A Hitchhiker’s Guide to UPSC

Guide to IAS UPSC

Guide to UPSC

Hello, fellow travellers. I am your guide in the journey to the top of the mountain known as UPSC CSE. Every year millions of aspirants start this rigorous climb with all their heart. But as time progresses, their resilience starts to fade away and eventually it washes out completely. This trip is not for the faint-hearted. Every step along the steep slope tests your determination to reach the top. As you climb further, you will have to grow yourself intellectually to stay ahead of the competition. This path is not just a leisurely stroll. It is the most demanding and life-changing voyage built only for those who have the strength to prove their worth. 

In this article, we will discuss the challenges you’ll face and overcome when appearing for the Civil Services Examination. Also, we will discuss the strategy to break the “Chakravyuh” of UPSC. This is a step-by-step guide to the UPSC CSE, your companion through the hardships of India’s most premier exam. So, let’s get our gear ready and start the hike.

The Periphery:

First, let’s understand the structure of the UPSC Civil Services Examination. As you can see, the complete journey is divided into 12 checkpoints. These checkpoints are actually a part of three tiers – the preliminary phase (prelims), the mains phase, and the final interview. Each tier has its own syllabus and exam pattern. So, it is crucial to prepare accordingly. The Civil Services Exam is very versatile in nature. Every year the candidates get unprecedented surprises that stop them from realising their dream. Even after working arduously for years, the goal seems like a distant peak to many. But everything can be conquered with the right approach and strategy. 

Let’s discuss every step in detail and plan our hike for a smooth experience. 

guide to UPSC

The Prelims (Guide to UPSC):

The preliminary phase of UPSC CSE is based on multiple choice questions. There are two papers that a candidate has to qualify before aiming for the mains phase. The first exam is based on the current affairs and general studies. This paper decides the merit score for mains. Paper-II, also known as CSAT, is focused on basic logical and numerical aptitude and is only qualifying in nature.

This means the marks scored in CSAT are not considered in the final score of the candidate. It is essential to plan for this phase very carefully because it is the first step towards your final goal. If the first step is wobbly and staggering, it is difficult to further maintain focus. So, no matter how well prepared you are for mains, do not take the prelims phase lightly. It will help you develop a strong foundation for your bright future. Here’s the detailed plan for the papers of prelims phase:

Syllabus for Paper-I :

  1. Current Affairs (Both National and International)
  2. History of India and the struggle for Independence.
  3. Geography (Physical, Social, and Economical), with more emphasis on India.
  4. Indian politics and the basics of governance.
  5. The development of Economic and Social issues in India.
  6. Environment and Ecology (Special focus on Bio-Diversity and Climate Change).

Syllabus for Paper-II :

  1. Comprehension.
  2. Communication skills.
  3. Logical and analytical reasoning.
  4. Problem-solving skills.
  5. General arithmetic skills (High school level) and Data Interpretation.

Passing this checkpoint will allow you to appear in the mains phase of UPSC Civil Services Examination. If you thought prelims was tough, you need to reconsider your choices. Because this is where things start to really get serious. This is the real test of your knowledge and the ability to express yourself. So, let’s dig deeper into the next level of becoming an IAS officer.

The Mains:

One of the most comprehensive examination schedules of our country, the mains phase is what makes UPSC CSE different from other exams. The mode of examination is written and you have to write nine papers in total to prove your worth. The mains phase is the “Mordor” of Civil Services world. It stands like “Gandalf” to block your path with bold words – “Thou shall not pass”. But there’s no fun in a hike if it’s not challenging. 

As mentioned above, the papers in the mains examination are based on written answers. You have to write detailed and to the point answers on various topics. Hence, you can not ignore the importance of answer writing in the preparation of mains examination. So, let’s see what you have to study for each paper in the mains phase. 

Qualifying Papers:

The first two papers of the mains phase are qualifying in nature. A candidate has to score at least 25% of the total marks in these papers but the marks will not be added to your final score. Both of these exams are worth 300 marks, so you are expected to get at least 75 marks in each paper. But that doesn’t mean you can take these papers lightly. If you fail to meet the criteria, your marks in the other seven papers will not be taken into consideration.

