How do I prepare for UPSC civil services examination? If you are asking this question to yourself, on internet, to your seniors or to the god himself then you my friend are on the right track.

Rather than going pointless and direction-less into huge piles of books, notes, magazines and newspapers, the first step to get successful in this exam is to frame a strategy, to know what books to read, to test your knowledge often and to efficiently use whatever the limited time you have in your hands.

This exam is no joke, it requires serious dedication, it’s exhaustive and trust me when I tell you that don’t even think of appearing for this exam without a proper plan. To help you frame the perfect strategy here is our recipe/study-plan for success. Let’s take a dive..

UPSC conducts the civil service examination or also popularly known as IAS exam in three stages : 

  1. Preliminary Exam (Prelims/CSAT) : on 31 May 2020 (How to Prepare for Prelims)
  2. Mains Examination : From 18 September 2020 (five days) (How to Prepare for Mains)
  3. Interview : Not yet decided

UPSC IAS Exam Stages

You can fill up the form for prelims from 12nd Feb to 3rd March on official website. Once you clear prelims, you will have to again fill up a new/separate form known as “Detailed Application form” (DAF). You also need to select optional subject in online prelims-form. Be careful as you can’t change it afterwards.


Academic / Education Qualification to apply for UPSC Civil Services :

  • Candidate must be a graduate from a recognized (UGC/AICTE) university of India. Students in their final year/semester can apply as well but you must complete your graduation before appearing in the mains exam.
  • Foreign degree is also valid if validated from AIU.
  • There is no minimum percentage or CGPA required.
  • MBBS students need to have their internships complete before appearing in the interview.


Age / Attempt Limit in UPSC Civil Services :

Category   Age Limit   Max. No. of Attempts 
 General / Creamy Layer OBC  32 6
OBC 35 9
SC/ST 37 Unlimited
 Physically Handicapped (PH)  42 9 – Unlimited*

Note :
 *PH from SC/ST category get unlimited attempt till the age limit is reached. Additional +5 year relaxation in age limit is given to J&K Domicile and Ex-serviceman.


Revised Exam Pattern for UPSC Prelims 2020 :


 Paper – I

(General Studies)

  • 100 MCQs X 2 Marks = 200 Marks
  • Duration : 2 Hours
  • This paper determines whether you get selected for mains exam or not.
  • Negative marking is there. -0.66 marks deducted for each wrong answer.

How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims Paper-I

 Paper – II


  • 80 MCQs X 2.5 Marks = 200 Marks
  • Duration : 2 Hours
  • This paper is of qualifying nature.
  • You need to get at least 33% (66) marks to be eligible for mains exam.
  • Negative Marking is there. -0.66 Marks deducted for each wrong answer.

How to Prepare for UPSC prelims Paper-II


Both papers are held on the same day. Paper-1 also known as general studies determines the cutoff while paper-2 also known as CSAT was made qualifying since 2015 after huge protest from non-english medium students.

Clearing the prelims exam makes you eligible for mains examination and that’s about it. Your rank and selection depends on the combined marks your score in mains as well as in the interview.


Syllabus for UPSC Preliminary Exam :

Paper – I
Paper – II
  • Current affairs of national and international importance.
  • History of India and Indian National Movement.
  • Indian and World Geography
  • Indian Polity and Governance
  • Economic and Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
  • General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change
  • General Science.
  • Comprehension
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills;
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem-solving
  • General mental ability
  • Basic numeracy

➜ Download UPSC Prelims Syllabus PDF

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost by the vast nature of this exam’s syllabus but know that paper setters at UPSC ask very conceptual question with levels just above the NCERTs.

What’s more important is to have your basics and concepts cleared as just memorising raw data is not going to take you very far. Make your notes on a daily basis keeping in mind the scope and syllabus of this syllabus. Save time for at least 2-3 revisions.


How to Crack UPSC Prelims 2020 : Study Plan

How to prepare for UPSC Prelims General Studies (Paper-1) ?

All the topics that fall under the syllabus of paper-1 are broadly from current affairs, history & culture, geography, polity & constitution, economy, science & tech, environment, biodiversity and agriculture. I will be explaining in detail how to prepare for all these subjects individually and which books, magazines or notes you should be reading.

