A Complete Guide to UPSC Preparation

What is the UPSC Exam?

UPSC civil services examination is an exam conducted in three stages, by India’s premier institution known as the Union Public Service Commission or UPSC. The commission conducts tests and interviews to select higher level class 1 officers such as IAS, IPS, IFS, etc. The exam consists of 3 main levels:

  1. Preliminary examination
  2. Main Examination
  3. Interview

Preliminary examination: UPSC prelims consists of two objective type papers- General studies and Civil Services Aptitude Test(CSAT), and each paper carries 200 marks.

Main Examination: UPSC main examination is a written examination of 2000 marks, which consists of 9 papers.

Interview: The qualified candidates have to attend an interview or personality test. The interview alone carries 275 marks.

How to Start Preparing For UPSC?

Understand the Syllabus: For good preparation, a proper understanding of the clarity, scope, and nature of the syllabus is of paramount importance. With that, you’ll understand what to read and whatnot. Keeping an eye on your syllabus is the key, since every time the questions asked for UPSC civil services examinations are within the syllabus.

A Smart Strategy is Important: Prior to getting started, you need to develop a smart strategy, bearing in mind every step that you take. It is an extensive plan on the resources that you require, what you’re doing, and how you will be doing it.

Select the Study Material: Selecting the study material is not that easy and for that, you need proper guidance. It’s better to have a thorough understanding of the fundamentals first. For that, the best material to have a thorough understanding of different subjects are the NCERT textbooks, especially from Class 6 to Class 12.

Focus on Current Affairs: Being a dynamic area, always be up-to-date with current affairs. Make it a habit to read one national newspaper, as well as certain specialized magazines, and while reading add the latest developments to every topic in your syllabus.

How to Make Notes For UPSC?

Read the Textbooks

Make it a point to read your textbooks first and when the second time you read it, start making notes. For the first time, you read it, only mark the important sentences. Never make notes during the first time you read your textbooks. You’ll have a better understanding of important points and the points that you need to keep in mind while reading your textbooks for the second time.

Make Notes with Bullets

Make sure that the important points that you jot down are in bullet form. All the points should be brief and easy to understand the next time when you read it. Steer clear of lengthy paragraphs- it’s merely a waste of time. Since the way you write down notes is the same as the way you write down answers during an exam, make sure that you follow bullet format since it’s the best and right way of writing your answers during the exam.

Write Template Answers

Once you’ve completed reading, curate a list of questions that will be more likely to be asked and write down its answers. Since you get only 8 minutes to jot down each answer, you don’t want to lose time by thinking about the content. By writing down template answers, you’re saving a lot of time, which will be otherwise spent on thinking about the content. Through making answer templates, you can easily recollect points and promptly write the answers.

How to Crack UPSC in First Attempt?

Begin From NCERTs

Start from the basic books, which are undoubtedly the NCERT textbooks. Instead of making notes on topics that you know better, focus on making concise notes on those topics that are challenging to you. Make sure that the notes are easy to read yet brief. You should identify all the exam relevant subjects in the NCERT textbooks from class 6 to class 12 and cover those subjects thoroughly during your first reading. During your second reading, focus on those areas, which you think you may falter.

Choose Optional Subjects Wisely

Many aspirants may go wrong with choosing optional subjects. Either they choose subjects after accepting the advice of others or go for popular optional subjects. But it’s not the right way, choose one subject based on your bent of mind or your areas of interest. Even if it isn’t a popular subject, if you’ve got a stronghold in it, then just choose it.

Always Practice Writing

You should not merely focus on reading and studying, but on writing as well. The overall outcome is decided by writing. So, always practice writing, and for that attempt the previous year’s questions or some essay topic. You’ll not just improve your writing skills, but you’ll improve coordination between your hands and head as well.

Keep on Practicing

Always test yourself and go for test series. Understand why you’ve certain questions that you’ve attempted went wrong even if you’ve studied them. There comes the importance of backtracking. Keep on reading and revise afterward. After covering each topic, try to test yourself.

Solve Previous Year’s Papers

By solving question papers, you get an idea of the type of questions that will be asked for the UPSC exam. So when you know it, as well as the approach you need, then you will be able to handle the vast syllabus.

How to Read NCERT For UPSC?

