UPSC Mains Sociology Optional - Syllabus, Strategy, Books, Answer Writing Tips & Previous Year Papers

Sociology is the scientific study of society and its structures and relationships, as well as different patterns of communication and culture. The study of sociology is about using the methods and tools at disposal to observe and analyse various aspects of society. When it comes to UPSC Examinations, Sociology Optional paper plays a very important role in deciding the ranks of candidates.

Importance of Sociology in UPSC preparation

Sociology being a subject of fundamental concepts is easier to grasp, memorise and answer than other optional papers, which is why it is a vital part of General Studies (paper) as well as preferred by many as an optional in UPSC Mains. Paper I of Sociology deals with the core aspects of the study, while Paper II is about the Indian society, structure and its evolution over the years. The knowledge does not only help with the paper itself but also gives the candidates a basic foundation that helps with essay writing and later on in interviews and other tests.

Why do IAS aspirants prefer to take Sociology?

Sociology as an optional paper in UPSC has been preferred by candidates over the years. Even those with no prior experience with the subject have taken affinity towards the paper and scored well. Here are the reasons why many IAS aspirants prefer Sociology over other papers:

  • UPSC Sociology optional is an easily understandable and highly scoring paper which helps to improve rank.
  • Many candidates feel that Sociology Optional syllabus is easier to complete and prepare for the examination.
  • It does not require prior knowledge or academic background in Sociology to take up the paper.
  • Being a theory paper based on concepts, there is always a chance to score some marks.
  • Sociology acts as a base for all the four General Studies papers.

Detailed Sociology Syllabus

Here is the Sociology syllabus for UPSC in detail.

Sociology Paper I Syllabus 

Fundamentals of Sociology

  1. Sociology - The Discipline
  1. Modernity and social changes in Europe and the emergence of sociology.
  2. Sociology and common sense.
  3. Scope of the subject and comparison with other social sciences.
  1. Sociology as Science:
  1. Science, scientific method and critique.
  2. Major theoretical strands of research methodology.
  3. Fact value and objectivity.
  4. Positivism and its critique.
  5. Non-positivist methodologies.
  1. Research Methods and Analysis:
  1. Qualitative and quantitative methods.
  2. Techniques of data collection.
  3. Variables, sampling, hypothesis, reliability and validity.
  1. Sociological Thinkers:
  1. Karl Marx - Historical materialism, mode of production, alienation, class struggle.
  2. Max Weber - Social action, ideal types, authority, bureaucracy, protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
  3. Talcott Parsons - Social system, pattern variables.
  4. Emile Durkheim- Division of labour, social fact, suicide, religion and society.
  5. Robert K. Merton - Latent and manifest functions, conformity and deviance, reference groups.
  6. Mead - Self and identity.
  1. Stratification and Mobility:
  1. Concepts- equality, inequality, hierarchy, exclusion, poverty and deprivation.
  2. Theories of social stratification- Structural functionalist theory, Marxist theory, Weberian theory.
  3. Social mobility- open and closed systems, types of mobility, sources and causes of mobility.
  4. Dimensions – Social stratification of class, status groups, gender, ethnicity and race.
  1. Works and Economic Life:
  1. Social organization of work in different types of society - slave society, feudal society, industrial /capitalist society.
  2. Formal and informal organization of work.
  3. Labour and society.
  1. Politics and Society:
  1. Sociological theories of power.
  2. Nation, state, citizenship, democracy, civil society, ideology. Protest, agitation, social movements, collective action, revolution.
  3. Power elite, bureaucracy, pressure groups, and political parties.
  1. Religion and Society:
  1. Sociological theories of religion.
  2. Types of religious practices: animism, monism, pluralism, sects, cults.
  3. Religion in modern society: religion and science, secularization, religious revivalism, fundamentalism.
  1. Systems of Kinship:
  1. Types and forms of family.
  2. Family, household, marriage.
  3. Patriarchy and the sexual division of labour.
  4. Lineage and descent.
  5. Contemporary trends.
  1. Social Change in Modern Society:
  1. Sociological theories of social change.
  2. Agents of social change.
  3. Development and dependency.
  4. Science, technology and social change.
  5. Education and social change.

