A COMPLETE STRATEGY FOR “Political Science and International Relations” OPTIONAL

Political Science and International Relations: The Optional subject in UPSC constitutes 500 Marks and hence becomes very crucial to get your way to the merit list. Compared to the GS papers, optional subjects are also scoring and hence choosing a good optional becomes one of the most important stage for the aspirant in UPSC preparation.

What is Political Science and International Relations?

  • Political Science and International Relations is one of the most famous and commonly preferred subject in UPSC Mains.
  • It consists of two papers of 250 Marks each. Each paper have 2 sections.
    Paper 1 is mostly static especially part A which comprises of thinkers, ideologies, Political thought and theory. Paper 2 is more dynamic than static and Part B of paper 2 is based on current affairs in international relations.

Political Science Optional Pros and Cons


1. Significant overlap between PSIR and GS :
Paper 1- Post-independence India, Cold war phase of world history and beyond;
Paper 2 – polity and IR;
Paper 3- political economy, planning and eco dev, land reforms etc and;
Paper 4- thinkers, ideas of justice and equality;

2. Availability of reading material and notes
3. Subject had helped many people secure top 100 ranks in recent years.


1. Those who do not prefer theory and philosophy may find it difficult.
2. Dynamic study and current affairs will have to emphasized so NO MUGGING UP CAN SUFFICE
3. The success rate in Mains is still limited.

Who can take  Political Science and International Relations

  • Please select Political Science and International Relations only if your own personal interest beckons you to do so and not just because someone is telling you that a particular subject is high scoring.
  • Those who finds interests in the subject matters, topics in the syllabus and those who can make a fine balance between the static and the dynamic portion of the Syllabus should choose it.
    There are thinkers, theory and philosophy in the subject matter which aspirants should be comfortable with.
  • Those who are good at writing current affairs in international relations or takes interests in reading editorials of IR.

BASIC SOURCE: Subhra Ranjan Notes and Diademy.com’s Mains Booster short Notes and Exam time synopsis for quick revision.

Paper 1, Section A:

Divide the syllabus of this part in four sub parts:
1. Political Theories,
2. Western Political Thought,
3. Indian Political Thought
4. Political Ideologies

  • Books for these topics- O.P. Gauba is the standard source that you can refer after reading Shubra Ranjan’s notes. These are sufficient sources and you don’t have to go beyond these.
  • Practice of Previous years Questions will help you a lot here as it provides a glimpse of how questions have been asked, and sometimes questions get repeated here, in a different way though.
    In the introduction part in this section emphasize on giving a background of the topic.
    For example in the question to comment on “Neo-Liberal Perspective of state”start with what is Neo liberalism and why it came into being. In the body part write about the important dimensions of Neo liberalism and the names of their proponents/Thinkers along with and also focus on its drawbacks in a brief manner. Always provide examples to support whatever points you make in the Body. In the conclusion remain positive, a little critical, futuristic and pragmatic view is a must
  • Paper 1, Section B
    • This section contained topics from Indian Government and Politics. This part is more connected with the GS paper 2. Prepare current affairs part for this paper (For questions like ‘Judiciary has acquired the role of both, a legislature and an executive in recent years. Explain with suitable examples.’ Here you must be aware of the current examples to write a good answer along with the class notes.
    •  Sources for this section: Read Shubhra’s notes along with Laxmikanth. Shubhra Ranjan’s Notes proves names of scholars in her notes which can be used in answers in this part, one thing must be taken care of here, whatever scholar you quote, it should be factually correct and proper explanation must be provided along with otherwise just a quote would solve no purpose.
    • Read thinkers like Atul Kohli, Rudolph and Rudolph, M.N. Srinivasan, Rajeev Bhargava, Dipankar Gupta, etc. On topics like Caste, religion, region, etc.
    • Paper 2, Section A
      • In this part of the syllabus you need to focus on Shubhra Ranjan’s Notes and Selective reading of Global Politics by Andrew Heywood. Here, Comparative politics can be done from Ranjan’s notes, that will do it.
      • Answers in this part should have a blend of current examples and historical background.
      • For example, in the question ‘Do you agree with the view that despite the limitations in the functioning of the UN, it has distinguished and unique achievements to its credit’ ?. It becomes important to write about UN’s History and its achievements through current examples. Also International experts can be quoted where ever it seems logical and appropriate, On U.N., views of Shashi Tharoor and Kishore Manu Bhai are important.
      • On Question of Brexit, C.Raja Mohan can be quoted in “what india must do” in case of Brexit with proper explanation of whatever he said.
      • These IR experts can be found in the notes on current Issues released by Subhra Ranjan’s in last days before mains. Pragmatic, logical and Futuristic answers are appreciated in this part.

Paper 2, Section B:

  • In this part background knowledge of International relations between India and different countries and also evolution of India’s Foreign Policy is essential.
  • One can do these from Shubhra Ranjan’s notes and standard books like Shashi Tharoor’s Pax Indica, Rajiv Saikri and David Melon’s Can Elephant Dance? Can be read if you have time. Very short synopsis of some important chapters and bullet points can be noted down to be used in your answers from these books. Reading only will not serve the purpose.