  • Read the textbook chapter-wise, in your first reading, and you should restrain from making notes or underlining important points.
  • In your first reading, try to understand the concept, and if you wish to underline important points, then do so with a pencil.
  • If you’ve come across any difficult terminology, then try to clear it at this stage itself and write down a brief note on it there using a pencil.
  • During the second reading, you can start making notes. Revise the concept and connect it with the rest of the subjects or topics. Attempt MCQs of previous years if it’s asked from the chapters that you’re revising.
  • Make a final revision of all the chapters that you’ve covered. Underline the important points and make notes. To assess your progress, try to solve MCQs once again.
  • Make sure that you make a time schedule for reading and follow it.

How to Study History For UPSC?

While learning history, never be in a hurry or skip topics. Go systematically and emphasize on strengthening your basics.

  • Begin with reading the entire history, so that you’ll get an idea of the past events. Focus on topics that are important- ones that are frequently being discussed.
  • Instead of focusing on the incident, place, and period, concentrate on the historical event’s beginning and most importantly, the reason behind the incident.
  • After reading a topic, take your time thinking about the topic. This means you should make the most of your reasoning and thinking to understand the event. This attempt helps in forming an opinion and understanding a topic, as well as helps in analyzing it. This logical thinking will help you a lot in your UPSC exam.
  • Whichever part of history you’re learning, you can notice that there will be a lot of dates and timelines in it. No matter if its history of independent India or modern history, to score more in history, make it a point to write down dates, timelines, and names in your answers.
  • To recall dates and years easily, try to learn the timelines. To better remember the dates, you can also connect the date or year with another event that occurred prior to, or after that event, or connect it with any of your personal incidents.
  • Another effective method is making notes. You can easily revise lengthier chapters by making brief notes. Jot down the important names, dates, and events while you read the chapters. In this way, whenever you wish to recall, you can refer to the notes, instead of flipping through the pages, for the point.
  • Instead of vaguely learning a lot of chapters, try to focus more on just the important topics. Have a thorough knowledge of those topics, and with that, definitely, you will be confident about your answers.

How to Prepare Geography For UPSC?

Read NCERT Books: It’s always better to start your preparations by getting your foundations strong. The best source is NCERT Geography textbooks, especially that of Class 8 to Class 12. It’s essential to start with NCERT geography books since questions straight from these books are often asked in the UPSC exam.

Read Basic Geography Books: It’s important that you thoroughly study basic geography books such as

    • Majid Hussain’s Geography of India and World Geography
    • Certificate Physical and Human Geography by Goh Cheng Leong
    • Dr. Khuller’s Physical, human and economic geography
    • RC Chandna’s Geography of Population: Concepts, Determinants and patterns.

The map can be your guiding light: A vast majority of questions have direct and indirect connections with maps. Have a thorough understanding of various locations, physical features, cities, rivers, peaks, passes with the maps. Make use of maps to identify the position of different states, coasts, etc.

Stay updated with current affairs: You need to make it a habit to read newspapers like The Hindu, and relevant magazines such as Kurukshetra and Yojana. Being well informed about current affairs is advisable.

Attempt mock tests: To assess your progress, try to attempt mock tests. And with a mock test, you can also identify the weak areas that you need to work more on.

Attempt previous year question papers: As the next step, solve previous year question papers. With that, you can identify relevant topics and revise & re-revise them.

How to Prepare Economics For UPSC?

Understand the Syllabus: Before you start with preparation, know the depth and extent of your syllabus. You need to memorize the syllabus to the minutest of details. With that, you really don’t have to refer to it, while preparing.

Select the sources: The next important thing is the books pertinent to economics, that you’re reading. One thing that you need to keep in mind is that instead of reading a lot of resources, just stick to a few relevant sources. It’s important that you thoroughly read economics books such as:

  • NCERT books(from Class 9 to 12)
  • Ramesh Singh’s Indian Economy
  • Sanjeev Varma’s The Indian Economy
  • KPM Sundaram and R Dutt’s Indian Economy
  • Uma Kapila’s Indian Economy

Make notes: Make crisp and concise notes while you’re learning, so that whenever you wish to recall something, then you can simply refer to the notes, instead of flipping all the pages. But make sure that what you’re preparing is a concise summary of everything you’ve learned and not the exact copy of what you’re learning. While making notes, make it a point to extensively use diagrams as well.

Focus on current affairs: Since the subject is dynamic, you have to study it by keeping an eye on current affairs as well as news. Make sure that you often update your notes with the latest schemes by the government as well as policy updates.

