UPSC CSE Prelims: Preparation guide for the exam

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is going to conduct the 2018 Civil Services Examination tentatively on the June 18.

education Updated: Mar 17, 2018 18:08 IST
UPSC,UPSC CSE Prelims,IAS prelims preparation guide
UPSC CSE preliminary exam is the first hurdle that you need to cross to qualify for the main examination. (Getty Images)

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is going to conduct the 2018 Civil Services Examination tentatively on the June 18.

UPSC CSE preliminary exam is the first hurdle that you need to cross to qualify for the main examination. It is an objective type exam consisting of two papers and carries a maximum of 400 marks. Marks obtained in the preliminary examination will not be counted for determining the candidates’ final merit.

To qualify for the main exam, candidates must score qualifying marks (as determined by the commission) in the General Studies Paper I and a minimum of 33% in the General Studies Paper II (CSAT). For each wrong answer, the candidate loses one-third (0.33) of the marks assigned to that question.

You have approximately 3 months to prepare for the UPSC CSE preliminary exam. However, it is never too late to start preparing for the exam. Here is a detailed guide for your UPSC CSE Preliminary exam preparation.

General Studies Paper I

1. The first thing you need to do is to take out some time and analyse previous years’ UPSC CSE prelims question papers. The questions asked in the UPSC CSE preliminary exams follow a certain logic and it is important that you understand this logic. Analysing previous year exam papers will not only help you understand the exam pattern but also the areas that you should focus on for your preparation.

2. Post-analysis, gather the study material required for your prelims preparation.

For a good and strong foundation, refer to NCERT books. NCERT books are written in a very simple and lucid manner. NCERT books will help you lay a strong foundation. It is advisable to read NCERT textbooks from 6th standard to 12th standard for subjects like polity, geography, economics, history, arts and culture, and science. The general studies paper I can be divided into two parts: static and dynamic GK. static GK refers to subjects like history, polity, geography, economics, art & culture, sports, science and technology, stuff which doesn’t change in the short-run. While dynamic GK refers to current affairs. This is what we read in the newspapers every day. Once your fundamentals are in place, you can now move to books that provide you a conceptual understanding of each of the topics under the prelims examination.

Following are some of the books you can read for a deeper conceptual understanding for General Studies Paper I:


History can be broadly divided into the ancient history, medieval history, modern history and the world history. NCERT books are a good source for ancient history. The medieval history lays emphasis on historians. Focus on the provincial dynasties, Delhi sultanate, Mughal dynasty, Chola dynasty, the Vijayanagar dynasty, people such as Ramanuja, Chaitanya, Shankaracharya, and movements such as the Bhakti Movement, Sufi Movement and famous architects of medieval India. The Modern Indian History focuses on the British reign in India, the freedom struggle and economic policies of the British.

Suggested reading:

India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra

India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

History of Modern India by Bipan Chandra


Two things that you need to be thorough in the economics section are ‘the concepts’ and ‘the application of those concepts’ to real-world situations. Read up principles of macro and microeconomics and the economic development in India. It is equally important to be updated with the current affairs of the economy from at least the last 12 months. Make notes of the highlights of the economic survey and the Union budget and be aware of the important economic policies of the government.

Suggested reading:

Indian Economy (for Civil Service Examinations) by Ramesh Singh

Economic Survey 2016-17 by Ministry of Finance, Government of India

India Yearbook 2017 (Economic Schemes)


In this section, there would never be questions on specific political parties, individuals or elections. However, you can expect questions from the larger constitutional systems like, “When did Goa become a state?”. The Indian Constitution’s text is an authentic source for information on polity. Questions asked in this section are both static and dynamic. The questions can be about issues that are currently being debated and about issues that passed by. Read up current affairs about polity like the Bills passed and the various Acts and policies.

Suggested reading:

Indian Polity by M Laxmikanth

Introduction to the Constitution of India by DD Basu


Broadly, the geography section can be divided into the physical and the human geography. You need to be thorough in geographical concepts of India and the world. NCERT books are a great source to study geography. Some topics to focus on are: climate, vegetation, agriculture, forests, wildlife & conservation, mineral wealth of India, river systems, physiography, earth’s atmosphere, clouds & precipitation, hydrosphere, wind system, landforms & their formation, soil & types of soil and human geography.

Suggested reading:

Geography of India by Majid Husain

Certificate Physical and Human Geography by Goh Cheng Leong

Art & Culture

This section focuses on the Indian art and heritage. Certain topics that should be covered for this section are the Literature, Languages, Performance art, Paintings, Music, Dance forms, Drama, Religions, Reforms, Contemporary artists of India, important Philosophies and Architecture.

Suggested reading:

Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania

Class XI NCERT Books: An Introduction to Indian Art & Living Craft Traditions of India (Chapters 9 and 10)

Current Affairs

Read up about all the events that happened in the last 8-12 months (Jan 2017 – June 2018). It is extremely important for a UPSC CSE aspirant to read newspapers. Make a habit of reading the newspaper every day. It is also a good idea to subscribe to a fortnightly magazine that covers all the important current affairs. (Reading newspaper alone isn’t enough. It’s also important to have an opinion of your own as you may get asked about this during your Personal Interview post exams.)

Suggested reading:

India Yearbook 2017

Pratiyogita Darpan 2017

Yojana/Kurukshetra/Frontline magazines

Science and Technology

Be thorough in chemistry, physics and biology concepts and aware of the latest happenings in the field of science and technology like gadgets, research in the field of science & technology, space technology, nuclear chemistry and the like. If you closely notice the exam pattern, UPSC normally asks more questions from biology compared to chemistry and physics. focus on biology concepts like zoology, botany, microbiology, etc.

Analyse previous year question papers and notice which topics under the science & technology section hold relevance and are frequently asked. The questions from this section are mostly analytical in nature. Most of the questions would be from events happening around us currently. Follow the science & technology section of The Hindu religiously.

Suggested reading:

General Science by SA Majid

Science and Technology by Ashok Kumar Singh


Read up about Ecology, Biodiversity, Climate change and Environment based topics from NCERT Books and about the various Environment Policies. Another major area you need to focus on is the Environment Current Affairs. It’s a good idea to follow the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate change official website closely.

Suggested reading:

Bio-diversity, Climate change and Disaster Management by Majid Hussain

India Yearbook 2017 (Chapters on Environment)

General Studies Paper II (CSAT)

Candidates need to score a minimum of 33% to qualify in this section. The General Studies Paper II tests candidates’ problem solving & decision-making skills, logical thinking and clarity of thoughts. It goes without saying that you need to practice a lot to master this section. Get your basic concepts clear and start by analysing and solving previous years’ CSAT question papers. This will help you get acquainted with the type of questions that will be asked in CSAT.

Two more things that will help you master this section are, tricks or shortcuts to solve the problems quickly and taking UPSC (IAS) mock tests. Take multiple mock tests and analyse your performance. Determine your strong and weak areas in this section and practice more problems from the weaker areas.

Suggested reading:

Analytical Reasoning by MK Pandey

Verbal and Non-verbal Reasoning by RS Agarwal

UPSC (IAS) Mock Tests

Candidates should practice answering questions in an exam environment. Mock tests are one of the most effective ways of preparing for the UPSC CSE Preliminary exam. Mock tests help you get a grip on the examination. Taking mock tests helps you analyse your performance, determine your speed and accuracy, identify your strong and weak areas and track your improvement.

(Patil is the CEO and co-founder at Oliveboard, a leading online preparation portal for MBA, banking and government exams like CAT, SBI, RBI, IBPS, UPSC etc. Views expressed here are personal.)

First Published: Mar 17, 2018 18:07 IST