How To Prepare For UPSC Prelims?

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : April 18th, 2022

How To Prepare For UPSC Prelims is the most sought question by the candidate who plans to sit for the UPSC CSE and wishes to clear the IAS Prelims exam with a good score. The Civil Services Examination is conducted by the UPSC every year to recruit officers to various central government posts. Clearing the UPSC Prelims is the first step to achieving the dream of becoming a civil servant. Only 3 out of the 100 candidates, who appear for the UPSC Prelims clear the cut-off. So, this leg of the UPSC Exam should not be taken lightly.

In this article, we will provide you with detailed information on how to prepare for the UPSC Prelims exam, with a well-planned strategy and a dedicated approach.

Table of Content

How to Prepare for the Civil Services Prelims?

The Preliminary Examination of the CSE consists of two compulsory papers of 200 marks each:

  • General Studies Paper 1 (General Awareness)
  • General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT)

The strategy to prepare for General Studies- Paper 1 requires comprehensive coverage of all the topics mentioned in the UPSC Syllabus. For UPSC Prelims, priority should always be on strengthening the basic knowledge of the subjects mentioned in the UPSC Syllabus. A solid foundation will help in improving the understanding of current affairs, which can be easily integrated with current affairs.

The UPSC Prelims General Studies- Paper 2 or CSAT is just qualifying in nature. One needs to score only 33% to qualify. The marks obtained in the CSAT Paper are not counted for the prelims ranking. The prelims cutoff is decided on the marks scored in General Studies- Paper 1 only.

How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims Paper 1?

Preparation for the GS Paper- 1 requires exhaustive coverage of all the subjects mentioned in the UPSC Syllabus for Prelims. One of the foremost things for a serious aspirant is to have a daily schedule with proper time management. A disciplined candidate always has an edge over others. Going through PYQs and solving mocks, along with analyzing the weak areas completes the preparation in a full circle.

In this section, we will break down the strategy for How To Prepare For UPSC Prelims in a subject-wise manner, so that an aspirant gets a better understanding of all the subjects.

  • Polity

Analyzing the UPSC Previous Year Questions for prelims, we can conclude that the weightage of polity questions has increased tremendously. Most of the questions are from the Fundamental Rights, DPSPs, Indian Judiciary, recent amendments, federalism structure of India and election process, etc. It is all way safe to say that the questions from the Indian Polity section are more or less straightforward, and can be easily tackled with careful study.

The basics and the static parts of the topics can be covered from NCERT Books and some good reference books by Laxmikanth and DD Basu. The remaining portion should be covered from Current Affairs  and daily newspaper reading.

  • History and Art & Culture

Seeing the past trends, it can be concluded that the questions in the UPSC Prelims from the history section have decreased, but the difficulty level has increased by many folds. The History section in the UPSC Prelims covers Ancient History, Medieval History, and Modern History, which can be covered from class 11th and 12th NCERT, along with covering A Brief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir (Spectrum). The Art and Culture section should be covered from the CCRT website and book by Nitin Singhania. 

Ancient and Medieval questions are generally factual. The conceptual questions are mainly asked from the Modern India section. 

  • Geography

The UPSC Prelims Syllabus for Geography is divided into World Geography, Indian Geography, and General Geography including maps. The majority of the questions asked are from Indian Geography, along with places in the news. In World Geography, the emphasis is more on current developments, whereas, in Physical and General Geography, the emphasis is on conceptual aspects.

The best thing about Geography for UPSC Prelims is that it can be mastered with the least effort. An exhaustive preparation from NCERT Books on Geography (class 6th to 12th) along with Goh Cheng Leong and Atlas is sufficient.

  • Economics

In Economics, the majority of the questions are asked from the macroeconomics section, majorly correlating with the Indian Economy. Moreover, following the recent trends, it can be stated that the questions of economics are not just of static nature but also related to global economics and current affairs. 

To have a full understanding of the economics section in How To Prepare For UPSC Prelims, one must always refer to the class 11th NCERT as a base and then proceed with Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh to make a firm foundation. Along with this, the static portion should be correlated with the current affairs. Before the UPSC Prelims, one must also refer to the Economic Survey and Union Budget and a gist of the same. 

