How to Prepare for UPSC?

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How to Prepare for UPSC

Preparing for UPSC exams can be a cumbersome and complicated process. Owing to its vast syllabus and different sections on which it assesses the students, it has made its place amongst the toughest exams in India. Conducted for various public administration posts in the Indian government, these government exams aim to evaluate a student’s knowledge of diverse disciplines from Geography and General Awareness to Indian Polity and history. If you are aiming to appear for these competitive exams, here is an exclusive blog on how to prepare for UPSC, from curating the right preparation strategies to gathering the best study materials.

UPSC Exam Pattern

Two Compulsory Papers General Studies Paper-I & General Studies Paper-II (CSAT)
Number of Questions asked in GS Paper-I 100
Number of Questions asked in CSAT 80
Total Number of Marks 400 marksGS Paper-I – 200 MarksCSAT – 200 Marks
Negative Marking 1/3rd of the total marks allotted to the question will be deducted for every incorrect answer
Time Allotted Two hours each;GS Paper-I – 2 Hours (9:30 AM -11:30 AM)CSAT – 2 Hours (2:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

Stages of the UPSC Exam

As you may be aware, the UPSC Civil Services test consists of three stages: Prelims, Mains, and Interview.

  • UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Exam: The UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Test consists of two exams, General Studies-I and General Studies-II (CSAT).
  • UPSC Mains Exam: The UPSC Mains exam is the Civil Services Examination’s second step. IAS hopefuls who pass the Prelims, that is, those who score more than the cutoff in General Studies Paper I and more than 33% in General Studies Paper II (CSAT), are eligible to take the UPSC Mains.
  • The UPSC Personality Test or Interview: The UPSC Personality Test is the final phase in the UPSC Examination programme. The final result is announced following the interview based on the combined score of the UPSC Main Test and Interview.

Most UPSC aspirants get lost in developing a thorough UPSC preparation approach. As a result, we have developed this UPSC Preparing Guide to assist you. It contains all of the information you need to know about “How to Prepare for the UPSC Exam.”

How to Prepare for UPSC?

The Union Public Service Commission is a prime recruiting body that holds the responsibility of conducting recruitment examinations for All India services and Group A & Group B of Central services. They shortlist the best candidates for the posts under Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Police Service (IPS), etc. UPSC exams are conducted in three main successive stages, i.e. Preliminary, Mains as well as Interview. 

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right”– Henry Ford. The first and foremost success mantra you need to keep in mind for UPSC exams is to have persistence and perseverance. The below sections elaborate on the best strategies as well as useful resources you must have while exploring the best answer on how to prepare for UPSC. 

Meticulous Research

Certainly, gearing up for one of the trickiest competitive exams is a daunting task. To begin on imparting the mantra on how to prepare for UPSC, the most important tip is that you must carry out extensive research on its pattern, syllabus as well as preparation guides. Further, check out the insights from UPSC toppers which will assist you in finding the right track for your preparation. Once you have done your research, the next step is to create a study plan and timeline and make sure to adhere to it throughout your preparatory phase.

Choose Optional Subjects Wisely

Another prominent tip recommended by many IAS toppers on how to prepare for UPSC is the careful selection of optional subjects. There are scores of optional subjects available for these exams which candidates can choose as per their area of interest. While opting for these subjects, make sure that you are familiarised with the discipline you are selecting. Generally, it is advised to select those subjects in which you have done the graduation or have expertise. 

Read a Newspaper Every day

Staying updated with current affairs is also a key preparation tip you must have come across. If you are exploring the best preparation strategies on how to prepare for UPSC, reading one newspaper daily is a common one you will find. The most popular one for government exams is the Hindu newspaper which is renowned for its commendable language and writing style as well as analytical editorials. You can also subscribe to its digital edition if you are unable to buy its hard copy. Some of the other newspapers are Indian Express (Explains series online), Navbharat Times, AND Dainik Bhaskar, amongst others. Not only will these assist you in comprehending the major current events but will also improve your writing style and vocabulary. The major competitive exam magazines you can subscribe to include, India Yearbook, Yojna, Kurukshetra, Civil Service Times, etc. 

