How to Prepare for IAS: The Ultimate Guide

IAS Preparation

If you  are reading this article, you are one of the many IAS aspirants who wants to become a proud civil servant of this country, but you are still unsure regarding your path to success!

We understand your confusion, and let me tell you, it is absolutely normal to not know how to prepare for IAS. There must be a hundred questions in your mind from ‘the right time to start preparing’ to ‘how to crack your personal interview?’

In this article we will cover the right approach for IAS preparation A to Z!

To understand the preparation requirements of your examination, first we must get to know the basics of this exam better.

Be Mindful Of The Exam Pattern

Your exam is a curriculum heavy paper that is divided into three stages: –

  1. The Prelims
  2. The Mains
  3. The Interview
  • You cannot reach the next stage without successfully crossing the previous one.
  • Each stage will be more difficult than the previous one.
  • The first two stages demand sound knowledge from the candidate on a plethora of topics.
  • The candidate is expected to showcase their diagnostic and conceptual skills within a tight time frame, in the first two stages.
  • Even though the final stage a.k.a personal interview round is not a test of your writing abilities, it still requires as much alertness and knowledge as the former ones.

Keep in mind the Exam Dates and UPSC CSE Syllabus

The key to your success depends on how closely you can align yourself with the UPSC syllabus and the allotted exam dates.

Usually the exam timing will be as follows: –

  • Prelims –  June
  • Mains – Sep/Oct
  • Interview – Feb-april

Our experts strictly advice to start the preparation process a year prior to your examination date.

As far as the syllabus is concerned, we do not mean to scare you, but yes, it is vast. We will be covering the UPSC CSE syllabus in detail in the later part of this article.

Be Realistic About The Competition In The UPSC Civil Services Exam

This exam is one of the major qualifying exams in India. Just like you, there are lakhs of aspirants out there who are eyeing the coveted position of an Indian civil servant.

Let’s take a sneak peak at the approximate scenario of this mega-crucial exam :

  • Step 1 : Registration –  10 lakh or more aspirants every year
  • Step 2 : The Prelims Candidates –  An average of 4.5 Lakhs per year
  • Step 3 : The Candidates Who Clear The Preliminary Step – An approximate 15000 every year
  • Step 4 : The Candidates Who Have Cleared The Mains – Around 3000 per year
  • The approximate number of candidates who appear in the rank list post interview: 1000 per year

If you are from the general category, you may need to be in the top 50% to get a spot in the final rank list ( since 49.5% seats are reserved)

Let us look at it in another way: –

  • In a year, lakhs appear for the IAS prelims exam
  • In the prelims, only about 25% of those who wrote the exam manage to clear and move forward to the next round.
  • Once the mains are done with, there is only a meager 15% that actual get to the personal interview stage.
  • There is a success rate of 50% in the IAS interview stage.
  • Clearly, the overall success rate of  this examination series is only 1 %.

These figures are not to scare you! But to help you realize that your dream is shared by many and achieved by only a few. You must have a strong strategy in place to move ahead in the right direction!

How To Start Preparing for Civil Services?

Alright! So this is where it all starts and ends!

There are only two ways you can prepare for your exams :

  1. Enroll In A Coaching Institute
  2. Self-study

Let us explore both the above in detail below: –

Method 1: IAS Self-Study

  • This method requires you to prepare your own plan and see it through with self-motivation, determination and discipline.
  • The process of self-study has gained more acceptance and has seen considerable success rates, thanks to the online presence of some great coaching institutes.
  • Online coaching institutes are your best bet at making your IAS dreams come true through self-study.
  • Check out the benefits of self-study with online coaching: –
    • Good coaching institutes like UPSC Pathshala have online-coaching programmes specifically targeted at aspirants who do not wish to enroll in offline tutorial classes.
    • There are coaching materials, videos and online notes that are provided by these institutes.
    • Online coaching comes with the advantage of no time-constraint. Unlike offline classes, there is no time schedule to adhere to. The aspirant can chose to study when they have time at hand.
    • This method is especially beneficial to all those aspirants who are working professionals or students.
    • You do not have to worry about being present at a particular address. As with the choice of time, you can study from wherever you want.
    • Traditional coaching classes are expensive. Online coaching classes will do the same for you at only one-tenth of the price.
    • Most importantly, good online coaching institutes provide an online personal mentor to their students along with other course material.
    • These mentors are subject matter experts who will plan schedule, guide, motivate, teach and clear the doubts of their student.
    • As someone who is doing self-study, it is possible you will feel disinterested, unmotivated or non-dedicated to your plan at some point.
    • A good mentor is crucial in guiding their students through such negative moments and making sure that they achieve their target.
  • Let us understand some extra-steps you must take if you want to make it by yourself:
    • You must have a foolproof plan in place.
    • You must seek advice from limited people. The more people you talk to, the more your brain will be full of noise!
    • Watching topper videos and reading up on the internet regarding the right self-study approach is a great way to start.
    • You must get only the most favored books to prepare from. Before you select a particular book, make sure it consists all topics given in the syllabus.
    • Do not miss out on the mock test series offered by coaching institutes. This is a great test-based approach to understand where you stand with your preparations.

Method 2: IAS Classroom Coaching

  • The other method is one where you can enroll yourself in a traditional coaching institute.
  • Unfortunately, for all the hype it has in India, it fails to cater to the needs of individual students.
  • Coaching classes take in big batches of students, and teach with the aim of finishing the syllabus.
  • It is only common logic to decipher that in a class of 100+ students, it will be difficult to teach as per the individual needs of an aspirant.
  • Some students might be too shy to voice their doubts.
  • If you’re a student/working professional, the time constraint will make you lose out on quite a few classes.
  • Getting to the address of your coaching class can be difficult for many.
  • Most importantly, coaching classes are very expensive. For many, taking this big monetary decision involves crucial after effects.

