UPSC Civil Services Examination – Beginner’s Guide

I had been receiving many questions on the pattern of the examination. Here I am trying to summarize the details about the examination. More perspectives and views will be added later. It is just to understand the structure of the examination. Let us begin.

From 2011, UPSC has changed the pattern and structure of examination. As before, there are three stages of examination but the pattern has changed for preliminary examination. The stages are-

  1. Preliminary Examination, now known as Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT)
  2. Mains Examination
  3. Personality Test (or Interview)
  1. Preliminary Examination (or CSAT):-

 CSAT is objective type test divided into two papers:- General Studies Paper 1 and General Studies Paper II.

General Studies Paper 1 is the traditional GS type paper but with changed syllabus. In 2011, there were 100 objective type questions, each carrying equal marks and 0.3 negative marking.  For syllabus, you can visit my blog: –

General Studies Paper 2 is what you would like to call CAT-like aptitude-type exam. In 2011 paper, the concentration was more on English and Hindi Comprehension, and graph reading abilities and not on quantitative and hard-core logical reasoning questions. Thus, it gave equal opportunity to people who might be from non-mathematics or non-engineering background. You can check the syllabus at the above link.

Check the book-list for General Studies here.

2.     Mains Examination: - 

The written examination will consist of the following papers:

Paper I (300 marks)-  One of the Indian languages to be selected by the candidate from the Languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution.

Paper II (300 marks)- English

Paper III (200 marks)- Essay

Paper IV (300 marks) – General Studies Paper 1

Paper V (300 marks)- General Studies Paper 2

Paper VI (300 marks) – Optional 1 – Paper 1

Paper VII (300 marks)– Optional 1 – Paper 2

Paper VIII (300 marks)– Optional 2 – Paper 1

Paper IX (300 marks) – Optional 2 – Paper 2

Notes: – (i) The papers on Indian Languages and English will be of Matriculation or equivalent standard and will be of qualifying nature; the marks obtained in these papers will not be counted for ranking.

(ii) Evaluation of the papers, namely,’Essay, ‘General Studies’ and Optional Subjects of all candidates would be done simultaneously along with evaluation of their qualifying papers on ‘Indian languages’ and English’ but the papers on ‘Essay’, General Studies’ and ‘Optional Subjects’ of onlysuch candidates will be taken cognizance of as attain such minimum standard as may be fixed by the Commission at their discretion for the qualifying papers on ‘Indian language’ and ‘English’ and, therefore, the marks in ‘Essay’ ‘General studies and Optional subjects’ will not be disclosed to those candidates who fail to obtain suchminimum qualifying standard in ‘Indian language and ‘English’.

List of optional subjects for Main Examination

Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science
Civil Engineering
Commerce and Accountancy
Electrical Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Medical Science
Political Science and International
Public Administration
Literature of one of the following languages:
Arabic, Assamese, Bodo, Bengali, Chinese, Dogri, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Pali, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu.

NOTE (i) Candidates will not be allowed to offer the following combinations of subjects:–

(a) Political Science & International Relations and Public Administration;
(b) Commerce & Accountancy and Management;
(c) Anthropology and Sociology;
(d) Mathematics and Statistics;
(e) Agriculture and Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science.
(f) Management and Public Administration;
(g) Of the Engineering subjects, viz., Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering–not more than one subject.
(h) Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science and Medical Science.

 3.   Personality Test (or Interview):- 

Interview test is of 300 marks

For rest of the information you can visit the link(s) below:-
1. Examination Notification for CSE 2011. Click here.

80 thoughts on “UPSC Civil Services Examination – Beginner’s Guide

  1. Pingback: UPSC Civil Services - Page 87 - - The Everything of MBA in India and Abroad, CAT 2011, GMAT, XAT, MAT

  2. I read all the info.given now i understood what is the real pattern of upsc exam. Thanks a lot…

  3. i done bsc maths in hindi medium than in philosophy and hindi litra which is better for optional and my first optional is history

    • Hi Anil,

      You can select any of the optionals that you feel comfortable with. If you are comfortable with Philosophy or Hindi Literature then go choose them. Just go through the syllabus of the optional that you want to consider. Check previous years question papers and by judging yourself relating to them decide on the optionals.

