Geography in a Nutshell for UPSC Exam

“The study of geography is about more than just memorizing places on a map. It’s about understanding the complexity of our world, appreciating the diversity of cultures that exists across continents.” – Barack Obama

Geography is an integral part of the UPSC civil services syllabus both for the prelims and the mains exam. Knowledge of Geography is also important for acing the interview round of the UPSC exam. This article talks about Geography in a nutshell for the UPSC exam.

Physical Geography – includes climatology, oceanography, geomorphology, environmental geography, etc.

World Geography – includes economic geography (industries and resources), settlement geography (types and pattern of human settlement), and human geography (population studies, census, etc.)

Indian Geography – physical features of the country, agriculture, transport, resources and industry, and contemporary issues including environment and climate.

UPSC 2021

Nature of questions asked in Geography (prelims and mains):

Conceptual questions

These can be answered based on an understanding of concepts. An example question is given from GS paper I 2016 mains.

Q) Discuss the concept of air mass and explain its role in macro-climatic changes.

Factual questions

Here, pure facts are needed to answer the questions. For example, you may be asked the names and states of various national parks, or you may be asked the countries surrounding certain seas or lakes, etc. Example question from 2012 UPSC prelims.

Q) Which one of the following is the characteristic climate of the Tropical Savannah Region?

  1. Rainfall throughout the year
  2. Rainfall in winter only
  3. An extremely short dry season
  4. A definite dry and wet season

Answer: d

Another example is taken from 2013 IAS Prelims.

Q) “Climate is extreme, rainfall is scanty and the people used to be nomadic herders.”
The above statement best describes which of the following regions?

  1. African Savannah
  2. Central Asian Steppe
  3. North American Prairie
  4. Siberian Tundra

Answer: b

Current Affairs based questions

These types of questions can be answered if you are up-to-date on current affairs and have related it to the syllabus during your UPSC preparation. An example is taken from the 2016 GS paper III. (GS Paper III also has some elements of Geography which we will see later)

Q) The frequency of urban floods due to high intensity rainfall is increasing over the years. Discussing the reasons for urban floods, highlight the mechanisms for preparedness to reduce the risk during such events.

This question was asked in the light of floods in south India during December 2015.

Map-based questions

A few questions asked can be easily answered if you read geography through maps. This is essential for this subject and helps you answer many questions especially asked in USPC prelims paper. Take a look at the following question which was asked in USPC prelims 2014.

Q) Turkey is located between

  1. Black Sea and Caspian Sea
  2. Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea
  3. Gulf of Suez and Mediterranean Sea
  4. Gulf of Aqaba and Dead Sea

Answer: b

Importance of Geography for USPC exam

  • It has significant weightage in both IAS prelims as well as the mains. In the mains exam, about 50% of the questions in GS paper I are from Geography. Also, in GS paper III, there are some portions which coincide with topics in geography like agriculture, animal rearing, etc.
  • A good knowledge of Geography also helps in the interview round/UPSC personality test. Questions may be asked on agriculture, natural disasters, hunger, drought, urban settlement, agriculture policy, etc. You may also be asked on your native region, like vegetation, soil, etc.
  • Geography is deeply connected with current affairs. Topics like monsoons, ocean currents, El nino, etc. are asked regularly because these topics are in the news regularly.
  • Studying this subject with effort and focus is essential because generally, the questions asked from Geography are all not easy, most of them being medium to tough level.
  • A bit of cramming is necessary in this subject.
  • You need clarity of concepts to understand this subject.

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