About CSE

The Indian Civil Services: Brief History

The Indian Civil Service (ICS) for part of the 19th century officially known as the Imperial Civil Service, was the élite higher civil service of the British Empire in British India during British rule in the period between 1858 and 1947.

Its members were responsible for overseeing all government activity in the 250 districts that comprised British India, and reported to the Secretary of State for India, a member of the British cabinet.

At first almost all the top thousand members of the ICS, known as “Civilians”, were British, and had been educated in the best British schools. By 1905, five per cent were from Bengal. By 1945 Indians were numerically dominant in the ICS and at issue was loyalty divided between the Empire and independence.

In 1947 there were 322 Indians and 688 British members; most of the latter left at the time of partition and independence.

Until the 1930s the Indians in the service were very few and were not given high posts by the British. At the time of the birth of India and Pakistan in 1947, the ICS was divided between India and Pakistan. The part which went to India was named the Indian Administrative Service (IAS),

What are the Civil Services?

The Civil Services refer to the civil services, the permanent executive branch of the Republic of India. The civil service system is the backbone of the administrative machinery of the country.

In the parliamentary democracy of India, the ultimate responsibility for running the administration rests with the elected representatives of the people which are the ministers. But the handful of ministers cannot be expected to deal personally with the manifold problems of modern administration. Thus the ministers lay down the policy and it is for the civil servants to carry out this policy.

The executive decisions are implemented by the Indian civil servants. The members of civil service serve at the pleasure of the President of India and Article 311 of the Constitution protects them from politically motivated or vindictive action. Civil servants are employees of the Government of India; however, not all employees of the Government are civil servants. Civil servants in a personal capacity are paid from the Civil List. Senior civil servants may be called to account by Parliament.


The Civil Services of India can be classified into two types – the All India Services and the Central Civil Services (Group A and B). The recruits are university graduates (or above) selected through a rigorous system of examinations, called the Civil Services Examination (CSE) and the Engineering Services Examination (ESE) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).

About The Civil Services Examination (CSE)

Though the exam is popularly known as the IAS exam, it is officially called the Civil Services Exam (CSE) conducted by the UPSC. The examination is conducted every year  fill notified vacancies to one of 25-odd services/departments (see List of Services on another page) is one of the toughest such tests in the world in terms of the sheer difficulty level of the tests themselves as well as its competitive nature. This is indicated by the fact that CSE toppers (Rank 1 through 10) end up scoring no more than 53-odd per cent. At the same time, there are many myths about the CSE which don’t stand up to the light of reality. These are taken up in the Annexure titled ‘CSE: Myths and Facts’. The crux of the matter is: study smart, not hard. You need to face the exam with right approach and attitude, appropriate guidance, selection of relevant study materials, right focus, and exact preparation strategy.

The UPSC CSE consists of 3 stages, as listed below:

Phase 1: Preliminary Examination or CSAT (Objective Section)

Phase 2: Main Examination (Subjective Section)

Phase 3: Personality Test/Interview (Vocal Section)

In order for a candidate to be declared successful for recommendation by the UPSC to the government for appointment to one of the services – which follows a merit-cum-choice system – all these three stages need to be cleared consecutively.

Examination Pattern:

The IAS Preliminary Exam (objective/multiple choice questions type) has two papers:

  1. Paper – I (General Studies: Duration – 2 hours; Marks – 200)
  2. Paper – II (Civil Services Aptitude Test: Duration – 2 hours; Marks – 200)


  1. The minimum qualifying marks for Paper II is 33 percent.
  2. In both Paper I and Paper II for each wrong answer there is a negative marking of 1/3rd of the allotted marks of that question.

The second stage of the civil services is the Mains Exam (subjective or descriptive type) and it consists of the following papers:

  • Paper A: Any Indian language (Any Indian language; 300 marks; Qualifying paper only)
  • Paper B: English (300 marks; Qualifying paper only)
  • Paper I: Essay (250 marks)
  • Paper II: General Studies Paper I  (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society) (250 marks)
  • Paper III: General Studies Paper II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations) (250 marks)
  • Paper IV: General Studies Paper III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management) (250 marks)
  • Paper V: General Studies Paper IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) (250 marks)
  • Paper VI: Optional Subject Paper I (250 marks)
  • Paper VII: Optional Subject Paper II (Literature allowed; 250 marks)

Those who clear the Mains exam with the prescribed cut-offs are called for the Personality Test/Interview test (275 marks) held by the UPSC in New Delhi.

