IAS Prelims

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts civil services examination every year. It aims to select officers for IAS, IPS, IFS and other 23 allied services.

This examination has three stages:

  • The Preliminary Examination (popularly known as CSAT)
  • The Mains examination and
  • The Personality Test (Interview)

Preliminary examination:


The preliminary examination draws a horde of candidates. The basic step towards the preparation of prelims is to familiarize yourself with the pattern of the examination. There are 2 papers in prelims.

Paper I:- General studies – 200 marks Duration: 2 hours. Number of questions: 100, all are multiple choice questions and each question carries 2 marks. [MCQ 100 x 2 = 200 Marks] In this paper – I, -0.66 negative marks penalty for every wrong answer. The ratio of the negative marking is 1:3 that is if you mark one correct answer you get 2 marks whereas you lose 2 marks if you mark three wrong answers. [ 3x-0.66 = 2 marks]

Paper II :– CSAT – 200 marks Duration: 2 hours. Number of questions: 80, Each question carries 2.5 marks.[MCQ 80X2.5 = 200 marks] There is a penalty of 33% marks out of the allocated marks for every wrong answer.


1. Comprehension
2. Interpersonal skills including communication skills
3. Logical reasoning and analytical ability
4. Decision making and problem solving
5. General mental ability
6. Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude etc.) (Class X level), Data Interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. – Class X level)
7. English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level).
8. Questions relating to English Language Comprehension skills of Class X level. (will be tested through passages from English language only without providing Hindi translation)


  • Must be a graduate. No minimum %, grade or CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) required.
  • MBBS graduates should complete internship before UPSC personality Test.
  • Even Distance Education Degree is valid , but it should be recognized by VGS/AICTE/any law.
  • American Degrees valid but have to get equivalent certificate from AIU (Association of Indian Universities)
  • Do not try to cover all the points in the essay whether they are necessary or not; you can trim the points and eliminate the irrelevant points.
  • Under graduate in last year and last semester can also apply.
  • UPSC doesn’t care whether you are a failed candidate at college/ school level. UPSC only needs final graduation marks sheet with certificate.
  • J & K Domicile or ex – service man have additional 5 years attempt depending on their category.

Remember that :

  • No optional paper in the prelims.
  • The question papers are set in English and Hindi.
  • Paper – I marks counted for mains selection, but not in final selection.
  • If you apply online but you didn’t attend the prelims, then your attempt is not counted
  • You have to indicate optional subject in online prelims – form. No changes will be done regarding the optional afterwards during mains form.

Age / Attempt Limit in UPSC:

    Age is counted on the 1st August of the given year.

  • General and creamy OBC – 32 years / 6 attempts
  • Non- creamy OBC – 35 years / 9 attempts
  • SC/ST – 37 years / unlimited attempts
  • PH – 42 years / 9 to unlimited attempts
  • PH (Gen/OBC) have 9 attempts while PH (SC/ST) have unlimited attempts till upper age.


Paper I General Studies

1. Current Affairs: Events of national and international importance
2. History of India and Indian National Movement
3. Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic geography of India and the World.
4. Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
5. Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.
6. General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change (no subject specialization required)
7. General Science


1. Comprehension
2. Interpersonal skills including communication skills
3. Logical reasoning and analytical ability
4. Decision making and problem solving
5. General mental ability
6. Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude etc.) (Class X level), Data Interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. – Class X level)
7. English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level).
8. Questions relating to English Language Comprehension skills of Class X level. (will be tested through passages from English language only without providing Hindi translation)


The syllabus for prelims is very vast. A student may be very good in the mains preparation but the inability to clear the prelims will end his / her dream at this stage.

The CSAT paper is evaluated first and then GS paper that is paper – I is evaluated. For only of those candidates who have qualified in CSAT that is Paper – II or 33% or 66 marks in CSAT- will be qualified. That is their GS paper is considered for evaluation.

As paper 2 is only a qualifying paper, the marks scored in this are not added for the overall merit of the prelims. So the candidates are shortlisted for the mains only on the basis of their scores in the paper-1.

