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Preparation guide for UPSC CSE Prelims

– Abhishek Patil, CEO and Co-Founder, Oliveboard and Skholar

UPSC CSE Preliminary exam is the first hurdle that aspirants need to clear to qualify for the UPSC Main examination. UPSC Prelims is an objective type exam comprising two papers and carries a maximum of 400 marks.

Below is a detailed guide for the UPSC CSE Preliminary exam preparation.

General Studies Paper I

The first thing you need to do is to take out some time and analyse previous years’ UPSC CSE prelims question papers. The questions asked in the UPSC CSE Preliminary exams follow a certain logic and it is important that you understand this logic. Analysing previous year exam papers will not only help you understand the exam pattern but also the areas that you should focus on for your preparation

Post-analysis, gather the study material required for your Prelims preparation. For a good and strong foundation, refer to NCERT books. NCERT books are written in a very simple and lucid manner. They can help you lay a strong foundation. It is advisable to read NCERT textbooks from class 6 to 12 for subjects like Polity, Geography, Economics, History, Arts & Culture, and Science. 

NCERT books are available for free on their website. Click here to visit their official website

The General Studies Paper I can be divided into two parts: Static and Dynamic GK. Static GK refers to subjects like History, Polity, Geography, Economics, Art & Culture, Sports, Science & Technology, stuff which doesn’t change in the short-run. Dynamic GK refers to current affairs,  this is what we read in the newspapers every day.

Once your fundamentals are in place, you can now move to books that provide you conceptual understanding of each of the topics under the prelims exam. 

Following are some of the books you can read for a deeper conceptual understanding for General Studies Paper I:


  • History – This can be broadly divided into Ancient History, Medieval History, Modern History and World History. NCERT Books are a good source for ancient history. 
  • Economics – Two things that you need to be thorough in the economics section are ‘the concepts’ and ‘the application of those concepts’ to real world situations. Read up principles of Macro and Micro economics and the economic development in India. It is equally important to be updated with the current affairs of the economy of at least the last 12 months. Make notes of the highlights of the Economic Survey and the Union Budget and be aware of the important economic policies of the government.
  • Polity – This section does not include questions on specific political parties, individuals or elections. However, you can expect questions from the larger constitutional systems like, “When did Goa become a state?”. Questions asked in this section are both static and dynamic. The questions can be about issues that are currently being debated and about issues that passed by. Read up current affairs about polity like the Bills passed and the various Acts and policies.
  • GeographyBroadly the Geography section can be divided into the Physical and the Human geography. You need to be thorough in geographical concepts of India and the world. Some topics to focus on are: Climate, Vegetation, Agriculture, Forests, Wildlife & Conservation, Mineral wealth of India, River systems, Physiography, Earth’s atmosphere, Clouds & precipitation, Hydrosphere, Wind system, Landforms & their formation, Soil & types of soil and Human geography.
  • Art & Culture – This section focuses on Indian Art and Heritage. Certain topics that should be covered for this section are Literature, Languages, Performance art, Paintings, Music, Dance forms, Drama, Religions, Reforms, Contemporary artists of India, important philosophies and architecture.
  • Current Affairs – Read up about all the events that happened in the last 8-12 months (Jan 2021 – June 2022). It is extremely important for an UPSC CSE aspirant to read newspapers. Make a habit of reading the newspaper (preferably The Hindu) every day. It is also a good idea to subscribe to a fortnightly magazine that covers all the important current affairs.
  • Science and Technology – Be thorough in Chemistry, Physics and Biology concepts and be aware of the latest happenings in the field of science and technology like Gadgets, Research in the field of Science & Technology, Space Technology, Nuclear Chemistry among others. UPSC normally asks more questions from Biology compared to Chemistry and Physics. Focus on Biology concepts like Zoology, Botany, Microbiology, etc.
  • Environment – Read up about Ecology, Biodiversity, Climate change and Environment based topics from NCERT Books and about the various Environment Policies. Another major area to focus on is the Environment Current Affairs. It’s a good idea to follow the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change official website closely.

Candidates need to score a minimum of 33 percent to qualify in this section. The General Studies Paper II tests candidates’ Problem Solving & Decision Making skills, Logical thinking and Clarity of thoughts. It goes without saying that you need to practice a lot to master this section.

Get your basic concepts clear and start by analysing and solving previous years’ CSAT question papers. This will help you get acquainted with the type of questions that will be asked in CSAT. Tricks or shortcuts to solve the problems quickly and taking UPSC (IAS) Mock Tests will help you master this section. Take multiple mock tests and analyse your performance. Determine your strong and weak areas in this section and practise more problems from the weaker areas.

UPSC (IAS) Mock Tests

Candidates should practice answering questions in an exam environment. Mock tests are one of the most effective ways of preparing for the UPSC CSE Preliminary exam. Mock tests help you get a grip on the examination. Taking mock tests helps you asess your performance, determine your speed and accuracy, identify your strong and weak areas and track your progress.

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