How to Prepare for the UPSC (CSE) - Important Tips

LBSNAA, Mussoorrie

Every year, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts the Civil Services Examination (CSE) to recruit officers for various Class I All India and Central Services like the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), the Indian Police Services (IPS), the Indian Revenue Services (IRS) etc .UPSC – CSE is considered to be one of the most prestigious and most difficult of the exams .It is also notorious for being one of the most unpredictable competitive exams Lakhs of students attempt this exam every year; however, , only a few (750 to 1000) get to see their names in the golden list. What separates these chosen ones from the other lakhs of students – the answer is their preparation strategy!

Along with consistent hard-work, preparation strategy is the most important aspect. This article is dedicated to the overall strategy for UPSC preparation. We will look at crucial elements fundamental to having a sound foundation . Your planning needs to be in accordance with the demands of the exam at all it's stages.

UPSC CSE exam consists of three stages – Prelims, Mains and Interview. Prelims examination has General Studies and Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT ) papers. The Mains examination includes General studies papers along with optional papers, essay paper and compulsory language papers.


The syllabus and previous year question papers (PYQ) forms the "skeleton" for the preparation of the UPSC - CSE. These give you an idea about the type of questions asked, the amount of writing expected in UPSC CSE mains , the approach towards various subjects , time management etc. It is extremely advisable to literally mug up the complete syllabus and previous five years question papers.

In today's age of technology there are at least a hundred information sources and minimum 4 to 5 reference books for each subject, particularly in the case of UPSC CSE. An understanding of syllabus and PYQs will equip you with sense of what to read and how much to read from a given source.


Current Affairs and NCERTs form the basis for UPSC - CSE preparation. Reading the newspapers daily for the current affairs is certainly the most important aspect in civil services examination. The questions asked in UPSC - CSE are directly or indirectly taken from the current affairs. The aspirants should religiously devote 1.5 to 2 hours daily to newspaper reading. Newspapers like The Hindu, Indian Express, लोकसत्ता, दैनिक भास्कर, are useful for civil services exam current affairs. Also the magazines like Yojana, Kurukshetra, EPW, ORF are useful.

NCERTs are the best books to start the preparation for civil services examination static part. They equip you with understanding of basic concepts and theories. You will find that a lot of questions are directly picked up from NCERTs for General Studies as well as optional subjects. NCERTs from roughly std 7th to std 12th are important.


Preparing for UPSC - CSE requires meticulous planning and strict execution of the plans. You must plan well for your daily routine, time for NCERTs and reference books, revisions, answer writing, notes making etc. Ideally one should start anywhere between 12 to 14 months before the exams.

Roughly first 100 days should be dedicated to understanding of syllabus and question papers, assimilation of approach, first reading of NCERTs and 40 – 60% reading of standard books for General Studies and Optional subjects.

The 2nd block should consist of around 120 to 150 days and should involve second reading of NCERTs, completion of reading of standard books for General Studies and Optional. Also start with notes making, answers and essay writing.

The 3rd block should be what we call the Prelims Mode. It should be roughly of 150 days. It should involve complete focus on General Studies, revision and notes making for prelims, solving questions for Paper I and Paper II. Also it should include solving test series and taking feedback for it.

The 4th block is what we call the Mains Mode. It should include revision of standard reference books for General Studies and Optional subject. Dedicated time should be allotted to answer writing and essay writing practice. Test series should be solved and answer discussions and feedback should be given due importance.


UPSC – CSE gives you choice only regarding the optional subject. This optional subject carries 500 marks out of total marks of 1750 + 275 = 2025. It amounts to roughly 25% of the total marks. If you choose your optional wisely you can score maximum marks out of these 25%. Your choice of Optional subject should depend on the following factors :

  1. Your educational background

  2. Interest and understanding of the subject

  3. Your writing acumen for the subject – are you equipped with the specific glossary and specific writing style for the subject

  4. Availability of coaching classes and study material for the subject

  5. Is the subject a scoring one

  6. Does the subject overlap with the General Studies papers and how much is the overlap.


The syllabus given for the exam is dynamic and vast. Also the questions asked are mostly analytical. The answers need to incorporate both static and current affairs . You have to study at least two to three subjects for one General Studies paper. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the students to make their own notes for time management and crisp revisions. Flow-charts, tables, short forms etc. are very handy and effective mediums for notes making.

Barring the interview, the way you are examined in UPSC - CSE is through your writing. Out of total 2025 marks,1750 marks (close to 90 %) are decided through your writing. So writing becomes a quint-essential part of your exam preparation. Ideally one should start answer writing practice after they are done with at least two readings of NCERTs and one complete reading of standard reference books. At least one answer should be solved daily , and you should get it evaluated by your peers and teachers. Remember, answer writing practice without answer discussions and feedback about answers is amounts to waste of time.

Writing practice also helps in time management. As we know , UPSC – CSE expects us to write around 4000 to 5000 words in one paper i.e., in three hours. So time management also becomes an essential component. You have to not only write these 4000 words but remember, think, and arrange your answer according to the question, and then write. Essay writing also demands writing practice.


The dynamic and vast nature of UPSC CSE syllabus makes rote learning ineffective. If we start mugging up all the information, our systems will be overloaded. Therefore, you must focus on conceptual clarity and thorough understanding of the subject matter. Revisions are a must to help retrieval of the stored material. You can choose the revision pattern that suits you the best viz. revising what you have learnt through the day daily, revising on weekends, dedicated week in a month for revision, etc. Flow-charts, tables, maps etc. go a long way in helping you revise.

Planning is everything in UPSC CSE. This is a race against time, and the once who win have developed their own formula based on the aspects we have discusses.

Plan well! All the best for your endeavour!

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