Apart from this, one can follow online sources like :

https://chellaney.net/ ,
https://www.project-syndicate.org/ ,
http://indianexpress.com/profile/columnist/c-raja-mohan/ ,
https://thediplomat.com/tag/indian-foreign-policy/ ,
https://idsa.in/ ,

  • This will include India’s foreign relations with other countries so you need to be aware about the dynamics in IR in general. Reading editorials and including important points in your notes will help. Interlinking points, countries and their relations with current affairs will the key to score high in this section.


As you may be well aware about pattern and timeline of the whole exam schedule, your strategy and time management should be prepared according tot the time gap you have for Prelims and Mains Exam. Considering that you have one year to prepare for the exam, the following Q&A may be followed:

1. Is coaching important for PSIR Optional?
Ans. No. If you have time, coaching can help your understanding of topics. If you do not have time and resources, it can be very well covered by buying Subha Ranjan’s notes and looking through all the mentioned sources. Dedicated and self-designed schedule will do great.

2. How many hours should be dedicated for PSIR?
Ans. Ideally 2.5-3 hours daily along with your GS subjects. Selected slots should be reserved for revision. As per own suitability, revision can arranged, weekly, or after completing every topic or subject. For example, If you take 8 days to complete political ideologies, and give next 2 days to revise followed by answer writing for that topic. Timely revision is important as you know that your mind will forget the details of the topics after 15 days.

3. What is the Ideal time and way to practice answer writing?
Ans. Answer writing should be the core practice that you should adopt not only after being prepared or before Mains or after completing the whole syllabus but it should begin whenever you finish your topic. Ideal way is to start with previous year questions as they give you a good idea of the pattern of the paper and keeps you closer with the mind of the examiner or paper setter. So, keep a previous year paper question bank of PSIR handy and read and write questions from each topic either while you are reading this topic or after finishing it. This will enrich your understanding of exam as well as you’ll gain answer writing skills from the beginning.

How to Boost your Score in Political Science and International Relations

  •  REPEATED REVISION: This is the most important thing in optional subject. Give as many readings to your notes as much as you can depending upon the time you have.
  • MAKE BULLET POINTS FROM EACH TOPIC: Your synopsis from each topic will be the your answer on ‘THE DAY’ so choose it wisely. Write selected lines for introduction and conclusion if same is expected in most of the questions. Keep thinkers and their statements handy and revise them again and again.Select at least 2 thinkers for every topic and write their famous quotes. This is your exam synopsis.
  • For Paper II Part B thinkers and scholars, you can refer to the reviews of famous books mentioned in the sources and include them in your notes and synopsis. You ca quote quote Harsh V Pant and Manoj Joshi liberally on any India specific current affairs question.
  • For example:
    • 1. Avinash Paliwal’s My Enemy’s Enemy and Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country can back your arguments in questions about India-Afghanistan-Pakistan.
    • 2. Schaffer and Schaffer’s India at the Global High Table on a question about India’s foreign policy.
    • 3. Milan Vaishnav’s and its arguments can be used in answers on political personalities.
    • 4. If you do not remember any specific thinker on India’s foreign relations, you should read and quote C. RajaMohan (Raja Mandala) and his views on almost all countries and regions and especially geopolitics.
  • WRITE!WRITE!WRITE!: The more you practice, the better. Just reading won’t cut much ice. So, write as many test papers as you can. Get it checked from your teacher or get it peer-reviewed.
  • Do not leave anything in syllabus thinking that we will have choice and we will skip this particular topic, but there are always chances that the topic you left out comes in compulsory part of questions, or either clubbed with 2 other question which were on topics you prepared really well. So our advice to you is to complete whole syllabus at least 3-4 times with minimum sources and maximum possible practice of answer writing


For concept/idea based questions:
1. Who theorized it and inspirations behind it if any
2. Core points explaining the idea, include diagram/flowchart (rare, only if it helps)
3. Arguments for and against the idea, citing scholars
4. Relevance in present times / critical analysis (Especially in Conclusion)

For current affairs based questions:
1. A generic opening surrounding the event/news, a quote if you could remember one
2. Core points explaining the situation
3. Explain for and against arguments, citing scholars
4. Critical analysis / pragmatic opinion or solution, citing scholars if needed


1. Writing 3 average answers is better than writing one Extraordinary answer. So maintain a uniform quality of answers throughout the answer sheet to score better.

2. Love Thy Examiner: This is the winning formula. Whether one becomes an IAS or not is very well in the hands of the examiners that checks your copy. So, why to make him unhappy and ruin your career. Whilst writing your answer always keep the examiner on the back of your mind. – Will the Examiner like it?? Will it seem repetitive to the examiner?? That’s why the first 2-3 questions matter a lot. Because the examiner will judge whether you’re a smart student or an average student and will base the whole paper on that assumption (Remember-“First Impression Lasts”)

3. Time is Money: Whatever might be the situation, ensure that you attempt all the 20 questions. With every less attempt, your chance of being in the final list diminishes. So, don’t remain emotionally attached with one answer, if you feel you’ve answered it satisfactorily, just move on. Don’t stick to that answer trying to make it perfect.

4. Mind-Chain: Be as innovative as you can in linking stuff and preparing a “Mind Chain” to ensure a better articulation and a multi-perspective answer formulation.

Do Comment below, Like & share if you get some benefit from above article

Good Luck!!

Author – Megha Srivatsava, Masters in I.R. (JNU)

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