How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims

Did you know only 1.96% - 5% of applicants clear the UPSC prelims?

This staggering statistic reflects the immense competition and rigorous preparation required to succeed. Preparing for the UPSC prelims isn’t just about studying hard; it’s about studying smart. Let me take you through a journey of effective strategies, personal tips, and expert advice to help you ace this challenging exam.

Understanding the UPSC Prelims

Before diving into the preparation strategy, let’s break down what the UPSC prelims entail. The prelims consist of two papers: General Studies (GS) and the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT). Both are objective-type papers and serve as a screening test for the mains.

  • GS Paper I: Covers a broad range of topics like History, Geography, Polity, Economy, Environment, Science and Technology, and Current Affairs.
  • CSAT Paper II: Tests your aptitude, logical reasoning, quantitative aptitude, and comprehension skills. It’s qualifying in nature, meaning you need to score a minimum of 33%.

Why Preparing for UPSC Prelims is Crucial

The prelims serve as a screening test for the mains. Scoring well here is essential because only a fraction of candidates make it to the next stage. Moreover, the prelims lay the foundation for the mains and the interview. A solid understanding of prelims topics will streamline your preparation for the subsequent stages.

Crafting Your Study Plan

A solid study plan is your best friend here. Aim to cover the entire syllabus, but be flexible enough to adjust it as needed.

  1. Start Early: Ideally, begin your prep at least a year in advance. This gives you ample time to cover the vast syllabus.
  2. Daily Targets: Break down the syllabus into manageable chunks. Set daily and weekly targets.
  3. Know the Syllabus Inside Out: The UPSC syllabus is your guide. Break it down into manageable sections and familiarize yourself with every topic.
  4. Create a Study Schedule: Consistency is key. Allocate specific time slots for different subjects, ensuring you cover all areas comprehensively. Include time for revision and practice tests.
  5. Quality over Quantity: Focus on understanding concepts rather than rote learning. Use standard textbooks and reliable sources. For instance, NCERT books are excellent for building a strong foundation.
  6. Current Affairs: Stay updated with daily news. Reading a good newspaper like The Hindu or Indian Express is crucial. Complement this with monthly magazines like Yojana or Kurukshetra.
  7. Practice Mock Tests: Regularly take mock tests to assess your preparation. Analyze your performance to identify strengths and weaknesses.  
  8. Revise Regularly: Revision is the secret sauce. Make concise notes for quick revisions. The more you revise, the better you retain.

Expert Insights

Even the best resources can’t substitute for tried-and-true advice from those who’ve been in your shoes.

  • Stay Updated: Make current affairs a daily habit. Focus on issues rather than just news.
  • Mind Maps and Notes: Create concise notes and mind maps for quick revision.
  • Smart Work: Instead of reading ten books, read one book ten times. Depth over breadth.
  • Previous Year Papers: Analyze previous years’ question papers to understand the exam pattern and frequently asked questions.

Rohan Gupta, IAS Topper 2020

Rohan emphasizes the importance of a disciplined routine. “Consistency beats intensity. Study every day, even if it’s for a few hours. And don’t neglect the CSAT paper; it’s qualifying, but you need to clear it.”

Resources and Study Materials

  • NCERT Books: These are non-negotiable. Cover them thoroughly for a solid foundation.
  • Books:
    • Polity: “Indian Polity” by M. Laxmikanth
    • History: “India’s Struggle for Independence” by Bipan Chandra
    • Geography: “Certificate Physical and Human Geography” by G.C. Leong
    • Economy: “Indian Economy” by Ramesh Singh
    • Environment: “Environment” by Shankar IAS
  • Magazines:
    • Yojana
    • Kurukshetra
    • Economic and Political Weekly
  • Newspapers and Magazines: The Hindu, Indian Express, Yojana, and Kurukshetra for current affairs.

Balancing CSAT and GS

While GS is the heavy hitter, don’t neglect the CSAT paper. It’s qualifying, but you still need to prepare adequately.

  • Quantitative Aptitude: Brush up on basic math skills. Refer to RS Aggarwal for practice.
  • Reasoning: Practice puzzles and logical reasoning questions regularly.
  • Reading Comprehension: Read editorials and practice summarizing them. It helps in comprehension and speed.

Staying Motivated

The preparation phase can be long and arduous. Maintaining motivation is crucial.

  • Set Milestones: Celebrate small victories. Completed a book? Treat yourself!
  • Stay Positive: Surround yourself with positive influences. Join a study group or online forum.
  • Healthy Routine: Maintain a balanced lifestyle. Exercise, meditate, and take breaks to avoid burnout.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Ignoring the Syllabus: Stick to the syllabus. Venturing into unnecessary details wastes time.
  2. Over-Reliance on Coaching: Coaching can guide you, but self-study is paramount. Develop your own strategies.
  3. Neglecting Revision: Don’t just read; revise. Regular revision ensures better retention.
  4. Skipping Mock Tests: Mock tests simulate the actual exam environment and are crucial for self-assessment.
  5. Procrastination: Start early and stick to your schedule. Last-minute cramming rarely works for UPSC.
  6. Overloading with Material: Avoid the temptation to study from too many sources. Stick to a few trusted books.
  7. Neglecting Health: Your physical and mental health is paramount. Don’t sacrifice sleep and nutrition for extra study hours.


Preparing for UPSC prelims requires dedication, smart planning, and continuous effort. Remember, every small step counts. Stay focused, keep revising, and practice regularly. Success is a blend of hard work, strategy, and perseverance

 The journey of UPSC preparation is transformative. It not only prepares you for the exam but also molds you into a better, well-informed individual. Embrace the process, learn from your mistakes, and celebrate small victories along the way.

Good luck, and remember, the goal is not just to clear the prelims but to become a knowledgeable and competent civil servant.

Call Now