Practice and Revise: While you study, your brain will understand and get acquainted with a topic. But with revision, your brain will be ready to recollect the topic and register it. Whereas with practice, recollecting the information will be quick and faultless, through which you can save time during the exams. Therefore both practice and revision are of immense importance, than any other stage of preparation.

How to Prepare Current Affairs For UPSC?

Know Your Syllabus

Go through the newspaper and select news that are pertinent to the UPSC syllabus. For that, you need to have an accurate understanding of the syllabus in the first place. Curate a list of micro topics pertinent to the UPSC exam and place it in your study table.

Limit the Sources

The basic problem with current affairs is that there are a plethora of reading materials. And never buy a lot of current affairs materials, thinking that with more materials, you can score more. The key is less is more, and instead of running after a lot of materials, which can be counter-productive- stick to a few important materials.

A lot of aspirants make a mistake of devoting a lot of time to browse the “best current affair materials” and actually spend less time reading it. And it’s not a good idea to make copious notes using the maximum number of current affairs materials. Restrain from this practice, and instead carry out your research and choose the sources and stick to them.

Make Online Notes

Even though it is advisable to write down important points from editorials, to write answers, it will be better if you create online notes instead of handwritten notes. The downside of handwritten notes is that it’s quite time-consuming. However, you can make the most of Google docs, Evernote, etc. You can copy the relevant content from a website and paste it into the online tool of your choice. See to it that you organize everything so that in a jiff, you can get them whenever you need it.

Limit Time

Most aspirants tend to give undue importance to newspapers. Some aspirants spend a lot of time reading newspapers, leaving no time to read the rest of the subjects. Ideally, an aspirant should be done with reading current affairs within 2 hours, on a daily basis.

How to Prepare For UPSC Prelims?

Know the time to start with preparation: To prepare for UPSC prelims, you need around 1 year, and you should start with dedicated preparation for the exam at least 3 months before UPSC prelims. Identify the subjects that overlap with the syllabus of prelims and mains, and start preparing with those subjects.

Make a plan: It’s essential that you prepare a study plan and go with it. And make sure that you sincerely follow it.

CSAT Prelims strategy: CSAT checks your Logical reasoning skills, analytical ability, as well as comprehension and communication skills. Normally those aspirants with an engineering background or strong knowledge in mathematics won’t find it difficult and won’t spend a lot of time on it.

Whereas for those who find CSAT difficult, then they have to properly prepare for it. If you’re like that, then you should make it a point to solve more UPSC CSAT question papers of previous years as well as focus on grasping the concepts.

Prepare current affairs: Being one of the most important topics of UPSC prelims, always be up-to-date with current affairs. A vast majority of questions are based on this topic directly as well as indirectly. So study by correlating current affairs with that of related subjects.

Solve Mock Tests: This exam is all about correctly solving the maximum number of questions within a short time. With practice, you can increase your solving speed as well as become familiar with the pattern of your question paper. And with a mock test, you can also identify the weak areas that you need to improve and work it out.

How to Write Essay For UPSC?

The introduction should be a relatable event or quote: Even though writing the definition first is the correct way, with that, you make your essay dull and stale. The best way to evoke the examiner’s interest is by writing down a fictional event, which is relatable or a quote that you’ve found interesting. Newspapers, magazines, and books are things that will help you with learning new incidents and anecdotes that are worth writing in your essay.

Right Knowledge: To jot down an impressive essay, you should possess the right knowledge. Equal importance is given to your ability to write an essay consistently, sequentially, and precisely as well as your knowledge of a topic. Make it a habit to read magazines such as Yojana, economic and political weekly, etc. every day. By reading this, you get an idea of content presentation and brush up your GS content as well.

Avoid Jargon: Steer clear of jargon and write the essay in a simple way. Undoubtedly the UPSC civil services exam tests your vocabulary. But to sound well-read, it’s better not to stick to complex words. Instead, write down meaningful, clear, and brief sentences.

Keep Up Vocabulary: One effective way with which you can drastically improve your vocabulary is by reading the newspaper every day. You can also occasionally read non-fiction books as well. While practicing, list out the quotes, words, and phrases that seem to be one-of-a-kind. Don’t forget to write down an example sentence with it, so that you will retain it for long.

