UPSC Civil Services Examination – Beginner’s Guide

NOTE 1: This post is old and may need updates. Whether I will be doing so immediately, if the question comes to this, then probably the answer is no. I will try to keep up but with the work schedule and other priorities, it may not be possible and not going to happen any time sooner. Please verify the latest pattern from credible online sources. should be the only site you trust for the latest information. 
NOTE 2: Since I am not able to reply to your comments, I am freezing the comments on this blog until this post is updated and I have time enough to be able to reply to your comments.

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.

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

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

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

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.


    1. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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,


    1. I liked the question paper setup of Vision IAS. Just check other than Test papers, do they also offer guidance on how to write answers in case your answer lacks something?

      1. Dear Palak,

        Thank you for the reply. Yes, they do offer guidance on how to write answers. That is what had impressed me about them in the first place – their detailed “correction” work.

  8. 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

    1. 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.

  9. 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

  10. Hi
    I am Rejabul,MCA student ,In the civil exam here no have engineering subject…..So which subject choose ..

  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.

    1. 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!

    1. 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. I am preparing for UPSC with AGRICULTURE optional. Do you know any blog exclusively for AGRICULTURE OPTIONAL?

  14. 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

  15. 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..?

  16. i am in 2nd year
    can i proceed for this exam ??
    is this exam is enterance test for income tax officer??

  17. 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?

  18. 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…

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

  21. 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….?

  22. 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.

    1. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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

  25. 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

  26. 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

  27. 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..

  28. 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

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

  30. 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

  31. 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..

  32. 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…

    1. 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.

  33. 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

    1. 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.

  34. 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

    1. 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.

  35. Sir mai inter tak up board se padha hu mai uptu se kar raha hu. Mai ias ki taiyari karna chahta hu medium kaun sa best rahega english or hindi.. pls rply and help me…

  36. Sir i m a persuing student….can i prepare for upsc from now onwards?…of so what are the books that to b choosen…

  37. sir
    i m an undergraduate student and want to serve my country as shivdip lande is doing.
    I need your guidance to startup for the preparation of upsc.
    I’ll be grateful to you sir.

  38. Hello madam i have given my class 10 examination and want to crack upsc exam…so in class 11 can i opt for PCB or is it compulsory for me to opt PCM…….plzzzz reply soon its urgent

  39. hello sir,
    first of all thanks for helping us for going in a direction.I am doing I want to crack this upsc exam.but now I’m only 17 years I have got time for this exam.these days what should be my preference for this exam.what should I do these days?what should I study so that I get help in the upsc exam.

  40. sorry I didn’t asked this question in my first comment but I didn’t understand about the csat’s paper gs-2…can u help me in understanding that

  41. I need to know whether we have to choose 1 subject as optional or have to choose 2 subject….there is a great confusion…..I have selected sociology as one what should be the other one…..what about language to choose

  42. Hi Sir,

    I am priya, now im working in IT org, and I want to prepare for the civils exams. for that I need guidance from the scratch. Im very much interested and passionate about civils.So can you give me a brief guidance for the beginner.
    Thanks in advance.

  43. Sir
    I am,19 yrs,2nd year engineering student.I need to understand the proper path to appear for civil service exams from the beginning.How can I study from now and what books to refer.Your help will be very beneficial

  44. Hello Sir
    I am Pawan. I am in class 12and I have optional subject which is Economics, Mass Communication and Cimputer science.So sir I want to know that which is best subject for UPSC Exam
    please tell me in detail on this id

  45. Sir I am from tamilnadu myself karthik.doing English literature .can I take history and political science as optional subjects

  46. Hello, I m a CS final student , I m interested in giving Upsc exam. N m thinking of 1st strengthning my base in maths for a start.can u advise me more on this, also I m thinking of joining a coaching institute after self preparing a bit.

  47. dear sir,
    which is better bsc or btech if i want to pursue upsc exam after the graduation,presently i have completed my 12 exams

  48. Hello sir
    l am rakesh ram. My graduation course will complete in 2016.may I fill up form for upsc examination..

  49. I have done my graduation in english hons from d.u.. Can I give upsc exam if yes than in which field I should go for?

  50. Hlo i studying agribusiness mngt course@ 3rd year now.what optional i want to should select…i lik science,history,administration a tamilmedium student from i hav some fear…but hav confidence.i using onlin sources .apart from wat r things should be cover…tell about self study without coaching class…reply soon sir via mail

    1. You need to decide that on your own. Go through the syllabus, read the primary books, look at the previous years question papers and if the subject interests you, take it.

  51. First of all thanks for providing sucu an essential information.
    Sir, i am a 3rd year btch(civil engg.) Student and wants to prepare for upsc by self-study. The information you have provided is useful to me but i want to know from where i should start like history geo,eco or polity means there is lot of material which i have to study bt how n from where should i start.
    I need your advice.

  52. Hi sir,
    I have completed in physical science from delhi university, my aim is to become an IAS officer but still now i’m not mentally prepared for this exam. In my views level knowledge is not sufficient to qualify upsc exam.
    So, Sir please suggest me…, Is level knowledge is sufficient for this exam?
    And also give me suggestions that Is this the right time for me to give this exam?? Or should i apply for it later?

  53. mam,
    please suggest me some books and tips also to qualify this exam confidently..
    I will be very thankful to you.

    [Editor: Writer of post is not mam]

    1. Hey pratibha..
      U can check the list of books available on site.. you should start from NCRTs.. good luck

  54. hey sir,
    i am a 3rd year btch(cs engg.) Student and wants to prepare for upsc by self-study. The information you have provided is useful to me but i want to know from where i should start. there is lot of material which i have to study bt how n from where should i start.
    I need your advice.

  55. I have chosen Hindi Language for Civil service exam , can I write the main exam answer other than Hindi language like in English.

    1. I am assuming you selected Hindi as your choice of language for Preliminary examination. If yes, you can change your language when filling Main application form, which you will do once you pass the preliminary stage.

  56. Hi Palak,
    I love Maths, I can do anything with in Maths(Enjoying with this). But I am confused, what should I have to choose as optional subject for mains examination. Because to attend mains examinations first we have to clear prelims examination. Being of technical background I have to put a lot of effort in General Studies. Suppose If I choose Geography as my optional subject then it will also help me in prelims examination. In this scenario what will be your preference? Please put your thoughts and guide me.

  57. Thanks a lot. But do we have to select 2 different optional subjects?. I am chemistry honours, so will i have to read some other subject in addition?

    Please reply

  58. Hi sir,
    I am 23 years old,i love civils due to family Problems i did not started is it right time to start preparation.

  59. Sir, currently I’m doing my LL.B final year and I’m preparing for UPSC exams. I did my graduation as a general student more over I’m an average student. Can you please suggest me what would be best to be my optional paper

  60. IAS exam 2016 is already scheduled and everyone talking about the details of this examination that scares most of the students because it is well known for it’s tough competition and level of expertise required.

    And at this time guide like this one really helps.

  61. Sir i’m persuing my ty bba and intresd in giving upsc my precentage in 10th were 69% and 12th 59% now my score are well good in bba am i capable of giving upsc while doing mba

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