Sociology Paper I Syllabus


1. Introducing Indian Society:

(I) Perspectives on the study of Indian society:

  1. Structural functionalism
  2. Indology
  3. Marxist sociology

(II) Impact of colonial rule on Indian society:

  1. Social background of Indian nationalism.
  2. Protests and movements during the colonial period.
  3. Modernization of Indian tradition.
  4. Social reforms.

 2. Social Structure:

(I) Rural and Agrarian Social Structure:

  1. The idea of an Indian village and village studies.
  2. Agrarian social structure - the evolution of land tenure system, land reforms.

(II) Caste System:

  1. Perspectives on the study of caste systems: M N Srinivas, Andre Beteille, GS Ghurye, Louis Dumont.
  2. Features of the caste system.
  3. Untouchability - forms and perspectives.

(III) Tribal communities in India:

  1. Definitional problems.
  2. Colonial policies and tribes.
  3. Geographical spread.
  4. Issues of integration and autonomy.

(IV) Social Classes in India:

  1. Agrarian class structure.
  2. Industrial class structure.
  3. Middle classes in India.

(V) Systems of Kinship in India:

  1. Lineage and descent in India.
  2. Types of kinship systems.
  3. Family and marriage in India.
  4. Household dimensions of the family.

(VI) Religion and Society:

  1. Religious communities in India.
  2. Problems of religious minorities.
  3. Patriarchy, entitlements and sexual division of labour

Sociology Preparation Strategy from IAS Toppers

If fresh candidates want to have a clear idea of how to go ahead with the preparations of the paper, the best way is to take inspiration from those who have already done it and excelled at it. UPSC toppers like Anu Kumari, Mona Pruthi or Hemant Bhorkhade have few things in common when it comes to their preparation approaches. One can get a first-person view from their interviews/blogs rather than blindly following generic suggestions and improve their own preparation strategy.

IAS Topper - Anu Kumari (AIR 2, UPSC 2017) - Interview Session -  Cleared UPSC with Sociology Optional

How to start studying Sociology Optional

Sociology toppers suggest new candidates stay optimistic while beginning the preparations for the paper. How difficult the paper will prove to be, depends a lot on how the candidate approaches the subject. Whether one has studied Sociology before or not, the paper will definitely need a certain amount of diligence and devotion, and quite a lot of test writing to prepare.

Those who do not have a background in Sociology should start with studying the basic concepts from the textbooks and then move on to the more complex concepts. Those who are aware of the fundamentals can start by brushing up on the basics with a session of self-assessment.

How to study the Sociology Books and Notes

From where exactly to study differs from aspirant to aspirant. Successful candidates suggest starting with the Sociology notes for UPSC of a reputed coaching institution or teacher. Sometimes, grasping the basic concepts of the subject from the books can be difficult, in which case the lucidity of the notes comes in handy.

Once this part is over, then the Sociology material for UPSC can be supplemented with further texts. If there is one particular segment or chapter which is better explained in some other book, learning from there is also a good option.

Do’s and Don’ts in Sociology Optional Preparation

Here are some tips for Sociology Optional strategy to help new candidates prepare for the same.


  1. Practise writing as many tests as you can. There is no alternative to memorising the concepts and theories of sociology than keeping at the habit of writing them again and again within stipulated time.
  2. Incorporating current affairs and case studies in the answers and having a clear idea of how they are related to the answer one is writing is useful.
  3. Join a discussion forum to stay up to date with all the details of the examination and its preparations.
  4. Picking the right Sociology study material for IAS is very important. Whether a candidate is taking coaching or preparing on their own, referring to the notes of reputed institutes come handy in understanding certain concepts and forming their answers.
  5. Continuous self-assessment with the help of Question Banks available in PDF format on the internet or as books in the market, as well as the thorough answering of previous years’ question papers is helpful.


