(UPSC FAQs) IAS Preliminary Examination Strategy

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about UPSC

UPSC Preliminary Examination Strategy

About Prelims:

Preliminary examination is the first and very important stage of the three stages of the Civil Services Examination.

Structure of Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary stage consists of two papers : General Studies Paper I and General Studies Paper II. General Studies Paper I consists of 100 questions of 2 marks each which is to be answered in 2 hours.

General Studies paper II consists of 80 questions of 2.5 marks each which is to be answered in 2 hours.

For each question for which a wrong answer is given by the candidate, one-third of the marks assigned to that question are deducted as penalty if a candidate gives more than one answer it is treated as wrong answer. If a question is left blank, there is no penalty for that question.

Paper I (200 Marks) Duration : 2 Hours Paper II (200 Marks) Duration : 2 Hours
Current events of national and international importance Comprehension
History of India and Indian National Movement. Interpersonal skills including communication skills;
Indian and World Geography-Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World. Logical reasoning and analytical ability
Indian Polity and Governance - Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights, Issues, etc. General mental ability
Economic and Social Development, Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc. Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, order of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level),
General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change - that do not require subject specialization. Data Interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc.- Class X level)
General Science. English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level).

Note: Recognition of questions related to English Language Comprehension Skills has been abated from the year 2015.


Category 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
General 198 209 241 205 107.34 116 105.34
Other Back Caste (OBC) 175 190 222 204 106 110.66 102.66
Scheduled Caste (SC) 164 185 207 182 94 99.34 88.66
Scheduled Tribes (ST) 161 181 201 174 91.34 96 88.66
Physical Handicapped (PH-1) 135 160 199 167 90.66 75.34 85.34
Physical Handicapped (PH-2) 124 164 184 113 76.66 72.66 61.34
Physical Handicapped (PH-3) 96 111 163 115 40 40 40

Cut-off depends on the comparative performance of candidates appearing in the examination each year. By the year 2014, the cut-off was based on combined marks of Paper I and II, but from 2015, CSAT was made
with 33% marks. Now, cut-off is based only on the basis of Paper I.

Preliminary Examination Right Strategy:

  • Every individual is unique, Every individual is talented, and Every individual has immense potential' UPSC requires a generalist for serving the highest echelons of administration in India. A generalist is someone who knows something about everything, but not everything about something (called scientists or researchers).

  • Your approach while reading should be somewhat like a generalist, i.e. jack of all trades master of none.

  • For example, if you are reading about floods, you should focus on understanding their causes; implications (+ve and –ve) – impact on human property and life ; their mitigation and management. You need not read scientific literature about floods, river flows, meandering etc. At most, read what they are and how are they related to an earthquake.

  • In fact, success in the CSE does not depend only on diligence as it relies on your skillful methods for quality learning.

  • Most of the candidates think of working hard only, but it is combination of hard plus smart work that would pay in this examination.

  • All the aspirants do not belong to the same academic, economic and social background so their strategy also differ but for the final success in this examination, the candidates have to undergo the same process and pattern of the examination. So, even if the strategy will be different the paradigm must be kept high.

  • In the prelims Ist Paper (merit deciding paper) 100 questions are asked, so the strategy has to be made such that one can correctly solve solve upto 70-80 questions.

  • You can clear the Civil services Prelims in one shot. You don't even need to know everything under the sky. You should read with the approach of a generalist. Understanding concepts should be the first priority because mugging up neither helps you in Prelims nor in Mains. So focus on basic understanding; and wider coverage rather than detailed studies and intensive coverage.


Category 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Indian History & Indian National Movement 13 20 16 19 16 16 12
Indian Polity & Governance 10 21 17 10 13 6 23
India & World Geography 16 17 18 20 18 3 7
Ecology, Environment & Biodiversity 17 14 14 20 12 16 12
Indian Economy and Social Development 22 14 18 11 16 15 8
General Science 16 10 16 12 9 7 8
Current Affair of National & International importance 06 04 01 08 16 37 30
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

It is clear from the above table that there is a significant difference in the number of question is being asked in each section in each year. For example, you see that about 16- 18 questions were being asked in the Geography from year 2011-15 whereas in 2016, only 3 questions have been asked. Same as in the Current Affair sections only 5-6 questions were being asked in year 2011-12 whereas in 2016, 37 questions have been asked. It is completely clear that under sectional study, we cannot ignore any of the section but there is a need to give sufficient emphasis on all the sections.

Just remember these few things for efficient and effective studies:

  • Don't read a book from Cover to Cover.
  • Don't make notes in the first reading itself.
  • Keep your booklist short and simple. Better to read one book for each topic thoroughly, then flip through multiple sources.
  • Read carefully and between the lines since Prelims questions can be tricky.
  • Preliminary Exam is all about 'identifying' the correct answer among the 4 options given. So don't worry about remembering facts for the exam. It's all about elimination of the wrong options and identifying the correct one. Focus should be more on understanding the concepts.

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