Eligibility Criteria

The candidates who apply for the UPSC Civil Services examination should ensure that they meet all the eligibility criteria

The eligibility for UPSC exam is based on the following parameters:

  • Nationality: For IAS and IPS, a candidate must be a citizen of India.
  • Age
  • Education
  • Number of attempts

Academic Eligibility

  • The candidate must hold a graduation degree of any University that is recognized by the state or central government, or a degree received through Correspondence Education or Distance Education, or a degree from an Open University, or a qualification recognized by the Government of India as being equivalent to either of the above. Candidates who have given their final year graduation exam/waiting for the results can also apply for this exam, but they will be required to produce proof of passing the graduation exam before the final selection process.

Age Limit and Number of Attempts Allowed Criterion:

The minimum age of a candidate should be 21.

  • General category: Maximum Age: 32 years; Maximum number of attempts allowed: 6
  • OBC: Maximum Age: 35 years; Maximum number of attempts allowed: 9
  • SC/ST: Maximum Age: 37 years; Maximum number of attempts allowed: Unlimited

CSE: Myths & Facts

Since the IAS and allied services are so sought-after, there are a lot of exaggerated myths about preparation for the exam. Here’s a brief list of them so that you have a better understanding about the right strategy to prepare for the exam.


Myth: Chances of selection are few

If you see the available data, then you are 100 percent correct in assuming that the odds of being selected are few. On average, almost 6 lakh students take the prelims while the advertised posts on average are somewhere around 800 to 1000. If you calculate the ratio of those who sit for the exam to those who get selected, it would indeed be frightening.  But the truth is that:

  1. Out of this figure, half of the students are not at all prepared and just take the exam because it is convenient for them. These are ‘on-the-fence’ students. They keep wondering whether they should take the exam and end up sitting for it. Also, many sit just for the ‘experience’. You should not consider them your competition.
  2. Some students prepare and take the examination. However, their preparation is not intensive. They consider hard work as preparation enough and thus fall behind. The idea is not to study hard, but study smart, under the guidance of expert trainers.
  3. Similarly, in the Mains, which is the real exam, half the students are not really serious competitors. Around 25 to 30 percent students are those who start preparing for the Mains after qualifying the Preliminary exams. You can remove them from the competition. Also remove 10 percent of those students who can’t focus on their preparation for some reason or the other, such as lack of time. But they still sit for Mains because they qualified. Around 15 to 20 percent are students who clear the Mains but their marks are not good enough for them to make it to the final merit list. So, the odds of success in the Mains are 1 in every 4 students.
  4. In the interview, the chances of success are one in every two and a half students. If you reach the interview stage, you have already won 40 percent success. But the problem is that there is no such thing as 40 percent success. Success is either 100 percent or it is not there at all. But though there is a lot of crowd, you will succeed if you are fully prepared.

 Myth: It is an extremely tough exam

There are many aspects to why the exam can be classified as a hard nut to crack. One reason the exam is classified as difficult is because of the competition, but that has already been dealt with. Other reasons cited are that the syllabus is vast and the difficulty level of the questions is high. Let us examine them in detail.

First let us discuss the syllabus. The minimum requirement for IAS is graduation. So if you opt for the subject you have studied in graduation, it means you must have studied that much already. The syllabus includes a little more than what you have studied in graduation and less than what you study in post graduation. Its level is at par with that of an Honours course.

In any case, by the time you complete your graduation, you are not yet 21, which is the minimum age to sit for the exam, so most people do a post graduation. Even if you are not doing a post graduation, you still have a year or so to be 21. According to the maturity that you will gain in the year that you have left, should not the syllabus be a little more?  This is how it should be and this is how it is.

In fact, the syllabus is not that huge. Also, if you have decided to enter the top-most service in the country, the prestige of the service has to be protected. It is only possible when the syllabus is according to it.

