About the UPSC Civil Services Examination Syllabus 

The Civil Services Examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). It is widely recognized as one of the toughest and the most prestigious examinations conducted in India. We all need to know UPSC Exam Syllabus to make a strategy for the upcoming UPSC exam, UPSC exam is the toughest exam of India.

It is a 3 stage examination. Its tentative schedule is given below:

  • Prelims – June 2021
  • Mains – September 2021
  • Interview – Dec 2021 – Jan 2022



Remember, No UPSC Mains if you fail UPSC Prelims!

You have to clear the cutoff marks score of the UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Exam, to sit in the Mains Exam. So the importance of Prelims examinations can never be underestimated. Only 3% percent of candidates who sit for Prelims, clear the cut-off score making it tougher than the Mains.

Success in UPSC Civil Services Examination = 50% Knowledge + 50% Strategy. So both knowledge and strategy are important to clear this exam.

  • To devise a perfect strategy, you need to understand the syllabus provided in the UPSC notification. It will help you in tackling relevant topics out of the plethora of topics available in books, newspapers and the internet. 
  • It will save your time and energy as you will be able to filter unnecessary topics, right through your preparation. Let us understand the UPSC syllabus.

The Preliminary Examination shall comprise two compulsory papers of 200 marks each.The questions will be of multiple choice, objective type. The examination format is given below:

  1. Paper I - (200 marks) Duration: Two hours
  2. Paper II- (200 marks) Duration: Two hours 


Paper I - (200 marks) Duration: Two hours

Current events of national and international importance: 

Questions will be based on current events covered in The Hindu, Indian Express, PIB etc. 

  • Watch out for Polity related events, Supreme Court Verdicts,  Federalism issues like application of Disaster management Act etc. 
  • RBI related news is important for Economy. Biodiversity related news like establishment of a new National park is important. 
  • Look out for Thursday's edition of the Hindu for Science and Tech events.

History of India and Indian National Movement

It will cover topics from:

  • Ancient History: The Stone Age, Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic Age, Mahajanapadas etc.
  • Medieval History: Religious and Cultural Developments in India ( 1200-1500 CE), Mughal Empire, Rise of Marathas etc.
  • Art & Culture: Various sites associated with Architecture. Their significance and location. Sculptures, figurines & seals
  • Modern History: Revolt of 1857, Socio Religious Movements, INC-Moderate Phase, Extremist Phase (1905-1918), Emergence of Gandhi, Non cooperation Movement, Events from 1939-1947 etc.

Sources: Primary -Old NCERT Class 11 Chapter 5,6, Themes in Indian History Part I, Secondary -Tamil History book Class 11, Spectrum, Old NCERT Class 12, Themes in Indian History Part  I and II

Focus points - There should be conceptual clarity along with retention of facts. Topics like Buddhism, Jainism, Architecture/ Inscriptions are important.

Indian and World Geography - Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.

  • Topics include Solar System, Earth, Volcanoes, Distribution of continents and oceans, Landforms and their evolution, Natural Vegetation , Mineral Resources, Agriculture, Indian Physical Geography, Climate, Soil etc.
  • Focus Points: Indian physical geography, north eastern region, Agriculture, Map reading –west Asia, south and south East Asia.
  • Sources: NCERTs, G.C. Leong, Oxford University Atlas

Indian Polity and Governance - Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.

  • Topics include-  Historical background and making of constitution, Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, Fundamental Duties, Basic Structure, Inter-state relations, President, Governor, Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, Supreme Court, High Court and Tribunals, Panchayats, Municipalities, Political Parties, Election, Anti Defection Law etc.
  • Focus points: FR, FD, DPSP, President, PM, Parliament system (broad features), Supreme court  review & jurisdiction. High Court jurisdiction and writs
  • Sources: New NCERT 11th std (i) Political theory (ii) Indian Constitution at work, B.Laxmikanth's Indian Polity.

Economic and Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.

