wildlife; Major gene pool centres. 

5. Environmental Geography: Principle ecology; Human ecological adaptations; Influence of man on ecology and environment; Global and regional ecological changes and imbalances; Ecosystem their management and conservation; Environmental degradation, management and conservation; Biodiversity and sustainable development; Environmental policy; Environmental hazards and remedial measures; Environmental education and legislation. 

Human Geography : 

1. Perspectives in Human Geography: Areal differentiation; Regional synthesis; Dichotomy and dualism; Environmentalism; Quantitative revolution and locational analysis; Radical, behavioural, human and welfare approaches; Languages, religions and secularisation; Cultural regions of the world; Human development index. 

2. Economic Geography: World economic development: measurement and problems; World resources and their distribution; Energy crisis; the limits to growth; World agriculture: typology of agricultural regions; Agricultural inputs and productivity; Food and nutrition problems; Food security; famine: causes, effects and remedies; World industries: location patterns and problems; Patterns of world trade. 

3. Population and Settlement Geography: Growth and distribution of world population; Demographic attributes; Causes and consequences of migration; Concepts of over-under-and optimum population; Population theories, world population problems and policies, Social well-being and quality of life; Population as social capital. Types and patterns of rural settlements; Environmental issues in rural settlements; Hierarchy of urban settlements; Urban morphology; Concept of primate city and rank-size rule; Functional classification of towns; Sphere of urban influence; Rural-urban fringe; Satellite towns; Problems and remedies of urbanization; Sustainable development of cities. 

4. Regional Planning: Concept of a region; Types of regions and methods of regionalisation; Growth centres and growth poles; Regional imbalances; Regional development strategies; Environmental issues in regional planning; Planning for sustainable development. 5. Models, Theories and Laws in Human Geography : System analysis in Human geography; Malthusian, Marxian and demographic transition models; Central Place theories of Christaller and Losch; Perroux and Boudeville; Von Thunen’s model of agricultural location; Weber’s model of industrial location; Ostov’s model of stages of growth. Heart-land and Rimland theories; Laws of international boundaries and frontiers. 




1. Physical Setting: Space relationship of India with neighbouring countries; Structure and relief; Drainage system and watersheds; Physiographic regions; Mechanism of Indian monsoons and rainfall patterns; Tropical cyclones and western disturbances; Floods and droughts; Climatic regions; Natural vegetation, Soil types and their distributions. 

2. Resources: Land, surface and groundwater, energy, minerals, biotic and marine resources, Forest and wildlife resources and their conservation; Energy crisis. 

3. Agriculture: Infrastructure: irrigation, seeds, fertilizers, power; Institutional factors; land holdings, land tenure and land reforms; Cropping pattern, agricultural productivity, agricultural intensity, crop combination, land capability; Agro and social-forestry; Green revolution and its socio-economic and ecological implications; Significance of dry farming; Livestock resources and white revolution; Aqua-culture; Sericulture, Agriculture and poultry; Agricultural regionalisation; Agro-climatic zones; Agro-ecological regions. 

4. Industry: Evolution of industries; Locational factors of cotton, jute, textile, iron and steel, aluminium, fertiliser, paper, chemical and pharmaceutical, automobile, cottage and ago-based industries; Industrial houses and complexes including public sector underkings; Industrial regionalisation; New industrial policy; Multinationals and liberalisation; Special Economic Zones; Tourism including ecotourism. 

5. Transport, Communication and Trade: Road, railway, waterway, airway and pipeline networks and their complementary roles in regional development; Growing importance of ports on national and foreign trade; Trade balance; Trade Policy; Export processing zones; Developments in communication and information technology and their impacts on economy and society; Indian space programme. 

6. Cultural Setting: Historical Perspective of Indian Society; Racial linguistic and ethnic diversities; religious minorities; Major tribes, tribal areas and their problems; Cultural regions; Growth, distribution and density of population; Demographic attributes: sex-ratio, age structure, literacy rate, work-force, dependency ratio, longevity; migration (inter-regional, intraregional and international) and associated problems; Population problems and policies; Health indicators. 

7. Settlements: Types, patterns and morphology of rural settlements; Urban developments; Morphology of Indian cities; Functional classification of Indian cities; Conurbations and metropolitan regions; Urban sprawl; Slums and associated problems; Town planning; Problems of urbanisation and remedies. 

8. Regional Development and Planning: Experience of regional planning in India; Five Year Plans; Integrated rural development programmes; Panchayati Raj and decentralized planning; Command area development; Watershed management; Planning for backward area, desert, drought-prone, hill tribal area development; Multi-level planning; Regional planning and development of island territories. 

