How was this guide made for UPSC CSE Aspirants?
- This guide has been made by EduRev experts with interviews with their following students: Anudeep Durishetty (AIR 1, 2017), Srushti Deshmukh (AIR 5, 2018), Junaid Ahmad (AIR 3, 2018), Akshat Jain (AIR 2, 2018), and a few others.
- Special thanks to Divey Sethi (IRS, AIR 295) and Bhupesh Satija (IRS, AIR 386) for reviewing the final drafts.
Why did EduRev make this guide for UPSC Aspirants?
- We wanted to answer the question "How to Prepare for UPSC" once and for all in the best / perfect way possible for all the UPSC Aspirants.
- Since students waste a large amount of time, effort, and money while preparing for UPSC just because of a lack of the right direction. We believe it will be very very valuable for every UPSC aspirant.
- This guide was made to teach in a guided way so that you can clear your UPSC exam with the least amount of time, effort, and money spent, by just making sure you Study What Matters. We did the hard work of building strategy for your UPSC Examination, so that you can achieve your dream.
Let’s have a look at the full-proof STEP by STEP preparation strategy for preparing for the Civil Services Examination at home.
Step 0: What to do Before you begin your UPSC preparation?
Best thing you can do for yourself for your UPSC preparation is give time to read this guide and then check at different steps to see if you are in the right direction in achieving your dream of being IAS/IPS.
- Set goals and devote time effectively: Before starting your preparation for UPSC being the toughest examination of the country, it is important to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the examination. Set goals and devote time effectively.
- Analyze and chart a plan: Whether you are working or studying or just preparing for UPSC, analyze accordingly how you would devote time for studies and chart a plan. Today, with technology like the internet, it is possible to balance your life and preparation with ease.
Make a Timetable: Firstly, to become an IAS officer, it is necessary to be like an officer with a well-organized daily routine. Set proper deadlines, and you would work better and complete the syllabus of UPSC CSE faster and with better retention.
Focus on Micro Planning: Planning is equally important as studying. Plan how to study. Focus on micro-planning i.e. make daily plans, set weekly targets, and make a broad vision for the entire month. This planning of months will shape your future as an UPSC Aspirant.
Stay Motivated: Lastly, ask yourself why you want to be an IAS officer because this will become the most important step by the time you reach Step 14.
Akshat Jain (AIR 2, 2018) gave 2 prelims. While preparing for the first prelims he had studied well but ended up just short of one mark from qualifying prelims because of not having a strategy, and had to wait another year. He was unable to crack how to attempt the paper but he was having knowledge. Hence, combining knowledge and strategy to crack the paper is important.
What is the right time to start preparing for UPSC?
Some people have cleared UPSC CSE in the first year but mostly it takes a minimum of two years and people took 5 years to clear the UPSC Exam with desired result. But no matter what, start at least one year before you intend to take the UPSC Prelim exam.
Even Anudeep Durishetty got AIR 1 after attempting UPSC exam for 5 years
Step 1: Understand the UPSC Syllabus
- UPSC syllabus is the guiding light for you. Knowing the syllabus is the foremost thing to do before you go through your preparation journey.
- If you know the syllabus of UPSC it will help you to choose relevant study materials, prioritize the subjects, etc.
- Read through the notification of the UPSC exam carefully in order to acquaint yourself with the exam syllabus, exam pattern, exam timeline, and eligibility criteria. Here's a link to the UPSC CSE Official Notification.
- Understanding dates, timelines, and the pattern is critical for you to plan YOUR timelines and strategy for achieving your dream as an UPSC Aspirant.
- Click here for the complete UPSC Syllabus for Prelims & Mains Exam and get to know the detailed syllabus, pattern, and every other information required for both UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains exam.
- Going through the above points dedicatedly will save a considerable amount of time through your preparation journey for your dream of becoming an IAS.
Step 2: Understand Previous Year Questions (PYQs)
Check out the previous year's question papers of UPSC here.
Almost all the top rankers whom we spoke to spent over 2 weeks to just analyse the syllabus and previous year question papers. But this helped them in saving a considerable amount of time through their preparation journey and they were successful in getting ranks as well.
Step 3: How to Build your foundation with NCERTs?
- Cover your basic NCERTs first that will make a base. Reading NCERTs will cover your base like history geography polity many things will be covered from NCERTs.
- You have to be thorough with your NCERTs and should not just read them but should cover them in a good manner. The first thing you should start with is NCERTs.
These books provide the information very coherently. Moreover, they are reliable too as the source is the government itself.
So, NCERTs are undoubtedly the best books to begin your IAS preparation with. You can get a complete list of NCERTs subjectwise for the UPSC exam here.
Why is NCERT important for UPSC?
The NCERT books are considered as the basic reading books to build the base of the Civil Services Examination. It covers all topics which are important and gives us crystal clear conceptual clarity.
- NCERTs are the key to most of the questions asked in prelims
- Very important to build the basic concepts and understanding in each subject
- Basic terminologies get cleared by reading them
- In previous years, few questions are asked DIRECTLY from NCERT
- The NCERT textbooks from classes six to twelve play a very significant role in IAS exam preparation.
How to read Subject wise NCERTs for UPSC?
It is very important to read important books for the respective subjects of the UPSC IAS Exam syllabus. Follow standard books for UPSC/IAS to make your concepts stronger.
- History: Class 6 to class 12 NCERTs. You can find all of them here.
- Geography: Class 6 to 12 NCERTs. You can find all of them here.
The most recommended NCERT book for Geography is:
NCERT Class XI Fundamentals of Physical Geography
Economics: Class 9 to 12 NCERTs. You can find all of them here.
Polity: Class 9 to 12 NCERTs. Class 9 and 10 are having a very basic portion but covering Class 11 and Class 12 NCERTs is important. You can find all of them here.
The most recommended NCERT book for Polity is:
Indian constitution at work: Class 11 NCERT
Science and Tech: Class 6 to class 10 NCERTs are more than enough for Science and Tech do not go for Class 11 and 12. You can find all of them here.
Must Read Old & New NCERTs: You can go through must-read old and new NCERTs by referring to the course here and can get all the most recommended old NCERT books like World history NCERT books for ancient, medieval history & NCERT Fine Art Books at one place.
What should you keep in mind while reading NCERTs?
- Do speed reading of NCERTs you can not rely only on them. Need to explore other books too. Try relating NCERT books with other books like M. Laxmikanth and other sources. Listen to the same things from different sources to have a better and in depth understanding of the UPSC Syllabus.
Time Saving Tip: Read Summaries of NCERT (ideally after first reading). You can find NCERT summaries here.
- Have a preliminary or basic kind of reading once to get a basic idea and content and idea on how the syllabus has been covered.
- After initial reading go ahead with as many readings as the time allows.
- Notes making of NCERT is important. You need to use the exact language written in NCERT do not go for note-making in the first reading. Read them at least twice before making any notes.
Muskan Jindal who got AIR 87 in 2019, first completed NCERTs of every subject, then saw Past Years Papers of that subject, then took 2nd reading of NCERT and after clearing concepts, referred to standard books.
Step 4: Read Newspaper & Practice Current Affairs for UPSC
Current Affairs play a significant role in UPSC Civil Services Exam preparation as the dynamic questions appear in all three stages of the examination- UPSC Prelims, UPSC Mains, and Final Interview as well.
- The questions asked in the civil services exam are directly or indirectly connected with current affairs. Hence, it is very important to follow the relevant news items in your daily newspaper.
- So, at this time, you should also start reading the newspaper. You can check this article to understand How to Study Current Affairs for UPSC Preparation with EduRev App
- We also cover on a daily basis what to read in the newspaper. You can find the same here.
- But remember, a part of the Current Affairs questions can be termed as General Knowledge questions. So, it will be incorrect to assume that reading newspapers daily will be sufficient to solve such questions.
We also cover a summary of Weekly & Monthly which are very important for revision and memorising from a UPSC perspective. You can find weekly current affairs & monthly current affairs on EduRev.
- Lastly, do make sure you attempt tests on the basis of current affairs that'll make sure you are covering & learning relevant topics (you can attempt tests based on Current affairs on EduRev here)
Since your ultimate aim when you are taking the IAS exam is to work for the Indian government. Naturally, there are many government sources you can rely on during your preparation.
- Government websites like the PIB, PRS and national television programs featured on Rajya Sabha TV are very helpful. Read daily PIB Summary from the course of PIB PIB (Press Information Bureau) Summary on EduRev.
- Gist of Rajya Sabha TV programs for UPSC is another recommended source.
What are the resources Other than the government for UPSC Preparation?
- Reading Gist of the Monthly Yojana Magazine (English), Kurukshetra, and Economic & Political Weekly magazines can save a lot of time and effort.
- They contain important information on topics like polity, governance, agriculture, economy, etc.
You can go through the EduRev's Current Affairs Course which covers Important Current affairs & Analysis of Hindu on a Daily basis. All the exam-relevant news items are covered in a concise manner, you can find the same here.
Step 5: Standard Reference Books for UPSC CSE Preparation
Apart from the NCERTs, you need to also follow a few other advanced textbooks. Once you have read all the NCERTs, it’s time to expand your knowledge for UPSC by reading the standard books.
But again, remember you must check PYQs first and then check these books.
In our analysis, we found the below common books that are recommended by almost all the top rankers. To save your time, we have linked them to the summaries for each.
Since there are so many books to read, here is a fast method to save time: Read Summaries of all these books quickly first or if you have read them already, you can use the summaries for revision. We have linked each book to its summary in the course Famous Books for UPSC Exam (Summary & Tests).
Helpful Tips from UPSC Toppers for Reference books:
- Read books in which the objective part of the syllabus is more for example spectrum for history, Laxmikanth, etc
- All these books which contain objective things need to be revised again and again to perform better in the final UPSC Examination.
- Prepare from NCERTs first and then move to high-level books if you want to actually get a grasp on the whole syllabus of UPSC.
- Build basics and then add more in them with these book summaries and other sources
- Read the books at least twice and then make your handwritten notes to be used for answer-writing practice at the later stage!
- You can also watch video lectures on EduRev from the course Famous Books for UPSC Exam (Summary & Tests).
Step 6: What is the Subject Wise Preparation strategy for UPSC?
There is so much information available but not many questions are asked from every topic so we research how many questions come from each topic and teach you in-depth accordingly. It is important to have the right approach and strategy while preparing subject-wise for UPSC. Below is the subject-wise strategy on How to prepare for the IAS exam seamlessly.
How we cover each subject, making sure you Study What Matters:
- For each subject, we have structured the learning material based on extensive Previous Year Questions Research & a deep Paper Pattern analysis
- We have covered Famous Books Summaries for all standard reference books that are important,
- Each Course contains Learning Notes, Revision Notes & Learning Videos
- Related NCERTs, NCERT summaries & NCERT Tests for each topic within the same section
- Topic-wise tests for each and every topic have been covered so you go through at least 5000 questions before your sit for the actual exam.
Refer to the subject wise sections below and get a complete idea of how to ace individual subjects for UPSC with EduRev:
Science & Technology:
Timeline Tip: First reading of GS and optional should be completed atleast 8 months before and second reading atleast 5 months before the Prelims.
Step 7: How to do the Organization of Notes for UPSC?
- The organization of notes is very important. The separation of topics and notes is very important for your UPSC preparation.
Always Prepare same set of notes for UPSC prelims and mains but when you are preparing for prelims focus on that portion which is relevant for prelims.
- Keep everything you read like notes of a particular subject, you read about that subject online, you get some other material of that.
- Keep everything in one folder of that subject. So that your time doesn’t get wasted and during revision, you are able to get everything you have ever read about in that subject at a particular place.
EduRev notes are by default arranged in Courses (like folders) so you don't have to find/buy books again and again.
- Revision and note-making are important and one should revise from notes only. Don’t look for the book again and again
Other than being one of the greatest set of content, another advantage is that you can access all through One App anywhere even when you are out of your house and even while travelling.
Step 8: Attempt Practise Tests Frequently for UPSC/IAS
Don’t plan that you will first "complete the syllabus" and only then give tests. This is the wrong approach. Instead, practicing more and more tests as early as possible will make you better. The syllabus never gets "completed", so you must focus on Tests from the start.
Mock Tests which are scientifically designed in the exact pattern of actual UPSC examination helps in mastering the art of elimination techniques and other hacks to clear the examination.
Giving Mock Tests is important for UPSC for multiple reasons:
- Even when you are going through NCERTs, you need to give tests to learn/retain them better. You can access tests for all NCERTs here.
- When you are studying a subject topic-wise, giving tests at the same point is equally important else you cannot be sure if you have really understood that topic.
- Also a very important factor and guiding light in your preparation is the All India Ranking (AIR) since, in the end, UPSC is a competitive exam.
- Even if you read everything you need to judge your preparation through the All India ranking you get in EduRev tests which is an important guiding factor.
After every EduRev test (topic-wise/sectional/full mocks) you get your national ranking (AIR) which is extremely helpful to understand where you stand in the competition.
Detailed Analysis after Tests
- As with mock tests, it is important to analyze your topic-wise tests for mistakes and improve accordingly in every test.
- Always understand the nature of your mistakes
- Spot Patterns like the type of mistakes you are doing, whether you are taking unnecessary risks or if you are weak in some foundational topics.
- Always work on the nature of your mistake.
EduRev is the only source where you will get tests for each and every topic (topic-wise), NCERTs, subject wise tests and even full mock tests/series. Find the test series covering everything here.
Step 9: Revise Repeatedly to perform better in UPSC
Since the UPSC syllabus is vast and diverse, covering multifarious subjects, it is natural to forget things that you had studied earlier. To avoid this, timely revision is a must.
It is not how much you know that matters but what you write on papers that the examiner can evaluate. So, make answer writing a regular feature of your IAS preparation.
- Ideally, finish your first reading at least 8 months before the Prelims exam.
- Then try to quickly finish your second reading/revision 5 months before the Prelims.
- During your 2nd reading, develop the habit of note-making. Make your own notes of subjects, books as well as current affairs.
Concise the things so that you do not have to refer to many things later
- Even revise your Current Affairs notes 3 to 4 times, before prelims.
- Not just Revision but re-revision is very very important. So plan to revise periodically.
- So ideally, revise at least 3 times.
In our analysis with Toppers, they all concur that GS can be handled with ease, provided it is approached with proper planning and time management.
Also, here is a course that can help you revise for Prelims completely in 30 days:
Crash Course for UPSC
Step 10: Attempt Mock Tests Frequently for IAS Preparation
For last 2-3 months before prelims, you should come in the MCQ mode. Start attempting mock test series and even practice yourself with as many tests as possible.
It will give you an exam feel. Once you get acclimatised, it will reduce exam-time stress.
- The single most effective tool to crack prelims is mock tests.
- Practice one mock test daily in the morning because the exam will be in the morning and your brain will work faster.
- Try to join test series like the one at EduRev which you can give at any time you want and not an external schedule so that you are able to practice/attempt whenever you want. You can find the Mock Test Series here.
You can attempt Mock Tests regularly from the course UPSC CSE Prelims Mock Test Series. Attempt more and more tests and ace your preparation!
Identify your own strategy for mock tests. Do you value accuracy or speed? Vaishali Singh attempted 90 to 95 questions in mock tests some students get good marks by attempting just 75 questions. See and know what works for you.
How to Attempt Mock Tests for UPSC?
- Solving mock tests within the time limit is a must. Learn to finish in time both Paper 1 and Paper 2.
- In the two-hour period go through the questions thrice mark absolutely sure questions in the first attempt, then those in which you have doubt, need to keep track of accuracy test series help in achieving accuracy.
- Sit for an actual exam-like mock test at the same time.
- And then consistently stick to YOUR final paper-solving approach right till the end.
Subject Wise Tests
- Focus equally on subject-wise tests (initially give sectional test) along with full syllabus test.
- It is important to take subject-wise tests as they tell you your strength.
- You can attempt subject-wise tests here.
- Ideally, choose prelims test series from two sources, you can use one like EduRev which gives you the freedom to attempt whenever you want and you can join one complimentary one with that.
Shubham Aggarwal, AIR 25, 2019 joined test series and gave polity-based test series only so that he can judge himself and his understandings.
Tests on CSAT
- CSAT is mostly ignored mostly but very critical. We have all seen many stories where students got rejected because they were not able to qualify for the CSAT.
- CSAT is generally more challenging for nonscience students as they have attempted/practiced less for these types of questions in general.
Testing Tip: First without any preparation solve a length previous year paper in time. If you are scoring greater than 80 marks then no need to prepare for CSAT. But if you are scoring less than 80 marks practice CSAT questions regularly till you get better.
- Try to reach the end of the paper never get stuck on a question as easy questions are there in the end
- For CSAT practice, there is a complete course for practice with tests. Plus you can also use the Mock Test Series Course to practice for full-length CSAT tests.
- CSAT: Focus and work on your strengths some students have strong English some have strong maths, since it is just a qualifying paper, you need to just work smartly, no need to take extra coaching for the same as you can easily do by yourself / with EduRev.
- But do not focus on CSAT in just the last month. Try to complete CSAT well before the exam.
How to Analyze your UPSC Mock Tests?
- Analysis of mock tests is absolutely necessary. Self-assessment is an essential part of UPSC preparation.
- Ideally, analyze Mock tests ASAP after the test
- For wrong attempts understand why you committed the mistakes
- Try to Identify topics/themes where you are going repeatedly wrong
Go to your EduRev Profile (Analysis tab) to see your macro comprehensive analysis and see if you can patterns in the mistakes that you make.
- Work out ways to eliminate silly errors
- Never forget to analyze correctly attempted questions as well
- Brush up on the concepts of your weak areas that you may have missed
- This will help you in shaping YOUR approach/strategy and even identifying strengths and weaknesses.
- It will not only help you in anxiety management during the actual exam but will also prepare you extremely well for the exam!
Any new static knowledge gained add in your notes. And even for current affairs maintain a separate diary and note down new things learn there.
Step 11: UPSC Mains Preparation at Home
- Start your preparation of Mains from the day you have given Prelims (after checking the answer key and verifying your qualifying score)
- Even for Mains preparation, you should solve the previous year's prelims question after you finish the topic.
- Even for Mains preparation, you should solve the previous year's prelims question after you finish the topic from UPSC Previous Year Question Papers course.
- Prelims is having two portions static and current affairs. Have a good command over static portion as current affairs portion can not be trusted. If you cover the syllabus of mains of static portion then you will be covering a good portion of prelims too.
UPSC exam is mainly about testing your analytical, critical, and communicative abilities. It demands you to think with conceptual clarity and organize your views, perceptions, and thoughts flawlessly.
Expert Opinion: "EduRev's coverage for the static part is the most comprehensive and well thought out curriculum available anywhere out there. Following EduRev's content for static can give you an unfair advantage."
- So, focus on static portion of Mains and try to have a stronghold.
Links to Study What Matters for Paper I, II, III:
Use the same set of notes for prelims and mains but when you are preparing for Mains focus on that portion which is matching the syllabus of Mains.
Links to Study What Matters for Paper IV, V:
Step 12: Answer Writing Preparation for UPSC Mains
While starting the preparation do not focus much on newspapers and answer writing.
- When you have made a base after reading NCERTs and started off with other steps mentioned above. You can go for answer writing on weekends.
- Before that, it will be a futile exercise as you will have to depend on books for the content of the answer.
Read one topic daily for a week and practice writing answers of that topic on Sunday.
- UPSC exam is mainly about testing your analytical, critical, and communicative abilities. It demands you to think with conceptual clarity and organize your views, perceptions, and thoughts in a flawless manner.
- Another thing to be kept in mind is the time and space constraints in the answer booklet. Therefore, candidates have to answer the questions quickly and effectively, and in minimum words.
- So writing a good answer is not possible without adequate answer writing practice.
Topper Tip: "Start an Essay with some story or anecdote or some data or quote". "Brainstorm for 15 minutes to choose an essay."
- All these help you to prepare great answers: Facts, Newspapers, Definitions, Budget, international indexes, ranking of India, Flowcharts, Committee reports, Niti Aayog, 3-year agendas, even all the other government documents.
- Answer writing practice helps very much in the exam as in exam you can identify the keywords and can write answers based on the knowledge you have acquired through practicing even if you know nothing about the questions still you can attempt!
- At this stage, it is also important to incorporate consistent revision. You should keep your weekends free for a dedicated revision of whatever new you’ve learned during the week.
You can also check some sample UPSC answers here.
Step 13: How to select Optional Subject for UPSC?
The optional subject accounts for 500 marks in the UPSC final tally.
