Be Egghead

Strategy for Geology Optional for UPSC 2023

Geology is one of the optional subjects offered by the UPSC Civil Services Examination 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 UPSC civil services and UPSC 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 Free Geology Optional Notes Download.

How many take Geology optional in UPSC?

Less than 50 candidates take up the Geology optional for 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.

Geology CAREER AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES | M.Sc. and B.Sc. Geology

Geology CAREER AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES | M.Sc. and B.Sc. Geology

Also See Video on Introduction to Geology

Pros and Cons of UPSC Geology optional

Pros of Geology optional For UPSC

  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, practising 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 for UPSC

  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

Geology optional UPSC syllabus and Yopics

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 Notes :-Download Free Geology Optional Pdf

Geology optional strategy

Paper I strategy

General Geology (Introduction to Geology Optional) – 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 fieldwork. (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.

Palaeontology – 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 the 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

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

General preparation Tips for UPSC Geology for IFoS Mains 2023

The following are certain generic suggestions regarding attempting the optional papers in the mains exam. By following these while preparing for the papers, you can smartly cover the maximum parts which are important and give your best performance at the exam.

  1. Understand the question paper and its pattern well to determine your approach for the exam. Each optional paper has 8 questions divided into part A and B. The first and fifth questions are compulsory. Apart from these you have to answer at least one more from each section. Lastly, 5 questions in all have to be attempted which means, the last question can be from either of the sections.
  2. For geology optional paper 1, attempt three questions from section A and 2 from Section B. This is because section A comprises all the basic topics for which you will find ample materials to prepare.
  3. For geology optional paper 2, attempt 2 questions from section A and 3 from Section B. In the second paper, the section A comprises core geology topics which are difficult to master unless it is your subject of academic specialization. Section B topics are more generic and hence easier to master.
  4. Topics which you must particularly focus on are geomorphology, geotectonic, geochemistry, petrology, ore genesis, mineral trading and lending, designing topography, underground water examination, groundwater science, etc. questions are also frequently asked from geology of energies.
  5. Do not leave out any topic just because they are rarely asked in the exam. You may put less time and effort into preparing certain topics, but do not skip any of them.
  6. The marks in the optional paper influences your rank in the final merit list which will affect your selection and posting. Hence, your aim should be preparing such that you get way more than the average cut-off for the paper.
  7. Substantiate your answers whenever possible with diagrams. There is a lot of scope to use diagrams in a subject like geology. While selecting the questions which you want to attempt, consider the ones which give more scope for graphical depiction as this will help you to make your answer script stand out.
  8. Since there are very few readymade notes and materials available, start your preparation well ahead of time as you will have to spare enough time to prepare your own notes.
  9. Lay emphasis on the subtle differences between various terminologies and their definitions so that you are able to prepare the subject better and have a clear conception.
  10. Practice writing questions by solving the previous year question papers to improve your speed. Even though you have to answer only five questions, do not get complacent as the questions are tricky and even three hours may not be enough to finish them without prior practice.
  11. Maintain the word count and follow an organised and sound structure for every answer. Answer to the point after understanding the question and do not deviate from the primary topic of the question.

By strategically and smartly determining the topics which are important and studying by making a few topics the primary focus, you can easily complete 80-90% of the syllabus in-depth.

Topic-wise preparation strategy for geology optional

Following a topic-wise preparation strategy is important to further minimize your efforts and difficulty with the subject. This means, you must be familiar with the topics in the syllabus and also have a clear vision about which topics are more important. The following are tips for individual topics which will assist you in getting the maximum utility of the time-

Topic-wise preparation for paper-1

General geology

Introduction to UPSC Geology Optional Paper 2023
  • This is an easy topic to master and has all the basic concepts of the subject.
  • Topics like earthquakes, tectonic plates, age of earth, and formation of the universe are very important from this particular topic.
  • Principles of engineering geology by KP Banger covers all the topics thoroughly.
  • The section is scoring and easy to prepare if your concept of school-level geography and science is clear.
  • If you are appearing for IAS as well, this section will also coincide with the preparation of general paper 1 for IAS mains.

