IAS Preparation Tips

How to Start UPSC Preparation from Scratch?

Written by Abhinash Chaudhary · 4 min read >
How to prepare for IAS Exam

If you don’t know anything about UPSC and want to start the preparation from scratch then this article will be quite helpful to you. 

Table of content

  1. Eligibility criteria 
  2. Age limit and no of attempts
  3. UPSC exam types with subjects
  4. Booklist for UPSC Prelims & Mains
  5. Optional subject list
  6. Tips to start your preparation from scratch

This will cover the UPSC Exam Pattern, UPSC Syllabus and, how to start preparing for UPSC exams from Scratch. 

First, you need to know what this exam is all about, and what it covers. UPSC conducts competitive exams every year for various job posts. 

In which, Civil Services exams are for posts like IAS, IPS, IRS, IFS etc.

Second, you should know about the exam eligibility criteria. You should have a college degree from any recognized university. 

Educational Requirement for IAS Preparation 

  • A degree from a Central, State or Deemed university
  • A degree received through correspondence or distance education
  • A degree from an open university
  • A qualification recognized by the Government of India as being equivalent to one of the above
  • Final year student can appear in the exam

The other factor is the age limit but this depends on the candidate’s caste category. Age limit differs as per category, below is the list 

Age Limit and attempt limits:

CategoryAge LimitAttempts
General32 YearsUp to 6 attempts
OBC35 YearsUp to 9 attempts
SC/ST Candidate37 YearsNo attempt capping till the age limit
Physically Disabled 42 YearsGeneral & OBC- 9 attempts
SC/ST – No attempt caping till the age limit

If you are eligible as per the above table then you are good to go for UPSC Preparation. 

If you wish to prepare for IAS then you need to qualify all 3 exams which are conducted every year by UPSC. 

The 1st exam is Prelims, in which there are two papers. GS and CSAT. This exam is objective in nature. You will be asked 100 questions in Paper I and 80 Questions in Paper-II.

To write the paper, you are given two hours for each paper and both papers have the value of 400 marks. This exam works as a qualifier for the UPSC Mains exam.

UPSC Prelims

Prelims Exam(s)Total No of QuestionsTotal DurationTotal Marks
UPSC Preliminary Paper I1002 Hrs200
UPSC Preliminary Paper II802 Hrs200

Negative marking is applicable and 1/3rd marks are deducted for each wrong answer. 

Also, read – How to calculate Prelims Score with negative marking

Special Note – Prelims Paper II is qualifying in nature and you need to score 33% in order to pass the exam. Paper I marks are used for cut-offs. Both exams are objective in nature. 

List of Books for UPSC Prelims of UPSC CSE: 

SubjectUPSC Booklist
EconomicsIndian Economy by Ramesh Singh. Economic Development & Policies in India – Jain & OhriNCERT XI 
Indian PolityIndian Polity – M LaxmikanthNCERT IX-XII
CSATTata McGraw Hill CSAT ManualCSAT II – ArihantVerbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning – R S Aggarwal
International RelationsNCERT XII (Contemporary World Politics)Current Affairs
HistoryIndia’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan ChandraFacets of Indian Culture – SpectrumNCERT XI (Ancient & Medieval)NCERT XII (Modern Indian History)
GeographyCertificate Physical Geography – G C LeongNCERT VI – X (Old Syllabus)NCERT XI, XII (New Syllabus)World Atlas

UPSC Mains 

This exam has 9 papers with two optional paper(s). This exam is an essay-based exam and you are supposed to write an essay like the answer to these papers. You could select two papers as an optional paper. 

Special Note – Paper A and Paper B are qualifying only and you need to score just 25% in these two papers. 

PaperSubjectDurationTotal marks
Paper-ACompulsory Indian language180 Minutes300 Marks
Paper-BEnglish180 Minutes300 Marks
Paper-IEssay180 Minutes250 Marks
Paper-IIGeneral Studies-I180 Minutes250 Marks
Paper-IIIGeneral Studies-II180 Minutes250 Marks
Paper-IVGeneral Studies-III180 Minutes250 Marks
Paper-VGeneral Studies-IV180 Minutes250 Marks
Paper-VIOptional-I180 Minutes250 Marks
Paper-VIIOptional-II180 Minutes250 Marks

Optional Subject List 

AgricultureAnimal Husbandry and Veterinary ScienceAnthropologyBotanyChemistry
Civil EngineeringCommerce and AccountancyEconomicsElectrical EngineeringGeography
GeologyHistoryLawManagementMathematics
Mechanical EngineeringMedical SciencePhilosophyPhysicsPolitical Science and International Relations
PsychologyPublic AdministrationSociologyStatisticsZoology

Other than the above subjects, you could also choose your literature as optional subjects. Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English.

