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)

Strategy for Preliminary examination, UPSC Civil Services exam. 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 (mrunal.org) 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 (http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/in). 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.

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter who you are or what you do, it's not easy to write about yourself. I am the person whom familiar with the fund declined to provide exact performance figure. I am an I.T Engineer by profession and a thinker, knowledge seeker by heart. I love to find out new ways to solve the issues of the daily life, And I love to learn new things. I am also an ethical hacker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *