How to Prepare for UPSC? - Subject-Wise IAS Preparation Strategy

by Vajiram & Ravi

Preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Exam can be a daunting task, but with the right approach, dedication, and strategic planning, it is possible to achieve your goal of becoming a civil servant. UPSC preparation involves forming a well-structured study plan, consistent effort, and a focused approach to succeed in the highly competitive Civil Services Examination.

The UPSC Exam is one of the most competitive exams in India. It is the gateway to a career in the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign Service, and other prestigious civil services. It is a long and challenging journey, but it is possible to succeed if you are willing to put in the hard work and dedication. This article gives you a subject-wise UPSC preparation strategy for Prelims, Mains, and Interview.

13 Tips to Prepare for UPSC 2024

To maximise your chances of success in the UPSC CSE exam, adopting effective strategies is crucial. To begin with, understanding how to prepare for UPSC involves breaking down the preparation process into manageable steps, which are listed below:

  • Start your preparation at least a year before the Prelims exam.
  • Go through the syllabus of both the Prelims and Mains exams.
  • Analyse the past few years' question papers of both Prelims and Mains.
  • Start reading a newspaper regularly and make short notes based on relevant articles.
  • Read the basic NCERT books and then go through the UPSC Syllabus relevant Textbooks.
  • Make short notes in whichever way you feel comfortable, either online or in hard copy.
  • Make a timeline of objectives to be achieved, both long-term and daily.
  • If you are attending coaching, attend classes regularly and revise the content after class.
  • Make use of the internet and social media for your preparation carefully.
  • Start learning the basics of answer writing.
  • Join a Test Series for both Prelims and Mains. It will help you learn about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Form discussion/answer writing groups to help each other.
  • Revise regularly the content you have been reading at least on a weekly basis.

Subject-Wise UPSC Preparation Strategy

The UPSC Syllabus is very vast, and the General Studies subjects play an important role in the UPSC preparation. Here is step-by-step guidance for different subjects on how to prepare for UPSC strategically:

  • Begin by thoroughly understanding the UPSC syllabus for the history optional subject.
  • NCERT Books: Start with NCERT textbooks for history from classes 6 to 12.
  • Standard Reference Books: After NCERTs, move on to standard reference books like "India's Struggle for Independence" by Bipin Chandra, "Ancient India" by R.S. Sharma, and "Modern India" by Bipin Chandra.
  • While reading, take concise and organised notes. This helps in quick revisions and retaining important information.
  • Analyse UPSC previous year question papers to understand the pattern and types of questions asked.
  • Economics is a crucial subject for both the Preliminary GS Paper 1 and Main Examination GS Paper 3 of the UPSC CSE.
  • Start by thoroughly understanding the economics syllabus outlined by UPSC. The syllabus for both Prelims and Mains is available on the UPSC official website. Make a checklist of topics to cover.
  • NCERT Books: Begin with NCERT textbooks for economics, such as Indian Economic Development (Class 11) and Macroeconomics (Class 12).
  • Move on to more advanced economics textbooks. Some recommended books include "Indian Economy" by Ramesh Singh, and "Indian Economy" by Jayant Parikishit.
  • Stay updated with current economic issues in India and globally. Read newspapers like The Hindu, The Indian Express, and Business Standard regularly.
  • Analyse the Economic Survey and the Union Budget of India, as they are crucial sources for UPSC economics questions. Focus on key economic indicators, policies, and initiatives.
  • Reading economic journals like the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) and magazines like Yojana.
  • Economics is a dynamic subject, and current affairs play a significant role in UPSC exams. Stay updated, practice writing, and develop a well-rounded understanding of economic concepts to excel in this subject in the UPSC CSE.
  • Geography is an integral part of both the Preliminary GS Paper 1 and Main Examination GS Paper 1 of the UPSC CSE.
  • Start with NCERT geography textbooks, such as Fundamentals of Physical Geography (Class 11) and India - Physical Environment (Class 11) for the basics. For advanced concepts, use "India - People and Economy" (Class 12) and Fundamentals of Human Geography (Class 12).
  • Some recommended books include Certificate Physical and Human Geography by Goh Cheng Leong and Geography of India by Majid Husain.
  • Atlas books like the "Oxford School Atlas" or "Atlas of the World" are excellent resources. Understand map reading, latitude, longitude, and various types of maps.
  • Stay updated with current geographical issues and developments in India and around the world.
  • Focus on understanding geographical concepts such as climate, landforms, population, urbanisation, and regional geography. Make use of diagrams, charts, and maps to enhance your understanding.
  • Practice map-based questions regularly, as they are a common component of the Prelims.
  • Solve previous years' UPSC question papers to understand the type of questions asked and the level of difficulty.
Indian Polity
  • Indian Polity constitutes a significant portion of both the Preliminary GS Paper 1 and Main Examination GS Paper 2 of the UPSC CSE.
  • Start with NCERT textbooks on Indian Polity, such as Indian Constitution at Work (Class 11) and Political Theory (Class 11).
  • Move on to more advanced Indian Polity textbooks like Indian Polity by M. Laxmikanth and Introduction to the Constitution of India by D.D. Basu.
  • Read and understand the Indian Constitution thoroughly. It's the backbone of Indian Polity. Pay attention to its articles, schedules, and amendments. Make notes on key provisions.
  • Stay updated with current political developments in India and around the world.
  • Understand fundamental concepts like federalism, separation of powers, fundamental rights, and directive principles. Pay special attention to topics like the parliamentary system, elections, and governance.
  • While preparing for Mains, connect your knowledge of Indian Polity to current affairs topics. This will help you provide relevant and contemporary examples in your answers.
  • Solve previous years' UPSC question papers to understand the type of questions asked and the level of difficulty.
Art and Culture
  • Begin with the NCERT textbooks that cover art and culture-related topics. F An Introduction to Indian Art - Part 1 (Class 11) 
  • An Introduction to Indian Art - Part 2 (Class 11) provides a good foundation. These books are essential for building a strong base.
  • Standard Reference Books:
  • Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania: This is a widely recommended book for UPSC Art and Culture preparation. It covers a broad range of topics in a structured manner.
  • Facets of Indian Culture by Spectrum: This book provides insights into various aspects of Indian culture, including art, music, dance, and architecture.
  • Study the historical background and evolution of Indian art and culture. Understand the different dynasties, empires, and periods that have contributed to the rich cultural heritage of India.
  • Art Forms: Learn about various Indian art forms, including classical and folk forms, their characteristics, and their significance. Pay attention to classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi and music forms like Hindustani and Carnatic music.
  • Architecture: Study the architectural styles of various historical monuments and temples in India, such as Dravidian, Nagara, Mughal, and Indo-Islamic architecture. Understand the significance of these architectural styles.
  • Cultural Practices and Festivals: Learn about cultural practices, traditions, and festivals of different regions in India. Understand the cultural significance of festivals like Diwali, Holi, Eid, and others.
  • Artists and Personalities: Familiarise yourself with renowned artists, musicians, dancers, and their contributions to Indian art and culture.
  • Museums and Artefacts: Understand the significance of major museums in India, such as the National Museum in Delhi and the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. Know about important artefacts and sculptures housed in these museums.
  • Connect your knowledge of art and culture to current affairs topics, especially when discussing the preservation of cultural heritage, cultural policies, and government initiatives.
Science and Technology 
  • Preparing for the Science and Technology section in the UPSC Civil Services Examination is crucial as it is part of the General Studies Paper 3 for both the Preliminary and Main Examinations.
  • NCERT Books: Science - Class 6 to 10 
  • Science and Technology - Class 11 and 12 provide a solid foundation.
  • Stay updated with current developments in science and technology by reading newspapers, magazines, and online sources.
  • Consider subscribing to science and technology magazines like "Science Reporter" and "Down To Earth." These publications provide in-depth coverage of scientific advancements and environmental issues.
  • Explore reputable websites such as the Department of Science and Technology and the ISRO for official information and updates.
  • Learn about advancements in biotechnology, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. Understand important concepts like genetic engineering, vaccines, and recent healthcare initiatives.
  • Study the major scientific institutions, research organisations and their contributions to science and technology in India, including ISRO, DRDO, CSIR, and ICMR.
  • Be prepared to write essays and answers on ethical and social issues related to science and technology, such as privacy concerns, biotechnology ethics, and the impact of automation on employment.
  • Connect science and technology with other subjects like environment, governance, and economics. Understand how technological innovations impact various aspects of society and governance.
Environment and Ecology
  • Start with the NCERT textbooks on environment and ecology. For example, Our Environment (Class 7) and Environmental Studies (Class 11) provide a solid foundation. These books are essential for building a strong base.
  • Stay updated with current environmental developments by reading newspapers, magazines, and online sources. Focus on environmental policies, conservation efforts, and international agreements.
  • Consider subscribing to magazines like "Down To Earth" and "Environment and Ecology" to stay updated on environmental issues and solutions.
  • Explore reputable websites such as the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the World Wildlife Fund for official information and updates.
  • Study the major environmental laws and policies in India, such as the Wildlife Protection Act, Forest Conservation Act, and the National Action Plan on Climate Change.
  • Understand India's rich biodiversity, including wildlife conservation efforts and the significance of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and biosphere reserves.
  • Learn about climate change, its impact on India, and the country's initiatives to combat climate change, including its commitments under international agreements like the Paris Agreement. 
  • Connect environment and ecology with other subjects like economics, governance, and public health. Understand the holistic impact of environmental issues.
  • Government Policies and Initiatives: Know the government policies and initiatives related to the environment and ecology, such as the National Action Plan on Climate Change and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment: Understand the EIA process and its significance in environmental governance. Know how environmental clearances are granted for development projects.

