Few Online Resources for Anthro

During the course of my preparation, I used few online resources for various aspects of Anthro guidance – some were blogs of toppers, some were for clarifying my concepts, etc. I am listing below these resources. But a word of caution: These online resources MUST be used optimally. They should be used only to demystify your understanding and aid your preparation. Do not be solely dependent on them for content. The primary content should come from standard books.

  1. Toppers’ Blogs (Anthro) –
  2. University of Utah – Genetics page – http://learn.genetics.utah.edu
    • Easily understandable guide on various aspects of genetics
  3. University of Alabama – Theories – http://anthropology.ua.edu/cultures/cultures.php
  4. Anthro tutorials by Palomar College, California:  http://anthro.palomar.edu/tutorials/
  5. Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) – http://www.ansi.gov.in/default.htm
    • May be used to see what’s going on in Indian Anthropology

There may be more websites which offer good content on Anthro. But I used primarily the ones mentioned above. 

One more point. As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, I took Anthro coaching from Vaid Sir, and given my zero knowledge on various aspects of Anthro preparation, found it to be OK. Though I must add that how a student utilises her teacher is more important. Whichever coaching you join, ensure that you utilise the resources optimally. Get all your doubts cleared. Get your answers evaluated. And please do not sulk. It breeds lot of negativity within you, which will hamper your preparation. 

Apart from Vaid Sir, I got few of my answers evaluated also from Mr. Vijay Singh. He is an experienced teacher of Anthro, though new in Delhi. He introduced me to one of the most important books for Anthro preparation – LP Vidyarthi’s The Tribal Culture of India, and also advised me to have an “application-oriented” approach in my answers, which I feel helped me in scoring well this year. He has also started a blog on Anthro preparation – http://www.upscanthropology.com. You may refer to it assess its utility for yourself.

This is all I wanted to say. My Foundation training at LBSNAA will start by the end of this month, and I may not get sufficient time to blog further. But still, do feel free to post your doubts here. I shall try my best to stay connected.

All the best.

Anthro Paper II:Topic-Wise Approach

The topics of relevance in Anthro Paper II are fewer than those in Paper I. But the challenge in Paper II is to stay anchored to anthropology while answering a question, because over the past few years, Paper II questions across most of the optionals have increasingly looked like GS questions. You need to identify WHY the question has been asked in your optional paper, and then answer accordingly, drawing mainly from the relevant content of your optional.

So, in Paper II Anthro, as I discussed earlier, lot of application-oriented questions can be expected. You must be absolutely clear and confident about the underlying concept, and answer the question with pertinent examples and anthropological studies.

The topic-wise approach which I followed:

1.1 – Indian Prehistory, Harappan, Contribution of tribal cultures, etc.

  • Primary Source: Singh & Sahay
  • Additional Details: DK Bhattacharya, Nadeem Hasnain
  • This is one of the more important areas of Paper II, and must be prepared well with absolute clarity of concepts
  • For each cultural stage, viz. Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic, prepare notes focusing on:
    • Climate
    • Tools, Tool-types, Tool-technology, Tool material, Practice the diagrams of tools
      • Try to relate the tool-types with the climate of that period
    • Sites in India (prominent ones), their excavators, any uniqueness in the sites, etc.
      • Singh & Sahay has good list of sites, their significance, etc.
    • Identify the sites on a map of India
  • Contribution of Tribal Cultures is given well in Singh & Sahay
  • Questions which have come regularly in the past must be prepared well

1.2 – Indian Fossils

  • Not much is given in books
  • Prepare Narmada Man from internet/Vaid Sir’s notes

1.3 – Ethno-archaeology in India

  • Not much resource available
  • Concept of Ethno-archaeology is given in DK Bhattacharya
  • Use wiki, internet etc. to prepare 2-3 page notes on it

2 – Demographic Profile, Linguistic Profile

  • Primary Source: Nadeem Hasnain, Internet for map of profile distribution
  • In “Ethnic Profile”, study only Risley’s and Guha’s Classification.
    • Guha’s is the most important one. You should know the physical features and other characteristics of each of the so-called “races” as described by Guha
    • For both Risley’s and Guha’s, know their criticisms/shortcomings
  • In Linguistic Profile, try to locate each language family and its branches on a map of India
  • Both Ethnic and Linguistic Profile need some amount of mugging up. Be ready for it.

3.1 – Varnashram, Karma, etc.

  • Use Nadeem Hasnain. It is given quite well there.

3.2 to 3.3 – Caste, Dominant Caste, TCC, Sacred Complex, NMS, etc.

