UPSC Preparation Strategy: Best Civil Preparation Strategy for Beginners, IAS Toppers Strategy

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : September 5th, 2022

Having a UPSC Preparation Strategy during the UPSC Preparation days is a must for every serious aspirant. A robust and well-planned UPSC Preparation Strategy helps in completing the UPSC Syllabus on time and gives the student ample room for revision before the final IAS Exam. UPSC stands for Union Public Civil Service Commission and is authorized to conduct various examinations. The Civil Services or the CSE includes various categories of services under its ambit. 

The Preparation of UPSC is in itself a task, and only a few make it to the final UPSC Results. So, having a well-planned and disciplined Preparation Strategy for UPSC is very important. Through this article, we will be majorly shedding light on the aspects of Civil Preparation, UPSC Preparation Strategy for Beginners, How to Prepare for UPSC Without Coaching, etc. Before starting their journey to sit for the UPSC Exam, students must read the article.

Table of Content


Civils Preparation: When to Start?

Many aspirants often inquisitively enquire about the right time to start the 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. One should 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 clear the exam ultimately. A focus on the curriculum of graduation with a broader focus on the goal will eventually lead to success.

☛ Also, Read Time-Table for UPSC Preparation.

How to Prepare for UPSC: Necessary Tips

As the UPSC Syllabus is vast, one may find it overwhelming sometimes. One must remain dedicated and determined to follow his/her timetable for UPSC Preparation. The IAS Exam requires a lot of diligence and sacrifice, but the results are most fruitful.

A few essential tips one must follow for UPSC Preparation are:

  • Time period: Be aware of the UPSC Exam Pattern. The exam cycle is very time-consuming, i.e., a minimum of one year is necessary to get through all the stages: UPSC PrelimsUPSC Mains, and Interview. So, one needs to be dedicated to his/her efforts and keep the momentum going.
  • Determination: Everyone knows that the UPSC Exam's success rate is meager, i.e., 0.1%. Lakhs of candidates every year appear in this exam, and only a few make it to the IAS Toppers List. So, a ruthless determination is required to crack the IAS Exam and get the service of your choice, such as the IAS, IPSIRSIFS, or IFoS.
  • No space for mistakes: There is no space for committing mistakes either in strategy or preparation, as that might cost you a precious year, which could be utilized productively. Besides knowledge, mental alertness and the right UPSC Preparation Strategy for each exam stage are essential. Every stage requires intense preparation, revision, and a diligent attempt with the presence of mind. 
  • Mental endurance: The exam is a long process, and inevitably, sometimes, despite the best efforts, one does face failure. The limited number of seats and the UPSC Cutoffs make it challenging to qualify. Resilience is the key; without that, you cannot excel in all the stages. 

How to Prepare for UPSC Exam Without Coaching?

UPSC Preparation Strategy for Beginners

Check the detailed stage-wise strategy for self-preparation for IAS Exam below:

  • 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 UPSC Exam. Understanding all subjects, such as History, Polity, Economy, Social Science, etc., is essential for effective governance. Read the UPSC Books thoroughly to apply concepts while solving the questions asked in the exam.

☛ How to Read NCERT for UPSC?

  • Role of Coaching Institutes: In the start, coaching does help to give direction to the preparation as the UPSC 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. Proper guidance and strategy is the key to this exam to qualify.

☛ Know about the Best Online Coaching for IAS

  • 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. 

Which is the Best Optional Subject for UPSC?

  • 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 UPSC Prelim and then thinking of dedicating time for Main 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. 

After the first reading of GS and Optional, which is very important, focus on other areas. So, after the first reading of the above-mentioned resources, the second reading of the optional and GS should include the hold of Current Affairs. Current Affairs is very important for all the competitive exams, and for UPSC, it forms the major base. Watching Daily Current Affairs Videos and covering Monthly Magazines such as Yojana or EPW helps analyze the topics well. 

During the Second Cycle of revision, one should now focus on Ethics Syllabus for UPSC and practice IAS Essay Topics well. 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 Prelim as well as Mains.

Current Affairs for UPSC: When to Start?

For the initial four months, when one starts the UPSC Preparation, one 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!

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 the 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: What to do 3 Months Before the UPSC Prelims?

