Strategy for Geology Optional for UPSC

Geology is one of the optional subjects offered by the UPSC in the IAS mains exam. Though not a popular subject, it is considered a highly scoring one. Geology is especially beneficial for candidates taking both the civil services and the forest services (IFS) examinations. In this article, you can read all about the geology optional for UPSC IAS exam – how to prepare, answer writing in geology, strategy and tips to score high marks, booklist to follow and more.

How many take Geology optional?

Less than 50 candidates take up the Geology optional for the UPSC mains exam every year. Despite having a low number of candidates, Geology does feature in the list of successful candidates’ optional subjects most of the time. The following table gives you the number of candidates who appeared and cleared the IAS exam with geology as their optional subject.

Geology optional Success Rate

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates cleared Success Rate (%)
2015 27 0 0
2014 28 1 3.6
2013 15 1 6.7
2012 28 4 14.3
2011 40 4 10
2010 24 2 8.3

Pros and cons of Geology optional

Pros of Geology optional

  1. Geology is considered a scoring subject because of its scientific nature. The subject is a part of earth sciences. Nothing is left to the interpretation of the examiner and the content material is mostly facts. So, if you have written the correct answer, you should get reasonable marks. You can also increase your marks with diagrams and make the presentation better.
  2. Geology basically deals with things that happened millions of years ago. So, this subject doesn’t need regular updation like some of the humanities subjects. There is very little current affairs linkage in this subject. So, it is majorly static making it predictable to a large extent.
  3. Most of the questions asked are repeated. So, practicing previous year UPSC question papers diligently will reap benefits.
  4. This is a very good optional for candidates who are taking both the civil services as well as the Indian Forest Services Exam as geology is one of the optional subjects on offer for the forest services exam also.
  5. Many topics in geology are linked with physical geography which features in the General Studies paper I.
  6. Anyone who has studied the basics of science till class X will find geology easy to grasp. It is not as difficult as some other science subjects like physics and chemistry. There is some basic chemistry involved in this subject.
  7. You will encounter very little competition in this paper. So, with a proper preparation and writing practice, you should be able to score decent marks.
  8. A lot of material is available online for this subject, especially lectures of foreign university professors.

Cons of Geology optional

  1. There is very little coaching available for this subject. You will mostly have to rely on self-studies.
  2. Guidance can also be hard to come by, unlike some of the other more popular subjects.

Geology optional UPSC syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for Geology for the UPSC mains exam.

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

UPSC Geology Syllabus PDF:-Download Syllabus PDF

Geology optional strategy

Paper I strategy

General Geology – It deals with very basic concepts like the formation of the universe, the age of the earth, the structure of the earth, etc. It also talks about volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics and the like. All this is covered in Paper I of GS Mains and partly, in the prelims exam as well. Refer to Engineering And General Geology by Parbin Singh or Principles Of Engineering Geology by KM Bangar for this section.

Geomorphology & Remote Sensing – Geomorphology is basically a topic which explains how the various features that are seen on the earth were formed (rivers, mountains, soil formation, oceans, etc.) Geomorphology of India is also covered here. In remote sensing section, Indian satellites and other related technological topics are covered. If we talk about recent issues, drones are being developed now. You should focus on how remote sensing helps in improving life, or example, its use in controlling and preventing disasters, controlling pollution and so on. This topic has a linkage to current affairs and recent developments in this field should be focussed on. Refer to Engineering And General Geology by Parbin Singh or Principles Of Engineering Geology by KM Bangar for this section. For remote sensing topics, you can also refer to the official website of the National Remote Sensing Authority.
Example questions:

  1. Discuss the advantages and limitations of remote sensing studies with respect to conventional geological field work. (15 marks, 2017)
  2. Geomorphology is intimately related to tectonics. (10 marks, 2018)

Structural Geology – This covers the fundamentals of mapping, and other concepts like folds, joints, etc. For this section, refer to Structural Geology by Marland P. Billings, which contains all the material required.