      You can also check Pub Ad, Sociology, Anthropology also. But final decision is yours.

  4. Hi Sir,

    i was completed MCA, The first attempt of me in 2012 for Civil Service, was failed in prelims itself, i did this attempt without any proper guidance with normal preparation. Now i am taken it as serious, Tell me what i should do to crack the Civil Service please give me suggestions and what optional Should i want to select.

    • I will not like to comment on this as it will be just a speculation. UPSC doesn’t discloses the cut-off. So, work hard and score as much as possible. Anything above 210 will be safe but is not guaranteed.

  5. Dear Sir,

    I am a student. I am preparing for the UPSC exam. I do no have any idea on polity, history, geography nor economics. Infact I have no true knowledge about economics. Seeing this what optional subject am i supposed to take ? I wish to know the basics of these subjects and maybe based on this i wish to take up an optional which is not too tough to comprehend. I want to know your opinion on this sir. I hope you will help me out on this problem.


    • Hi Karthik,

      First let me tell you that information given on this page no longer holds true. Read this Corrigendum: to know more about the structure of the examination.

      If you have read it then you will know that you need to select only one optional and prepare all other subjects that you mentioned in your comment as part of General Studies. So, have a look at the list of “optionals” provided. Select the one with which you are comfortable with. Check the syllabus, previous years question papers, analyze. Read the primary books recommended and try to solve few questions. If you feel comfortable then take the subject as your optional otherwise choose a new one and repeat the steps.

  6. Hello sir,
    myself AKSHAY TODKARI now Ihave cleared 12th exam and I aspire to become IAS officer kindly tell me vital things that I should start preparing . I mostly ii will be opting for HISTORY & SOCIOLOGY as optional subject. waiting for your reply.

  7. sir,
    i am a b-tech 3rd year student and aspire to sit in for UPSC’14 with chemistry as my optional subject and have been reading class 11& 12 NCERT chemistry books. I want to know will it suffice or i need to go through more books, if yes then can you suggest me some of the books and their authors..
    yours kindly

  8. Dear Palak,

    Could you please enlighten me on whether I should sign up for Vision IAS Mains Test Series for GS and Sociology (Socio being my optional). I am in a fix. They have a set of 2 Test Series each for “Paper I & II” and “Paper III & IV” and a single test series for Sociology, each of which costs Rs. 9000/-. I wish to know if the test series is worthwhile. Please let me know.

    Thanks & Regards,


  9. Hi,
    i am a parent of child studying in 7th std.State board English School.I want to focus his career thr.UPSC exam please HELP me for preparation

    • Hi Prati,

      Thank you for your comment and sorry for being late in my reply.

      I will start with my first impression about your comment that made me a little upset. Please do not force your child toward a career that is chosen by you without his or her consent.

      On second thoughts I thought that it is a kind of thing with parents to worry about their kids and their careers. I realize that your child is in 7th and 3 years down will be writing X exams and two years later would have graduated from school.

      Now let us come to your question regarding UPSC preparation. Right now you do not have to do any extra efforts. Just make sure that your child is serious toward school education and at the same time concentrate on his co-curricular/sporting activities.

      UPSC normally asks questions related to fundamentals taught in school and it is important that your child remember what is taught in school through out his or her life. And it will not be possible if your child is just mugging up things. If things are taught in an interesting and/or fun way, it is highly probable it will be inculcated deeply inside the brains/heart of the child. For eg, history is the most interesting subject which has been made boring by the way it is taught in school. If the same thing is told as a kind of story and in more interesting manner it will be fun and easy to understand and remember. UPSC never asks the date when a certain battle was won. Also, as from history as a subject perspective, dates are not as important as the chronology of event. If this is taught in an easy and fun way, it will be remembered throughout the life. Similarly, it is true for other subjects. Science can not be learned if it is only done through reading books and without any experiments. So, it is better to get yourself involved with your child in some kind of DIY stuff. It will be fun and help understand certain concepts very easily as compared to when reading it from a book.

      AS of now just concentrate on school activities – academics as well as co-curricular. And your child will be on right track. TO add to this, Reading is a good habit and if you can try to make your child interested in reading stuff. I started reading comics and graduated to fiction novels and now I can read any damn thing – however boring it may be. :)

      Let your child innovate – in science, writing his thoughts or anything he or she is interested in.

