Geography Syllabus and Strategies for UPSC IAS Prelims Examination By Yuvraj IAS

Geography Syllabus and Strategies for UPSC IAS Prelims Examination By Yuvraj IAS

Geography as a subject plays a crucial role in all competitive examination. The nature of questions asked by UPSC on geography is both analytical and application. But once approached rightly one can easily answer the questions from geography part.


Geography is a vast subject which looks at the spatial connection between people, places, and the earth and it extensively covers all spheres and seeks to understand the world – its social and economic parameters- through an understanding of place and location.  Geography subject is a multi-disciplinary in nature as it echoes in physical and regional geography as well as overlaps with other topics like environment, economics, and also important in UPSC current affairs perspective. The nature of Geography questions asked by UPSC in the Civil Services Exam is both basic and application type.

Syllabus of Geography for UPSC prelims

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

Geography Syllabus is divided into two parts:

  • Indian Geography
  • World Geography

Before starting with the strategies to cover Geography syllabus for IAS Prelims Exam, let us have a look at the syllabus. With the previous years’ question pattern analysis it is observed that more weightage is given to Indian Geography in the prelims examination. Hence, it is advised to candidates to prioritize their targets but doesn’t mean one has to neglect World Geography.


I.  Indian Geography

The topics and subtopics in Indian Geography can be broadly classified as given below:

1. Basic idea about India

i.  Location, latitude, longitude, time zone,

ii.  Neighboring countries

iii. States and its position and the states on International boundaries

iv. Important straits


2. Physical features of India

i. The Himalayas

  • Geological Formation
  • Physiographic divisions
  • Climate, Vegetation, Soil and Biodiversity
  • Major passes
  • Significance
  • Recent issues

ii. The Great North Indian plains

  • Geological Formation
  • Physiographic divisions
  • Climate, Vegetation, Soil and Biodiversity
  • Significance

iii. Peninsular Plateau

  • Geological formation
  • Deccan plateau
  • Central highlands
  • Western and Eastern Ghats
  • Socio-econ

iv. Indian Desert

v. Coastal plains and Islands


3. River systems – Characteristics, comparison and significance

i.    Himalayan rivers

ii.   Peninsular rivers

iii.  River basins

iv.  Hydro-Power projects, Power plants and Major Dams

v.   Regional development and planning

vi. West flowing and east flowing rivers

vii. Interlinking of rivers


  1. Climate in India

i. Monsoon

Driving mechanism

Effects of La-Nino and El-Nino

Recent theories

ii. Season of India

iii. Cyclones


  1. Mineral and industries

i. Distribution of min

ii. Industrial policies

iii. Location and factors

iv. Issues and challenges of the industries

v. Industrial clutters


  1. Agriculture and Allied-characteristics and Problems

i. Land utilization

ii. Types of agriculture practices

iii. Soils and Crops

iv. Trends agriculture (Green revolution )

v. Irrigation

vi. Major irrigation projects

vii. Land reforms

viii. Government policies and schemes

ix. Animal husbandry (livestock resources)


  1. Natural vegetation and fauna- Characteristics, importance, comparison and significance

i. Classification of natural vegetation

ii. Rainfall distribution

iii. Wildlife sanctuaries

iv  National Forest Policy

v. Biosphere reserve

vi. National parks

vii. Environmental issues

viii. Red-listed species (in recent news)


  1. Economic infrastructure

i. Transportation,

Road(National Highways)- Rail- Air- Water(Major inland water ways) and its Significance

ii. Power and energy sector

iii. Sources of conventional and non-conventional energy

iv. Energy conservation and crisis

v. Recent developments


  1. Human Geography

i. All the attributes Population

ii. Recent census- 2011


Weightage of Geography Section in the UPSC Prelims Examination

If we analyse the UPSC Previous Years Question Papers, one can observe that about 15-20% of weightage is given to Geography which makes it an important factor in the UPSC Civil Service Exam. And, Geography section carries around 30-40 marks which will make the candidates to fetch these marks easily and to clear the prelims if they prepare well and in the right method.

Below given is an analysis of geography questions asked in 6 years of UPSC Civil Services Examination.

YearNumber of Geography Questions asked

One can also observe that some questions asked in the examination from the Environment section have direct correlation with the Indian and World Geography. Also, with the change in the exam pattern and scope, the geopolitics has gained more importance in UPSC Civil Services Examination.

With current affairs playing a major role in the IAS Exam, candidates should make sure that they read newspaper every day and are able to demonstrate appropriate facts with conceptual clarity by correlating with the Geography Syllabus. It is also recommended to candidates to give more importance to Indian Geography as it accounts for major part in the UPSC IAS Prelims Examination.

Here we have come up with some strategies on how to cover Geography syllabus for UPSC  Prelims Examination, which might be helpful to the aspirants in their preparation.


How to prepare for Indian Geography (Physical, Social & Economic)

While preparing for Physical Geography of India, aspirants should remember not to give more importance on facts and data. It is advised to candidates that before getting deep into the Physical Geography to have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of Physical Geography as this will make the remaining part of the study easy and also help the candidates to answer the questions on environmental issues related with conceptual clarity as well as to tackle economic perspective concepts and questions.

Here is a strategy on how to cover the Physical Geography considering various aspects and how each topic under this part can be interlinked. For e.g. consider a region

  • Begin with the characteristics of the region
  • The process behind their formation
  • Its mineral wealth
  • The climate of that region and why is the climate so in that region
  • Vegetation in that region and its direct/indirect relation to climate and human activities etc.


Similarly for the River Systems of India, focus should be on

  • Evolution of River System
  • Classification
  • Drainage Pattern (states through which the river flows through)
  • Characteristics of the river system
  • Difference between the two river systems and salient features of each river system
  • Ecological issues (anthropogenic, projects on dams, kennels etc.)

