How to Prepare for UPSC? - UPSC IAS Preparation Strategy

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : January 18th, 2023

UPSC preparation strategy covers the tips and tricks to be used to study for Prelims, Mains, and Interview tests. The Civil Services exam is one of the toughest exams in India, for which lakhs of aspirants study every year, which makes it highly competitive. By following the right approach for UPSC preparation, one can easily sail through the process and become an officer in Group A or B posts in the Central government departments. As per the latest calendar, the Prelims 2023 exam is scheduled to take place on 28 May 2023, for which the application process will begin from 01 February 2023 onwards. A robust and well-planned UPSC preparation strategy helps in completing the syllabus on time and gives the student ample room for revision before the final exam.

If you are wondering about how to prepare for UPSC 2023, you are at the right place. Read this post till the end to know the IAS preparation strategy for Prelims, Mains, and the Interview along with getting a list of the best books for UPSC preparation and how beginners can start preparing for the Civil Services exam at home.

Table of Content

How to Prepare for UPSC?

Many aspirants often inquisitively enquire about the right time to start the UPSC preparation, i.e., while pursuing graduation or after graduation, grab a job with similar preparation or in early education days like in Class XI and XII. The right approach for IAS preparation is to focus on the curriculum while pursuing graduation or during school days. Those are the formative years of one's personality, so one should focus on that part as personality and enhancement of the knowledge pool is necessary to qualify for the UPSC Exam.

The knowledge that one acquires in these years will help to prepare for UPSC and clear the exam ultimately. A focus on the curriculum of graduation with a broader focus on the goal will eventually lead to success. The three stages of the UPSC exam pattern that one must be aware of before starting the UPSC preparation are Prelims, Mains, followed by Interview or personality test. Below, one can check the strategy of how to prepare for UPSC for each of these stages in detail.

How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims?

To prepare for UPSC Prelims exam, candidates must start at least 6 months before the exam date. The Preliminary exam is the first stage of the Civil Service examination which faces heavy competition every year. A well-defined UPSC preparation strategy will assist candidates to score well in this exam. Only those who clear Prelims will get the opportunity to sit for Mains exam. So what are you waiting for? Check the expert tips for UPSC prelims preparation below:

  • Be Mentally Prepared: To start with the UPSC preparation for Prelims 2023, the first step is to be mentally prepared for the journey. The exam cycle is very time-consuming, i.e., a minimum of one year is necessary to get through all the stages: Prelims, Mains, and Interview. So, one needs to be dedicated to his/her efforts and keep the momentum going.
  • Knowledge about Syllabus and Exam Pattern: Complete knowledge about the UPSC syllabus and exam pattern is required before starting the IAS preparation.
  • Set up a Timetable: Prepare a timetable for UPSC that will suit your needs. Give appropriate time to all the subjects of CSAT and GS Paper 2, but more time to your weaker areas.
  • Make handwritten notes while preparing. Try to write in bullets in a crisp manner.
  • Read Newspapers: It is highly advisable to read the daily newspaper to score well in the current affairs section, which is a part of all three stages of the exam - Prelims, Mains, and Interview. Newspapers like The Hindu, Indian Express, etc. can not only help in learning current affairs but also help in improving comprehension skills. Check which is the best newspaper for UPSC here.
  • Take the help of NCERTs: To increase the subject knowledge of Science, Economics, History, Polity, Geography, etc., NCERT books for UPSC are a great resource.

UPSC Preparation for Mains 2023

When the IAS Prelims exam is over, candidates should start the UPSC Mains Preparation from the very next day of the exam. Do not waste time waiting for the tentative Cutoff or result to declare. The Commission takes around a month to 40 days to announce the UPSC Result for Prelims, so when declared qualified, one has already lost time that could have been utilized for the UPSC preparation for Mains, and covering up nine papers becomes difficult at the last lap of time.

The candidate's primary focus should be on UPSC Answer Writing. Writing is an essential part of the Mains exam, and one should have immense practice in writing descriptive answers. Write a set number of questions daily while preparing for UPSC Mains, join a 'Mains test series’, and work on the feedback to perform and score better. Discussing in a peer group helps develop perspectives and opinions about ongoing issues. Remember, it does not matter how much one knows; what he/she expresses in the exam counts and becomes the deciding factor!