Check Out: English for Competitive Exams

Familiarise Yourself With the Basics of History, Political Science & Geography

NCERT books for UPSC are amongst the recommended study materials for these competitive exams. Make sure to go through the NCERT history books of 11th and 12th to familiarise yourself with the conceptual basics as these are the best exam guides on how to prepare for UPSC. Moreover, you can choose from various books to learn the basics of different disciplines covered in class 6th to 12th and Tamil Nadu Board books, because of their simplicity in language and structure. Since, Political Science, Geography, and History form an important aspect of the UPSC syllabus, there are many other preparation guides you can opt for. Check out spectrum books, Bipin Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence, GC Leong’s Physical Geography, Majid Hussain’s Geography books, Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh, and Laxmikanth’s analytical works on Indian Polity

Check Out: Geography for UPSC Preparation

Practice Mock Test Series

You can find a plethora of previous year question papers and mock test series online curated, especially for government exam aspirants. These mock test series will help you understand how self-assessment is an essential aspect you need to inculcate in your study routine to effectively prepare for UPSC. Practice mock tests will assist you in identifying your strengths and weaknesses and comprehending which topics you are good at and the ones you need to work on.

Also read: Public Administration Books 2021

Timely Revision

Until the final exam day, you need to follow a persistent approach towards incorporating timely revision of your notes. Make sure to go through all the important topics and books while preparing for UPSC and don’t forget to take efficient breaks on a timely basis to let your mind retain all you have learned.

Subject-wise Preparation Strategy for UPSC Exam

The subject-wise plan for preparing for the IAS exam is provided here. Learn the finest techniques for preparing for this coveted exam and ensuring your selection for the future exam.