Here are the details about these papers individually.

Paper A: 

For the first paper of the mains examination, you have to write answers related to any Modern Indian language mentioned in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Candidates belonging to the North-Eastern states namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram, have an option to skip this paper. Also, there is a relaxation for hearing impaired candidates. 

Paper B:

The second paper test your English language skills. You’ll counter questions that test your reading, writing, and comprehension abilities.

The Real Test:

After you are done with the qualifying exams, the climb becomes steep and rocky. This is where your knowledge and preparation is actually tested. The closer you get to the summit the more pressure you’ll have to handle. At this stage, only those who are able to work efficiently under enormous stress, survive to become the best among the rest. Let’s discuss the trail in detail. Each paper has a maximum marks 250 and the total becomes 1750 for all your written papers. 

Paper – I: Essay

You have to write an essay on a random topic given by UPSC. The language of the answer should be the one chosen at the time of applying for the CSE. Make sure you follow the guidelines provided by UPSC to score higher. Pay attention to small details like word limit, the statement that is given in the question, and what the examiner wants as an answer. It is important to read the question carefully because even small mistakes can cost a lot to you. 

Paper – II: General Studies I

The first paper of General Studies focuses on Indian Culture, Heritage, History, and Geography of the World and Society. Indian Culture and Heritage is a vast topic and can be merely covered. But for the sake of easiness, there should be more focus on Art forms, Literature, and Architecture, from ancient to modern times. For Indian history, the preparation should start from the mid-eighteenth century to modern times with a greater focus on the Freedom struggle and post-Independence India. The same goes for World History. All the important events like the Industrial Revolution, World Wars, the rise and fall of Colonization, the rise and effects of different political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc. should be prepared in-depth.

World Geography will include features of physical geography, distribution of natural resources with a special emphasis on South-East Asia and Indian subcontinent. Additionally, all the geophysical phenomenon like earthquakes, volcanos, cyclones, typhoons, etc. should be given proper attention.

Paper – III: General Studies II

 GS II paper introduces you to the concepts of governance, politics, constitution, international relations, and social justice. Each of these subjects is somehow interconnected and can be followed with ease. Most of these topics are easily captured by real-life experiences. So, it is convenient to prepare for this phase if you have a keen eye for your surroundings. Starting with the Indian Constitution, you should focus on the basic structure and development of our constitution over the years. Also, the comparison of our constitution with our countries and the schemes adopted from other nations form a vital part of GS II. 

Then we move to the structure of government. This includes the Parliamentary and State legislatures and the method of distribution of power among different tiers. Along with top-level governing bodies, local bodies and their working should also be studied. The responsibilities of the governing bodies, the issues and challenges they face, are all part of the governance topic. In recent few years, there has been an emphasis on new governance modes like e-Governance, citizen charter, digitization of various government portals and procedures, etc.

Thereafter, the topics under social justice include, but are not limited to, the structure of the judicial system of India, its mode of functioning, and welfare schemes and policies of the Government. It also features the actions taken by the government of India for the development of various sectors of society. Additionally, the issues related to the social sector or service sector, poverty, hunger, etc. are also under the spotlight.

International relations put a lot of stress on our bilateral ties with various countries. India’s policies with the neighbouring countries, important groups like G20, BRICS, SAARC, etc. all come under this topic and shouldn’t be ignored. Also, our role in international organisations and the policies for the benefit of Indian diaspora are often considered. 

Paper – IV: General Studies III

This paper is very versatile in the nature of the subjects covered. The questions are based on technology, economical developments, bio-diversity, and national security and disaster management. All these topics are not very vast and that’s why they are all part of a single paper. Science and technology section is focussed more on the Indian contributions to the world and indigenous projects. Moreover, the recent developments in the technical world and its effect on our daily life can also be under the radar of UPSC examiners. GS paper III will also test your awareness in the field of IT, space, robotics, nanotech, biotech, and the recent introduction of intellectual property rights. 