  • General Science and Technology

Recent trends in UPSC Prelims suggest that the Commission lays more emphasis on current affairs and issues related to basic science. For the technology part, the currents affairs suffice. Covering the basic science NCERT Books along with Daily Current Affairs and Monthly Current Affairs magazine makes the preparation of this subject comparatively easy.

  • Environment & Ecology

The number of questions asked from the Environment section has increased exponentially. The number of questions asked in UPSC Prelims from this section varies from 15-20. The basics of Environment & Ecology are covered in 11th & 12th Biology NCERT Books, along with Book on Environment by Shankar. The current affairs part can be covered by The Hindu or Indian Express. 

  • Current Affairs

Current Affairs preparation is the most important thing in the preparation for UPSC Exam. Seeing the UPSC Syllabus and UPSC Exam Pattern, one can conclude how important current affairs is for all three levels of the UPSC Exam. Current affairs cover almost 30-40% of the paper, either in direct or indirect form. 

For the preparation of Current Affairs, one must be in the regular habit of reading any of the credible newspapers along with the Current Affairs magazine available. These sources should be gelled up gists of Yojana, Kurukshetra, Down to Earth, etc.

How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims Paper 2?

The GS Paper- 2 is the qualifying paper of the UPSC Prelims with minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33% (66/200). The marks obtained by the candidate in GS Paper- 1 are considered only for the merit cut-off. The UPSC Prelims CSAT Syllabus covers English Comprehension, General Mental Ability, Reasoning, and Analytical Ability, Data Interpretation, and Decision Making & Problem Solving.

To approach this, it is always suggested to at least solve two mocks per along with UPSC Prelims GS Paper- 1 preparation to remain in sync. The paper pattern is easy and can be easily solved by using logic.

UPSC Prelims Preparation Strategy

With the right approach and time management, along with the help of the right UPSC Books, one can clear the UPSC Prelims easily. Just follow the guidelines:

  • Read the basic NCERT textbooks to get your basics right.
  • Go through Previous Year Papers to understand the pattern.
  • Quality over quantity; decide on a few books and stick to them.
  • Read one or two good newspapers to keep yourselves up to date on current affairs. 
  • To cover the vast UPSC Syllabus, you must plan your day, your week, and your month. Micro-manage the UPSC Prelims Syllabus.
  • Follow an integrated approach for preparation for UPSC Exam. The exclusive prelims preparation should start just 3 months before the UPSC Prelims.
  • Revision of the entire syllabus at least twice before the UPSC Prelims is necessary. With well-made notes, you could revise the whole syllabus just in time.
  • Attempting mock papers can give you an idea of the type of questions asked by the UPSC and helps you assess your preparation level well in advance.
  • Finally, you must work hard with passion and perseverance and you can crack the UPSC Prelims in your maiden attempt.


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  • The UPSC Exam requires that a candidate should prepare in a smart way, rather than just mugging the entire UPSC Syllabus. When analyzing the UPSC Exam Pattern, it can be seen that the UPSC Prelims Syllabus and UPSC Mains Syllabus are integrated, just leaving behind a few selected topics. So, to approach the UPSC Prelims smartly, it is very much needed that the candidate is in sync with the preparation strategy and targets he/she has made.

  • Yes, though the exam requires a full one-year preparation strategy, with a solid foundation and knowledge of the basic subjects, the UPSC Prelims can be cracked in just 6 months. Many successful candidates have achieved this target.

  • The coaching centers just guide you with the approach of the UPSC Exam. With the access to technology with just one click of the finger, a candidate can gain that experience too. There is no need to enroll in coaching and pay a hefty sum of money and burn a hole in your pocket. For more information, one can refer to How to Prepare for UPSC Exam without Coaching.

  • With the right approach and time management, along with the help of the right UPSC Books, one can clear the UPSC Prelims in just one attempt. A planned strategy always works. You can refer to How to crack UPSC in First Attempt to get a better understanding of this question.

  • Though it is always suggested that one should dedicate one complete year before actually sitting for the exam, there are various instances where the candidates have cleared in just 6 months or even 2 months. It just depends on the right approach and smart work the exam demands.

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