Strategy for Preliminary examination, UPSC Civil Services exam

(This entry is written by Avi Prasad, AIR 13 and Riju Bafna, AIR 77, UPSC CSE 2013)

The Examination comprises of two compulsory papers of 200 marks each. Both the question papers-GS and CSAT are of objective type (multiple choice questions).

Practice Books:

TMH publication books for GS and CSAT. They have a lot of practice questions along with brief summary of all the relevant topics, especially useful for CSAT, as this paper is mostly about practice and basic concepts of analysis, reasoning etc.

GS for prelims: It is said that everything under the sun is GS syllabus. However, nothing can be further from truth. In the last two years, GS questions in UPSC prelims examination have been on expected lines. GS can be, for the present purpose, qualified under two heads-static and dynamic. The static part of the GS remains fixed and can be covered with the help of definite and limited source of study. However, the dynamic part of the syllabus has to be followed on a regular basis through newspaper, periodicals, coaching material and notes. The good part is that the prelims GS questions in recent two years have been mostly static. The static part comprises of History, Polity, Geography, Culture and Science. Environment and Climate change is also mostly static is nature. Only two areas of syllabus the current affairs and the social and economic issues are dynamic in nature. The latter also has certain static components which require conceptual clarity.

Topic Classification
Current events of national and international importance. Dynamic
History of India and Indian National Movement. Static
Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World. Static
Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc. Mostly Static
Economics Static
Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc. Dynamic
General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization. Part Dynamic Part Static
General Science. Mostly Static

1.Current events of national and international importance:

Newspapers: The Hindu and Indian Express – to be read religiously, daily. If you are not sure about your Indian language paper for Mains, better to read one vernacular paper right from the prelims stage. This shall help at the time of Mains.

Monthly Magazine for competitive exams: Pratyogita darpan or Chronicle or Competition Success Review-not necessary to read one, but better to have a GS periodical for a quick revision once in a while. Most of these periodicals have solved questions and practice papers which can be helpful. It also helps to identify that you haven’t missed on any important topic from the newspapers.

Periodicals: Frontline or The Economist. Frontline has detailed articles on social, international and political issues, however, with views tending towards Left. The Economist on the other hard has very short articles and on the other extreme with pro-West, pro-capitalist viewpoint. It has excellent coverage of foreign affairs and even technology related topics. But not very useful if one is looking for India related topics. Indian express publishes The Economist’s relevant articles, which are sufficient.

Avoid EPW, Kurukshetra and Yojana, unless one has excess time and is fond of reading in leisure time.

2. History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mostly static and questions get repeated indirectly.

Essential reading: Spectrum’s History Book, if one can mugs this up cover to cover, most of the questions will be answered.

Desirable reading: While Spectrum’s book is sufficient to acquaint you with facts for the purpose of exam, it doesn’t help in developing a perspective on historical events. Bipin Chandra’s India’s struggle for Independence is a much better book for the purpose.

3. Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.

Essential reading: Geography portion of TMH’s book on CSAT-1, 11th and 12th NCERTs, accompanied with videos on youtube for conceptual clarity.

Desirable: While Goh cheng leong’s Physical and Human Geography is a good book, it may not be that easy to grasp for non-geography students. One can flip through it to complement the concepts in TMH and NCERTs.

4. Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.

Essential Reading for Prelims: Laxmikant’s Indian Polity along with the Bare Act of Constitution. It is important that one reads the exact language of the Articles of the constitution from the Act itself aided by Laxmikant’s book, as questions may be based on procedures. For questions related to parliamentary democracy, one may rely on the detailed FAQ given on Loksabha and Rajyasabha website.

Another excellent source for the questions related to important legislations are the videos put on Youtube by Rajyasabha TV. These videos which are in form of short features contain views of different subject matter experts and parliamentarian involved in drafting and scrutiny of the legislation.

Once you have gone through the above, it might be interesting to watch “Samvidhan” on youtube. It is an excellent series made by Shyam Benegal on Constitutional debates – probably more relevant for Mains examination but useful to grasp nuisances of various provisions of our Constitution.

