UPSC Preparation: How to prepare for UPSC : Booklist for UPSC | Prelims Booklist: Mains Booklist| How to become an IAS

How to begin, where to start?

That’s the million dollar question which everyone asks oneself when one first thinks of becoming a civil servant. How to go about preparation depends on how much time you have at your disposal. And you guys have lots of time in your hands.

Before coming to preparation let’s know our enemy better

It’s basically a 3 stage examination

(i) Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination (Objective type) for the selection of candidates for the Main Examination;

It consists of two papers,

Paper 1 deals with general studies and contains 100 questions. Paper 2 is of aptitude test and contains 80 questions. Paper 2 is only of qualifying nature (67 marks for qualifying)

Approximately 12 times the total number of vacancies qualify this exam to be eligible to appear in the next stage. Marks obtained in prelims are not counted for final merit.

(ii) Civil Services (Main) Examination (Written and Interview) for the selection of candidates for the various Services and posts noted above. Approximately 2.6 times the total vacancies are qualified to appear in personality test. Marks of written plus interview combined decide the merit list.

Let’s settle a few issues

#1. Is this a sprint or marathon?

Notion of sprint suggests 6 months of super fast study while marathon suggests 5 year planning (Sprinters would claim 6 months proper study and you are done, marathon runners would have you planned for next 5 years).

I don’t know what it is. Nobody used such metaphors when we were preparing for JEE or PMT or CAT or CLAT or even board exams. Civil Services examination is like any other decently competitive examination which demands rigorous preparation, only difference being the subjective pattern, which makes it more unpredictable.

In our view, this exam needs 12 months of decent preparation for already well aware candidates and 18 months, i.e roughly 12 months before prelims for those who are not so well aware.

#2. Is it a purely luck based exam? A gamble!

Well, luck certainly matters but luck is randomly distributed. So if you are well prepared, chances are, if not in 1st, in 2nd or (3rd or 4th attempt), you will make it to the list.

But one thing is certain, if you are not decently well prepared, there’s no way, you are gonna make it to that sacred list of rank holders.

Like every exam, it has certain demands and certain ways of achieving success. For instance, some people say, that guy scored so well in essay, ethics and optional and he is through. Well, that’s one type of strategy but not without risk. What if for some reason, you are not able to score well in one of the papers, well you are doomed.

Like finance, the best way is to diversify your portfolio, hedge your bets. You should prepare every paper decent enough, so decent that you don’t get butchered in that paper. Say 50 marks in essay or one optional paper. Nobody can save you in that case. It requires spending proportionate time on every subject, not keep on studying culture and world history from every other book or farras available in the karol bagh market.

Well these were some general fundas but we haven’t answered how should you begin your preparation yet.

Now,the most important issue of time management

Leave aside the essay paper for the moment (not because it’s not important but rather it’s very very important).

Of the 1500 mains marks, 500 marks are contributed by optional i.e. 1/3rd. Common sense suggests ⅓ time should be devoted to optional i.e. if you read 9 hrs daily, approximately 3 hours daily for optional. But it is often seen that, aspirants don’t give even 20% of their time to the preparation of optional. It’s a very bad strategy. Avoid it all cost. Instead of ⅓ you can allot 30% or 28% if you are comfortable with optional but devoting only 20% time is asking for failure.

Similarly, all four general studies paper should be given more or less proportional time (of course you won’t study GS history, if you have history optional) but what is commonly observed is that aspirants spend majority of their time especially September and October month immediately after prelims doing PHD on art and culture; world history and; International relations. Avoid this failing. Devote proportional time for all 4 papers and proportional among sub parts in the papers.

Importance of answer writing and solving prelims test papers

You should know something before you start writing. We don’t believe that you should just start writing even if you know nothing. Once you have gained decent enough knowledge (you will gain that by the time you are done with NCERTs and are regular with newspaper), start writing mains answers and solving prelims questions.

For prelims, rule of thumb is appearing in a test every week (available on photo state shops). Take at least 20 high quality tests before appearing in exam beside solving past 10 years question papers.

For mains you need to again prioritize your time. For paper 1, paper 2 and paper 3, 80% of time should be spent on studying and 20% on writing answers (4 hr studying, 1 hr writing), for paper 4, 50% study, 50% writing ( 1 hr studying, 1 hr writing). Take time to evaluate your own answers even if you are writing in paid test series.

For essay, no special preparation is needed as whatever you read for IAS preparation will suffice. Take your time understanding different writing styles. Choose the one you are comfortable with and stick to that. Keep a separate notebook (or evernote) to write good quotes, points you come across.

Important point is to write one essay every week (90 min) and then spending 60 minutes thinking how you could have written it better.

For Optionals -Answer writing depends on the nature of optional but ignore optional and answer writing at your own peril.

UPSC Prelims Preparation Books to Refer


Important Sources (Follow any one newspaper for news items (preferably The Hindu); one for editorial (best Indian Express); and one Business newspaper – only editorials (best is Livemint).

