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UPSC Exam Pattern 2021 for IAS, IPS, Civil Services Exam

How to start IAS/UPSC EXAM Preparation

The UPSC Civil Services examination is one of the most prestigious and toughest exams in the world. Every year more than 8 lakh aspirants apply for this exam but only a few hundred of them can clear it. Its vast syllabus and dynamic approach make it even more challenging. In this article, we will discuss everything that you need to know on how to prepare for the UPSC exam and achieve your dream of becoming a civil servant.

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"If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail." - Benjamin Franklin

The UPSC/ IAS Civil Services Exam (CSE) is a long journey that requires around 1-2 years of dedication during the preparation and around another year of the exam process which begins in May/ June and lasts till February/ March of the next year. Following are the steps you require to give a solid foundation to your exam preparation.

Understand the UPSC/ CSE Exam Requirement

  • Understand the Exam Pattern
  • Know the Syllabus
  • Review Previous Year Questions

Going through the Pattern of the IAS/ UPSC Exam:

Stage Exam Type Time Marks
Prelims 2 Objective Type Papers 2 hours for each paper Qualifying Only
Mains 9 Subjective Type Papers 3 hours for each paper 1750
Personality Test Interview 20-30 minutes 275

The UPSC Civil Services exam is conducted inthree stages. The first stage, the Preliminary Exam -is a qualifying exam with two objective-type papers.

  • The General Studies Paper I is scored out of 200 and your performance in this paper will decide whether you are eligible to take the Mains Exam.
  • The General Studies Paper II (Civil Services Aptitude Test) is a qualifying exam where 33% marks are required.
  • Those select few who clear the Prelims Exam, write the tough Mains Exam which is a descriptive-type exam with nine papers totaling 1750 marks. This paper assesses your understanding, articulation abilities and conceptual clarity through 9, 3-hour long, papers out of which 7 papers determine the merit list.
  • The top performing candidates of the Mains Exam are invited for the Personality Test which is an interview-type assessment for 275 marks.

Based on the total marks of the Mains Exam and the Personality Test, a merit list is prepared for selection in the Civil Services of India including IAS/IPS/IFS/IRS posts. The details are available in our Article ‘IAS Exam Pattern| UPSC Exam Pattern’.

Mastering the Syllabus of the IAS/ UPSC Exam

Stage Paper Syllabus Marks
Prelims General Studies I Current Affairs and General Studies 200
General Studies I Aptitude & Reasoning Qualifying
Mains Paper-I Essay 250
Paper-II General Studies – I (Indian Heritage & Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society) 250
Paper-III General Studies – II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice & International Relations) 250
Paper-IV General Studies – III (Technology, Economic Development, Biodiversity, Security & Disaster Management) 250
Paper-V General Studies – IV (Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude) 250
Paper-VI Optional Subject – Paper I 250
Paper-VII Optional Subject – Paper II 250
Paper A Indian Language from Schedule 8 Qualifying
Paper B English Qualifying

The detailed syllabus for both the Preliminary and Mains stages is given in the UPSC notification and is also explained in our Articles ‘How to prepare for UPSC/IAS Prelims Exam?’,‘How to prepare for UPSC/IAS Mains Exam?’ and ‘Strategy to Crack UPSC Interview’.

  • The Preliminary stage tests students on current affairs, history, geography, polity, economy, science, comprehension, logical reasoning etc.
  • The Mains Exam syllabus is more extensive and includes additional topics like internal security, disaster management, world history, social issues ethics, essay and an optional subject.
  • Finally, the Personality Test is conducted to assess the critical thinking and character of the candidate.

Significance of Previous Year's Question Papers

By solving previous year's question papers of 5-10 years, you can develop a better understanding of the UPSC exam pattern and the types of questions that are asked. You can also identify the important topics that are frequently tested in the exam. This will help you focus your preparation on the most important areas.