The time given is 3 hours, and one needs to answer twenty questions in that period. So how one finishes the UPSC Mains paper becomes very important. Writing performance will ensure the candidate's merit (prelim is qualifying, and marks are not counted), and so is the service and cadre allotted.

One should link any issue in the news with the UPSC Prelims Syllabus and UPSC Mains Syllabus and make notes on that topic. That will help in the effective UPSC preparation for the Mains. Practice thoroughly; be ready to formulate answers if taken by some surprise questions asked in the exam hall. Be aware that there is hardly any time to ponder in the exam, and someone else would get an edge to perform. So diligently express yourself on paper.

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IAS Preparation for Interview

Those who clear the Mains exam will be asked to appear for the final stage, i.e. IAS interview. Go through the following points, which will help you to understand how to prepare for UPSC Interview strategically:

  • The interviewer mainly asks questions from the UPSC DAF. One's educational background, place of work, hobbies, etc., should be thoroughly known.
  • Read the newspaper thoroughly during this time.
  • Should make an opinion on various issues, particularly debatable ones.
  • Appear for mock interviews. The feedback helps one improve the verbal and non-verbal aspects. These will help refine one's personality.
  • Check and read online about the previous year's IAS Interview Questions which will assist candidates in understanding the type of questions asked by the Interviewer.

With this information, we intended to give a fair idea about the basic UPSC preparation strategy. It is upon the individual's strength how he/she makes the most of it.

Current Affairs Preparation for UPSC

For the initial four months, when one starts the UPSC Preparation, they should not focus much on newspapers or answer writing. Just for reading, one should spend time on headlines but not indulge much for at least the initial four months.

After the candidate is done with NCERTs and the Optional Subject, i.e., after spending 4-5 months covering these, the role of current affairs and newspapers becomes essential. By then, a fair understanding of what to read and what not to read is developed!

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Newspaper reading plays a crucial part in UPSC preparation. Newspaper is one of the major sources to update with the contemporary world and get eyes on trending topics and current affairs. It helps to enhance theoretical knowledge. A serious candidate should not forget to review the editorial pages and crucial news coverage relevant to the exam.

UPSC Preparation Strategy for Beginners

If you have just started preparing for UPSC for the first time, then the following expert tips will help you to get the detailed UPSC preparation strategy for self-study:

  • Cover the NCERTs: It is very important to thoroughly cover the NCERT Books for UPSC as they make the base of the critical concepts asked in the exam. Understanding all subjects, such as History, Polity, Economy, Social Science, etc., is essential for effective IAS preparation. Read the UPSC Books thoroughly to apply concepts while solving the questions asked in the exam.
  • Role of Coaching Institutes: In the start, coaching does help to give direction to the UPSC preparation as the Syllabus is vast. In this examination, it is necessary to know what to study and what not to study! Diligent segregation and selection help save time, effort, and the attempt. But if one has a mentor, guide, senior, or alumni who know the process and can help save efforts without wasting crucial time and energy, then one can avoid spending money in coaching institutes.
  • Optional Selection: Choosing the right UPSC Optional Subject is very important. The main reason behind choosing the optional should be the candidate's interest. Candidates should go for the subjects that interest them, and UPSC also gives flexibility.
  • Integrated Study: Never do segregated study except for a few months before the UPSC Prelim examination, where one needs to practice mocks and revise UPSC Previous Year Question Papers. Preparing first for the Prelims and then thinking of dedicating time for the Mains is a very wrong UPSC preparation strategy as there is hardly sufficient time to prepare for all the 9 subjects for which one has to write in the UPSC Mains Exam.
  • Current Affairs is very important for all the competitive exams, and for UPSC preparation, it forms the major base. Watching Daily Current Affairs Videos and covering Monthly Magazines such as Yojana or EPW helps analyze the topics well.
  • Effective Revision: During the revision, restrict the sources and do not go for different books or magazines. A candidate should focus on convincing the notes and revise them multiple times. In this period, developed a habit of note-making that is very, very crucial. Note-making will help in both Prelims as well as Mains.

