How should I start my preparation for the IAS exam?

If you are planning to start preparing for the UPSC Civil Services examination, you need a clear vision and planning about the exam. In this context, the following article will help you a lot.

There are 3 stages in this examination- Prelims, Mains and Interview.

The prelims exam is conducted in June. So if you start one year earlier this is how I would personally approach it-


  • The most important point to start UPSC preparation is the syllabus. Read the syllabus of prelims and mains inside out. Get a nice feel of it and re-read it multiple time, let’s say every 2–3 days.Many first timers don’t even know what UPSC exam is all about.They just join a coaching and start studying whatever is taught there instead of first understanding the demands of the exam.
  • The syllabus is the easiest way to know what UPSC is looking for. So, after reading the syllabus once, just re-read portions of it every 3–4 days and you will become familiar with what UPSC wants you to study. Then, your preparation will become much easier and systematic.

How to read the Syllabus-

  • Read the syllabus and internalise various topics given. For example, in mains, GS 3, first sub topic is: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment. What is this and how to approach this topic? And how to make sure that you will be able to answer any question from this?
  • To do so: focus on key words: Indian economy — planning, resources mobilization, growth/development and employment. Planning: latest 5 year plan and areas of focus there. Since 5 year plans are no more, read NITI Aayog and Yojana reports that underline all the planning activities going in the government. Resource mobilization: This refers to use of resources so it will encompass things like human capital, land reforms, investments etc. Similarly, employment: will cover things like jobless growth.
  • All topics in syllabus are big over-arching topics and their sub=-parts are often discussed in what’s happening at the policy level. You should be able to correlate this.
  • It seems difficult to start off, but trust me, as you do this for 15–20 days, you will get used to it and your studies will become highly systematic.

Sources of Study

  • There are plenty of blogs such as insightsonindia where you can find a good list of books/notes for various subjects/topics in the syllabus.
  • Please choose your sources of study according to the syllabus, specially for mains.
  • Eg: History has three components, ancient, medieval and modern. For ancient you can read NCERT ancient and also Spectrum guide on culture (which covers a large portion of ancient history as well). For medieval, GK Today notes were sufficient, and for modern, Bipan Chandra Freedom Struggle and India post freedom is more than sufficient.

How much to study per day

  • According to me 8–9 hours is more than enough. Sleep at least 8–10 hours and work out for 1 hour.
  • Use your 8–9 hours well.

Making notes

  • Make or not, depends on your.
  • Please be careful that you don’t end up making only notes throughout the studying time. Leave plenty of time for revision.

Time Table — a must

  • A daily, weekly, monthly time table is a must. It should clearly lay out goals you need to achieve. You find my sample time table attached here.
  • Make one for 3 months at a time for one complete year including a revision plan

Choosing an Optional

  • Choose an Optional that you are confident of mastering
  • Optional is a game changer and can truly transform your performance and get you a high rank. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and depend only on it. UPSC rewards those who have a good command in their optional so try to get your basics right and build a good command in it .


  • Current Affairs is almost 20–50% (depending on the year) and hence very scoring. The best approach here is to go thoroughly thrugh the materials such as Insights, GK Today monthly current affairs or Vision, whichever suits your needs. Revise this at least 2–3 times to get a full hold on this.
  • Polity an ever green topic for UPSC and this has one ramban or key source: Laxmikanth book. Nothing beats this. You should know this book inside out for getting 80–90% of questions right in this portion, which is totally possible.
  • Geography, History: Refer to the traditional texts such as NCERTs and Bipan Chandra. Those are more than enough. Don’t just mug up here like polity, get a clear understanding and it will be much easier.
  • Environment: Shankar IAS material is good.
  • CSAT: Practice, practice, practice here. It’s qualifying in nature (only 33% needed) so it’s relatively easy to crack if you practice enough.

GS Preparation + Essay (Mains)

  • GS 1 is extremely factual in nature and takes the most amount of time. It is also almost 90% based on theoretical concepts that come straight from the books and only 5–10% from current affairs.
  • Focus on good presentation skills here. For example, using diagrams and maps in Geography (a must), using flow charts in sociology portion and using key words in History portion.
  • Make diagrams wherever possible
  • GS 2 is technical in nature and has approx. 40–50% here comes from current affairs and rest from current affairs. It can change from time to time. Remember, Laxmikant book is bible of prelims polity however pretty much not relevant for mains except foundational understanding and some chapters on Rights and larger constitutional issues and Supreme court cases.
  • GS 3 is almost 90% current affairs based so focus on NITI Aayog reports, debates in development sector in India, Yojana and Kurukshetra here. Those are bibles for GS 3.
  • GS 4 is almost entirely theoretical ethics in the section A and for case studies, they are all applied and practical in nature. For this, one month of studies is enough.
  • Essay is 250 marks just by itself. That’s massive for one single module and it is extremely highly scoring as compared to optional and GS. Don’t take it lightly and study hard for it. You can do so by practicing a lot.

Writing Practice

  • This is key for mains. The idea here is to start on writing practice as soon as possible as it may take almost 6–7 months to get used to writing.
  • Try to improve hand writing and also the quality of the output. The answers should be presentable both in aesthetics and in the richness of the content. The examiner should feel that you have a good understanding of the question being asked.
  • Be to-the-point in answers, quote studies, keywords and also references from reports from the government.
  • The idea is to write like a bureaucrat, like a policy report in current affairs questions and like an academic in theoretical questions. — if you get this right, I believe the likelihood of getting higher marks increases.

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