How Many Questions to Attempt in UPSC Mains?

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The number of questions to be attempted in the UPSC Mains exam is 20. All questions are compulsory, so candidates are advised to attempt all questions and work on their time management skills to complete the paper on time. After clearing the preliminary examination, the next stage of the Civil Services exam is UPSC Mains which is a descriptive paper containing 9 papers in total, each to be completed within 3 hours of time. Unlike prelims, there is no negative marking in the UPSC Mains exam, so one can attempt all the questions and aim to score more than the cut-off marks.

But while preparing for the Mains examination, it is important to check how many questions to attempt in UPSC mains to get more than the qualifying or cut-off marks. By having a clear idea of the number of questions to be attempted in UPSC mains, one can make a preparation strategy accordingly.

How Many Questions in UPSC Mains?

In the UPSC mains examination, there are nine papers, out of which papers A and B of Compulsory Indian language and English are qualifying in nature. One needs to score a minimum of 25%, i.e., 75 marks in each of these two papers to qualify. The maximum marks for Paper A and B are 300 marks for each. Additionally, for the rest of the seven papers, one needs to score at least 10% and more than the cut-off marks.

While checking how many questions to attempt in UPSC mains, it is important to know the UPSC exam pattern as well for Mains as shown below:

Paper Topic/Subject Nature Maximum Marks Maximum Time Alloted
Paper A Indian language (Compulsory) Qualifying in Nature (25%, i.e., 75 marks required) 300 3 hours
Paper B English 300 3 hours
Paper I Essay Marks will be counted in the Final Merit list 250 3 hours
Paper II GS I 250 3 hours
Paper III GS II 250 3 hours
Paper IV GS III 250 3 hours
Paper V GS IV 250 3 hours
Paper VI Optional Subject I 250 3 hours
Paper VII Optional Subject II 250 3 hours
Total Marks = 1750

The total marks of UPSC Mains are 1750, and the last year, the cut off for the General category is 774. Usually, 20 questions are asked in each paper, so 8-9 minutes can be invested in each question to attempt all the questions.

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Importance of Attempting Maximum Questions in UPSC Mains

The number of questions in UPSC Mains is generally 20 in each paper which has to be completed within 3 hours. Candidates must try to attempt all questions if they intend to clear the Mains stage of the UPSC exam. They must note that each question carries equal marks, so investing more time on 1 question will not justify the time given to other questions. Spend 7 to 8 minutes on each question if you want to attempt the entire paper.

Since Mains is a descriptive paper, it is crucial to attempt all questions as some marks can be taken from each to get the required cut-off.

Tips to Attempt Maximum Number of Questions in UPSC Mains

Some important tips on how many questions to attempt in UPSC Mains and how to attempt maximum questions are listed below:

  • Since it is a descriptive exam, the presentation of answers is necessary. Use diagrams, bullet points, and headers wherever needed. The more you make the answer readable, the greater the chances of achieving good marks.
  • Candidates should try and attempt all the questions in the Mains paper with an average word limit instead of attempting only 3-4 questions with lengthy answers.
  • Before writing the answer, it is better to make notes quickly in the rough workspace.
  • Practice answer writing for Mains to write good quality answers on time.
  • Try to write a positive or hopeful conclusion to the problems. Never try to write negative conclusions.
  • Work on time management to attempt questions in the allotted time.
  • Learn 7-5-3 Rule of Answer Writing in UPSC Mains.
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