The General Studies Paper-1 will test your knowledge on Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society. While Indian Culture and World Geography are topics that aspirants get familiar with while preparing for Prelims, an encounter with World History occurs only during Mains preparation.

As a subject that is absolutely unfamiliar to a large majority of students, World History might have you on tenterhooks. In this comprehensive guide, we help you tell you how you can tackle this subject in a simple manner.

World History for UPSC Civil Services Mains

In the UPSC Civil Service Mains and Prelims exams, history is a crucial subject. History is divided into three sections for the Prelims exam: Ancient India, Mediaeval India, and Modern India.

This section of the General Studies paper covers events from the 18th century in the mains paper. Aspirants should have a thorough understanding of world history to tackle this section. Candidates will benefit not only in General Studies Paper 1 but also in General Studies Paper 2 if they have a thorough understanding of world history.

Also Read: Is World History a Part of the UPSC Syllabus? Get to Know the Entire Syllabus for UPSC

World History Syllabus

The World History section features events from the 18th century and some political philosophies. As per the UPSC, the history syllabus is as follows:

#Industrial revolution



#World wars

#Redraw of national boundaries

#Political philosophies such as socialism, capitalism, communism, etc. – their consequences and forms in the world.

Industrial Revolution

This will cover the period in Europe just before the Industrial Revolution, events leading to it and its effect on the global social, political and economic scenario. You will distinguish between the contemporary and the modern world (on which we have to focus). Renaissance, State building in Europe, the American War of Independence and the French Revolution are important topics.

World Wars

The two world wars have to be covered thoroughly. You must emphasise on the political scenario at that time, the causes of the wars, the role of the countries and peace treaties signed thereafter.

In the case of WW-I, the Paris Peace Conference, the Russian Revolution, League of Nations are important topics.

In WW-II, the entry of the USA, the Holocaust, the bombing of Japan, the birth of the United Nations, the emergence of the US as a super-power and the US-USSR rivalry are topics to touch on.

Redrawal of National Boundaries

The post-war scenario changed the political map of the world. Here you should read about the division of Germany, the break-up of the USSR into 15 countries, the straight cut boundaries of Africa and the division of Korea, Vietnam, and India, along with the Israel-Palestine issue.

Colonisation & Decolonization

So far, the UPSC papers have only focused on the Asian and African regions. So concentrate on those but give a cursory read to Latin America as well.

Forms of Political Philosophies

Forms of political philosophies like communism, capitalism, and socialism, etc., and their effect on society

In studying communism and socialism, you also need to be aware of the conditions in Russia, the Bolshevik Revolution and leaders like Lenin and Stalin. Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism will, of course, be the central focus.

While studying Capitalism you need to understand its functioning and the way in which it affected American and European society, along with its role in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Also Read: History of India and Indian National Movement: Learn the Most Important UPSC Notes!

Decoding the Syllabus

A large part of the focus here is on European history, with the secondary focus being on the USA, Russia and the colonised countries. Since the UPSC asks broad questions, one need not mull over the minute details but just cover the topic at large. Concentrate on 5 things- What, When, How, Why and Where.


The Industrial Revolution can be dissected like:

What- Industrial Revolution (with a brief description)

When-18th century

Where- Western Europe, primarily England.

How- Know the background and circumstances that led to the event. In this case, the Renaissance, end of feudal society, etc form the background.

Why – Here you can mention the immediate precipitating causes that led to the revolutions like an increase in population, technological innovations, etc.

Important Areas

#American Revolution

#Russian Revolution

#French Revolution




#Unification of Italy

#Unification of Germany

#Bi-Polar World and Cold War

#Unipolar World

#Disintegration of USSR

Tips for Preparing World History for UPSC

Apply this format to all the sub-topics of the subject for a clearer understanding. When you make your notes in this format, you will also read about the event accordingly. Your mind will automatically sieve out the required information and you will be able to make concise notes with all the important information.

For political philosophies, it is imperative to understand the circumstances they were born in. The political and social conditions prevalent at a particular time were responsible for shaping these theories.

Simply mugging the theories will lead to confusion, so it is best to have an overview of the entire situation. Thereafter just focus on the keywords of each theory for answer writing. For example, in capitalism, a market economy, laissez-faire, etc are important keywords that must feature in your answers.

The Best Book for World History for UPSC

Being a sub-topic,  History should be prioritised accordingly. Do not refer more than 2 books at the most otherwise you will just end up wasting your time; remember there are other topics in the paper that need to be covered too. The History syllabus has been clearly mentioned and can easily be covered even with one book.

World History Book for UPSC

Referring to Class 12th NCERT is a MUST and should not be avoided at any cost. It is written in a simple and easy to understand language and will form the core of your comprehension of the subject.

Thereafter you can consult either Norman Lowe (Mastering Modern  History) or Arjun Dev (History of the World). The difference in the two lies in their focus. While Lowe is a lengthy book not written with the UPSC syllabus in mind, Arjun Dev is shorter and centred around the syllabus.

