Ancient History contributes at least 4 – 5 questions in the UPSC Prelims. UPSC has been focussing on Art & Culture which is a part of Ancient History’s syllabus. Many aspirants ignore Ancient History and focus more on Modern History. This is a harmful strategy as you can fail to clear the cut-off marks for Prelims just by 1 mark! Ancient History can give you that edge. Also History is a continuous flow of events. In order to better understand Modern History, we need to have clarity about Ancient History also. Here, we are going to discuss strategy for studying Ancient History for the UPSC Exam. 

Syllabus of Ancient History

It will comprise of the following topics:

  • Stone Age
  • Indus Valley Civilization
  • Early Vedic Age (1500-900 BCE)
  • Later Vedic Age (900 -600 BCE)
  • Mahajanapadas / Age of Buddha (600-300 BCE)
  • Mauryan Empire
  • Post Mauryan Age
  • Megaliths and Sangam Age
  • Guptan Age
  • Post Guptas
  • Pallavas & Chalukyas in South
  • Art forms like Dance, Music, Literature, architecture
  • Religion/philosophy of Ancient India

Books and other sources to study Ancient History for UPSC:

  • Old NCERT Class 11 
  • NCERT Class XII -Themes in Indian History Part 1Textbook
  • Tamil Nadu History book Class 11 Textbook
  • NCERT Class XI – An Introduction to Indian Art
  • NCERT Class XI – Living Craft Traditions of India
  • Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) official Website

How to study Ancient History:

  1. Reading basic books: Start by reading NCERTs and Tamil Nadu History textbooks. Try to understand the chronology and analysis of events. Learn the facts about names of officers, professionals, revenue systems, etc. which are frequently asked in the UPSC Prelims.
  2. Reading advanced books: In this stage look for the causes and consequences of the historical events. Make notes of important takeaways..
  3. Solving previous years’ question papers: Solve questions of Ancient history from previous years’ UPSC Prelims papers and mock tests.

Sample questions from previous years’ question papers

Q) With reference to forced labour(Vishti) in India during the Gupta period, which one of the following statements is correct? (2018)

(a) It was considered a source of income for the State, a sort of tax paid by the people.

(b) It was totally absent in the Madhya Pradesh and Kathiawar regions of the Gupta Empire.

(c) The forced labourer was entitled to weekly wages.

(d) The eldest son of the labourer was sent as the forced labourer.

Ans. a


Q) Which of the following characterizes/ characterize the people of Indus Civilization? (2013)

  1. They possessed great palaces and temples.
  2. They worshipped both male and female deities.
  3. They employed horse-drawn chariots in warfare.

Select the correct statement/ statements using the codes given below.

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(e) 1, 2 and 3

(d)  None of the statements given above is correct

Solution (b)


Q) Consider the following :                                                                                          (2019)

1. Deification of the Buddha

2. Treading the path of Bodhisattvas

3. Image worship and rituals

Which of the above is/ are the feature/ features of Mahayana Buddhism?

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans. d


Q) Which one of the following pairs does not form part of the six systems of Indian Philosophy? (2014)

  1. Mimamsa and Vedanta
  2. Nyaya and Vaisheshika
  3. Lokayata and Kapalika
  4. Sankhya and Yoga

Solution (c)


Q) Chaitra 1 of the national calendar based on the Saka Era corresponds to which one of the following dates of the Gregorian calendar in a normal year of 365 days?  (2014)

  1. 22 March (or 21st March)
  2. 15th May (or 16th May)
  3. 31st March (or  30th March)
  4. 21st April (or 20th April

Solution (a)


Q) Building ‘Kalyaana Mandapas’ was a notable feature in the temple construction in the kingdom of                                                                                                                   (2019)

(a) Chalukya

(b) Chandela

(c) Rashtrakuta

(d) Vijayanagara

Ans. d

Areas needing special focus in Ancient History

  • Literary and Archaeological records and the analysis of various battles. It is also helpful in GS1 preparation for Mains.
  • Art and culture eg. Temple architecture, paintings, sculptures, etc.
  • Indus Valley Civilization/Harappan Civilization.
  • Social aspects of Ancient India like status of women, professions, caste, etc.
  • Maurya and Gupta Ages
  • Ancient / Medieval terms like  Mahattar, Pattakila, Araghatta 
  • Southern dynasties or poets 
  • Buddhism, Jainism 
  • Philosophy of ancient India e.g. Vedas, Upanishads, etc.
  • Foreign travellers and their observations about India
  • A good amount of questions test your knowledge about the validity of 2, 3 or 4 statements to choose the correct answer.