Psychology Optional Strategy

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

Psychology is a preferred optional subject in UPSC exams. It is an easy to understand, scoring subject and a safe one by UPSC norms. On choosing Psychology as optional, you will basically embark upon the dual journey of understanding psychology and discovering at least a few new things about the human nature (i.e., yourself). The key to studying psychology is interest. If you are deeply interested in learning Psychology, you can effortlessly score more in Psychology optional.


  1. Psychology is the study of human mind and behaviour. This subject fascinates a lot of people, so sustaining interest is easier with Psychology.

  2. The syllabus is short and crisp and the subject material is relatively limited.

  3. The study material is readily available.

  4. Psychology can be a very scoring subject.

  5. Choosing Psychology as optional does not require you to have any background in it

  6. Psychology overlaps with General Studies Paper IV – almost half the paper. Also, Psychology will help you with the Indian Society part in General Studies Paper I and in Essay Paper as well.

  7. Learning Psychology will also equip you with better skills for dealing with people, subordinates, etc. So, Psychology stays with you even after you have become officers.


  1. Really the only riding factor with Psychology is interest. If you are not interested in Psychology, this subject might look very vague and abstract to you.

  2. The coaching available for psychology is limited.


  1. NCERTs are very important for basic concepts, theories and understanding of the subject. Also, the box questions in NCERTs have been asked as they are in UPSC – CSE.

  2. IGNOU Booklets are also important sources. You don’t need to read the complete IGNOU booklets – selected topics should be sufficient

  3. Morgan and King is a very standard and important reference book in psychology however its language might not suit some. Others could try Baron or Ciccarelli and White for reference.

  4. The book by A K Singh is excellent for the research methods in psychology. The language is very easy and lucid. Selected topics should be done from this book.

  5. Smarak and Swain is an excellent book for paper 2 psychology covering mostly part of it.

  6. For illustrations, glossary, researches one must read newspapers, surf internet and sources like APA, psychology today etc.

Download NCERT and other useful books for UPSC here :


In UPSC, the syllabus for Psychology has been divided in two papers – Paper I deals with the theoretical and technical parts like research methods, learning, memory, perception etc, while Paper II deals with the applied part (as is the case in almost all the UPSC subjects) like therapeutic approaches, community psychology, application of Psychology to environment and related fields.

Ideally one should start preparing for Psychology Optional one year before the Prelims Exam. Start with Paper I and develop a strong foundation as it will be the base on which you will be writing answers for Paper II. Psychology is a very unique subject in that -understanding of psychological concepts can differ from person to person. So it becomes even more necessary to make your own notes. Making flow-charts, tables, research and example bank, working on psychology specific glossary would help great deal in making notes.

Experimental studies and researches are the backbone of the field of psychology. Therefore, your answers should also include the relevant experimental studies and researches. Including examples in your answers preferably real-life examples would enrich your answers as well.


Analysis of question papers is an essential part of your preparation as it gives you idea about trends and weightage of a particular topic . Here is the marks-based topic-wise question paper analysis of past ten years of question papers.

Psychology Paper I -

Psychology Paper II -


It is essential to develop subject specific technical language in psychology For example: cognition – it involves mental activities such as thinking, problems solving, decision making and creativity. Inculcating this in your answers will enrich your answers fetching you better marks.

In Paper II, there are topics like military psychology, environment psychology, gender psychology which deal with a lot of day-to-day examples. If you develop your own bank of examples from the newspapers and internet, you can enrich your answers and put more context to them. You can also create the same for relevant researches in psychology from the internet and other sources.

If you apply this strategy, Psychology Optional would not only fetch you great marks but also take you on an exciting life changing journey.

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