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The UPSC conducts the civil services examination every year to induct officers into the Indian civil services. Once recruited, officers will serve in the various administrative services like the IAS, IPS, IRS, ITS, IDES, etc. and also in the foreign services. This exam is conducted in three stages, each of which rejects candidates who couldn’t clear the round. The first stage in this long-drawn process is the UPSC preliminary exam, more commonly known as the IAS/UPSC Prelims. This is perhaps the easiest of all the rounds but still takes a planned and dedicated preparation on the part of the candidates to clear it.


UPSC IAS Prelims Format:

There are two objective type (MCQs) papers in the prelims exam.

  1. General Studies Paper 1
  2. General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT)


The exam details are given below.

Exam Total marks Duration No. of questions Negative marking Nature Required marks to qualify
GS 1 200 2 hours 100 Yes Marks counted for ranking Cut-off prescribed by UPSC
GS 2 200 2 hours 80 Yes Qualifying only 33%(66/200)


The marks obtained in the CSAT or GS 2 paper will not be counted for the prelims ranking. Candidates need to score at least 33% in this paper to qualify for the UPSC mains exam. The marks obtained in the GS paper 1 will be counted in the ranking. The cut-off marks (minimum marks required) in this paper will be determined by the commission and declared to the public only after the final result of the UPSC civil services is out.

The UPSC also penalizes candidates for incorrect answers to the tune of 1/3rd of the marks allotted to the question.

Tips to prepare for the IAS Prelims at home:

Tip #1: Know when to start preparation

Ideally, an IAS aspirant has to set aside at least one year of his life in IAS preparation. During this time, it is advised to start preparation with those topics that overlap with the mains and the prelims exams. Dedicated preparation for the prelims alone should start at least 2 months prior to the prelims.

Tip #2: Prepare a plan

Since you are preparing at home, without any external guidance, you should create a study plan and be absolutely faithful to it. There would be distractions and temptations pulling you away from your preparation. Be sincere to yourself. Remember, there is no gain without a little pain!

Tip #3: CSAT preparation

The CSAT is described either as a tricky affair or a cakewalk depending upon who you ask. Candidates strong in mathematics or with a science/engineering background generally find it easy and don’t necessarily spend a lot of time for it. They just practice a few mock papers or previous years’ UPSCCSAT question papers. But for candidates who find CSAT on the tougher side, it is prudent to have a strategy for it so that you can get the minimum required marks. If you fail to do so, it doesn’t matter if you’ve scored brilliantly in the GS paper 1; you will not be eligible to take the IAS mains.

Tip #4: Not just facts and figures

A common misconception regarding the UPSC prelims is that it is just about remembering a lot of facts and figures. The UPSC was never about cramming things up and, more so after the syllabus change. Apart from retention, you will be assessed on various parameters like analytical ability and clarity of concepts. And yes, you will also be tested on your speed of thought since you have to answer 200 questions in 120 minutes (less than a minute per question).

Tip #5: Current affairs

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that current affairs form the bedrock of the UPSC question paper. You have to be abreast of the latest current affairs.  A lot of the questions would be based on them and you need to be able to relate your syllabus to the current affairs. For example, if a certain topic is hitting headlines frequently, make sure you gather relevant information pertaining to it and also understand it properly by going back to the theory/concept in them. Go through BYJU’S Free IAS prep current affairs sections like ‘Daily News Analysis’, PIB, Rajya Sabha TV and Current Affairs Quiz daily to be a step ahead of your competition.

Tip #6: Practice mock IAS test papers

This is one of the most important steps in cracking the IAS prelims exam. The prelims exam, as mentioned earlier, gives you less than a minute for each question. In this short time, you must be able to figure out the correct answer. You cannot also hope to get lucky because each wrong answer will cost you marks. Only practice can help you familiarise with the question paper pattern, and also improve your speed. Even before you are through with the syllabus, you should start taking mock prelims tests.