If you are reading this article, you are one of the many IAS aspirants who want 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 us tell you, it is absolutely normal to not know how to start IAS preparation. There must be a hundred questions in your mind from the right time to start preparing for one of this toughest exam to how to crack the personal interview?

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

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

How to Start IAS Preparation?

Following are some of the important things one should keep in mind if they want to see their journey in the IAS success stories.

Understanding the Exam Pattern is an Important Part of the IAS Preparation Strategy

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

  • The Prelims
  • The Mains
  • 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.

Also Read: A Detailed IAS Planner 2020 for Beginners: Guide to Crack the UPSC Civil Services Exam

Keep Yourself Updated with the Dates and 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 – September/ October
  • Interview – February to April

In 2021, the prelims dates get postponed due to the CoronaVirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown due to the same.

Not to make you scared but, as far as the syllabus is concerned, is vast. Experts strictly advise starting the preparation process a year prior to your examination date.

Be Realistic about the Competition

Along with being the toughest exam, it is also one of the major qualifying exams in the country. 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 peek 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% of seats are reserved).

Another Perspective:

  • 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 meagre 15% that actually 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 % thus making it one of the toughest exams in the country.

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. While you’re thinking about how to start UPSC preparation from zero levels, you must have a strong IAS preparation strategy in place to move ahead in the right direction! 

Also Read : List of Political Science books for UPSC IAS Exam

How to Start UPSC Preparation?

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

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

  1. Enrol in a coaching institute
  2. Self-study

IAS Preparation Strategy – Self Study

  • This method requires you to prepare your own plan and see it through with self-motivation, determination and discipline.
  • The process 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.

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 enrol 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 choose 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.

Other Benefits:

  • 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 students.
  • As someone who is doing self-study, it is possible you will feel disinterested, unmotivated or non-dedicated to your IAS preparation strategy at some point.
  • A good mentor is crucial in guiding their students through such negative moments and making sure that they achieve their target.

Extra Steps You Must Take for Self-Study Plan

  • 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 favoured books to prepare from. Before you select a particular book, make sure it consists of 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.

IAS Classroom Coaching

  • The other method is one where you can enrol 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 teachers 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 up to a good 1.5 lakhs, only for the preparation for your prelims and mains.
  • The preparation for your optional subject will cost you extra.
  • 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, read their UPSC average student success stories, ias success stories, online forums, social media, and word of mouth.

Can You Clear IAS Exam without Classroom Coaching?

Yes. Definitely. Many have done this.

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

  • The IAS preparation strategy.
  • The right direction.
  • The right time management skills.
  • The right books for UPSC preparation.

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

Also Read: How to Prepare Environment for UPSC

What Subjects Should be Studied for a Good All Indian Rank in the 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

Myths About UPSC IAS Exam Preparation

There are way too many rumours 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 toughest exam really well, but not like your life depends on it. See it like 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 every day. According to our experts, a proper IAS preparation strategy that includes 4 hours of unadulterated study daily is enough to hit your target.

You Think That Fewer Hours of Study Means Less Study!

No, absolutely not! You must understand the difference between quality and quantity.  They must have good time management skills and keep 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 success stories. This exam is not a test of your language. It is a test of your holistic knowledge of India, your thought process, and the 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 the 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 IAS preparation strategy, 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 UPSC preparation for one topic. 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 Brain wrecking 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, events, examples, etc from a single source should suffice.

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!


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

Good luck!

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About the Author

Greeta Sulochana

Greeta Sulochana is a content evangelist with a flair for compelling creative writing. She has penned down her thoughts in poetry and prose since the past five years, and has catered her skills to the Indian and international audiences. She started out as an advertising intern with Grey worldwide, and is now a full-fledged writer in passion and profession, who has worked for major national brands.

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