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UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern and Syllabus

UPSC Prelims examination is the first level of examination to be cracked among the three levels in the UPSC Civil Services Examination, followed by Civil Services Mains Examination and the Personality Test for realizing your dream of becoming a civil servant. It is a test for the elimination of candidates and the marks will not be included for arriving at the final order of merit/rank list. Only those candidates who qualify in both the papers of Preliminary examination are allowed to appear for the Civil Services Mains.  

The UPSC 2011 notification made changes to the UPSC Prelims pattern. As per the UPSC Notification 2018, the UPSC prelims paper is divided into two objective type papers:

  • Paper-1 for General Studies (GS) Paper  
  • Paper -2 generally called as the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) Paper.

  The GS paper consists of 100 questions of 2 marks each to be answered in 2 hours. The scheme of marking for Paper-1 is such that the candidate gets a negative marking of 1/3rd of the marks allocated to each question, which is -0.667 marks for every wrong answer. Unanswered questions do not attract negative marking. The CSAT paper is qualifying in nature and a candidate is expected to score 33% of the total marks i.e, 66 marks out of 200 marks. The CSAT paper consists of 80 questions of 2.5 marks each to be answered in 2 hours. Similar to GS paper, every wrong answer would fetch a negative marking of 1/3rd of the marks allocated to the question, which is -0.833 marks. A question unattempted would not attract any negative marking. Both Paper 1 and Paper 2 are objective type papers with multiple choice questions to be answered on an OMR sheet. The question papers are set in both English and in Hindi.

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UPSC Prelims Exam Syllabus  

Paper 1 of the UPSC Prelims syllabus consists of general studies topics such as history, geography, polity, economy, science & technology, environment & ecology, climate change etc. The aspirant has to be well abreast with the current affairs in order to clear this paper. A candidate is allowed to take up the mains examination if and only if he manages to surpass the cut off marks of paper 1. The cutoff marks for GS paper varies every year with respect to the difficulty level of the paper. The list of candidates allowed to appear for the UPSC mains examination is prepared based on the marks scored by the candidate in Paper 1.

Paper 2 of the Civil Services Prelims syllabus comprises of questions relating to logical reasoning, data interpretation, verbal ability, reading comprehension and general mathematics. The paper is of qualifying nature and it is mandatory for the candidate to score a minimum of 30% of the total marks in order to qualify in the examination.

 Paper-1 of IAS Prelims exam consists of the following topics: 

  • 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 Science.


Paper-2 of the IAS Prelims exam consists of the following topics: 

  • 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).
  • English language comprehension skills – Class X level.

Questions relating to English language comprehension skills will be tested through passages from English language only without providing Hindi translation.

It is mandatory for a candidate to appear in both the civil services prelims papers in order to be qualified for mains examination. Appearing in both the papers is compulsory for evaluation of UPSC prelims paper. A candidate must follow the Civil Services Prelims Syllabus while preparing to appear for the examination as the syllabus is indicative and not comprehensive. Keeping your preparation in line with the syllabus would make clearing the prelims examination a cake walk.

Paper 2 is just a qualifying paper this mark is not considered for cutoff and to qualify in this paper candidate have to get atleast 33%(66 marks) after all .

The successful candidate of prelims exam will appear in main exam.

The UPSC Mains Examination is intended to assess the academic skills of the candidates and their capability to state their knowledge in a precise and reasonable way. The mains examination is to analyze the general intellectual persona and profundity of understanding of candidates instead of their extent of information and memory.   

The UPSC has announced the date for UPSC 2018 Civil services examination. The Prelims exam will be held on 3rd June 2018 and the Mains exam will be held on 1st October 2018. There is no change in the syllabus. The mains exam will continue as a written paper with nine papers with the existing syllabus.

Revised UPSC Exam Pattern 2015 and UPSC Syllabus:  The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has revised the pattern of Civil Services Main examination from 2015.Currently, there are 7 + 2 = 9 papers to be answered in the IAS mains examination. Each paper is of descriptive type. There are two qualifying papers 1) any modern Indian language 2) English and are of 300 marks each. Anyhow, these marks are not counted in the main examination.   The candidate can choose any one language from the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution or English as the medium of writing the examination.  

According to the new UPSC exam pattern, there are ‘Four General Studies Papers’ each of 250 Marks with a total of 1000 Marks. The mains syllabus of General Studies is of degree level.   Candidates can choose only one optional subject from the list of subjects given below. Each optional subject comprises of two papers (Paper I and Paper II) each of 250 marks, making it a total of 500 marks. Candidates can also take literature subjects as an optional paper (without the condition that the candidate should be a graduate in language’s literature). Candidates can also take literature subjects as an optional paper (without the condition that the candidate should be a graduate in language’s literature).

