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Changing Trends of Questions in UPSC Prelims: History- 1 - Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC

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Trend Analysis of Indian History

It is clear from the subject-wise trend of prelims that history is one of the major favorites of UPSC and a lot of questions are asked from this subject. There has been a paradigm shift in the exam in recent years, reflecting changes in pattern and nature of questions asked. 

  • Shift in focus: There has been a shift in focus of UPSC from "what" to "why". Rather than asking direct questions from history, the UPSC is asking indirect and analytical questions. Analytical questions are not easy to answer. In addition to knowing the historical fact, you have to understand the historical context.
  • Why the change?: UPSC wants to recruit 'thinking' people into service, rather than just those who can cram things and ace exams. That is why the pattern of the questions has changed.
  • What is required from you?: A change in the nature of the questions would mean that a change in the exam preparation strategy is required to tackle it effectively. The traditional methods of learning are no longer enough.
  • Comparison and Analysis of Previous Year Questions: Comparison and analysis of previous year's questions of UPSC CSE will give us an in-depth idea of the exam and will help us in achieving the dream of being an IAS.

Let’s discuss in detail the syllabus of UPSC and also we will analyze the questions asked in UPSC CSE in the past few years

Pattern of History questions asked in pre-1990 period of UPSC exam.

The UPSC Experts say that during the older period the questions in the UPSC CSE were simple and straightforward.

Some of the questions were as follows:

1. Seleucus Nikator sent Megasthenes to the court of ______?

2. The Saka era is generally considered to have been started by  ______?

3. Rajatarangini, a book on the history of Kashmir’s Kings, was written by  ______?

4. What philosophy is associated with Ramanuja?

5. What was Khutba?

6. Adi Granth was compiled in the age of which Guru?

7. Akbar built Buland Darwaja to commemorate ______?

Changing Trends of Questions in UPSC Prelims: History- 1 - Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC

8. Which ruler ruled Delhi as the Lieutenant of the Khalifa?

9. Which dynasty is associated with the construction of the Mahabalipuram rock temple?

10. The father of local self-government is considered to be  ______?

11. The civil service was introduced in India by ______?

12. Who was the commander of the British troops in the Battle of Buxar (1764)?

  • In Pre-1990 periodQuestions were more from the cultural history of India. Only cramming habits were enough for the IAS Aspirant for preparation. 
  • But as the pattern of questions and recruiting criteria of UPSC became hard from 1990 onwards, a thorough reading and understanding of the subject are very much necessary.
  • Before 1990 History of India was very important for C.S. General Studies because the number of questions asked was more as compared to the following years. 
  • You can do well in G.S. in both UPSC Mains and Prelims if you are good at Science, Geography, and Indian History. Now Indian History stands in third place on the basis of a number of questions asked.

Pattern of History questions asked in post-1990 period of UPSC exam.

The pattern of questions of the UPSC Civil Services Examination in the year 2009 and 2019 was just the continuation of the process started in the post-1990 era.

In the year 1991, some of the typical questions were:

1. Kalhana’s Rajatarangini is a  _____?

2. Mitakshara is a book on  _____?

3. Federalism and Indian responsibility, reservation, and safeguards as part of the ____?

In the post-1990 period, the History questions in UPSC Prelims were:

1. Who was the leader of a number of anti-British revolts in Sambalpur?

2. Which one of the following is a language of Baluchistan but linguistically Dravidian?

3. The rejection of after-life is an aphorism of the ______?

4. The Nagara, the Dravida and the Vesara are ______?

5. Which was an emigree Communist Journal of M.N. Roy? 

6. Hugely was used as a base for piracy in the Bay of Bengal by______?

7. Who among the following is known for his work on medicine during the Gupta period?

8. Who among the following is known for his work on medicine during the Gupta period?

9. The Sufi saint who maintained that devotional music was one way of coming close to God was?

10. The term ‘Apabhramsa’ was used in medieval Sanskrit texts to denote?

11. Which text of ancient India allows the divorce of a wife deserted by her husband?

12. Who among the following was the first European to initiate the policy of taking part in the quarrels of Indian princes with a view to acquiring territories?

13. The river most mentioned in early Vedic literature is?

14. The Sarabande (no tax) campaign of 1922 was led by  ______?

15. Few matching type questions were there based on dynasty and their seats, committee on education, language is spoken, and their places.

16. Lord Mountbatten came to India as Viceroy along with specific instruction to ______?

17. When the Indian Muslim League was inducted into the interim government in 1946 ______?

18. Liyaqat Ali Khan was assigned the portfolio of ______?

19. The concept of the eight-fold path forms the theme of ______?

Changing Trends of Questions in UPSC Prelims: History- 1 - Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC

Eight-fold path

20. Many of the Greeks, Kushanas, and Shakas embraced Buddhism rather than Hinduism because ______?

21. The members of Shivaji's Ashtapradhan who looked after foreign affairs was ______?

22. The Ashokan major rock edicts which tell us about the Sangam Kingdom include rock edicts ______?

23. The loss of Qandahar was a big blow to the Mughal empire from the viewpoint of ______?

24. Fawaz in the Sultanate period meant  ______?

25. The first venture of Gandhi in all-India politics was the ______?

  • Mere collection of facts is not enough when we are talking about UPSC Examination and the stakes are so high. 
  • You have to be very careful in synthesizing the facts and concepts and preservation of the synthesized product in your mind in chronological order is very important because one small mistake can play a big difference in your dream of becoming an IAS officer.
  • The pattern of questions of the UPSC Civil Services Examination in the year 2009 and 2019 was just the continuation of the process started in the post-1990 era. 
  • For this part concentrate on the socio-cultural history of ancient and medieval India and on the freedom struggle. Most of the questions are asked from the above field. 

Chapter Wise Pattern Changes

Let’s discuss the chapters mentioned in UPSC History' syllabus, separately to get a broader understanding of the Exam pattern. UPSC History is divided into: 

Ancient History in UPSC 

1. Indus Valley CivilisationThe extent of Indus valley civilizationThe extent of Indus valley civilization

  • This Ancient history of India can be divided into the following heads

    (i) Origin

    (ii) Extent

    (iii) Major cities and their characteristics

    (iv) The progress (economic, social, political, religious, and art and architecture)

    (v) The decline

    (vi) The survival and continuity

  • Generally, the questions in the History section of UPSC mains and prelims are asked from the above heads. Now we will survey the last thirty-two years’ questions of Indian History because before 1985 the pattern of the question was very simple. 

  • According to the analysis of UPSC experts direct questions were asked in the previous papers. But gradually the matching-type, two of the four options are correct or three of the four options are correct-type questions, and assertion and reasoning-type questions were asked to confuse the aspirants who were not sure about the facts and to check if the ground level concepts are clear of the candidate or not.

  • In the years 1985 and 1986, the questions of the UPSC papers were asked on the findings of different objects—like rice husk and skeleton of horses.

  • In the year 1987, the examinees had to identify the Harappan script. The color of pottery was asked and had to identify the Harappan places marked on a map. In the following year, questions were on Harappan seals (made of), woven cloth, and furrows (found at). 

  • In the years 1989 and 1990, the questions were from the causes of decline, weight, and measures, and different articles found in different Harappan cities or adjoining areas. 

  • From 1991 to 1998 the pattern of the UPSC Examination was more or less the same making it easier for the aspirants to prepare better . The questions were from the trade and commerce, causes of decline, art, animals found in the seals, evidence of the cultivation of wheat, barley, and rice, Indian seals found in different foreign countries, and import and export of different metal to and from different countries, etc. Map questions became a regular phenomenon in the Geography and History section of UPSC.

  • In 1996, the questions were: about a most westerly outpost of the Harappan Culture, A terracotta replica of a plow has been found at, the most common type of Harappan seal is, the city which was most extensive in the area, etc.

  • In 1997, the questions were about the use of metal, the specialty of the Harappan city, matching questions about the city and its findings, etc.

  • From 1998 to 2010, the pattern of questions was the same and from the above heads mentioned.

  • From 2011 onwards, conceptual questions in objectivity appeared. In 2011 the only question from this chapter was: It was predominantly a secular civilization and the religious element, though present, did not dominate the scene. During this period cotton was used for manufacturing textiles in India. What is right?

  • In 2012 there was no question from this head.

  • In 2013 one question was: Which characterize the people of Indus Civilization? They possess great palaces and temples, worship both male and female deities III. They employed a horse-drawn chariot in warfare.

  • In 2014, 2015, 2016 there was no question on this topic.

  • In 2017 there was a question from this topic, actually, it was a comparison between Indus Valley civilization and Vedic culture.

  • In 2018, there was no question asked from this topic.

  • In 2019, a question has been asked from this topic about Harrapan Site.  Which one of the following is not a Harappan site? 

  • In 2020, no question has been asked from this topic.

  • In 2021, one question was : Which one of the following ancient towns is well known for its elaborate system of water harvesting and management by building a series of dams and channelising water into connected reservoirs?

  • In 2022, no question have been asked from this topic. 

  • So far as ancient and medieval history is concerned, to the UPSC Syllabus and Exam Pattern it is advised to focus on the cultural part of it i.e. philosophy, art and architecture, and literature. Comparative reading is a must.

  • So we will cover the chapter with subjective material, objective questions, and some boxes, with special information keeping in mind the pattern of the UPSC. Our main thrust will be on the six heads written above.

It is suggested for the UPSC Aspirants to read notes on Indus Valley Civilization to get an in-depth knowledge of the topic for the UPSC Prelims History Section.
2. Vedic Culture of Ancient India in UPSC 

  • In the Civil Services Preliminary Examination generally questions are asked from this chapter. Till 1989 the questions were straightforward like:
    (i) What was Vista?
    (ii) What was Bali?
    (iii) What did Gotra mean?
    (iv) What was Yadav?
  • Till then most of the questions were based on the economic and social system. But from 1990 onwards there was a shift in the pattern of questioning. 

Historical Vedic religionHistorical Vedic religion

  • The questions in UPSC from the Vedic Culture of Ancient India section were asked from the geographical background of the Rigvedic Aryans, Tribal Wars, Religion, and literary works. For example:
  • It was asked in 1990 that "The Rig Vedic Aryans had the knowledge of the sea is confirmed by.....", and one another question was: "What is Hota?". The same pattern is followed by 1995.
  • In 1996, the questions were: "A question about the Rig Vedic god Indra". During the period of the sutras, the Brahmanas were allowed to marry....., Sudas belong to the tribes of ....., The Vedangas consist of, “A bard is I, my father is a leech, and my mother grinds corn”, this passage occurs in the... etc. 
  • In 1997 — In the early Vedic period there was no regular land tax, The evidence of four varnas comes first from ....., In the Boghazkoi inscription the Aryan gods were ....., Which of the following were Vedic Sabhas? 
  • From 1998-2010, the same pattern followed in the UPSC for Ancient Vedic Culture.
  • In 2011, there was a question on Dharma and Rita — Dharma was a conception of obligations and of the discharge of one's duties to oneself and to others and Rita was the fundamental moral law governing the functioning of the universe and all it contained.
  • In 2012, there was a question on the religions of Vedic Aryana on which it was based.
  • In 2014, the national motto of India Satyamev Jayate was taken from.
  • In 2017, a question was on the comparison of Indus Valley and Vedic Culture, etc. 
  • Seeing the pattern of the questions we have decided to go into the minutest details. You have to keep so many things (macro and micro) in your mind, for that, the simple process is cramming. The conceptual questions are not expected in this chapter. Our main stress in this chapter will be on the socio-economic, geographical, and religious fields including the literary activities.
  • In 2018, no question has been asked from this topic. 
  • In 2019, no question has been asked from this topic. 
  • In 2020, no question has been asked from this topic. 
  • In 2021, a question has been asked regarding Mitakshara  and Dayabhaga system.
  • In 2022 , no question has been asked from this topic.

Want to learn the Vedic Culture but From videos? Watch Introduction: The Vedic Period and learn in your preferred mode and ace your exam.
3. The Sangam Age and UPSC Exam Pattern

  • The Sangam Age is also important for UPSC Civil Services Preliminary examinations. We see a change of pattern from 1989 onwards. Before that, the focus from the Sangam age was on literature and economy only.
  • From literature, the literary works of different authors were included in the papers and also the subject matter of some prominent works was asked.

From the economy section, the questions were mainly on trade and commerce, especially metals and clothes. Sometimes they're used to be questions on the kings, cities, ports like Senguttuvan belonging to which dynasty, What was the important port in the eastern coast? etc.

Sangam periodSangam period

  • At that time only the Gazetteer of India was enough for preparation (for this chapter). The change which we see from 1989 onwards is only to make the paper tougher so that they (UPSC) can screen easily.
  • Now the trends in questions in the UPSC mains and Prelims are changed. The questions are asked from a political condition, economy, geography, religion, and even about the characters of prominent works like Manimekalai.
  • The meaning of Tamil words used by the people of that period is also asked.
    Example: In 2016 you had to define the term Eripatti, Taniyurs, and Ghatikas.  From 2011, onwards emphasis on the  Chapter becomes less.
  • So from this chapter, you have to read anything from earth to sky. Be prepared for cramming.