Hence, you should choose an optional subject wisely and after a thorough think-through of the pros and cons of the subjects, you have in mind. Some of the factors to keep in mind before selecting an optional are:
- Interest in the subject
- Prior knowledge in it/academic background
- Comfort in the subject
- Overlap with the GS papers
- Availability of study material/coaching
Before Prelims, only if time permits, you may revise your optional subject. Else focus on clearing your Prelims and Mains first.
Step 14: How to ace the UPSC Interview?
In Step 0, we asked you to start asking why do you want to become an IAS officer, that is a very important question and if you have found a true honest answer that will help you a lot with the interview. This method will keep you mentally well prepared for the interview days.
Interview or Personality Test being the final stage in the UPSC exam process is an important stage in the process, and here it is something more than academics that will help you.
- The first step for the interview starts with filling the Detailed Application Form (DAF) for UPSC, make sure you fill it attentively.
- Always be well aware of your native place.
- Never bluff and be honest and be yourself during the interview.
- You will be assessed on qualities such as diplomatic skills, communication skills, presence of mind, reaction to stress, etc.
- You will also be asked questions about your interests, hobbies, education, and work experience if any. So, you have to brush up on these aspects.
- While preparing for the interview: Remember Your opinion and expressiveness matter.
And if you have reached the interview stage and want to connect with the right mentors, feel free to reach out to us at EduRev and we'll connect you with relevant civil service officers.
Step 15: Believe in Yourself when giving the UPSC exam
- Without self-belief, you can not perform well in this exam even if you study a lot.
- Believe in yourself and be consistent.
- Don’t Forget, Consistency and discipline will take you places in the journey of clearing the UPSC CSE Examination.
- The journey is very difficult but if you have strong determination you will clear the exam. But prepare yourself for failures, there will be many. You just need to get up from each of them and walk towards your goal.
- So probably, the most important aspect at the end of your entire UPSC journey is to stay positive. There are times when it can get quite hard/overwhelming but remember that happens to the best of top rankers. You just need to remove negative thoughts from your head and march forward towards your goal.
Frequently Asked Questions on UPSC Preparation
Q.1. Is Coaching necessary? Or Can I prepare for UPSC at home with Self Study?
Ans: Srushthi Deshmukh, AIR 5, UPSC 2018 says, "It is not necessary to take any coaching or go to Delhi for coaching. Good coaching can give you direction but you need to walk on the way yourself. So it’s important to get a good direction from somewhere but it does not mean that you need to travel a huge distance. Don’t make excuses and work for yourself."
It will tell you what to study and what not to study but if you are confident you can do without coaching too it’s up to you. This document/guide and even other content/courses on EduRev on How to Prepare, does that job very well as well.
Q.2. Is 1 year enough for IAS preparation?
Ans: Yes, 1 year is sufficient for IAS preparation if you prepare diligently. It is hard but people have done that in the past. In general, most toppers (under AIR 100) took ~ 2 years to clear the exam though.
Q.3. How can I start my IAS preparation during graduation?
Ans: You can start your IAS preparation during graduation itself. All you must do is go through the syllabus and chart out a study plan for IAS. Starting early has many advantages. You will have age on your side since the IAS age limit will be far away. Also, being young and still a student, you would be in touch with academics, giving you an extra edge. Also, being in college, you can make use of your college library for preparation. And, make sure you take part in college fests and events as this experience will help you develop a well-rounded personality, and also make up for your lack of work experience in case you clear the exam right after your graduation!
Q.4. How to prepare for IAS exam after 12th?
Ans: If you are starting your preparation after 12th, you have the advantage of choosing a subject for graduation that will suit your IAS preparation. You can opt for graduation in subjects like political science, history, or sociology – subjects that will help you cover the UPSC syllabus in a better way. This way, you can easily combine your graduation studies and IAS preparation. Also, you have enough time to hone your soft skills like communication skills and also develop a good hobby – both of which would aid you in the interview stage.
Q.5. How to prepare for IAS while doing engineering?
Ans: Many candidates have cleared the IAS exam preparing for it while they were engineering students. Even though it can get hectic, it is not impossible. With a full-fledged plan and the correct guidance, it is possible to crack the toughest exam in India even while in engineering college.
Q.6. How can I apply for the IAS exam?
Ans: Check UPSC Notifications page regularly. UPSC updates all the relevant UPSC news and information you need to know. You need to fill in the forms as per the timelines mentioned by UPSC.