UPSC operates the Civil Service Examination (CSE) to hire IAS, IPS, IFS, and other related service officers. Lakhs of candidates apply for the test, but only a few qualify for the test. So, what does that make the difference, you wonder!

Oh, this is the art of planning! Students are curious about how to start their UPSC preparation or make it to the merit list. Here, You will find ways to approach the UPSC exam in a systematic way. So let’s get started.

Phases of UPSC exam – Get Started with the Basics

UPSC exam has three phases. The first phase is the preliminary examination, the second phase is the mains and you can only reach it to the mains if you are able to qualify the prelims and the last phase is the interview/personality round where you are asked a bunch of questions related to yourself and the current happenings in the world.

This article will focus more on the first phase which is the prelims and how can you crack it in the first go. So let’s get started.

UPSC Prelims- Your First Step to Clearing the Exam

The UPSC Civil Services Prelims comprises 2 tests, namely General Studies-I and General Studies-II (CSAT).

In the UPSC preparation strategy, the General Studies section is often considered to be the most difficult to crack due to its perceived difficulty. Moreover, since the UPSC cutoff is calculated on the basis of the score in the General Studies paper, it is an extremely important exam.

Topic- Wise Preparation for Prelims

Polity & Government

In recent years, both the preliminary and the main, the value of government policies has increased enormously. It is predicted that the trend will continue. The questions are more or less simple and can be answered easily after careful research.

There are chapters in Polity that often pose questions. That includes Constitutional Developments, fundamental rights, judiciary, Changes, Local Governance, Federalism, and Elections.

Many of the books available do not provide information on recent changes to the constitution. That is why it is necessary to establish a solid understanding of the provisions of the Constitution (e.g. the historical judgments of the Supreme Court of India, such as Triple Talaq, the right to privacy, the verdict of Ayodhya, the Rafale deal, the verdict of Aadhaar, etc.).

General Science & Technology

This section can be split into 4 parts-Science and Technology, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

Students who belong to Arts, this segment is often a nightmare. But the basic understanding of science, especially the detailed analysis of NCERTs, can be of great help in resolving most of the issues. For the last 15 years, science and technology have been an integral part of GS. Questions on everyday science are more likely to be asked so try to be aware of current happenings in science.

In life sciences, the emphasis is on zoology. There are only a few questions from Botany, especially from ecology, biological diversity, and the ecosystem.   In zoology, the majority of questions contribute to the human system and diseases. The topics covering communicable diseases and nutrition are often essential.

Economy and Social Development

This part includes the Indian economy, National income, public finance, poverty, foreign trade, and industries. Most of the problems in this field come from the Indian economy, but one must also keep track of international economics that has an impact on India.

There has been a major change in this segment in the last few years. Most of the issues are current in nature,  for example (you could be asked of  Jan Dhan Yojana)

But also require a proper understanding of the traditional topics of the Indian economy.

History and Culture

As per the pattern, the questions asked in the UPSC  prelims exam were moderate to difficult in their level of complexity. UPSC has often posed questions about modern Indian culture such as British raj, social reforms. There were questions straight from the NCERT books.  The applicants need to know the respective relevance of the various themes in the Ancient, such as the Indus Valley Civilization, The Mauryan Empire, Society of Post-Mauryan India, etc.

Geography and Environment

This is one of the most crucial parts of prelims, which covers a decent range of issues.

In Indian Geography, you need to have at least a detailed understanding of the physical elements of India and should be able to identify locations.

One should be aware of the conferences and approaches developed to preserve the ecosystem.

A good review of the NCERT geography textbook,  ‘A Certificate Course in Physical and Human Geography’ by Goh Cheng Leong and understanding of the atlas should be sufficient for this area.

Current Affairs

Global affairs have acquired the utmost importance in the planning of civil services. Its weighting has been rising with each passing year.

This section can be overwhelming as there is so much content to cover and memorize at the same time. Here are some useful tips:

  • Focus on issues, not on news- For example, NCR planning to release Rs. 12,441 crore loan for infrastructure projects is news. You must understand the underlying issue of why the number RS. 12,441? Where are these projects being made? So research and analyze the bigger issue. It would be absurd to grasp all the news because there is so much so pay attention to the issues.
  • Make notes- As you come across information, make notes of key information. You can create mind maps and relate events that are related to each other.

Note down main ideas, themes, reoccurring keywords, and keep it brief. Less is more in UPSC preparation.

General Studies Paper-2 (CSAT)

This paper is based on comprehension, logical reasoning, and tests your problem solving mental ability skills.

It is necessary to know the strengths and weaknesses in relation to the CSAT paper before beginning the preparation for CSAT.

So,  solve the previous year’s paper and check it to analyze the poor areas. If your score is greater than 100 points, you do not need any training as you are far above the qualifying points. But, if your marks are under 100 marks, you can recognize the poor areas and then search for concepts that can be easily prepared.

This is a qualifying paper and you need to score above 33% in order to sit for IAS mains or other mains.

UPSC Preparation Strategies

  • It is critical to note the tiny details of the exam well enough before training for any exam. Read the UPSC exam notice carefully to learn about the exam syllabus,  pattern, the timetable of the exam, and the eligibility requirements.
  • It does not matter which background you come from, you need to grasp the fundamentals of the UPSC syllabus. For this purpose, refer to the NCERTs, from the official NCERT website. Read them at least twice before you start making notes.
  • If you feel like you need some guidance. You can take help from UPSC preparation apps. Some of the good ones are AFEIAS which provides IAS exam classes to aspirants. Other examples include BYJU’S, Mission UPSC. All these are rated 4 and above.
  • Create a personalized study plan for yourself. Maintaining a plan gives you a sense of direction and satisfaction. You will be able to cover the whole UPSC syllabus within a defined time frame.


The biggest takeaway from this article is that focus on acing the prelims part as this section has numerous topics to study and explore from. The tips provided above will surely help you sail through the prelims and mains in the first attempt. For more guidance, you can always take inspiration from previous IAS toppers interviews.

Also Read : UPSC Prelims 2020: Done with the Paper? Check out these Tips for Mains Preparation

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UPSC Preparation 2021: UPSC IAS Topics Expected to be Covered
Crack UPSC prelims in the first attempt! Get familiar with stages of UPSC exam, Subject-wise preparation strategy, and giveaways. Take a look at the study plan
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UPSC Pathshala
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