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How to prepare for UPSC/IAS Prelims Exam?

Every year, UPSC conducts Civil Services Examination for various services such as IAS, IPS, IFS, etc; the competitive examination comprises three successive stages:

  1. Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination (Objective Type) for the selection of candidates for Main Examination;
  2. Civil Services (Main) Examination (Written) for the selection of candidates for the personality test or Interview and
  3. Civil Services Interview (Personality Test) for various Services and posts.

Preliminary Examination:

The Preliminary Examination consists of two compulsory Papers of 200 marks each.

  1. The General Studies Paper-I of preliminary exam is a General studies paper that consists of 100 questions and is counted for merit.
  2. The General Studies Paper-II of the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination will be a qualifying paper with minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%.

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Syllabus for the UPSC Preliminary Examination:

The syllabus of General studies paper includes-

  • Current events of national and international importance
  • History of India and Indian National Movement
  • Indian Polity and Governance Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, and Rights Issues
  • Economic and Social Development‐Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives and
  • Indian and World Geography-Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World
  • General issues on Environmental ecology, Biodiversity, and Climate
  • General Science

The syllabus of CSAT Paper Includes-

  • Comprehension
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem-solving
  • General mental ability
  • Basic numeracy -numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc
  • Data interpretation -charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency, etc


How to Prepare for General Studies Paper-I?

Preparation for GS Paper I require comprehensive and strategic preparation (covering all the dimensions of the syllabus), smart work, and consistency to maximize one’s chances of scoring high so that every topic of the syllabus is covered in entirety and chances scoring high becomes maximum.

Subject wise approach and focus on effectively completing the entire syllabus has so far been the most successful and sought after approach in preparation for Preliminary examination. A most important part of your preparation includes understanding the key subjects and concepts and the nature of the question asked in previous year examinations.

Major Subjects and their weightage in Prelims examination:



From the above analysis, we can easily conclude that the above subjects hold immense significance in UPSC Prelims preparation, therefore, initially, the priority should always be on strengthening your basic knowledge about the subjects, which would also help a candidate in understanding the current affairs part of the syllabus clearly.

In the following section, we shall look into basic questions on how to prepare for these subjects and what are the important sources to refer to.

Strategy to Prepare for UPSC Prelims GS Paper I subjects:


The importance of Indian Polity has been increasing year by year in the UPSC prelim exam and if we analyze the previous year papers of General studies paper-1 in CSE prelims, there are few important topics of Indian polity which are frequently being asked like constitutional developments, fundamental rights, fundamental duties and directive principles of state policy, union government, Indian judiciary, list of various amendments in the constitution, Panchayati raj, federalism structure of India and election process, etc.

Till 2000, questions on comparative government were asked but nowadays Amendments, Elections, Federalism and Parliament have assumed significance. It is expected that this trend will continue in the future and also the best part is that the questions from Indian Polity are more or less straightforward which can be easily answered with careful study.

The basics and the static parts of the above-mentioned topics of the syllabus can be covered from NCERT books and various other polity books available, Indian Polity by Laxmikanth is the most sought after book on polity by aspirants. However, most of the available books lack information on current constitutional developments. Therefore, a keen perusal of newspapers and magazines is essential with a good knowledge of provisions of the Constitution.

The Current Affairs part can be covered from the Newspapers and Ghaziabad IAS Academy Monthly Magazine.


A decent analysis of the previous years’ questions shows us the fact that although the total number of questions asked from history has declined in recent years but the level of difficulty has increased by many folds.

Moreover, the questions are being asked from hitherto unexplored areas, which have made the preparation more difficult and time consuming given the vastness of the subject history. It makes us clear on a fact that over-dependence on History may prove to be fatal for non-history background students in the future. 

Within ‘Indian History’, most of the questions have been asked from the Modern History section, particularly from the period between 1857 to 1947, i.e. the 1857 uprising, social reform movements, British reforms in civil administration and the other fields, Governor Generals and Nationalist Movement under the Congress are some examples.

In Ancient India, the Vedic Age, Mauryan Period and the Gupta Period are dominating topics and one can always expect a question in both prelims and mains.

In Medieval India, though, Marathas, Vijaynagar and Bahmani kingdoms are getting more weightage since 2001 apart from topics such as Sultanate and Mughal period but the level of history questions in GS is often similar to that of Optional Paper.

The conceptual questions are mainly asked from the socio-economic sphere. Such questions are more often asked from Modern India. Ancient and Medieval parts are generally factual.