The candidates scoring around 125-130 marks in paper – I are expected to qualify for mains exam. The number of candidates shortlisted for the mains examination is about 13 times of the vacancy for the jobs – in that particular years.

Many of the aspirants have the doubts like…Is attempting more questions the key to success in Prelims? Is there an ideal number of questions one should attempt? How did you decide to attempt those questions which you were not sure of?

No, it’s not in prelims but it is in mains. Ideal is one should be able to attempt above 70% questions that too with good amount of surety. One can take 120 as a target score in the prelims. You should decide upon the number of questions beforehand and vary them according to difficulty level. Ensure that there are no incorrect answers to the questions on the fundamental subjects. Using elimination method helps in increasing scores in the preliminary exam. You should strengthen your abilities and work upon your weaknesses for better results.

Examination Framework :

Before starting the preparation, it is very important to have a complete understanding about the exam process, its structure and the various aspects related to the preparation.

The following points should be kept in mind in the preparation process:

  • The focus should be on gaining basic clarity in each topic, which will come only through lot of logical questioning.
  • For any topic, try to do a horizontal and vertical reading and cover all the 360 degrees of all the related topics which will definitely help to have a holistic approach.
  • A thorough analysis of the previous year’s question papers and the recent trends.
  • Discussing elaborately with the faculties, successful candidates and seniors so that you will get clear cut idea during preparations.

General Studies:

History :– NCERT textbooks, history of modern India – Bipin Chandra and Spectrum publications and any other books on Indian history of general interest.

Geography :– NCERT textbooks of class 11th and 12th, physical geography by Go Cheng Leong and an ATLAS. Referring maps is very important.

Polity :– Indian Constitution by Laxmikanth and , NCERT texts.

Science and Technology:- The Hindu S&T page (weekly- every thursday), Science Reporter by C.S.I.R., What, How & Why on scientific concepts, Internet, NCERT 8th to 12th science text books.

Economics :– NCERT 10th, 11th & 12th texts, Economic Survey, Indian Budget, Pratyogita Darpan special edition on Indian economy and any business daily.

General Knowledge :– India year book, Manorama year book (Not to concentrate on unnecessary details)

Current Affairs :– The Hindu, Gk today, Frontline, Yojana, any competitive magazine, Websites – gov.in, India development gateway, Pib.nic.in, UNO website, Ministry websites, RBI, SEBI, Indian Embassy websites and whatever other sites you can source authentic and concise information from.

Make use of internet tools to prepare notes online with better and easy accessibility. Making notes online helps in cutting down time and must be done on a regular basis without fail.


History/Indian Culture

A considerable share of the total questions asked in General Studies for IAS, comes from Indian History.
The content of history can be divided in 3 parts – Ancient Indian History, Medieval Indian History and Modern Indian History.
Most of the History questions asked in IAS Preliminary Test usually come from Modern India & Art and Culture. It has been seen that Medieval Indian History & Ancient Indian History do not constitute a major part in terms of the number of questions asked. That does not mean that to ignore these parts.
So prioritize the topics for Indian History, by focusing Modern India (especially the Struggle for Independence of india ) & Art & Culture vis-a-vis Medieval Indian History & Ancient Indian History. Having said that never leave out the low priority topics altogether.

One common mistake that most IAS aspirants make while preparing history is that in search of relevant books & study materials, they end up with a multitude of resources. Having too many books & study resources for one particular subject can do more harm


Geography can be divided into two parts – Indian Geography and World Geography

Indian Geography is given more weightage in the Preliminary Examination. The following are the broad topics that the aspirant MUST cover.

Indian Geography

1. Physiography
2. River Systems
3. Climate
4. Mineral Wealth
5. Soil & Soil Types
6. Agriculture
7. Forests
8. Wildlife & Conservation
9. Human Geography

First understand each section, sub-section in great details.

While you prepare for Geography of India, keep in mind that mere cramming up information would be no use. Before you take up Physical Geography of India, have a clear understanding of fundamentals of Geography. After you are thorough with the concepts involving basics of the Geography, then you proceed towards Geography of India.