The Hindu

The Indian Express

Press Information Bureau (keep checking the Features section for imp articles and our weekly PIB Gist)

PRS (only for recent Bills and articles related to them)

IDSA: Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis (keep checking every 2-3 days for in-depth IR articles)

Yojana and Kurukshetra (no need to read all articles – read selectively)

LokSabha and RajyaSabha Debates


IAS Baba’s Monthly Magazine; Yojana, RSTV and PIB Gist (If you refer to this alone, you will only need to read a daily newspaper)


Modern India

NCERT – Class 8th (New) – ‘Our Pasts – III’

NCERT-Class 12th ‘Modern India’ (OLD)

Tamil Nadu Edition- Class 12th


Spectrum Modern India – Rajiv Ahir

Reference Book: India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra; Plassey to Partition by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay

Medieval India

NCERT – Class 7th (New) –‘Our Pasts –II’

NCERT – Class 11th ‘Medieval India’ (OLD)- Satish Chandra

Tamil Nadu Edition-Class 11th

Ancient and Medieval India – Poonam Dalal Dahiya

Ancient India

NCERT– Class 11th ‘Ancient India’ (OLD)- R.S. Sharma

NCERT– Class 12th ‘Themes in Indian History- Part I’ (NEW)- Chapters 1 to 6

Tamil Nadu Edition – Class 11th

Ancient and Medieval India – Poonam Dalal Dahiya

NOTE: Most part of ‘Culture’ section overlaps with Ancient and Medieval History. Apart from the above mentioned books, you can refer the below link for more information on Culture.

You need to study CCRT Website – CCRT ; Performing Arts and Literary Arts


NCERT Social Science, Class 6th ji ‘The Earth Our Habitat’

NCERT Social Science, Class 7th (New) ‘Our Environment’

NCERT Social Science, Class 8th (New) ‘ Resource and Development’

NCERT Social Science, Class 9th (New) ‘Contemporary India’

NCERT Social Science, Class 10th (New) ‘Contemporary India-Part II’

NCERT – Class 11th (New)

Fundamentals of Physical Geography

India physical environment

NCERT – Class 12th (New)

Fundamentals of Human Geography

India – People and Economy

Atlas: Orient BlackSwan School Atlas (or) Oxford School Atlas

Reference Book: Certificate Physical and Indian Geography – Goh Cheng Leong; OLD NCERT Geography – Class 11th and 12th (if you can find them )


NCERT – 6th to 8th (for basic understanding)

NCERT- Class 9th to 12th (for understanding more on democracy and federalism)

Indian Polity – M Laxmikanth

Reference Book: Introduction to Indian Constitution – D.D.Basu


Macroeconomics- Class 12th , NCERT

NCERT 11th – Indian Economic Development

NCERT- Class 9thand 10th (for basics)

Indian Economy – Ramesh Singh-Selective (Chapters on)

Introduction (GDP, GNP, growth etc.)

Evolution of the Indian economy


Inflation & Business Cycle


India and the Global Economy (include chapters relating to it)

Human development

Technology and environment

For understanding concepts refer to either of these: Economy Section

Khan Academy Macroeconomics videos

Investopedia – University (also read basics of Microeconomics from here)

Sriram’s IAS Economics Notes


The Hindu-Monday Edition (not technical news, only application based science & Tech)

NCERT- Class 6th to 10th

NCERT – Biology – 11th (Unit IV & V only – read basic concepts not technical details)

NCERT Biology – 12th (Chapters 4, 5 and rest from 7 to 16 – all important – read no by line except technical details)

NCERT – Biology – 12th (OLD) – Chapter 9 onwards

NCERT – Physics – 11th (Chap 1,5 & 8) and 12th (Chap 15 only)

NCERT – Chemistry – 11th (Chap 1 & 14 only) and 12th (Chap 14 & 16 only)

Science reporter- Selectively


ICSE Board- Environmental studies- Class 10th and 11th

NCERT- Geography Books (in 6th to 12th there are lot of chapters on Environment)

Science NCERT books mentioned above

Shankar IAS Notes

Current affairs

Reference material : Shankar IAS notes on Environment

8. SOCIAL ISSUES & NEW POLICIES/SCHEMES (lists all schemes Ministry and sector wise with details)

India yearbook

NCERT books mentioned above

Current affairs (also keep checking our weekly PIB Gists – very important)

Ending notes:

We will never make you restrict your choices. But the above is essential for a solid preparation.

There are people who qualify without even reading NCERTs or any most followed resources. The key to their success is smart study. They spend more time in chalking out what not to study than what to study.

If they follow one source, they keep on revising from the same along with complementing it with dynamic updates.

If you trust your resource, please stick to it. Never rush to fascinating books or suggested resources that are never ending. You are bound to fall. Because you are running behind them.

While NCERT books may sound deceptively simple, trust us, they are not!

>Books which are not recommended-

India 2016/ 2017 (popularly known as India Year Book)

Reading India after Gandhi again

Ethics book by SubbaRao (very fat book, you should spend your time analyzing ethical problems, solving more and more case studies rather than doing PHD on theory of ethics

Source : Quora

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