The Civil Services Examination is conducted in three stages - Preliminary, Mains, and Interview - to arrive at the final list of meritorious candidates to join in the administration of India. Given the challenging and dynamic role of civil servants, each level in the recruitment process is designed to test the knowledge as well as the mental calibre of the candidates. Therefore, it is essential to strategize a plan to be competitive right from the preparation stage to the very performance in the exam hall.

IAS Parliament has thus crafted for you aspirants the "Beginner's Column" to acquaint you with the purpose of the Preliminary and Mains stages of the exam, the demands of the syllabus, the preferable resource materials and the overall so called “strategy” for taking up this exam.

It is to be understood that the Preliminary and Mains preparations cannot be undertaken in watertight compartments. Both have to go hand in hand. However, for the sake of beginners, they are dealt separately in the following sections. Lets Begin...


The first level in the Civil Services Examination, the prelims, is more like a screening test and the sole purpose of this stage is to eliminate the uncompetitive. It thus serves as a filtration process wherein the candidates with comprehensive awareness and firm foundation on the basics of the subjects get through. Given the fact that only around 3% of candidates appearing for the preliminary exam make it to the Mains list, this is the most competitive level in quantitative terms.

So let's get to know the aspects to ace it...

Examination Scheme

GS Paper - I (General Awareness) GS Paper - II (CSAT)
  • 100 MCQs x 2 marks = 200 Marks
  • Duration - 2 hours
  • Negative marking for a wrong answer is -0.66
  • Marks counted for Mains selection, but not for the final selection
  • 80 MCQs x 2.5 marks = 200 Marks
  • Duration - 2 hours
  • Negative marking for a wrong answer is -0.825
  • Qualifying in nature with 33% as the minimum qualifying marks.

Syllabus and Study Materials

1) Current events of national and international importance
  • www.iasparliament.com (Of course! Because our format truly saves your time and gives you so much clarity on an issue)
  • Any one standard newspaper - The Hindu, The IE, etc - just to keep track
  • Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha Debates
2) History of India and Indian National Movement
  • NCERT - Class 11th "Ancient India" (OLD) - R.S. Sharma (or) Class 11th History, Tamil Nadu edition
  • NCERT - Class 11th "Medieval India" (OLD) - Satish Chandra (or) Class 11th History, Tamil Nadu edition
  • NCERT – Class 12th “Modern India” (OLD) (or) Class 12th History, Tamil Nadu Edition
  • Spectrum - “Modern India”.
Art and Culture
  • NCERT – Class 11th "Fine Art" (OLD) (or) Class 11th and 12th History - Tamil Nadu Edition
  • Additional Ref: CCRT Website, NIOS material
3) Indian and World Geography - Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World
  • NCERT – Social Science – Class 6th to 10th
  • NCERT – Class 11th
    • Fundamentals of Physical Geography
    • Indian Physical Environment
  • NCERT – Class 12th
    • Fundamentals of Human Geography
    • India – People and Economy
  • Atlas – Oxford / Black swan
4) Indian Polity and Governance - Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc
  • 'Indian Polity' - Laxmi Kant
  • Additional Ref: 'Introduction to Indian Constitution' - DD Basu
5) Economic and Social Development - Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc
  • NCERT – 6th to 12th (Social Science, Economy)
  • Indian Economy - Dutt & Sundaram
  • Latest Economic Survey
6) General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change - that do not require subject specialisation
7) General Science
  • Science Section in Newspapers
  • PIB
  • Government Websites like ISRO, DRDO, IISC etc
  • www.sciencedaily.com

  • Comprehension
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem solving
  • General mental ability
  • Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc - Class X level)

Finally....The "Strategy"

A holistic Preliminary preparation lies in both acquiring the necessary knowledge as well as developing the art of solving Multiple Choice Questions. Being 'smart' in your preparation is what gives you an edge and makes you a competitive candidate. But being a smart aspirant is the most challenging part and demands a well thought out strategy. So what all constitute a smart prep???

Right choice of study materials

With increasing commercialisation and flooding of study materials in the market, it is extremely crucial that you do not fall prey to the information overload. Choosing the suitable material decides the worth of your time and your knowledge gain. It is highly recommended that you start off with the NCERTs. This is to build a strong foundation of the basics and get a hold over the syllabus to move further. Complementing NCERTs with one or max two standard recommended book/s is more than enough for a particular topic, for Prelims. And needless to say that current affairs prep has to go parallelly along with this. Over and above, if necessary go for internet sources; but with caution in time investment.

Balanced attention to every topic -

Though the trend analyses bring out the predominance of particular topics in some years, given the unpredictability of UPSC, it is safe to be balanced in covering all areas of the syllabus. Also, in a combined prelims and mains perspective, being choosy in subjects may at times work to your disadvantage. However, History, Polity, Geography and Economics are said to be the core subjects and require added attention. And again Current Affairs, the bedrock of Civils prep.