Polity( Indian constitution)

For polity, start with topics that are of keen interest to you. One does not necessarily have to begin in the same sequence as the Table of Contents. . However, as you progress you would see that there are some chapters which are best read in the form of sets.

There is a significant number of questions that are asked from polity and over the years they have been found to be direct and ranging from Easy to Moderate on the difficulty scale.

Science & Technology

Mostly, all of the questions from Science and Technology section are analytical/conceptual in nature. A lot of them hold relevance because of the events going on around us

For scoring well in Science and Technology section, you would first need to analyse the kind of questions that UPSC asks. There are mostly in depth, dynamic and analytical questions from this section

First read the following to strengthen your basics

  • ICSE Books(Classes 7-10). Focus on the science behind various natural phenomena.
  • Do not spend too much time understanding the concepts in great details. Remember, you don’t need to hold a Phd before writing the exam.
  • Go through previously asked questions from the Science & Technology section and understand the more relevant topics and frequently asked questions.
  • In the first stage of the preparation, make sure you stick to the basics only. If you don’t understand concepts well ,you can rely on the online resources.

If you analyse previous years’ question papers thoroughly, you will realize that most questions were asked simply because they were in current affairs. Focus on what is happening in India that in the field of Science and Technology. Follow ISRO, DRDO, Ministry of Science & Technology and what they do.

Ecology, Environment, Biodiversity & Climate Change – it is the most important section for civil services aspirants. . Ever since, the preliminary examination for Indian Forest Services (IFS) has been clubbed with Civil Services Prelims, the weightage allocated to this section has considerably increased. Naturally, it calls for greater attention.There is no study material which can be thought of as concrete or complete in itself. The aspirants can no longer afford to overlook this section.

World Geography

The following are the broad topics that the candidate should prepare well:

1. The Earth & the Universe
2. Land forms and their formation
3. Atmosphere
4. Wind System
5. Clouds & Precipitation
6. Hydrosphere
7. Different Types of Climate & Climatic Regions of the World

Numerous concepts and phenomena related to Physical Geography are a part of World Geography. Your understanding of World Geography would make Indian Physical Geography and a few other topics like Environment very easy for you.


A lot of aspirants get scared about economics. But don’t worry. You do not need to have prior knowledge of economics to crack the questions based on it. You will understand concepts as you keep reading. It is one section of Civil Services Exam where you can avoid a lot of cramming.

To understand Indian Economy better, you need to have the right resources. There are no better books than NCERTs that would build the fundamental understanding of the subject.

Read in the beginning the following basic books:

  • Principles of Macroeconomics – Std XII
  • Principles of Microeconomics – Std XII
  • Indian Economic Development – Std XI
  • March of the indian economy by I.C dhingra-

The Budget & Economic Survey of India:

The Economic Survey of India is the finest and the most comprehensive document about the state of Indian Economy. It gives you the rationale behind every policy decision, comparative analyses, Important Welfare Schemes and the road map for the future of Indian Economy.

  • Environmental Studies For Undergraduate Courses by Erach Bharucha
  • Ecology and environment by P. D. Sharma.
  • Down to Earth Magazine
  • Science Reporter

Current Affairs

For the preliminary exam, never forget of current events. UPSC asks questions from various sections relating them to current affairs. For example, if a money bill was in news, UPSC will frame a question on it that will be a part of both polity and current affairs. If any issue about governor, you can face a question on Governor in the exam. So as in environment as well as geography. So the right approach to this is reading news paper with the EYE OF SYLABUS OF PRELIMS .

The Hindu is an essential one when it comes to cracking current affairs. So, be sure to read it daily. Don’t just read it, note down important the points.

The basic books on Environment Section –

  • NCERT Geography – Std VI to Std XI
  • NCERT Science – Std VII to Std X
  • NCERT Economy – Std XI
  • NCERT Biology – Std XII
  • NCERT Chemistry – Std XII
  • Notes from NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling)
  • ICSE Books- Std X & XI
  • India Year Book
  • Orient Blackswan School Atlas
  • Hindu website

Strategy and planning:

The changes made by the UPSC in the recent years regarding syllabus of prelims are directly proportional to the change in the nature of questions being asked. Hence it calls for a change in the strategy and change in the method of preparation too.

