The Civil Services exam is the doorway to exciting careers in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Revenue Service (IRS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and more. With lakhs of people attempting the elite services examination and only a few hundred seats typically available, the competition is fierce. To beat the competition, it’s important to prepare thoroughly and give yourself the maximum chance of success.
The Civil Services exam takes place in 3 stages; Preliminary exam (Prelims) consisting of objective-type multiple choice questions, the Mains exams which is an essay-type written exam, and a Personal Interview. The 3 stages are separated by a gap of 1-2 months.
When Is The Right Time To Start Preparing For Civil Services?
Some aspirants begin preparing for the Civil Services directly from high school and others start studying only 7 months before the exams. The ideal time to start preparing is in the last few years of your graduation degree as you can attempt the exam only once you graduate.
How To Begin Your UPSC Preparation
You have the conviction, you have the passion and a career in Civil Service is your goal. Now, comes the path to your goal.
To begin your preparation for the Civil Services Exam, start reading NCERT books for Political Science, History, Economics and Geography from Class 6-10 levels, based on the Civil Services official syllabus. Additionally, you may utilise reference books. A few good ones for Prelims are:
- India’s Ancient Past by R. S. Sharma
- History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra
- History of Modern India by Bipan Chandra
- India’s Struggle For Independence by Bipan Chandra
- Geography of India by Majid Husain
- Oxford School Atlas
- Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh
- Indian Polity by M. Lakshmikanth
Get in the habit of thoroughly reading newspapers on a daily basis, for at least 2-3 hours, and compare the current events with theoretical knowledge studied in Political Science, History, Geography and Economics.
Prepare personalized notes, focusing on your weak points and how you remember things best. Take help of all the resources in your power, whether it’s aid from former teachers, online videos, guidebooks, and coaching centres. Be sure to use your time wisely, study with full concentration and test yourself at each step of the way. Make revision your best friend and be confident in your abilities.
I’ll talk about the specific preparation for each of the 3 UPSC stages in the coming sections. Let’s talk about two other pressing concerns first.
How to Decide Your UPSC Optional Subject
There are a whopping 27 choices available for choice of optional subject for the 2 Optional Papers of the Mains examination for Civil Services. Whichever subject you choose will be applicable to both papers, which are worth 250 marks each, so choose carefully. The difficulty level of the optional papers is set to Honors level, which is above the Bachelor’s pass course level and below Master’s.
In the Mains portion of the Civil Services Examination, the marks you score will indicate the options you have in choosing a field amongst the different Civil Services. Select a subject that you are comfortable in, and one that is scoring. Go through previous year papers to get a better idea of what you will be facing.
Popular choices for the optional subject are Sociology, Public Administration and Anthropology. By choosing an optional subject that is also a part of the Mains Examination General Papers, you can score higher marks in both sections.
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When Should You Start UPSC Coaching?
For aspirants, coaching may seem like the ideal way to get an edge and put you ahead of the competition. However, with all the coaching centres mushrooming across the nation and even online, when and where should you begin?
First, begin your preparations on your own, this will test out your own drive and capability for pursuing studies for Civil Services. Prepare at least the first round of notes and get in the habit of reading newspapers on a daily basis before you join coaching. Attempt a few mock papers and get an idea of the Civil Services examination overall, after which you should join coaching.
Generally, coaching is considered more valuable for the Mains examination in comparison to the Prelims, as the Mains involves subjective-type answers. If you are short on time, ahead of the prelims, join coaching to speed up the revision process.
Use a coaching centre to supplement your efforts and thoroughly research to find the best coaching centre to match your study style.
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How To Prepare For UPSC Prelims
The Preliminary exam for the UPSC Civil Services consists of two papers; Paper I is General Studies worth 200 marks with 100 multiple choice questions and Paper II is an Aptitude test worth 200 marks with 80 multiple choice questions.
The syllabus for Paper I consists of current affairs, history of India, Indian polity, Indian and world geography, Indian governance, economic and social development, general science and general issues on environmental ecology, biodiversity and climate change. The syllabus for Paper II includes comprehension, logical reasoning, basic numeracy, and decision making & problem-solving.
The Prelims act as a qualifying examination to reach the Mains, and so scoring good marks is important. Since there are 100 questions to answer in 120 minutes, on an average 40 seconds should be spent per question.
Apart from facts, the Prelims test your clarity of concepts, power of retention and ability to identify the correct choice. Study the syllabus thoroughly and spend time on clearing your basic concepts. Focus on practice tests to gain accuracy and speed to improve your chances of clearing the Prelims.
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How To Prepare For UPSC Mains
The Mains examination for the Civil Services consists of subjective answers, which test your knowledge, analytical skills, writing skills and clarity of thought.
There are a total of 9 papers in the Mains examination, consisting of: 4 General Studies Papers, 1 Essay Paper, 2 Language Papers and 2 Optional Subject Papers. All 9 Papers are subjective-type and take place over a duration of 5 days.
To prepare for the Mains exam, study from NCERT school books, and online resources such as National Institute of Open Schooling study material and IGNOU study material.
Thoroughly and regularly read well-known national newspapers like The Hindu and The Indian Express and top magazines such as The Economist and India Today. Pay attention to the editorials, especially the writing style employed.
Practice writing on a daily basis and practice writing answers for the various papers. Get your answers checked by a coach or tutor so as to understand your weak points and improve.
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How To Prepare For UPSC Personal Interview
The Personal Interview or personality test is worth 275 marks of the total 2025 marks considered for awarding ranks. Past trends have shown that candidates scoring higher marks in the personal interview get better rankings overall in the Civil Services exam.
Even after clearing the Mains examination, continue to be updated on current affairs, contemporary socio-political events and general knowledge as such topics are discussed in the Personal Interview. Overall, the interview examines the personality of candidates in terms of mental alertness, analytical ability, approaches to critical problems, integrity, and leadership qualities.
To prepare for the personal interview, practice public speaking and your conversational skills. Talk in front of a mirror to study your body language and confidence. Join interview practice classes to get comfortable with talking in interviews and to get feedback on how to improve. On the day of the interview, be confident, dress neatly and stay calm in conversation.
Should You Focus More On UPSC Prelims Or Mains?
Depending on the time in your hands and the number of attempts available, you can decide whether to study for the prelims first and mains later or both together.
If it is your first attempt, focus on the Prelims so that you can clear the qualifying exam to reach the Mains. If you have more than 1 year before the Civil Services exam, prepare for both the Prelims and Mains together.
While both the papers cover similar subjects of general knowledge, awareness, and basic concepts, the preparation and writing style is completely different. The prelims are in the form of multiple choice questions, testing your speed and knowledge while the Mains exam consists of essay type questions, which test your writing skills and analytical skills in addition to knowledge.
Know your weaknesses and conquer them first, if you feel answering multiple questions in a limited time frame is difficult, focus on that, or if you think that your expression in writing could use some work, turn your attention there.
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Securing a job in the Civil Services is not easy, especially when there are lakhs of people vying for the same position. The role of Civil Services personnel is essential for the nation; and through the difficult selection process, only the most qualified remain. To be one of the selected, it’s important to work hard and study smart.
Did you find this article helpful in beginning your civil services preparation? Share with us in the comments section below!