5. Economics

About ten questions are asked in this section and most of them are straight picked up from 11th and 12th Economics NCERT books. Conceptual clarity is must as the options can otherwise be confusing. Reading economics section of The Hindu and Indian Express will help in reinforcing the basic concepts.

6. Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.

Some portions of India Year Book published by PIB may be read. Try to read few press releases from PIB website on daily basis – these are slightly boring but can help in the long run as it provides a balanced note on government initiatives and schemes. However, there is no need to spend too much time on that. Also PIB covers parliament when in session, one can follow the objectives and need of proposed legislation, amendments, repeal etc. through brief on proceedings.

For current data and schemes, Pratyogita Darpan’s special Indian Economy issue may be read.

7. General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change

Try to arrange the Shankar IAS academy’s book on environment, by far the best text on the subject. Supplement it with the summary of reports on environment available on Ministry of environment and forest. Mrunal’s website ( is a good source for such summaries and other climate related issues. Follow the newspaper for all the relevant developments on climate change and global efforts etc.

8. General Science

To be frank, we skipped this section altogether for prelims since the syllabus otherwise was already vast and Science prelims and mains syllabus do not overlap.

9. Culture:

Spectrum’s book on culture is a must read. Another excellent source is UNESCO short video on heritage sites in India ( The five minute videos give an insight into art and architecture which is easy to remember. While culture is not explicitly mentioned in prelims syllabus, it is an important part of Mains syllabus.


Practice is the key in this section and if you are already from Science background, this should be a cake walk. A lot of coaching institutes spend months teaching ‘techniques’ to attempt questions fast. Some of them start comparing CSAT to MBA entrance exams. Please do not fall in this trap. A very good book to practice CSAT is TMH CSAT manual – the level of questions is good and equivalent to what UPSC demands. Practice for an hour or two daily, depending on your requirements. If you are from Science/ mathematical background, you can practice CSAT for an hour for 20-30 days before prelims, just to gain confidence for the exam.

Final word: Please go through all past year questions (particularly from 2011) and try to evaluate the level of depth required in each section. The aim should be to study smart, with an eye to understand what UPSC wants and what UPSC doesn’t want. The latter is equally important.


42 thoughts on “Strategy for Preliminary examination, UPSC Civil Services exam”

  1. Hi riju, this is a wonderful article . Surely it helps a lot of upsc aspirants. If possible could u shed some light on preparation strategy for economics optional in mains ?

      1. Okay! Thank you sir for this guidance.
        Would look forward to your suggestions regarding preparation for Law paper I and II for CSE mains.

  2. Dear Riju and Avi Sir,

    Many Congratulations on your stellar performance and thank you for this post. Could you please guide me regarding the books that one needs to follow for Law Paper I and II (UPSC) and any supplementary material that we need to focus on. Also any tips/ strategy you would want us to keep in mind while attempting the law paper.

    I am directing this query because I have been informed by my friend that Mr. Avi Prasad (AIR 13- CSE 2013) is also helping you with the UPSC portion.

    Also it would be great if you could write about books to be followed for Mains as it is also around the corner.

    Many Thanks Sir

  3. First of all…congrtasss.!.
    Kindly suggest some source or strategies to command comprehension ..perticularaly with speed n accuracy.!!!

  4. thank u sir …nd plz tell us the detailed strategy for gs in mains examination ……….plz sir nd kitne months pehle pre ya mains se newspaper nd magazines padhna suffice hoga?????

    1. @ayaj…there is no fixed time frame. It depends on your past preparedness, awareness and aptitude. For the optional the preparation time is determined by whether you have studied it in the past or not. However, 2-3 months preparation for prelims and 3-4 months preparation for the mains is the minimum required to make you feel confident while taking the exam…

  5. sir firstly congratulation sir….

    Sir it’s a big dilemma for me is that is the language or medium matter on marks on interview or examine to judge a person …? Please help me sir

    1. @ harsh..I have friends who appeared in the interview in Hindi medium and scored excellent marks. Confidence and articulation of your views is more important than the medium of interview. Select the medium you are comfortable with.

