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PSIR Optional: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

psir optional

About PSIR optional subject

There are two papers in PSIR optional. Further, each paper has two sections, thus making four sections in total. 

Paper 1
Section A: Political Theory
Section B: Indian Government and Politics

Paper 2
Section A: Comparative Politics and International Relations
Section B: India and the World

As names suggest, 1A is like an introduction to the whole subject. It talks about the theoretical part of Political Science and covers important theories, ideologies, terminology of the discipline and prominent thinkers.

1B is about Indian Politics, from a Political Science perspective. It is quite similar to GS2, but the depth over here is more than that in General studies. Since it talks about Indian politics, it does have current affairs orientation.

2A is again theoretical, similar to 1A. It talks about comparative politics, globalization, theories in international relations (IR), terminology of IR etc. It is highly interesting. 

2B is something that interests everyone. It talks about India’s relations with the rest of the world. The topics have been conveniently divided to discuss India’s relations with South Asia, Global South, Global powers, etc.

That’s it. You do these 4 sections & you’re done with PSIR optional. 

And one more thing, PSIR stands for Political Science and International Relations (just in case 🙂)

Start your PSIR journey today

Choosing PSIR as an optional subject

If you’re just in a dilemma, choose PSIR as an optional subject. There are plenty of reasons for that, & I would love to elaborate. 

  1. An interesting subject
  2. Limited syllabus
  3. Overlap with General Studies
  4. Availability of resources
  5. Proven track record

1. Interesting subject

As discussed above, there are 4 sections to PSIR optional. Each one is different but also connected with each other. The subject has a good mix of philosophy as well as objectivity. It deals with day-to-day happening at both local and global levels and the topics discussed are also very significant. 

Different students love different sections of these four, but I assure you that you’ll find your type (❤️‍). Just give it a chance.

2. Limited Syllabus

The syllabus for PSIR is actually very limited. For the first study, it may take around 4 months (4-5 hours/day) and then it will take 2-3 months for the second study onwards. 1A is a bit lengthy, but then, other parts are manageable.

3. Overlap with General Studies

A lot of GS2 has overlap with section 1B. You don’t have to do IR in GS-2 because you’re doing it in toto in section 2B. Further, PSIR helps in ethics as well since some topics like justice, ethics etc. get covered in 1A. And additionally, you sometimes also get a political topic in essay writing, and PSIR optional will help there too. 

To add to it, the knowledge of various international organizations, treaties etc., also helps in answering a 2-3 in prelims as well.

4. Availability of resources

Political Science is one of the oldest disciplines. There is a lot of content available, both by Indian and Western scholars. There are Indian institutions like ORF, and IDSA who’re actively involved in research work.

Even in UPSC preparation, you get easy access to notes, test series, mentorship, social media, peer group etc. since many students opt for PSIR optional (approx. 10% of total aspirants). 

5. Proven track record

Around 10% of the students in the final merit list are from PSIR optional. Even 2015 (Mrs Tina Dabi) & 2022 (Mrs Ishita Kishore) toppers are from PSIR. Students do get marks above 300 if they’ve studied thoroughly. And this is sufficient to get a single-digit rank.

Political Science as an optional is not too technical or complex (though it has a lot of depth to it). Hence even a student without a background in the subject can pick it up very soon. There are many examples of students from technical backgrounds choosing PSIR optional and then passing the exam with a good score.

Syllabus for PSIR optional

As discussed before, PSIR has 4 sections. The detailed syllabus for PSIR optional is published by UPSC every year but hasn’t changed. 

Our separate post about PSIR optional syllabus (to be published soon) discusses the matter in detail. However, we recommend that you download the PDF file for PSIR optional syllabus for your future reference. 

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Strategy for PSIR optional

A great man once said that success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. So, it is not wise to begin without a strategy. We recommend a strategy for PSIR optional, please start with it, and as you mature in Political Science, feel free to modify it. 

1. Stage I: Getting acquainted with PSIR

If you’re just starting with PSIR as a subject (you’re from a technical background), the biggest problem for you while starting the subject will be terminology. Please read NCERT Class XI book on Political Theory as a first book. You can find the pdf here. You should finish the book within 4-5 days. It will give you a first-hand idea about section 1A (political theory).

Similarly, read Indian Constitution at Work (NCERT Class XI) book to get an idea about Section 1B and Contemporary World Politics (NCERT Class XII) to get an idea about Paper 2.

