Preparation Strategy for Anthropology Optional

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Anthropology is an optional that is having high popularity among IAS aspirants in UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam. As per data about 500 candidates choose this subject in UPSC CSE Mains as the optional subject every year.

The focus area of this optional is on the study of humans and their biological, cultural and social aspects. This subject is chosen by mostly those aspirants who have their background in engineering and science. Most of the aspirants choose this optional because of its interesting and high scoring nature. This subject is also depicting the diversity of India because of focusing on the tribes of India.



Understanding the UPSC syllabus of anthropology in entirety is the first step to assess the nature and structure of mains optional paper. Your performance solely depends on the analysis of the IAS syllabus because it will give you a guided trajectory to sail upon. UPSC Previous years questions could be a better source to have a fair idea about the percentage share of each topic you study. The IAS syllabus and previous year papers will give you an idea about important issues and questions that need to be focused upon.

Divide and conquer strategy always work in the case of optional preparation. Dividing the subject into 2 papers and further division of each paper into micro topics will help you to tackle this optional easily. The paper 1 majorly focuses on Socio-Cultural Anthropology and Biological Anthropology while Paper two constitute Indian Society and tribal India. During the course of study, you will have conceptual clarity and integration of various chapters.

For detailed UPSC syllabus of Anthropology Click Here.

Books and Resources

Books for Anthropology Paper-I

  1. An Introduction to Social Anthropology by D. N. Majumdar & T. N. Madan
  2. Anthropology by Ember and Ember
  3. Biology Book (12th Standard) of NCERT
  4. Introduction to Sociology (11th Standard) of NCERT
  5. Measuring Time of Indian Prehistory (Chapter 2) by D. K. Bhattacharya
  6. Physical Anthropology by P. Nath

Books for Anthropology Paper-II

  1. Indian Society (12th Standard) of NCERT
  2. Indian Prehistory by D. K. Bhattacharya
  3. Social Change and Development in India (12th Standard) of NCERT
  4. Tribal India by Nadeem Hasnain
  5. The Tribal Culture of India by L.P Vidyarthi
  6. Indian Anthropology by Nadeem Hasnain

Other Resources

Though books can be found interesting and fulfil the purpose of preparation some other online resources would be needed for more clarity and updation.

The following list can be added to existing resources:

  1. Government Websites

    • Anthropological Survey of India:
    • Ministry of Tribal Affairs:
  1. Online Resource for Genetics

    • Genetics related information can be obtained from:
  1. XAXA Committee Report

    • The XAXA Committee report is the most valuable resource for Anthropology optional covering plethora of topics and the latest updates.
  1. IGNOU Study Material

    • IGNOU notes are one stop solution for many optional. The IGNOU is a widely acclaimed institute that serves the educational needs of the students hailing from remote areas. The study material of IGNOU also caters exam specific material that can be utilized to score high in exam.

Advantages of Anthropology Optional

Anthropology optional for UPSC mains traces its origin from science-based subject. This optional remains the first choice for the aspirants who have their background in science and technology-based subjects. It is an optional that benefits students in prelims exam as well because of overlap with General Studies paper of prelims. This is the reason that this subject is chosen mostly by engineering and medical background students. The following advantages are associated with this optional:

  • The questions asked in Anthropology optional are quite straightforward and to the point.
  • It is quite helpful during prelims preparation of UPSC exam. The syllabus of this optional has overlap with UPSC prelims syllabus specially in Science and Technology section. Owing to its scientific nature subject offers a better understanding and conceptual clarity to the students.
  • The subject is scoring in nature as it deals with core humanities’ aspects.
  • This subject also overlaps with other primary studies such as General Studies that offers help in writing better answers to questions.
  • The entire syllabus of optional can be covered within 3 to 4 months if an efficient strategy has been adopted.

Strategy for Anthropology Optional

Before moving ahead with preparation of Anthropology optional for UPSC mains it is crucial to know the contours and few specific core areas that need to be worked upon. Score in Anthropology optional solely depends upon strategy followed. Just mugging up and collecting facts will not serve the purpose. One need to follow an analytical approach while doing answer writing practice for this optional. The following points must be adhered to while preparing for this optional:

Proper Understanding and Analysis of the Syllabus 

A precise understanding of the IAS syllabus of anthropology is must as it will be your key to perform well in this exam. The previous years questions help you to understand the structure and pattern of optional paper. Apart from this it also helps you to determine the core areas that need more emphasis.

Division of Syllabus

The anthropology optional has 2 papers paper one and paper two. The paper one deals with Socio Cultural Anthropology and Biological Anthropology. While Paper two deals with the Indian Society and Tribal India. These major topics too have been divided into some microtopics that ease your preparation.

Answer Writing Practice

Answer writing skills play a vital role in securing marks. Regular practice enables you to work upon your weaker areas so that you can enhance your score. Your answer cast a better impression over invigilator if it is supported by analytical approach and inclusion of facts, figures, diagrams and charts. Answer written should be to the point and with inclusion of proper subheading it looks skim-worthy to the evaluator.

Case Studies

Case Studies in Anthropology is most essential component that can help you with more GS Score in optional paper. Case studies is such a component that require a broader perspective and enhanced analysis.  Inclusion of case studies while writing answers can fetch you good marks in Anthropology. You can use some common resources to get case studies related to Anthropology, such as The Hindu Newspaper, EPW, Xaxa Committee, and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs website.

Here we are putting some important case studies to make your Anthropology optional more effective and insightful:

  • Trivial Issues related to tribal communities such as low literacy, land alienation, unemployment, health, poverty, and indebtedness can be a incorporated in case studies.
  • Case studies on Minorities, based on their linguistic, religious, social, political, and economic status.
  • Case studies on development projects, their impact on tribal habitations and displacement, the forest policies and tribal relations.
  • Case studies pertaining to Panchayati Raj and social transformation, with media and social changes. Apart from this, problems in exploitation and deprivation of SC, ST, and OBCs.
  • Societal change and impact on vulnerable section of society and tribal communities.
  • Religious transformation and impact on tribal sections

Anthropology Syllabus for UPSC Mains

You can only master Anthropology optional if you are aware of the syllabus in its entirety. Hence it is crucial to understand the Anthropology syllabus to prepare for the subject effectively.

The Anthropology subject consists of two papers of 250 marks each, and collectively the optional subject constitutes 500 marks in total. Click here to have a look at the syllabus of both papers.

Best Books for Anthropology Preparation

Here are the best books that will assist you in your exam preparation.

For Paper I

  • Introducing Sociology NCERT Class XI
  • Biology NCERT book For Class Xll (Chapter 5, 6, 7)
  • An Introduction to Social-Cultural Anthropology – N.K Vaid
  • An Introduction to Social Anthropology – D.N. Majumdar and T.N. Madan (for basic understating of Anthropology)
  • Anthropological Theories – Makhan Jha
  • Measuring Time (Chapter 2) of Indian Prehistory – D.K Bhattacharya
  • Biology NCERT Class XII
  • Physical Anthropology – P. Nath
  • IGNOU MA Course for Anthropology

For Paper II

  • Indian Anthropology – Nadeem Hasnain
  • Indian Society – NCERT Class XII
  • Social Change and Development in India –  NCERT Class XII
  • Tribal India – Nadeem Hasnain
  • Xaxa Committee Report
  • Tribal Culture Of India – L P Vidyarathi
  • Tribal Ministry Website
  • IGNOU MA Course For Anthropology

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Roshni Santhalia

Writes article on money, market and finance.