  • Primary Source: Singh & Sahay – Chapter 8. It is THE best resource for “Basic Concepts” viz.:
    • TCC, NMS, Sacred Complex, Little/Great Traditions
    • Sanskritization, Dominant Caste, etc.
  • Additional resource: Nadeem Hasnain – for Caste Theories, Jajmani, Louis Dumont’s views, etc.
  • “Basic Concepts” forms one of the MOST important topics of Paper II. Your understanding must be crystal-clear
  • Must mention the pioneering anthropologist and name of his/her work, along with publication year when you discuss about a concept
  • Memorize also the tribes/social-groups on which these studies were done. You need to show to the examiner that you know about the concept in detail, and your answer must look like an anthropology-student’s answer, not a GS answer
  • For Example, when you answer about Sanskritization,
    • Must mention MN Srinivas, his work “Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India” (1952)
    • How it was influenced by Redfield’s GT and LT
    • Not only lower castes, but tribes and other social groups are brought into the fold of Brahmanical Hinduism
    • Its Positives and its Negatives; Criticisms; Different Models (Kshatriya model, Vaishya model, etc.)
    • Its relevance today; Reverse-Sanskritization, etc.
    • Examples
  • I have discussed few more points earlier in my post on Basic Approach for Anthro Paper II.

3.4 – Impact of Buddhism et al on Indian Society

  • Read from Nadeem Hasnain. Given quite well there
  • You can prepare short notes on impacts of each religion, mention few thinkers/sociologists, etc.
  • Easy and scoring

4 – Emergence and growth of Anthro in India, Contributions, etc.

  • I did not prepare on any thinker specifically.
  • But you must be aware of the emergence and growth of Anthro in India, major anthropologists such as SC Roy, LP Vidyarthi, MN Srinivas, Elwin, Sankalia, et al and their main works.
    • SC Roy, LPV and others have been pioneers of international repute. You ought to know about their contributions and works, though not in much detail
  • When you study about the phases of growth of Anthro in India, read carefully about the main contributions in each phase. This is given beautifully in LP Vidyarthi’s The Tribal Culture of India, as well as in other books like Hasnain, Singh/Sahay, etc.
    • The content in LP Vidyarthi’s book is, by far, the best. You can make notes from it if you want.
    • Additional details may be added from other books
  • If you are short on time, then do not spend too much effort in mugging up contribution of lesser-known thinkers. You can do some smart and selective work here based on questions asked last year, thinkers which have greater probability of being asked this year, etc.

5.1 – Village studies etc.

  • Primary resource: Singh & Sahay
  • Additional details are given in Nadeem Hasnain’s book, and Upadhyay/Pandey
  • I did not prepare this unit too well. You may be selective here, based on questions asked in previous years
  • Remember to inter-relate the village studies with Redfield and Little/Great Traditions
  • Must remember the major village studies, who studied them, and when.
  • Village studies of 1950s- 60s gave rise to lot of Concepts (e.g. TCC, Dominant Caste, etc.). So, you should read and understand these two units together

5.2 – Linguistic and religious minorities etc.

  • Did not prepare. Maybe given in Hasnain/Vaid’s notes. Not sure.

5.3 – Sanskritization etc.

  • Discussed earlier – under 3.2
  • Additional details are there in Hasnain
  • For contemporary sub-topics such as Panchayati Raj and Social Change, Media and social change, etc., I did no specific preparation.
  • I think that for such subtopics, you can leverage your knowledge of GS and Anthro both, and answer the question from more of an anthropological perspective – e.g. how Panchayati Raj (and PESA) have impacted tribal societies, and so on.

6.1 – Tribal Situation in India – bio-genetic variability etc.

  • Did no specific preparation. Some basic study was done from Vaid’s notes
  • Variability, etc. can be answered based on your preparation of Racial and Linguistic classification (Unit 2)
  • Examples are important here. Prepare them well.

6.2 and 6.3 – Tribal Problems

  • One of the MOST important topics in Paper II. Must not be ignored at all
  • Primary resource: Hasnain’s Tribal India
  • Prepare 2-3 page A4-sheet notes on each Tribal problem.
    • Mention prominent tribes facing the issue
    • Anthropological studies must be given
    • Why the problem persists, what is the solution, etc.
    • Use Census data, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) figures etc. to give factual information on say illiteracy, displacement, land alienation, etc.
  • Your answer MUST NOT look like a GS answer. Also, when you mention about a tribe facing a problem, go in some detail, such as how that tribe is affected, who are the exploiters, etc.
  • I’ve covered few other points earlier in my earlier post on Basic Approach for Paper 2
  • Very important and scoring topic of Paper II. Must not be ignored at any cost.

