Strategy for Political Science – How to score 300+

Updated: May 11, 2021

“Democracy and Socialism are means to an end, not the end itself.” – Jawaharlal Nehru.

An aspirant who opts for Political Science studies such ideas, and is expected to ponder and analyse them. It is a subject that delves in ideas critical for functioning of modern civilisation as we know it. An interesting and challenging subject indeed! Political Science and International Relations [PSIR] remains one of the most popular optional subjects for UPSC aspirants.

Popularity of this subject can be attributed to several factors.

1. It encompasses about 40% of General Studies Paper 2 in Mains.

2. The preparation for Political Science and IR overlaps with that of the preliminary exam as well.

3. The contents of this syllabus provide a context to the current affairs and help in preparing well for the same.

4. Part 1 of the syllabus is static, which limits the syllabus to certain extent.

5. Knowledge of Governance and International Relations is an asset at the interview stage.

6. Availability of study resources.

7. A student from technical background can also choose this.

These advantages are coupled with challenges. However, addressing them will enrich your over all preparation. PSIR has a vast syllabus, but proper planning can help you cover it well. It is a competitive subject, which means that your answer needs to be different and better from other. It is a dynamic subject that requires a web-based thinking connecting the theory to the real world. You need to understand the nuances associated with each part in each paper and prepare for it accordingly.

Study Approach: PSIR is a combination of perspective based, and application-based topics. You need to develop an understanding of what each topic requires of you. Treat each section of both the papers separately.

1. Paper 1 Section A [ Political Theory and Indian Politics] – This part forms the static portion of the syllabus. It may appear straightforward and simple, but the questions associated with this can be rather complex. It deals with concepts and thinkers.

The best way to prepare for this part is to develop a ‘networking’ perspective. Begin with simple understanding of a concept, say justice, move on to linking it with thinkers and other related concepts – e.g link justice with liberty and democracy, while explaining emergence of these ideas, their evolution over time and how they are interdependent. Go a step further, and connect these concepts to occurrences in the real world; e.g you could study equality in the light of access to healthcare during the Covid -19 pandemic. You could tabulate thinkers by stating their prominent ideas, arguments, counter- arguments. Take this further by forming comparative charts.

2. Paper 1 Section B [Indian Government and Politics] – This section overlaps with GS Paper 2. However, your approach needs to be more detailed and specialised when answering questions for this section in optional. For example, when you study political parties, you need to be aware of their connection with casteism, communalism and regionalism. Add examples from recent events. When you write about federal structure of India, you should be able to differentiate between various models of practiced federalism in countries like Canada, the US and India.

As a student of PSIR you are expected to quote contemporary academicians like Atul Kohli, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Ramchandra Guha etc. Recommendations from reports like the ARC, Report on Statutory Bodies, Panchayati Raj Institutions etc will add value to your answers.

3. Paper 2 Section A [Comparative and International Politics] – A thorough understanding of this section can help you score well in this paper. Study each concept and the views of scholars associated with it. Then form a map of how these concepts have evolved over time and the context associated with them.

You should be able to associate the events with the motives of the actors. For example, the Doklam and Ladakh faceoff between India and China could be understood through Complex Interdependence Model driven by cooperation and conflict.

4. Paper 2 Section B [India and the World] – This is the most dynamic section. You need to compliment basic reading with articles from standard newspapers and magazines, along with videos from Rajya Sabha TV etc.

Make a list of international institutions with their basic information. Update it with news and debates associated with them. Focus on bilateral and multi-lateral relations of India. You need to analyze how India’s association with these multitude of organizations has evolved over time. Use concepts from section A to add value to your answers.

Booklist: Use limited resources and study them thoroughly. Your reading list must consist of NCERTs, standard reference books, and updated periodically with extra literature.

Books for Paper I

● An introduction to Political Theory- O.P. Gauba

● An introduction to Constitution- D.D. Basu

● Indian Polity – Laxmikanth

● A History of Political Thought: Plato to Marx – Mukherjee and Sushila Ramaswamy

● India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra

● Politics in India – Rajni Kothari

Books for Paper II

● Does the Elephant Dance? – David Malone

● India’s Foreign Policy – V.P. Dutt

● Challenge and Strategy: Rethinking India’s Foreign Policy- Rajiv Sikri

● Global politics- Andrew Heywood

Previous Year Question Paper Analysis - Here is the mark based topic wise previous year question paper analysis that will help you understand the trend regarding each topic

Paper 1 Part A

Paper 1 Part B

Paper II Part A

Paper II Part B

Answer Writing: You can usually classify questions in PSIR into two categories: 1) Concept-idea based questions, and 2) Current Affairs based questions. The answer will vary accordingly.

1. Concept/Idea based question – Following template may be followed for this type of question –

● The thinker and context or inspiration of the idea/concept

● Fundamental aspects of the idea (use flowchart/diagram)

● Arguments for and against the idea, cite scholars/thinkers correctly

● Compare and contrast if the question demands it (tabular form can be used)

● Relevance in present times with example

2. Current Affairs based - You may use the following framework for answer writing of this section -

● A general opening regarding the event, a quote if applicable and correctly remembered

● Core points related to the event

● Connection with concepts/ideas, quote thinkers correctly

● For and against argument

● Pragmatic, balanced solution as conclusive statement

A well-planned strategy can help you achieve maximum marks in PSIR. Study smartly, stay focused! All the best!