PSIR Strategy: “An OPTIONAL Expedition from 240 to 313” – Trupti Dhodmise (AIR 16, UPSC CSE 2018)

Hello everyone..!!

Many aspirants have been asking me about my PSIR Strategy. I could score well i.e. 313/500 (169+144) in my optional which has played a crucial role to secure a good rank. I had to work hard to raise my score from 240(2016) to 313(2018). You may find this quite surprising..!! But yes, it happened .!!

So, here I am sharing my PSIR journey..!!

(Disclaimer: This complete strategy may not suit you. Spot and pick up the pointers according to your needs.)

1.Why PSIR??
I chose PSIR as an optional because my interest in International Relations even before I decided to prepare for the civils. This subject overlaps with GS2 and saves the time during preparation. It actually proved beneficial for me in GS2 where I could score 124/250. (Of course, GS2 needs seperate answer writing approach). Thus, my interest, subject utility and time benefit were crucial factors to decide this optional. Moreover, availability of resource material and guidance, online test series etc. were the other deciding parameters.

2. What went wrong earlier? (2016)
The dependence on single resource was the mistake I had committed in previous Mains. Though, I could learn well the various concepts of PSIR from single notes,the contextual understanding was missing. I had opted this “notes only” reading exercise because of paucity of time, but it costed me a lot. I couldn’t develop an answer writing according to the need of the subject. Even though I had completed my papers in 2016, I couldn’t write qualitatively and in the language of political science. I could score only 240(119+121) in PSIR. Overall,I missed the final selection by 4 marks. I could have got a good service then only by additional 30-40 marks. Furthermore, I lost 2017 prelims and I was out of the process for one more year. So, when my prelims went good in this attempt, I decided not to spare anything from my side to score the maximum possible.

3.Increase in resources
For this attempt, I read more number of books, notes, model answers. This increase in resources helped me to improve the contexual understanding, my ability to interconnect different concepts, theories and current affairs. It not only improved the content, but also developed my language aligning to PSIR. The improvement of language was much necessary considering my non-humanities and vernacular background.

4. Increase in time slot for Optional :
I consumed 70-80% time for optional in the time period between prelims and Mains. I could afford less time for GS because of my strong hold over the GS subjects. It was quite necessary due to my poor performance in previous attempt and a gap of about 7-8 months in the preparation.

5.Note Making
I didn’t go for note making for GS because of limited sources. In opposite to this, for my optional, I preferred notemaking to compile the data from various sources. I made my notes in hard format to get my hands used to heavy writing. I organised notes according to syllabus topics and subtopics. I didn’t make micronotes as we had sufficient time (5 days) to revise all the notes. I was cautious enough while note making so that those should be crisp, enriching and revisable.

6.Answer writing practice
I couldn’t give dedicated time on daily basis for PSIR answer writing. However, daily answer writing for GS helped me to increase the speed. The students with vernacular medium background, are habitual of thinking in their mother-tongues. This is very much time consuming, if they opt for writing in different (English) medium. So, the writing practice becomes essential to develope a good coordination between a translating brain and a writing hand. Hence, I would suggest the aspirants to assign seperate time slot for daily answer writing for optional also.

7.Followed 2 Test series.
I couldn’t go for the coaching because of time constraint. I had developed the subject understanding on my own.But my previous Mains score made me aware of my weakness in PSIR writing. Thus, my answers needed to be evaluated by third person. Also, as I did not write much regularly, I decided to join two Test series at The Unique Academy, Pune and Shubhra Ranjan IAS Academy (Both Online Mode). I religiously followed their tests (Total 18) to improve my content, quality and speed. I paid more attention towards the remarks than the marks. I also did self evaluation by comparing my answers with the model answers. This multidirectional evaluation pointed out numerous flaws in my writing on which I worked upon later.

8.Newspaper reading
I regularly followed newspaper articles, editorials from The Hindu, The Indian Express and some amount from The Economics Times. I used to note down the examples, specific criticisms, subject opinions in short note format (keeping syllabus in mind). I also read some book reviews in the newspaper related to the syllabus topics. e.g. Opinions of Fali Nariman over judiciary in his newly published book. In addition to the newspapers , I followed RSTV’s “India’s World” summaries for Paper-2.

9.Following the toppers
This is the most important one. We shouldn’t follow the toppers blindly.Rather read number of strategies and choose the suitable suggestions from them to develop your own. I had read strategies of Ananya Das Ma’m ( AIR 16, CSE 2014), Mirant Parikh Sir (AIR 67, CSE 2016), Ankit Pannu Sir ( AIR 31, CSE 2017) and many more. I learned some lessons from them. I integrated those with my strategy according to my strengths and weaknesses.