  • Topics include: Planning, Agriculture, Industry, Service, National Income, Growth and Development, Budget, Money Supply, Inflation, Monetary Policy, Fiscal Policy, Balance of Payments, Export, Imports, Exchange Rates, Banking, RBI reforms, Money Market, Capital Market, Poverty and Unemployment, etc.
  • Focus points: Organisations  in  news –CCEA,  NITI  AAYOG,  RBI, WTO,  IMF,  WORLD  BANK, etc
    • Reports and Indices
    • Government schemes and initiatives
    • Economic survey
    • Important economic terminologies in News
    • Trends for GDP, GNP, Poverty etc
  • Sources: Ramesh Singh, Sankarganesh, Economic Survey.

General issues on Environmental Ecology, Biodiversity and Climate Change - that do not require subject specialization. 

  • Topics include Ecosystem, Environmental Pollution, Biodiversity Protection Measures, Climate change mitigation measures, Acts and Policies, Ramsar Wetlands, Project Tiger Reserves, Biosphere Reserves, Mangrove Sites
  • Focus points: International organisations, Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks and related habitats, Animals and their related habitats, Acts and policies
  • Source: Ministry of Environment Website, IYB(India and its neighbours), THE HINDU

General Science

  • Topics include Space Technology, Defence Technology, Electronics and Green Technology, Information Technology, Robotics, Nuclear Technology, Biotechnology, Health etc.
  • Sources: NCERTs (9th& 10th), The Hindu, PIB etc.

How to clear GS Paper 1

You can begin by analysing previous year UPSC prelims question papers. As UPSC has mentioned many sections in its syllabus but there are some sections from which the UPSC asks more. Now let us look at the weightage of questions asked from each section of UPSc Prelims, 2019.

This pattern of weightages varies every year but you can arrive at a general understanding from this example.

A general understanding of GS Paper 1

As we can see the pie-chart, Economy was the top-scorer with 23 MCQs coming out of it.  Economy was followed by Environment and history with each claiming 17 MCQs. Science  &  Tech  had  14  MCQs.  It  threw a lot  of  surprises  as  it  asked  questions  from ‘augmented reality (Pokémon) to the ‘Black Holes’. Geography had 9 MCQs. IR claimed 4 MCQs. Government schemes were asked about 4 times in the paper.

  • Paper belonged medium to tough level of difficulty. 
  • UPSC as usual made it tough for guess masters. Options were close. Some questions had 4 statements. 
  • ‘Match the columns’ question was also asked. Most of the questions were from current affairs from 1st Jan. 2018 onwards.  
  • MCQs were asked even  from 2017’s news articles. 
  • Many questions were from Biotech and Information Technology. 
  • UPSC   focused   on   Wearable   technology.   Topics   like   LTE-Volte,   digital   signature, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) were asked. MCQs on Hepatitis and multi-drug resistance microbes were asked. Gravitational waves were again asked through black holes' MCQ. CAS9 from biotech was asked.
  • 46 MCQs were of medium level. 23 MCQs were of difficult level. 31 MCQs were easy. So there was a distinctive shift in  terms of difficulty level from Prelims- 2018.  General perception is that the paper was relatively more difficult.
  • 47 factual type MCQs were asked. 47 MCQs were conceptual in nature. 6 questions asked for facts and concepts both.

Write as many JV’s Mock Tests

Mock tests will help you analyse your performance, identify your strong and weak areas, compare your marks with other aspirants, and avoid mistakes in the actual exam hall. You can learn from the Mock test questions, as well. 


Paper II- (200 marks) Duration: Two hours 

Students often underestimate the importance of CSAT (GS Paper 2) for Prelims. But this often proves a big mistake.

To clear UPSC prelims, one needs at least 66 marks out of 200 for CSAT (GS Paper 2). If your score is below 66 marks, you are out of the race. It does not matter even if you have scored high in GS Paper 1. Many students feel that scoring 66 marks out of 200 is easy. But this is not the case. Last year, many students struggled to get those marks as the difficulty level of the GS Paper 2 is increasing. So take this paper seriously.