Paleontology – This covers ancient life forms and fossils. This is a very factual part of the syllabus. Focus on the evolution of humans, horses and elephants. For this section, you can read The Elements of Palaeontology by Rhona M. Black. Alternatively, you can refer to Palaeontology by Jain and Anantharaman. In this section, you can score marks with diagrams. Evolutionary trends is an important topic here.

Example questions:

  1. How would you differentiate between in-situ and derived fossils? (15 marks, 2017)
  2. Discuss the modes of fossilization of hard part of an organism. (10 marks, 2018)

Indian Stratigraphy – This is also a factual section of the syllabus. This includes types of rocks in geological time scales, and where they are found. This can be studied in the form of set tables which are available and can be easily remembered. Refer to Engineering And General Geology by Parbin Singh or Principles Of Engineering Geology by KM Bangar for this section.

Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology – Hydrogeology is about groundwater and engineering geology is about how developmental projects like dams, roads, etc. affect the geology of the area, what are the hindrances in the geology of an area for dam projects, etc. It also talks about the kind of construction materials that can be used in an area. Refer to Groundwater Hydrology by David Todd for this section. This book covers the topic extensively.

Paper II Strategy

Paper II involves some basic concepts of chemistry.

Mineralogy – This talks about the minerals found in rocks and its details, particularly chemical bonds, etc. Here, optical properties are an important subsection. Off late, applied questions are being asked as well. You can refer to Rutley’s Elements of Mineralogy for this section.

Example questions:

  1. Differentiate between normal and reverse zoning in minerals with neat sketches. (10 marks, 2017)
  2. Five-fold rotational symmetry is not possible in minerals. Justify the statement. (10 marks, 2018)

Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology – Petrology is the branch of science concerned with the origin, structure, and composition of rocks. This section deals with the igneous and metamorphic rocks. You can read Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology by JD Winter for this section.

Sedimentary Petrology – Here, sedimentary rocks and its examples and details are studied. For this section, you can use the book by Bangar. Not all the subtopics are covered in this book, for which you will have to use online sources.

Economic Geology – This talks about the mineral deposits India has. The syllabus contains a list of minerals and you have to study all of them. Distribution of coal and petroleum is also important. Here, questions are mostly about industries and the kinds of minerals they use. For instance, the UPSC doesn’t ask directly about iron or zinc ores, but about glass industry, cement, industry, etc. and the kind of minerals which are required by them. Topics like National Mineral Policy, marine mineral resources and Law of Sea are important even for GS paper III. For this section, you can read Economic Geology: Economic Mineral Deposits by U Prasad.

Example questions:

  1. Describe the geological characteristics of any three important types of uranium deposits in India. Draw neat sketches illustrating the geological setting of these deposits. (20 marks, 2017)
  2. Describe the geological characteristics of well-known copper deposits from different cratons of the Indian shield. (20 marks, 2018)

Mining Geology – This section is about mining, kinds of mining, where to mine, etc. This is a scoring area, so do not leave this part.

Geochemistry and Environmental Geology – This talks about elements (like in chemistry) and why certain elements are found more, and why are rare, etc. Environmental geology deals with natural hazards, environmental impacts of urbanisation, pollution, fertilisers, etc. It also talks about environmental protection laws in India. You can refer to online sources for this part.

Geology optional books

  • Engineering And General Geology by Parbin Singh
  • Principles Of Engineering Geology by KM Bangar
  • Structural Geology by Marland P. Billings
  • The Elements of Palaeontology by Rhona M. Black
  • Palaeontology by Jain and Anantharaman
  • Groundwater Hydrology by David Todd
  • Rutley’s Elements of Mineralogy
  • Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology by JD Winter
  • Economic Geology: Economic Mineral Deposits by U Prasad
  • Geology and Evolution of the Indian Plate by SM Naqvi

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