10.Content of PSIR answer.
a.According my optimal understanding, dynamism is the crux of this subject. So, the conceptual clarity becomes essential component, because only after that we can have interconnections across the concepts, theories, current affairs and opinions etc.

b. Reading the question carefully is important to understand the context. In 2018 exam, Paper-2 was quite unusual in this aspect. So, we should give at least 30 seconds to understand the context and develop the structure of an answer.

c. We should try to interlink the theory with the current examples. e.g. Trusteeship theory of Mahatma Gandhi can be linked to the example of Warren Buffet (who donates 99% of his wealth to charity).

d. We can try to connect the concepts across the sections of this subject.For e.g. Marxism in Paper-1 (A) can be used to write the perspectives on Indian Economy in the words of Pranab Bardhan. Neo Marxists point out the cultural domination of west over the east to rule the globe.

e. We can bring out the comparisons in the answers at various places. For e.g. Comparing Rawlesian concept of “strengthening the weakest link” with Gandhian notion of ” Sarvodya”.

f. Criticisms by various schools of thought is always welcome in theory part.In addition to this, Model answers give fresh content. For e.g. I got few more new streams of thoughts who criticise the conventional conception of justice and ask for the development of contextual & relevant idea of justice.

g. We can put latest criticisms just by being alert while reading newspapers. Criticism on judiciary in the words of Pratap Bhanu Mehta would enrich and balance our answers.

h. The answer should be written as a specialist. The specific words like rights, equality, justice etc can be used more often. The specific phrases of various scholars can be utilised wherever possible.

11. Maintaining psychological posture
Yes.. It’s necessary for the optional too. This subject might drain you because of its vast and diverse nature. However, we all know that the subject helps in GS, Essay and Ethics preparation. So, it’s absolutely of worth..!! Sometimes you might get frustrated for not understanding the various themes. In such scenario, we can watch short YouTube videos to learn such complex things. Don’t get panic initially itself on reading your poor answers. You need some patience to develop the well versed answer writing. It will happen over a period of time.. Keep practicing more and more..!!

Finally, you may find this strategy little bit complex and heavy. But it was essential for me to improve. In 2018,I had resumed the optional preparation not only with the less understanding but also with the worst ever confidence. So, hard work was bit necessary to improve the subject learning and boost my confidence. Fortunately I could give my best to bring the PSIR preparation at par with my strong-footed GS preparation. My scores in optional & GS nullified the effects of my poor score in Essay (111) and average score in Personality Test (176).

So, I would advise the aspirants to pickup the things wisely from my strategy. Kindly choose whichever suits your preparation level, your way of study and your style of answer writing. Keep faith in yourself..!!

Besides, there is always a scope for an improvement. Keep fetching that and strive for the excellence..!!

Best Wishes Always..!! ?


Paper 1
Section A:
1.OP Gauba : Political theory
2.Andrew Heywood: Ideologies part
3.IGNOU Notes for Indian and western political thoughts
4.Shubhra ma’m notes
5.Unique academy notes

Section B:
1.M. Laxmikant
2.Oxford Companion to politics in India
3.Shubhra Ma’m notes
4.Unique academy notes

5. Newspaper articles on Indian politics (The Hindu, The Indian Express)

Paper 2
Section A:

  1. Globalisation of world politics
  2. Shubhra ma’m notes
  3. Unique academy notes
  4. Model answers of test papers
  5. Newspaper articles on global politics (The Hindu, The Indian Express)

Section B:

  1. Does the elephant dance by David Malone
  2. Shubhra ma’m notes
  3. Unique academy notes
  4. Model answers of test papers
  5. Newspaper articles on India’s Foreign affairs (The Hindu, The Indian Express)
  6. Oxford Handbok on Indian Foreign policy

**Link for my test papers:

38 thoughts on “PSIR Strategy: “An OPTIONAL Expedition from 240 to 313” – Trupti Dhodmise (AIR 16, UPSC CSE 2018)”

  1. Ma’am, thank you for the detailed strategy.

    However, your phone number and gmail id are visible in the test papers that you’ve shared. Just for your information.

    1. Hi Rimjhim..
      NCERTs help to have better conceptual clarity through their lucid language..
      If you have that much time, you can start with NCERTs..

  2. Hello Madam, congratulations… also from maharashtra and vernacular background…is shubhra ranjan madam notes necessary other than books and does any changes in their every years notes??

    1. Hello Aarati..
      Supplementing the books with Mam’s notes improves contextual understanding and the language in writing PSIR papers..

  3. Hi Mam,

    Congratulations on the rank. Thanks for sharing your strategy.

    Can you please share which chapters [or the whole book] should be read from the books you mentioned in the post.

    Paper 1
    Section A:
    1.OP Gauba : Political theory
    2.Andrew Heywood: Ideologies part
    3.IGNOU Notes for Indian and western political thoughts

    Section B:
    1.M. Laxmikant
    2.Oxford Companion to politics in India

    Paper 2

    Section A:
    1. Globalisation of world politics

    Section B:
    1. Does the elephant dance by David Malone
    2. Oxford Handbok on Indian Foreign policy

    I have referred to IGNOU Masters Political Science textbooks and some of the PSIR syllabus is covered in those textbooks, do you have any suggestions on reading reference books (mentioned above) vs IGNOU textbooks [like textbooks being very academic and not UPSC oriented etc.]

    Apologies for the long comment, your response would be really helpful. Thank you.