Decide When You Wish to Appear for the IAS/ UPSC Exam

  • Age and Educational Background will decide your Attempt Year
  • Prepare a Strategy: 1-year, 2-year and 3-year plans.
  • Choose your Optional

Age and Educational Background Will Influence Your Decision

The IAS/ UPSC Exam preparation requires extensive study in diverse subjects. The Prelims Exam is conducted in May/ June every year. Accordingly, one can estimate when to give their attempt keeping in mind the eligibility requirement (maximum age of the candidate) and the time they have to prepare. Detailed eligibility criteria for the exam are provided in our Article ‘IAS, IPS Exam Eligibility’.

Prepare a Strategy for Success in IAS/UPSC Exam:

‘If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my axe.’ – Abraham Lincoln

There is no one-size-fits-all plan that will suit all aspirants. Based on the needs, educational background and abilities of a student, they need to prepare their plan. Inspiration can be taken from how previous toppers from your field/ or of your temperament have prepared. These topper’s preparation strategies are available on our ‘Topper’s Journey’ tab.

The plan will also depend on the time available for preparation. Some candidates are working professionals, some are college students, and some others take a drop year to focus completely on preparation. Choice of self-study or going for coaching/ test series should also be made at this stage. There are many affordable and accessible Study Courses available at Chahal IAS Academy to meet the needs of all kinds of candidates.

Preparation Plan IAS/UPSC Exam for 1 Year:

Month UPSC Prelims Exam UPSC Mains
June- Aug
  • Begin with foundational subjects which are common in prelims and mains: history, geography, polity, economy.
  • Read the newspaper paper regularly.
Start preparing for your Optional Subject.
Sep- Dec
  • Revise and take tests on the material you have covered.
  • Complete other prelims topics.
  • Complete optional preparation and begin ethics preparation.
  • Complete other mains specific topics.
  • Start writing an Essay every week.
  • Start daily answer writing practice.
Jan- March
  • Revise and consolidate information on current affairs and all subjects.
  • Do regular tests to identify weak areas and work on them.
  • Start CSAT practice
  • Focus on prelims tests
  • Revise and do not read any new material.
  • Practice mock tests in an exam environment to prepare yourself.
  • Focus on Prelims Preparation.

If you only have one year to prepare then you will have to complete current affairs, standard books and answer writing practice all simultaneously. You should start with foundational subjects common for both prelims and mains. Also, it is crucial that you cover the newspaper daily and stay abreast with current affairs. In the next phase, it is important to revise the previous material as well as complete your optional along with other mains-specific topics. At this point, you should start taking tests for the material you have already covered to check conceptual clarity. Answer writing is also a crucial skill which you need to work on. As the Prelims exam comes close, for three months it is advised to test yourself regularly in exam conditions (i.e. from 9am to 11am) and also focus on the CSAT paper which has been very challenging.

Preparation Plan for 2 Years:

Year Syllabus to be Covered
Year 1 Complete a study of standard books and optional subjects. Start reading the newspaper.
Year 2 Focus on regular tests and answer writing. Systematically cover current affairs. Mock test practice and regular revisions.

If you have two years to prepare for this exam, then you should start by focusing on the basics. Starting with NCERT books from classes 6-12 of subjects like History, Economy, Polity and Geography will provide you with a good foundation. In the first year, your goal should be to clear your fundamentals and pick up the habit of reading the newspaper. You can also get started with your optional.

In the second year, it is important to focus on the current affairs systematically. You should also start practising mock tests, do regular revisions and answer writing. You can complete and consolidate notes on all subjects so that you can ensure quick revisions. You can refer to the one-year plan given above for a more detailed course of action.

Preparation Plan for 3 Years:

Year Syllabus to be Covered
Year 1 Familiarise yourself with the exam Begin reading NCERTs Starting with reading the newspaper.
Year 2 Study Standard books Decide optional subject and start preparing it Keep abreast with the newspaper
Year 3 Focus on regular tests and answer writing. Systematically cover current affairs. Mock test practice and regular revisions.