Economy and the developments in this sector is the only topic that requires a good amount of effort to cover. We discuss the Indian Economy and the issues that affect our development like, planning of distribution of resources, growth, and employment. This topic should be studied with a special emphasis on the budgeting of various sector by the Indian Government. Also, the recent trends in the agriculture field, irrigation techniques, the aid provided for transportation and marketing, are all important topics. This will also include the new policies and steps taken to help the farmers with the help of digitization of services. Further, salient features of the investment models, effects of liberalisation in the economy, FDI, infrastructure, and the industrial growth should be studied.

National Security gives more emphasis to the agents inside the country that can be a threat. For example, extremism, external state and non-state actors posing a threat, organized crime, terrorism, border security, etc. This topic will also include the structure, mandate, and hierarchy of our security forces and agencies. The threats from natural forces and protection from them are covered in disaster management. This subject also includes the effect of pollution on the environment and the conservation of natural resources and the environment.

Paper – V: General Studies IV

Paper V is the last paper of general studies series. This paper tests your knowledge of human ethics, integrity, and aptitude. These topics are self-explanatory so I don’t think you’ll need much help to cover them. But still, as a guide, I will discuss the main points of these topics with you. So human ethics simply focuses on the essence of the values that make us a social animal. The actions we take, the simple codes we follow in public and private relationships, the roles in the family, norms of society, basically everything that defines a human being. Apart from these, the reforms introduced in society by legendary thinkers and leaders are also a part of ethics. 

Paper V also tests your aptitude of becoming an IAS officer. You will answer questions based on the foundation of Civil Service, the values and ethics of public service and governance, Also, the laws and codes related to public service like Code of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Right to Information, etc. and case studies on all the topics we’ve discussed. 


Paper – VI and VII: Optional Subjects

Finally, we reach the end of the climb and we’re just a couple steps away from the summit. But the winds are harder at the top and that’s what the optional paper is all about. UPSC gives you a chance to choose your favourite subject and then answer the questions based on that subject for the last two papers. While it may seem easy but it’s just as difficult as the last few meters of a long hike. This is where your resilience and smartness is actually tested. An optional subject can make or break your dream so make sure you choose carefully. Here’s a list of all the subjects that you can choose:

  • Agriculture
  • Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
  • Anthropology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Commerce and Accountancy
  • Economics
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History
  • Law
  • Management
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Medical Science
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Zoology
  • The literature of any one of the following languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English.

The Final Step:

After you have successfully tackled the harsh winds that can pin down any other hiker with weak will power, the final boss battle awaits. The final interview with a panel of UPSC experts. The interview can be a dreadful experience for many candidates who are not prepared appropriately. It is advisable to take help from someone professional to prepare for the interview. Remember, most candidates are not able to complete their dream of becoming an IAS officer even after reaching the final step. The interview is not a measure of your knowledge. Because everyone who has reached this level is obviously knowledgeable. It is all about your personality and attitude. The interviewers are there to give the real top-level civil servants to the country. So, there’s no chance of any mistake. 

The most simple tip to crack the UPSC interview is, to be honest with yourself. If you try to fool the UPSC panel with crammed up answers they’ll catch you off guard very easily. So, do not underestimate their experience and level of expertise. Be yourself and answer honestly. 

The Summit:

The interview is the final obstacle in your path and after you clear it, you’re ready to step on the summit. The biggest prize that people only dream of is yours and all your effort looks worthy. But that’s not it. You have to keep your eyes on the horizon and serve the country in the best way possible. Becoming an IAS officer is not just a job profile. Just like Uncle Ben used to say,” With great power, comes great responsibility.” Realise this, and work for the betterment of our country and society. If you have been working with a good cause, the whole universe will conspire to put things in your favour and you’ll fulfil your dreams. 

With these words (Guide to UPSC), I’ll leave you to start your journey to the pinnacle of success. 

May the force be with you!


One thought on “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to UPSC

Comments are closed.