There is no particular source from where the questions have been asked and one must try to cover the complete syllabus comprehensively. The history part of the syllabus can be covered from:

  • Ancient & Medieval History- NCERT books- Our Past I & II, Themes in Indian History I & II
  • Modern Indian History- NCERT books- Our Past III, Themes in Indian History III, Spectrum book
  • Indian Art & Culture- NCERT- Introduction to fine arts, Nitin Singhania book


The Syllabus of Geography is subdivided into World Geography, Indian Geography and General Geography including maps. The majority of the questions in UPSC prelims i.e almost around 70 percent of the questions on geography are asked from Indian Geography.

A thorough understanding of the physical aspects of India with a proper clarity of locations is required in ‘Indian Geography’. This would also help a candidate in topics such as economic as well as the human aspects of Indian Geography.

In Physical and General Geography, the emphasis should be on conceptual aspects.

In World Geography, the emphasis is more on current developments, which can be covered by map reading while going through the newspaper.

Though no one can expect the type of questions that will be asked in upcoming exams, Indian Geography will continue to be an important part of the preparation on the subject. The beauty of Geography lies in the fact that it can be mastered with the least effort.

Sources: A proper preparation of NCERT textbooks on Geography (from 6th to 12th) along with Goh Cheng Leong and regular study of Atlas are more than sufficient. One can also refer to the Geography of Majid Husain.


In Economics, most of the questions are from Macroeconomics and a greater part of it deals with the Indian Economy but still one has to keep abreast of International Economics which impacts India one way or the other.

The majority of questions from the Indian Economy are from Industry, Agricultural sector, Money and Banking, Public Finance and Reforms, Economic Survey and Budget.

The global economic situation and its impact on the Indian Economy, External Sector and Important International Organizations are some other important topics that should be given attention.

The latest trend in Indian Economy shows that the many questions of economics are current affairs based, strategy for preparing Economics for UPSC must include a complete understanding of the basic concepts of Economics and related current affairs

Many students are really afraid of the Economy. This is because of the lack of understanding of basics. A good understanding of the subject can be achieved by reading the Class XI NCERT book on Indian Economy.

Current Affairs part can be covered by following Newspapers and Ghaziabad IAS Academy monthly magazine


  • Recent trends in UPSC prelims suggests that UPSC has stopped asking questions on basic science as it used to ask before 2014. (Questions such as deficiency diseases, Basic Physics, chemistry, etc)
  • We usually cover these topics from NCERT Science textbooks. Though it is not suggested to completely ignore these basic science concepts but focusing extensively on this would not suffice either, these basic concepts from NCERT are important to fetch more scores in S&T related topics.
  • Analysis of the recent year questions papers gives us an understanding of the topics and the nature of the questions which are being asked, the focus is mainly on current affairs and related issues rather than basic science.
  • Busting the Myth of Science vs. Commerce: An Student of commerce is equally capable of preparing for S&T as a Science student.
  • Strategy:
    • Selective study of NCERT on important topics and major focus should be on current affairs and related basics
    • Gias’s Monthly Magazine
    • Gias’s test series( Prelims+Current Affairs)


In recent years, the importance of the environment has increased manifold in the Civil Services Preliminary Examination. The number of questions being asked in the Exam is increasing consistently. The trend is expected to be maintained in the coming years as well.

The number of questions asked in prelims from this section varies from 15-25. Therefore, this subject plays a significant role in clearing the examination

The basics of Environment & Ecology should be covered from- 11th&12th Biology NCERT books and Ghaziabad IAS Academy’s Environment Notes.

The current affairs part can be covered from the Newspapers and Gias’s Monthly Magazine.

Current Affairs:

Current Affairs is one of the most important modules in the entire scheme of Civil Services Examination due to its high utility at all the three levels i.e. Preliminary, Main and Interview. Questions that are asked from the current affairs section are directly or indirectly linked with the static part of the syllabus. The Current Affairs constitute almost around 20-30% of the entire paper, therefore it is in the interest of the candidate to cover this section comprehensively.

Current Affairs is a vast area comprising of events of national and international affairs, bilateral developments, sports and personalities in various fields along with prizes and honors of highest accolade. The UN and its agencies and heads of corporate sectors that fall within the ambit of current affairs have also become important.

The Ghaziabad IAS Academy’s Monthly Current Affairs Magazine covers almost all the important topics required for the exam and it has proven to be one of the most comprehensive current affairs notes not only for UPSC aspirants but also for those preparing for state PSC. Following Newspapers and making daily notes out of them is also beneficial.

How to Prepare for General Studies Paper-II (CSAT)?

