Before starting the preparation, it is very important to have a complete understanding about the exam process, its structure and the various aspects related to the preparation. UPSC generally issues notification in the first week of December (of the year preceding the exam year) in The Employment News. The complete notification should be studied carefully to understand the structure of the exam and related information. This notification can also be obtained from the UPSC website. Go to www.upsc.gov.in, link to examination sections. Then link to the archives, there click on Civil Services (Prel) Exam to view the notification.

Nature of the Exam

Before anyone starts playing a game, he would like to know the rules of the game and that is sportsmanship. Similarly in any competitive exam, understanding the nature of the exam is very critical. The preparation will be more focused when you know exactly what the Examination expects rather demands from you. Remember at every stage of your preparation that this examination is relative. You only need to be better than the other aspirants to get a final place in the merit list.

The nature of the exam can be analysed through the following ways:

  • A thorough perusal of Notification and carefully understanding the requirements from it.
  • A thorough analysis of the previous year’s papers and the recent trends.
  • Discussing elaborately with teachers, successful candidates and seniors.

There is lot of hype around the IAS exam. A fresh aspirant comes with the idea that he has to do some hi-funda preparation and be like a scholar in the subjects. He starts his preparation on a high note and works hard in the beginning. For each topic he tries to do maximum and best preparation.

In the process, he reads all the textbooks and the coaching material available in the market. Some spend 2-3 days on each topic and prepare 10-15 pages of notes. Gradually, he feels exhausted and the momentum slows down. Due to this approach, he is not able to complete the syllabus. So, he goes for a selective study as the exam nears. Now the pressure becomes unbearable, as on one hand he has not completed the syllabus and on the other hand he prepared so much notes for each topic that revision becomes impossible within a short time.

People have a funny idea that Civil Services can be cleared only in multiple attempts. So, the aspirant starts succumbing to pressure and convinces himself that it is only his first attempt and, therefore he can prepare better next time.

Though the exam demands hard work from the aspirant, it should be “intelligent hard work” and not just hard work.

This exam is all about the basics with lot of clarity. The exam can be written well when the preparation is simple and the aspirant is very strong in basics with clarity.

Since the competition is relative, your answers in the examination should not only be correct but also different with a touch of creativity. The creativity and innovation is not something that you will get in the textbooks. They have to be developed on your own. It requires lot of thinking and observation. By innovation in answers what is meant is –

  • Catchy introduction
  • Diagrams
  • Graphs
  • Flow charts
  • Maps
  • Case studies
  • Contemporary touch and applicability
  • Catchy conclusion.

Basics with clarity will come when there is lot of questioning while studying. The topic has to be studied in a logical manner. Suppose you are studying a topic on Inflation. Think logically as a layman, then you should get the following sequence of questions:

  • What is inflation
  • Why should there be inflation, i.e., causes
  • So what if there is inflation, i.e., impact
  • If impact is negative, then naturally we should be doing something to reduce

it, so what steps were taken and what happened

  • If still inflation is there, then what’s wrong with the steps taken
  • How to control inflation, any suggestions by experts and recent developments.

You can add innovations like a simple graph showing how the inflation has been in recent times and also a flow diagram about the impact of inflation. In this manner, the basics in the topic can be covered with clarity. And the topic should be remembered in this logical structured way for the exam. It should be understood that once you have done the topic in this comprehensive method through logical questioning, the preparation is over for that topic.

You need not go through any journals or hi-funda textbooks for becoming an expert in the topic. This much of basics with clarity are sufficient for the exam. And, this is what humanly possible in view of the huge syllabus.

The following points should be kept in mind while doing preparation:

  • The focus should be on gaining basic clarity in each topic, which will come only through lot of logical questioning
  • More time should be spent on thinking about the topic and making innovations, rather than on reading too many study material.
  • The previous papers should be thoroughly analyzed to understand the expectations of the examiner.
  • The preparation should be focused and all the hard work should be channelised in the right direction.

 Choosing the Optional Subjects

This is the first and most important stage of your journey and should be accomplished most carefully as coming things hinge on it and a wrong decision may prove to be disastrous. Careful analysis of syllabus, previous years’ papers, your caliber, requirement of subject (Visionary, Numerical, Theoretical), comfort level with the subject and past trends should be done. Advice from seniors and fellow candidates should also be sought.

To avoid dithering in choice at later stage, initial deep thinking and consultations are a must. Having decided the subject, it is advisable to stick to your choice even if the perception of others about it is not favourable. Major criteria, which should guide you in choosing optionals, are:

  1. Interest in the subject. This is quite important for sustaining the momentum in studies and completing the huge syllabus.
  1. Availability of guidance – in the form of seniors who cleared with the optional, coaching, material, etc.
  1. Performance of the optional in the last few years.
  2. Time gap between the two optionals. Some people try to choose the optionals combination so that there is some time gap between them.

