General studies

Since 2015 civil services exam, CSAT paper has been made a qualifying paper. That is, one should get a minimum of 33% (66/200 marks). Selection to mains will then be made solely on the marks obtained in the General studies paper. This has made the competition very difficult, where even 0.2 marks can make or break your chances.

Now let us look into the various topics in prelims.

Prelims can be divided into two parts:

1.) Static Part – History, Polity, Geography, Economy, Basic Science
2.) Dynamic part – Current Affairs, Economic Survey, India Yearbook, Yojana.

Static Part:
The topics here are vast. The changing dynamics of UPSC exam requires one to have a good memory and a sound analysis of the various topic. One should also be able to interconnect the various topics.

Importance of NCERT:
Starting any subject with NCERT is a must. The benefits are many.

• Of late majority of the students are from technical background or non-arts background.
• NCERT will introduce them to the subject in a smooth manner.
• Another advantage is in NCERT the flow from one topic to another is very good. In History the chronological order of events is very well maintained.
• This helps the aspirants to get a good hold on the subject. The aspirant can then refer other books for finer details.
• Another question which most aspirants get is whether one should start studying NCERT books from the 6th standard? Answer is No. One can directly start from the 11th standard. Starting from 6th standard eases one’s introduction into the subject. But for History-Modern India studying NCERT from 8th to 12th class is always advisable.

For polity one can start from NCERT class 11 – ‘Indian Constitution at work’. The other book, which is considered as a Holy Book for civil service aspirant aspirants is Indian Polity by M Laxmikanth.

Almost all the students will be referring this. So in exam you will be not missing the questions answered by most. By being more careful you can answer a couple of more questions than others which will give you that edge.

Now a thought which comes to most aspirants is should we memorize all the articles in our constitution. This if not humanly impossible is a very difficult task plus it’s not required.

One should remember the important article numbers like that of President, Prime Minister, Emergency, Money Bills, CAG, Interstate relations, etc. One should be keenly following the current affairs so that related Polity topics can be focussed more. Example, if there is scam reported by CAG and it has made headline news, then one should know article 148 to 151.

Every year a minimum of 12-14 questions can be expected. So this subject extremely important. Also the knowledge here forms the basis of GS II paper in mains.

History is another subject which contains a lot of facts to remember. Here more than analysis part we have to memorize. This subject contains three sub parts:
i) Ancient India and Art&Culture
ii) Medieval India
iii) Modern India

Ancient India:
Earlier questions on kings/kingdom were not asked. They mainly focussed on the cultural part. The number of questions was restricted to 1 or 2. Since the past 3-4 years the trend has changed. Not only have the number of questions increased but the questions on kings and kingdoms are also on the raise. Under the art & culture topics, there are ‘n’ number of sculptures, temples, art forms, etc. How do you remember all of them? By carefully reading the newspaper. Usually the questions which are asked are those which are in news.

The safest and most effective strategy, including a good cost to benefit ratio is studying NCERT ancient India and following it up with Nitin Singhania’s Indian Art and Culture.

Medieval India:
The vastness of the subject gives UPSC a chance to set wide variety of questions. Investing too much of time for this by aspirants can be counter productive. Hence studying only NCERT class 11th is sufficient. One should just focus on remembering the information at macro level, for example chronological order of major events, kingdoms and rulers. Going into the minute details is futile.

Modern India:
Under history subject we can expect maximum number of questions in Modern India Section. So one should study this in detail. This will not only help in prelims but also in mains. The knowledge gained here will help in answering analysis based questions in mains.

So one should first study NCERT 8th to 12th as questions are being asked on minute details. For example, which all parties a Freedom fighter was associated with or chronological order of events. Such information will be spread across different class textbooks. Hence reading from 8th to 12th is advisable.

After getting a good overall picture from NCERT one should read Brief History of Modern India by Spectrum Publications. This entire book is in point form and covers a lot of facts.

After covering the above two books one can read India’s struggle for Independence by Bipin Chandra.

Geography is one of the most important subjects for both prelims and mains. In prelims, from Geography you can expect the maximum questions. In this, we have many sub divisions:

• Physical Geography
• Indian Geography
• World Geography
• Ecology & Environment

We can expect around 40 questions from these sub divisions. Now let us go into each one of the sub divisions:

Physical Geography:
Here the questions are less direct and requires a lot of thinking. One needs to have a sound understanding of the subject.
One is advised to read NCERT Physical Geography Class 11th and then Physical Certificate of Geography by G.C. Leong.

Indian Geography:
The questions here will be based on Indian geographical features such as river systems, mountain ranges, states with unique geographical features like the eastern-western most states, states through which tropic of cancer passes, etc.

Also questions can be expected on the climatic features of India like South West monsoons, cyclones, etc. For this part of the syllabus, NCERT Indian Geography and Human Geography will suffice.

World Geography:
Here one has to have a good knowledge on locations of major countries, mountain regions, river systems, seas, etc. Example in 2015 paper we had a question-

Which one of the following countries of South-West Asia does not open out to the Mediterranean Sea?

a) Syria
b) Jordan
c) Lebanon
d) Israel
This question was asked because west Asia was in news due to the unrest. Any region which is in news should be studied carefully. Countries of that region, capitals, currencies, river systems, oceans, mountains, etc. should be studied.

The only book required here is a good Atlas.

