Saturday, 23 June 2018

Gist of the UPSC Civil Service Examination - Satyakam Dutta

The UPSC Civil services examination consists of 3 stages – Preliminary, Mains and Interview. One who clears the objective type Preliminary stage sits in the subjective type Mains stage. The marks from the Preliminary Stage are not carried forward for final merit list. However, the marks of Mains and Interview are combined to allot a rank in the merit list.

The syllabuses for Prelims and Mains phases of the examination have several common topics. One needs to find out the commonalities in the syllabus. I did the same and firstly studied those portions which seemed to me to be common. According to me there are more than 80% commonalities and I feel that one need not do preparations for Prelims and Mains stages separately.

Preliminary Stage:

The Preliminary stage has two papers – Paper I (General Studies) and Paper II (CSAT). 

The syllabus for the Preliminary Exams for Paper-I:

  • 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
  • General Science

The syllabus for the Preliminary Exams for Paper-II:

  • Comprehension
  • 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)

One should religiously follow newspapers everyday. It is a thumb rule that anyone who prepares for the Civil Services reads The Hindu newspaper. There is a good reason behind it. The Hindu (as also the Assam Tribune, which I read religiously now and has become a morning habit for me) explains each and every thing from a beginner’s point of view, without resorting to sensationalism. I used to supplement my reading of Current Affairs with another newspaper The Indian Express in order to have a neutral point of view regarding current affairs and reading multiple newspapers balances our views to a large extent.

For Current Affairs, I used to read “Competition Wizard” and sometimes “Civil Services Chronicle”. Both these magazines are very good in terms of Current Affairs. One can also read “Pratiyogita Darpan” and “Civil Services Times”, if the above two are not readily available.

The aspirant may also would like to read the analysis of the Prelims question paper of the earlier years done in the website For current affairs portion, one can explore and

One thing one has to note is that the syllabus for the Prelims is vast and one needs to understand that the preparation for Mains and Prelims has to go together and the focus on Prelims should be more in the last 2 months of preparation before the examination. If one thinks that he will study for Prelims and only after clearing the Prelims, would start the preparation for Mains, then it is very likely that he will fail in the Mains. One hardly gets 2 months after the results of the Prelims to prepare for the Mains. Hence, the preparation for Mains has to start early and one should understand that the preparation for Prelims as well as Mains can happen together.

Coming to the PAPER 2 of the UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Examination, it is only a qualifying paper i.e. one needs to just get a minimum mark to qualify and the selection in Prelims will happen based on the marks obtained in the PAPER 1 only. The qualification criteria is 33%. If one has a good grasp of basic English, Numerical Ability and Logical Reasoning, one can easily sail through this paper. The topics in PAPER 2 are:
  • Comprehension
  • 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)

If one is not very comfortable with Numerical Ability and Logical Reasoning, one can study these two books for practice: A Modern Approach To Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning by R. S. Aggarwal and Analytical Reasoning by M. K. Pandey. However, as I said earlier, if one has a good grasp of Maths of high school standard, one can easily do the Numerical Ability part of the PAPER 2 of Prelims.

A good answer in Quora sums up the preparation required for the PAPER 2:
“The following deserve your attention.
·       Solving comprehension questions every day is critical. Equally important is analyzing your answers. By this time, we consider you have enhance your comprehension skills by solving sample papers and reading a lot from various sources.
·       For Quantitative Aptitude, Data Interpretation and Basic Numeracy, your basics should be 100% clear. Solve questions and analyze them to rectify your weakness. But don’t waste too much time in dealing with questions on a particular topic
·       Logical Reasoning and Analytical Ability does requires a lot of practice. By now you must have learnt the short cuts to solve reasoning and analytical questions. As the exam is approaching, you can solve more of mock or sample papers within a set time. Also analyzing your answers is important to correct before the exam.”

Hence, I would suggest that anyone preparing to appear in the Prelims, should practice an hour a day for the PAPER 2, even though it is a qualifying paper. For people a bit comfortable with PAPER 2 topics, they should at least prepare 5 hours a week, because the more you practice the more it becomes easier to clear the PAPER 2.
The cutoffs for Prelims PAPER 1 in 2015 were: General - 107.34, OBC - 106.00, SC - 94.00 and ST - 91.34 out of a maximum of 200 marks. For Prelims PAPER 2 it was 33% as discussed earlier.

