[Studyplan] Physics Optional for UPSC CSE and State PSC Exams

Proper theory building, writing style, problem solving ability and accuracy are very important to score well in the UPSC Physics exam.

The books I referred for Physics are as follows. Here the books I did thoroughly for a particular topic are underlined, while the non-underlined books are those which I used to cover any remaining sub-sections of the topic.

Paper I

  1. Mechanics: Mechanics by D.S. Mathur 
    An Introduction to Mechanics by Kleppner and  Kolenkow
    Classical Mechanics by Goldstein / Here
  2. Waves and Optics:
    Optics by Ajoy Ghatak / Here
    Optics by B.S. Agarwal
  3. Electricity and Magnetism:
    Introduction to Electrodynamics by David J. Griffiths / Here
    Electromagnetic Theory and Electrodynamics by Satya Prakash 
    Electricity and Magnetism by D.C.Tayal

  4. Thermal and Statistical Physics:
    Heat and Thermodynamics by Dittman and Zemansky / Here 
    Thermodynamics, Kinetic Theory and Statistical Thermodynamics by Sears and Salinger / Here 
    Thermodynamics, Statistical Physics and Kinetics by Satya Prakash OR
    Thermal Physics by Garg, Bansal and Ghosh / Here

Paper II

  1. Quantum Mechanics:
    Quantum Physics by H.C. Verma
    Quantum Physics by Resnick and Eisberg / Here
  2. Atomic and Molecular Physics:
    Atomic and Molecular Spectra by Raj Kumar / Here

    Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser / Here 
    Molecular Physics by Banwell / Here
    Quantum Physics by Resnick and Eisberg / Here
  3. Nuclear and Particle Physics:
    Nuclear Physics by D.C. Tayal
    Quantum Physics by Resnick and Eisberg / Here
    Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser / Here
  4. Solid State Physics, Devices and Electronics:
    Principles of Electronic Materials and Devices by S O Kasap / Here
    Principles of Electronics by Mehta and Mehta / Here
    Introduction to Solid State Physics by Kittel / Here
    Quantum Physics by Resnick and Eisberg / Here
    Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser / Here

[Making use of availability of choice in the exam, I covered the first seven topics mentioned above completely, while for the last topic (Solid State Physics, Devices and Electronics) I skipped the Devices & Electronics portion. This portion is extremely lengthy and can be skipped if you cover all other topics well and if you are not from Electrical/Electronics Engineering background.]

I took coaching in Physics from Prof. Vajpayee (DIAS Institute), which helped in giving me a holistic coverage of the syllabus. Also, I got to learn the method of writing for the Physics exam in the UPSC.
After covering the theory and doing practice problems (from class notes plus solved examples in the books), I attempted the tutorial sheets given by Prof. Vajpayee and solved them properly on paper in the way I would write in the exam. This was a very helpful exercise as the tutorial sheets contain the past year UPSC questions exhaustively (arranged topic wise) and it gives one a clear picture of the way questions are asked in the UPSC and how one would attempt them. For solutions, I referred to Brilliant Tutorials, which provide solved problems for UPSC exams of past 15-20 years.

I also solved a few complete papers of recent years in exam like conditions to simulate a complete attempt like the exam.

Finally, as in Mathematics, I also made summary sheets for every unit/topic (~ 4 pages per unit) in which I listed the important results/formulae/derivation techniques/tips/graphs/diagrams which can be gone through a day before the exam. This is helpful as it can give you a holistic & quick revision of the entire syllabus before the exam.

In the exam, my correct attempt was ~ 290 in Paper I and ~ 270 in Paper II. My score in the exam was 184 in Paper I and 173 in Paper II. Here I felt a characteristic difference in my score versus correct attempt as compared to the same for Mathematics. The reason is probably because in a dire want of completing the Physics paper in time (as I had fell short of time in Maths paper, so I did not want to end up with time shortage in Physics as well!), I may have not given due justice to answer writing. Putting it simply, while in Mathematics it is sufficient to write the solution of a question properly without the need to write anything extra, it has been seen that for any question in Physics (including numerical problems) candidates are given extra credit if they give some background of the topic in question, make a diagram/graph wherever it can be made, give the applications if you are asked to write about a particular phenomenon, etc. Prof. Vajpayee’s classes/notes can be quite helpful in this regard, i.e., in improving answer writing.

Source: Kashish Mittal

Another Strategy by Topper 
Kunal Silku, IAS Rank 65, 2011

How I Got 410 Marks in Physics

This has been my 3rd attempt with in UPSC and my 2nd Mains with Physics. But during this period I realized one thing that getting 370+ in Physics is not difficult and it does not even need a preparation of more than 6-8 months. What is needed is the right strategy which most of us either don’t realize, or realize after 1-2 years like me.

I will divide my discussion in 2 parts. One for the freshers who have almost no background of Physics and Second for those who have read the syllabus atleast once.