Economy part of the syllabus subsumes a wide variety of topics like concepts in Economy, Indian Economy, government programmes and schemes relating to economy. Both static part and current affairs are ingrained in the questions from economy.

The questions too can be very thought provoking. So one should have a good hold on the subject and be able to think in multiple dimensions. One should start this subject by read NCERT Macro and Micro Economics. Once this is done, one can refer Indian Economy by Ramesh Singhor .

The no. of questions have reduced in this part. However one should have a knowledge of the basic science- physics, chemistry and biology as it will help in understanding the latest technology in news.
NCERT books for Science will suffice for this.
This sums up the static part of the prelims. Now let us look into the dynamic part.

Dynamic Part:
By dynamic part we mean current affairs. UPSC of late is focussing a lot on current affairs. In 2016 prelims questions we had around 70% of questions related to current affairs. But this does not mean that the Prelims in the coming years is going to be oriented towards current affairs completely. The trend might change in 2017 drastically where there will be hardly any questions on current affairs. Hence an aspirant should be prepared for different kind of scenarios.

Preparing for current affairs can be a challenge, as the available content in market and on internet is large. So the first step is to know the syllabus by-heart. This will help the student in segregating what is required for the exam and what is not. Also picking up the right news will help greatly in preparation of mains exam.

Newspaper play a crucial role in preparing for current affairs. It is advisable to make daily notes from the newspaper. Students are usually confused as to which newspapers one should read. It is safer to stick to one standard newspaper such

as The Hindu or Indian Express. For a more concise version of newspaper and articles on important topics you can refer to AFFAIRS

Along with the newspaper one should also read Yojana magazines. Government publications always give the most authentic news and data, also many questions are based on the information from these magazines. The gist of Yojana and Kurukshetra Magazines is available on

Along with the above mentioned publications, it is very important to read India Yearbook and Economic Survey. These two publications by government give a lot of information, it’ll help in tackling many questions in mains. Aspirants are advised to make notes from these two books.

Books to be referred for prelims:
• For this exam, the syllabus does not have a proper boundary. There is an endless list of books and materials prescribed by various institutions.
• There is no single book which covers all the topics. Nor can studying a large no. of books help. One should be aware of the - effort to benefit ratio.
• Successful candidates are those who choose the books wisely.
• Below we give you a concise list of books, thereby minimising your effort in the search for the right books.
Note: It’s important to read the same materialten times for a particular topic than to read ten different materials one time.

Topic Books
Current events of national and international importance. • Newspapers- The Hindu or The indian Express
• Daily news analysis and monthly magazine by Team DRACS
• Yojana magazine
• India Yearbook
• Economic Survey
History of India and Indian National Movement. • NCERT 8th to 12thStd
• Brief History of Modern India by Spectrum Publications.
• History, Art and Culture Material by Team DRACS
Indian and World Geography - Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World • NCERT 8th to 12th Std
• Physical Certificate of Geography G.C. Leong
• Indian Geography by spectrum publications
• Geography material by Team DRACS • Atlas
Indian Polity and Governance - Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc. • NCERT- Indian Constitution at work class 11
• Indian Polity by Laxmikanth
• Material by Team DRACS
Economic and Social Development - Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc. • NCERT class 11th Indian Economic Development
• NCERT class 12th Introductory Microeconomics
• NCERT class 12th Introductory Macroeconomics
• Economic Survey
• Indian Economy for Civil services by Ramesh Singh (must read)
• Material by Team DRACS
General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change • Environment and ecology by Majid Hussain
• Material by Team DRACS
General Science • NCERT class 9th and 10th
• Biology – NCERT Class 12th(Last four Chapters)
• Material by Team DRACS

Approach and time management in Prelims exam:
• In Paper I (General Studies), one will have two hours to answer 100 questions.
• First Round: In the first one hour, an aspirant should have read all the questions and answered those which he is absolutely sure of. A serious candidate will be able to answer 40-45 questions (max 50).
• Second Round: Here one should answer those questions in which an aspirant can easily eliminate two options out of the four. This will come cover almost 25-30 questions. This will take around 30 minutes.
• Third Round: In the final round, an aspirant should attempt those questions in which at least one option can be removed. In the remaining options an aspirant should take a calculated risk and attempt. But he should exhibit extreme caution. This will be around 10-12 questions.
• End of it an aspirant will be and should be attempting around 75-90 questions. No matter how well an aspirant has prepared knowing all 100 questions is next to impossible. So one can leave around 10 questions.
• Why one should definitely answer more than 70 questions? The cut off lately is crossing 115. This will come to 58-60 questions. So one should definitely attempt those many numbers. In the heat of the movement one tends to make many of silly mistakes, no matter how careful we are. So to negate those mistakes and get a score, comfortably clearing the prelims one should attempt minimum of 75 questions.

NOTE: Why it’s important to score much more than the expected cut off?

It is extremely important to score a minimum of 10-15 marks more than the expected cut off. How will we know the expected cut off? By asking friends and through social media/blogs.
After the prelims exam, it will take a minimum of 1 month for the results to be declared. If one is nearing the cut off or falling within the expected cut off window then it will become extremely difficult for the aspirant to focus on the mains preparation. This 1 month will be crucial and can make or break the chances of clearing mains. Hence it’s very important to score at least 10 marks more than the expected cut off.
For strategy on how to prepare for mains, refer the mains section in our website.