Please note that there is no subject that can be said to be scoring. UPSC is maintaining utmost balance between the subjects. It has brought all the optional subjects onto the same platform as far as scoring is concerned.

Some of the optionals which a majority opts for are: Anthropology, Geography, History, Political Science and International Relations, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology and Literature.

The main advantages with these optionals are:

  1. Availability of guidance, which reduces the efforts to a large extent
  2. The knowledge also helps in GS, Essay and interview.
  3. They are also relevant for an administrative career.

If a person is from professional education background (i.e. Engineering /Medicine), which optionals should he choose? This is a basic question for many. There is a tendency to opt for the graduating subject. Let’s understand the problems associated with these subjects.

  • Previously, science and Engineering Optionals used to do very well. In top 20, there used to be 15-16 from IIT and engineering background. But after 2000,

UPSC has modified the syllabus. It became a very huge syllabus and even the exam questions are made tough. That’s the reason why, very few are writing the exam from IITs now. Many engineers are taking arts optionals instead of sciences. Just observe the background of the toppers and their optionals.

  • There will be no guidance available for engineering/medical/science subjects.

So, lots of time will have to be spent in understanding the requirements of the

exam. Then, searching for the material. It becomes a trial and error process. All the energies will be spent on this, while you get exhausted when really studying. At the same time, you will also have to complete the huge syllabus of another optional and GS.

  • Because of the above problem, it will take more time and more attempts. While, your friends in other fields go far ahead. So, both peer and social pressure starts. The exam is anyhow psychologically demanding, if other pressures add to it, then it becomes unbearable. Finally, your goal of cracking the exam becomes impossible.
  • You will have to do everything on your own. Initially it might be fine. But the

exam is of long duration. It becomes difficult to sustain the momentum on your own.

A person might be University topper, but we have to understand the difference between an academic exam and a competitive exam. So it is very important to be careful, while choosing optionals, even though you might feel you are really good in a particular subject.

Still, if you are confident about your subject, then do take that optional. There are some people who cleared with optionals that others don’t take generally. But take into consideration the following points

  • Whether you have a senior who has cleared with this optional and who can guide you well
  • Whether you have close association with professors who have good understanding about this exam.
  • Are you clear about the requirements of the exam? Study the previous papers thoroughly and assess yourself
  • Be clear about the books to follow. Don’t do trial and error process. Do a focused exam oriented preparation.
  • Do not neglect other optional and GS. Give equal importance.
  • Form a group of aspirants with same optional. If you prepare in isolation, then there will be no flow of information.

Do not be in a hurry to decide about the optional. Be very cautious and consult the right people about the information. Analyse carefully all the pros and cons, and then take a decision purely based on your assessment.


Due to the complex exam procedure, coaching assumes a crucial role. But coaching 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.

General Suggestions

Observe the following points:

  • Long hours of study and lot of other sacrifices are needed. You should have a very determined mental makeup and a never-say-die kind of spirit.
  • The fortune favours the brave. So work hard with courage in spite of the failures. The final reward is bound to come. The luck factor does not help if you don’t work hard.
  • To err is human, but the one who rectifies is a champion. So, do a lot of introspection as you progress in the preparation. This will help you in identifying the mistakes and rectifying them at the right time.
  • Devotion and Determination are the keys to the success. Be ready to work hard. But at the same time, ensure that your efforts are channelised in the right direction.
  • Plan your study and try to work it out within schedule. Set weekly targets and at the end of the week, do a self-appraisal.
  • There will be lots of temptation to give up the attempt, as you progress in the preparation. This is mainly due to the huge syllabus and the accumulating pressure. But be aware that these are the critical moments. You should face all these pressures with courage. Be determined to clear the exam in the first attempt.

How should a fresh candidate approach the exam?

A new aspirant should keep in mind the following points:

  • First try to understand the exam. Gather information from various sources, analyse the previous years’ papers, meet seniors and teachers, and think deeply about the exam and the way you should prepare.
  • Chose the optionals very carefully.
  • Settle down in some place where you can study without disturbances, it is better to be isolated for a year during the preparation.
  • Select the coaching centers carefully after enquiring from various sources. Do not merely go by the advertisements.
  • Do not be in a hurry to buy all the material available in the market. Be selective and chose only the best, based on advise of right seniors.
  • Establish good relation with the teachers and take complete advantage of their experience.
  • Remember always that you are going to have a tough period for next two years.

So be well prepared for all situations. Keep working hard right from the beginning.

  • Believe strongly that you will clear the exam in the first attempt itself and do not compromise at any stage. If required work harder than ever before.
  • Take care of your health aspects.
  • Do not be in a hurry to complete the syllabus. Go slow when you read new concepts. Do regular revisions.
  • Make writing practice a part of your daily routine.
  • The current affairs notes should be prepared every day.
  • The preparation should be started at least a year ahead of the prelims exam.
  • Do not give the attempt unless you are confident of qualifying for the interview.

The first attempt should be the best one, so work hard with determination.