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How to Prepare for UPSC Prelims: Step by Step Guide for Beginners

UPSC Civil Services Examination (CSE) is the most prestigious government examination in the country. To become an IAS officer is a dream of every aspirant and his/her family. Lacks of aspirants jump into the marathon of UPSC preparation every year and dedicate their prime years of youth towards achieving their dream of becoming an IAS officer.

In this context, it becomes very important to know various facets of the examination right from the syllabus to exam pattern to the need of the examination at each level. Many aspirants make the mistake of jumping into this marathon without having enough understanding of the basic aspects of the civil services examination.

We at Adda247your one-stop Adda for UPSC preparation-are going to simplify these aspects and help you effectively prepare and qualify for this prestigious examination. Today, we are going to declutter various aspects of the UPSC CSE Prelims examination which is the first and most important stage in the civil services examination. We are going to discuss the following aspects of UPSC CSE Prelims-

    • Examination format
    • Prelims Syllabus
    • Step by step guide to starting your preparation


Prelims Examination Format

  • UPSC CSE is conducted in three stages, first Preliminary examination, then mains examination, and in the end Interview round. The preliminary examination is a qualifying round and UPSC shortlists qualified candidates based on their performances in the mains and interview examinations.
  • The preliminary examination consists of two papers and each paper has objective questions (MCQs).
    1. General Studies Paper 1 (General Awareness)
    2. General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT)
  • General Studies Paper 1 (General Awareness): It consists of 100 questions and each correct answer fetches two marks for the candidate. The UPSC also penalizes candidates for incorrect answers to the tune of 1/3rd of the marks allotted to the question. There are no negative marks for questions that candidates did not attempt.
  • General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT): It consists of 80 questions and each correct answer fetches 2.5 marks for the candidate. Like GS Paper 1, here also UPSC penalizes the wrong answers by deducting one-third of the marks allotted to the question. Left-out question fetches no marks to the candidate.
  • It is mandatory for a candidate to appear in both the Papers of the IAS Prelim Exam for the purpose of evaluation.
  • Cut-off for Prelims: it is prepared by UPSC based on the number of seats in that year and the candidate’s performance in the GS Paper-1, provided s/he has got at least qualifying marks (33% of the total) in the GS Paper 2. Candidates who qualify prelims are then invited by the UPSC for the mains examination.


  • The IAS Prelims exam details:
Exam Total Marks Number of Questions Duration of exam Negative marking Nature Qualification benchmark
GS paper 1 200 100 2 hours Yes Marks counted for cut-off preparation UPSC prepares cut-off for qualified candidates
GS Paper 2 200 80 2 hours Yes Qualifying 33% (66/200)



Preliminary examination syllabus

  • GS Paper 1 syllabus: this paper broadly consists of the following topics as mentioned in the Prelims syllabus section of the UPSC-
    • Current events of National & International importance.
    • History of India & Indian National Movement.
    • Indian & World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India & the World.
    • Indian Polity & Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
    • Economic & Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.
    • General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity & climate change – that do not require subject specialization.
    • General Science.
  • GS Paper 2 syllabus: UPSC mentions the following topics for this paper.
    • Interpersonal skills including communication skills.
    • Logical reasoning & analytical ability.
    • Decision-making & problem-solving.
    • General mental ability.
    • Basic numeracy and data interpretation.


Key suggestions for acing in the preliminary examination

  • Plan your preparation: Generally, an aspirant starts their preparation around one year before the preliminary examination. One should start with reading one newspaper (the Hindu/Indian Express/other) along with comprehensively covering static subjects like polity, history, geography, etc.
  • Get familiar with the syllabus and exam pattern: this helps aspirants always knowing the demand of the examination and prepare accordingly. In the absence of basic understanding, aspirants often get lost in the ocean of books and study materials that are available for UPSC preparation.
    • Knowing the syllabus by heart helps an aspirant pick up the important information from various study materials and also helps in linking various topics of the syllabus, hence, ensures clear concepts and comprehensive knowledge
  • Make weekly and monthly study plans: this is important as, without a proper plan, an aspirant gets lost under the pressure of a vast syllabus and diverse suggestions from many people.
  • Time allocation: In the initial months, aspirants should study from the perspective of both prelims and mains examination. Only around three months before the prelims examination, one should start dedicated preparation for prelims.
    • One should have comprehensively covered optional subjects before starting dedicated prelims preparation.
  • Understanding the concepts rather than just mugging up information: While analyzing previous years’ trends, we found that UPSC focuses more on conceptual questions and less on factual questions. To successfully attempt prelims questions, aspirants require a comprehensive and conceptual understanding of the topic. Even factual questions in the UPSC prelims examination can be successfully attempted if you have conceptual clarity.
  • Importance of current affairs: aspirants must understand the importance of current affairs as many questions from environment and ecology, science, and economy are directly or indirectly linked to current events of the last year. Even many questions from static subjects like history, polity, and geography are framed in the context of some current happenings.
    • When you are reading current affairs, you should also cover the associated static portion of that particular topic.
    • For example, if there is a news about the speaker of a state assembly disqualifying members of the house under the Anti-defection law. Then, you must study, office of speaker, anti-defection law, other mechanisms to disqualify members of the house.
  • Practice mock papers: An aspirant should start practicing MCQs as soon as possible. Initially one should practice with the previous year’s UPSC prelims papers. For current affairs, you can solve our daily quiz on the Adda247 App which is comprehensively prepared after elaborate research on the topic. An aspirant should start solving mock question papers on a priority basis at least three months before the prelims examination. Solving MCQs will help you in the following ways-
    • Practice makes a person perfect. Practicing mock papers will enhance your understanding of the exam pattern and its demand.
    • It will improve your time management in the exam as only 120 minutes are given to attempt 200 questions.
    • Help you identify your weak area, on which you can then work and improve.
  • Do not ignore CSAT paper: Over the years, we came across many talented and knowledgeable aspirants who couldn’t clear prelims because they failed to get qualifying marks in CSAT paper, even though they were getting good marks in GS Paper 1. So, you must prepare for CSAT even if you have a science background (often cited by aspirants for ignoring this paper). You can start by solving previous years’ papers. Then solve few mock test papers. This will help you in time management (often found to be an issue in CSAT Paper) and getting a basic understanding of the syllabus and demand of the paper.

Qualifying UPSC CSE examination and becoming an IAS is a dream of lakhs of aspirants but a lengthy examination process (around one year) and huge syllabus (often it is said that a UPSC aspirant has to read everything under the sun) often crushes dreams of many. But you should not worry as Adda247 provides all the required support to make your UPSC journey a successful one. We provide one-to-one mentorship and have dedicated courses for prelims, mains, and interviews. You can visit our website/App ( Adda247) for more information.

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About CSE

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