Polity and Governance General Science, Life Science and Science and Technology 
Government policies have grown in prominence in recent years, both in the preliminary and main examinations. The current trend is likely to continue. The questions are mostly straightforward and can be easily answered after thorough consideration. This section is organised into four subsections: Science and Technology, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.
There are chapters in Polity where questions are regularly raised. Constitutional Developments, FRs, FDs, DPSP, Union Government, Judiciary, Amendments, Local Governments, Federalism, and the Electoral Process are examples of these. This portion is often a nightmare for students with a background in the arts. Nonetheless, a fundamental understanding of Science, particularly a full cover of NCERTs, can be of great assistance in answering the majority of the questions. Throughout the last 15 years, Science and Technology have grown in importance within GS. With the overall increase in the weightage of current events, queries primarily concern India-specific changes.
The majority of the literature accessible lacks information on current constitutional developments. As a result, a thorough reading of newspapers and publications is required to build a thorough understanding of the Constitution’s provisions (for example, one should be aware of the historical judgements of the Supreme Court of India, like Triple Talaq, Right to privacy, Right to be forgotten, Adultery repealed, Aadhaar verdict, etc.). According to recent research, General Science questions involve general enjoyment and understanding of day-to-day science.
Seeing and experiencing common science could be beneficial. In the 2018 Prelims, for example, a question about NAVIC was posed. As a result, ISRO’s future projects, such as Gaganyaan and other missions, become increasingly crucial. As a result, one must devise a priority approach.
The focus of Life Science is on Zoology. Only a few topics from Botany are being asked, specifically about agriculture, biological diversity, and plant systems. The majority of the questions in Zoology are about the human body and diseases. Topics such as communicable diseases and nutrition are always important.
Economic and Social development Geography and Environment
This includes topics such as sustainable development, poverty, socioeconomic inclusion, demographics, and social sector activities, among others. This is one of the most important portions of the Preliminary Examination, which contains a large number of questions.
The majority of the questions in this subject are about the Indian economy, but one must also be aware of international economic issues that affect India (for example, the recent trade war and its impact on the Indian market). A solid awareness of the physical characteristics of India, with sufficient clarity on locations, is the necessary minimum required in Indian Geography. It also aids in the economic and human elements of Indian geography.
According to recent trend analysis, the majority of the questions are on the industry, agricultural production, export policy, money and banking, public finance, and reforms. Three to four questions are drawn from various programmes announced during the previous and current fiscal years. Other areas, such as economic reforms (government initiatives to make doing business easier), infrastructure, and reform policies (e.g., RERA), must be addressed. The emphasis in General Geography is on conceptual factors. A thorough reading of Goh Cheng Leong’s ‘A Certificate Course in Physical and Human Geography’ will be beneficial.
Financial and banking reforms must be monitored in the field of money and banking ( e.g., Mergers of banks, Insolvency, Bankruptcy law, twin balance deficit problem, NPA, etc.) The relevance of Global Geography is growing with current changes. It is preferable to find locations on your Atlas while reading the newspaper on a daily basis.
There has been a considerable shift in this area over the previous few years. The majority of the issues are contemporary in character, but they necessitate a thorough understanding of static sections of the Indian economy. A collection of questions about the environment adds a new dimension to the preliminary assessment. One should be informed of the latest advancements in Ecology and Environmental concerns, as well as the different initiatives and conferences that have taken place, particularly those aimed at conserving the country’s and the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.
The economic survey and budget must be closely monitored. Reading the Class XI NCERT book on Indian Economy will provide you with a fundamental understanding of the subject. A thorough reading of NCERT Geography textbooks (from VI to XII), as well as Goh Cheng Leong and regular study of the Atlas, is more than sufficient for Geography.
History and Culture Current Affairs CSAT Paper
An examination of the trend of prior years’ questions demonstrates that, while the number of questions has decreased, the level of difficulty has increased. In recent years, issues have been raised from the previously unexplored territory. Current Affairs have grown in importance in Civil Services preparation. Its weight has increased with each passing year. After the change in syllabus and the introduction of the CSAT, the second exam now consists of General Mental Ability and Reasoning.
The majority of questions in Modern History concern the time between 1857 and 1947, which includes the 1857 rebellion, social reform movements, Governor Generals, and national movements. Current Affair is a broad sector that includes national and worldwide events, multilateral developments, sports, and individuals from numerous fields, as well as prizes, awards, and honours. The total number of questions in General Mental Ability has demonstrated a varying tendency with an increase in the level of toughness. Furthermore, questions are being posed from previously unanticipated areas, making preparing more challenging.
Questions about the Vedic Age, the Mauryan Period, and the Gupta Period dominated Ancient India. In Medieval History, the Sultanate and Mughal periods are the most important. General Knowledge questions make up a portion of the Current Affairs questions. The most important thing to remember is that this is a qualifying paper, and applicants are required to score at least 33%. In other words, if a candidate does not receive 33%, he or she will not be considered for selection.
In recent years, the Marathas, Vijaynagar, Bahmani kingdom, and South dynasties have gained prominence. As a result, assuming that reading newspapers and current events publications well enough to answer such queries is erroneous. The paper also includes comprehension and reasoning questions. A decent score can be obtained by practising the previous year’s exam papers and mock questions.
The significance of Indian culture has grown substantially. To do well in the Preliminary Test, you must have a thorough understanding of the evolution of Indian culture since ancient times. In the end, we can safely conclude that GS may be managed with simplicity if approached with proper planning and time management.

How to Prepare for UPSC Exam Without Coaching?

Many students mistakenly feel that they will be unable to pass the UPSC IAS exam without coaching. This exam can be passed on the first attempt if approached with the appropriate techniques. To begin, passing this exam requires a combination of hard work and smart work. One must devise a study strategy that works best for him or her. They might begin their preparation by reading NCERT books, which are considered to be an essential component of the UPSC IAS Exam, as well as an authentic newspaper such as The Hindu.