In 2011, the UPSC introduced a new format for the Civil Services Preliminary Examination, by adding CSAT in the form of GS Paper II and till 2014, the combined total marks of both GS Paper I and GS Paper II were considered to qualify for the Civil Services Mains Examination (CSM). However, in 2015, the GS Paper II was made a qualifying paper with minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%. Now only the obtained by a candidate in GS Paper I are considered for the merit to calculate the Prelims ranking.

There is an approach to handle it easily. As you know you need only 33% (66/200) in the CSAT exam and you do not have time to devote to CSAT as GS paper 1 requires a lot of hard work. What you can do that take UPSC previous papers of CSAT and solve them in entirety to understand the demand and spirit of the subject. Learn the logic used in the solution to solve the problems. After solving these papers take 5–6 mock tests of any coaching and solve them. You will get an idea about how much you are scoring and where is the scope of improvement. Afterward, you can focus on that particular area, for example, Mathematics or English or Logical Reasoning.

Important topics for this paper include General Mental Ability, Data Interpretation, Reasoning, and Analytical Ability, Decision Making & Problem Solving and English Comprehension. One should not ignore the paper due to its qualifying nature and emphasis should be on the comprehensive preparation of the topics.


Following an Integrated approach is the best UPSC prelims strategy to prepare for both prelims and mains exam in one way. To develop this approach, a candidate should keep the syllabus of prelims as well as mains in your mind and try to find out the common topics like History, polity, geography, economy, etc. First, prepare these subjects in a way that you can solve objective questions from these topics and you can write a subjective answer also if asked.

For this have a look at previous year prelims and mains papers to build a clear idea about the exact requirement. Make the list of common study sources, complete them first and them go to the mains specific topics like ethics, word history, etc. 


NCERT books play a crucial role in your preparation, these books are written in a very simple language. Moreover, NCERT books provide a luminous and neutral perspective which is what a candidate requires in his preparation. In the past, many questions have been asked directly from NCERT which makes them more significant.

The NCERT books are designed for children to understand the concepts clearly and therefore it is imperative for a candidate who is preparing for civil services to read NCERT before jumping on to any other sources or standard books. Reading NCERTs before standard books would also help him to understand the content of books clearly. The best way to read NCERT books is by assuming yourself a school student. It will help you to relate the things and will make you more comfortable while reading these books.

Other Standard reference books and sources for UPSC Prelims Preparation:

  • Indian Economy: Ramesh Singh
  • Certificate Physical and Human Geography: Goh Cheng Leong
  • Indian Art and Culture: Nitin Singhania
  • Indian Polity for Civil Services Examinations: M. Laxmikanth
  • Oxford School Atlas: Oxford Publishers
  • A Brief History of Modern India: Rajiv Ahir
  • Economic Survey: Ministry of Finance
  • India Year Book
  • Current affairs: The Hindu and Indian Express Newspapers and Gias’s Monthly Magazine


The last month is crucial for preparation. The last month tip would be-

  • Do not focus only on covering the syllabus but start revising the stuff. One month before Preliminary Examination, you must be focused on revising the current affairs part because you have presumably been studying the static part for at least one year.
  • Try to solve mock papers and try to find out your strong and weak areas. Analyze test and work on your weakness.
  • Read all the important NCERTs thoroughly and highlight important points. Revise them maximum times.
  • Refer to previous years’ question papers for General Studies paper 1 and try to get insights about the pattern of questions being asked. Once you get an idea about this, focus on such areas while studying.
  • Make notes out of the newspaper which you follow regularly. Refer to Ghaziabad IAS academy’s monthly magazine and incorporate additional points in your notes.
  • Purchase the mock tests from the market and solve at least 25–30 mock papers. Analyze your performance and work accordingly.
  • Although the CSAT is qualifying in nature, the basic level of preparation necessary. Solve previous year papers of CSAT. Solve 2–5 CSAT mock tests to feel confident in this paper.


Mocks test crucial in prelims, especially the All India Prelims Test Series of Ghaziabad IAS Academy which is an initiative to pace the preparation for the preliminary examination and simulating students in an exam-like situation.

Once a student finishes his syllabus it is important to know how well we have made our preparation and hence mock tests help in refining your strategy to maximize your scoring. For some answering, only those questions which they are sure will do the trick. Whereas for someone else maximizing the number of attempts may help clear the cut-off. And there is only one way to find out the strategy that will work for you, do umpteen number of mock exams.

Join a test series and try to solve practice papers at home in a time-bound manner. You are suggested to test yourself at regular intervals. Additionally, you will realize areas in a particular subject where you need to work upon. Try and solve as many test papers as possible.