Strategy for Freshers

As a fresher, first of all you must not panic by seeing the columns and columns of syllabus. I guess here the role of Vajpeyi Sir is maximum. You must join some good coaching and try to get your concepts clear. Vajpeyi sir is pretty good in this and he creates a nice framework which provides the foundation for further preparation. However in coaching there will be instances when you will feel that you know nothing and others are knowing a lot. Trust me it is not the matter of intellect but just time. You might be fresher while they might have background.

During initial phase just concentrate on classes. Try to read the books and make your own concepts and try and solve difficult questions from last 10 year papers. Don’t try to memorize derivations at this stage. And don’t give more than 5 hours for Physics in this stage .Keep reading GS and other optional also.
This stage will be over in about 3.5 month time.

Strategy for those who have read syllabus atleast once

After this stage comes the stage of self preparation which varies for each student and I guess it is here that many people make mistakes. I will suggest the following strategy at this stage.

You must start topics one by one and dedicate almost 10 days for it. Here you must try to learn concepts and derivations in first 6 days and then solve maximum problems in last 4 days. Your reading time can be 4 hours and question solving 3 hours. Naturally you will left with less time for other optional. So plan accordingly.

Considering that there are 8 topics, this stage should be over in 3 months.

Then you can proceed to the last phase of cracking the exam.

Strategy for Cracking the exam with 370+ marks

By this time you must have been over with pre and there is pressure of syllabus. Therefore you are not supposed to devote more than 3-4 hours for Physics.

At this stage the first thing that needs to be done is choosing your 3 optional questions in each paper and making a first fallback plan.
My strategy here was as follows

In Paper 1

I choose to do Heat and Thermodynamics (Question 8), Optics (Question 4) and STR with optics (Question 3). They were my prime targets.

For fallbacks in section 1 I had Mechanics. (However the chances of using this fallback were less considering I was already doing 2 questions from this section and at times of difficulty can always shift to section 2 for two questions.)

For fallback in section 2 , My first choice was electricity and magnetism (Question 6) and second was EMT.

Regarding EMT I would like to add that this is one topic that gives maximum marks (80%) if done correctly. However here is the deception. There are fare chances of you forgetting the derivations in between and ruining up your attempt. Also since the derivations are naturally long, they take more time in writing and eat into the time of other questions. Therefore, It was my last choice.

So as you can see, I eliminated Mechanics and EMT from my target list and saved considerable time to prepare other topics well.

This time I did question 4, 6, and 8 and got 204 marks. (Attempt 290).

In Paper 2

I chose to do Nuclear Physics (Question 6), Molecular Physics (Question 4) and Quantum Physics (Question 2).

My fallback in section 1 was Angular Momentum and Atomic Physics (Question 3). However since I did not have a strong fallback in section 2, I read all 3 questions with same intensity in order to eliminate the chances of not able to do 2 questions from section1. But still you can avoid Question 3.

In Section 2 I did not have any fallback and I was totally dependent on Nuclear Physics. Therefore I invested considerable time in it and read it in great detail. Still reading Nuclear was much less than covering electronics and solid state with certainty. But here those of you who can prepare one question out of Question 7 or 8, it is a great respite.

In exam I did Question 3,4 and 6 and got 206 marks (Attempt 280).

After choosing your prime and fallback questions you need to prepare accordingly. Pay more attention and practice profusely for your prime targets and give sufficient time for 1st fallback. 2nd fallback can be neglected a bit and that time can be devoted in preparing the small compulsory questions from all topics.

I personally did not pay much attention to Mechanics, EMT and Solid state and Electronics with not touching Electronics at all. It did cost me a simple compulsory circuit question. But
I guess I saved considerable time for preparing my other parts extremely well.

Last Strategy 

In the last phase do not remain confined to one topic trying to finish it completely. That way you will always keep on forgetting the parts read earlier. Make a list of all difficult derivations and questions that you tend to forget from all topic and try to solve then randomly i:e one question can be from optics, second from Quantum and third can be from statistical. Try to become holistic at the end. It really helps a lot in the gap that you get between exam.

What is a Good answer?

In Physics just solving the paper is not important. The same attempt can score anything between 50% to 80%.

If you have attempted the question correctly you generally get 50%-55% marks. The remaining marks are for your presentation which can be as follows

  1.  You must always try to draw a neat diagram in the starting.
  2. Before starting the question you must always give some background explaining the phenomena or concept.
  3. During answering take care to explain any Physics involved and not just concentrate on mathematical steps.
  4. You can even skip Maths steps to save time without losing much credit. For example you can avoid solving a differential equation and can quote the right remembered result.
  5. At the end, always conclude your answer and explain the result.

What is the right time to begin preparation?

I would say May of the year preceding your exam year ideal. Try doing coaching for both optionals during that period and devote 4 hours each for each subject. (A study of 12 hours).
In October join GS coaching and devote 4 hours for GS and 6 hours for 1 optional and 1-2 hours for second optional for next 3 months. That makes it January end.
From February swap your optionals for next 2 months i:e Feb and March.
From April till May prepare exclusively for pre

After Pre devote 4 hours each for both optional and 2-3 hours for GS. Don’t join any coaching during this period. Just join test series.


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