General Studies 1 paper covers history, culture, geography, and a few other topics. Below, I’ve taken the syllabus verbatim from the notification, and indicated how I prepared a particular topic. I’ve also included links to my online notes.
If you want to skip the discourse and get to the booklist I recommend, please scroll down to the end of the text.
- Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times
I was always wary of studying this portion. It seemed too vast and too unpredictable. Nevertheless, I tried (and mostly failed) to study things that people recommend. Firstly, I tried NIOS. Then, I tried Spectrum. Finally, I decided to give everything else up, and just follow one set of notes properly- I picked GK Today (for no particular reason).
My advice is to not spend very much time here. Follow one source, and make peace with the fact that you can probably never feel well prepared for this portion.
- Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
- The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country.
There are two distinct periods that fall under this portion:
- 1717 (Farrukhsiyar grants farman to the East India Company to conduct inland trade in Bengal) to 1857 (first battle of independence)
For (i), Bipan Chandra’s ‘History of Modern India’ (I think this used to be an NCERT) is useful. This was the first book I read for my UPSC preparation. However, I didn’t make notes, and forgot most of it. Closer to the exam, I googled all the major incidents between 1717 and 1857, and made short notes on them (these include Carnatic wars, Battles of Plassey, Panipat, Buxar, Anglo-Mysore wars, Anglo-Maratha wars, and several important treaties, charters, and social reform movements). I consolidated all of these into brief notes in a timeline form. You can find this here. I think for the 1717-1857 part, this is enough for GS (the timeline notes go on beyond 1857, and till 1947; however, the notes in the link above are not exhaustive for period after 1857, and should be used only as a ready reference. Please see below).
For (ii), I read Bipan Chandra’s ‘India’s Struggle for Independence’ and ‘Spectrum’. I think Bipan Chandra’s book gives you a good base, but it also jumps around somewhat, and is rather bulky. I focused mostly on Spectrum.
For revision, I made chapter-wise questions from Spectrum. You can find them here. (Please note that next to some questions, I have mentioned Page numbers. Please ignore these- they do not correspond to where you will find the answer in the Spectrum book).
Aside from the above, especially for prelims, one needs to remember factoids related to Congress Sessions, Governor-Generals/ Viceroys, and Personalities (notes included in links). (For the personalities file, I just noted down whatever name I came across in Spectrum/ Bipan Chandra. I made brief notes for some, but not all, of them).
- Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country
I watched Pradhanmantri TV series. I tried making episode-wise brief notes, but couldn’t finish these for lack of time. Notes upto Episode 7 are here.
I also read the relevant chapters from Bipan Chandra’s ‘India Since Independence’. I ignored most of the stuff after Green Revolution, and did not focus at all to the political fortunes/ misfortunes of various national/ regional political formations. I think UPSC does not ask questions on these.
- History of the worldwill include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society
I wasn’t sure what all topics to study for this portion. To be safe, I decided to complete the topics included in the syllabus for World History in the History Optional for UPSC (look for world history topics in History Optional Paper 2 syllabus; link here).
While searching for sources, I came across a wonderful website: https://selfstudyhistory.com/world-history/ . It has incredibly detailed topic-wise notes on all the topics in the syllabus. However, please don’t get bogged down by the level of detail on this website. Always remember that this is meant for people who have chosen history as their optional. Be smart, and sift through what’s needed for GS. Basically, ensure that you know all the topics in the website above, but don’t go too deep.
Aside from this, I also read Norman Lowe for world history after the First World War. I made short, handwritten notes for some of the chapter that were quite useful in revision. Find them here. Please note that I didn’t make notes for some important chapters because I didn’t have the time; please try and cover those, too.
Once you’re done with all of this, a good way to revise is to download the question bank meticulously prepared by Mrunal Patel, and available on his website. He has taken questions from past History optional mains papers, and also from annual examinations of various reputed universities around the country. I copy pasted all of these into a word document, and you can find them here. I didn’t write answers to any of these question because I didn’t have the time, but after I was done preparing World History, I ensured that I knew the answers to all of these. If you can do the same, I think there isn’t very much else that UPSC can ask from.
- Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent);
- Factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India)
- Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc.,
- Geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
- Salient features of world’s physical geography.
I initially started by studying GC Leong, but I now think it’s useless. Please study geography NCERTs meant for standards 6-12. I think if one understands everything that is in the NCERTs, then one can handle geography GS questions quite easily. However, I also think that the explanations given for many things, especially geo phenomena such as atmospheric circulation, cyclone formation etc. are very rudimentary, and need to be heavily supplemented by the internet.
Basically, I googled everything I didn’t understand in an NCERT. I usually found either articles or YouTube videos that were extremely helpful in developing a strong, logical understanding. Be resilient, and don’t give up if you don’t understand concepts in the first couple of tries. Some of the concepts (looking at you, coriolis effect) are genuinely tricky, and require time and patience to understand.
For revision, I found it useful to summarize the NCERTs in questions. Again, much like history, I knew that I could be confident about knowing the NCERT’s contents if I could answer all of the questions that I framed. You can find these here.
Note: almost every year in prelims, there are some questions for which you need to know the world map. These could be locations of countries, rivers, famous landforms, seas etc. I found this website that lets you make a game out of trying to remember the world map. They have region-wise graphs for different countries, rivers, landforms etc., and close to prelims, I tried to ensure that I was attempting to pin down several different portions of this website at least once a day. It helped.
- Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India
- Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and
- Developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies
- Effects of globalization on Indian society
- Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism
I think these topics are fairly general. I did not prepare these.
BOOKLIST FOR GS 1
|Topic||Source I recommend||Other sources (I didn’t do most of these)|
|Culture||GKToday notes (available online)||NIOS, Spectrum, NCERT, CCRT website|
|Indian History||1717-1857||Internet/ my notes||Bipan Chandra (History of Modern India)|
|1857-1947||Spectrum||Bipan Chandra (India’s Freedom Struggle)|
|1947-present||Pradhanmantri||Bipan Chandra (India Since Independence)|
Norman Lowe’s book
Question bank from Mrunal
|Arjun Dev’s book|
|Geography||NCERTs 6-12||GC Leong, Majid Hussain|