    1. @shikhar…We have suggested to read these periodicals only if you have sufficient time at your hand…anyways these two periodicals didn’t figure in our list of essential reading for Mains GS…

  6. Congratulations and please come out with a post on Law as an optional paper. I know you all will be having a time crunch but if you can, I’d be grateful.


  7. Very transparent & a crystal clear picture as to how to proceed. It will definately boost confidence in the aspirants following you. Congratulaions again.

  8. Hi Avi and Riju,
    Congratulations to both of you for your respective accomplishments !!!!
    I can clearly infer now that the recent reforms by UPSC have started yielding the intended positive results, in the form of more people centric candidates getting through, who do not shy away from lending their helping hands to the needy. My mother was casually listening to the radio, when she heard one announcement offering to help new aspirants via this blog. She promptly informed me and that’s how I landed up here.
    I sincerely wish, you both continue this zeal in your entire service lives and beyond, and may more and more unprivileged get empowered because of you, and eventually join the mainstream of our new resurgent India.

    Now coming to my query. Due to circumstances I could begin to prepare for CSE 2014 from last month only. Though I am determined to make it, this very year itself, but I am also aware of the fact that I am too late now. I have been reading The Hindu religiously since 1st of May. My query is that, newspaper coverage, roughly or precisely from which date is a necessity for the prelims and mains respectively. Prior to the May Day I was working in a firm, and have not absolutely read any newspaper then.

    1. @Kapil – Thanks for your generous words. In our view, there is sufficient time for you to crack prelims and with some hardwork you stand a good chance in the Mains exams as well. For prelims, newspapers have a limited role as you may have inferred from previous year papers. If you have not read newspapers prior to May you can compensate it by reading current affairs periodicals and coaching material for that period. For Mains, newspapers help in developing a perspective, and you can cover up for the missed period through archives of the newspapers maintained online. Hope it helps.

  9. Thank you so much Avi for the encouragement !!!!
    After going through your entry on prelims only I have mustered confidence for the preparation.
    Earlier I was in utter confusion regarding what to study and what not to study. Now there’s clarity.

    Which current affairs periodical and coaching material should I go for ?
    From which month onward should I start studying them, considering that, prelims is on Aug 24 and mains will be in December ?

  10. Sir what strategy we have to follow for law optional? Iam currently doing LLB 2nd year(running in its final stage)

  11. It will be helpfuf if you let us know how you went about answering the Prelims CSAT paper II in the exam, I mean time management for various sections? Because last time I had taken maximum time for Comprehension and had little&inadequate time left for Log.Reasoning,Mental Ability,Quants and Dec. Making. How did you manage in the exam?

    1. Practice is the key! There is no short-cut for this. Practice as much as you can, attempt question papers given in various question banks within 3 hours. If you think comprehension is not your strong-hold, do it at the end. Attempt the sections that you are confident about first.

    1. Many candidates clear Prelims without any coaching. However, if you find difficulty in Paper 2, some guidance may be useful. But be careful that you remain confined to the CSE prelims requirements and don’t go for some institute that treats the exam like MBA entrance tests. As for the GS part, some students go for integrated GS coaching which includes prelims plus Mains. We have written a post on Coaching, you can go through it.

  12. sh.IAS a heartfull of good wishes to both of u.sir it will be very kind of u if u write a post on
    ESSAY PAPER HOW TO HANDLE and ANSWER WRITING will be very kind of u.


  14. thnks for sharing ur experience ………there is some confusions is running in my mind as in the news about csat paper 2 pattern….., will the csat ppr 2 replace by any other paper like optionals,,,or is there major changes in the 2014 csat exam and for this will i have to change my prepration strategy for this paper…..or to continues like i am going on……..

  15. Respected Sir and Ma’am, i have doubt regarding Note-making. Many selectees say that REVISION is extremely essential and for this they maintain Notes. could you please tell me how to go about it, should i prepare extensive notes and short notes for mains and prelims respectively? also if you had prepares notes please share with us.

  16. Hi riju! can u also tell about the prelims preparation as in from when shud one start reading the newspaper for prelims preparation?

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