How to Plan for GS Geography?

Decoding the Syllabus

The exam notification says :

Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social and Economic Geography of India and the World.

Thus the syllabus has two components:

  1. World Geography – Physical, Social and Economic
  2. Indian Geography – Physical, Social and Economic

Your study schedule should ideally have the above divisions. This will allow you to create a checklist to go through so that you can set your targets accordingly.

Geography Prelims syllabus

Now, you must learn to sub-categorize the syllabus. A good way is to follow the table of contents given in the NCERTs. The World Geography syllabus is given below:

World Geography

Physical Geography
  1. Earth in the Solar system
  2. Latitude, Longitude and Time Zones
  3. Structure of the Interior of the Earth
  4. Continental Drift
  5. Plate Tectonics – Plates
  6. Pacific Rim of Fire
  7. Volcanic and Earthquake belts of the World
  8. Landforms – Mountains (Block and Fold)
  9. Landforms – Plateaus
  10. Landforms – Plains
  11. Major Drainage basins
  1. Features of ocean bottom reliefs
  2. Oceans, inland lakes and seas
  3. Temperature and salinity of water bodies
  4. Ocean currents of the Atlantic Ocean
  5. Ocean currents of the Pacific Ocean
  6. Ocean currents of the Indian Ocean (Winter and Summer)
  7. Ocean bottom resources – Polymetallic nodules, Ferromanganese crusts
  8. Tides and related affects
  9. Coral reefs
  10. Marine Pollution
  1. Structure of the atmosphere
  2. Heat budget
  3. Meridional circulation
  4. Planetary and Local winds
  5. Rainfall types
  6. Fronts and temperate cyclones
  7. Tropical cyclones
  8. El Nino, La Nina, Walker circulation, Southern oscillation
  9. Climatic regions of the world

Since Environment and biodiversity are separate topics in the syllabus parts of Environmental geography and Biogeography are best covered under those sub-headings. This will allow you to cover current affairs in detail as well.

Social geography

Under World geography, social geography is rarely covered. It is thus advised that you prepare current affairs related topics on:

  1. Demographic changes
  2. Population distribution and future trends
  3. Migration – voluntary and forced (including refugee issues)
  4. Annual publications of UN Population Fund
  5. Review of SDG progress


Economic Geography
  1. Food resource distribution (can be interlinked with climatic regions under Physical geography)
  2. Non-energy mineral resource distribution
  3. Energy resource distribution (coal, uranium, thorium, wind, solar, tidal and geothermal)
  4. Location of major ports, trading centres, financial centres and other places of economic significance in current affairs


This covers the syllabus sub-categorisation for world geography. Similarly a break up of the Indian geography syllabus can be done. A good way is to use the table of contents of the NCERTs which ideally divide the syllabus along logical lines. Here is how we divide the Indian geography syllabus:

  1. Physiographic divisions of India
  2. Drainage systems
  3. Climate of India (including climatic regions)
  4. Vegetation
  5. Soils
  6. Disasters and Geophysical phenomenon like Earthquakes and Tsunamis
  7. Population : distribution, demographics, major tribal groups (focus on current affairs)
  8. Agricultural resources – food crops, non food crops, cattle and other biological resources
  9. Mineral resources of India (with mapping)
  10. Energy resources of India (with maps)
  11. Major Industries and industrial regions
  12. Transport: Road, rail, air, water (major routes and projects)


How to approach the preparation after understanding the syllabus?

1. NCERT Reading

Start with the basic books i.e. NCERTs. It is advised that students begin with the Geography NCERTs to get a good grasp of the basic concepts. It is only when you have read these books can you move on to the more advanced standard books. After the NCERTs it is recommended that you move on to Certificate Physical and Human Geography by G.C. Leong for physical geography of the world. A complete book list is given at the end of the post. It is highly advised that you do not directly jump to advanced books, especially the ones that students of Geography optional use.

2. Decide how to prioritise your preparation

It is best advised that you prepare World geography before you target Indian geography. This will allow you to get a grasp on the essentials of geography before you target Indian geography. A good understanding of physical geography reduces time required to understand concepts under Indian geography. You will see topics like El Nino, tropical cyclones etc. recur in under India.

3. Make your own notes

There is no better way to succeed than to understand and reproduce what you have learned in your own words. Making your own notes also helps you filter out the excess material that is often included in books and may not be required for your preparation.

4. Practice enough mock papers

This is very crucial for geography. In recent years UPSC has thrown a mix of factual and conceptual based questions. There is no specific trend. The only way to stay in the running is to have done rigorous practice. So practice and learn from your mistakes. For daily practice you can follow the current affairs quiz.

5. Always have an atlas at hand while studying Geography

Geography is a map-based subject. To be able to understand it you must have a good knowledge of the map. In fact, in the 2017 civil services preliminary examination, there were several questions from maps, especially for India. Here is one of those questions:

If you travel by road from Kohima to Kottayam, what is the minimum number of States within India through which you can travel, including the origin and the destination?

(a) 6
(b) 7
(c) 8
(d) 9

To answer the above question, one must be very thorough with the political map of India. Firstly, one must know where Kohima and Kottayam are located. Secondly, one must be familiar with the boundaries of the states to be able to figure out the best route to satisfy the question. The answer to the above question is 7. These are the possible routes:

  • Nagaland (Kohima) – Assam – West Bengal – Odisha – Andhra Pradesh – Tamil Nadu – Kerala (Kottayam)
  • Nagaland (Kohima) – Assam – West Bengal – Odisha – Andhra Pradesh – Karnataka – Kerala (Kottayam)
  • Nagaland (Kohima) – Assam – West Bengal – Odisha – Telangana – Karnataka – Kerala (Kottayam)

2017 geography prelims question

Another question on maps from the 2017 paper is:

With reference to river Teesta, consider the following statements:

1. The source of river Teesta is the same as that of Brahmaputra but it flows through Sikkim.
2. River Rangeet originates in Sikkim and it is a tributary of river Teesta.
3. River Teesta flows into Bay of Bengal on the border of India and Bangladesh.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 and 3 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

To solve this question too, one must know the course of the Teesta. This river has been in news for river-water sharing dispute. The answer is B. Every year a question from the world map is also expected directly, like the one from 2017 paper:

Mediterranean Sea is at border of which of the following countries?

1. Jordan
2. Iraq
3. Lebanon
4. Syria

Select the correct answer using the code given below:
(a) 1, 2 and 3 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 3 and 4 only
(d) 1, 3 and 4 only

2017 geography prelims question

From the map the answer is clearly C. Thus, questions of several types require mapping knowledge. They may be on routes, borders and even pin-pointing locations or a mixture of all these. There were six map based questions (excluding environment and biodiversity) in the 2017 prelims paper.

When preparing notes, make a separate section for important locations that have been in the news (especially international). A lot of the map based questions are on current affairs (like the Teesta river and Mediterranean sea question) so it is essential that you keep a track of these.


We hope that the few questions above have given you a taste of one side of what can be expected from UPSC in the geography section of the prelims. Try and form your study schedules and targets keeping the vastness of geography in mind.

NCERT VI – X (For Basics of both Indian and World Geography)
NCERT XI – XII (For detailed preparation)
Certificate Physical and Human Geography by G.C. Leong
School Atlas – Either Orient Black Swan or Oxford.


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