      Hope this is of some help.

  10. sir ,i am from andhra,myself dheeraj,i am 17 and studying 1 year,i am interested in ips ,in jee mains this year i got 37000 rank,if i start now for an ordinary student ,3 or 4 years of time with 2 hours daily preparation,is it enough with internet and books as his guidance. reply me sir ,thanks

  11. i am 26 years old .i am unoccupied.i am poor in english and not a extraordinary student.i am belongs to rural family.i am simple but good and hard working.student. now know about civil service exam.and take this it realistic decision?if i start hard,when i am able to get job.

    • Hi Jinia,

      Start preparing for UPSC in your mother tongue and take the exam. Work on your English as it is one of the compulsory papers that you need to clear to qualify. If you work hard honestly then you have fair chances.

  12. Dear Mr.Mathur, thank you for such a detailed write up of info. see, I am a b tech grad from IITM,currently working in a private firm in India. I wish to pursue a career in Public Services. I’ve always wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer or an IPS. Truly speaking, this mech job isn’t that satisfying for me. So, my big confusion here which I would be very thankful to you if you cleared it is, will I be able to crack the UPSC if I start preparing from scratch now and how much time it would take for the same. More importantly, how satisfied would a ‘services’ guy would be, honestly speaking. A comment on Work life balance would be much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi,

      With whatever limited experience I have had is that no one is satisfied with their job – including me. So, I am not sure if a job as an IPS or IAS or any other civil service will be able to resolve this issue. As far as Work-life balance is concerned, I am not an officer and will not be able to comment on that.

      Coming to your first question that whether you will be able to clear the exam if you start preparing now. The answer is yes. Yes, you can crack the exam. But you will have to work in the right direction.

  13. hello sir i am doing bsc second year.. i want to appear for civil sevices exam.. since i am starting my studies from now which books should i refer or what kind of perperation should i start with and how should i start with it

  14. Hello Sir
    I’m IITR graduate, I just want to ask a simple question, if I start preparing for UPSC for 2015 will I be able to crack it, as I was v.weak student in Social Science during schools, apart from that I was topper in other subjects..
    So, there’s always a war in mind, will I be able to do it or not..?

  15. Hlow sir i m pusuing b-tech in mechanical stream.i want to apply for upsc bt i don’t knw nythng abt wil u plz tell me the vital points to apply for upsc or wat i hv to do basically?

  16. Hlow sir presently i m pursuing b-tech in mechanical stream.i want to apply for UPSC bt i don’t knw how to apply for it. Infact i don’t evn knw d abc of it…so wil u plz guide me nd tel me some vital points abt d exam criteria…plz plz plz sir,i shal b vry thankful to u…

  17. Hello Mr Mathur,
    Thank you for all the information u have shared here. Kindly help in understanding the Age limit for taking up UPSC exam under OC category. There have been news stating the age limit is increased from 30 to 32 is that true.? Thanks in Advance.

  18. I am pursuing Bsc in Geology. I am in 2nd Sem now. Is this the high time that i should start my preparations for IAS?

  19. I am pursuing Bsc in Geology. I am in 2nd Sem now. Is this the high time that i should start my preparations for IAS….?

  20. Dear sir, is doing MA IN SOCIOLOGY FROM IGNOU enough for UPSC SOCIOLOGY OPTIONAL or I have to go for other resources also?? Please guide.

    • Just doing a course is not enough but having a good grip and knowledge of the subject is. Many people who crack CSE with Sociology have never done a PG in the subject. Most of them are from other fields like Engineering, etc. So, it is not the PG in the subject but your grasp and hold that is going to help.

  21. respected sir,
    i wanted to appear in upsc exam -INDIAN ENGINEERING SERVICE after two year. the problem is i have detained two times in engineering because of health issues.i wanted to know that am i still elligible for engineering upsc exam?
    if i will crack this exam and selected for interview ,will it affect my interview marks and selection process?
    i have strong will to crack this exam please guide me so i can take step in possitive direction.