Three months before the UPSC Prelims, dedicate them extensively for that aspect only. Focus on books with objective parts, such as Spectrum for History and Laxmikant for Polity, which contain a reservoir of minute facts that are asked in the exam. Revise them again and again.

Get a good hold on CSAT, and check the CSAT Syllabus thoroughly. Though qualifying, the level of questions asked in the UPSC Prelims Question Papers is such that many candidates find it difficult to qualify.

To solve as many test series as possible and revise the concepts, facts, and current affairs multiple times. Solving test papers is very helpful as it will give an idea of what kind of questions and how much time frame the questions can be attempted. It provides a good insight into effective time management and performance under exam pressure. Understand one has to manage time in the exam hall.

☛ Best CSAT Books for UPSC

☛ What is the best CSAT Study Material for UPSC?

UPSC Mains: IAS Preparation Strategy

When the IAS Prelim 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 UPSC Cutoff result to declare. UPSC 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 Mains preparation, 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 UPSC Answer Writing. Write a set number of questions daily, 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 preparation of 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 the paper.

☛ Read How to Prepare for UPSC Mains in 3 Months?

IAS Interview: Best Way to Prepare

After the UPSC Mains exam, do not wait for the Mains result. UPSC takes around two months to declare the UPSC Mains result. By this time, one should start the UPSC Interview preparation.

  • 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 from the UPSC Toppers.

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

Best UPSC Preparation Books

Check the UPSC Books list for the prelims & mains exam below. 

SubjectUPSC Books

India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra

Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania

NCERT XI (Ancient & Medieval)

NCERT XII (Modern Indian History)


Certificate Physical Geography – G C Leong

NCERT VI – X (Old Syllabus)

NCERT XI, XII (New Syllabus)

World Atlas (Orient Black Swan)

Indian Polity

Indian Polity – M Laxmikanth



Indian Economy by Nitin Singhania

Economic Development & Policies in India – Jain & Ohri


International Relations

NCERT XII (Contemporary World Politics)

Current Affairs


Tata McGraw Hill CSAT Manual

Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning – R S Aggarwal

Check the General studies books for the UPSC Mains exam below. 

SubjectUPSC Books
History, Indian Heritage & Culture


[GS Paper 1]

Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania

India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra

India after Independence by Bipan Chandra

History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra

Ancient India by R.S Sharma



[GS Paper 1]

Geography of India by Majid Husain

World Geography by Majid Husain

World Atlas (Orient Black Swan)

Certificate Physical and Human Geography – G C Leong

Fundamentals of Physical Geography NCERT Class 11

Polity & International Relations


[GS Paper 2]

Indian Polity by M. Laxmikanth

Introduction to the Constitution of India by DD Basu

International Relations: Pushpesh Pant



[GS Paper 3]

Indian Economy – Nitin Singhania

Environment and Disaster Management – Tata McGraw Hill

Challenges to Internal Security of India – Ashok Kumar



[GS Paper 4]

Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude for Civil Services Main Examination by Subba Rao and P.N. Roy Chaudary


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UPSC Preparation Strategy FAQs

  • Beginners should ideally invest 10 – 12 months before appearing for the UPSC Prelims. Having a well-planned and structured UPSC Preparation Strategy for IAS Exam can help in comprehensively covering the UPSC Syllabus. You should start with the common GS papers before moving on to the optional papers.

  • One must study and prepare for the IAS Exam as per their capability and the UPSC Syllabus they are aiming to cover. One must focus on completing the Civils Preparation in a comprehensive manner and ensure that you revise it multiple times. You should figure out the time required as per your study plan.

  • According to the IAS Study Time-Table, one should study two subjects (GS Papers and Optional subject) every day. The advantage of this method is that it would reduce the monotony of studying a single subject for long hours.

  • Yes absolutely, it is possible to Crack UPSC Without Coaching. It is just a myth that coaching is essential to crack the UPSC Exam. Candidates who are focused, and execute their strategy effectively, can surely succeed in the UPSC Exam in the First Attempt. There are many candidates who have cracked UPSC Without Coaching. So, if they can, why can’t you?

  • Many working professionals do aspire for cracking the UPSC Exam. The answer lies in striking a fine balance between idealism and pragmatism. Work experience also helps score well during the UPSC interview. If a candidate starts the preparation process well in advance, the UPSC 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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