Blog for IAS aspirants

Strategy for Psychology by Ms. Shena Aggarwal (AIR-1)

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2012 at 01:41

Vote of Thanks

Ms. Shena needs no introduction. She has aced the UPSC exam and I am sure that her words are inspiring for all of us. I can not thank her enough for penning down this writeup on Psychology preparation for the blog. She has been extremely busy with her training at Nagpur but that could not dampen her zeal and enthusiasm to help new candidates in their preparation. I am convinced that her tips will go a long way in guiding aspirants in the right direction. She will try and reply to any queries you post but please bear with  the delays in her replies. I thank her profusely on behalf of all the candidates once again.

Strategy for Psychology

Psychology is widely preferred as an optional subject for civil services examination. The usual reasons for the same include- it is an easy subject, it is a safe subject, it is considered a scoring subject etc. I would advice someone to chose this subject not for these secondary reasons, but if you develop an interest in the subject and wish to know about it more. This is the most important thing because only if you enjoy studying it, then you can give your best efforts.

The subject has 2 papers- paper 1 deals with the theoretical aspects and basic principles of psychology, while paper 2 talks about applied psychology and its use in various fields. After knowing this, the first step one should take is open the syllabus and go through it thoroughly. UPSC tends to limit itself to the syllabus and so should us while preparing for the exam. Also, knowledge of the syllabus gives us an idea of what is expected of us, and how much we have to cover.


STUDY MATERIAL- Next come the most asked about questions- What books to study, whether to join coaching or not, which coaching? My approach towards this has always been to study one book multiple times, rather than multiple books one time. The usual books followed are-

  • NCERT Psychology- class 11, 12
  • Morgan and King- paper 1
  • Baron- paper 1
  • Ciccarelli- paper 1
  • Applied psychology by Smarak Swain- for paper 2

There is no need to study all of these books. I would suggest all to read the NCERT and any one of the other books for paper 1. Try to read NCERT books cover to cover, these would help to develop an understanding of all the basic concepts and would cover most of the topics in the syllabus. After that, one can also do certain topics from one of the other books- usually Baron or Ciccarelli. The book on Applied Psychology is a concise text by Smarak Swain, especially for the purpose of paper 2 . It basically covers all the topics.

Apart from these text books, notes of MukulPathak sir are almost read by everyone who takes up this subject and are usually considered quite comprehensive. So one may either join coaching classes of MukulPathak or get this material from the market or some friend. Whether or not to join coaching is a very personal decision one has to take- consider various factors like availability of time, your study schedule and most importantly your method of studying. Some people can grasp better in a classroom setting in the presence of a teacher, while some prefer to study by themselves from the books. So try to identify your individual style and go according to that. In my opinion, coaching can only provide guidance and provide one a competitive atmosphere to study. The real effort has to be made by you only.


PREPARATION PHASE- Ideally, one should start the preparation around 1 year before the prelims, and complete the syllabus by end of December. Then one can start with revision of the subject right after prelims, and complete it in time for mains. Go through the syllabus topic wise, and try to complete one unit at a time. Refer to the standard books and notes and try to develop a basic understanding initially. Don’t try to mug up the figures or names, focus should be on the concepts. After completing basic psychology for paper 1, start with applied psychology for paper 2.Try to develop a timeline and decide how you aim to complete your syllabus. I used to prepare broad frame, and then develop a monthly and daily schedule and would try to stick to that. It helps to maintain the focus and doesn’t allow any deviation from the task at hand. One can also make use of various articles in the newspapers and magazines or the internet to gather more material, but this should come at a later stage. For many topics of paper 2 like gender psychology, military psychology, terrorist psychology, environmental psychology, work psychology, education psychology, social psychology etc, try to use contemporary examples from the Indian context to make the answers more relevant. This will highly enhance the value of the answer and fetch much more marks.

It is advisable to revise the same material multiple times. You can also make concise notes in your own language to help in easy revision later. Try to develop the gist of every topic in the form of a flowchart or diagram. This will save time later and help in making the answers more effective.

Practice answer writing to ensure that you can convey your answers in an effective manner. Every good answer has two components- content and presentation. First read the question thoroughly to understand the demands of the question- what is it asking about, whether the details of any theory, or its comparative advantages and disadvantages with another, or if it is asking about the application part. Just jot down the points you would want to cover in a few seconds and only then start writing. This will make sure that you don’t lose track of the question and cover all the points asked. Most of the people do well on the content part but lack in presentation. Always try to put yourself in the examiner’s shoes and then you’ll realise what kind of answer you should write- it should be crisp and clear, in a legible writing, and preferably with some diagrams or flowcharts to make the same answer more effective. Try to highlight the important points and avoid repetition. Thus effective answer writing is an art which can be only mastered by regular practice. Try to make such mind maps and diagrams while studying and recapitulating the information. One can either join the test series of any coaching institute for the same or practice writing answers at home. Go through the previous year question papers and test your knowledge and practice writing answers to those. It would be better if you can get these checked by a teacher so that you’ll get a better idea of your mistakes and further improvements that can be made. I had joined the test series at Vajiram and Lufe institutes. This helps to analyse one’s answers and improve them the next time.