Mains Stage

Civil Services (Mains) Examination Format
Paper A
(One of the Indian languages mentioned below, to be selected by the candidate (from the languages listed in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India) (Qualifying)
Paper B
English (Qualifying)
Paper I
Paper II
General Studies I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)
Paper III
General Studies II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International Relations)
Paper IV
General Studies III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)
Paper V
General Studies IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)
Papers VI, VII
Two papers on subjects to be selected by the candidate from the list of optional subjects below (250 marks for each paper)
Sub Total (Written Test) (Paper I + II + III + IV + V + VI + VII)
Personality Test (Interview)
Total Marks

It is to be noted here that Paper A and B are just qualifying papers, which means one just need to pass in those papers and the marks obtained in those papers shall be included in the total for preparation of the merit list. List of languages that one can take up for the Paper A are Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi (Devanagari/Arabic Script), Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.  Though the UPSC has never disclosed the passing marks of the qualifying papers, a score of 50% is considered to be safe. It is pertinent here to mention here that rest of the papers are checked only when one passes in the qualifying papers.

For the Optional paper (Papers VI and VII) one can take any of the following subjects: Agriculture, Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science, Anthropology, Botany, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Commerce & Accountancy, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Geography, Geology, History, Law, Management,  Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medical Science, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science & International Relations, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, Statistics, Zoology and Literature of any one of the following languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi , Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, English.
Hence, the plethora of choices is huge. One can choose among various subjects according to one’s own liking. It is not mandatory that one has to choose an optional in which one has graduated in. He can take any subject to be his optional from the subjects mentioned above. I graduated in Computer Engineering and did a Masters in Management. But I had chosen Assamese Literature and Public Administration as my two optionals. Back then, one had to choose two optional subjects. Now, one has to choose a single optional subject.

A few good websites/blogs to follow:

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

Art and Culture – If one has followed his old high school books on Social Studies well enough, this topic would be an easy walk. For a text, Spectrum’s Art and Culture is a nice book to follow. I had studied this book intensively. Like any other topic in General Studies, one also has to follow contemporary issues in Art and Culture. UPSC asks things which are relevant and have some contemporary weightage. While reading a newspaper, one has to keep an eye on

History of India’s Independence StruggleNCERT books are good for the pre-1857 part and Spectrum’s A Brief History of Modern India is a good book for 1857 and beyond. Most of the questions do not ask one to go into the very depth of history but require to be analytical keeping in mind the various issues relevant to that period. Many successful aspirant recommend Shekhar Bandopadhyay’s From Plassey to Partition. In addition to the above, I had read Bipan Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence, which also is a very good book.

Post- Independence HistoryNCERT‘s Politics in India Since Independence is a brilliant book which gives everything one needs to know clearly and concisely. Also again, the personalities are given in boxes in the book which helps a lot in revising and also memorizing. In addition to the NECRT book, if one needs some additional material, one can refer Bipan Chandra’s India since Independence, which is a good book nevertheless, but it is more of a research book than a reference. Hence, one can have a casual read only if one is interested.

World History – Old NCERT books of Standard 9-12 on history are the best books for World History. These are the books which were there before 2000. They are more than enough for World Histroy. However, they are difficult to find now in physical form but can be downloaded from this link:

Sociology – A general understanding of Indian Society is required to answer questions relating to sociology. I believe for this part, a continuous read of the newspapers would benefit a lot. Though there no specific textbooks, magazines like Yojana and Frontline delve a lot on the current problems facing the society and how the Government is talking them. The aspirant should not always be critical of what Government is doing. The intention of the Government is always correct and hence, the policy decisions are required to be evaluated on merit and not histrionics. India generally succeeds less on the execution part.

Geography – The basic and the most important books for Geography are the NCERT books for the Standard 11 and 12. One has to compulsorily study these textbooks. has got a very nice collection of articles and materials for the Geography part of the GS Paper 1 and YouTube has some brilliant videos on the basic topics.

Paper III
General Studies II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International Relations)

Polity:  For Polity there are two text books which aspirants generally follow – One by Laxmikanth and the other by D. D. Basu. Almost all aspirants refer to these two books only. However, they study only one among them as a text book. I used to read the book by Laxmikanth as my text book. Many of my colleagues studied the book by D. D. Basu. I also purchased both the books, read a few chapters and found that the one by Laxmikanth suited by level of understanding. I would also suggest the aspirants that they also should go through both the books and decide which one best suits him or her. One should not try too hard to read a book which others are reading. One should read a book which one can understand and comprehend better. Apart from one among these two books, aspirant should also read various articles and reference material from the website.

