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A Beginners Guide to UPSC Civil Services Exam

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The Civil Services Exam (CSE) conducted by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is by far the toughest exam in India. Professor Lant Pritchett, from Harvard University, once said in 2010, “The Indian Administrative Service is full of officers who have passed an entrance examination and selection process that makes getting into Harvard look like a walk in the park.” But does that mean that average students don’t stand any chance of writing the exam?

A Beginners Guide to UPSC Civil Services Exam

The answer is NO. The history of UPSC has been full of memorable achievements wherein even the son of a rickshaw driver has been able to clear the exam with flying colors. This shows that UPSC does not only check your aptitude but is also very keen in measuring your attitude. An optimistic attitude coupled with perseverance can do wonders for a serious aspirant who has the zeal to crack this exam. The first step to building this attitude is to know about the exam and then to develop strategies in order to clear the various stages of the exam.

So now, let us first understand the pattern of the examination.

The CSE examination is a three-phase examination. These are;

  1. The Civil Services Preliminary Examination. (CSP)
  2. The Civil Services Mains Examination. (CSM)
  3. Personality Test.

The first stage, i.e., the Preliminary Examination consists of two papers;

  1. General Studies. (GS)
  2. Civil Services Aptitude Test. (CSAT)

The General Studies comprises of foundation subjects such as Indian Polity, History, Geography etc. and related Current Affairs to these topics (link to Prelims syllabus). This paper comprises of 100 questions in total. Each question carries 2 marks and for every incorrect answer, 1/3rd of the total marks is deducted. The CSAT paper consists of 80 questions in total. Each question carries 2.5 marks and has 1/3rd negative marking. However, the CSAT paper is only a qualifying paper i.e., an aspirant need to score only 33% of the total marks to qualify this paper which comes down to 67/200. The real race begins in the General Studies paper where one needs to score above the cut-off in order to qualify for the mains. Again, Preliminary Exam is just QUALIFYING in nature. The marks scored here are not counted for calculating the final cut-off. So, the Preliminary Examination just acts as a gateway for MAINS. Details of the CSP Exam are summarized in the table below;

Topics Details
Exam Mode Offline
Total Papers General Studies (GS) and CSAT
Total Questions GS – 100 questions / CSAT – 80 questions
Total Marks GS – 200 marks / CSAT – 200 marks
Exam Type Objective – Multiple Choice Questions
Time Duration GS – 120 minutes (2 hours) / CSAT – 120 minutes (2 hours)
Negative Marking 1/3rd
Exam Nature Qualifying

The second stage, i.e., the CSM consists of the following papers;

  1. General Studies (GS-1, GS-2, GS-3, GS-4)
  2. Optional Papers (Paper-1 and Paper-2)
  3. Essay
  4. Language (Paper-A and Paper-B)

Each General Study paper, Essay paper and Optional Papers comprise of 250 marks and the time allotted for each paper is 3 hours (link to Mains syllabus). Paper-A would include one of the languages which should be selected from a list of 22 languages written in the 8th Schedule to the Indian Constitution. Paper -B would comprise of English language. Both, Paper-A and Paper-B would comprise of 300 marks each. These papers are qualifying in nature and a candidate in required to score only 33% of the marks to qualify these papers. These marks are not accounted for while calculating the final merit.

After securing the required cut-off in mains, candidates would then have to appear for the Personality Test (PT). This test would comprise of 275 marks in total wherein the board panel would thoroughly check personality traits such as alertness, attitude, integrity etc. which are very much required to be an officer.

The marks scored together in mains as well as interviews are used to decide the final merit and rank of a candidate.

Details of the Mains and Interviews are summarized below;

Topics Details
Exam Mode Offline
Paper – A (Qualifying in nature) 300 marks (Not Calculated in final merit)
Paper – B (Qualifying in nature) 300 marks (Not Calculated in final merit)
Time Duration 3 hours / paper
Essay 250 marks
General Studies – 1 250 marks
General Studies – 2 250 marks
General Studies – 3 250 marks
General Studies – 4 250 marks
Optional Paper – 1 250 marls
Optional Paper – 2 250 marks
Total Mains Marks 1750 marks
Personality Test 275 marks
Mains + Personality Test 2025 marks

In this article, we have thoroughly understood the nature of the examination and also the syllabus for it. In the upcoming articles we shall understand the tips, techniques and strategies to crack the first stage i.e., The Preliminary Examination.

All the best 🙂 !!!!


All About UPSC CSE Exam Preparation

Exam Notification

UPSC CSE Calendar 2024

  • Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination, 2024 & Indian Forest Service (Preliminary) Examination, 2024 through CS(P) Examination 2023 26 May 2024

Download UPSC CSE Notification 2024: Click here

Exam Pattern

UPSC Syllabus

UPSC Prelims Syllabus

UPSC Mains Syllabus

Previous Papers

YearPrelims-GSPrelims-CSATMains-GS 1Mains-GS 2Mains-GS 3Mains-GS 4Mains-EssayMains-EnglishMains-Hindi

Prelims Previous Years Papers – Subject & Year Wise

PRE SUBJECT201820172016201520142013
Science & Technology201820172016201520142013
Modern India201820172016201520142013
Medieval India201820172016201520142013

Mains Previous Years Papers – Subject & Year Wise

MAINS SUBEJECT201820172016201520142013
Internal Security201820172016201520142013
Ethics – I201820172016201520142013
Ethics – II (Case Studies)201820172016201520142013
Environment and Ecology201820172016201520142013
Disaster Management201820172016201520142013
Ancient History and Art & Culture201820172016201520142013
Agriculture201820172016No Question20142013
Indian Society2018201720162015 20142013

Cut Off Marks

Awards And Achievements

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Teaching Methodology:

The Prayas India- Exam आसान है!

LEARN: Learning is the first stage of any exam preparation. The Prayas India provides the simplified learning approach. It believes in technology and helps the aspirants for smart preparation.
PRACTICE: “Practice makes a man perfect”. After each and every topic, the aspirants need to practice on Mock Question Papers and Previous Years Papers. The Prayas India helps to understand the Exam Pattern and practice on exam oriented pattern.
ANALYZE: The last and the most important part is giving the test and analysing the performance. The Prayas India provides All India level real time test platform where an aspirant can track themselves with performance and progress.

Why the Prayas ?

We know that you are in search of not just a coaching, but an institution where you get all your learning needs fulfilled. Here, at The Prayas, we mentor you, guide you with the best strategy, and solve all your doubts that will help you achieve your goal.

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We are a team of highly experienced mentors. The Research & Development Team at Prayas continuously works hard for all our students.

Teaching Methodogy

We firmly believe in and follow the three steps of preparation:
1. Learn
2. Practice
3. Test

Study Material

The Prayas study material is extremely comprehensive and very well designed. It is regularly updated by our Research & Development team.

Time Table

It is imperative to be disciplined to crack competitive exams. Our mentors help aspirants in defining their study time table and strategy.

Doubt Clearance

Instant solution of doubts is our USP. We have several dedicated groups and communities to help aspirants get their doubts solved in real time.

Progress Tracker

We provide individual progress tracker to every aspirant. It helps the aspirant complete syllabus in defined time frame and builds confidence.

Foundation Support

We provide special basic lectures to beginners. Easy-to-understand explanation of important concepts helps them build a strong base.

1-on-1 Mentor Connect

We connect one-on-one with students who require support from us in their learning. Mentors are always available & ready for support.

Technology Driven

Ours is a highly technology-driven platform that meets all the learning needs of aspirants. It simplifies their experience and helps them clear examinations with ease.

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