Thoroghly knowing the syllabus is the first step in the strategy of any examination. Thoroughly going through and analyze the old question papers of the last 10 years – is the second step in the strategy.

The general misconception about the prelims is that it was a test of facts and figures

General studies comprises a vast ocean of subjects and this paper needs to be mastered in order to reach the mains exam. Since the syllabus does not give much details of the topics to be studied under each subject , it is difficult to perceive the boundaries of the syllabus. Hence it is expected to gain knowledge of them that should be slightly below the graduation level but definitely above the high school level.

Going through the last 10 years (previous) papers will make you to know the nature of the exam, ofcourse, UPSC never repeat the questions. Please don’t try to mug up the old papers. Know the ‘type’ and ‘pulse’ of the questions.

Going through the old year’s papers will make you understand the scope of the questions being asked. Don’t rely just on hard work. Please try to be smart to work also.

There is a logic to the way questions are asked in the UPSC prelims and you should try and understand it.

GS consists of :

i. Static General Studies.
ii. Dynamic General Studies.

Static GS means the subject of history, polity, economy, geography etc. These subjects are not getting changed.

Dynamic GS is nothing but ‘Current Affairs’. The main source is reading news papers.

Candidates should first form a sound foundation with NCERT books and habituate to read a good newspaper every day.

As aptitude exam has been made qualifying, focus should be on the GS papers but basics of aptitude should strong for qualifying as a cake walk. Analyze the exam, subdivide the syllabus into ‘areas to focus’ and allocate time and deicide the resource books and start the race and win the war.

A Proper action plan is needed to crack the exam, always. The essential qualities include the power of retention, clarity on the concepts, ability to identify the correct answer and capability to eliminate the wrong one.

Since the prelims exam (both the papers) is a multiple-choice answer test, it requires a proper strategy for its preparation. The elimination method is the savior. The candidate should know how to filter out the rest of the wrong answer to choose the correct one. To achieve this- go through previous papers and attend mock tests as many as possible.

This exam requires the skill of quick decision. Accuracy as well as speed are the crucial points in this exam. Please note that the main constraint is time, you have to answer 100 questions in 120 minutes means 40 seconds for each question.

Also solve a test series from good source…your score should touch 95 approximately in test series.

Please prepare a subject-wise question bank , of the questions that you find a bit crucial. Your question bank should contain 400-500 difficult questions. From the question bank that you prepared, you can expect 10 questions in the exam hall, even if there are 4-5 questions from it, you will sail through. Yes , it’s a right approach!

Utilize your time very efficiently. Use 2 hrs daily for current affairs that is news paper reading, 4 hrs for one subject and 4 hrs for other, i.e. revise 2 subjects in a day. Club them as one an easy subject and one a little tough. For example

Economy + art & culture.

Environment + history.

Science and technology + Indian polity.

Please plan your schedule and assess your progress.

Or follow a time table according to your convenience. The model time table for preliminary is …..

Time Table


Week1 General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change that do not require subject specialization
Week2 History of India and Indian National Movement.
Week3 Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World
Week4 Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
Week5 Economic and Social Development, Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
Week6 General Science
Week7 Current events of national and international importance
Week8 Paper II (CSAT), Comprehension, Logical Reasoning, Decision Making, General Mental Ability, Interpersonal Skills, Basic Numeracy, Data Interpretation

Second Model Of Time Table

S.NoWeekSubjects to be coveredHours per daySource materials to be covered

1 Week1
  • Ancient India
  • Indian polity
3 hours
3 hours
NCERT – 12th
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
2 Week2
  • Ancient Indian
  • Indian polity
3 hours
3 hours
RS Sharma – NCERT
NCERT – 12th
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
3 Week3
  • Medieval India
  • Indian polity
3 hours
3 hours
NCERT – 12th
Lakshmi kanth
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
4 Week4
  • Art & Cultural
  • Indian polity
3 hours
3 hours
Nithin Singhania
Lakshmi kanth
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
5 Week5
  • National movement
4 hours Modern India – Spectrum
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
6 Week6
  • National movement
4 hours Bipin Chandra
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
7 Week7
  • Indian geography
  • Economy
3 hours
3 hours
NCERT – 11th, 9th