Candidates should always remember there are very interesting facts about River Systems in India

For e.g. Most of the rivers flow towards the east; some rivers flow westwards; east flowing rivers from delta; these information is available in NCERT Textbooks which aspirants can refer to understand and remember in detail. There are few direct questions asked in the civil services preliminary examination from these sections which are picked directly from the NCERT books.

Climatology is extremely important from UPSC exam point of view and no books other than NCERT explain Monsoons in India better. While studying for Climate in India, candidates should give importance to factors that determine the Climate of India; Indian Monsoon, Upper Air Circulation – Jet Streams & Westerlies, Cyclones – tropical and temperate, El-Nino, La-Nino.

For e.g. recently the Vardah Cyclone was in news, so taking this issue for the current affairs section how candidates can correlate it to the Geography syllabus and are the areas they should focus on.

  • Naming of the cyclones
  • Which country has named it?
  • Formation of cyclones
  • Cyclone prone areas in India and world

Below given is an example of question asked in previous year UPSC Prelims 2015

In the South Atlantic and South Eastern Pacific regions in tropical latitudes, cyclone does not originate. What is the reason?

(a) Sea Surface temperature are low

(b) Inter Tropical Convergence Zone seldom occurs
(c) Coriolis force is too weak

(d) Absence of land in those regions

Ans. (b)

To understand the Mineral Wealth of India one should give importance to the location, factors behind location of minerals, characteristics of minerals, their uses and threats.

Below given is a sample question asked in UPSC civil services prelims exam 2016.



Why the question came:

A central government order on 5 September, 2015, had asked the six states that share the Western Ghats to ban all ‘destructive’ activities. This was as suggestion of the Gadgil committee. Also, the report along with Rangarajan committee report gained much more importance due to the recent Kerala elections.

Right Sources and Books

Geography of India

  • NCERT XI Indian Physical Environment (New)
  • NCERT XII India-People and Economy (New)

Physical Geography

  • NCERT VIII Resource and Development (New)
  • NCERT XI Fundamentals of Physical Geography (New)

 World Geography

World Geography becomes an important sub section in the Geography syllabus of UPSC as almost around 5-6 questions are asked every year is asked in the civil service exam from world geography.

World Geography syllabus for UPSC with important topics:

  1. Universe

i.  Theories related to Solar System

ii. Theories related formation of universe

iii. Recent updates on the same

  1. Basic idea about Earth

i. Motion of the Earth – Rotation and Revolution

ii. Latitudes and Longitudes

ii. Inclination of the Earth’s Axis – it’s effect on seasons

iv. Solar Eclipse, Lunar Eclipse and Tides and their significance

  1. Geomorphology

i. Earth’s movement (exo-genetic and endo-genetic)

ii. Earthquakes, volcanic activity

iii. Basic idea about Continental Drift Theory, Plate Tectonics Theory, Sea Floor Spreading

iv. Interior of the earth

v. lithosphere

vi. Interaction of lithosphere with other spheres

vii. Mass Movements of landforms, erosion and deposits

viii. Basic information about geographical landforms and their significance

ix. Rock system and Classification of Rocks

  1. Climatology

i. Structure and composition of atmosphere

ii. Factors controlling temperature distribution

iii. Insolation and terrestrial radiation

iv. Heat budget

v. Global warming and ozone layer

vi. Humidity and condensation

vii. Clouds

Classification of clouds

viii. Precipitation

Precipitation mechanism

Different types and forms of precipitation

ix. Pressure belts

x. Atmospheric circulation


Planetary Winds

Seasonal and local Winds

Cyclones Tropical and Temperate cyclone

Formation of cyclone, characteristics and impact

Jet streams

Various atmospheric phenomenon

5. The hydrosphere

i. Bottom relief of ocean

ii. Salinity and temp variation

iii. Ocean currents

iv. Ocean deposit

v. Ocean resources

vi. Recent issues and development with ref to oceanography- Eg: UNCLOS

  1. Biosphere

i. Major Biomes

ii. Flora and fauna

iii. International organization for biodiversity

iv. Conservation of Biodiversity

v. Recent issues

  1. Economic geography
  2. Map work
    • Places in news


The questions in the UPSC prelims exam can be asked from and every sub-topic that falls under the World Geography. Hence, it is bit difficult to say which topics should be covered and which not, therefore keeping the limited time, here we narrow down the important areas that needs focus and from which questions are asked frequently in the civil services IAS prelims exam. With previous years UPSC question papers analysis, one can observe that the questions asked under this part are majorly analytical and application based.

Below given is a sample question asked in UPSC civil services prelims exam 2016.

What is the correct sequence of occurrence of the following cities in South-East Asia as one proceeds from south to north?  (2014)

  1. Bangkok
  2. Hanoi
  3. Jakarta
  4. Singapore

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

  1. 4-2-1-3
  2. 3-2-4-1
  3. 3-4-1-2
  4. 4-3-2-1

Solution (c)



Geography of the World

  • NCERT VI Land and People Part-I (Old)
  • NCERT VII Land and People Part-II (Old)
  • Certificate Physical and Human Geography – Goh Cheng Leong-Chapter 15-25

Detailed references

  • Geography of India – Majid Husain
  • A Comprehensive Geography Book  -Khullar
  • Spectrum

Other sources

  • The Hindu and Indian express
  • Yojana and Kurukshetra Magazines (with geography topics)
  • ‘India Yearbook’ published by the Publication Division
  • Down to earth Magazine
  • Recent reports published by various international organization


  • Orient Black Swan School Atlas
  • Oxford School Atlas

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