Sociology Optional Preparation Strategy for UPSC Mains

Sociology is a popular optional for UPSC civil services exam. Its popularity lies in the fact that it is easy to understand, it is interesting and the syllabus is well-defined and can be covered in 6 to 8 months duration. No wonder Sociology is opted not just by Humanities students but Engineers and Doctors as well. In this post, we shall discuss the Sociology preparation strategy for IAS Mains in detail. Tips from former IAS toppers have also been included.

How to Begin Sociology Preparation

First Familiarize Yourself With the Sociology Syllabus

Before you prepare a strategy for Sociology or start the actual preparation it is important to first go through the Sociology optional syllabus.

There are two papers in the Mains exam. Paper 1 focusses on Fundamentals of Sociology while the Paper 2 focusses on different aspects of Indian society.

You will realize that paper 1 is more theoretical and the chapter on Sociological Thinkers is the most important topic in Paper 1 of Sociology optional.

Paper 2 is concerned with the Indian society – caste, rural and agrarian social structure, kinship, tribal communities and so on. It requires case studies and practical examples but more on that later.

Step 1: Read Sociology Themes and Perspectives

To begin Sociology preparation it is strongly recommended that you first read Sociology Themes and Perspectives by Haralambos and Holborn. I have also listed this book first in the recommended books for Sociology.

This book will provide you with a good understanding of the basic concepts of Sociology. What’s more, the book is full is full of case studies so you will learn how to apply theory to practice as you read this important book.

Not only will you get an overall understanding of the Sociology subject but, specifically, this book is helpful for covering Chapter 6, 7, 9 and 10 which are Economic life, Politics and Society, Kinship and Social Change respectively.

A number of toppers are also recommending Sociology Themes and Perspectives by Haralambos and Holborn like Ila Tripathi (2016 AIR 51), Anu Kumari (2017 AIR 2), Mona Pruthi (2005 AIR 1) and many others.

Mindmap: Preparation Strategy for Sociology

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Step 2: Focus on Sociological Thinkers

Now that you are familiar with the Sociology concepts the next step in your preparation strategy should be to tackle the all-important topic of Sociological Thinkers. There are 6 thinkers covered in the syllabus – Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, and Herbert Mead.

You will need to cover their theories in detail. This chapter is the gateway to other chapters in Paper 1. For instance, the sub-topic science, scientific method and critique in Chapter 2 pertains to the Scientific Method introduced by Max Weber in Sociological analysis.

Similarly, Chapter 5 (Stratification and Mobility) has a sub-topic on theories of social stratification which is again linked to chapter 2. If you see Chapter 7 (Politics and Society) it has a sub-topic on sociological theories on power which is again related to chapter 2 that contains Marxian and Weberian theories on power.

Then look at chapter 8 (Religion and Society), it has a sub-topic on sociological theories on religion. Here enter Emile Durkheim and Max Weber from chapter 2.

Finally moving onto Chapter 10 (Social Change), it can be seen that the first sub-topic is sociological theories of social change. This is again linked to theories listed in Chapter 2.

From this, you can understand that Chapter 2 (Sociological Thought) is the key to Paper 1 of Sociology. So you need to prepare it thoroughly. Your concepts of all the thinkers should be crystal clear and you should be able to apply them in the linked chapters of this paper.

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Recommended Book for Thinkers: Sociological Theory by Ritzer


Since the chapter on Sociological Thinkers is crucial to your understanding of other topics of Paper 1 and will largely determine your score in this paper a good book is recommended on this topic. Sociological Theory by George Ritzer is highly recommended for covering thinkers in detail.

It covers all the sociological theories under three parts – Classical theories (Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, George Simmel),  Modern theories and post-Modern theories.

In this way, it Sociological Theory by Ritzer covers the Paper 1 syllabus in detail and even goes beyond so when UPSC revises the civil services syllabus, this book will still be relevant.


Again, this book is recommended by successful civil service aspirants like Shilpa Bhatti, Ila Tripathi, Anu Kumari, and others.

Step 3: Supplement Your Information from IGNOU and Coaching Notes

Almost all civil service aspirants and IAS toppers, even though they may not have taken coaching, have at least relied on some coaching notes to cover the entire sociology syllabus. You should refer to IGNOU BA and MA notes to supplement the information for Paper 1 topics which you cannot find in standard books.

As far as coaching notes are concerned, you do not need to join a coaching institute for this if you do not intend to take coaching for sociology. You can get printed coaching notes from Mukherjee Nagar and Rajendra Nagar in Delhi very easily. Some of the noted Sociology teachers include Praveen Kishore (NICE IAS), Upendra (UIAS), and Mahapatra (Vajiram).

These printed notes are also available online on Amazon but their quality and genuineness are doubtful. It is better that you check the quality of notes by yourself from the bookstore.

Step 4: Paper 2 Preparation Strategy

Paper 2 of Sociology focuses on Indian society. The three important books to refer for paper 2 are:

  1. Caste its Twentieth Century Avatar by M.N Srinivas
  2. Social Change in Modern India by M.N Srinivas
  3. Indian Sociological Thought by B.K Nagla

Again you should supplement your knowledge by the relevant IGNOU BA and MA notes and coaching notes as outlined above.

Looking at the Paper 2 syllabus, although it might look similar to Paper 1 syllabus in the sense it also includes chapters on kinship, religion, stratification and social change. But don’t be misled by it.

Step 5: Paper 2 is About Case Studies and Real Life Examples

You can score good marks in Sociology paper 2 when you include relevant case studies by Sociologists in your answers. Even if you are not able to remember the case studies it will be good enough if you can cite authoritative facts and figures to support your argument.

For example, Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) regarding poverty alleviation in developing countries. Or the latest Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 shows that 56% of India’s rural households lack agricultural land.

Similarly, when dealing with a topic like problems of religious minorities you should cite the recent Supreme Court verdict on Triple Talaq which was in response to the disabilities faced by the Muslim women.

On Patriarchy, you can show how it has resulted in skewed sex ratio and unfavourable entitlements to the girl child as compared to the male child etc. This is bound to fetch you good marks in Paper 2.

You can also refer Shodhganga website for references to case studies and research papers for including in your answers.

Step 6: Practise Answer Writing

No matter how many books you read or notes you refer unless you practise answer writing diligently all your efforts might fall short. Structuring your answers is crucial in Sociology. It is very easy to go off track.

The question might seem general at first but you should not fall into the trap. You should write specific answers with relevant examples and case studies, if possible.

For this reason, it is suggested that you join a good test series and practise as many mock tests to hone your answer writing skills as possible.

The Strategy Adopted by Top Scorers in Sociology Optional

Whether it be Mona Pruthi or Anu Kumari or Ila Tripathi or any other successful candidate with Sociology as optional subject in the Civil Services Main examination whether or not they took coaching for Sociology there are certain similarities between their approaches if you read their interviews/blogs:

  1. They practised answer writing as much they could through some reliable coaching institute
  2. Even if they did not take coaching for Sociology (although some of the toppers did take coaching) they at least referred notes of some reputed coaching institute
  3. Almost all of them agree that Paper 2 requires the relevant application of case studies/facts and figures/real-life examples to score well
  4. Sociology Themes and Perspectives by Haralambos and Holborn and Sociological Theory by Ritzer are two books that are read and recommended by almost all the successful candidates.
Recommended Books for IAS

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