"How to prepare for UPSC 2022" is the most important thing as planning and execution of each subject and allocating the time accordingly will provide sufficient thrust to the preparation. The civil services in India are considered to be the steel frame of the nation, and thus the process of selection is difficult in order to allow only the best to join the service. 

The preparation may at once seem to be daunting, and the syllabus exhaustive, but it is not all too difficult when the right kind of guidance is available.  It is often argued that the “mains examination” is the trickiest part, and the “optional subject” is the key determining aspect. 

In this article, we will try to decode the mystery behind acing the civil services exam by mastering these two important features of the entire examination cycle. First, we’ll try to understand how to approach the GS Papers, and subsequently we’ll discuss the optional papers.

Here is the detailed UPSC Mains & Optional Subjects Strategy:

Mains is seen as a major part of the UPSC preparation. Since it is a curriculum heavy part, you will start preparing at least one year prior. It is best to start preparing for the first year of the bachelor’s degree itself. 

However, those of you who do not have the liberty of starting the preparation from college days must begin immediately for the next year’s examination. Scoring good marks is crucial as they decide the service you will get in. Hence, it becomes important to score well in the main examination. 

The first step in acing the Mains examination is to understand the syllabus of the examination. It is important because most of the time aspirants are spending their time learning a lot of things that are not required. 

Instead, you can stay focused and have a clear approach to the civil services examination.  your own notes and NCERT book will have a crucial role to play in your UPSC journey. 

Get broader insights on how to approach NCERT & Which books are essentials? NCERT Books for UPSC CSE Preparation - Important Tips To Follow 


Understanding the examination:

  • UPSC exam is not only a test of your knowledge. It also tries to test your patience, resilience, memory, agility, improvisation, and understanding of social issues. 
  • As a bureaucrat, you would be required to make effective decisions, and the paper is designed in a way to check your decision-making ability. 
  • The vast syllabus may look daunting but it must not deviate you. You should stick to the syllabus provided in the notification of the UPSC civil services examination.  
  • Hence, the first thing is to download the syllabus from the website for the past year's civil services exam. The syllabus will not only let you understand what will be asked but it will also keep you on the right path. 

Take a view of the entire syllabus here: All you need to know about UPSC Syllabus 2020


Resources to refer:

  • With the plethora of material available for the preparation of the UPSC civil services examination, it becomes very difficult to understand what to read and what not to. 
  • It is important to understand that must only refer to a limited number of resources. Your own notes accompanied with the NCERT books will provide you the required material for preparation of the examination. However, it is advisable that you take one book for reference as well. 
  • Begin preparing with the NCERT books for building a strong base. Once the foundation is set right, it becomes easier to build over it. 
  • After the NCERTs you can either begin with the class notes, or you can choose to read a reference book. But it is advisable to avoid going for too many books. 
  • Rather, it is always better to choose one book and read it many times. Some of the books like M Laxmikanth have the standard material for the UPSC and will be an integral part of the preparation. 
  • Current Affairs will play a key role in your UPSC preparation and it is important to completely master them. Some of the common resources you can refer are:
  • Press Information Bureau website
  • All India Radio
  • Monthly Current affairs magazine
  • The Big Picture, Policy watch, and India’s world [Aired on RSTV]
  • Daily newspaper. 


One can prepare from the JV’s daily updates for the mentioned needs:

Daily Important Articles

Daily Indepth Articles

Daily News Prescription

Daily Mains Answer Writing

Monthly Current affairs magazine



  • The importance of the newspaper must not be underestimated. It is advisable to choose The Hindu newspaper for the quality news it carries. 
  • The newspaper helps you keeping in touch will the day to day current affairs. If you regularly read the newspaper then you begin developing a gradual understanding of all the day to day affairs. 
  • The editorial part of the newspaper is the most important because those are usually the opinions of the subject experts. 
  • They provide you with enough material on the positive and the negative side of the argument. These are thus to be read seriously, and if possible then notes are to be made from them. 
  • The Sunday version of The Hindu is essential, for it provides you material related to science and technology. This helps you prepare for the science and technology portion for the mains.
  • PS: For those who do not have access to The Hindu, you can refer to Indian express. The e-paper is available freely on the mobile application. 


How to make notes 

  • Notes making is an art, and you need to learn this. The aim of the notes must not be to write another book of your own, but to create reference material that is crisp and concise. 
  • These notes will become very important during the revisions, and you will be saving a lot of time by merely reading these notes. 
  • It is impossible otherwise to revise the entire syllabus through all the resources that you would have otherwise read. 
  • You can make online notes via OneNote or Evernote, or you can choose to prepare offline notes. It is totally up to you whether you are more comfortable reading on screen, or on paper. But the central idea is that the notes must be crisp and concise. 


