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How To Prepare Political Science & International Relations For UPSC

  • Categories
    Optional Subjects
  • Published
    16th Jun, 2021

Political Science and International relations (PSIR) Optional is an optional having high potential for securing more marks. Apart from this the UPSC syllabus also overlaps with General Studies paper to a maximum extent. This subject can be helpful both in UPSC Prelims and Mains exam. It is expected from a bureaucrat that he should possess a basic of political science besides having an acquaintance with politics happening around him both on local and global level. Approximately 65% of the whole UPSC syllabus either directly or indirectly overlaps with that of this optional. Most concepts in PSIR are interrelated and can be understood easily. This optional has worked for many and has helped them secure top ranks.

As per the data given by the UPSC annual reports, 1246 candidates had opted for political science as their optional in the 2017 civil services mains exam. Out of this number, 117 candidates were recommended revealing a success rate of 9.4% for that year. In the 2016 mains, a total of 1320 candidates had selected political science, out of which 85 were selected, which gives a success rate of 6.4%. In fact, the average number of candidates who take up this optional hovers around the 1000 mark. And, the success rate is a decent 6-7%.


Let us take a look at the UPSC syllabus for political science and international relations for the UPSC mains exam.

There are two optional papers in the UPSC scheme of things. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

The Click Here to download UPSC syllabus

Books and Resources

Books for Paper I

  • An introduction to Political Theory-  O.P. Gauba
  • An introduction to Constitution- D.D. Basu
  • Indian Polity –  M 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

NCERT Books for Polity (can be read to build a foundation in the subject)

  • Polity: NCERT Class IX – Political Science: Democratic Politics Part – I
  • Polity: NCERT Class X – Political Science: Democratic Politics Part – II
  • Polity: NCERT Class XI – Political Science: Indian Constitution at Work
  • Polity: NCERT Class XI – Political Science: Political Theory
  • Polity: NCERT Class XII – Political Science I: Contemporary World Politics
  • Polity: NCERT Class XII – Political Science II: Politics in India since Independence

Advantages of PSIR optional

PSIR Optional is an optional that has plenty of benefits associated. This optional has following advantages:

Overlapping with General Studies (GS)

Overlapping with the general studies papers, especially GS Paper II is one of the important feature of PSIR that makes it more popular among civil services aspirant. This overlap is visible in both UPSC prelims and the mains exams. For the prelims Indian Polity is an important pillar that is significantly covered by PSIR optional.

While PSIR optional syllabus has a major overlap in the GS mains Paper-II. GS paper II mentions Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice & International Relations in its syllabus. Also, a portion of GS Paper III such as security and even environment are covered under this subject. In GS Paper IV, ‘ethical thinkers’ is a topic that is covered if you take up this optional. Paper I of this optional has a topic ‘Political strategies of India’s freedom struggle’. This will also give you a bit of an overlap with history in GS I. Even topics like modern India and World History (post-1900) can be covered better through this optional.

Moreover, even in the essay paper, a topic on politics or related issues is asked. So, a candidate who studies this optional will get enough fodder to write about in related topics in the essay paper.

So there is considerable overlap of subject material if you take the political science and international relations optional. You can successfully integrate your UPSC prelims and mains preparation and also save a lot of time during the preparation process.

Current affairs coverage

Various topics in Political Science optional are related to current affairs, especially in Paper II of this optional subject. As such, this will definitely help in your current affairs preparation. Due to the dynamic nature of this optional daily newspaper reading also help in answer writing.

No Prior Knowledge needed

Political science is not a very technical subject. Hence any prior knowledge or experience in this subject is not needed. Through the access of right books and resources preparation can be made feasible.

Help in the UPSC interview

There are a lot of questions arise in UPSC personality test so PSIR optional could be helpful during interview preparation. A linkage with polity and IR with current affairs offers a considerable help in this regard. A thorough understanding of political theories also help in formation of a better viewpoint during interview.

Strategy For PSIR Preparation

A concrete strategy is needed to score good marks in this paper. There are two papers in PSIR optional. It will be highly meaningful if the strategy formation is done considering different papers. Here we will discuss the strategy for both optional papers.

Strategy For PSIR Paper 1

PSIR paper 1 can be split into two sections section A and Section B. Section A comprise of Political Theory and Indian Politics that is considered as the most static part of the IAS syllabus thus it is quite straight forward in nature. Besides this it is also adds complexity in the syllabus for the aspirants who have different background. This portion requires a good understanding of the theories for writing a good answer. This section comprises Marx, Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Gramsci, Aurobindo like thinkers and hence one should have a comprehensive approach to thought process of thinkers to assimilate their theories.

Concepts like equality, justice, affirmative action, etc may appear easier in the first glance but an in-depth study is required to produce a good and structured answer. Only a good analytical ability and conceptual clarity can help you to fetch good marks in exam. Interlinking of the different ideas is also necessary to draft a balanced answer connecting all possible dots.

Section B is about the Indian Government and Politics and it has the most overlapping with the General Studies paper II. Standard books like M Laxmikanth and also other useful websites of various constitutional bodies can be a good source for this section. However this section requires a refined and advance level knowledge of the concepts than GS II. For instance, for questions on the evolution of the political party system in India, you need to understand the relationship between casteism and communalism in India. You need to understand how land reforms in India are related to state reorganization, etc. Studying this with an interlinking with the contemporary events will suffice to excel in this section.

Important court cases and 2nd ARC Recommendations have to be studied for this section. However only 4–5 recommendations from each report will be sufficient. For instance, the 6th Report for Grassroots Democracy, the 9th Report for Pressure Groups and NGOs, the 7th Report for Communalism, and the 12th Report for Statutory Bodies.

Strategy For PSIR Paper 2

Similar to paper 1 this paper too can be put under two sections. The second paper mostly deals with International Politics.

Section A is about Comparative and International Politics. A few online sources need to be referred to fetch good marks in this section. The second paper is mostly deals with the International politics so you need to keep yourself updated with ongoing events and diplomacy of the world. Also a good degree of interlinking with static and dynamic events will also help you to do good in this section. A good way to understand international politics is to know what guides the actions of the actors. For example, the resolution of the Doklam crisis by India and China could be attributed to the Complex Interdependence model (which is the existence of conflict and cooperation at the same time).

Section B of the paper-II is about India’s relations with outer world. This is the most dynamic of all the sections in this optional. This will require you to have a basic reading along with newspapers and online sources at the same time. For this section, RSTV discussions such as Big Picture and India’s World could be referred that will provide valuable insight into topics relevant for this paper. This section is largely based on current affairs. You must be thorough with India’s relationship with other countries like China, USA, and of course, the neighbours. You must also read about the relationships between major countries of the world like USA – China, USA – North Korea, Arab countries – Israel, etc. Various regional groupings like BRICS, NATO, SAARC, SCO etc. should be covered thoroughly. The answers could be value added by augmenting them with concepts from Section A like Balance of Power, Deterrence, Security Dilemma, etc.


PSIR as an optional that have potential to sail you through civil services exam if tackled with proper strategy and focused approach. To make your answers more impactful and live keep in mind the Four Cs – Compare, Criticise, Contemporary, Conclude. Apart from this regular answer writing practice and interlinking, the dots can be more fruitful for this optional. The Test series for Political Science and class notes of Political science should be selected with proper care as they can lead you to astray and consume your precious time.

GS Score PSIR Test series and class notes can actually become game-changer in this regard.


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