7.1 – Problems of SC/STs, OBCs etc, Constitutional Safeguards

  • Use any book here. I used Hasnain and Vaid Sir’s notes
  • From the exam point of view, SC and OBC problems are of lesser importance
  • Understand the difference between Tribals and STs
  • Memorize all the Constitutional safeguards, Articles, etc. very well.
  • Also, there are few reports (Mungerkar) and letters (BD Sharma’s) which highlight why these safeguards have not been very successful. Quote these in your answers

7.2 – Social change and tribal societies

  • I prepared from Vaid’s Notes (which had few recent case studies) and LP Vidyarthi
  • Last few chapters in LP Vidyarthi have an excellent treatise on impact of development on tribal societies. Memorize case studies and reproduce them in your answers. Donot be generic – you must explain HOW a specific tribe has been impacted by the so-called “development programmes”
  • Do not sound like an anti-development crusader in your answers. But you must illustrate that the development has not been inclusive, and that the tribal societies have been disproportionately affected by such programmes
  • Also explain what needs to be done (Action Anthropology), how anthropologists should get involved, etc. Have a pro-tribal approach. If your answer has any iota of ethnocentrism, you will be penalized heavily

7.3 – Ethnicity, Tribal Unrest, Regionalism, etc

  • These specific topics may be prepared from Hasnain/Singh Sahay etc.
  • I did not devote much time to these units

8.1 – Impact of religions on tribes

  • Primary resource: LP Vidyarthi’s The Tribal Culture of India
  • Additional resource: Hasnain may be used. But Vidyarthi deals with this topic extremely well.
  • Prepare A4-sheet notes
  • Memorize examples
  • Easy and scoring topic

8.2 – Tribe and nation state

  • Did not prepare

9.1 – History of tribal administration, PVTGs, role of NGOs etc.

  • Use Hasnain, LP Vidyarthi to prepare notes
  • Have the latest figures on PVTGs, the criteria, challenges, etc.
  • Examples of few good NGOs working for tribal development can be taken from net. May also have come in Yojana issues.

9.2 – Role of anthropology in tribal and rural development

  • Very important topic, easy and scoring.
  • Use Hasnain, Singh & Sahay and LP Vidyarthi
  • For a short and concise content, use Singh and Sahay (Chapter 14)
  • Must mention about Prof. Sol Tax and Action Anthropology, and examples in Indian context

9.3 – Contribution of Anthro to understanding of regionalism, etc.

  • Did not prepare
  • See the trend of previous years’ questions and prepare accordingly, if needed

In Anthro Paper II, as in Paper I, examples and case studies are of prime significance. Draw diagrams/schematics wherever you can. While preparing notes, draw the diagrams there and practice them. Having a contemporary approach, if possible, is important. And finally, make sure your answers stand out as Anthro answers and not get lost in the crowd of generic GS-type answers.

All the best.

Anthro Paper I: Topic-Wise Approach

In my previous two posts, I tried to highlight the Basic Approach that I followed for Anthro Paper 1 and 2. Now, I will present the approach I followed for each topic of the syllabus. Please understand that what I will outline below is a personal strategy I followed. It may or may not suit everyone. If you need, try to evolve your own strategy, keeping in mind the Basic Approach I discussed earlier.

There are 3 pre-requisites you would need here: 1) Anthro Syllabus, 2) Topic-Wise question bank of the last 10 years or so, and 3) The must-have books I listed earlier.

Lets begin. Starting with Paper I.

1.1 to 1.3 – Meaning, Scope; Relationship; Branches

  • Primary Source: Vaid’s book “In Search of ourselves
  • Additional details can be found in any other socio-cultural book – e.g. Majumdar & Madan, Nadeem Hasnain, LPV, Ember & Ember etc.
  • Questions come very frequently from this topic. Prepare well.

1.4 – Evolution

  • Primary Source: P. Nath’s book, Vaid Sir’s printed notes
  • For Additional details: BM Das, Ember & Ember
  • Focus on getting a good conceptual clarity. In Pre-Darwinian, focus only on Lamarck
  • Diagrams must be drawn where needed

1.5 – Primates

  • Primary Source: P. Nath, Vaid Sir’s printed notes
  • For better diagrams/sketches – Use Ember & Ember, Google
  • Most important: Skeletal changes due to erect posture; Comparative anatomy of a primate & man
  • Must draw diagrams. Just focus on getting the basic sketch
  • Very scoring if you draw the diagrams properly.

1.6 – Fossils et al

  • Primary Source: P. Nath
  • Use Ember & Ember for better understanding, if needed
  • Prepare 2-3 page A4 sheet notes on each of the fossils mentioned in the syllabus. As the syllabus mentions, focus on:
    • Phylogenetic Status (i.e. its place in the evolution tree, who are its ancestors/successors, etc.)
    • Characteristics (physical, cultural aspects, time-span of the fossil)
    • Geographical distribution
      • Who discovered the 1st fossil, where & when
      • Distribution of the fossil in other parts of the world
  • Very scoring; Diagrams are a must.
  • Do not ignore any fossil. Prepare notes on ALL the fossils mentioned in the syllabus

1.7 – Did not prepare.

  •     You can use internet/11th-12th NCERT Biology if needed

1.8 (a) – Dating methods, etc.

  •       Use Ember & Ember.

1.8 (b) World Prehistory

  • Did not prepare for the World. Prepared only for Indian sites in Paper II.
  • If you must, use DK Bhattacharya/Ember & Ember. But must prepare notes.

2.1 & 2.2 – Culture, Society, etc.

