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How to prepare for UPSC/IAS Prelims Exam?

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UPSC Prelims exam is the first hurdle that you need to clear to achieve your dream of becoming a civil servant. Nealy 3 out of 100 candidates, who appear for Prelims, clear the cut-off score. Therefore, you should not take this exam lightly. You need to have a well-planned strategy and a dedicated approach to clear the prelims exam. In this article, we will provide you with detailed information on how to prepare for the prelims exam.

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

  1. General Studies Paper 1 (General Awareness)
  2. General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT)

The UPSC Prelims exam details:
Exam Total marks Duration No. of questions Negative Marking Nature
GS 1 200 2 hours 100 Yes Marks counted for ranking
GS 2 200 2 hours 80 Yes Qualifying only

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


Preparation for GS Paper 1 requires comprehensive coverage of all the subjects mentioned in the syllabus. Going through the previous year's question papers will give you a clear idea of the nature of the exam and type of questions asked. You should also practice enough mock tests to analyse your weak areas. Having a daily schedule with proper time management will give you an edge over the others.

Major Subjects and their weightage in Prelims examination:


TOPIC 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
POLITY 13 05 21 11 13 18 18
HISTORY& CULTURE 14 17 13 22 16 17 21
GEOGRAPHY 14 06 10 11 13 09 11
ECONOMY 13 12 11 11 12 10 15
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY 10 15 11 09 07 08 13
ENVIRONMENT 07 11 08 09 07 08 13
CURRENT EVENTS 29 34 26 27 27 23 07
TOTAL 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

From the above analysis, we can easily understand that the above subjects hold immense significance in UPSC Prelims preparation, therefore, initially, your priority should always be on strengthening your basic knowledge about these subjects. This will also improve your understanding of the current affairs and help you in easily integrating current affairs with the static portion

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:

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The importance of Indian Polity has been increasing year by year in the UPSC prelims exam and if we analyze the previous year papers of General studies paper-1 in CSE prelims, there are a 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 also 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 and some good reference books like Laxmikanth and DD Basu. 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 Chahal 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.

The conceptual questions are mainly asked from the socio-economic and cultural affairs 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 the 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 the basics. A good understanding of the subject can be achieved by reading the Class XI NCERT book on the Indian Economy.

Current Affairs part can be covered by following Newspapers and Chahal 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) but 2021 was an exception as nearly 5 questions were from basic science.
  • 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 but be ready to be surprised by UPSC.
  • Strategy:
    • Selective study of NCERT on important topics and major focus should be on current affairs and related basics
    • Chahal’s Monthly Magazine
    • Chahal’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 Chahal Academy's Environment Notes.

The current affairs part can be covered from the Newspapers and Chahal'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 three levels i.e. Preliminary, Mains, 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 are nearly irrelevant for CSE PRELIMS) in various fields along with prizes and honors of highest accolade. The UN and its agencies and other international organizations, major NGOs are much important.

The Chahal 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.

A separate strategy for UPSC current affairs preparation is given in the link below-

How to start the current affair preparation

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 marks 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 need only 33% (66/200) in the CSAT exam but since the 2019 difficulty level relatively gets increased year by year so you can't take it lightly. It is advised to manage CSAT Paper you need to practice and simulate yourself before the exam. What you can do is to take UPSC CSE Prelims previous papers of CSAT and solve them in their 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 comprehension. One should not ignore the paper due to its qualifying nature and emphasis should be on the comprehensive preparation of the topics. To score well in the comprehension part, you are needed to develop the skill of reading the Editorial part of any decent newspaper.


Following an Integrated approach is the best UPSC prelims strategy to prepare for both prelims and mains exam. To develop this approach, a candidate should keep the syllabus of prelims as well as mains in his 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 the previous year's prelims and mains papers to build a clear idea about the exact requirement. Make the list of common study sources, complete them first and then 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 lucid 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 to understand concepts but don't lose your sleep over facts in NCERTs as it's irrelevant for UPSC CSE. Reading NCERTs before standard books would also help you to understand the content of books clearly.

Other Standard reference books and sources for UPSC Prelims Preparation:

  • Indian Economy: Ramesh Singh/ Mishra and Puri/Sanjiv Verma
  • 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 Chahal'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 Chahal 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 is necessary. Solve previous year papers of CSAT. Solve 2–5 CSAT mock tests to feel confident in this paper.


Mocks tests are crucial to prepare for prelims, especially the All India Prelims Test Series of Chahal Academy which is an initiative to pace the preparation for the preliminary examination and simulate students in an exam-like situation.

For more information click the following link


Once a student finishes his syllabus it is important to know how well is your 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.