Representation of People's Act & Elections: There is no specific reading material for this topic. One can however download the Representation of People’s Act and take a print out and study the same. The election process in India is also important from the exam point of view. One can study about election reforms too from here:
Government Policies and Schemes: This is a very important topic for the examination, not only from the Mains Exam point of view, but also is important for the Prelims. The best way to study this portion is directly from the Ministry websites. Various ministries have information and statistics about various schemes under them in their websites, which are generally kept up to date. So studying them from the Ministry websites is the best way to go ahead. Another important source is the All India Radio, with its news and News Analysis program. One can download them from the AIR website and put them in an mp3 player and listen during free time. I used to do the same. I had bought an mp3 player and used it for listening news and other programs from AIR. Also searching Google for schemes of government of India is a good strategy to know about the schemes of the Government.

Current Affairs – This is THE MOST important section for the entire Civil Services Mains Examination. For this, a coordinated and well strategized study of the newspapers and magazines is a must. The Hindu serves are the main newspaper one can rely on, complemented by The Assam Tribune, and one can choose between many magazines available for the UPSC examination like the Competition Wizard, Civil Services Chronicle etc. By coordinated and well strategized study I meant that one should know what to study in a newspaper and what not to. As I have said earlier, only after internalizing the syllabus and analyzing old question papers, one will know what to study and what to leave out while reading a newspaper. The basics are that the Editorial, Economy, International and Opinion pages are a must and for the Current Affairs portion in Paper 2 like the Issues relating to poverty and hunger, Important aspects of governance etc, the Opinion and Editorial pages are the best study material available, because they carry views and opinions about the current problems and issues in the country and abroad.

India and the World: The concept of India and the World can be divided into the five issues:
  • India and her neighbours (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Sri-Lanka, Nepal and China)
  • India and the regions (South America, Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, Europe and so on.)
  • India and the big 5 UNSC members (USA, China, France, Russia and UK )
  • India and Economically powerful nations (Australia, Japan, S.Africa, Brazil, UAE etc)
  • India and Organizations (UN, ASEAN, G20, GCC, EU, IMF, World Bank etc.)

Based on these divisions, aspirants have to read the study materials available. Surendra Kumar’s India and the World: Through the Eyes of Indian Diplomats, is a good book in this regard. Shashi Tharoor’s Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century, is also used as a reference book by many aspirants.

International Affairs: If one reads the International page in The Hindu or The Assam Tribune regularly and has formed an idea about the world affairs at large, this section would be a cake walk. Reading newspapers is the only way to handle this section.

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

Indian Economy & Industry: One has to understand the basic concepts of economics initially and has to tackle difficult issues later. Therefore, it is necessary for one to devout considerable time in understanding the basics. NCERT Books and Indian Economy by Uma Kapila are must reads while the Annual Economic Survey published before budget is a nice report to follow. The Economy page in The Hindu/Assam Tribune is a must for aspirants.

Agriculture: For this part, the “Agriculture” page in The Hindu is a good read. The weblink is One can also read the monthly magazine “Down To Earth”, which regularly publishes a lot of important articles on various issues related to Agriculture.

Science and Technology: Questions related to Science and Technology are generally framed on the latest developments on the front of Science and Technology such as nano-technology, robotics, IT, space etc. Emphasis would be on India’s advances and future programmes on Science and Technology. Therefore reading the news about Science and Technology in newspapers is a must. The Hindu has a weekly page on “Science and Technology” and reading this page is a must for every serious aspirant.

Environment and Ecology: The “Environment” page of The Hindu every week gives weekly updates about Environment and Ecology. The weblink is However, I used to read the monthly magazine “Down To Earth” and can say that for this topic, this magazine is the best resource.

Disaster Management: For this topic, the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) website,, provides a lot of information and updates.

Internal and External Security: The Home Ministry is responsible for internal security. Its website contains vital information on the internal security architecture including agencies, plans, mechanisms. Therefore, one must visit this site and extract highly useful material relating to internal security. About external security, is a good read.

Paper V
General Studies IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)

The Ethics paper of the UPSC Examination has to be seen in light of what UPSC says about how to prepare for the examination through its notification. It says – “The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.” These sentences should be the guiding light for one’s preparation. One doesn’t have to master the topics, all one needs is basic understanding and the ability to analyze. Basic understanding comes from reading and re-reading. Ability to analyze what one has understood from reading comes from writing practice.

One book for Ethics which is read by most of the successful aspirants is “Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude for IAS General Studies Paper IV” by Niraj Kumar. There are many other books for the Ethics part and aspirants might get confused about what to read and what not. But, I think this book shall suffice the requirements well. One needs to know that Ethics cannot be learnt in a week or month. It has to be imbibed since childhood, and that’s where the role of the parents and teachers come in. The 250 marks paper of Ethics is generally divided into roughly 125 marks for Theory and 125 marks for Case Study based interpretation of Real Life based problems. Theory can be learnt from the books, but Case Study based questions have to answered from one’s own Ethical standpoints. For the theory questions, I would suggest that one memorise or internalize the definitions of key ethical terms like, “Ethics”, “Values”, “Transparency”, “Accountability” etc, as one has to apply those definitions in writing the answers. To tackle the Case Study based questions, every question requires a different strategy. Some techniques one can google are - PESTLE, Stakeholder Analysis, Value Chain, SWOT and Pro-Con. And then apply these strategies in one’s answers.