  • Primary Source: Vaid’s In Search of Ourselves
  • Understanding of this topic would be useful for your interview also

2.3 to 2.5; 3, 4 and 5 – Marriage, Family, Kinship, Economic Organisation, Political Organisation, Religion

  • This is the core of Socio-Cultural Anthro
  • Primary Sources: Vaid’s In Search of Ourselves; LP Vidyarthi’s The Tribal Culture of India
  • Use Ember & Ember, Majumdar-Madan for additional details, examples
  • Most important aspect here is giving EXAMPLES
  • Must develop a sound understanding of the concepts involved. But remember – Examples are more important than the concept. Use LPV’s book (and other books also) to list out examples for each chapter.

6 – Anthropological Theories

  • Primary Source: Vaid’s In Search of Ourselves
  • Additional Details: Use Upadhyay & Pandey; University of Alabama’s Website
  • Prepare short notes on each theory. Must mention:
    • Why it emerged?
    • Main thinkers and their major works
    • Drawbacks/Criticisms
  • Must develop deep understanding of each theory [except perhaps Structuralism, which I have not understood till today 🙂 ]
    • A good understanding of the theories, if reflected in your answers, will have a good impression on the examiner
  • Few theories such as Cognitive, Post-Modern etc. are not given properly anywhere. You can use google/wiki etc. to prepare short notes on them based on whatever material you can get. Just make sure you understand the primary crux of that theory, and names of few thinkers.
  • Donot ignore this unit at any cost.

7 – Culture, Language etc

  • Did not prepare. Check if its given in Ember & Ember

8 – Research Methods in Anthro

  • Primary Source: Braintree notes: 6th booklet
  • Scoring and Easy topic
  • Positives of one method are the negatives of other method(s) and vice versa
  • Link it to the prominent thinkers and their works. E.g. Participant-Observation by Malinowski, Genealogical Method by Rivers, Questionnaire method by Morgan, etc.

9.1 to 9.4 – Human Genetics, et al

  • Primary Source: P. Nath. No other book is needed here. P. Nath is the best
  • Additional details: Maybe refer to BM Das and Ember & Ember (very selectively, and only if you must)
  • Nath’s book is a bit haphazardly arranged. You may need to identify the syllabus topics from the Contents page or go to that specific chapter to understand what it deals with.
    • Better approach: For each sub-topic, note down the relevant page numbers in P. Nath
    • For few very important topics such as Genetic Polymorphism et al, prepare your own notes from P. Nath for faster revision
  • Diagrams are a must. May use colored pens also for better representation (e.g. to show chromosomal aberrations and non-disjunction)
  • Must understand the “terms” properly – e.g. what is monogenic vs. polygenic, autosomal vs. sex chromosomes, etc. Donot use the terms loosely in your answer.
  • One of the most important and scoring topics of Paper I

9.5 – Race and Racism

  • Primary Source: Vaid’s Printed notes; P. Nath
  • You can prepare short notes on physical characteristics of major races of the world

9.6 – Genetic Markers et al

  • No good source to cover all subtopics. I did it from P. Nath and BM Das
  • For such topics where no good material is available, you should try to make your own notes from internet, wiki, books etc.

9.7 – Ecological Anthro

  • Primary Source: P. Nath and Vaid’s Printed Notes
  • Prepare your own notes and examples
  • Easy and scoring

9.8 – Epidemiological Anthro

  • NCERT 12th and Wiki
  • Prepare self notes and examples

10 – Growth and Development

  • Primary Source: P. Nath and Vaid’s Printed Notes. I mainly used P. Nath’s book.
  • Must draw GRAPHs in this unit. Very important. Also, examples must be given when needed
  • Use your Topic-Wise Qn Bank to identify the most important questions and prepare well for them. Most questions come around “Factors affecting growth”

11.1 to 11.3 – Did not prepare.

  • You may use internet to prepare short notes on these topics

12 – Applications of Anthro

  • Primary Source: P. Nath
  • For topics (e.g. Nutritional Anthro) not given in Nath, use internet or any other source to make notes
  • One of the most important topic of Paper I. Questions come regularly from here
  • Either read directly from the book, or (as I did,) prepare 2-3 page A4 sheet notes on each application. Use diagrams where you can (e.g. in DNA technology, etc.)
  • Can be very scoring if prepared well

Moreover, in each topic of the entire syllabus, identify the most important sub-topics (from your Topic-Wise Qn Bank) and do a thorough preparation of these topics, with extra diagrams, examples, etc.

All the best. May the force be with you 🙂

Anthro Paper II: Basic Approach

The second paper of Anthro is more dynamic than the first paper. It has greater scope of questions of contemporary relevance being asked, and it would also test whether you can APPLY concepts such as Tribe-Caste-Continuum, Dominant Caste, Sanskritization, etc. in the present context or not. Tribal India forms a bulk of the syllabus of Paper II. So, you must read standard textbooks properly, esp. the much ignored classic – LP Vidyarthi’s The Tribal Culture of India.