  • UPSC Prelims include a section on current affairs. Aspirants should begin preparing for Current Affairs as soon as possible in order to have up-to-date information on important events on a regular basis. Important sources for current affairs preparation for the UPSC exam 2023 are
    • Yojana Magazine
    • Newspapers (The Hindu/The Indian Express)
    • Press Information Bureau (PIB)
    • Economic and Political Weekly (EPW)
  • Because there is a curriculum overlap, candidates should prepare for both the UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains at the same time.
  • Practice the previous year’s question papers.
  • It is essential to take notes for the UPSC Prelims and Mains. Some candidates prefer to take notes in their own handwriting.
  • The UPSC Prelims are all objective-type questions, it is critical to practice answering MCQs during your preparation.
  • Read about the important trending topics. UPSC Prelims focus areas for different subjects:
    • Indian Independence Movement – Main congress sessions with the year, president and important resolutions, Significant viceroys and their period with important decisions, The Government of India Acts 1909, 1919, 1935, and charter acts.
    • Ancient History – Hindu philosophy, Buddhism and Jainism, Mauryan and Gupta Period, Art, architecture, and scientific development during that period.
    • Medieval history – Important kings such as Sher Shah, Akbar, etc, Delhi Sultanate.
    • Polity – Here, importance should be given to current events, such as any changes in the constitution, new acts or amendments, and schemes, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties, Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), Committee system, parliament, and parliamentary proceedings, Judiciary, Constitutional bodies.
    • Science and Technology – For basic science concepts, refer to NCERT books selectively as in-depth knowledge is not needed, Focus on the current affairs part.
    • Environment and Ecology – Important declarations, conventions, IUCN’s Red List, Biosphere Reserves, Tiger Reserves, etc, International bodies.
    • Geography – Solar system, Latitudes and longitudes, Layers of the atmosphere, Global atmospheric wind, cyclones, Pressure belts, Revolution, rotation and seasons, Monsoons, Types of rainfall, Koeppen classification, Jet streams, ocean currents, El Nino, La Nina, India’s physical geography (NCERT), Rivers, hills, soil (India), Mineral resources (India), Geological history of India, Basics of agriculture (NCERT), Maps.
    • Economy – Importance should be given to current events like new bills and important committees, focusing on basic and fundamental concepts like Growth and development, poverty, unemployment, inflation, State of the national and global economy, Major committees and bills, Latest budget, and economic survey.
  • Groom yourself for the interview.

UPSC Previous Year’s Question Papers 2023

Solving the previous year’s question paper gives you an insight into the pattern & marking scheme of the examination. It will help you to understand the format and types of questions in the UPSC Examination. It will also help you to manage your time & evaluate your strong & weak points. Here are some of the previous year’s question papers for the UPSC examination based on the subjects.

General Studies Literature Subjects Optional Subjects Compulsory Subjects
General Studies Paper 1 English Literature Paper 1 Economics Paper 1 English Compulsory
General Studies Paper 2 Hindi Literature Paper 1 Geography Paper 1 Hindi Compulsory
General Studies Paper 3 Sanskrit Literature Paper 1 Law Paper 1 Sanskrit Compulsory
General Studies Paper 4 Punjabi Literature Paper 1 Psychology Paper 1 Punjabi Compulsory

For more Question Papers on different subjects, you can check the Previous year’s Question Papers

Problems Faced by the Aspirants

To pass the UPSC test, the candidate must devote a significant amount of time and effort to studying for this extensive syllabus. Below, we will discuss some of the issues that UPSC hopefuls face:

  • How to Begin Preparing
  • How would you cover such a large syllabus?
  • The number of papers that must be cleared
  • How much time should I devote to one subject preparation?
  • Amount of papers required to qualify
  • Smaller unitary mock tests are not available.
  • Self-study or coaching?
  • How to Deal with Failures
  • What if it never happens?

Tips from Toppers

UPSC is among the toughest exam in India but there are applicants that are able to clear their exams on the first attempts as well. It is always a good idea to take help from toppers, they can motivate you, guide you in the right direction & share some useful exam & preparation tips as well. Here are some of the interview videos of UPSC toppers sharing their success mantra, and tips & aspiring you to crack the UPSC examination.

UPSC Toppers Shubham Kumar and Jagrathi Awasthi scored rank 1 and 2 respectively shared their success mantra with Indian media.