Geomorphology and remote sensing

  • Lay emphasis on formation of rivers, mountains and soil while studying the concepts of geomorphology.
  • Indian satellites and other technologies used for remote sensing are important topics that should be covered.
  • Control and prevent disasters and how they are being done, the advantages and limitations of remote sensing and relevant studies must be covered.
  • The topic is also relevant to current affairs which means, you must keep up with relevant news and initiatives and can use them as case studies to substantiate answers in this section.
  • Remote sensing related topics can be best prepared from the website of national remote sensing authority.

Structural geology

  • Structural geology by Marland P Billings have all the topics under this chapter covered.
  • This is again a very easy section about which we have all learnt in school-level geography to some extent and hence with such basic concepts, it becomes easier to prepare.


PALAEONTOLOGY (Introduction) | Geology optional for UPSC 2023
  • This is a very factual and static part of the syllabus. It deals with the ancient life forms and fossils.
  • Evolution of humans, horses and elephants are specifically important from this chapter.
  • Set tables for each of these species and follow the pattern to remember and understand the course of evolution better.
  • Difference between different types of fossils is another important topic in this section.
  • The mode and process of fossilization is often repeated in exams.

Indian stratigraphy

  • Focus on types of rocks and the geological time scale, and the regions where they are found in this section.
  • This too, can be studied in the form of set tables which will help you to remember the answers better.
  • KM Banger is a good reference book for preparing this particular section.

Hydrogeology and engineering geology

  • This is an important section and revolves around groundwater and different engineering projects like dams, roads etc.
  • The topic is all about the different climatic and geological structure of the areas and how it influences the types of materials to be used for undertaking different engineering projects in the area.

Geology optional paper-2 strategy

The paper is based to a certain extent on the basic concepts of chemistry and hence if your conception is weak, this paper can prove to be tricky.


Mechanical Structures Of Sedimentary Rocks | Geology (Petrology) Optional For UPSC 2023
  • Properties of different minerals found in the rocks and their uses is important in this section. Lay special emphasis on rocks and minerals that are found abundantly in India.
  • In the past few years, applied questions are being asked from this chapter. Hence, your preparation and answer writing style should be accordingly adapted. Questions based on statements and its justification are becoming increasingly common.

Igneous and metamorphic petrology

  • This is an important section and again one of those whose basic concepts have already been covered in school.
  • Metamorphic petrology by JD Winter is particularly notable for preparing this section.
  • Sedimentary petrology is also an important section in this subject which you must study while keeping in mind as many examples from India as you can.
  • Both books and online sources are good options for this section and using a combination of both is recommended to cover the syllabus entirely.

Economic geology

  • This chapter requires you to have a thorough understanding of the economic conditions of the country too and how geology affects it in a good or bad way.
  • You must develop analytical skills to understand how geology can influence the overall economic development.
  • There is a list of minerals inclusive of the syllabus of this chapter and you have to study all of them.
  • Specifically emphasis on the distribution of coal and petroleum and the different kinds of ores and minerals used in the industries.
  • The questions are usually indirect- you will be asked about the industries rather than the raw materials and ores they use. So you must have a clear concept about which industry uses which type of ores.
  • National mineral policy, marine mineral resources and laws of sea are important topics from this section.

Mining and geochemistry and environmental geology

  • This is an important chapter owing to the number of notable mines in India. You must have a clear conception of how mining works, where to mine and recognizing mining areas.
  • Geochemistry is about different types of elements and why some are rare while others are found in abundance.
  • Natural hazards, pollution, urbanization and similar topics and their effects on the earth’s terrain and its modification is studied under environmental geology. This is a comparatively easy topic but frequently asked and hence should be prepared.

If you begin your preparation right away, you will get a lot of time and scope to revise the entire syllabus multiple times. While very few people take up this subject, it is nevertheless interesting and can add a lot of value throughout your career. We hope you start the preparation at the earliest and maximize your chances to ace the IFoS 2023 Mains in February 2023.

*The article might have information for the previous academic years, please refer the official website of the exam.

%d bloggers like this: