Civil Service Prelims: 6 Month Strategy – Part 1

Civil Service Prelims: To crack IAS in the first shot you need a right strategy. Candidates often find Civil Services Exam a hard nut to crack not due to lack of hard-work or potential, but due to lack of right strategy. Beginners who have enough time with them for a strong preparation may refer Strategy and Books for Early Birds To Clear IAS Exam. In this post, comes up with a few points you need to keep in mind before developing an ideal strategy to clear IAS prelims exam within the last 6 months.

NB: This post was initially written after 2012 Prelims. We have made some quick corrections and updates after the recent change in 2015.

Topics Inside:

  1. Strategy for Clearing Civil Services Prelims Exam in the First Attempt
  2. What types of questions are asked by UPSC in IAS exam?
  3. Analysis of 2012 Civil Services Prelims Paper
  4. Cut off Marks for Prelims: How Much Do you Need to Score to Clear Civil Service Prelims?
  5. The ideal approach for Civil Services Prelims

Strategy for Clearing Civil Services Prelims Exam in the First Attempt

The best way to clear civil service prelims in the first attempt is to have a positive mindset and a practical strategy. You don’t need to know everything under the sun to clear IAS prelims, but you need to know the nature of UPSC questions to crack this exam. A blind study mugging up a lot many things will neither help you in Prelims nor Mains. You need to know about the essential books and study materials to crack the exam, and also about the right strategy.

Civil Services Exam Cycle

Civil Services Exam Cycle

What types of questions are asked by UPSC in IAS exam?

The best way to find the out the nature of the questions is to look at previous year question papers of Civil Services Exam conducted by UPSC. Links to download UPSC prelims question papers is given in this website.

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Analysis of 2012 Civil Services Prelims Paper

Paper I – General Studies (GS) – 200 marks 

Subject Area Number of Questions
Indian Politics – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc. 27
Indian History – History of India and Indian National Movement. 20
Environment – General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization 20
General Science 12
Economics – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc. 11
Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World. 10
Total 100 Qns (Marks = 200)
* Current Events  of national and international importance is counted as part of the mentioned subjects.

Paper II – Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT) – 200 marks – 2 hours 

Subject Area Number of Questions
Comprehension 35
English Language Comprehension 8
Logical Reasoning & Analytical Ability 27
General Mental Ability & Basic Numeracy 3
Decision Making & Interpersonal Skills 7
Total 80 Qns (Marks = 200)
2.5 marks allotted per correct answer

Cut off Marks for Prelims: How Much Do you Need to Score to Clear Civil Service Prelims?

For 2011 prelims the cut-off for general category was 197/400. For 2012 the cut-off score was 209/400. In 2013 it was 241/400. Though the cut-off score for 2014 is not yet out, it is expected to be above 210/385. The trend shows an increase in cut-off marks due to competition from better-prepared candidates.

Cut-offs for Prelims vary depending on the difficulty level of the paper and it may rise or fall. Generally only around 15000 candidates are called for the second stage – ie. Mains – out of more than 9 lakh applicants. Now as Paper-2 of Prelims has turned qualifying in nature, it is necessary to score high for Paper-1 to clear prelims. A safe score can be 120+/200, if UPSC stick to the same standard.

Also read:  UPSC Civil Services Prelims Mock Test Question Papers (GS) – Test 3

The ideal approach for Civil Services Prelims

The strategy can differ from person to person. But giving weightage of time and effort to areas of importance will pay you well in the end. Prioritize your time, syllabus and study materials! Never neglect important areas. A focused approach keeping in mind the UPSC Mains syllabus is adopted by candidates with long term strategy.

But if you are focused only on the prelims as of now, the analysis given above is surely the first place to look at. As it can be seen Polity, History and Environment were the important areas ( 67 questions in total) for Paper 1 in 2012, while Comprehension and Reasoning (70 questions) were the main sections for Paper 2. If you are comfortable in these 5 areas, you had the possibility of scoring more than 300 marks in Civil Services Prelims 2012.

But the weightage will never remain the same, and UPSC is well known for surprises. Importance can shift towards Economics or Geography this year, so it is important to build knowledge about the fundamental concepts of all topics as per UPSC syllabus first. The best source for building fundamentals is NCERT books for Standard 6 – 12. Once you are strong with the basics, the turn to previous year question papers to find out the nature of UPSC questions. You will see that in the last couple of years UPSC has shifted from factual questions to conceptual questions. Keeping this information in mind, go through the recommended IAS books and online study materials written in UPSC perspective. You may check our full length timed online mock test series with negative marking for UPSC Prelims which can be attempted at the url

Also read:  UPSC Civil Services Prelims Mock Questions (GS) – Test 8

Click to read: Civil Service Prelims: 6 Month Strategy – Part 2

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