    1. Hello Pramod..

      Read chapters according to the syllabus whatever be the book type.
      I referred IGNOU especially for Indian/ Western political thoughts and for initial studies of theories of IR.

      From the books, we can develop basic understanding, contexts, interconnections, etc regarding all the topics.

      As far as the UPSC Orientation is concerned, it’s mainly our answer writing skills that matters the most. So, practice is the key for that..

    2. Sir, How much does it takes to complete full syllabus if one starts from the scratch?

  4. Hi mam congrats,
    I am an engineer and complete beginner but due interest in IR I want to take PSIR as optional. How to start studying for it as I cant go to Delhi for coaching, should I start from shubhra mam notes or the books you mentioned?
    Please help me out

    1. You can start with Madam’s notes as its language is simple and lucid. It makes you comfortable with the subject.

  5. Hello mam
    Actuallt i am Facing problem in western political thinker as i am not able to write on sheet because of lack of understanding .can you please suggest me on this?

    1. Hi Armaan..
      For Western Political Thinkers, I found IGNOU notes useful for more clarity.. Sometimes small YouTube videos also brings good understanding..

  6. सर्वप्रथम अभिनंदन तृप्ती ताई !
    मी ग्रामीण भागात राहतो व ईथे THE HINDU Newspaper नाही मिळतं. मी Online Newspaper भाग वाचतो पण मराठी माध्यम मधून शिकल्यामुळे difficulty होत आहे .
    The Hindu च्या ऐवजी Insights (Daily) आणि VisionIAS (monthly) वाचून Current Affairs cover होत का ?

    1. Hi Manish..
      Newspapers are important for contextual understanding, sound opinion formation and language development also..
      Though they are quite difficult initially, we get habitual and comfortable of that after some days.. Use dictionary to know the meaning of words, phrases etc..

  7. Hello ma’am , can you please share your notes it will be hugely benefited

  8. Hello mam congratulations,
    Im preparing for 2020, my query is, if I start with optional subject now, should I finish off with the PSIR syllabus then move on to other subjects.. how far do u recommend dedicating a month or two completely to a completely new subject. And how long can it take for an optional to get completed, if we are studying only psir for a period.

    1. Hi Khushaboo..
      Generally people who are having one year in advance start with the optional in Jul-Dec of earlier year.
      Later Jan-May/Jun of next (appearing) year is allotted for GS for Pre and Mains comprehensively.

      Completion of subject depends upon our natural speed. You should follow above timeline to prepare at optimum level.

      I think 6-8 months are more than enough to prepare well for PSIR.

  9. Congratulations ma’am ?
    And can you please share your notes of PSIR , as it will help me as a beginner to understand how to make notes .

  10. Hello ma’am,
    I’m starting as a novice in PSIR, my concepts till 10th are cleared but that’s all but I really like POlity and international relations and since I’m trying to do it on my own without any coaching , ma’am can you please tell me , how should I approach the syllabus , like which part should be done at first that later parts don’t pose a problem and I can get conceptual clarity , and ma’am it would be great if you could share your psir notes as I really need to get a rough idea about how to go on making notes of PSIR .

  11. hi mam congratulations ,

    only newspaper are suffice for dynamic curriculum or any other resources are required ,

    please share other websites for dynamic portion.

  12. Hi mam congratulations
    what is approach for dynamic curriculum?

    please tell other websites for dynamic part of syllabus.

    or newspaper are suffice.

  13. Hii ma’am
    Can you please list the important editors of The Hindu and Indian Express whose editors are a good read for optional perspective?

  14. Ma’am can you please tell the names of editors of The Hindu and Indian Express important for our optional for gainin g perspective

  15. Hi mam im from shirdi,
    Mam what was your approch while writing answers of GS 2, because PSIR covers large part of GS 2 ,many people suggest that PSIR optional students have to write differently, indian polity and IR questions? And also what to do in initial phase of PSIR preparation?

  16. Mam Can you please elaborate on
    1. Whether you did daily psir answer writing practice & If yes how?
    2. How to improve Presentation and structure in Answer
    3. How to use internet to update the content
    4. Details on Note making Strategy?

    Thanks and happy journey to LBSNAA:)

  17. Thanks for detail strategy, Mam. will definitely help us in our PSIR preparation.
    I prepared micronotes on thinkers from mam’s notes.
    Mam, is it worth to make micronotes from Shubra mam’s notes for remaining syllabus/notes ??

  18. Ma’am, did you read does the elephant dance cover to cover or just some parts ?
    Can you explain a bit how did you use points from it for the syllabus ?

  19. Hello Mam, is it worth to read David Malone’s Does Elephant Dance Book many of my friends give me advice,not to read, as it is outdated…your reply will definately help me to sort out this confusion.

    1. Hello Raj,
      The book is quite basic.. It helps to give overall brief idea about India’s foreign policy..So, reading it in initial days of preparation helps to build a framework in our mind..

  20. Hello ma’am ,
    Thanks for your detailed strategy. I wanted to if we have to read the book “Globalisation of world politics “ page by page or we have to just study the topics given in the Syllabus? As the book is very big so can you please tell us if we have to cover the book wholly or just topicwise .

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