How Expensive is IAS Preparation?

  • One incorrect decision of yours can cost you a lot. Besides big money, you will also lose out on precious time.
  • On average, if we see, a coaching institute will cost you upto a good 1.5 lakhs, only for the preparation for you prelims and mains.
  • Besides the tuition fees, if you are not a local, then you will easily end up spending a considerable 2 lakhs per annum on your housing and food needs.
  • On the other hand, online coaching classes will offer you all the benefits of a traditional tutorial along with much-needed extra benefits. All that at a negligible price amounting to less than 10000.
  • Many coaching institutes fail to properly guide students, leaving them with poor coaching and low-quality study resources.
  • Make sure to research extensively on both the modes of study before choosing your best fit!
  • Do not be pressurized into taking decisions. Take your time.
  • Research about the institutes through their website, online forums, social media, and word of mouth.

Can You Clear IAS Exam Without Classroom Coaching?

Yes. Definitely. there are many who have done this.

You can too. All you need to have are : –

  1. The Right Plan
  2. The Right Direction
  3. The Right Time Frame
  4. The Right Books

For less than INR 10000/-, a good online IAS coaching institute will provide you with an expert mentor and access to smart mock test series.

What Subjects Should Be Studied For IAS Exam?

  • UPSC Prelims Cum Mains
    • Current Affairs
    • Economics
    • Environment And Ecology
    • Geography
    • Indian History
    • Indian Polity
    • Science And Technology
  • Additional Subjects For UPSC Mains
    • Mains Gs3 – Disaster Management
    • Mains Gs4 – Ethics, Integrity And Aptitude
    • Mains Gs2 – Foreign Relations
    • Mains Gs2 – International Affairs
    • Mains Gs1 – Indian Society
    • Mains Gs3 – Internal Security
    • Mains Gs1 – World History

Recommended Reading:

How to choose optional Subject for UPSC Exams
How to crack the UPSC exam in the first attempt
How to write an Essay in IAS Exam
Best Timetable for IAS Preparation
IAS Preparation Tips for Beginners

Myths About UPSC IAS Exam Preparation

There are way too many rumors and things people say when it comes to UPSC exam preparation or when you express your desire to become IAS Officer. Below, we will quickly take you through fact and fiction of the matter!

  • The IAS is “The Exam” In India

You must prepare for this exam really well, but not like your life depends on it. See it as any other competitive qualifiers, and not the ultimate test of your being.

  • You Must Study Half The Day To Make It!

No. It is a clear case of Hard Work Vs. Smart Work. You do not have to slog and numb your brain with 10-15 hours of prolonged study everyday. According to our experts, 4 hours of unadulterated study daily is enough to hit your target.

  • You Think That Less Hours Of Study Means Less Study!

No, absolutely no! You must understand the difference between quality and quantity.  There must be enough time in your schedule for play and undisturbed sleep.

  • You Must Be A Pro At English!

No! You really do not have to be a sassy english speaker to make it in the IAS examinations. This exam is not a test of your language. It is a test of your holistic knowledge of India, your thought process, and ability to mould your knowledge conceptually for answering problem-solving questions.

  • Delhi Is Your Temple For IAS Preparation

False. Contrary to popular belief, many coaching institutes in Delhi are thriving on reputation built years ago, and presently lack in quality. These are a waste of big money as well. Thanks to digitalization, now you can choose a good online coaching institute irrespective of where you live.

  • Those Who Couldn’t Clear Were Just Unlucky

We don’t think so. If you have worked hard to achieve your target with the right plan, determination, discipline and dedication, you will achieve your target. It’s that simple.

  • It Is Hard To Become An Officer; There’s Way Too Much Competition

The numbers are large. Realistically, you  should be prepared and not scared. Understand that not each one of those lakhs of students has seriously prepared for this as you have.

  • Xyz Made It; They Know Someone In The System!

Utterly wrong. The process of selection in all three stages of IAS examination is crystal clear and impartial. If someone made it over someone else, then that is because of their perseverance.

  • There Is Never Enough Time To Complete Every Book

First of all, you should not be having more than one book for one topic. We keep repeating – one topic, one source! You need to stop asking around for newer recommendations. simply pick up one great book ( after much research) and stick to it!

  • Note Making And Revision Is More Brainwrecking Than Actual Book Reading

Well, it doesn’t have to be, especially if you have understood the previous point. Your notes are a summary of only the crucial parts of the topic; it will instantly remind you of the related information with the first look. Dates, phrases, people, event, example, etc.from a single source should suffice.

Recommended Reading: How to make Notes for UPSC Exams

  • Being An IAS Officer Is All There Is To Be In India

We agree that the degree of respect and authority an IAS officer receives is something to be quite proud of. But, you must stop making it the essence of your life. Tell yourself that you will work smart to achieve it, and if you couldn’t, it is alright!

Recommended Reading:

How To Concentrate On Studies For UPSC Exams
Top 7 Ultimate Revision Tips for IAS Exam – Crack UPSC Successfully!
How To Effectively Read Newspaper For UPSC in less than 60 Minutes
How to Prepare for UPSC 2019 from Scratch
How To Become An IAS Officer After 12th?
How To Think Like An IAS Officer – Training The Mind To Clear UPSC
5 Best Magazines for UPSC IAS Preparation

We hope this article is all you were looking for and answers all your doubts on how to prepare for IAS. If you have any more queries, do leave it in the comments below.

Good luck!


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