  1. It is better not to consult more supplement books than one can handle. Going by the trend and referring to too many books can confuse the aspirants rather than helping. It is better to stick with 2-3 books and reliable Sociology Optional notes, say the toppers.
  2. If a certain topic seems difficult to understand from one source, do not keep at it. It will only waste time and put unnecessary stress on mental energy, which can be utilised to study the same from another source which might have a better explanation.
  3. There is no need to memorise whole chunks from the books. To gain an understanding of what answers require, consulting notes is helpful. Memorising only that bit is sufficient for getting good marks.
  4. Just because Sociology might seem easier than the rest, leaving it for the last minute would be a mistake. It is a very scoring paper and preparing it properly and well in advance has its benefits.
  5. Lastly, do not pay attention to every tip and suggestion people give. Not everything works for everyone, and it would be putting oneself under undue stress by trying to follow everything. Candidates should ultimately focus on a strategy that suits them, and that they are comfortable with.

Preparing self-notes for Sociology Optional

Not everyone prepares self-notes, but it is a good way to go about the preparation. Many toppers have suggested creating self-notes as it fuels better and in-depth understanding of the concepts. The steps for preparing self-notes are:

  1. Take one segment at a time and concentrate on understanding and memorising that solely for the time being.
  2. Study for that segment from Sociology notes for IAS and the books, and underline/highlight the important parts while reading.
  3. Reread the underlined/highlighted parts for the segment and take that in like an imprint on the mind.
  4. Rewrite the segment from the understanding of the topic instead of copying or memorising word by word from the source material. This way, the candidates will be able to have a better chance of producing comprehensive answers in the tests.
  5. Consult with model answers to make sure that the notes match the required standard of answer content.

Notes and Sociology Study Materials Suggested by IAS Toppers

Here are the notes and books that the toppers have followed while completing their Sociology syllabus for IAS.

  1. Sociology – Themes and Perspectives by Harlambos and Holborn
  2. Sociology Theory by George Ritzer
  3. Essential Sociology by Nitin Sangwan
  4. IGNOU class notes (PDF)
  5. Aditya Mongra notes (available online on social media)
  6. Vikas Ranjan Books
  7. Kshitiz Tyagi notes
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Sociology Optional Overlap with General Studies

Studying Sociology for UPSC mains has more benefits than simply scoring well in the optional paper and improving one’s rank. As a discipline, it has more benefits and contributes towards the whole process of taking the IAS examination and securing a good placement.

GS Paper I

  • Political philosophies like communism, capitalism and socialism and their direct and indirect effects on society.
  • Impacts of globalization on Indian culture.
  • Significant highlights and milestones of Indian Society, Unity and Diversity of India.
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.
  • Role of women and women’s organization, population and related issues, poverty and developmental issues, inequality of the society, urbanization and all of their causes, effects and remedies.

GS Paper II

  • Pressure groups and formal/informal associations and the role they play in politics.
  • Welfare schemes to address the development of vulnerable and backward sections of the society by the Centre and States; the implementation, execution and results of the schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these sections.
  • Development processes and the development industry – the roles played by NGOs, Self-help Groups of women and other minorities, various groups and associations as well as donors, charities and other third-party stakeholders.
  • Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education and Human Resources.
  • Poverty and hunger issues.
  • Civil services in a democratic structure.

GS Paper III

  • Comprehensive overall development of the State and its consequences.
  • Transformations in industrial policy, impact that liberalization has on the economy, and the effects of their outcome on industrial growth.
  • Land reforms in India.
  • Development and spread of extremism linkage – Naxalism.

GS Paper IV

  • Human values and ethics, family and gender roles and their inequalities.
  • Importance of social and educational institutions in cultivating values, morals and ethics in new generations.
  • Thinkers, reformers, administrators and their contributions.
  • Lives and lessons of great leaders of history.