  22. i have selected hindi as a language and i want books to study please suggest me hindi literature books and i have taken management as optional subjects

  23. sir i am from jharkhand and i have no idead of papper 1
    please explain me if i am not good enough in other lang. except english

  24. Dear Sir, Greetings. First of all, thank you for helping us all IAS aspirants. It is overflowing with contradicting information and guidance in the world of competitive examinations, very important factors to success. Thank you once again for investing your time.

    I have completed B.E. Mechanical from Australia and my schooling in India, under various educational boards 1st -4th (ICSE), 5th-8th (CBSE), 9th-12th (IGCSE / A Levels) I have studied science/maths (exclude /bio in 11 n 12) subjects through out and additional subjects like economics (9-10) and business(11-12) studies during my school years.

    I am preparing to appear for 2015 CSE and restricted to a single attempt only. with limited time in hand, I am confused on selecting my mains subject. Though the best advice is to select a subject of my interest, but I cannot choose Mech Engineering because of its vast syllabus and I do not have a good grip on Indian engineering syllabus.

    I would like your opinion on Mathematics as mains subject and if you can, then please provide links/information related to its syllabus, book-list, blogs, study tips, suggestions on approach and online/on-campus coaching institute for Mathematics. I have been told that difficult subject stand a higher chance of selection even at low marks score in subject papers due to scaling policy practiced by UPSC (for example Maths Vs History), is it true to your knowledge?

    I appreciate your efforts for valued guidance.

    Best Regards
    Jay K

  25. hi sir,
    i m a 12th qualified student entering engineering but aspire to be in civil services…but after the completion of btech…the very year my age is falling short by three days ie i m not eligible just for the sake of 3 there any alternative..plz tell me..

  26. Hello sir… 3 rd yr BAMS student…at this stage wht type of preparation i have to do if im going to appear aftr 2 yrs for prelium of upsc

  27. Sir I am graduated in civil engineering…so want choose it as optional so please sir can tell me the average score in this.

  28. dear, sir i am student of now, i have a confusion that can i take indian history as optional subject in main exam ,if i am commerce student??
    Sir i request to u , plz provide and tell about this for take away my confusion?!
    I shall be highly obliged

  29. hi sir,
    i m a 12th qualified student entering engineering but aspire to be in civil services…but after the completion of btech…the very year my age is falling short by three days ie i m not eligible just for the sake of 3 there any alternative..plz tell me..

  30. hello sir…… sir i am in second year and i am completing my BE through Electronics and telecommunication department…SIR can i take electrical as my optional for csat and if please suggest me some books for coaching is not affordable right now so if i could complete at least some basics…

    • CSAT doesn’t has optional. It has two parts – General Studies and Aptitude. After you clear CSAT, you have to write Mains.

      Electrical can be a good option if you are confident and knowledgeable about the subject.

      For starters, prepare for General Studies. Books list is available on this blog. Go to Notes > General Studies > Books list.

  31. Sir I am currently studying in class 12 science i really want to crack this upsc exam so i want to start as early as possible so please guide me about books and other stuff related to exam

    • Aditya,

      You are in XII. Now is not the time to worry about UPSC. Concentrate on your XII, score decent marks, get an admission into a college/university and then start thinking about preparation.

      Your XII subjects are going to help you tremendously in UPSC. For that matter everything taught in school is important. So concentrate.

  32. Hello sir i am doing my law. May i know how should i begin to start for the preparation ? What books i should refer to? How many hours to study per day? Please help me out

    • Hi Meghana and others,

      I am replying after a very long time. Sorry for the delay.

      Q. How to start preparing? What subjects to select?
      A. In college, work on your general knowledge. Read books, plenty of them – fiction & non-fiction both. Concentrate on the your subjects. If for eg you are interested in Law and you are studying law, pick the subject. If your area of graduation is not of your liking, in that case reading different books on various subjects will give you an opportunity to know which subject you like the most. Choose accordingly.

      Q. What books to refer?
      A. From the Menu above, go to Notes > General Studies > Books List… It will give you a list of books and subjects that you might want to read (about).

      Q. How many hours a day should I study?
      A. That is a tricky question. Everyone has different level of understanding and stamina. Find out how much time you can study – graduation and General. Plan that time out. Make a time table and try to stick to it. Treat yourself if you do.

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