It is not very difficult to answer the questions in this paper but the approach should be good. UPSC has introduced this paper in order to sensitise the candidates with proper ethical practices so that the citizen centric delivery model of the Government is executed judiciously. Hence, while answering the questions the candidate should also keep the Government’s point of view and Government administrative processes while answering the questions.

Interview Stage
(Collected from

The above graph shows the proportion of the Interview in the aggregate score of the candidate. If you notice carefully, a very good performance in the Mains is the one that is able to secure 50% marks (according to the analysis of the recent Mains exam). However, if you analyze the recent scores of the candidates in the Personality Test, you would observe that, it is easy to score as high as 70-80% in the interview. This kind of performance can give a fillip to your aggregate score in the final merit list. Thus, You must focus on performing well in the interview. Since you have done your ‘karma’ in the Mains, now is the time to show your metal in the interview.

The Personality test is not meant to test your expertise on academic issues. You have already proven your competency in the academic field, in the MAINS examination. Thus, the purpose of the interview stage is to evaluate you, as a person, and to test your suitability as a civil servant.

Thus, do not attempt a deep research into the traditional texts, that you followed for the Mains. Instead, what is of great value, from the interview point of view, is to know about each bit of word, that you have put in the DAF form.

The interview panel knows you from the DAF form, that was submitted by you. Thus, you are expected to know, in detail, about the various aspects of yourself.

Generally, the interview panel is very accommodating, and does not try to make you feel uncomfortable. The interview generally starts with an introduction of the interviewers and the candidate, and goes into the discussion on personal details of the candidate. In this context, it is important to know about your socio-cultural background, your native town, family background and any possible thing about yourself. Thus, in the coming days, you should try to know everything about yourself and the world that belongs to you.

Talk to your family members, know about your family history; about your native town; meaning of your name and surname. Apart from that, you must develop a comprehensive knowledge about the hobbies and interests, that you have mentioned in the DAF form.

For instance, if you have written cricket as a hobby, you might be asked about the general evolution of the game; the latest system that governs the format of international cricket; state of women's cricket; the changes introduced in recent times.

If you have given 'Watching Movies' as a hobby, be prepared to face questions on different cinema organizations, international updates on cinema world, recent awards and evaluations, apart from your other areas of interest.

Next, you should be abreast with your educational background and the reason that you chose the field. You should also be able to link the recent developments in the subject of your specialization. You might also be asked the reason for pursuing the civil services as a career. Remember, you are expected to express your own views, and not the bookish 'gyaan'. So, do not rely overwhelmingly on books and texts, to find answers. Books should be only an instrument to enrich your understanding, and make you better able to answer the questions.

Next, you must develop a comprehensive knowledge about your native state. Know about its culture, society, history, political development, general status, and social problems. You should be able to provide an insight in the various aspects of the state and society, to which you belong. Thus, now is the right time to start studying about your state and society.

                The Interview panel consists of highly qualified officials, from different walks of life. Therefore, do not try to fool them. This might backfire badly, and bring adverse consequences for your result. Instead, if you are not aware of the answers to the questions asked, the best thing to do is to state frankly saying , 'Sorry, but I am not aware about this'.

Be confident in what you are saying. Lack of confidence and frequent fumbling gives a wrong impression. Thus, practice on your speaking skills and talk with confidence. In this context, taking mock interviews might be very helpful, as it helps you to prepare to face the interview environment. Secondly, do not sit in the interview with a stress on your face. A smiling face gives a positive vibe and adds to the impression. Thus, work on your body language, to imbibe a positive energy in you.
Be Optimistic. Too much of negativity might not be helpful. However, it is alright to provide a fruitful critique for something, but it shall be supplemented with a justifiable remedy to the problem. Your answer should reflect your ability to analyze and resolve the problems of administration.

Most importantly, keep yourself composed and calm at all times. Getting over-excited might reflect an immaturity of behaviour. Thus, compose your emotions and feelings, and act modestly.

IAS interview is not a round of question-answers; neither is it like the ones shown on television shows, like roadies. The interview panel is highly qualified and modest in their approach. Thus, you must live up to their expectations. The Interview process is designed as a friendly conversation and healthy discussion.


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