List of books for UPSC Mains

SubjectIAS booklist
History, Indian Heritage & Culture[General Studies Paper 1]An Introduction to Indian Art Part 1: Textbook in Fine Arts for Class XIIndia’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra India after Independence by Bipan ChandraHistory of Medieval India by Satish ChandraAncient India by R.S Sharma
Geography[General Studies Paper 1]Geography of India by Majid Husain,World Geography by Majid Husain, World Atlas,Certificate Physical and Human Geography – G C Leong,Fundamentals of Physical Geography NCERT Class 11
Polity & International Relations[General Studies Paper 2]Indian Polity by M. Laxmikanth,Introduction to the Constitution of India by DD Basu,India’s Foreign Policy by Rajiv Sikri,
Economy[GS Paper 3]Indian Economy – Ramesh Singh
Ethics[GS Paper 4]Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude for Civil Services Main Examination by Subba Rao and P.N. Roy Chaudary

These books are mandatory to start the UPSC preparation from scratch and under no circumstances, you should avoid NCERT books. Apart from this, you will need more study material sources to complete your preparation. 

List of useful study materials which you need other than UPSC books.

  • 2nd ARC Report 
  • Annual reports by central ministries
  • Finance Commission Report (latest)
  • Niti Aayog Action Agenda
  • Budget (latest)
  • Economic Survey (latest)
  • Current Affairs
  • The Hindu
  • Yojana Magazine
  • Press Information Bureau

UPSC Interview – The final stage of UPSC preparation

Once you qualify in both the exams then you are called for UPSC Interview. This Interview is mostly to check your character, your thought process, your decision-making ability and your wit. 

Interviews generally last for 30 minutes but it’s totally up to the interviewer. Interview scores are also added in your final cut-off list. This interview has a total of 275 marks. 

Strategy for UPSC preparation from Scratch

Now you are equipped with enough information to start for the UPSC Civil Services Exam. Let’s see how you should approach exam preparation. If you follow these below points then you will be on the way of the kick start off your UPSC Preparation. 

Previous Year Question papers – This is a must to do before you start IAS exam preparation. You must read previous year questions. 

By doing this, you get to know the previous year’s questions and you also understand the pattern. 

Make a study plan – Since you know now what to read then it’s easy to make a plan. Essentially, planning is an integral part of your preparation. Without laying a successful plan, it’s very hard to move further in your studies. 

Study No more than 5-6 hrs – It’s a myth in our society that you need to study for at least 16-18 hrs to clear the IAS exam. However, it’s totally incorrect. You should have a focused approach. 

News Paper – Without newspaper reading, you are going to have a lot of difficulty in completing your preparation. At least, you need to read the newspaper daily and you should make notes from it for revision purposes. 

Essay Writing Practice – Essay writing is a must and everyone should start practising essay writing from day 1. You should start writing 1 essay every day for the successful result. 

Less is More – You need to be very precise because too much information is available online and you easily get distracted. Don’t commit this mistake. 

Selection of IAS coaching CenterOnce you decide that you need to prepare for UPSC exams then the other questions which arise are the need for the UPSC coaching Centre. Assess this and if you plan to take the coaching then you should start as early as possible. 

Decide the city –  In my personal experience, I’ve seen many UPSC aspirants confused in deciding the city. Many want to go to Delhi or Allahabad. In my opinion, every city is good. If you are still confused then please read this article-

Read – Best Cities for IAS preparation in India. 

I hope this article has benefited you and if you have more queries then you could ask me on Whatsapp.

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Written by Abhinash Chaudhary
Abhinash Chaudhary is a Passionate Blogger, Entrepreneur & Digital Marketer in India. He has been blogging since 2013 & writes about Education, Web Design, Web Development, SEO and Technology. Profile
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