Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts the Civil Services Examination to select the candidates for the prestigious Civil Services under the Government of India. The exam is considered one of the toughest examinations around the world. To ace the exam, it is important to understand what is expected of you. In the following pages, we have compiled the basic information which should come in handy for your preparation.
Nationality: For IAS, IPS and IFS, only Indian citizens can be selected. The rest of the services allow candidates from other areas also like Nepal, Bhutan etc.
Number of Attempts: All candidates are allowed six attempts at the UPSC examination. Exceptions to this rule are mentioned in the below table.
An attempt is not counted if the candidate fails to appear at both sittings of the Prelims exam. However, if you attempt any one exam of the CSE prelims i.e. General Studies 1 or General Studies 2, then, it will be counted as an attempt at the Examination.
Age Limit: 21 years to 32 years. The cutoff date is considered as the 1st of August of that year. However, certain relaxations are allowed in age limit as given below:
Eligibility - Table
Relaxation (Number of Years)
Number of Attempts
Scheduled CasteSchedule Tribe(SC,ST,OBC)
Other Backward Classes(excluding creamy layer)
Defence Service Personnel(disability due to certain reasons)
Ex-Servicemen (with 5 years service)
Persons with Benchmark Disabilities
List is not exhaustive. Kindly refer to the notification for all details.
Candidates belonging to more than one category would be eligible for cumulative relaxation as per the prevailing norms. For instance, an SC candidate with Benchmark Disabilities may be eligible for 5+10 i.e. 15 years relaxation.
Education: A degree from any recognized university:
Candidates appearing in their final year/semester examination are eligible to appear in the Prelims exam, provided they complete their degree before Detailed Application Form (DAF) for Mains is filled.
Other important points:
A candidate already allotted IAS or IFS service is not allowed to attempt the examination. Such a candidate must resign from the service before making another attempt at the exam.
An IPS officer can attempt the examination but is not allowed to choose IPS again if qualified again.
Civil Services exam will be conducted in three phases:
Preliminary Exam:The exam will have Objective questions with Multiple Choice for the answers, out of which one would be the correct answer. Preliminary exam is qualifying in nature, which means that the marks obtained in the Preliminary Exam are not considered for final selection. The purpose of the exam is to select candidates for the Mains Exam. It consists of two sittings:
General Studies-I: This paper will consist of 100 Multiple Choice Questions, to be marked on an OMR sheet, within the allotted period of two hours. This exam has negative marking with one-third of the marks deducted for wrong answers. Any unattempted questions, however, do not attract any penalty. The cut-off for appearing in the Mains exam is decided based on this paper.
General Studies-II, commonly known as the CSAT Exam: It will consist of 80 Multiple Choice Questions, again to be answered within two hours. The exam is qualifying in nature with aspirants needing 33% of the total marks to be considered for the cutoff list for the mains exam. Negative marking is applicable for this exam also.
Mains Exam:This test is of descriptive type with candidates needing to write down their answers in Question-cum-Answer (QCA) booklet. There are generally two sittings conducted on test days in morning and evening shifts, with each paper being three hours in duration. There are total of nine papers:
Two Language Papers: These papers are qualifying in nature. However, if the candidate does not qualify in the language and English paper, the other answer sheets are not evaluated. Both papers are of 300 marks.
Essay paper: The essay paper is worth 250 marks. Generally, there are two sections, with 4 topics each. A candidate must attempt one essay out of each section. However, the number of essays to be attempted may be changed by the UPSC in forthcoming examinations. Therefore, it is imperative to be prepared for such an eventuality.
Four General Studies Papers: Each paper is worth 250 marks. The detailed syllabus is mentioned in the next section.
Two Optional Papers: The candidate needs to choose an optional subject from the list provided by UPSC (mentioned in a subsequent section). Each of the papers is 250 marks.
Interview/ Personality Test: The interview is the final stage of the examination. Marks obtained in the interview are added to the marks in the Mains exam to prepare the final merit list. Personality Test is worth 275 marks.
Current events of national and international importance.
History of India and Indian National Movement.
Indian and World Geography-Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
Indian Polity and Governance-Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.
General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization.
General Studies-II:Syllabus for GS-II Exam:
Interpersonal skills including communication skills;
Logical reasoning and analytical ability;
Decision making and problem solving;
General mental ability;
Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. — Class X level);
1.General Studies‐I: Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society.
Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.
History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.— their forms and effect on the society.
Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India
Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
Effects of globalization on Indian society.
Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.
Salient features of world’s physical geography.
Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).
Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
2. General Studies‐ II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.
Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.
Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries.
Parliament and State legislatures—structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.
Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Development processes and the development industry —the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
Role of civil services in a democracy.
India and its neighborhood- relations.
Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.
3. General Studies‐III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management
Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.
Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.
Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.
Food processing and related industries in India- scope’ and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management.
Land reforms in India.
Science and Technology
Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Disaster and disaster management
Linkages between development and spread of extremism.
Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security.
Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention.