NCERT – 11th,12th

————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
8 Week8
  • Indian geography
  • Economy
3 hours
3 hours
NCERT – 12th
NCERT – 11th, 12th
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
9 Week9
  • World geography
  • Economy
3 hours
3 hours
NCERT – 11th, 12th
Ramesh Singh
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
10 Week10
  • World geography
  • Economy
3 hours
3 hours
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
11 Week11
  • Envt, Ecology,
    General science
4 hours
3 hours
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
12 Week12
  • Envt, Ecology,
    General science
4 hours
3 hours
ISCE – 10th
NCERT – 12th
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————
13 Week13
  • Envt, Ecology,
    General science
3 hours
3 hours
ISCE – 10th
Shankar’s IAS BOOK
————————– Sunday —————————– Weekly Revision + test —————————————————

Here we have given two models of time table; follow any one as you feel convenient.

First one is a general time table where you need to include your own list of reference books.

Second one is the specific time table where you can just follow the time table including the reference books and hours a day.

This preparation is a way to learn how to ignore what is irrelevant and how to focus on necessary. While preparing for prelims, do not have negativity. At the same time, don’t be overconfident.

Remember, revision is the key to success;

General Tips:

  • A Tranquil state of mind is most important while preparing you must take breaks and relax while preparing.
  • Please understand the nature of negative marking, attempt only the answers which you are sure of.
  • Answer the easy questions first and solve the unknown difficult questions gradually
  • If you don’t know the answer, please don’t stop and struck there, move on to other question since the time allotted is too short.
  • Revise the notes as many number of times as possible.
  • Do not over stretch your reading while reading different areas.
  • Be analytical and logical while you care preparing at home and weighing the answer in the exam hall.
  • Make regular notes of areas.
  • Keep testing yourself at a regular interval.
  • Rework on your weak spots.
  • Do not get discouraged by initial low score.
  • Final preparation must start by testing yourself with revision type model.
  • The questions can be broadly divided into 3 categories:
    1. Multiple choice questions – matching type.
    2. Multiple choice questions – multiple response correct.
    3. Multiple choice questions – single response correct.
  • Must be careful while making wild guesses since negative marking is there.
  • Have positive attitude and will power.
  • Have regular revisions and attend daily and weekly tests.
  • The prelims is to evaluate your memory and basic retention power. Hence improve your memory.
  • It is better to understand and establish a correlation between the concepts of the subjects and current events.
  • Any concept has to be understood with its origin, merits and demerits. Then it needs to be analyzed with other concerned subjects and has to be correlate with the events.
  • Understand the standard of the exam. The questions asked in the prelims exam are of +2 level. Therefore read 10+2 standard books of NCERT.
  • Have conceptualized clarity of all subjects.
  • Knowledge of current affairs has become very important to crack the prelims and hence identify the crucial areas of CA from which the questions are expected.

Before the examination:

  • Chant “ I Can achieve ’’ ‘’ I get through prelims ‘’ 10 times every day especially whenever you feel de motivated.
  • Enjoy the preparation every moment. Be cool. Just do your work. Sincerely follow the time table. Complete daily and weekly schedules. Do not look at the results. Stay positive and believe in yourself.
  • Have a constructive revision plan. Read and revision multiple subjects a day.
  • Do not be bookish. Do not try to lock yourself in a room and keep yourself engrossed only in books.
  • Enhance your observation skills and common sense.
  • Sometimes go out, have fun, talk to your friends and have lighter vein discussion and go to room and have meditation
  • Every Sunday have a complete revision. Introspect your subject knowledge and test how much you are able recollect, correct your mistakes and identify the subjects where you are shons and weak.
  • Try to solve last five years’ question papers and understand your level of preparation.
  • Identify the areas that you need to be streamlined.
  • Please recognize that coaching material is not enough. There is no simple material which would suffice the prelims so prepare your own material and follow current news and adopt it.
  • Practice makes a man perfect hence practice all the model papers every time.