How to Prepare for UPSC Interview?

Preparing for the UPSC interview, also known as the Personality Test, is a crucial step in the UPSC Civil Services Examination process. Here are some tips on how to prepare effectively for the UPSC interview:

Understand the Interview Format:

  • The UPSC interview is designed to assess your personality, leadership qualities, and analytical ability.
  • It is not a retest of your knowledge; the interview panel has already seen your written exam scores.
  • The interview usually lasts about 20-30 minutes, during which you will be asked questions about your background, hobbies, current affairs, and your DAF.

Review Your DAF Thoroughly:

  • The DAF is a critical document that provides the interview panel with information about your educational background, work experience, hobbies, and more.
  • Be prepared to answer questions related to your DAF, so review it carefully.

Current Affairs and General Knowledge:

  • Stay updated with current affairs, especially those related to your optional subject and your home state.
  • Read newspapers, magazines, and watch news programs regularly.

Develop Clear Communication Skills:

  • Practise speaking confidently and clearly.
  • Pay attention to your body language and maintain eye contact with the panel.
  • Be polite and respectful while answering questions.

Interview Etiquette:

  • Dress appropriately in formal attire.
  • Be punctual; arrive at the venue well in advance.
  • Greet the panel politely, and wait for them to invite you to sit.
  • Maintain a positive attitude throughout the interview.

Prepare for Common Questions:

  • Be prepared to answer questions about your strengths, weaknesses, achievements, failures, and your reasons for choosing the civil services.
  • Have a well-thought-out answer for the question "Tell me about yourself."

Optional Subject Knowledge:

  • Brush up on your knowledge related to your optional subject and be prepared for questions in that area.

Stay Calm and Composed:

  • It's normal to feel nervous before an interview, but try to stay calm and composed.
  • Take a deep breath if you feel overwhelmed and listen carefully to the panel's questions.
  • Be Yourself: The interview panel is interested in getting to know you as a person, so be authentic and true to yourself

How to Prepare for UPSC Exam at Home?

Preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Examination at home involves a systematic approach. Begin by understanding the exam pattern and syllabus.

  • Create a well-structured study plan, allocating time to each subject.
  • Gather essential study materials, including textbooks and previous years' question papers.
  • Start with NCERT books for foundational knowledge and clarity.
  • Stay updated with current affairs through newspapers and magazines.
  • Solve previous years' papers and take mock tests for self-assessment.
  • Practise daily answer writing, focusing on structure and clarity for the UPSC Main Examination. Regularly revise topics, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and stay motivated.
  • Seek guidance when needed. Discipline, consistency, and effective time management are key to succeeding in UPSC exam preparation from home.