3R’s of preparation 

  • UPSC preparation is a process, and it can not be accomplished overnight. In order to prepare better, it is advisable that you read, revise, and keep repeating this process as many times as you can.
  • With every revision, you will keep finding some gaps in your preparation. The aim must be to fill those gaps quickly and prepare holistically for the examination. 



Role of answer writing 

  • Finally, the biggest question that shadows the preparation of a lot of aspirants is, “When to begin answer writing?”. 
  • There is no right time to begin for the answer writing. If you believe that you will begin writing the answers as soon as your syllabus is over, then that day will never come. Hence, it is advisable that as soon as you are done with the NCERTs you must begin writing mains answers. 
  • Answer writing pushes you to think and then putting your ideas down on paper. You will feel that you significantly lack in content, but do not worry, that feeling will not last forever. Gradually you will become comfortable and confident with answer writing. 

Essay and ethics 

  • The two papers require the least preparation and have the potential to fetch you very high marks. It is however necessary that you focus on all the aspects of these papers. You must begin practising essay writing from the very beginning of the UPSC preparation. 
  • You can begin by writing one essay every two weeks, and by the end of the year you would have written more than 2 dozen essays. 
  • These papers can only be mastered by practising more, and thus they must be practised from the very beginning of the preparation. 

Related Article: How to write an essay in UPSC Exam?


UPSC Preparation Strategy for the Optional Subject: 


GS vs Optional, what is the difference? 

The main difference between the GS and the optional paper is the expertise. You are expected to write a much detailed answer in the optional answers, and also you are required to have a subject focused approach rather than the generalist approach.

A good example can be from the PSIR optional, and the GS-2 paper. Assuming a question comes on “challenges to democracy” in both the papers. 

  1. The GS answer would talk about the challenges to the concept of democracy as we know it. It would talk about the prevailing situation regarding democracy and the challenges it faces. 
  2. On the other hand, the optional paper will require you to mention what is a democracy, various concepts of democracy, the challenges as per the definition of democracy, the challenges as per the current model in practice, etc. The content of the answer will change with the paper. 


How to choose UPSC Optional Subjects? 

Choosing an optional subject is another important aspect. You must not choose an optional solely on the basis of the average score that the optional got in the last year. You will be able to score better in the optional only when you enjoy the subject. 

However, if you choose a subject only on the basis of prevailing ideas, then eventually you will get bored with the academic overture of the optional and not be able to score as well. 


Read in Brief: How to choose the Optional Subject for UPSC Civil Services Exams?


When to begin preparing for the optional? 

It is ideal to begin preparing for the option in October of the year preceding the examination year. Since most optionals will take 4-5 months, your optional subject would be over by March of the year of examination. This would leave ample room for the preparation of the prelims, and also ensure that your optional is prepared in due time.

Do not postpone your optional thinking that you will prepare after the prelims since that is going to create a crunch of time for you. It is better to prepare beforehand rather than waiting for the last minute. 


Why is optional so important? 

The optional subject has a total weightage of 500 in the mains examination. It is possible to score more than 320 marks out of the 500 total. This is a very high number, and has the potential to get you among the leading scorers. Thus, it is essential that you focus on your optional subject and prepare well. 


Timeline for the preparation: 

In order to explain better, we are assuming that an aspirant wants to appear in the prelims 2020. For the preparation of the examination, the following timeline is advisable. 

For the mains:

  1. Begin preparing in June 2019.
  2. Complete the NCERTs in 1-1.5 months, and begin with the subject-specific study. 
  3. Start answer writing from the later part of July 2019.
  4. Start your optional in October 2019.
  5. Begin writing prelims tests around the same time. 
  6. Complete your syllabus by end of January 2020.
  7. Begin the first revision of the syllabus.
  8. Complete the revision by the end of March 2020.
  9. Stay completely focused upon the prelims from here till the prelims exam. 
  10. Start the preparation after the prelims exam. Avoid taking a long break, otherwise, the flow will break. 
  11. Revise again for the mains examination. 

For the optional 

  1. Start the optional in October 2019.
  2. Finish optional by March 2020.
  3. Restart the optional in early June (After prelims), 2020.
  4. finish the revision by the end of August, 2020.


Your UPSC journey would require you to remain focused. Thus, keep learning, and do not shy away from taking guidance.

All the best!

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