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

IAS Exam Pattern| UPSC Exam Pattern | UPSC/IAS Prelims cum Mains Exam Pattern | IFS/IPS Exam Pattern and Syllabus

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The UPSC Civil Services exam is conducted in three stages, firstly the Prelims Examination, next Mains Examination and the last being the Interview Stage.

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

You have to qualify the Prelims Stage which is a Objective type paper and then you appear for the Mains Examination which has 9 subjective type papers which are three hour long each. And finally, those who qualify appear for the Personality Test before a Panel of Senior Government Servants who test a students’s critical thinking and integrity.

IAS/ UPSC exam is one of the toughest examination and each stage of this examination challenges the candidate. This is how the Civil Servants, who form the Steel Framework of India are selected.

Prelims Stage of the IAS/ UPSC Examination

The Preliminary Exam is a qualifying exam with two objective-type papers: General Studies Paper I and General Studies Paper II (Aptitude Test). The question paper is set in both Hindi and English. While GS Paper I will decide whether you make it to the next round, you should pay attention to clearing the cut-off of 33% for the CSAT paper as well.

Prelims Exam Pattern General Studies I General Studies II or CSAT
Paper Type MCQ MCQ
Maximum marks 200 200
Cut Off marks Counted for Merit. Cut-off varies every year. 33% qualifying criteria (66 marks)
Negative Marking Yes, 0.66 marks deducted for wrong answer. Yes, 0.83 marks deducted for wrong answer.
Total Questions 100 80
Duration of exam 2 hours 2 hours
Langauge of Paper English & Hindi English & Hindi

These two objective-type papers have multiple choice questions with 4 options each. 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 Merit list is prepared on the basis of this Preliminary Examination. The top around 10,000 students clear the exam from around 5,00,000 students who appear for the exam, on an average.

The General Studies Paper II (Civil Services Aptitude Test) is a qualifying exam where 33% marks are required. In recent years this exam has become tougher and hence it cannot be ignored during your preparation. A lot of students have cleared the GS1 paper’s cut off but have not been able to write the mains examination as they did not clear the CSAT paper.

Mains Examination Pattern

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.

Paper Topic Marks Time Alloted Number of Questions
Paper-I Essay 250 3 hours 2 questions
Paper-II GS1: Art & Culture, History, Geography & Society 250 3 hours 20 questions
Paper-III GS2: Governance, Polity, Social Justice & International Relations 250 3 hours 20 questions
Paper-IV GS3: Science & Technology, Economy, Disaster Management, Ecology and Internal Security 250 3 hours 20 questions
Paper-V GSIV: Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude 250 3 hours 13 Theory Questions 6 Case Studies
Paper-VI Optional Subject – Paper I 250 3 hours 19 questions
Paper-VII Optional Subject – Paper II 250 3 hours 19 questions
Paper A Compulsory Paper Indian Language from Schedule 8 300(secure 25%) 3 hours 6 questions
Paper B Compulsory English Language Paper 300(secure 25%) 3 hours 5 questions

IAS/ UPSC Mains Exam is a descriptive-type paper. Six of these papers are three hours long with approximately 20 questions each, while the essay paper has two questions. The word limit is somewhere between 150 to 250 words for the General Studies and Optional Papers. For both essays, the word limit is approximately 1000-1200 words.

Apart from this, there are two language papers that are only qualifying in nature which include ‘Paper A’ for any Indian language from the Eight Schedule and ‘Paper B’ for English language. The maximum marks that can be secured at this stage are 1750.

Personality Test

The top performing candidates of the Mains Exam are invited for the Personality Test which is an interview-type assessment for 275 marks.

A board of unbiased senior Civil Servants interviews the candidates to test their mental alertness, critical thinking, clear and logical exposition, balance of judgment, variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion and leadership, and intellectual and moral integrity. This interview lasts for about 20-30 minutes for each candidate.

Selection to the Civil Services of India

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. Around half of the students who are called for the Personality Test, actually qualify and appear in the Merit List for the UPSC examination.

UPSC conducts Civil Services Examination (CSE) annually for various key Civil Services posts of the Government of India, including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), etc. A candidate planning to prepare for CSE must get himself acquainted with the examination plan/pattern and its syllabus which would help him in getting an edge over others and in planning his preparation in a manner best suitable for him. Complete details regarding the exam, are following:

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

UPSC CSE Pattern/ Plan:

The Civil Services Examination comprises three successive stages:

  • Civil Services Preliminary Examination-Objective Type, for the selection of candidates for Main Examination.
  • Civil Services Main Examination-Written, for the selection of candidates for Interview.
  • Interview or Personality Test for the selection of candidates for the various Services and posts.