UPSC Mains GS Papers Preparation Strategies 

Sociology Role in Writing UPSC Essay

The essay paper of IAS Mains usually has at least one question asked on social issues, reforms, causes and effects. If a candidate has studied well for the Sociology Optional paper, that makes one less question to worry about in the Mains.

Sociology Role in IAS Interview Preparation

Being aware of the past and current sociological dynamics of the country, which is all covered in the Sociology Optional paper II, will give the candidates an edge in the interviews. In many cases, the questions from the interviewer panel are rooted in social constructs or current social issues. The answers to these questions will come to the candidates fast and easy if they are well prepared in Sociology. Having an idea of Sociology and giving relevant social examples in other answers is also a good way to impress the panel.

Sociology helpful in Current Affairs Analysis

Current affair at present is one of the most important aspects of UPSC. Aspirants have to up to date with the news at any cost if they want to stay ahead of the competition. Review of social affairs also makes for great examples in multiple papers of General Studies as well. Having a grasp of Sociology makes analysing current affairs much easier in the light of theories, schools of beliefs and past incidents.

Sociology Optional Answer Writing Tips

Simply knowing and having the information stored in the head is not enough. One must know how to write an answer so that it covers all the necessary aspects of marking and impresses the examiner. Here are a few answer writing tips to help the aspirants in writing the best possible answers that will fetch them high scores.

  1. Learning the topics and subtopics thoroughly is important to be able to form interlinks between the answers.
  2. Keeping tab of all current affairs and making a note of them is a good habit to maintain to be able to quote the same in answers. These examples make the answers a lot more effective.
  3. Quoting thinkers in relevant spaces is very important. But placing them correctly is also equally important. Otherwise, it would backfire.
  4. Underlining keywords and phrases is the fool-proof way to bring the examiner’s attention to the important parts of the answer.
  5. A solid introduction and conclusion are essential to good answer writing. These are the parts that can sway an examiner’s decision regarding marks the most.

List of Books for Sociology Optional

To prepare for the paper, there are plenty of Sociology books for UPSC mains available. Candidates can extract sections from multiple books, or they can follow a single book which they find is comprehensive enough. Here are some of the most-preferred Sociology optional books for the current syllabus.

Sociology Paper I Books 

Name of the book

Name of the author

Sociology – Themes and Perspectives      

Haralambos and Holborn

Sociology Theory

George Ritzer

Methodology and techniques of Social Research

Jaspal Singh


Anthony Giddens

Sociological Thought

Francis Abraham, John Henry Morgan

Essential Sociology

Nitin Sangwan

Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (for reference)



Sociology Paper II Books

Name of the book

Name of the author

Indian Sociological Thought

B.K. Nagla

Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar

M.N. Srinivas

Social Change in Modern India

M.N. Srinivas

Society in India: Concepts, Theories and Recent Trends

Ram Ahuja

Social Problems in India

Ram Ahuja

Persistence and Change in Tribal India

M.V. Rao

Social Background of Indian Nationalism

A.R. Desai

Modernization of Indian Tradition

Yogendra Singh

Importance of Case Studies in Sociology Optional

Case Studies play a very important role in Paper II of Sociology IAS. Candidates will need to provide solid reasoning to provide authenticity to their answers in the second paper, for which being aware of related case studies is very essential. Here is why case studies play a significant role in Sociology and why candidates should pay close attention to them.

  1. Case studies and analysis are largely inter-related, and they complement each other in an answer. One’s existence is quite in vain without the presence of the other, in many cases.
  2. If and when used appropriately, case studies help the candidates to prove their points in the answers, thus making the essays much more impactful.
  3. It is a very effective way to get the attention of the examiners and impress them. However, using case studies without proper relation or sufficient analysis can prove to have the opposite effect.
  4. Using case studies and putting down its proper analysis goes on to prove that the candidate has taken the effort of going beyond theoretical knowledge and has analysed the issue from a practical point of view – which is a factor that examiners seek in candidates.
  5. Studying case studies for the written exam later helps in the interviews as well, as many interviewers prefer to ask practical questions to test the interviewee’s depth of knowledge.