Examples are, again, of fundamental importance in Paper II. More than the concept (which is generally easy to understand), you must understand, memorize and reproduce the examples in your answers.

Broad approach for the topics is as below:


  • A much-feared, but easy-to-understand topic if you understand the core concepts well. In order to understand any stage, e.g. say Mesolithic, understand first the CLIMATE of that period. Then you can easily understand the tool types.
  • Must draw diagrams of tools where applicable
  • Memorize the key Indian sites for each stage, preferably one each in North, South, East and West. Also, for each site, make a note of its excavator, tool types, material used, any specific uniqueness, etc.

Basic Concepts (Sanskritization, NMS, TCC, etc.)

  • A very important topic of Paper II. Has immense contemporary relevance
  • Focus should be first on understanding the concept. Then, make a note of the key people associated with each concept, the major work and year of publication [must]. For example, on any question related to Sacred Complex, you must mention LP Vidyarthi’s Sacred Complex of Hindu Gaya (1961). These are path-breaking, seminal works and must be highlighted in your answer
  • At the same time, when you give an example, try to quote the relevant anthropological work. Unfortunately, such works are often quite old (about 2-3 decades old). But still, their anthropological significance has not diminished. Examiner expects you to be aware of those works, and you must show him that you are. For instance:
    • In Tribe-Caste Continuum, studies by Bose (Hindu Method of Tribal Absorption 1941), Surajit Sinha’s study of Maria Gonds and Sachchidananda’s study of Gonds are as crucial as Bailey’s seminal work among the Konds of Orissa. While the crux of your TCC answer should be Bailey’s work, you must mention also about Bose et al.
  • In your answers, try to draw schematics of important concepts such as NMS (show them as vertices of an equilateral triangle, or something like that, to show their interdependence and interconnectedness)
  • If possible, try to get hold of xerox of anthropological journals. I got it from my coaching at Vaid’s. You can get more recent works by anthropologists here. Make a note of these and memorize.

Tribal India

  • This is the MAIN portion of Paper II. Lots of questions come every year from different aspects of tribal India. Read Hasnain and LP Vidyarthi’s books to gain a basic understanding. Focus should be on analyzing how Indian tribes are in transition, how they are being impacted by other groups, religions, and forces such as globalization, urbanisation, etc. You have ample scope of giving contemporary examples here. E.g. Use Niyamgiri’s case to highlight NMS, etc.
  • “Tribal Problems” is one of the most important subtopic here. Approach should be:
    • Pick each Tribal Problem as per the syllabus
    • Use Hasnain, LPV, etc. and make A4 sheet notes on that problem. Highlight important studies (given in Hasnain) and examples relevant to the problem. Eg. While explaining “Indebtedness”, you must mention Koltas of Jaunsar Bawar.

Other topics

  • For other topics such as Demographic/Linguistic profile, Impact of Buddhism, other religions etc., you can use Hasnain’s Indian Anthropology and Tribal India. But again, the focus must be to individualize your answer from a GS answer. This can be done only by giving very specific examples and mentioning anthropological studies.


All the best.

Anthro Paper I : Basic Approach

I shall be posting my approach for Anthropology in two steps. The first step would be a basic, fundamental approach to be followed for the broad topics of Paper I and II. In the second step, I will try to focus on specific topics of each paper and the approach I followed for them. For the aspirants’ point of view, I feel the first one – the BASIC approach – is more crucial, because on its foundation, one should be able to evolve her own detailed strategy for each topic of the syllabus.

But I must stress again that the key to getting good marks in Anthro – both in Paper I and II – is putting in examples and diagrams wherever possible.

Approach for Paper I

Broad topics under Paper I and the approach thereof:

Social-Cultural Anthropology

  • It is an easy-to-understand topic. Focus should be on getting good hold of concepts such as Kinship, Descent, Marriage-types, etc.
  • The most important thing here is giving EXAMPLES. When a question is asked on say Double Descent, you must:
    • Define what it is
    • Use a schematic/diagram to explain it
    • Give example(s), and not forget to explain HOW this example pertains to double descent
  • While studying a topic, note down its examples in a separate sheet, so that you can revise them later

Anthropological Theories/Thought

  • A very crucial topic. Must not be ignored at any cost.
  • Try to use your knowledge of Theories in other areas of the syllabus – for example, to answer Fieldwork Tradition in Anthropology, etc. A good understanding of key theories is very important in developing a horizontal understanding of almost all the topics of Anthro.
  • Memorize the names of major works by key theorists, along with their year of publication 🙂 [yes]. Also, try to keep a note of the key concept introduced in each of these major works. For example:
    • James Frazer – British – The Golden Bough (1890) – Talked of Magic → Religion → Science
    • LH Morgan – American – League of the Iroquois (1851) – Talked of Questionnaire method and Classification of Kinship Terminology
    • You must use this in your answers. When asked about Questionnaire method, don’t forget to mention Morgan and his work.

