(UPSC FAQs) IAS Mains Examination Strategy

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about UPSC

UPSC Mains Examination Strategy

About Mains Exam:

This is the second and most important phase of the Civil Service Examination in which the candidates are admitted after passing the Preliminary examination. About 15k-16k candidates are filtered for writing the mains examinations from the total set appearing in preliminary exam. The questions being asked in the main examination are subjective in nature. The subjects covered in main examinations consist of four GS papers, one paper on Essay writing, two on optional subject chosen and two are compulsory language papers (one is English language and other one is of the Indian language mentioned in 8th schedule of the constitution). In the mains examination a descriptive answer is expected in organized manner. The candidates will be evaluated not only their writing and analytical ability but also on the understanding of the various issues that hold importance from examination point of view, also playing an important role in the administrative system.. The nature of the questions will be such that one can evaluate the general awareness of the candidates on various issues and subjects.

Stage - II Mains Examination Detailed Syllabus

Qualifying Papers

1. English - 300 Marks (Up to Matriculation (Xth standard)
2. Regional Language - 300 Marks (Up to Matriculation (Xth standard)

Merit Papers

Paper Detail


Paper-I: Essay 250 Marks
Paper-II: General Studies - I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)  250 Marks
Paper-III: General Studies -II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)  250 Marks
Paper-IV: General Studies -III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)  250 Marks
Paper-V: General Studies -IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) 250 Marks
Paper-VI: Optional Subject - Paper 1 250 Marks
Paper-VII: Optional Subject - Paper 2 250 Marks
Sub Total (Written test) 1750 Marks
Stage - III Personality Test 275 Marks
Grand Total 2025 Marks

Detailed Syllabus of UPSC Mains (Paper-II: General Studies - I):

General Studies- I: Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society

Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times. Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
The Freedom Struggle - its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country. Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.
History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society. Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies. Effects of globalization on Indian society
Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism. Salient features of world’s physical geography.
Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India) Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their locationchanges in critical geographical features (including waterbodies and icecaps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

Detailed Syllabus of UPSC Mains (Paper-III: General Studies - II):

General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Indian Constitution - historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure. Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries Parliament and State Legislatures - structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity. Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act. Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources. Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and
institutional and other measures.
Role of civil services in a democracy.
India and its neighborhood- relations. Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora. Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate

Detailed Syllabus of UPSC Mains (Paper-IV: General Studies - III):

General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management.

Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment. Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
Government Budgeting. Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers
Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing. Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management.
Land reforms in India. Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.
Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc. Investment models.
Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nanotechnology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
Disaster and disaster management. Linkages between development and spread of extremism.
Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security. Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention
Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate

Detailed Syllabus of UPSC Mains (Paper-V: General Studies - IV):

General Studies- IV: Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude

This paper will include questions to test the candidates' attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life and his
problem solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilise the case study
approach to determine these aspects. The following broad areas will be covered.
Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and
administrators; role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values.
Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion. Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public
service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker sections.
Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance. Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world.
Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance. Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of
service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.
Case Studies on above issues.  

Strategy for Mains

Formulated strategies along with proper time management followed with commitment are the only way to prepare for Civil Services Examination.

Know the syllabus thoroughly : Thorough knowledge of the syllabus is the first requirement before you start your preparation. It is only the syllabus which spells out the specific details of the areas of subject from which question can be asked in Civil Services Exam. Periodic reference to the syllabus would avoid wastage of time and effort by skipping topics which are not covered in the syllabus. It makes you aware of what precisely has to be studied. This is important because time at your disposal is limited. It can help you to plan your study in a better way by marking areas of study where you are comfortable and where you have problems.

There is no single formula for success - Evolve your own strategy: It is said that man is the best master of himself. No one can understand you better than you yourself. You can take suggestions to apply for plan development but these should not bind you. Rely on your own method of study believing that this is the only right method. For example, if you like to study silently, do accordingly. If you prefer a particular spot for your study, it is better to sit there. Also, you may develop habit of reading fast. The best thing one can do it to have an access to all the relevant facts, study them and plan one's own strategy for preparing for the IAS exam. As
each one of us differ in strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes so does the strategy for this exam.

Plan your study subject wise: Planning plays a crucial role. It has been rightly said, "If you have no plan then, you are planning to fail." A systematic and planned approach always help. Planning in terms of preparation means to frame around the three pillars of success: conceptual clarity, contextual familiarity and application expertise. It requires continuous effort.

A good planning involves consulting your seniors, dividing your entire time into periods of one month each and plan to complete a block of lessons by the end of each period, setting study goals for each day, each week and each month. Remember, your plan should not be too detailed or too sketchy but it should be a balanced one. Each subject must be given proper and regular time. Instead of preparing one subject at the cost of other subjects and all the three stages i.e. Prelims, Mains and Interview must be given proper consideration which will also help in breaking monotony. Prepare good notes during self study. If you want to make the concept more clear, then, while preparing notes of lectures, leave some space and just after the lecture fill up the space with clarifications.

Study the trend of previous year question papers: Study the trend from previous year question papers and draw marks' distribution of each subject to find out which topics are most and which are least important. Give priority to important topics and try to put them in early stage of your preparation to avoid any possibility of these being left. Review you plan periodically to find out if there are any lapses and how they can be covered up. Selection books: Which books you select and read play a crucial role. Great care is needed while choosing books. The more number of books you read, the more confused you may become and waste a lot your time. Instead of going through a lot of books, try to read only one quality book for each topic which makes the basic concepts clear to you. Procure the books you need well in advance to avoid the last minute hassle.

Selective and Reflective Study: Your study should be quality based not quantity based. You should not lay emphasis on just reading more and more books, magazines and journals but reflect on your subject and try to master it. You should develop your rational faculty to assimilate relevant information and analyze problems dispassionately. Your reading must be purposeful. Distinguishing between the important and the irrelevant reading material. You must keep in mind what is useful from the examination point of view.

Important Tips for Answer Writing

Start Now:

The first rule to remember is that you should not wait till you finish the whole UPSC syllabus to embark on an answer writing spree. You should start it simultaneously while covering the syllabus. The more you practice, the better you will get through it. Success in the UPSC exam is not determined by how much you know, but by what and how much you write in the answer booklet.

Quality and Quantity

If you think just by filling up the prescribed word count, you can fool the examiner, think again. The UPSC assesses your knowledge and ability to express that knowledge in the most effective manner. Not only should you take care of the word limit, you should also ensure to write what is asked in the question. Understanding the exact requirement of the question comes only with practicing scores of previous years' IAS papers.


It is not enough to merely write out answers and prepare for the IAS exam. You should also get your answers evaluated by teachers, seniors or mentors. Only this way you can analyse your shortcomings and correct yourself.

Holistic Answers

When you are practicing answer-writing, make sure you write holistic answers. Your answers should be clear, neat, have examples and relevant concepts, crisp (not vague and jumbled) and creative. Dynamic questions warrant dynamic answers. So, read newspapers regularly to improve your vocabulary and writing style. The prerequisite to writing well is to inculcate a habit of reading well.

GS Papers Versus Optional

It is better to avoid jargon in the GS papers since your answers should be multifaceted and broad. Here, you must give a generalist approach in your answers. However, in the optional subject papers, you can afford to go a little deep and include technical terms. This is because the examiner, in this case, is also a specialist. So, when you practice writing answers, keep in mind the difference between writing answers for GS and optional papers, and prepare accordingly for each.

Main Examination Marks Distribution

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