‘Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.’– Jim Rohn

While having three years for preparation is ideal, it is necessary to have a plan to keep yourself on track in this long journey. You can start by understanding the requirements of the exam. At this stage, reading the newspaper is important from the perspective of creating a habit of newspaper reading as the content may not be as relevant for exams three years later. So, in the first year focus on basics by reading the NCERTs.

In the next year, you should systematically take up standard books and remember to revise the content you have covered. The art of notemaking will be essential to consolidate the information which you will read over three years. It is also valuable to identify the optional subject you will be going forward it.

In the third year, you should focus on finishing the study material and then doing rigorous tests and practice. A detailed year long plan has been provided above.

Choosing an Optional

This is a big decision to take as you will invest around 2-4 months in optional preparation and you can find more details about this in our article‘How to choose an optional subject for IAS-UPSC Exam?’.

Finalise Your Resources & Booklist

  • Decide Booklist
  • Decide Current Affairs Strategy

It is important for students to identify good resources and revise them repeatedly so that you get conceptual clarity. Basic books like NCERTS form the backbone of the preparation. Our article on ‘Comprehensive Reference Materials for UPSC- CSE Exam’ will give you a ready book list, curated by experts, to get started immediately.

Covering current affairs smartly is important to crack the Prelims Exam. Reading a newspaper and other current affairs material regularly is very important. ‘How to Start Current Affairs Preparation for IAS/IPS/UPSC Civil Services Exam’ will equip you to tackle this challenge.

Set Your Roadmap

  • Set Timelines and make a Time Table
  • Learn to Make Notes

Timelines and schedules are necessary to keep yourself on track in this very long journey. A daily study plan will help you manage your time effectively and avoid feeling overwhelmed. This plan should incorporate regular revisions and also focus on mock tests to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, regular answer-writing practice is essential for improving your skills.

‘How To Make Notes For Civil Services, UPSC/IAS/IPS Exam Preparation?’ is a quick guide to notemaking which is an essential skill for this exam.

It is important to take care of your mental and physical health during this challenging journey. The internet provides access to a vast amount of information, but it is important to be selective and avoid getting bogged down in unnecessary content.

Get the basics right

The Civil Services Examination is conducted in three stages; Prelims, Mains, and Personal Interview. The minimum educational qualification required is graduation from the any recognized university in India. The age limit is 21-32 years (relaxation as per government norms) and the maximum number of attempts allowed is 6 for general category students

  • The most important thing before going for this decision is to analyze each aspect of IAS preparation right from the exam pattern, syllabus to the previous year’s questions papers. Owing to its highly unpredictable nature it is not a sure-shot that the candidate may get success in one go and, in many instances, this process becomes lethargic due to repeated failures.
  • Discussing with seniors/mentors and those who have prepared for the CSE will also provide you with an overall insight into the examination and it will help you in adopting a proper strategy, planning, and executing accordingly.

Play with the Right strategy:

"The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." — Michael E. Porter

Success in this examination depends on making the right decisions at the right times. Right Strategy and guidance play a very important role in the selection. A strategy is like a make or break factor that will determine your chances of selection in the IAS examination.
  • Syllabus: The first and foremost step is to thoroughly know the UPSC CSE syllabus. Aspirants should mug up the entire syllabus. Clarity of the nature and scope of the syllabus will help in understanding what to read and what not to read. The questions asked in the exam are always within the syllabus and hence keeping a close eye on the syllabus is fundamental.
  • Reading NCERTs: As a beginner of UPSC preparation, your foremost priority should be to finish the NCERTs first. NCERTs will help you to develop your basic knowledge and understanding of various issues related to different subjects. NCERTs provide the base for your UPSC preparation.
  • Reading Daily Newspaper: The newspaper is like Bible/Koran/Geeta and is one of the most crucial IAS preparation tips for beginners. One should read at least one newspaper daily to develop a very basic understanding of the day-to-day happenings around the globe and continuously improve this knowledge by interlinking these topics in answer writing. With the increasing weight of current affairs questions in prelims every year, regular newspaper reading gives you an upper hand in both papers. It will help you stay updated with current affairs.
  • Previous Years’ Questions: Aspirants must go through the previous years’ question papers thoroughly to get a clear understanding of the examination pattern. It will help in getting a better perspective of the types of questions asked and identifying the best sources for preparation.
  • Practice mock tests: For prelims, practicing mock tests and for mains daily answer writing practice is very important. One should join a good test series for regular practice of the complete series to cover the whole syllabus. These mock tests not only help in preparing for the exam but also help in learning time management.
  • Choose your optional wisely: Choosing the correct Optional Subject for clearing this exam is very important. You should choose your optional very carefully taking into account your educational background, familiarity and interest in the subject, syllabus, availability of good resources, and coaching classes.
  • Discipline is a key to success: Staying disciplined with your studies and timetable is very crucial for success. Discipline is like taking homeopathic medicine. It will take time to produce the results and while following you are going to face the pain and irritation but as the time progresses you will see different changes inside you. These changes will be an integral part of your personality gradually.
  • Gain experience not shared in books: Experience is a very expensive asset, yet it's crucial for your UPSC preparation strategy. Apart from reading books listen to useful programs like RSTV debates, take a trip to a rural area, understand how basic functionaries work, interact with as many people as you can from different socio-cultural backgrounds to enrich your experience. Explore the questions that you confront on day to day basis. This will make your answers unique.
  • Health First:Last but not the least; you should take proper care of your health. IAS exam is the game of mind over matter. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Try following an exercise regime like doing yoga, playing some sports, and even meditating. This will help you to avoid burnout and keep you focused on your studies.

Scheduling/Prioritising things:

  • Daily, weekly, monthly schedule:
  • Make a proper schedule by prioritizing the things, for instance, you will finish this subject or chapter in this much time or week. Our Brain does not act properly until and unless it is being commanded clearly. This clarity will come when you make a proper schedule by writing it down on paper.
  • The secret mantra is to Revise, Revise, and Revise! Studying is important, but so is revision. Preparing for the UPSC will require you to remember a lot of information which is nothing less of a herculean task. So, how will you ensure that you retain all that you’ve studied? The answer is a simple revision! This is even more important for static subjects which have a definite syllabus.
  • Make a personalized schedule keeping the above aspects of preparation in attention and start this adventurous journey. Remember that UPSC CSE is not just a goal but a journey, not a 100-meter race but a marathon. Your commitment, dedication, and perseverance will pay off to you one day definitely.
     All the best!

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Busting Myths about preparation for UPSC:

  • Reading a Wide range of Books for IAS preparation
    This is a general myth that the more books you read, the higher is your probability of sailing through. Absolutely no. CSE is not a test of knowledge but an application you already know. One must better read one book four times than four books one time.
  • Becoming Monk during preparation
    You need to be a monk when preparing. No, you only need to be self-disciplined. You don't have to go in hibernation. All you need is self-control. People who love you are your springboards to bounce back when you feel low. Your parents, friends, and loved ones play an important part in your success journey. Yes, you should not socialize that often as it distracts but some unwinding only eases the stress. Also, you don't need to completely give up your hobbies but manage with your study schedule to keep you feel light during this long journey.
  • Only highly intelligent students with an excellent academic record are successful at the CSE
    How does one measure intelligence? Can we call someone highly intelligent just because he/she scores 100% in Mathematics or Physics at the 10th Class level? Or do we call a student who has consistently secured a first division intelligent? The fact is the notion of intelligence is susceptible to varied definitions Many students have cleared this examination with a modest academic background.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the right time to start preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Examination?
    • There is no hard and fast rule of timing to prepare for this examination. But, if you have the right guidance and you know the demand for this examination you can crack this examination in the first attempt as well. However, starting the preparation as early as possible is being suggested to understand the whole dynamics of this examination and prepare oneself for every section of the examination.
  2. What should be my day-to-day UPSC preparation strategy?
    • As a beginner, you should ideally give 7 to 8 hours depending upon the work ethic in starting time. This schedule should comprise of daily reading of Newspaper followed by GS subjects and optional subject. You can bifurcate the timing of both portions according to the need of your subject.
    • It should be remembered that at least one day should be given in a week for the revision so that apart from incorporating new information daily you can collect the information in sequence to utilize it properly before the exact battle day.
  3. How to tame mental tiredness and boredom?
    • Feeling mental tiredness and lethargy is quite common in every aspirant and you should not worry about these things. As a human being, you will have mood swings and you will feel; why I am preparing for this examination and what I will get by doing such hard work and making your near and dear ones suffer as well in case your family depends upon you. The most appropriate advice will be to not think about the result too much and think about the process as the saying goes" think about the journey rather than the destination".
    • You can also go out for a movie with your friends from time to time or you can spend some quality time with your family. Playing some sports or routine exercise like yoga, cycling, meditation will help you to avoid burnout. These little things play a very important role in changing the mode and once again you can start studying with 2x energy.
  4. What should I do to stop dithering and delaying my priorities regarding the Civil Services Examination preparation?
    • The only thing you can do is to have rigorous self-discipline. But, this discipline will only come when you are crystal clear in your thought process as to why you are preparing for this examination and how far have you come in this process. As it is being said that think about a day at a time and piece by piece and drop by drop you will reach the place where you want to be.
    • In terms of prioritizing the things think like; what is more important your dream or any work that will drive you away from your dream. So, keep yourself agile all the time in learning new things and developing new habits that can be helpful for your dream.

At last, I would say that "your limitation is only your imagination” and success doesn't come by remaining there in your comfort zone. So, go and grab this opportunity that you have got and make your parents, teachers proud of you, go and get the success as the world is yours. Like in the words of Swami Vivekananda "Arise awake and stop not till the goal is reached". Good luck……

If you have joined CHAHAL ACADEMY, just follow the curriculum of the batch, you will reach the destination. If you are starting on your own, begin by following the initial steps.

  • Analysis of previous question papers
  • Understanding of Syllabus
  • Read a good newspaper daily preferably The Hindu or Indian Express
  • Read all basic NCERTs before reading reference books
  • Reading of basic study material/reference books
  • Read YOJANA and KURUKSHETRA magazine monthly
  • Start writing-This will be the deciding factor in the Mains

Let us analyze the critical areas according to their weightage in IAS-UPSC Exam.

  • GS Based Marks= GS Prelims, 200 marks + GS Mains, 1000 marks + Essay, 250 marks (Essay means Mains GS and writing style) + Interview, 275 marks (It means Mains GS and communication style) = 1725 marks
  • Optional Based Marks = 500 marks
  • Aptitude based Marks = Prelims Aptitude = 200 marks

When to start preparation

  • One should start preparation around eight or nine months before the exam.
  • If you are going to prepare immediately after graduation, then don’t waste time, start immediately after your final exam.
  • If you are going to study while working, it is possible but starts earliest. Don’t delay to start otherwise you will experience a time crunch later.
  • If you are preparing during graduation, a generalized plan cannot be suggested, so discuss personally with us to evolve an individual plan.

What is required to get success in IAS-UPSC exam

  • Critical self-assessment
  • Patience and Self-confidence
  • Good writing practice
  • Basic command over English and Aptitude
  • Good grasp over current affairs
  • Healthy competitions and feedbacks
  • Quality material and guidance
  • Devoted study


Impossible is nothing and neither is the Civil Services Examination


  • How to prepare for IAS while working?
  • A different perspective on how being a working professional actually puts you in an advantageous position.
  • Tips on how a working professional can ace the Civil Services Examination.