Best Books for UPSC Preparation

Along with a sound preparation strategy for the UPSC Civil Services exam, it is equally important to check out the list of best books for UPSC preparation which will support your learning. Books are an important resource for IAS preparation and other online study material like notes, mock tests, previous year papers, etc. Therefore, we have provided a list of subject-wise best books for UPSC preparation below to complete your study plan:


UPSC Preparation Books


Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania

India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra

NCERTs of XI and XII

Indian Polity

Jain & Ohri - Economic Development and Policies in India

Indian Polity by M Laxmikanth

NCERT textbooks of grades 9th to 12th


World Atlas (Orient Black Swan)

Certificate Physical Geography – G C Leong

NCERT VI – X (Old Syllabus)

NCERT XI, XII (New Syllabus)

International Relations

NCERT XII (Contemporary World Politics)

Current Affairs


Indian Economy by Nitin Singhania

NCERT of Grade 11

Economic Development & Policies in India – Jain & Ohri


Tata McGraw Hill CSAT Manual

Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning by R S Aggarwal

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FAQs on UPSC Preparation

  • Every year, the Union Public Service Commission conducts the Civil Services exam, for which lakhs of candidates compete with each other to get recruited as officers under IAS, IPS, IRS, IFS, and other departments. To prepare for UPSC exam, one must take the help of NCERT textbooks, online study material, books, notes, UPSC Mock test, previous year papers, etc.

  • Yes, generally, 1 year is enough for the IAS exam preparation. During this time, candidates must focus on covering the syllabus of both the Prelims and Mains exams. Only before 3 months of Prelims should they dedicate their study time to the UPSC preparation for the Prelims syllabus.

  • Yes, aspirants can prepare for UPSC at home with 100% dedication and seriousness. There are many candidates who cleared the exam in the last few years by preparing at home all by themselves. Prepare a study plan that suits your needs and follow it every day without a miss. Take the help of mock tests and previous year question papers to understand the trends and patterns of questions asked.

  • Based on expert guidance, 18 years is considered the right age to start IAS preparation. Generally, at this time, candidates complete their schooling and opt for college, so it is the right time for them to choose a subject in graduation that would also help them in UPSC preparation.

  • There is no special UPSC preparation strategy that the toppers follow. They just prepare with full sincerity and dedication and always remain hopeful. UPSC toppers generally identify and work on their strengths and weaknesses so that they can score maximum in the exam.

  • Having a well-planned and structured UPSC preparation strategy for the IAS exam can help in comprehensively covering the syllabus. Beginners should ideally invest 10 to 12 months before appearing for the UPSC Prelims. They should start with the common GS papers before moving on to the optional papers.

  • Generally, a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of study is required every day to prepare for the UPSC exam. However, there are some candidates who devote more than 12 hours in preparation, and there are others who clear the exam by studying only 4 to 5 hours daily. So, there is no right answer to this question. The time required for UPSC preparation varies from person to person based on their learning style and needs.

  • The best time to start preparing for UPSC is after schooling. At the age of 18 years, if you have decided to appear for UPSC, you can make an informed decision for your graduation subject which will help you in your IAS preparation as well.

  • Some of the best books for UPSC preparation are listed hereunder:

    • Indian Economy by Nitin Singhania
    • World Geography by Majid Husain
    • India after Independence by Bipan Chandra
    • NCERT textbooks of Grades 11 and 12 of History, Polity, Economics, and Geography
  • It is not mandatory for an aspirant to have a laptop for UPSC preparation; however, having a laptop or tablet can help them in accessing online study material with much ease. They can attempt the mock tests and previous year's papers from laptop and analyse the results to learn from their mistakes.

  • The best way to manage college and UPSC preparation together is to make college a part of your study plan. Choose the subjects in graduation which you can opt for as optional subjects in the Mains paper. Make a habit of reading newspapers and magazines, assess the college library to get a wide variety of learning resources, etc.

  • Many working professionals do aspire to crack the UPSC Exam. The answer lies in striking a fine balance between idealism and pragmatism. Work experience also helps score well during the interview. If a candidate starts the UPSC preparation process well in advance, the exam can be cleared with a full-time working job, without coaching. Just remember, a candidate has to devote at least 5-6 hours on a regular basis to studies.

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