Is UPSC Tough for Average Students? 5 Reasons Why IAS is Toughest Exam in India

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Is UPSC Tough? One of the toughest exams in the country is UPSC Exam. The first barrier to becoming an IAS officer is UPSC Prelims, which is tough to crack as lakhs of aspirants appear for the exam. Only a few with mere determination become eligible to give the Mains exam. Candidates getting an exceptional rank in the Mains examination are called for the final interview round.

Out of lakhs, only a hundred of students get recruited into the Indian civil services after clearing the personality test. However, aspirants must understand that the UPSC exam can be cleared easily with patience, honesty, determination, and if everything falls into place. Read this article to get a perfect answer to why is UPSC tough, along with relevant explanations.

Is UPSC Exam Tough?

Clearing the UPSC Exam is not rocket science. Anyone can crack this exam if he/she executes the right strategy to perfection. You do not have to be a college topper to crack UPSC, as many with average academic records have previously cleared this exam.

However, several factors make the UPSC tough, and due to them, UPSC stands out compared to other competitive exams. One can easily analyze why is UPSC tough by going through its vast syllabus, high cut-off marks, and also the negative marking that is applied in the UPSC Prelims exam.

5 Reasons Why IAS Exam is Difficult

As per the analysis and students’ experiences, it is observed that the UPSC syllabus is not easy to cover and the exam asks tricky questions every year. Some of the reasons why UPSC is regarded as the toughest exam are:

  • UPSC exam pattern is challenging;
  • The syllabus covers a wide range of subjects;
  • High qualifying marks are required in the UPSC stages;
  • Negative marking is present in Prelims;
  • More time is required to prepare the entire syllabus.

Though there are many reasons to drop the idea of starting UPSC preparation, you should be strong-willed and stick to your dream to become an IAS officer in the future.

1. UPSC Exam Pattern

The exam pattern of UPSC is one of the most crucial factors why UPSC is tough for many aspirants. The exam consists of three stages: UPSC Prelims, Mains, and Personality Test or Interview round.

Candidates must clear each exam stage to move on to the next stage. With each stage, the difficulty level increases. UPSC Prelims is the screening test to find eligible candidates for the Mains.

  • Marks secured in the Mains and Interview rounds determine the final result of the candidates.
  • The last stage, i.e., the interview, can be the toughest.
  • Here, both knowledge and personality will be examined to deal with situations.

2. Vastness of UPSC Syllabus

The vastness of the UPSC Syllabus is another reason why UPSC is tough. The diversity of the subjects in both Prelims and UPSC Mains Syllabus demands long study hours and strong determination. The subjects covered for this exam contain varied streams. Candidates need to learn each subject in an in-depth manner if they want to succeed.

The first round asks multiple-choice questions, while the second round is descriptive. You need to have a proper understanding of every subject in depth. Additionally, the high qualifying marks required in the exam don’t allow candidates to sidestep any particular topic.

3. High Qualifying Marks for UPSC Exam

The success rate of the UPSC exam is enough to tell you why is UPSC tough. Every year lakhs of candidates apply for Prelims, and among them, only 25% clear it and move on to the next stage, i.e., IAS Mains. Therefore, according to some, UPSC is one of the toughest exams in the world.

  • Only 15% make it through the interview stage, where the success rate is 50%.
  • So, the passing percentage for the IAS Exam is less than 1%.
  • It can be disheartening, but with the right preparation, you can fall within this 1%.

4. Negative Marking in UPSC Prelims Exam

UPSC Prelims exam is tough and it is due to negative marking. It is objective in nature, meaning you have to find the answer from 4 options. The options are given in such a way that you will feel very confused about choosing the right one. To make it tougher, ⅓ negative marking is there for each wrong answer.

Aspirants need to choose the right answer in one go without taking much time. Brainstorming on one question can result in having less time in hand to attempt subsequent questions. Time and accuracy is the most important factor for clearing the Prelims exam. If you are not precise with your answer, the negative marks will be subtracted from your overall score, yet another reason why is UPSC tough to crack.

5. Time Required for UPSC Preparation

The UPSC examination is tough as it requires a long time for preparation. On average, it takes around one year to prepare for the UPSC Exam. Some candidates also need more time. It all depends on the individual’s hard work and preparation strategy. Cracking this exam also depends on the past learning curve of a candidate.

If you have a strong academic background with proper knowledge of basics and regularly read relevant articles or newspapers, you would require less time to prepare. The section that needs extra time devotion is the Mains exam and preparation for optional papers. The number of hours you put into study does not play a major role; what matters is quality learning and not quantity.

Toughness of UPSC Exam: Data Analysis

With a very low success rate, the UPSC exam has been known as one of the toughest exams in the country. Below we have analyzed data from the past, which will give us a fair amount of idea about how tough the UPSC exam is.

As you can see from the data given below, the success rate of the UPSC exam is below 1%, which implies the toughness of UPSC and why a majority of the candidates can’t make it to the final list.

Year Prelims Applied Prelims Appeared Prelims Cleared Mains Appeared Shortlisted for Interview Selected
2019 8 Lakh 11845 2034 829
2018 1755945 801476 10246 1992 1056
2017 10 lakhs 5 lakhs 13,366 2568 990
2016 11,35,943 4,59,659 15,452 15,445 2,961 1099
2015 9,45,908 4,65,882 15,008 15,008 2797 1078
2014 947428 446623 16706 16286 3,308 1,112

Why is UPSC So Hard Compared to Other Competitive Exams?

It is crucial for beginners to know why UPSC is the toughest exam as compared to other examinations before appearing for it. The table below compares the UPSC exam with other competitive exams like CAT and IIT/JEE based on the number of exams they conduct, success rate, number of students who qualify for the exam, etc.

It clearly shows that the success rate is the lowest for the UPSC exam, as fewer people pass the examination.

Full form Common Admission Test Indian Institute of Technology/Joint Entrance Exam Union Public Service Commission/Civil Services Exam
Eligibility Graduate Std. XII Graduate
Number of exams 1 1 3 rounds (2 papers in prelims + 9 papers in mains + interview)
Objective Admission into IIMs and other MBA colleges Admission into IITs Recruitment into Indian civil services
Total appeared 1, 95, 000 (2014-16) 1,61,319 (2019, Advanced) 5,68,282 (2019)
Total attempts Unlimited 2 6 (for general category)
Success rate (per 1000 candidates) 17.1 240 1.5
Number qualified 3335 (2014-16) 38,705 (2019, Advanced) 829 (2019)
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