Current Affairs and International Relations –

  • You can start by reading ExamPariksha’s Daily Current Affairs. We publish essence of all the major newspapers and relevant current events on a daily basis on the site itself.
  • You should also refer to the following newspapers – The Hindu & Indian-Express. Stress specifically on editorials and news that you believe comes under the scope of the syllabus.
  • In recent years UPSC has started pushing more and more question on government policies. For that you can simply read yojana and kurukshetra magazine.

History and Culture –

  • You can start by reading the new NCERT books along with history books from Tamil Nadu board – Class 11th & 12th. Further you can expand your history knowledge by referring to selective topics from NIOS books (Free).
  • For more serious candidates Nitin Singhania’s Book on Culture is something to look at.
  • I also recommend reading “A Brief History of Modern India” – Spectrum.

Geography –

  • Again for the geography too the freely available NCERT books from 8th – 12th standard are your friend.
  • Keep some kind of standard school atlas with you all times and keep and eye on to the maps.
  • Chapter-1 from India Yearbook 2020 is pretty helpful for geography.
  • Although it’s not much required but you can try Goh Che Leong as well.

Political Science and Constitution –

  • Refer to NCERT Class 11th – 12th Sociology & Political Science books. Weak students can surf 8th standard onwards civics book as well.
  • Thoroughly read M.Laxmikanth’s Indian Polity as it is the undisputed bible for civil services political science preparation.
  • You should also regularly read latest bills and amendments from

Economics – 

  • Class 11th and 12th NCERT for economics should be your starting point to crack civil services prelims economics.
  • Go through Budget & Economic Survey and make your own notes out of it.
  • Refer to India Yearbook’s Chapter -7, 13, 14, 19, 21.
  • For more in depth study read (recommended but not essential) – Mishra Puri, Dutt Sundara, Uma Kapila

Environment, Biotechnology and Agriculture –

  • Environment is highly pursued topic by UPSC for preliminary exam and you can easily expect to find 8-15 questions in paper-1. Reason being the prelims also serves for forest services recruitment.
  • Get your basics cleared by reading selected environment, biotechnology, agriculture topics from NIOS & NCERT books.
  • Give a surface reading to ShankarIAS environment book.
  • Read Chapter 12 from India Yearbook 2020.

Science and Technology –

  • Read science subject books from NCERT ( Class 7 to 10). Also selectively read important science and technology topics from 11th and 12th standard NCERT.
  • Refer to Lucent GK (Don’t waste your time reading anything other than sci. & tech. from this book)
  • You can also try any GS Manual as well (Publication or editions doesn’t matter).
  • The Hindu and Indian Express both cover science related news and latest inventions with fair amount of detail. Reading these newspapers regularly and making your own science and technology notes will be highly beneficial in long run to crack ias prelims as well as mains.


How to prepare for UPSC Prelims CSAT (Paper-2) ?

Second paper as I explained earlier is of qualifying nature and in most cases you don’t have to prepare for it separately as most of the questions are from basic mathematics, reasoning, comprehension, decision making, english language and verbal ability. Given that you just need to score 33% marks to qualify unless you are too weak in these subjects a surface revision would suffice. Still if you are feeling under-confident then here are some resources that you should be considering for UPSC prelims CSAT preparation.

Maths and Data Interpretation Questions –

  • If you are very weak then start with NCERT mathematics textbook of class 7th to 11th.
  • For rest of the candidates the “Fast Track Objective Arithmetic” would serve more than enough.

Reasoning, blood-relations, Arrangement Type Questions –

  • To prepare high level reasoning read and solve “Analytical Reasoning” by M.K.Pandey (BSC Publication)
  • For routine topics you can go through R.S. Aggarwal or Reasoning by B.S. Sijwali

Comprehension and Inferences Questions –

  • Again if you happen to be absolutely clueless about comprehension question the “Analytical Reasoning” by M.K.Pandey shall be referred.
  • Although for most students the newspapers, magazines, previous year papers can take care of most things.

Decision Making and Communication Skills related Questions –

  • UPSC is not asking such questions these days. But you never know so better go through “22 Years CSAT Paperset by Disha”.
  • Any second hand CSAT Paper-2 manual would be more than what you need for this topic.

English Language and Verbal Ability Questions –

  • UPSC has stopped asking english language and verbal reasoning questions in preliminary exam since the agitation by Hindi medium students.
  • If you are concerned about mains language paper then NCERT english and grammar text books from Class 1st to 12th should be enough.



Study Material for UPSC IAS Prelims and Mains