Biological/Physical Anthropology

  • A very scoring topic. If there is an option to answer a socio-cultural vs. a physical Anthro question, choose the physical Anthro one (assuming you have equal competence in both these topics). It would fetch you more marks (I feel so)
  • But in order to get good marks in this topic:
    • MUST use diagrams. Use color pens/pencils if possible. Label the diagram properly
    • Few questions are repeated in the main exam. Make sure you cover them well.
    • In Growth-related topics, drawing Graphs is a must
  • Keep your basics crystal clear. Use internet if needed. E.g. You must not confuse between chromosome, DNA, gene, etc.
  • Use biological terms in answer only when you know what they mean.


  • Perhaps the most important topic in paper I, in terms of frequency of questions asked
  • Diagrams are, again, important.
  • Prepare A-4 sheet notes for each of the subtopics and revise, and revise
  • In your answers, try to highlight anthropology’s contemporary relevance

Other topics

For rest of the topics such as Research Methods, Branches of Anthro, etc., the overall strategy remains the same. Use your topic-wise Question Bank to mark the important areas and prepare short notes on them.

Question-Bank for Anthropology

In my last post, I had listed the books that I followed for Anthro I and II. Along with these books, there is one more resource which you will need to get a good score in Anthro, and which you MUST prepare on your own – Topic-Wise Question Bank of the last 10 years’ Anthro papers.

Such a topic-wise question bank is available for the more popular optionals, and I am given to understand that even for Anthro, it is available now. But still, I insist that each one of you should prepare a question bank on your own – it would be immensely beneficial in familiarizing yourself with the syllabus, understanding the relative weightage of topics in terms of questions asked, and more importantly, establishing a personal connect with the subject and its syllabus. I recall that I was suggested to prepare such a question bank by Mr. Hemant Tiwari (AIR 159, CSE 2013), and it was an indispensible document during my Anthro preparation.

How to prepare the question bank

  • Take the Anthro syllabus (it is available with the CSE Notification)
  • Buy a consolidated question bank of the last 20-odd years of Anthro questions (I have the one by Sathish & Brothers)
  • Now, from 2004 or 2005 onwards, start putting each question in the appropriate syllabus topic, mentioning the year and marks along with the question. Do this in a word document and take its printout
  • It is a tedious exercise, but is very helpful later
  • Whenever you study a topic during your preparation, take a look into this document to see the kind of questions which are asked for that topic


I am sharing few images of my document below. It should give you a rough idea.

All the best.

Book List for Anthropology

The books that I followed for Anthropology are:

Paper I:

  • In Search of Ourselves: An Introduction to Social Cultural Anthropology *– Naresh Kumar Vaid
  • An Introduction to Social Anthropology – DN Majumdar & TN Madan
  • The Tribal Culture of India* – LP Vidyarthi & Binay Kumar Rai
  • Physical Anthropology * – P. Nath
  • History of Anthropological Thought – Upadhyay & Pandey
  • Anthropology – Ember & Ember (only for reference)

Paper II:

  • The Tribal Culture of India*– LP Vidyarthi & Binay Kumar Rai
  • An Outline of Indian Prehistory – DK Bhattacharya
  • Tribal India * – Nadeem Hasnain
  • Indian Anthropology * – Nadeem Hasnain
  • Indian Anthropology * – PK Singh and VS Sahay (out of print now, I studied from its photocopy)

(*) The MUST HAVE books

Some of these books are to be studied very thoroughly, and some others are only for reference/examples etc. I would share how I utilized these books when I pen down my approach for Paper I and II in a separate blog.

Few books which are not available in bookshops may be available online at Jawahar Book Centre.

My Approach for Essay

My Essay scores have generally been good: 120, 146 and 146 in CSE 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. But honestly, I never prepared specially for Essay. Nevertheless, I feel that during the normal course of CSE preparation, one can take certain measures, which would help her in writing a good essay.

Before the preparation

Good and wide knowledge, and a certain level of command over the language are the sine qua non for writing an effective essay. Generally, candidates have a paucity of time when they enter the active preparation phase of CSE preparation, with multiple classes, test series, newspapers, optional etc. to be taken care of simultaneously. Hence, if possible, a good foundation of wide knowledge and language skills should be laid out before such a hectic schedule begins – maybe during their graduation years, or in the initial months of the preparation when the pressure is a bit light.


  • Inculcate the habit of reading one English newspaper (preferably The Hindu or Indian Express) daily – for atleast one hour.
  • Carefully observe the usage of expressions which are powerful and effective, and note them down in a separate notebook
  • Build your vocabulary and fine-tune grammar skills
  • Increase your overall general awareness about domestic and international happenings. In other words, get in the right frame of mind.

During the preparation

As I said, I did not do anything specific towards Essay preparation. Infact, the scope of GS is so vast that if you do your GS well and thoroughly, you would have sufficient material to write on any Essay topic. You just need to be able to identify the relevant information specific to the essay topic, and present it in a coherent and lucid style.