Table of Contents:-

    1. Overview of Civil Services Exam Pattern
    2. Prelims
      • Marking Scheme of Prelims
      • Negative Marking
    3. Mains
      • Qualifying Paper
      • Marking Scheme of Mains
    4. Personality Test
    5. Prelims Syllabus
    6. Mains Syllabus
    7. IAS Preparation Books
    8. Editor's Note
    9. FAQ Regarding Civil Services Exam Pattern

Overview of IAS Exam Pattern :

Name of the exam Civil Services Exam- IAS
Conducting authority Union Public Service Commission
Mode of exam Offline
Number of Stages Prelims
Mains Exam
Number of papers Prelims: 2
Mains :9
Prelims marking scheme Paper 1: +2 marks per question
Paper 2: +2.5 marks per question
Negative marking: One-third of marks allotted to each question
Duration Prelims: 2 hours (Each paper)
Mains: 3hours (Each paper)
Type of Questions Prelims: Objective type
Mains: Subjective type
Posts 800 approximate (Tentative)

IAS Exam pattern of Prelims

  • Prelims examination consists of 2 compulsory papers - General Studies paper and (CSAT) Civil service aptitude test to test the analytical skills of the candidate.
  • All the questions in the prelims exam are objective in nature. So, the candidate has to choose any one option out of 4 answers given for each question.
  • Questions are in both Hindi and English language. However, comprehension questions in the English language in the CSAT paper are without Hindi translations.
  • Questions are in both Hindi and English language. Also, the prelims exam is qualifying only. The cut-off of paper 'I' is decided by UPSC every year. The CSAT paper requires the candidates to score at least 33% i.e. 66 marks to qualify and to be able to sit for the Mains exam.

IAS Prelims Exam Pattern

Exam Mode Offline
Number of Papers 2- General Studies and Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT)
Number of Questions Paper 1- 100; Paper 2- 80
Question Paper Type Multiple Choice Questions
IAS Prelims Total Marks 400
Nature of Exam Qualifying
Exam Duration 2 hours each, +20 minutes for blind students
Exam Language English and Hindi

Marking Scheme of Prelims

The IAS Exam pattern is very important to understand to pass the prelims exam. Here is the marking scheme of prelims:

  • Every question in paper I is of 2 marks. So, the question paper is a total of 200 marks.
  • Every question in the Civil Service Aptitude Test carries 2.5 marks. So, the question paper is a total of 200 marks.
  • Also, for every wrong answer by the student, 0.33 marks will be deducted i.E. 0.66 will be deducted from paper I and 0.83 marks will be deducted from paper II.
  • If the candidate gives more than 1 answer, then it will be considered as wrong even if one of them is right.
  • Candidates must cross the cut-off marks in Paper I and a minimum of 33% score in Paper II to sit for the main exam.

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Negative Marking

The Civil Services Exam (CSE) pattern is very different from other exams. Also, the candidates can easily get negative marking in the UPSC Exam. In other words, 3 incorrect answers will lead to around 2 marks deduction. In short, the candidate will get a 1/3rd mark deducted for incorrect answers. There is no negative marking for blank answers. Read everything about UPSC on its official website.

Paper Type No. of questions Marks Duration Negative Marks
General Studies I Objective 100 2*100 = 200 2 hours Yes, 0.66
General Studies II(CSAT) Objective 80 2.5*80 = 200 2 hours Yes, 0.83

IAS Exam Pattern for Mains

  • UPSC CSE mains is an offline exam. There are a total of 9 papers in the Mains exam.
  • Every paper is of 3 hours and extra 30 minutes extra is given to blind students.
  • Paper 'A' and Paper 'B' are of 300 marks each and the remaining papers are of 250 marks each.
  • The mains exam is divided into 2 parts qualifying and being considered for merit. And it is compulsory to sit in for all the exams to go into the interview stage. Here, questions are subjective. And you can write in either Hindi or English language So, the candidate is get tested based on knowledge and understanding of the subject. You have to answer touching the basic and relevant aspects. You will also be marked upon whether you can provide valuable and constructive way forwards

Qualifying Paper

  1. Paper A - Either of the Indian languages can be selected from the 8th schedule of the constitution. It carries 300 marks.
  2. Paper B - This paper tests your knowledge of basic English paper. And it also carries 300 marks.

General Studies - The students have to score minimum marks in the general studies paper to crack the exam. Moreover, the question paper is set to test the student's ability to analyze. In other words, the questions test the student's understanding of the concept and subject. However, there would be 2 optional exams that the student will have to choose from. The list of GS and Optional papers and marks is given below for more information:

Paper Title of the Paper Marks Allotted
Paper 1 Essay writing 250 Marks
Paper 2 General Studies–I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History, and Geography of the World and Society) 250 Marks
Paper 3 General Studies –II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations) 250 Marks
Paper 4 General Studies –III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio‐diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management) 250 Marks
Paper 5 General Studies –IV (Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude) 250 Marks
Paper 6 Optional Subject – Paper 1 250 Marks
Paper 7 Optional Subject – Paper 2 250 Marks
- Sub Total in the written Test 1750 Marks
- Personal Interview 275 Marks
- Grand Total ( for merit calculation) 2025 Marks

Prelims Syllabus

Paper 1(General Studies) - This will test the student's knowledge and passion for learning about the country. Also, the questions are from various aspects like history, geography, economy and much more.