Want to know more about Mahajanapadas & Buddhism? Read Described notes on Mahajanapadas & Buddhism and clear your concepts so that no topic is left untouched.  

4. Religious Movements in India and their Importance in UPSC

  • Indus Civilization and Vedic culture, this chapter is also very important for Civil Services Prelims. From this chapter, generally, one or two questions are asked. This chapter also discerns a gradual change in the pattern of questions.
  • From 1985 to 1989, the pattern was more or less the same except in 1986 when some unexpected questions were asked about this topic.
  • Before 1990 the questions about Religious Movements in UPSC Prelims used to be very simple and direct, like, the Triratna of Jainism is, rules of Buddhist monastic discipline are contained in, the turning of the wheel symbolizes, Nirgrantha were associated with, many Jain texts were compiled at, etc.
    Vedic civilization: Religious activity
    Vedic civilization: Religious activity
  • Nowadays these sorts of questions are not asked in UPSC Prelims anymore. Currently, the questions are generally based on the economy, literature, art and architecture, and philosophy.
  • Example: Syadvada is the philosophy of; Arrange them chronologically: Buddha, Parsava, Mahavir, Bhadrabahu; The Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka contains, etc. Sometimes even quotations are given like
  • “The living and the non-living, by coming into contact with each other, forge certain energies which bring about birth, death and various experiences of life; this process could be stopped and energies already forged destroyed, by a course of discipline leading to salvation.
  • It may be due to the concept of secular history. Read the history chronologically and comparatively. If you read the history in that way, we are sure IAS Aspirants can answer sixty percent of the questions without hindrance.
  • For the rest of the part, you have to develop a cramming habit. We are preparing the material keeping in mind the below facts.
  • Until 1995 the questions from the section of Religious Movements in India were very complicated. But the questions of 1996 and 1997 were very simple and straightforward. Like what is Dharma chakra Pravartana? According to Buddha how nirvana is achieved?
  • In the year 2011, there was a question on Jain Philosophy.
  • In 2012, the questions about Bhumisparsha Mudra of Buddha is which trait was common to Jainism and Buddhism.
  • In 2013, the question was about the concept of Nirvana of Buddhism and the difference between the Chaityas and Viharas and on Jaina doctrines;
  • In 2014, a question was on a painting based on Buddha's Mahaparinirvana, another was on Buddhist history tradition and culture i.e Tabo monastery, Lhotsava Lhakhang temple, and Alchi temple complete, and also one more question about the Kingdom associated with the life of Buddha. This question was again asked in 2015.
  • In 2016, a question was asked on the concept of Bodhisattva.
  • In 2017, there was a question on Sautrantika, Sammitiya and Sarvastivadins, and Bodhisattva and Bodhisattva. Padmapani painting is found in Bhagavatism And Brahmanism.
  • In 2018, a question has been asked regarding future buddha. 
  • In 2019, no question has been asked from this topic.
  • In 2020, no question has been asked from this topic.
  • In 2021, no question has been asked from this topic.
  • In 2022, there was a question for matching the pairs regarding Aryadeva, Dignaga  and Nathamuni    
  • The section of Religious Movements in India was not so important for C.S. Prelims. Off and on we find some questions from this topic. Only one or two questions were asked, sometimes the setter skipped this topic. But 1989 onwards this chapter is getting prominence. Mostly the questions are based on Saivism and Vaishnavism.
  • The name of different gods, cults, their importance in different periods, the mention of different gods, cults, etc. in the literary works, the avatars, names of the founders of the sects, the teachings of different literary works and the philosophy of different sects are covered.
  • So, simply go through the chapter. Much stress is not needed. Keep in mind the above division of fields and try to cover the chapter accordingly. Enough material has been given for that.

5. The Mauryan Empire in India and UPSC

  • This chapter was very important for C.S. Prelims. But nowadays it is less prominent. Questions are asked related to Buddha. The political question is avoided. After going through the question papers of the past thirty years we come to the conclusion that the pattern of questions is more or less the same.
  • There is continuity in it with slight changes, like the matching questions, quotations, and the political, social, and economic conditions reflected through the literature of that period. We feel that the questions are generally centered around the personality and achievements of Ashoka. Secondly, it is Megasthenese’s Indica and Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
  • The other important portions are Rocks and Pillars inscribed by Ashoka, the religious texts of Buddhists and Jains, Puranas, architectural monuments, and finally the dynastic history. To cover-up, the whole chapter in a few pages is not possible.
  • From 2022 - 2017 10-15 questions have been asked from this topic. 
  • Here we have tried to collect the most important and topical information for you. The subjective materials, objective questions, and the information put in the boxes are collected from nine reputed books. Remember—each and every line is information and that should be there in your mind.