  • Continue to note down powerful and effective expressions and revise them, ideally, once a week
  • There are certain sectors such as Education, Health, Science-Tech, Agriculture, Gender issues, Poverty etc. which, I feel, are like “universal supersets”. Generally, most of the essay questions can be traced back to any one of these sectors. So, for these sectors:
    • Remember the latest relevant data (eg. Literacy rate, Enrolment ratio, Rain-fed area %, Net Sown Area %, Poverty level, Sex Ratio, doctor to patient ratio, student-teacher ratio, etc). Most of such data regularly appear in the editorials of Hindu or Express. You MUST note down and mug them up.
    • Most of the fodder for these sectors would come from newspapers, Yojana and maybe Frontline. But you MUST also read up these sectors from the Economic Survey for that year. You’ll get most recent data there, as well as the steps the Government is taking for addressing the challenges.
    • In a specific sector, if some report has been widely published, you must be aware of its basic findings. Eg. Pratham’s ASER in Education, PISA by OECD etc. and quote them in your essay. It would give a rich feel to your essay.
    • Keep handy few quotations relevant for each of these sectors. You can use them in introduction and/or conclusion. However, do not try to compulsorily push a quotation which might jump out as sorely out of context and disrupt the natural flow of your essay.
  • If you must, join any Essay Test Series. But please be careful here. The aim of joining such a program must only be to practice writing essays, and NOT an expectation of getting the right guidance and accurate feedback – because generally, the evaluation & feedback quality of Essay programs of most of the coaching institutes are sub-par. It is better to get yourself evaluated from your peers or seniors.

In the Exam Hall

Choosing the Essay Topic

Surprising as it may appear, I personally think this is a crucial and oft neglected aspect. In my view, the following should be the criteria for choosing the essay topic:

  • The MOST important factor is, of course, your comfort level with the topic in terms of your knowledge and preparation level. For example, if you donot have sufficient preparation level for say Environment, then it is better not to write an essay on Climate Change.
  • Next comes the TYPE of essay topic – which can generally belong to two categories:
    • Type I: Philosophical or Ideological – Generally expressed as a quote or a moral tenet, e.g. “Be the change you want to see in others” (2013); and
    • Type II: Non-philosophical or Amoral — Which are not concerned with ideological or moral principles, e.g. “Are the standardized tests good measure of academic ability or progress?”(2014)
  • Among the above, I feel it is “safe” to attempt the Type II questions for the following reasons:
    • You can take a stand and have ample scope to substantiate your stand with non-trivial examples and official data. This adds greater level of concreteness to your answer
    • It is quite possible to progressively slide down the slope of abstractness in case of Type I questions, which can be fatal if the essay does not resonate with the examiner
    • Type II questions give you an opportunity to showcase and use your level of preparation to impress the examiner
  • Devote at least 10 minutes in choosing the topic (5-7 min for each part A and B). And once you have chosen a topic, forget about all other topics.
  • But remember that such a choice between Type I and II may not always be available. For example, in CSE 2015, it was not possible to make such a choice because all questions of Section A were of Type I, and one HAD to attempt one of them.
  • So, as I said earlier, keep your entire approach towards CSE flexible and non-restrictive. Donot align your preparation approach very tightly to a specific pattern of questions asked in CSE. UPSC is very unpredictable and can change the pattern anytime. You would not want to be caught at the wrong foot then.

Writing the Essay

After you have made the choice, give your best to that topic. The most important points to be kept in mind are as below:

  • TIME management is of fundamental significance in CSE, especially in Essay and GS. In Essay, you must devote near-equal time to EACH essay. I know lot of aspirants who eat up lot of time in writing one essay, and are left with very less time for the other one. The expectation perhaps is that the extra marks in my “better” essay would compensate for the loss in the bad one.
    • But in reality, a very good essay may fetch no more than 60% marks, and an incomplete essay would hardly fetch you any.
    • Instead, attempting all essays with equal competence would get you more marks. Completeness of an essay is CRUCIAL to fetch good marks.
  • You must BRAINSTORM on an essay topic for atleast 1/3rd of the time allotted to that essay. The rest 2/3rd should be for writing the essay.
    • Brainstorming should be comprehensive, and should capture the outline of your essay, main ideas, introduction, body, conclusion, examples, quotes that you want to use, etc. The idea is that you must not miss out on something significant with-respect-to the essay topic. Once you start writing the essay, you might not get the time to recollect lot of things. So, it’s better to scribble it in rough during brainstorming.
    • Keep referring to the essay topic during brainstorming, so that you donot deviate from the core of the topic.
  • Some essay topics pose a question. You MUST answer the question unambiguously and early on in your essay – in your introduction paragraph – so that the examiner knows what to expect in the essay. She would not be pleased to search your whole essay to look for that answer.
  • Always substantiate your claims with non-trivial and standard examples. E.g. If you are saying that standardised tests are not good measure of academic progress, give examples of ASER or PISA.
  • Underline the keywords in your essay
  • The overall outline of an essay (though it would depend on the topic) can be:
    • Introduction: Where you demonstrate that you have understood the topic, and present an outline of your essay
    • Body: It would comprise of
      • The Issues or Challenges, with examples
      • Why the issues persist
      • What can be done/is being done, with examples
      • Analyse the topic very broadly, with aspects such as historical, political, economic, social, legal, etc. wherever applicable
    • Conclusion: Should be futuristic. Must end on an optimistic note.
  • Give 2-3 minutes time at the end of each essay for revision. While the idea may sound preposterous because there is always a dearth of time in the exam, I feel a quick glance at your essay is important because:
    • It would hardly take more than 3 minutes per essay
    • You might notice few grammatical or spelling mistakes which can be addressed quickly
    • You can see if your essay flows coherently or not


