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How to prepare for UPSC/IAS Prelims Exam

How to Start Preliminary Exam Preparation

Every year, UPSC conducts Civil Services Examination for various services such as IAS, IPS, IFS etc. This examination is conducted in three stages- Preliminary examination, Main examination and Personality Test (Interview).

The first stage i.e. Preliminary Examination consists of two papers of Multiple type questions. Each paper consists of 200 marks and maximum time allotted to each paper is 2 hours. There is a negative marking of one-third for each incorrect answer.

Paper-1 of preliminary exam is General studies paper which consist of 100 questions and is counted for merit.  

Paper-2 of preliminary exam  is CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test) paper which consist of 80 questions and is not counted for merit. The cut-off marks for CSAT paper is fixed at 33% as this is just a qualifying paper.


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


A candidate is required to prepare a comprehensive strategy for General studies so that every topic of the syllabus is covered in entirety and chances of maximum score become high.

Candidates need to focus on the subject-wise approach of General Studies Paper-1 of Preliminary examination.  

Following are the subjects for IAS Prelims-


The importance of Indian Polity has been increasing year by year in UPSC prelim exam and main examination both.  

If we analyse 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. 

This part of the syllabus can be covered from NCERT books, Indian Polity by Laxmikanth, Current Affairs- Newspaper, Chahal Academy monthly magazine  


If we analyse the previous year papers of General studies paper-1 in pre exam, the toughness level of the questions from the Indian History part has been continuously increased.

Though most of the questions are asked from freedom struggle part, the sources of the questions are not defined.

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


In upsc prelims preparation of the Geography portion, the majority of the questions are asked from Indian geography followed by General geography and world map.

This part of the syllabus can be coved from-

  • Indian Geography- 11th & 12th NCERT books, Certificate Physical and Human Geography by G C Leong, Orient Black Swan Atlas 


If we analyse the previous year papers of General studies paper-1 in ias prelims preparation, most of the question of Indian Economy are asked from Industry, Agricultural production, Exim Policy, Money and Banking, Public Finance, Economic Reforms, National Income, International Economic Forums and few aspects of International Economy.  

In recent years, the number of questions being asked from this section has been increased. Most of the questions are being asked from basics and current affairs.

This part of the syllabus can be coved from-

  • Indian Economy- 11th & 12th NCERT books, Chahal Academy Economy Booklet
  • Current Affairs- Newspaper, Chahal Academy monthly magazine  


In the recent years, the importance of the Environment section has increased to an immense level. The number of questions from this section a varying from 15-30 in recent years.

This part of the syllabus can be coved from- Environment & Ecology- 11th&12th Biology NCERT books and Current Affairs 


General Science part is divided into- Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Science and Technology. Every year around 10-15 questions are asked from this section.

This part of the syllabus can be coved from-

  • General Science- NCERT books
  • Science & Technology- Current affairs


Current Affairs plays a crucial role in the entire process of Civil services examination. In upsc preliminary exam, the number of questions from this section are significantly high. Questions asked are whether direct or linked with the static part of the syllabus.

This part of the syllabus can be coved from-

  • Current Affairs- Newspaper, Chahal Academy monthly magazine 

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

How to start current affair preparation


In 2011, UPSC has introduced the CSAT paper as paper-2 in upsc preliminary examination. In this paper, total 80 questions are asked from General Mental Ability, Data Interpretation, Reasoning and Analytical Ability, Decision Making & Problem Solving and English Comprehension. However, there is a change in the trend of CSAT paper in terms of the toughness level of questions has been increased. A student needs a comprehensive approach to clear the CSAT paper in an easier way.

There is an approach to handle it easily. As you must be aware you need only 33% (66/200) in the CSAT exam and you do not have time to devote to CSAT as GS paper 1 required 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.


TOPIC 2015 2016 2017 2018
POLITY 13 05 21 11
HISTORY& CULTURE 14 17 13 22
GEOGRAPHY 14 06 10 11
ECONOMY 13 12 11 11
ENVIRONMENT 07 11 08 09
CURRENT EVENTS 29 34 26 27
TOTAL 100 100 100 100


The list of mandatory sources to be followed has been mentioned with each section of the syllabus.

Now one important thing comes is when you are preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Examination, NCERT books play a crucial role in your preparation. In hypothetical language, these books are the backbone of your preparation. UPSC asks questions based on basic concepts and fact directly or indirectly. NCERT books help Civil services aspirant to get his/her basic concepts clear. 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. Most of the candidates take it on the ego that I am a graduate and why should I read this 6th class NCERT book. Hence, you are requested to avoid this approach.


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

For this have a look on 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. 


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 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. Analyse 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. Analyse 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 tests crucial in all the three stages of the exam. For Prelims, giving a lot of mock tests will help you refine your strategy to maximise your scoring. For some answering, only those questions which they are absolutely sure of 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 time bound manner. You are suggested to test yourself at regular intervals. Additionally, you will realise areas in a particular subject where you need to work upon. Try and solve as many test papers as possible.


  • Check and arrange the list of things you need to carry to the exam centre, like Admit card, One Id proof, Blackball pen, one photo to avoid any unforeseen thing, Water bottle etc.
  • Stay calm. Pressure takes a huge toll during those crucial 2 hours. Have faith and confidence in your preparation and follow a “mission mode approach”.

STRATEGY for handling the GS Papers

In order to excel in G.S. and mould the change in the syllabus in your own favour, what is needed is a comprehensive and strategic preparation covering all the dimensions of the syllabus well. The preparation especially for the newly introduced CSAT paper should be elaborate covering all sections well rather than focusing only on few specific areas. The emphasis should be on a comprehensive preparation, doing justice to each and every topic of the syllabus.