Another thing to keep in mind is to make efficient utilisation of the exam time of three hours. Spend the first few minutes going through all the questions and deciding about the questions you know best and would attempt. This exercise should not take more than 5 or 10 minutes. Then divide the time equally amongst all the 5 questions, while keeping 10-15 minutes in the end as reserve or extra for revision or unseen situations. So you’ll have approximately 30 minutes per question. Try to stick to the word limit, with some deviation on either side. These days in psychology, we don’t generally get 60 mark questions, but 10, 20 or 30 mark questions. For a 10 marker, just stick to the points and give the information asked. For a 20 or 30 mark question also, first focus on the content required and then you can just supplement it with a brief introduction or conclusion with regard to word limit and time availability. This time management skill and speed improvement can also be developed with repeated practice.


EXAM TIME- The last few days before the exam should be spent wisely in revising the syllabus covered earlier. Don’t try to learn new things in this time. One day before the exam, try to finish the revision on time and then relax for some time. A fresh mind will have a better memory recall and will help in writing fresh and innovative answers.


So, in the end, make sure-

  • Go through the syllabus and collect the relevant study material.
  • Make a long term plan and complete the syllabus in time, topic wise.
  • Focus should be on understanding rather than rote learning.
  • Do multiple revisions of the same material.
  • Try to enhance the answers by including contemporary examples from newspapers, magazines and internet.
  • Read the question carefully to understand the demands of the question.
  • Practice answer writing and make use of flowcharts, graphs and diagrams to make your answers more effective.
  • Make efficient utilisation of the time and stick to the word limit.

All the best..!!

  1. first let me congratulate u on ur grand sucess… n thanx shena 4 such a wonderful work up of psychology…m first yr opthal pg n giving d mains dis yr…regardin ma preparation,i hv learnt all d basic concepts of psychology vry well bt findin it difficult to cope up wid applied portion due to vast n erratic nature…my 1st optional is…plz advice,it is feasible to read smarak swain only for paper 2…m confused???

  2. @Shena..

    Apparantely you have not replied to atleast one of the comments in here.

    I wanted to put forward my views after reading psychology for 3 months and leaving it.
    At the outset it seems very interesting. The way NCERT has explained or Morgan & King have done it, it seems there cant be another subject. But when I got so engrossed into the subject and finally after completing the syllabus once, I had a look at the previous year question papers. To my surprise, I could not write more than 2 lines and that too not more than four questions were understandable. Moral is that I left psychology and now hunting for other optionals
    The reason why I wrote here is to know if at all there is any other way. I mean to fully get the grief off my mind(of wasting the 3 months) and not being able to answer any question, is there a way I can improve my understanding on the subject and be able to write answers? And since I cannot move to Delhi and meet the expert “Mr. Pathak” and neither can get his notes, can you suggest some alternative? I hope you read this and guide.

    Thank you in anticipation.

  3. Hi Sheena ma’m ,
    Thanks a lot for this informative post.
    Just wanted to know about your views on examrace notes
    for psychology .
    Thanks in advance.

  4. HI Prince,
    I had posted a comment to seek an advice on Psychology.. Apparently it has got deleted. Is there a way you could retrieve it?

  5. many many congrats shena on your grant success…. please do share your strategy on medical science, it will be highly beneficial to all the medicos… please help

  6. Hello Ms.Shena.Congratulations on your success..Ma’am kindly suggest me the websites to browse updation in Psychology(helpful for paper 1 n 2)
    Kindly reply
    Priyanka Naik

  7. Hello sir/madam,
    My hearty congratulations to both of you. God bless you.
    I am doing my last year BMS right now and I am from mumbai…and later on planning to do for IAS studies from delhi.
    If you could please help out for best coaching institutes in delhi which i could join. As i am really confused about it.
    Waiting for your reply
    Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for the good wishes.
      There is no such thing as a best coaching institute. Each institute has its own plus/minus points. I have replied to similar queries on coaching in other comments. Perhaps you can read them and gain some perspective.