  • No strategy
  • Shortage of time
  • Mental stress
  • Lack of energy for studies
  • Inability to start the UPSC preparation.



UPSC Civil Services Examination is considered an extraordinarily "arduous" task that can be cracked by people who are born toppers, those who study day and night (24x7 hours), and have no social life. For a working professional who is believed to have very little time to study, UPSC CSE is considered nearly impossible.

However, in reality, there lie several plus points for a working professional if he is preparing for the Civil Services Examination.

Dr. Shena Aggarwal, a former UPSC topper was working while preparing for UPSC, so it is neither new nor unbelievable for a working professional to understand that s/he can prepare well and better than others for the Civil Services Examination.


A UPSC aspirant who is also a working professional would have a lot to do both professionally and academically. He would have no time to feel dull, lazy, pathetic, unpleasant, and other bad vibes which a full-time UPSC aspirant has to go through.

She/he would always be in work mode, filled with confidence, and always stay motivated. This way s/he can counter the most powerful factor which leads to several failures in the UPSC examination.


A working professional would always see Civil Services Examination as a board exam rather than a tough competitive one. S/he would have no time to be afraid of the enormous numbers that sit for the CSE exam every year.

UPSC would always be a platform for them to unlock their hidden potential and study for the examination in a comprehensive manner. Their ultimate aim is to give their best to harness the best results. Therefore, they would give their least attention to unnecessary apprehensions.


Work is Worship. For a working professional who is also preparing for UPSC, study, and work, both are his/her topmost priority. He would always be very clear on why he wanted to clear the UPSC examination. S/he would always study with utmost dedication with no second thoughts or plans in mind. A working professional would always have a laser-like focus which is crucial to clear this examination.


A working professional would be financially secure and independent. He would not have to worry about his future and does not have to be dependent on others for his daily bread. He has several backup plans in his lot so he can freely focus on his UPSC preparation with a positive attitude.  


Working professionals are skilled in meeting their targets on time. They can make use of this skill of theirs in meeting daily study targets in UPSC preparation and thus never feel left behind and burdened. This will keep away the unnecessary stress from him.


A unique strategy is a must-have to clear the UPSC examination. Working professionals excel in planning and organizing and thus finishing the task in time. They can apply the same in their UPSC preparation and devise a strategy suitable to their time constraints.


Working professionals understand that they have a very limited amount of time for completing the entire syllabus. So, they try to utilize every minute they get for studying the most in the minimum amount of time.


Working professionals are not unnecessarily concerned about the ranks, cadres, or services they will be allotted. So, their complete focus is on the preparation part.


Studying 24x7 becomes monotonous after a while. Efficiency keeps on decreasing year after year. Generally, 2 good attempts are given with full energy. It becomes difficult after it. If you are working you meet new people outside the UPSC universe and it helps in breaking the monotony and freshens up your mind. this way you can restart your UPSC journey with the same level of confidence.



  • Every minute counts: Utilise the best out of every minute you get in your studies. Utilizing every minute is more important than utilizing an hour.
  • Be strong. Don’t feel guilty comparing yourself to a 21-year-old sitting in his room supposedly studying for 25 hours a day.
  • Learn to manage your time efficiently, you can't prepare for CSE even if you leave your job because it's all about efficiency in time management.
  • Remember the purpose and never get carried away by the comforts of the job.
  • Get enrolled in a test series.
  • WEEKENDS are your most productive assets. Say NO to any sort of extension of office work. Switch off your phone on Friday night and switch it on only on Monday morning (At least don’t take calls).
  • Weekends are also your weekdays. The study is your work”

Everything above will work ONLY if one can spend at least 3–4 hours daily and 20–24 hours during weekends (Sat/Sun). The whole effort is to strike a balance between work and study.

Working and preparing at the same time can be a great fulfilling experience in life.