Security challenges and their management in border areas – linkages of organized crime with terrorism.
Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate.
4. General Studies‐ IV: Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude
This paper will include questions to test the candidates’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his problem solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilise the case study approach to determine these aspects. The following broad areas will be covered :
Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in-human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics – in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family society and educational institutions in inculcating values.
Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.
Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections.
Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.
Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world.
Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance.
Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.
Literature of any one of the following languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English.
Optional Paper plays a very important role in the final merit list. If prepared well, it can enhance the final score of the candidate and be the difference between getting the top choice and missing the cutoff altogether. At the same time, an under-prepared optional paper may lead to a steep fall in the final marks and throw a candidate out of the selection list.
There are various factors that go into selecting an optional out of the given list:
Familiarity: If your graduation subject appears in the list and you have a fair command over your graduation subjects, then it is easier to choose an optional. Since, you would have already spent 3 or 4 years preparing the subjects during graduation, you can be expected to have a fair idea of the subject already. Apart from that, you would have access to the books, which you might have bought or would be available in your library. All these factors make your graduation subject an ideal choice for the mains exam.
Interest: Since an Optional subject would consume a high proportion of time, it is important to choose a subject of your liking. A subject in which a candidate has an interest is comparatively easier to prepare as reading books of the same subject do not feel like an additional burden. Apart from that, the Optional subject requires a greater depth of understanding as the question paper is of graduation level. In such a scenario, if the optional subject is of liking, then the study would seem like pursuing a hobby, which is the ideal situation. Here, one can try looking into the previous year papers to have a fair idea of the questions asked previously and determine the feasibility of preparing the optional subject accordingly.
Availability of Material: This can be considered as the single most important factor regarding a non-familiar optional subject. If enough material including notes, books, test series etc. is available, then there is no harm in going for a subject that is different from graduation subject. In fact, many technical graduates usually prefer humanities subjects like history or political science as their optional subject in the Mains Exam. The best approach would be to move around the market and try to look at the available notes. If the material seems adequate, then the subject can be chosen as the optional subject.
Good Coaching: It is a given that coaching is not essential for preparing for civil services. However, the benefit of coaching is that it simplifies the books and curates them according to the needs of the exam. Also, it might require a long time for a candidate to understand the requirements of an exam. Coaching makes it easier to understand the approach required to clear this exam. Therefore, if good coaching is available for an optional subject, then it will simplify the exam process for the candidate.
Performance of the optional: Another important factor which has become significant in choosing an optional is the proportion of selected candidates, out of the total candidates who wrote the mains exam with the same optional subject. In recent years, popularity of many optional subjects has decreased among the student community as such optional has fetched comparatively lesser marks for the candidates. For instance, public administration was the clear favorite of a large majority of students around a decade back. However, many students have discarded it in the favor of some other optional subject which has been related with the toppers in some recent years.
Reading newspaper: Start your preparation by cultivating a habit of reading the newspaper daily. Any good national daily is adequate including the Hindu or Indian Express.
Rather than reading into too much detail, try to extract the relevant information which is important from the UPSC point of view.
Make a notebook in which you jot down summary of important articles and facts, which might help you in building good answers. It is important to periodically revise these notes.
To help the students manage their time well, Next IAS has started many new initiatives so that a succinct, to the point summary is available to the students. The initiatives are very helpful to the students if they are unable to find enough time to read the newspapers. To know more about them, feel free to contact on our helpline.
Answer as many questions as you can based on the newspaper. These might be a part of current affairs quizzes available on Next IAS website or a part of the regular test series. To know more about the test series, feel free to contact us on our student helpline.
Attempt descriptive questions based on the news items to get a grip on the current affairs as well as gain an upper hand in the answer writing.
Static Portion: While current affairs form an important part of the preparation journey, it is important to understand the basics so that connecting news items is easy for a student.
For a beginner, the NCERTs are an absolute must. Read Social Science NCERTs of Classes 6th to 12th from cover to cover. This would build a good foundation to enrich the understanding later.
After you have read the basics, move on to the set of 18 books that has been provided by Next IAS. We have also compiled a list of standard books in a subsequent section. However, the Next IAS books are curated specifically for the UPSC.
For later revision, try to highlight the important points. Some students also find note making preferable to highlighting. This is totally up to you. Experiment before deciding on your choice. But once you have decided, stick to it.
Once you are confident about a chapter, try to solve questions based on it. That will provide you confidence in your memory and understanding.
Answer Writing: This is a crucial part of the mains preparation.
There are many reasons why previous toppers recommend regular answer writing to the aspirants. Apart from other reasons, answer writing builds up speed, so that you can attend maximum questions in the actual examination.
Again, answer writing prepares you for the questions about which you might have a doubt. Such situations can be handled better if you have practiced them beforehand rather than trying it out in the actual exam.
Regularly attempting tests is important for being well prepared for answer-writing. Join a good test series and follow the schedule sincerely. To know more about Next IAS Mains test series, please feel free to reach out to us.