The syllabus:

  • Comprehension Interpersonal skills including communication skills: Interpersonal Skills are also called soft skills. These skills are employed while dealing  with people, for better and healthy results. These skills offer various methodologies for dealing with different persons at different times.
    • These skills are also helpful for the Decision making and problem solving section. UPSC expects these kinds of skills from potential civil servants.
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability:  Analytical reasoning tests measure a candidate's critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Data may be presented in the form of written passages, graphs, tables or shapes. Where questions are based on a series of images, they have much in common with inductive reasoning and non-verbal reasoning tests.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving: Problem-solving often involves decision-making, and decision-making is especially important for management and leadership. There are processes and techniques to improve decision-making and the quality of decisions. 
  • General mental ability:  General Mental Ability is defined as the ability to comprehend and interpret verbal information, ability to perceive and process numbers and information given in tabular/ graphical format, ability to think laterally and make logical connections between different concepts.
  • Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level)
  • Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. - Class X level) 
  • English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level): Questions relating to English Language Comprehension skills of Class X level (last item in the Syllabus of PaperII) will be tested through passages from English language only without providing Hindi translation thereof in the question paper.
  • Examples of comprehension skills that can be taught and applied to all reading situations include:
  • Summarizing.
  • Sequencing.
  • Inferencing.
  • Comparing and contrasting.
  • Drawing conclusions.
  • Self-questioning.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Relating background knowledge.

General pattern and weightages for various section



Number of Questions



General Mental Ability 


Logical Reasoning 


Analytical Reasoning 


Data Interpretation 

Basic Numeracy and Quantitative Ability 


Decision Making and Interpersonal Skills 



How to clear CSAT?

There are three requirements for clearing CSAT which are:

  1. Good amount of practice
  2. Accuracy of answers
  3. Speed of solving questions

Speed and accuracy can be gained by doing enough practice of CSAT type questions. You can practise UPSC CSAT previous year papers. Along with them you will need some books to hone your skills.

Book List for CSAT

There are many good books for CSAT available in the market. Some of them are:

  • Pearson's CSAT manual. 
  • GS Manual Paper-II by TMH
  • Word Power – Normal Lewis

Strategy for CSAT

Once you have the targets and books, it is time for a good strategy. Since CSAT consists of many sections, you will need section wise strategy.


  • Read a lot: To hone your comprehension skills, firstly you have to inculcate the habit of reading. Read newspaper articles, magazines, columns to get the correct comprehension.  Practice the TMH book.
  • Improving vocabulary: You can practise on your vocabulary by referring to a dictionary or take the help of the book Word power by Norman Lewis. Solve as many previous year CSAT passages. 

Interpersonal skills including communication skills; Logical reasoning and analytical ability:

The questions from this section will test your objective reasoning. For example:

Ques.) Consider the following argument:

"In order to be a teacher one must graduate from college. All poets are poor. Some Mathematicians are poets. No college graduate is poor.

"Which one of the following is not a valid conclusion regarding the above argument?

(a) Some Mathematicians are not teachers.

(b) Some teachers are not Mathematicians.

(c) Teachers are not poor.

(d) Poets are not teachers.


You can practice these kinds of questions from the book GS Manual for Paper 2 – TMH.

General mental ability; Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. – Class X level):  

Here you have to understand the concept and then learn the techniques for various types of problems. Take a question of general mental ability for example:-

Data interpretation 

It asks for a few basic types of questions related to some data. For example see the sample question from CSAT-2018:


Here you need to understand all types of data interpretation like graphs, charts etc. Solve 40-50 DI questions for accuracy.

Basic Numeracy

This section carries a lesser weightage. You can refer to  GS Manual TMH for this section. 

A sample question from CSAT 2014

A group of 630 children is seated in rows for a group photo session. Each row contains three less children than the row in front of it. Which one of the following number of rows is not possible?

(a) 3

(b) 4

(c) 5

(d) 6

There are many types of questions asked like time & work; clock; ratio and proportions etc. Practice questions of all types.

Decision-making and problem-solving:

These types of questions put you in the shoes of an IAS officer. You are expected to take logically sound, reasonable decisions. Practice approx. 50 questions from GS Manual TMH. 

For example see a sample question from CSAT-2012.

Q) You are handling a time-bound project. During the project review meeting, you find that the project is likely to get delayed due to lack of cooperation of the team members. You would…

(a) Warn the team members for their non-cooperation.

(b) Look into reasons for non-cooperation.

(c) Ask for the replacement of team members.

(d) Ask for extension of time citing reasons.

Ans : (b)

Apart from the situational dilemma question which judges your instant reactions or response, there can also be a case study which may include analysis and calculation.