How to Start UPSC Preparation from Zero Level

How to Start UPSC Preparation from Zero Level

“Only 0.2% of aspirants clear the UPSC exam each year.” This daunting statistic is enough to make anyone second-guess their decision to start UPSC preparation. But don’t let that number scare you off, If anything, it should serve as a motivation to stand out and make your mark.

The Benefits of Starting UPSC Preparation from Zero

First things first, starting from zero isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here’s why:

  1. Fresh Perspective: Beginning with no preconceived notions allows you to approach the preparation with an open mind, making it easier to adapt and learn.
  2. Solid Foundation: Building your knowledge base from scratch ensures a strong understanding of the fundamentals, crucial for the UPSC exams.
  3. Tailored Strategy: You can develop a personalized study plan that suits your learning style and pace, increasing your chances of success.

Step-by-Step Guide for Starting UPSC Preparation from Zero

Understanding the UPSC Exam Structure

Before diving into books and notes, it’s important to understand the structure of the UPSC Civil Services Examination (CSE). The CSE is conducted in three stages:

  • Preliminary Examination (Prelims): Consists of two objective-type papers: General Studies and Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT).
  • Main Examination (Mains): Comprises nine descriptive papers, including Essay, General Studies, and optional subjects.
  • Personality Test (Interview): The final hurdle where your overall personality and suitability for a career in civil services are assessed.

2. Gather Essential Study Materials

Now that you know the structure, it’s time to gather your study materials. Start with:

  • NCERT Books: These are fundamental for building a strong foundation in subjects like History, Geography, and Polity.
  • Standard Reference Books: For in-depth understanding, refer to books by renowned authors and publications. For example, “Indian Polity” by M. Laxmikanth and “History of Modern India” by Bipan Chandra.
  • Current Affairs Sources: Regularly read newspapers like The Hindu or Indian Express and follow credible online portals for updates.

Why To Use NCERT Books for UPSC Preparation? Download NCERT Books PDF For FREE

3. Develop a Realistic Study Plan

Creating a study plan is crucial. Here’s a simple way to structure it:

  • Daily Goals: Allocate specific hours for different subjects. Ensure you balance between static subjects and current affairs.
  • Weekly Reviews: Measure your progress weekly and adjust your plan accordingly.
  • Mock Tests: Incorporate regular mock tests to familiarize yourself with the exam pattern and improve time management.

4. Focus on General Studies (GS)

General Studies forms the backbone of UPSC preparation. It encompasses various subjects like History, Geography, Polity, Economy, Environment, Science, and Technology. Here’s how to tackle it:

  • Subject-Wise Preparation: Break down each subject into manageable sections. For example, for History, start with Ancient India, move to Medieval India, and then Modern India.
  • Notes Making: Make concise notes for quick revisions. Highlight important points, dates, and events.
  • Interlinking Topics: Understand the interconnections between different subjects. For instance, how historical events influenced the economic policies of that era.

5. Current Affairs Mastery

Current affairs play a pivotal role in both Prelims and Mains. To stay updated:

  • Daily Reading: Dedicate at least one hour daily to reading newspapers and online articles.
  • Monthly Magazines: Subscribe to monthly current affairs magazines like Yojana or Kurukshetra for comprehensive coverage.
  • Online Resources: Use apps and websites that provide daily current affairs summaries and quizzes.

6. Choose Your Optional Subject Wisely

The optional subject can significantly impact your Mains score. When selecting:

  • Interest and Background: Choose a subject you are passionate about or have a background in, as it will make the preparation process smoother.
  • Availability of Resources: Ensure there are sufficient study materials and guidance available for the subject.
  • Scoring Potential: Some subjects have a reputation for being more scoring. Research and decide accordingly.

7. Practice Answer Writing

Answer writing is a crucial skill for the Mains exam. Start practicing early:

  • Daily Answer Writing: Write answers to previous years’ questions or join an online writing practice group.
  • Feedback and Improvement: Seek feedback from mentors or peers and work on improving your writing style and content.
  • Time Management: Practice writing within the stipulated time to enhance your speed and accuracy.

8. Join a Study Group or Coaching

Sometimes, self-study might not be enough. Consider joining:

  • Study Groups: Collaborate with fellow aspirants to discuss topics, share resources, and motivate each other.
  • Coaching Institutes: Enroll in a reputed coaching institute for structured guidance and mentorship. Ensure the institute aligns with your preparation strategy.

Starting from Zero doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage. In fact, many successful UPSC candidates began their journey from zero. Take the example of Ira Singhal, who cleared the UPSC exam in 2014 with top ranks despite facing numerous challenges. Her story is a testament to what dedication and the right approach can achieve.

  • Importance of Consistency: In UPSC preparation, consistency in studying and revising is key to retaining information and staying on track.
  • Role of Technology: Leverage technology for better preparation. Use online courses, apps, and digital notes to make your study process more efficient.
  • Stress Management: The journey can be overwhelming. Incorporate relaxation techniques like meditation, exercise, or hobbies to keep stress at bay.

Specific Examples and Tips

  • Example 1: Let’s say you’re struggling with History. Break it down into timelines and make mind maps to visualize events and their connections.
  • Example 2: For Polity, relate the constitutional articles to real-life scenarios or current events to better understand their application.
  • Example 3: In Geography, use maps and atlases extensively to get a clear geographical understanding.


Starting UPSC preparation from zero might seem intimidating, but remember, every successful candidate started somewhere. With determination, a well-structured plan, and the right resources, you can transform your dreams into reality.

To sum up:

  • Understand the Exam Structure: Know what you’re getting into.
  • Gather Study Materials: Start with the basics and build up.
  • Develop a Study Plan: Be realistic and consistent.
  • Master General Studies and Current Affairs: They are the core of the exam.
  • Choose the Right Optional Subject: It can make a significant difference.
  • Practice Answer Writing: It’s an essential skill for Mains.
  • Seek Support: Join study groups or coaching if needed.

Remember, the journey may be tough, but the destination is worth every effort. So, get ready, stay motivated, and embark on your UPSC preparation journey today. Who knows? You might just be the next inspiring success story.

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