Whether the level of the exam is high or low is also subjective. It could be that your own level is so low that you find the level of the exam too high. Otherwise there is nothing like this. For a student who is in the habit of studying and understanding his/her subject in depth, this exam will be like any other. If you also start believing this, you will feel that the exam is at your level.

Myth: The exam demands too much hard work

If you fear hard work, then this exam is not for you. However, it does not mean that the exam demands so much of hard work that you need to turn into a monk, studying 24X7.

The truth is that you should devote at least 5 to 6 hours to studies. This amount of time should suffice. The mind can also only grasp things up to a limit at a given time. You need 5 to 6 hours every day for the initial year of your study because this is just the beginning. Once the preparation is complete, you can limit your studies to 4-5 hours and eventually only 3-4.

Also, those who say IAS requires extreme work are those who study too many writers, almost all available ones, for a particular topic. These people study 4 to 5 newspapers a day, and they study everything in it. They try to read as many magazines as possible too. If this is the approach, and it is not a very feasible one, then doing all these things will take time.

Actually, there is no need to study this much. Doing something like this is not just unproductive, but also counter-productive – your brain assembles all sorts of useless information. This will make you lose focus.  Instead of concentrating on important points, this overload will make you waste time on futile points. The rule that works in IAS preparation is that ‘read less, but whatever you read, read it completely and meticulously.’

Rather than knowing little of everything, it is better to know everything about something.

The thing here is that you should know what this ‘something’ should be.

Is coaching necessary?

Due to the complex exam procedure, coaching can assume a crucial role since it has the following advantages:

  • Helps in understanding the requirements of the exam quickly, so that the preparation is focused.
  • Reduces the efforts in preparation, as subject experts teach the topics in exam orientation. Anyhow, the candidate has to prepare for at least one new optional.
  • Helps in getting many contacts with co-aspirants, which is useful for exam related information. Never prepare for this exam in complete isolation. In any complex situation, information plays the key role.

However, please take into account the following points while joining any institute:

  • Do not merely go by the advertisements, nor the claims made in magazines or the interviews supposedly given by the toppers.
  • Meet the successful candidates and the seniors who have taken coaching from that institute.
  • Do not go by the advice of only one person. It is better to contact as many as possible and get a general opinion.
  • Meet the teacher personally, ask for their programme details, results etc, and assess yourself if it is worth joining there.

What is the UPSC looking for in you?

UPSC has devised the above-mentioned selection process to be able to test a candidate’s mind thoughts and character to determine his/her ability to function as competent administrators.

To begin with, the prelims exam has these characteristics:

1.It includes a general knowledge paper.

  1. There is a CSAT paper.
  2. It is an objective-type test, in which the given options are complex, long and difficult.
  3. You have to solve the papers in very short time.

The exam thus tests you for the following abilities:

1.Clarity of mind

  1. Speed of mind
  2. Memory
  3. Focus
  4. Decision-making power
  5. Awareness and alertness

The pattern of the mains exam, on the other hand, tests you for the following qualities:

1.Analytical ability

  1. Originality
  2. Language proficiency
  3. Brevity
  4. Integrity

All in all, in a nutshell, the UPSC tests the candidates for an appropriate mind, practical thinking and effective personality.

List of services

Group A Services

  1. Indian Administrative Service
  2. Indian Foreign Service
  3. Indian Police Service
  4. Indian P & T Accounts & Finance Service
  5. Indian Audit and Accounts Service
  6. Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise)
  7. Indian Defence Accounts Service
  8. Indian Revenue Service (I.T.)
  9. Indian Ordnance Factories Service (Assistant Works Manager, Administration)
  10. Indian Postal Service
  11. Indian Civil Accounts Service
  12. Indian Railway Traffic Service
  13. Indian Railway Accounts Service
  14. Indian Railway Personnel Service
  15. Indian Railway Protection Force (Assistant Security Commissioner)
  16. Indian Defence Estates Service
  17. Indian Information Service (Junior Grade)
  18. Indian Trade Service, Group ‘A’ (Gr. III)
  19. Indian Corporate Law Service

Group – B Services

  1. Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service (Section Officer’s Grade)
  2. Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Civil Service
  3. Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service
  4. Pondicherry Civil Service
  5. Pondicherry Police Service