This stage should not take more than 15-20 days.

2. Stage II: Studying PSIR thoroughly

Now is the time to start with your studies. You need three important resources to start with your studies. 

  1. 1st is a syllabus copy 
  2. 2nd is a good PYQ book
  3. PSIR Notes/ Books

We do recommend our notes, but if you have some other, that’s also fine. Let’s get started. 

Read complete notes topic by topic. Initially, you’ll not understand a lot of things, but that’s part of the process, nothing strange, just stick to it. We recommend a specific SOP while doing each topic of PSIR. 

1st read the PYQs on the topic from the PYQ book. Just try to understand the meaning of the questions, nothing else. You’ll not be able to answer them at this stage. 

Then read the topic at hand. At first, you’ll have to use the dictionary to get to know the meaning of difficult words, but it will go away eventually. 

Following this read PYQs again. This time, try to answer them mentally. Just to see that you’ve read properly. At this stage don’t worry about answer writing. It’s yet to come. 

The recommended order of PSIR notes reading is as Section 1A -> 2A -> 2B -> 1B. You can switch the last two, but 1A & 2A must be done first. 

In 1A, start with topic 10, followed by 2&8, then 1,3,4,5,6,7 and then topic 9.  For other sections, just go sequentially. It doesn’t make much difference. 

This second phase should occupy around four months of time, assuming you’re studying 4-5 hours every day. 

3. Stage III: Knowledge Consolidation & Answer Writing

This is a stage where you consolidate your knowledge of PSIR. You have read it once, and you have understood around 60-70% of it. Now is the time to consolidate your understanding and practice answer writing. 

For every topic, re-read it, the way we discussed it before. PYQs, topic reading followed by PYQs and mentally answering them. However, now you should also prepare a separate schedule for answer writing. 

Your answer writing should follow your revisions. For every topic you have revised, try to write answers for at least the last 5-year questions. For evaluation, you can either join some test series, make a peer group, or do self-evaluation. 

We’ll be publishing a separate article on self-evaluation, but for now, just keep in mind three criteria for it. 

  1. Am I writing what is asked?
  2. Am I writing anything unnecessary?
  3. Is my argument strong enough? 

These three criteria will go a long way in your self-evaluation and will remain relevant till the last stages of your answer writing. Use it extensively.

The entire stage III should not take more than 3 months.

4. Stage IV: Making Micro Notes & Perfecting Answer Writing

We strongly recommend completing stages I, II & III well before the Prelims exam (by December). If you’re lucky, you’ll be executing stage IV before prelims (Nov-Dec), or maybe after clearing the Pre exam. 

In any case, at this stage, we need to prepare micro notes and perfect our answer writing. The micro notes should help you revise the entire PSIR optional subject within a short time. This way, you’ll be able to recall everything you’ve studied so far. 

Further, in answer writing, you can join some test series to get external feedback on your answers. Remove the last pieces of mistakes that are still present in your writing, and ensure that you embibe the language of PSIR optional in your writing, which will fetch you good marks. 

This is enough. You can score 300+ with this strategy. 

And please remember, without a strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless (Morris Chang)

Booklist for PSIR optional

You’ll need PYQ books as well as notes/syllabus books for PSIR. 

For both cases, we do recommend our books, available here. However, we have also published a separate booklist for PSIR optional, which you can refer here.

Current Affairs in PSIR optional

For 1A and most parts of 2A, you don’t need much knowledge of current affairs. For the other two sections, you need to stay updated. 

Further, if you observe the previous year questions in PSIR, you can realise that very few are based on recent happenings. Studying current affairs in PSIR optional is more like studying recent history, than knowing day-to-day happenings.

Thus, without having a basic knowledge of PSIR (completing stage II mentioned above), you’ll not be able to get much understanding of current affairs (from an exam perspective). 

For current affairs, follow newspaper articles (The Hindu or The Indian Express), and two more sources i.e. ORF (for India-centric current affairs) & Project Syndicate (for global happenings). Every topic you read should be relevant to the exam i.e. you should be able to relate it with some of the topics mentioned in the index. You can make notes about current affairs (quotes by scholars & the basic facts of what has happened). This is more than sufficient. Just improvise as you go along. Also, do not forget PYQs in the entire process to understand the relative importance of topics and the kind of questions UPSC asks about current affairs.

If you have any other questions about PSIR optional, please feel free to ask. We would love to answer them.

Start your PSIR journey today

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