Previous Years Question Papers for Sociology Optional

Consulting previous years’ question papers and taking mock tests on the same is an important part of preparing for any UPSC examination, and Sociology is no exception. It helps the candidates to get an idea of what sort of questions might come in the paper and how long will it take to complete the paper. Moreover, questions are often repeated in Sociology Optional UPSC examination, which is why students should focus even more on previous question papers of up to five years at least.


Question Papers


Paper I

Paper II


Paper I

Paper II


Paper I

Paper II


Paper I

Paper II


Paper I

Paper II

Important Links related to UPSC Sociology Optional

Sociology Optional Coaching

If aspirants are looking for coaching classes to prepare for Sociology Optional paper, here are some details to consider.

Key features to look for

  • Candidates should look for institutes which have the reputation of not only completing the entire Sociology syllabus but also revising it.
  • Make sure that the institute conducts enough mock tests and test series leading up to the examination.
  • Going through the profiles of the faculty is also advisable before deciding whether to attend coaching or not.
  • The main thing to look out for is the success rate of the institute.
  • It is suggested to find students over social forums and platforms who have attended coaching in the same institute and take the first-person opinion about how the classes are, how useful are the notes and so on.

Ideal Course Format

The course format that aspirants follow individually can vary from one to another. But once they attend a coaching institute, there is a certain format which is expected. Here are the features that an ideal course format for Sociology Optional class must have.

Duration: The duration of the course must run 10-12 months at least prior to the tests. It is the minimum period of days that is necessary to complete the syllabus and question banks and to get prepared for the Mains.

Tests: Mock tests are the most fool-proof way of making sure the aspirants are ready to take the examination. Ideally, there should be 1-2 tests conducted every month initially after completion of partial segments, and once the syllabus is done, the frequency should increase. Before the tests, the aspirants should be able to take 10-12 tests of the whole paper.

Study material: Coaching institutes should be providing the students with comprehensive study materials of good quality that cover all the important topics of Sociology, as well as examples, descriptions and full analysis of important case studies.

Find coaching for Sociology Optional in Delhi

There are coaching centres for IAS aspirants spread all over the country. Delhi has come up as a hotspot for IAS coaching classes which caters to the ever-increasing number of candidates from the who are from the northern region of India. Sociology is one of the extensively covered topics in the numerous coaching institutes of Delhi.

The strategic and systematic manner of coaching in the coaching institutes across Delhi has earned the city its reputation for being a hub of IAS preparation. Students from other cities nearby also attend classes here in order to be better prepared for the examination.

NeoStencil Sociology Faculty

NeoStencil is one of the leading IAS coaching institutes of Delhi, and there is a talented and experienced in-house and partner institute faculty to help the IAS aspirants with their Sociology Optional.

1) Mr Praveen Kishore

Graduated from NIT Rourkela, Mr Praveen Kishore is the founder of NICE IAS and a dedicated teacher of Sociology for IAS aspirants with over 20 years of experience. He is also an acclaimed academic writer.

2) Mr Vikash Ranjan

With a number of books and 10 years of teaching experience under his belt, Mr Vikash Ranjan is known for his simple, straightforward and exam-focused teaching method. He also covers Paper IV (Ethics) of General Studies. He is associated with Triumph IAS.

3) Mr Venkata Mohan

The Founder-Director of Feynman IAS and an IIT Madras graduate, Mr Venkata Mohan is a renowned Sociology teacher and mentor known for his writing approach to improve the answer content of his students. He is the author of many renowned books such as Sociological Thought, Ethical Thought – Buddha to Damasio and many more.

4) Mr Mujtaba Hussain

An ex-JNU professor and former HOD at Patna University, Prof Mujtaba Hussain is now associated with Lukmaan IAS and has been guiding IAS aspirants in Sociology Optional and the Social Issues of General Studies.


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