6. Trade and Commerce in The Pre-Gupta and Gupta Period in Indian History

  • This chapter is very important. Since 1990 onwards we are getting more questions about this topic. When we read this chapter, we also read the whole political, social, and religious conditions of the Satavahanas, Indo-Greeks, and the Guptas.
  • It is very important for Continuity and systematization. Two simple readings of the two periods, Pre-Guptas and Guptas covering all the systems, are necessary. When the blueprint of the whole chapter is prepared in your mind, concentrate on the topic given in the syllabus and prepare it separately for the Prelims. We are covering the topic in that way only.
  • From this chapter, questions are generally asked on the coins (gold, silver, lead, etc), cloth-making, silk-weaving, luxury articles, guilds, Roman-trade, the articles of import and export, and land-grants, etc.  
    Changing Trends of Questions in UPSC Prelims: History- 1 - Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC
  • Nowadays, the focus is more on art architecture, painting, trade, and commerce of this period. In 2012 one question was asked on Nagara, Dravida, and Vesara style.
  • So concentrate more on the above sub-heads. Remember—a scientific approach in preparing history is very much needed. Here projection is more important than absorption.

7. Agrarian Structure in The Post Gupta Period of India

  • This chapter is very important for C.S. Prelims because this period is regarded as an age of feudalism in Indian history. You may expect questions from this chapter which are very difficult to answer. It is because we do not prepare separately for this chapter.
  • The political, economic and religious history of Harsha is not included in the syllabus but often questions are asked from this chapter. So it will be wise to go through the achievements of Harsha.
  • Indian feudalism arose out of the womb of the Indian society and its origin lay in the course of the evolution of the Indian people. Its political essence lay in the organization of the whole administrative structure on the basis of land and its economic structure lay in the institution of serfdom. In India, feudalism meant the ruralization of artisans and craftsmen and the emergence of a traditional Indian village community.

The preparation of IAS Aspirants for History should be concentrated on the Following Points

  • Granting of land viz
    (i) Princes and members of the royal family.
  • (ii) Civil and military officers as payment for their services.
  • (iii) Priests and temples.
  • (iv) Fields on condition of supplying troops.
  • (v) Vassal states.
  • Transfer of peasants
  • Extension of forced labor
  • Paucity of coins
  • Abandonment of fiscal and criminal administration and growth of the obligation of the Samanthas
  • And finally the produce and the taxation
    Coins used in the Gupta period
    Coins used in the Gupta period

8. Changes in Social Structure of Ancient India

  • Society changes according to the nature of challenges it has to respond to and the requirements it has to answer. Ancient Indian social structure underwent numerous changes.
  • These changes mainly related to the caste system, marriage, and position of women. It is not easy to mark the main contours and landmarks of changes in the social structure of ancient India because the social changes were not like the chronologically linked political changes.
  • Some of the well-marked phases of change in the social structure of ancient India, however, are Rig Vedic to Later Vedic and the age of the Dharmasutras, the Buddhist, the Mauryan, post-Mauryan, the Kushana, and the Gupta ages.
  • There is no authentic social history of ancient India and the vast corpus of secular and religious literature is our main source of information.
  • From this chapter, you may expect questions. As the questions are generally asked from the caste system, marriage, and position of women in different phases, we will concentrate our study mainly on these topics. We will also throw light on social institutions, the position of labor, and ashramas which are also important.

The UPSC has displayed a shift in focus from 'what' to 'why'. Instead of asking direct questions, it is asking indirect and analytical questions. The aspirants have to prepare accordingly and with good strategy the UPSC exam can be cleared with flying colors.

FAQs Related to History section of UPSC Prelims

Ques: What is the weightage of world history in UPSC?

The weightage of modern history has decreased with only two questions — 3 and 13 worth 25 marks. Further, there was no question from the world history or post-independence history of India.

Ques: How many questions come from history in UPSC Prelims?

Every year on an average, 15-20 questions are asked from this topic in the IAS prelims exam. In the prelims, 12-13 questions are asked from history and art & culture.

Ques: Are prelims marks counted in UPSC?

The Entire Preliminary exam is of Qualifying nature. The applicants who score more than the cut-off score declared by the UPSC, qualify for the UPSC main exam. The marks scored in UPSC Prelims are not counted in the Final Score of the exam.

Some Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims

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