9. Political Aspects: Geographical basis of Indian federalism; State reorganisation; Emergence of new states; Regional consciousness and inter-state issues; International boundary of India and related issues; Cross-border terrorism; India’s role in world affairs; Geopolitics of South Asia and Indian Ocean realm. 

10. Contemporary Issues: Ecological issues: Environmental hazards: landslides, earthquakes, Tsunamis, floods and droughts, epidemics; Issues related to environmental pollution; Changes in patterns of land use; Principles of environmental impact assessment and environmental management; Population explosion and food security; Environmental degradation; Deforestation, desertification and soil erosion; Problems of agrarian and industrial unrest; Regional disparities in economic development; Concept of sustainable growth and development; Environmental awareness; Linkage of rivers; Globalisation and Indian economy. 

NOTE: Candidates will be required to answer one compulsory map question pertinent to subjects covered by this paper.

Sources to Refer:

Paper 1

  • Physical Geography by Savinder Singh
  • Geomorphology by Savinder Singh
  • Climatology by D S Lal
  • Environmental Geography by Savinder Singh
  • Evolution of Geographical Thought by Majid Husain
  • Models in Geography by Majid Husain
  • Human Geography by Majid Hussain
  • GC Leong


  • India: A Comprehensive Geography by D R Khullar
  • NCERTs 
  • Orient Blackswan/Oxford Atlas
  • Map Entries in Geography – K Siddhartha

Apart from the above current affairs holds great importance especially in Paper 2 of the geography optional. For preparing these topics there is a need to keep an eye on topics relevant to our exam from various newspapers such as The Hindu, Indian Express, Down to Earth etc. RSTV programmes like Big Picture on a relevant topic such as rural development can also be helpful.

Why should you choose it as your optional subject?

  • Considering the scientific nature of the subject Geography is especially popular with candidates having a science or engineering background. Also considering conceptual and fact-based questions where there is less margin to reduction in marks.
  • Importance in different stages of exam
    • Prelims:The topics that can be covered from the Geography optional include  Indian and World Geography-Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
    • There is tremendous overlap with the GS paper I.: The topics that can be covered from the Geography optional include Salient features of world’s physical geography, factors responsible for the location of industries in various parts of the world, important geographical phenomena etc.
    • Overlap with the GS paper III: The topics that can be covered from the Geography optional include agriculture, cross-border crimes, planning, development, infrastructure, industries and resources, transportation, demographic dividend, etc.
    • Personality test: The studies of geography optional can help you answer questions on the regional geography of your place(Which can include climate, topography, vegetation factors, agricultural parameters such as soil) in a better manner.
  • Beneficial for the  role of a civil servant
    • While dealing with the problems in the region in fields such as industries, agriculture, disaster management, environment, regional planning, etc, the knowledge of geography will always help you tackle the problem in an efficient manner.
  • By studying the geography optional multidimensional understanding of the globe through various parameters becomes possible.
  • Considering good weightage of marks for geography in the various stages of exam it helps prepare for mains and prelims simultaneously.
  • The availability of multiple references and books is considered good in geography optional. A student may never face a shortage of study material in this subject.
  • The command over the drawing of diagrams and maps will be beneficial for scoring high in other topics of GS such as agriculture, international relations, economics, etc
  • Geography is a very interesting subject which tests your capability of integrating static knowledge with contemporary issues.

Few tips to score well in geography optional

  • Diagrams are considered very important in geography these lets you help explain concepts with fewer words and in an attractive manner.
  • Similarly use of maps of both India and world can be beneficial. For example, in a single map of India, you can show the direction of monsoon, effect of westerly and easterly jet streams on India also the physical features responsible for the same i.e Himalayas and Tibetian plateau etc.
  • Interlinkages with various topics in the syllabus while solving a question from a particular topic will always result in immense benefits. For example reference to both the aspects of Human and Physical geography will make your answers comprehensive.
  • Enriching the answers with the help of current affairs: For example in topics such as regional geography, Economic Geography, agriculture, industry, and resources etc, one can substantiate the answers with recent case studies or the good practices in the world or India, to prove a general statement in the answer.

Cautions to be observed before choosing geography as an optional

  • Go through the syllabus properly and start studying the NCERTs of geography for at least 15-20 days so as to see your interest in the subject as the syllabus of Geography is very huge.
  • Past year papers of at least the last 3 years must be seen so as to understand the nature of questions and the quantum of the depth of a topic one needs to read. This will help you find the extent and time you would be required to invest in the optional.
  • Read the strategy of geography optional toppers as they have developed a command over the subject and can provide you with hitherto unheard insights in relation to the subject particularly the hidden advantages and disadvantages.  

Geography is considered as a good optional subject having multiple advantages but cautious analysis is required on an individual basis before choosing it as an optional because what is beneficial for one might be detrimental to another.