Before talking about my strategy for psychology, I would like to point out that it was my first optional and I was thorough with the standard books and Pathak sir’s notes. I firmly believe one book should be read five times for the prelims rather than five books once.
For those with psychology as a 2nd optional, gaining an insight into various topics is very important. Do not aim at mugging up names, researches, experiments, jargons, etc. Instead focus on getting an idea about how to link various topics as questions being asked are quite difficult to predict.
First and foremost, do not aim at finishing books. You have to cover the syllabus topic-wise.
Take a printout of the syllabus from the UPSC website and try to cover the topics one by one. I prepared the full syllabus as I felt anything can be asked for a 60 marker. Do not study something thinking that it is for paper 1, etc. Everything you study can be applied anywhere.
I counted the number of topics in the syllabus (x in chapter 1, y in chapter 2, z in chapter 3 and so on. total x+y+z…). I aimed at covering 5 topics everyday. While finding content on a particular topic, I referred standard books, Mukul Pathak sir’s notes and above all the internet.
But once I prepared a given topic, I never picked up the book or notes again to refer what was given. I relied on what I had written on that topic from then on. The strategy should be to revise your notes again and again at least 7-8 times.
I started this exercise in the first week of June and aimed at finishing it by September 1st. But eventually was able to do it by September end.
Before explaining it further, here are the sources:
Books and notes
I have given a list of books. It doesn’t mean I read them from cover to cover. I went as per the topics in the syllabus and tried to find the content in these books and notes.
1. Morgan and King
4. Chaplin-Krawiec (try to go through it only when you are confident about the basics)
Notes: Mukul Pathak sir.
2. Google search
3. Yahoo search
Books and notes are not enough as 95 % of the people taking up psychology go through these books and Pathak sir’s notes. Therefore, they should be treated as basic information one should know.
The key to scoring in psychology is writing your own examples, diagrams, flowcharts, and key words you can think of and those you may find on the internet.
Introduction to psychology: Definition and scope.
I would first pick up Morgan & King and find out how it defines psychology. It might say: psychology is the scientific study of human and animal behaviour and its application to human problems.
I would compare it with what Baron says. It might say: psychology is the scientific study of human behaviour and mental processes.
So I now conclude that psychology is the scientific study of human and animal behaviour and mental processes and its application to human problems.
This way all the sources need to be referred to and the comparison also leads to gaining an insight into the developments in psychology over the years.
Once I went through the books and Pathak sir’s notes, I would try to find something about the topic on the net. Since 5 topics have to be finished per day, I did not invest more than 30 mins on a given topic if I already had enough content to write a 60 marker.
If I couldn’t find anything in the books and the content is not enough, then went about searching on the net for about an hour or so. Topics such as gender bias, sports psychology, ROC, etc have been explained very nicely on the internet.
Once I had enough material on a given topic I tried to compress the 700-800 words I had written as follows:
1. Identify the key words from that particular topic and write it in a pocket notebook under that topic.
2. Draw the diagram found in the books/notes/internet and if there’s none, try to think of a diagram. This is to avoid wasting time during the paper thinking of something to draw. Also, pictorial representation is always easier to remember.
I did not take any coaching in psychology during all my 3 attempts. The best coaching I can think of is definitely that of Mukul Pathak sir. In fact, I don’t think there is any other person who can be compared to Pathak sir.
I took his guidance for answer-writing during my 3rd attempt and will share with you his inputs.
It is a key element of scoring marks in the optionals. For the same content, person A might score 30 whereas person B might score 35. The right way of presentation of an answer is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.
I totally neglected this aspect at my own peril in my 1st two attempts. Thinking that it was all about knowledge and content rather than presentation, as it was the UPSC exam and not some school test, I did not focus on some key elements of an answer.
1. Underlining: it is very important as the examiner can have a look at all the key words straight away and save effort and time. Always underline with the pen as you write as there isn’t enough time for pencil,etc
2. Key words: they should be written straightaway in the answer and hence no need to think of introduction, body, conclusion, etc during the paper.
3. Diagrams: always try to draw a diagram in every question. Do it freehand and with a pencil. No need to use scale, etc. as there isn’t enough time in the exam. If still running short on time, draw it with the pen. No problem.
Also, try to modify the standard diagram in the book so that it looks different.
4. Graphs/flowcharts: topics such as brainstorming can be explained very effectively through flowcharts. Graphs can be used to explain ROC curves and internet is a good source.
5. Language: Use simple language. Do not show your vocabulary. Whenever using jargons, explain in one line immediately. It has to be assumed that the examiner doesn’t know anything about psychology.
Therefore, writing in the middle of the answer,”…one of the examples of nature vs. nurture debate is LAD. The debate is still unsettled.” Do not assume the examiner knows that LAD is language acquisition device of Chomsky.
6. Examples: never write the standard example given in the book.
7. Answers can be written in points if you have enough content and time and word limit constraints matter.
Use your General Studies knowledge in psychology.
Let us take the case of social learning. Do write that it was a concept most famously put forth by Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment. But do not use 1 page to explain the experiment. Do it in at most 3 lines. Instead focus on giving your own example:
In India incidents of mob violence have been on the rise. The Gujjar agitation involved people blocking highways and damaging public property in order to force the government to start talks. People all over India observed the issue on TV. When similar but unrelated issue erupted in J&K over the Amarnath issue, similar tactics were applied by certain groups in order to make the government listen to their demands. This chain of events further continued and the Tata Nano Singur controversy was also one of the issues where people resorted to violence. Roads were blocked and tyres were burnt. This is a classic example of social learning.
Remember that once notes have been prepared, the sources should not be referred again. Focus on revising the notes and remembering the diagrams and key words on each and every topic.
Do not focus on one point. Writing 10 points in 2 lines each is better than writing just 5 points, 4 lines each.
Example: the question asked in 2009 regarding gender differences with respect to substance abuse in India.
• It doesn’t mean only opium, heroin, cocaine, LSD, pot, alcohol, etc.
• People addicted to tea and coffee is also substance abuse.
• Elderly taking sleeping pills and aspirin is also substance abuse.
• A hypochondriac depending on excessive medication is substance abuse.
• People in urban areas addicted to soft drinks and energy drinks is an example of substance abuse.
• Not only cigarettes and bidis, but chewing tobacco and pan masala is also substance abuse.
• This would not only include male and female differences but would also involve further classification into rural and urban areas.
Keeping in mind the above points, an answer can be written for 20 marks.
I wrote few answers and showed them to Pathak sir. I have uploaded 2 of them.