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UPSC Mains General Studies Paper Syllabus  (I, II, III, and IV )

Paper-I General Studies-I 250 Marks (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)

Paper-III General Studies-III 250 Marks (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)

Paper-II General Studies-II: 250 Marks (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Paper-IV General Studies-IV 250 Marks (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) Marks carried by General Studies was 4X250=1000

The questions in Mains will be to check a candidate’s primary apprehension of variety of subjects that will be relevant to the Civil Services career. Hence, it is advised to candidates to go through General Studies Paper with attention to detail before starting their preparations. Here’s a detailed list of General Studies Paper I-IV Syllabus:


UPSC Exam General Studies- PAPER I 

Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society:

  • Indian culture covers the salient features of Literature, Art Forms, and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
  • Modern Indian history include the significant events, personalities, issues during the middle of the eighteenth century until the present
  • Various stages and important contributors and contributions from different parts of the country in ‘The Freedom Struggle’
  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country
  • History of the world includes events, forms and effect on the society from 18th century like world wars, industrial revolution, colonization, redrawal of national boundaries, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc
  • Salient aspects of Diversity of India and Indian Society
  • Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and remedies
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism
  • 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
  • Effects of globalization on Indian society
  • 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
  • Salient features of world’s physical geography


UPSC Exam General Studies- PAPER 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
  • Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries
  • Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions
  • Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these
  • Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies
  • 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
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies
  • 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
  • Health, Education, Human Resources
  • Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders
  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to
  • Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures
  • Issues relating to poverty and hunger
  • Role of civil services in a democracy
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • India and its neighborhood- relations
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

UPSC Exam General Studies- PAPER III click here for best IAS books

Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management:

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
  • Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management.
  • Government Budgeting.
  • Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
  • 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
  • Economics of animal-rearing.
  • Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management.
  • 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
  • Land reforms in India.
  • Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.
  • Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
  • Investment models.
  • 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.
  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
  • Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
  • Disaster and disaster management.
  • Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security.
  • Linkages between development and spread of extremism.
  • 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
  • Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate
  • Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism

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UPSC Exam General Studies- Paper IV click here for best IAS books

Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude: This paper includes questions to check the candidate’s’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his/her problem solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him/her while dealing with society. Questions may utilise the case study approach to determine these aspects and covers area:

  • 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
  • Case Studies on above issues

The nature of questions in General Studies in civil services mains exam need answers that are relevant, consequential and synoptic that will impress the examiner and these questions are to test the candidate’s skill on assessing and taking a view on the diverging socio-economic goals and objectives.


Essential IAS Books For UPSC Prelims


India’s Struggle For Independence – Bipan Chandra.

India’s Ancient Past – R.S. Sharma.

History Of Medieval India – Satish Chandra.

The Wonder That Was India – A.L. Bhasham.

Indian Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania.

Shanmugam ias academy class notes and materials

Tamilnadu state board 11th and 12th history book.


Geography of India – Majid Husain.

Oxford School Atlas – Oxford.

Certificate Physical and Human Geography – Goh Cheng Leong.

Shanmugam ias academy class notes and materials


Indian Polity for Civil Services Examinations – M. Laxmikanth.

Shanmugam ias academy class notes and materials. click here to download best books for IAS


Indian Economy – Ramesh Singh.

Indian economy – Shankar ganesh

Economic Survey- govt of india


Shanmugam ias academy class notes and materials. click here to download best books for IAS


Science and Technology in India – TMH.

Science reporter (monthly magazine).

Daily news paper (HINDU,INDIAN EXPRESS).

Shanmugam ias academy class notes and materials. click here to download best books for IAS


Environmental Studies: From Crisis to Cure – Rajagopalan.

Environment for Civil Services Prelims and Mains – Khuller.

Shanmugam ias academy class notes and materials.


India Year Book.

Manorama Yearbook.

CSAT Paper – 2 Manual by TMH or CSAT-II – Arihant 

Analytical Reasoning – M. K. Pandey 

Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning – R. S.Aggarwal 

Must read shanmugam ias academy daily news analysis and monthly magazine. 

Additional IAS Books for UPSC Mains:

Essay paper :

Essays for Civil Services – Pulkit Khare (Essay Paper)


India After Gandhi – Ramchandra Guha (History )

Norman Lowe OR History of Modern World – Jain and Mathur (World History )

Social Problems In India – Ram Ahuja. (Indian Society )


IAS Mains General Studies Paper 2 (Arihant Manual )

Governance in India for CSE. (Governance )

Pax Indica – Shashi Tharoor. (Foreign Policy )

India and the World by Surendra Kumar. (Foreign Policy )


IAS Mains General Studies – GS3. (Arihant Manual )

India’s National Security: A Reader. (Internal Security )

Challenges to Internal Security of India. (Internal Security )


Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude. ( Ethics )

IAS Mains General Studies – Ethics. ( Arihant Manual )

PS: Many books for UPSC Civil Service Main Exam overlap with books recommended for Prelims, except the mentioned additional books for topics like Foreign Relations, Internal Security, Ethics etc.

NOTE: these are the important books for upsc prelims and mains but these many books are not needed so please follow shanmugam ias academy (minimize your source)

All the above mentioned recommendations are well-suited for any aspirant to clear the Civil Service Exam like IAS in your very first attempt. But ultimately it depends on your perseverance and hard work to sail through. 


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