UPSC Preparation Strategy After 12th

Starting your UPSC CSE preparation after completing class 12th is an excellent decision, and it provides you with ample time to build a strong foundation for the exam. Here's a strategy to begin your UPSC preparation after 12th:

  • Choose Your Graduation Stream Wisely: Select a graduation program that aligns with your interests and strengths, as well as with the UPSC exam's requirements. Subjects like history, political science, sociology, economics, and public administration are popular choices, but any stream can be suitable if you are passionate about it.
  • Build a Strong Foundation: Focus on developing a deep understanding of your chosen subjects during your graduation. This will help you in both the Preliminary and Main Examinations.
  • Read NCERT textbooks for your graduation subjects, as well as for subjects like geography, economics, and science, to build a strong base.
  • Build a habit of reading Current Affairs daily: Start reading newspapers like The Hindu and The Indian Express and magazines like Yojana and Kurukshetra to stay updated with current affairs and issues. Maintain a diary or digital notes to record important current events and developments.
  • Understand the UPSC Syllabus: Familiarise yourself with the syllabus and the UPSC exam pattern. This will help you know what to focus on during your preparation.
  • Join a Coaching Institute: Consider joining a reputable coaching institute if you feel the need for structured guidance and study materials. You can either opt for a 2 phase General Studies Programme or a General Studies Programme that helps you crack all competitive exams. While coaching is not mandatory, it can provide valuable insights and resources.
  • Develop Reading Habits: Cultivate a habit of reading newspapers, Monthly Current Affairs Magazines, Yojana Magazine, Kurukshetra Magazine, Frontline, etc.
  • Optional Subject Selection: Research and select your optional subject wisely. Choose a subject you are passionate about and have a good understanding of. Start studying your optional subject gradually alongside your graduation coursework.
  • Practice Writing Skills: Begin practising daily answer writing. Write essays, short answers, and summaries of articles to improve your writing skills. Review your writing critically and work on clarity, structure, and content.
  • Time Management: Create a study schedule that balances your graduation coursework and UPSC preparation. Allocate specific time slots for each subject and adhere to the schedule.
  • Stay Healthy and Relaxed: Maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet. Take short breaks during study sessions to stay refreshed. Divide your study time into short breaks, like 3-4 hours for one sitting instead of a direct stretch of 6-7 hours.
  • Stay Updated with Official UPSC Notifications: Keep an eye on UPSC's official notifications and announcements regarding the examination schedule, changes in syllabus, and other updates.
  • Starting your UPSC preparation after class 12th gives you a head start, but remember that consistency, discipline, and a well-structured approach are key to success in this highly competitive examination. As you progress through your graduation and post-graduation, continue to build on the foundation you've laid, and aim for comprehensive preparation in the years leading up to the UPSC exam.

Best Books for UPSC Preparation

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer for the best books, here's a list of recommended books for different subjects and stages of the UPSC exam:

General Studies (Prelims and Mains):

  • "Indian Polity" by M. Laxmikanth: A comprehensive book on Indian polity and the constitution.
  • "Certificate Physical and Human Geography" by Goh Cheng Leong: For geography concepts.
  • "India's Struggle for Independence" by Bipan Chandra: Covers the history of the Indian independence movement.
  • "Indian Economy" by Ramesh Singh: Provides a good overview of economic concepts.
  • "General Science" by Lucent Publications: For basic science concepts.
  • "Environment and Ecology" by Shankar IAS Academy: For environmental studies.
  • "Economic Survey" and "Budget" (available online): Important government documents.
  • NCERT textbooks (Class 6 to 12): Excellent for building a foundational understanding of various subjects.

General Studies (Mains):

  • "India After Gandhi" by Ramachandra Guha: A detailed look at post-independence India.
  • "Administrative Reforms in India" by M. Laxmikanth: Covers the Indian administration system.
  • "Indian Art and Culture" by Nitin Singhania: For the art and culture section.
  • "Social Problems in India" by Ram Ahuja: Discusses various social issues.
  • "Governance in India" by M. Laxmikanth: Important for GS Paper 2.
  • "Challenges to Internal Security of India" by Ashok Kumar: Covers internal security issues.