  • Events of National and International Importance
  • Geography impact in the country
  • Constitutional and governance structure
  • Issues faced by the country currently
  • Social and Economic Development
  • Research and development
  • Scientific development
Paper 2 (Civil Services Aptitude Test) - In the CSAT paper, students have to score at least 33% to crack the exam. So, candidates have to practice mock tests to be able to score the minimum marks. However, the aptitude of the student determines the ability to solve complex problems, time management, and much more. Also, the important fields to practice for the Civil Services Exam (CSE) are as follows:
  • Logical Reasoning
  • The capacity of problem-solving
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Numerical Ability
  • Analytical Skills
  • Comprehension
  • Synonyms/antonyms

Mains Syllabus

Paper A(Any Indian Language) - This paper is to test the candidate's knowledge of the language.
Paper B (English) - This paper tests your ability to understand the English language.
Paper 3(Essay Writing) - Students write essays on the topic of their choice.
Paper 4(General Studies 1) - It will have questions related to ancient India like history, geography, heritage and much more.

  • Ancient, Medieval, and Modern - History of India.
  • Significant changes in Architecture, Literature, etc.
  • Significance of Geography.
  • Diversity, Indian Society.
  • Globalization

Paper 5(General Studies 2) - This part will have questions regarding the reform in Indian governance after Independence. Further, the topics are:
  • India's Constitution
  • Analysis of the world's constitution
  • Legislature and Parliament
  • Main issues faced by the nation and solutions
  • Welfare schemes by the government
  • Structures and departments in government.
  • International Relations.

Paper 6(General Studies 3) - This paper has questions regarding the Modern Indian Economy and key developments. Topics included are:
  • Indian Economy
  • Farming
  • Science
  • Research and Development
  • IT
  • Environmental Studies
  • Achievement in different fields
  • Security challenges
  • Industrial growth
  • Infrastructure Development

Paper 7(General Studies 4) - This will have questions about Integrity, Ethics, and aptitude. Moreover, the included topics are:
  • Public Administration ethics
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Behavior Analysis
  • Functional Values and case studies based on given topics.
  • Moral thinkers.

Paper 8 and 9 - This will cover the optional subjects chosen by the candidates. Students can choose any subject from the following:
  • Agriculture
  • Animal husbandry and Veterinary Science
  • Anthropology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Commerce and Accountancy
  • Economics
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History of India
  • Law
  • Management
  • Maths
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Medical Science
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political science and International relations
  • Psychology
  • Public administration
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Zoology
  • Literature of any available 23 subjects

IAS Preparation Books

We have provided you with a list of the best books to refer to for UPSC CSE preparation. You can start preparing for your exam starting with these basic books from the comfort of your home:

History Ancient India RS Sharma
History Modern India Satish Chandra Mittal
History History of Modern India Bipan Chandra
Polity The Constitution of India PM Bakshi
Ethics Ethics, Aptitude and Integrity for Civil Services Mail Examination Subba Rao and P.N. Roy Chaudary
Economy Indian Economy Mishra and Puri
Environment Environmental Studies: From Crisis to Cure Rajgopalan
Science and Technology Science and Technology in India TMH
English High School English Grammar and Composition Wren and Martin
General Studies IAS Mains Exam General Studies (IAS Mains Exam General Studies) Ashish Bharti (IPS)
Geography 1. NCERT VI to XII
2. Certificate Physical Geography: G C Leong
3. World Atlas
RS Sharma

Editor's Note

We have covered everything that you need to know about IAS Exam Pattern. Use this to make your own unique strategy to prepare for the exam. You need to understand that clearing the IAS exam is not a simple task as lakhs of aspirants sit for this exam but only a few are selected. However, with the right guidance, proper planning, consistency, and hard work you can clear this exam. Therefore, you need to understand the IAS exam pattern deeply. The IAS exam pattern will clear your doubts and you will have a clear picture. To sum up, prepare yourself wisely.

FAQ Regarding IAS Exam Pattern

1. Why it is important to understand the IAS exam pattern?
The candidate should understand the Civil Services Exam (CSE) pattern properly because it will help to understand what to study and what to not. The syllabus should be divided based on strengths and weaknesses.

2. What is the IAS exam pattern of Prelims?
It has 2 papers General Studies and CSAT. Moreover, the candidate should score 33% in the second paper to crack the exam.

3. Is maths a good choice as an optional subject?
Yes, it is a very scoring subject in UPSC exams. However, if you are weak in maths but you have the interest to learn it, enroll in good coaching.