The G.S. and the CSAT papers, therefore, are not a tough nut to crack as such. They can be handled with much more ease provided the preparations are done in a systematic and strategic fashion. The Wizard's Strategist for GS can be an excellent guide in this regard as it provides you the pattern and the trend analysis of questions asked in previous years.

Let us look into the subject-wise breakup of GS Papers.


Of late, the importance of 'Indian Polity' has increased tremendously in Preliminary and Main exams. It is expected that this trend will continue in future also The best part is that the questions from Indian Polity are more or less straightforward which can be easily answered with a careful study.

In polity, there are chapters from which questions are frequently being asked. These are the Constitutional Developments, FRs, FDs and DPSP, Union Government, Judiciary, Amendments, Local Governments, Federalism and Election process. Till 2000, questions on comparative government were asked. But now-a-days Amendments, Elections, Federalism and Parliament have assumed significance.

Most of the available books lack information on current constitutional developments. So, a keen perusal of newspapers and magazines is essential with a good knowledge of provisions of the Constitution. After all, chapter-wise break-up is imperative which simplifies the problem and facilitate your understanding.

General Science

It can be divided into 4 parts—Science and Technology, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. On an average, 10 to 20 questions can be expected from this section. For students with Arts backgrounds, this section is always a nightmare. But basic understanding of Science, especially a thorough understanding of NCERTs, can solve most of the questions. Ignoring this area can be suicidal for any candidate.

Science and Technology

Science and Technology have become an important section of GS since last 4 years. Questions are mainly from the developments in India.


Among the General Science subjects, Biology is the most important. Recent analysis shows that questions on General Science cover general appreciation and understanding of day-to-day science. So, observing and experiencing everyday science could be handy.

In Biology, the thrust is on Zoology. Only 2 to 3 questions are being asked from Botany, particularly from agriculture, biological diversity and plant system. In Zoology, most of the questions are related to human system and diseases. Communicable diseases and nutrition have always been significant.


In Chemistry, questions are comparatively less. Application part of chemistry is more important in the exam. Technical details and equations are not that important.


After a keen analysis of the Previous Years' Questions, we come to know that questions are frequently asked from the chapters like Mechanics, Optics, Heat and Thermodynamics, Electricity, Nuclear Physics, Modern Physics, Sound and the Universe.


In Economics, even though most of the questions are from Indian Economy, one has to keep abreast of International Economics that has its bearings on India.

In Indian Economy, now-a-days, most of the questions are asked from Industry, Agricultural production, Exim Policy, Money and Banking, Public Finance and Reforms. National Income and International Economic Forums constitute at least 2 questions. 3 to 4 questions are from different programmes announced in the previous and the current fiscal year. In Economic reforms, infrastructure and reform policies are to be taken care of. In Money and Banking, one has to keep an eye on Financial and Banking Reforms.

The latest trend in Indian Economy shows that the importance of this section is increasing. Moreover, most of the questions are of current nature. But these questions cannot be answered without a proper understanding of traditional areas.

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


In Geography, the thrust has been on the Indian Geography, which covers around 70 per cent of the questions.

In 'Indian Geography' a thorough understanding of physical aspects of India with a proper clarity of locations, is the minimum requirement. This will help in the economic as well as the human aspects of Indian Geography.

In General Geography, the emphasis is on conceptual aspects. A careful study of 'A Certificate Course in Physical and Human Geography' by Goh Cheng Leong is the least expected of you.

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

In future, the weightage on Geography, especially Indian Geography, is expected to be more. But the beauty of Geography lies in the fact that, it can be mastered with least effort. 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.


A decent analysis of the previous years' questions gives the impression that in the last three years, the total number of History questions has shown a declining trend. But the level of toughness has increased. Moreover, the questions are being asked from hitherto untouched areas, which have made the preparation more difficult. So, over-dependence on History may prove to be fatal for non-History background students in the future.

In 'Indian History', maximum number of 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 in the other fields, Governor Generals and Nationalist Movement under the Congress.

In Ancient India, the Vedic Age, Mauryan Period and the Gupta Period are dominating. Sultanate and Mughal periods are the most important in the Medieval India. But, Marathas, Vijaynagar and Bahmani kingdoms are getting more weightage since 2001.

The level of history questions in GS is often similar to that of Optional Paper. The conceptual questions are mainly asked from socio-economic sphere. Such questions are more often asked from Modern India. Ancient and Medieval parts are generally factual in nature.


Of late, the importance of 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.

Current Affairs

Current Affairs is one of the most important modules in the entire scheme of Civil Services Examination because of its high utility at all the three levels i.e. Preliminary, Main and Interview. Though the number of direct questions in the Prelim Examination seems to be on a declining trend but that should not be taken as a set pattern because the trend may reverse any year. One thing which must be kept in mind is that questions from conventional areas like Science & Technology, General Science, Environment, Economics, Geography and Institutions are more current in nature which further makes this section of paramount importance.

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 honours of highest accolade. The UN and its agencies and heads of corporate sectors which falls within the ambit of current affairs have also become important.

GS Paper II (CSAT)

From 2011, the UPSC has introduced a new format for the Civil Services Preliminary Examination. It has added CSAT in the form of GS Paper II. The total number of questions asked in this paper is 80. Out of these, questions were from General Mental Ability, Data Interpretation, Reasoning and Analytical Ability, Decision Making & Problem Solving and English Comprehension. However, we should not make the mistake of treating it as a Model Paper for next year Prelim Exam. The emphasis should be on comprehensive preparation. In the final analysis, if we categories the questions beings asked, it is found that GS can be handled with much more ease. It is not as frightening as what is projected by many. In fact this book can be an excellent guide for beginners in understanding the pattern and trend of GS questions of both papers. A successful candidate is the one who has faced the challenge with a proper planning and strategy.

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