  8. i would like to congratulate both of you for your success. I wanted to ask shena mam regarding medical science preparation…i m a final yr medical student from vmmc, delhi and will be giving cse nxt year.
    1.mam, should i refer harrison, bailey n other core books or manipal and mathews etc. Is it possible that studying acc to pg entrance exam can meet the requirement of medical science optional? Coz i want to be on a safer side plus we have internal pg seats bt getting into pg wouldn’t be easy if leave pg preparation n just concentrate on ias preparation. So can they both go hand in hand?
    2. I haven’t prepared any notes n i also dont have time for it. Is it necessary to make notes for medical science?
    3. My performance in proffesionals has not been good n i have startd studying seriously only few months bak. I haven’t joined any coaching for gs nor my syllabus for gs is complete. But I read newspaper regularly and make notes too. I had solved this year’s prelims n was able to score 180/400. from your experience, any advice regarding preparing for mains gs and medical science you would like to give.
    4. tips for writing answers of medical science in mains. if we dont know the correct answr, writing any thing about it can fetch us some marks? is word limit tightly followed or can we exceed if we know some extra points. do we get some extra marks for writing something relavant related to the question but not directly asked. e.g. writing major side effects of the drugs in a question of management or adding some points given in mcq level books. and i never draw diagrams in proffs. is it very essential to draw diagrams even if not asked?
    well the query is very long…bt guidance on medical science is not easily available. thats why lot of confusion.
    plz reply…thanks in advance. congrats again and wishing you more success in future. Also…would it be possible for you to give your email id so that i can contact you in future if needed. My email is:
    rahul, vmmc, new delhi

  9. @Shena aggarwal mam

    A huge bunch of congratulations to u mam. Mam, there are rumors that it is becoming really tough to score in psychology these days. People even believe that 318 is the highest marks. Plz do the favor of sharing your marks and also if u know somebody who has scored more than u. As i psychology optional student it becomes very demotivating to here that after all that hardwork, no one is getting more than 318. It ll be soothing to have a veteran’s word on this. Thanx in advance….

  10. where is lufe institue for psycho….

    • It was a small institute, newly opened at that time. Located at old Rajendra Nagar.

  11. Sir can you provide strategy of History and English Literature of other toppers? Thanks.

  12. hi Dr.shena, congrates for ur success. Madam i want to know that did you join any coaching centre during ur preparations ???

  13. sir,
    kindly tell me how to get IJPA articles and how to go through them. Is the whole journal is to be read or selected articles

  14. Ma’am is there any difference in answer writing for medical science as compared to humanities such as writing in point etc.though every medico knows which books to follow for medical science but still it would be of great help if u are able to write a blog about certain basic ideas about preparation and answer writing in med sci as info regarding it is not there anywhere on the net.this will be of great help to all students.

  15. Hi Prince , congrats for your stupendous success in your maiden attempt……….

    Plz provide your marksheet and interview strategy in coming posts…….

  16. sir im a btech 2nd yr student.want to be ias officer.i’ve told u about me but u did not replied.pls tel me the stepwise plan by wich i can be able to crack ias after 3yrs

    • Please choose your optionals and prepare for them and then prepare for GS. You may find the different posts on this blog useful for your purpose.

  17. hello shena ,
    i would like to congrats you for your grand success .
    i am from engg. background (iit d) ,and decided to take psychology and pub. ad. as the optional. do you think it would be better combination for optional ,as i have inner interest to study psychology and i have also taken psychology from humanity deprt. during previous semester.
    i would also like to request you to write next blog here ,mentioning about topic wise strategy which you had followed during your preparation.

    • Thanks. Both of these are usually preferred optionals and its even better if u have interest and some background information in it. so its a good choice.

  18. Hi sir/madam.. Pls help me select the best among these – Morgan and King, Baron or Ciccarelli.

    • Morgan and King is a bit too detailed. Baron or Cicerrelli are both equally good for beginners.

  19. sir i m student of b.a. program 1st year i want to know all the books , magazines, coaching you took 4 gs pre and mains plase tell ur marks in gs how much time it took u 4 completing gs same question for other toppers please dont ignor.

  20. Hello Sir,

    Thanx for your valuable posts.
    Can you please try to post the strategy for Anthropology ?

  21. hi prince, provide for geography also so many r waiting for that

  22. Hi Shena, first congrats and thanks to both Prince and you.
    May you tell us about showing any sample answer esp. how to write an introduction.

  23. Hey prince, when are you posting the strategy for electrical engineering

    waiting from a long time

  24. Thank you Sir for this very initiative. I read your blog regarding strategy for Public Administration. I am trying to prepare accordingly. Sir my 2nd optional is Geography. Sir if you can arrange the same for Geography it will be very helpful to me. Waiting for affirmative reply. Thank you Sir.

  25. Hello sir.
    This blog is veru heplful civil services aspirents. Sir my optionals are geography n public administrations. For geograpgy i havr joined nitu singh classes n for pub ad mohanti sir classes. Sir what is ur opinion how to manage two optionals at the same time. I wrote pre2012.getting score around 190.m very tensed n not able to utilize my full potential.

    • Managing two optionals at the same time can be difficult but do ur best. Please try and maintain pace with class. That way u wd hv atleast covered everything once by the time your coachings get over.

  26. Hey brother Can you provide strategy of Law and Pol Sci of other toppers? Thanks..

    • I am trying for commerce and geography presently but will certainly also try for the subjects you mentioned. However as you may understand it is difficult to give any guarantees.

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