End With a Powerful Conclusion: Conclude your essay on an optimistic note. You can do so in 3 to 4 lines and don’t forget to write down your vision for the future as well.

How to Read Newspaper for UPSC?

Understand the syllabus: Prior to exam preparation, have an idea about the syllabus, so that whenever you read the newspaper, you can identify everything linked to the UPSC syllabus.

Skip irrelevant news: Make sure that you read editorials, articles, and other such exams relevant news. You will be drawn to news related to a person or topic that fascinates you, but by reading that, you’re simply wasting your time. What’s important is not your interest but your goal.

Make Notes: Make relevant and brief notes while you read the newspaper. While making notes of editorials or articles, jot it down, in your own words. Make sure that it’s easy to understand, yet simple.

Classify everything you read: In order to ease your preparation and to make notes, classify the news into various categories such as economics, geography, polity, science, ecology, etc.

How Many Optional Subjects in UPSC?

At present, there are 26 optional subjects, and you have to choose one subject as you wish. Each optional subject has 2 papers that are descriptive in nature and carry 500 marks. You can choose any one of the optional literature subjects even if you haven’t studied that language in your college.

How to Choose Optional Subject For UPSC?

Consider Your Interests and Academic Background: Identify what your interest is, by going through NCERT textbooks(preferably that of class 11 and class 12) as well as the optional subject syllabus. Suppose if you have an engineering background, then choose the subject after considering what you’ve studied at your college.

Check whether coaching is available or not: Find out the best coaching classes, having proven results, and of great repute. Ask your friends, relatives, or anyone whom you know, who’ve qualified about the best coaching institutes.

Find out whether the optional is connected with GS: Find out whether the optional subject is connected with the General Studies(GS) and essay papers, by going through the syllabus or past question papers.

Know the results of optional subjects in the past few years: When compared to your competitors, your individual performance differs based on numerous parameters. But certain subjects won’t fetch the desired marks despite the efforts of candidates. Therefore, it’s better to know the results of optional subjects for the last few years- probably that of 3 years, which is easily available on the internet.

How to Prepare For UPSC Interview?

Read Your DAF Multiple Times: Carefully read your detailed application form multiple times. Anything that you’ve written in your detailed application form will be asked during your UPSC interview. Curate a list of questions that will be asked along with its answers.

Prepare For Current Affairs: You should have a thorough knowledge of current affairs of about 3 months. Always give answers to the questions in a concise and crisp way.

Know the entire syllabus: In the UPSC exam, the topics are correlated with one another. So it’s essential that you should remember the whole syllabus of UPSC prelims and mains.

Be prepared to answer situational questions: Have a clear-cut understanding of the capabilities and powers of an IAS/IPS/IRS/IPS officer. You should answer the questions in such a way that it should be within the bounds of constitutional power which your profile has.

Be thorough with your graduation subject and optional: The interview panel regards your graduation as an area you’ll be thorough with. Expect a lot of in-depth questions from your graduation subject.

Equally important as the graduation subject is your optional subject. A lot of aspirants tend to overlook this subject after they’re done with UPSC mains. But you can expect a lot of questions from your optional subject as well. Also, emphasize on current happenings connected to your optional subject.

How to Apply For UPSC Exam?

  • Visit the official website of UPSC- https://www.upsc.gov.in/
  • Click on the apply online option, on the right side of the website.
  • Click on “Online Application for Various Examinations.”
  • Click on the link: Part I registration.
  • Read the instructions given before you fill the form.
  • Again click on the link: Part I registration and correctly fill your details.
  • After you’re done with it, click on the submit button.
  • After that, a registration ID will be generated. Move on to Part II registration with this registration ID.
  • Select the examination that you wish to appear for.
  • Then upload a scanned copy of your signature and photograph.
  • Pay the application fee.
  • For future reference, take a copy of the application form.

How Tough is UPSC?

The exam has three levels, and when the candidate successfully clears each level, the difficulty level also increases. Making through the interview or the personality test is the most difficult task since it tests not just your knowledge, but your ability to handle practical challenges too. So when it comes to clearing this stage, the UPSC exam is tough, but to clear the prelims and mains, one needs to put forth a lot of effort.

Clearing the UPSC exam isn’t easy, but not impossible. And there’s a misconception that only university toppers are able to make it. But the reality is that anyone can clear it, even if they have average academic records. For that one needs the right mixture of patience, hard work, determination, and patience.

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