Writing a good essay is easy if you have the basic preparation of GS ready and you have brushed up your language skills. Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes. You can use headings in your essay, but the overall fluency of the essay should be maintained – i.e. the first sentence of say the 3rd paragraph should logically follow the last sentence of the 2nd paragraph. Your entire essay should be presented as paragraphs sewn together with the essay topic as the underlying theme.

Anthropology as an Optional Subject


CSE 2015 was my fourth attempt. In my first attempt (CSE 2012), I failed to clear prelims, as I was a tad overconfident in Paper 2 (CSAT). In my second attempt (2013), I reached till the Interview, but failed to make it to the final list. My optional was Geography then, and in 2013, Geography marks were not very good in general.

I then decided to change my optional, and after some internet research and discussions with teachers, decided to go with Anthropology. In 2014, I again reached till interview stage and, again, failed to make to the final list (Anthro score was 228). Finally, 2015 brought me success. Looking back today, I think choosing Anthropology was a right decision taken at a right time.

Below are my personal views about Anthro as an optional subject.

Pros and Cons of Anthropology

Let me start with the challenges:

  • Paucity of guidance (compared to optionals such as Geography, Pub Ad etc.)
  • Study materials are, at times, hard to find
  • Lot of self-study and note-making is required; one can not rely totally on coaching materials
  • Fewer teachers means fewer avenues for doubt clearance, answer evaluation, etc.

Notwithstanding the above, I feel Anthro is a very good and “safe” optional because:

  • Though the syllabus appears to be vast, it can be managed satisfactorily in 4 months
  • Many questions are repeated in the main exam
  • Ample scope for making diagrams and giving examples in both Paper 1 and 2, which can boost marks significantly
  • Good note-making and sincere self-study can pay rich dividends
  • Less prone to fluctuations in performance, as is with some of the more popular optionals

Misconceptions about Anthropology

  • Myth: Anthro = Biology

    • Biological Anthropology is just a part of Anthro paper 1. Moreover, the level of biology is quite basic and should not be the sole criteria to choose or reject this optional
    • Lot of the biology is at the application level or macro level, not micro level
  • Myth: I can’t draw human skulls

    • If you can draw the map of India in Geography or GS, then you CAN draw the human skull too. More importantly, you have to understand that:
      • Your diagrams are only required to correctly portray certain basic/key features which the examiner is looking for, such as sloping/non-sloping forehead, presence/absence of chin, projection of the face(prognathous or orthognathous), prominence of brow-ridge, etc.
      • Once you learn how to sketch the skull of, say, Homo erectus, then it would be quite easy to sketch skulls of lower forms such as africanus, and higher forms such as sapiens. It would just be a matter of comparing each feature in different fossils.
    • So, in such diagrams, the reward-effort ratio is quite high
  • Myth: I’ll have to mug up about many tribes

    • In reality, you would not have to study about more than 10-15 tribes, maybe even less.
    • Moreover, for each tribe, you are required to know only the most important facets, not everything
    • You will not study the tribes in isolation or as a “mugging-up exercise”, but as “examples” of certain concepts such as polyandry, reciprocity, etc. Once you associate each tribe to its context, it would be much easier to recall in the exam
    • Remember – The aim of studying about tribes is to use their information as examples while writing answers. Very rarely would you be asked to write about a specific tribe.
  • Myth: Anthro is a very easy optional and I can score 250+ by mugging up answers to a static set of questions

    • While it is true that many of the questions in Anthro are repeated in the main exam, UPSC has progressively introduced certain dynamism in the questions, eg in Paper 1 in 2014 and Paper 2 in 2015
    • So, I feel that while the focus should definitely be on the recurrent questions, the preparation must be done with an open mind and non-restrictive approach – with equal emphasis on understanding the core concepts and their contemporary relevance & examples
    • I will post separate strategies for Paper 1 and 2

Please remember one thing. Choose any optional only if you are convinced that you can devote 4-6 hours to it daily without getting bored. You, and only You, must do all the groundwork while scanning the field for choosing an optional – read up blogs, see last years’ questions, syllabus, talk to teachers, etc. BUT once you have decided on an optional, give it your best. No half-hearted efforts. Then, and ONLY then can you score well in it.