Optional Subjects:

For optional subjects preparation, choose books that are recommended by our Expert faculty. The lists of books are available on our websites. The choice of optional subject determines the specific books you'll need.

Current Affairs:

  • Newspapers: The Hindu, The Indian Express, or any other reputed daily newspaper.
  • Magazines: Yojana, Kurukshetra, Economic and Political Weekly.
  • Annual Publications: "India Year Book" by Publications Division, Government of India, and "Manorama Yearbook."

Essay Writing:

  • "151 Essays for UPSC Mains" by Disha Publications.
  • Practice essay writing regularly to develop your writing skills.

Additional Reference Books (for in-depth knowledge):

  • "Indian Economy" by Ramesh Singh (for Mains and in-depth understanding).
  • "Indian Society" by Ram Ahuja (for Mains).
  • "Geography of India" by Majid Husain (for Mains and detailed geography concepts).
  • "World History" by Norman Lowe (for Mains Paper 1).

Remember that the key to UPSC preparation is not just the number of books you read but how effectively you understand and retain the material.

Best Youtube Channel for UPSC Preparation

In the UPSC preparation journey, Current Affairs proves to be a reliable and crucial ally. Mastering this aspect can significantly contribute to winning half the battle! In the modern era of online learning, YouTube has emerged as a prominent and indispensable platform, playing a pivotal role in education.

The Vajiram & Ravi YouTube channel is for candidates seeking that extra edge or a newcomer exploring the realm of civil services. The channel is a one-stop destination for Daily Newspaper Analysis, Monthly Current Affairs, Economic Surveys, Webinars held by our expert Faculty Members and Interviews by UPSC CSE Toppers.

Timetable for UPSC Preparation 2024

A UPSC timetable is more than just a schedule; it's your ally in combating stress and procrastination. A properly designed timetable can enhance productivity, boost confidence, and make the daunting task of UPSC preparation seem manageable.

If you are preparing for UPSC 2024, don’t forget to follow a timetable that will give you a direction for month-wise preparation strategy for UPSC CSE.

June '23 - October '23NCERTs and Basic Standard books - one reading of everythingRead books common to prelims & mainsStart preparation of Optional Paper
October '23 - February '24Revise the Basic Standard Books and start practising mock prelims testsCover rest of the syllabus of main exam and start answer writing as well as mock prelims testsRevision and practice of optional subject
March '24 - May '24Exclusively for prelims (both GS and CSAT) and regular prelims test - -
June '24 - Sep '24 -Exclusively for Mains and regular answer writing as well as mock test for mains examRevision and mock tests.

FAQs on UPSC Preparation

When to Start Preparing for UPSC?

It's advisable to start preparing for UPSC at least one to two years before the Preliminary Examination. This allows ample time for comprehensive coverage of the syllabus, regular practice, and revision. However, individual timelines may vary based on prior knowledge and experience, so flexibility is key in planning your preparation.

How to Prepare for UPSC?

To prepare for UPSC, follow the basic steps mentioned below:

  • Understand the exam pattern and syllabus.
  • Build a strong foundation with NCERT books.
  • Join a UPSC Exam Coaching or prepare a study plan to study at home.
  • Read newspapers for current affairs.
  • Practice with mock tests and focus on answer writing skills.

How to Prepare for the UPSC CSAT Exam?

To prepare for the UPSC CSAT,

  • Understand the CSAT syllabus, which includes comprehension, reasoning, and numerical ability.
  • Practise regularly with sample papers and previous years' question papers.
  • Focus on improving your reading speed and analytical skills.
  • Consider enrolling in a CSAT-specific coaching program for guidance and practice.

How much time is required to prepare for IAS?

The time required to prepare for the IAS exam varies but typically ranges from 1 to 2 years of dedicated study. This allows for comprehensive coverage of the syllabus, practice, and revision. However, individual timelines may differ based on prior knowledge and preparation strategies, so adaptability is crucial in planning your IAS preparation.