That said, Lowe’s book will give you in-depth coverage of topics like the Syria issue, Iran-us conflict, Israel-Palestine, Myanmar- Rohingya, etc, which are important from the 2019 exam perspective. Both books have their pros and cons; you can take your pick depending on the time in hand and your strategy.

Besides the books, we have compiled a few videos that will be helpful in understanding the subject.

Also Read: World History Notes for UPSC: Boost Your IAS Preparation with Self Study Notes for History

World History Questions in UPSC Mains

In General Studies Paper 1, the exam never asks for minor or small details from  History. In comparison to Indian history, it necessitates a more broad approach. Facts and figures should not be overemphasised by aspirants. They should make an effort to develop an analytical approach to  History.

One should study  History from a neutral standpoint, remembering that there are no black and white options, only shades of grey. Every event should be examined for its causes and outcomes by aspirants. The questions in the UPSC Mains exam may not be straightforward and direct.

As a result, UPSC aspirants who do not have a thorough understanding of the fundamentals and don’t practise answer writing every day of history may struggle to answer the questions.


There was no question from the World History segment of UPSC Mains GS 1 in 2020.


Explain how the foundation of the modern world was laid by the American and French Revolutions.


How does the Juno Mission of NASA help to understand the origin and evolution of the Earth? (150 words)


The anti-colonial struggles in West Africa were led by the new elite of Western-educated Africans. Examine.


Why did the industrial revolution first occur in England? Discuss the quality of life of the people there during industrialization. How does it compare with that in India at present?

To what extent can Germany be held responsible for causing the two World Wars? Discuss critically


What were the major political, economic and social developments in the world which motivated the anti-colonial struggle in India?

What were the events that led to the Suez Crisis in 1956? How did it deal a final blow to Britain’s self-image as a world power?

The New Economic Policy – 1921 of Lenin had influenced the policies adopted by India soon after independence. Evaluate.


“Latecomer” Industrial revolution in Japan involved certain factors that were markedly different from what the West had experienced.

Africa was chopped into states artificially created by the accident of European competition. Analyse.

The American Revolution was an economic revolt against mercantilism. Substantiate.

What policy instruments were deployed to contain the great economic depression?

Also Read: World History Syllabus For UPSC: World History Notes, Syllabus, Book List and Preparation Strategy

UPSC Pathshala Pro Tips

Number 1

A good starting point for this subject would be to refer to the previous year’s papers. Scan the papers and identify the type of questions asked. This will be instrumental in laying out the path you need to follow in your prep. As you go through the questions, you will realise that the UPSC has asked very direct and general questions which can be answered easily with a fair amount of reading.

This will help reduce the fear of the subject and guide you in strategizing as per marks weightage. Topics like colonialism have consistently been asked in various forms in all the years, so cover that aspect thoroughly.

Number 2

A lot of people will advise using Norman Lowe’s book. If you are heeding that advice, do not make the mistake of reading it cover to cover. Lowe is an excellent book for its lucid description of current affairs but it must only be used as a reference book. Making it your primary book will eat into the limited time you have to prepare for the entire paper. Pick out selected topics from here and read-only those.

Number 3

The atlas is your best friend when it comes to history prep. History will take you to various continents and countries, make sure you are sitting with an atlas as you do so.

Knowing the region on the map has many benefits-

Including a map in the answer will fetch you extra marks and set your answer apart.

Your knowledge of the world map and location of countries/physical features will increase immensely; a fact that will be useful in other subjects as well.

Number 4

Be aware of current world events that relate to the syllabus. For example, in 2016, a question on the decolonization of Africa was asked, and the India-Africa summit had just concluded in 2015.


If approached in an organised manner and with an open mind with proper world history notes, preparation for the subject is neither tough nor time-consuming. Having knowledge about history will contribute to your overall personality and reflect in your interview as well.

This article should assist you in covering world history for UPSC in an efficient manner if you are preparing for general studies or optional exams.

The article recommends the best book for UPSC and discusses the importance of NCERT books.

It is suggested that you use NCERT books as your first choice of books, and then use other books if necessary. Keep in mind that NCERT and world history notes will go a long way toward assisting you in your preparation, so use them as your first line of defence. Best wishes for UPSC!

Also Read: Best Book for World History for UPSC: Have the Best Material for UPSC Exams

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Shilpa is a professional web content writer and is in deep love with travelling. She completed her mass communication degree and is now dedicatedly playing with words to guide her readers to get the best for themselves. Developing educational content for UPSC, IELTS aspirants from breakthrough research work is her forte. Strongly driven by her zodiac sign Sagittarius, Shilpa loves to live her life on her own notes and completely agrees with the idea of ‘live and let live. Apart from writing and travelling, most of the time she can be seen in the avatar of 'hooman' mom to her pets and street dogs or else you can also catch her wearing the toque blanche and creating magic in the kitchen on weekends.

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