Though made a qualifying paper, GS Paper II (Civil Services Aptitude Test) is getting to be challenging in recent years. Difficulty level of the questions, time-consuming paper pattern, etc demand that you give it the needed attention and practice depending on your strong and weak areas.

Proper planning and execution -

At least, one year of dedicated preparation is must for cracking all the stages of this exam. Given the length and breadth of the syllabus, it is vital that you employ your administrative skill of 'Planning' and 'Time Management' in the best possible way. Your planning should be strategized, keeping in mind the various areas in syllabus, the time in hand, and your individual ability and energy level. Executing your plan require that you stay dedicated to your goals. Self-motivation is better than many other alternatives to keep you committed through out this long drawn process.

Revise religiously -

The importance of revision cannot be over-emphasized when it comes to prelims. Proper revision comes to your help in dilemmatic situation of choosing between the two finally arrived options in Multiple Choice Questions. Thus, it is recommended that you increase the number of revisions of a particular book/material rather than increasing the number of books to get a strong hold over a subject.

Take up mock tests -

Preliminary exam is indeed a game of probability. The task lies in knowing your accuracy level and balancing between the possible positive and negative marks, to your advantage. Gaining proficiency in the art of solving MCQs increases your chances of making it to the Mains list. And all these require taking up enough mock tests to figure out your strengths and weaknesses.

On the final day -

All your knowledge, efforts, plans and strategies would bear fruit only if you are emotionally strong on the D-day. A relaxed mind is vital to understand the questions properly, arrive at the appropriate option and avoid silly mistakes. Strategise, Stay cool, Stay confident, Self-motivate and Succeed. Let's meet in Mains.


Having tested your range of information and factual foundation through the MCQs in the prelims level, UPSC aims at evaluating your analytical views and systematic approach to the issues that the country is witnessing, through descriptive answers in the Mains level. The questions are framed so as to bring out your intellectual traits and depth of understanding. Given the challenge of handling conflicting situations and decision making in a civil services career, the Mains questions test your ability to take a definite standpoint in conflicting socio-economic goals, keeping in mind the objectives and demands that the country has before it.

In the context of these, it is fundamental that your preparation is aligned with the demands of both analytical understanding and appropriate presentation to convey it as intended to the examiner. So, how do you go about it? Here comes the nitty gritties...

Exam Scheme

Subject Marks
*Paper A (Indian Language) 300 marks
*Paper B (English) 300 marks
Essay 250 marks
General Studies – I 250 marks
General Studies – II 250 marks
General Studies – III 250 marks
General Studies – IV 250 marks
Optional Paper – I 250 marks
Optional Paper – II 250 marks

Syllabus and Study Materials (General Studies)

GS- I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)

  • Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times
  • NCERT Class XI - An introduction to Indian Art
  • Class XI History Books Tamil Nadu edition
  • CCRT website
  • Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues
  • The Freedom Struggle - its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country
  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country
  • Spectrum-Comprehensive History of Modern India
  • Additional Ref: Selective Readings from 'India’s struggle for Independence' by Bipan Chandra (or) 'India After Gandhi' by Ramachandra Guha
  • decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc - their forms and effect on the society
  • NCERT -
  • Mastering World History by Norman Lowe (or) History of the World from the late 19th century to the early 21st century
  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India
  • Role of women and women's organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies
  • Effects of globalization on Indian society
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism
  • Salient features of world's physical geography.
  • Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India)
  • Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
  • NCERT – Class XI - Physical Geography
  • NCERT – Class XI - Indian Geography
  • NCERT Class XII - Human Geography
  • NCERT Class XII - People and Economy
  • Goh Cheng Leong – 'Physical Geography'

GS- II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

  • Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure
  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein
  • Separation of powers between various organs, dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions
  • Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries
  • Parliament and State Legislatures - structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary - Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity
  • Salient features of the Representation of People's Act
  • Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies
  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies
  • NCERT - Class X - Democratic Politics
  • NCERT - Class XI - Indian Constitution at work
  • 'Indian Polity' by Laxmikanth
  • Current Affairs
  • Summary and Recommendations part in 2nd ARC Report (Selected Topics)
  • Additional Ref: 'Our Parliament' by Subash Kashyap
  • RPA
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
  • Development processes and the development industry - the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders
  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections
  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources
  • Issues relating to poverty and hunger
  • Economic Survey
  • PIB
  • Newspapers
  • Ministry Websites
  • Schemes in Vikaspedia.in
  • Schemes in Vikaspedia.in
  • Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance - applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures
  • Role of civil services in a democracy
  • Current Affairs
  • 2nd ARC Reports
  • 'Governance in India' by Laxmikanth (selective reading)
  • India and its neighbourhood- relations
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India's interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India's interests, Indian diaspora
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate

GS - III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment
  • Inclusive growth and issues arising from it
  • Government Budgeting
  • Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth
  • Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways, etc
  • Investment models
  • NCERT - Class XI and XII - Economics
  • Indian Economy by Dutt & Sundaram
  • Economic Survey
  • Current Affairs
  • Relevant Ministry Websites
  • Additional Ref: IYB – Chapter on Energy, Transport, Infrastructure Investment, Planning Commission
  • Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers
  • Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing
  • Food processing and related industries in India - scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management
  • Land reforms in India
  • Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
  • Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology
  • Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights
  • The Hindu S&T Column
  • IYB Chapters on Science & Technological developments and Defence
  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
  • Disaster and disaster management
  • Current Affairs
  • NCERT - Disaster Management sections
  • Yojana – Special Edition on Disaster Management
  • Linkages between development and spread of extremism
  • Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security
  • Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention
  • Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate
  • Current Affairs
  • IAS Parliament IDSA Magazine
  • 2nd ARC report – Capacity Building for conflict Resolution

GS IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)

  • Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships
  • Human Values - lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values
  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion
  • Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections
  • Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world
  • Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance
  • Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen's Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption
  • Case Studies on above issues
  • Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude by G.SubbaRao and PN Roy Chowdhary (or) Lexicon
  • IGNOU ethics material
  • 12th NCERT Psychology Chapter 6 and 7
  • SubbaRao Book
  • Ramesh K Arora
  • IGNOU Chapter I and 3 for International Ethics and applied K. Arora
  • 2nd ARC report on Ethics in Governance.
  • 2nd ARC report on code of conduct
  • Justice Harvard Videos

And now the "strat'edge'gy"

Study the Syllabus - Syllabus can be the best guide and light for your Mains preparation. A strong hold over the syllabus rationalises your time by directing you what to read and what not to. This is extremely important given the information overload scenario. So, Syllabus ---> Previous Year Question Papers ---> Study Materials. This would be the ideal way to start and proceed with your preps; be it Prelims or Mains.

Decide your resources - The suggested books/other sources are not to be read from cover to cover or in its entirety in all cases. It is to be noted that the examiner does not look for the source of the content in your paper but rather only 'your understanding and conceptual clarity'. These can be accumulated and grasped through any means. So please do not force yourself to read any magazine or book or website just because it is popular in the market. Given the vastness of the syllabus and the time in hand, YOU should ultimately decide your resources that suit your requirements in cracking this exam.

Planning - The aspects of planning as dealt in the Prelims Section applies to Mains as well. It is just that your planning has to be adapted to the Mains syllabus. And when it comes to Mains, the syllabus is lengthier and each subject has under it a range of subtopics and ideas. Though the number of questions under each subject for a particular year may range from 1 or 2 to max 6 or 7, you cannot afford to ignore any topic, given the high level of competition, as even a single mark can make changes in the rank list. So it is essential that you craft your plans, giving due importance to all the papers in the syllabus and all aspects including studying, revising and practising answer writing.

Approach - As mentioned in the intro part, the Mains level is to test how best as an administrator you would respond to the issues and challenges that the country is meeting out. Besides some static topics, the syllabus and the questions are largely intended to evaluate your analytical and critical view-point. Your Mains preparation process has to incorporate this understanding in its fullest sense. So approach your study material not just as facts and information, but instead as inputs for handling an 'issue'.

This approach should significantly integrate into your Current Affairs preparation as well, as it is becoming the heart and soul of Civils prep. Your current affairs materials are not just an account of the day-to-day happenings. They are rather the past, present and future courses of the country. Each and every issue that you read as part of your current affairs prep should logically sensitise you as an administrator, as a rights activist, as an economist, as an environmentalist, as a diplomat, and what not? Coz you are a Civil Services Aspirant.

Practice makes aspirants competitive - Mains answer writing is an art in itself. Limited time and limited space for writing. In this context, it is extremely important and indispensable that you tune your mind and hand to write about 5000 words on varied topics in a matter of three hours. Consistently practising answer writing would give you an idea as to how to approach different types of questions and also to figure out your own style of presentation. It makes you aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Undoubtedly, it is as important to get your paper evaluated by a reliable guide as practising answer writing. Enrolling in a proper test series is more advisable as it channelizes your preparation in terms of time and topics, trains you in an exam environment, helps manage time better as well as guide you in the right way of rendering answers. The more trained you are in this art, the easier and efficient it is in the Mains exam hall to ultimately fly to the Interview...

Time to say bye!

Hope the ideas shared above had helped you in some way. This is just to give a brief idea to help you go about with the preparation smartly, and certainly, success in this highly competitive exam depends largely on the dedication, sincerity, and perseverance of the individual ‘YOU’. Civil Services Preparation, above all, makes you an educated person. It makes you more sensitive and responsive to the happenings of the society than before. So enjoy the process...cherish the intellectual development...

IAS Parliament wishes you all good!!!