YouTube: India Today
YouTube: Zee Madhya Pradesh Chattisgarh

Pratibha Verma secured the third rank in the All India Civil Services Exam in the year 2019 & was among the top women toppers. In her second attempt, she secured a 489 rank & placed as Income tax commissioner in Nagpur. She wanted to do better & started preparing for IAS again & became a topper on her third attempt. Here is the interview of Pratibha Verma sharing her success story & tips to crack the UPSC exam.

Courtesy: Rajya Sabha TV

Chandrajyoti cracked her UPSC examination at the age of 22, in her first attempt & without any coaching. She covered her syllabus & preparation for the UPSC examination within a year.  Here is the motivational story & tips by Chandrajyoti herself.

Courtesy: Jagran Josh

Lakshay Pandey, the 2018 batch IPS officer, posted a bunch of photos on Twitter containing a list of essential books subject-wise for UPSC Prelims. In the same post, he mentions some essential pointers and tips for scoring marks in UPSC prelims such as using a limited number of books and focusing on multiple revisions

Also Read: IPS Lakshay Pandey’s Tips for Scoring Perfect Marks in UPSC

Srushti Jayant Deshmukh secured All India Rank 5 and became the top female candidate in UPSC CSE 2018.

YouTube: Pradeep Kumar

Best Books for UPSC Preparation

There are plenty of books available in the market but it is essential that applicants refer to the right books. With the help of the right books, students can prepare better & ace their exams. With the number of books available, it becomes difficult to select the right one. Here are the books suggested by toppers for preparation & revision of the UPSC examination. Here is the list of books.

Indian Polity by M Laxmikanth Click Here to buy
Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania Click Here to buy
Certificate Physical and Human Geography by Goh Cheng Leong Click Here to buy
Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh Click Here to buy
A Brief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir Click Here to buy
Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning by R S Aggarwal Click Here to buy

Types of Civil Services Exam

  1. All India Services
  2. Group A Civil Services
    • Indian Foreign Service (IFS)
    • Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS)
    • Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS)
    • Indian Corporate Law Service (ICLS)
    • Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS)
    • Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES)
    • Indian Information Service (IIS)
    • Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS)
    • Indian Communication Finance Services (ICFS)
    • Indian Postal Service (IPoS)
    • Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS)
    • Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS)
    • Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS)
    • Indian Revenue Service (IRS)
    • Indian Trade Service (ITS)
    • Railway Protection Force (RPF)
  3. Group B Civil Services
    • Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service
    • DANICS
    • DANIPS
    • Pondicherry Civil Service
    • Pondicherry Police Service

UPSC Civil Services Toppers

On 24th September 2021, the Union Public Service Commission declared the final result of the Civil Services Examination, 2020. A total of 761 candidates – 545 men and 216 women – have been recommended for Group A and Group B appointments. A total of 151 candidates have been listed under the provision of candidature. Here is a list of top rankers for the UPSC exam 2021:

  • Shubham Kumar
  • Jagrati Awasthi
  • Ankita Jain
  • Yash Jaluka
  • Mamta Yadav
  • Meera K
  • Praveen Kumar
  • Jivani Kartik Nagjibhai
  • Apala Mishra
  • Satyam Gandhi
  • Devayanu
  • Mithun Premraj
  • Gaurav Budania
  • Karishma Nair
  • Ria Dabi

FAQs

Can we refer to NCERT books as well for UPSC preparation?

Yes, NCERT Books are always recommended for UPSC preparation

What are some of the popular UPSC essay topics?

UPSC essay topics are mostly on the judiciary, current affairs, environmental issues, etc.

What is the syllabus of UPSC Exams?

The UPSC syllabus generally covers General studies, Essay topics, current affairs, Literature subjects, etc.

Are there any questions related to history & geography as well in UPSC Exam?

Geography & History are among the optional subjects of the UPSC Exam.

Hopefully, this blog has provided you with profound insights on how to prepare for UPSC. Aiming to explore the field of Public Administration? Book an e-meeting with our Leverage Edu experts and we will assist you in picking the best course and university that can equip you with the right knowledge and exposure in the domain of Public Administration thus enabling you to take an informed step towards a rewarding career in this field.

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