How Much Time Will It Take To Clear IAS Prelims?

After long articles on US economy, back to a question asked a hundred times by UPSC aspirants. The question, “How Much Time Will It Take To Clear IAS Prelims?” and the variations like “How many years will it take to clear UPSC exam and become an IAS officer?”, “Is five/four/three/two/one months sufficient time for cracking CSAT?”, “When should one start preparing for Civil Services Exam?” and “How many hours should an aspirant study to clear IAS?” are going round and rounds. Though there is every chance that these questions to be repeated every year, in this post tries to share a few insights on these very common, but relevant doubts of a beginner.

Qn: How Much Time Will It Take To Clear IAS Prelims?

Before diving into a river, we normally ask about the depth of a river, right? The question in the heading is very similar to it and ‘the time required to crack IAS exam’ is no way, a question to be mocked at. Every UPSC aspirant has asked it to someone he or she knows and all future aspirants will repeat the process too. But, unfortunately, there is no general answer! The most of the aspirants might have got an answer like “the time required varies. It varies from person to person!” Yes; that is still the best possible answer.
How Much Time Will It Take To Clear IAS Prelims?
No, we wrote this post not to repeat the same quotes. As hinted in the first paragraph we hope to give a better insight about this exam. Let’s check UPSC Civil Services Prelims Syllabus first. There are two papers: General Studies Paper 1 and General Studies  Paper 2.

Which are the Subjects under UPSC Prelims General Studies Paper 1 Syllabus?

There are 7 sub-sections (subjects) in Paper 1 which include the likes of History, Geography, Polity etc.

  1. Current events of national and international importance.
  2. History of India and Indian National Movement.
  3. Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  4. Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  5. Economic and Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
  6. General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization.
  7. General Science.
Also read:  UPSC Civil Services Prelims Mock Test Question Papers (GS) – Test 2

Which are the Subjects under UPSC Prelims General Studies Paper 2 Syllabus?

Here also, there are 7 sub-sections (subjects) which include the likes of Reasoning, English Comprehension, Maths etc.

  1. Comprehension.
  2. Interpersonal skills including communication skills.
  3. Logical reasoning and analytical ability.
  4. Decision-making and problem-solving.
  5. General mental ability.
  6. Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. – Class X level).
  7. English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level).

Having seen the IAS Prelims Syllabus in detail, let’s go back to the question from which the discussion started: How Much Time Will It Take To Clear IAS Prelims? Now the answer is : The time required to clear IAS prelims is the time required to be an expert in the 14 areas (subjects) mentioned in UPSC syllabus!

14 subjects? Will that be a Herculean Task?

Time left for IAS exam

No. Not at all. First of all, you don’t need to study everything under the Sun, unlike the propaganda of many IAS coaching institutes. UPSC has mentioned a syllabus and you just need to do focused study. Again, the distinction between subjects like History, Geography etc is clear only in General Studies Paper 1. The other paper ie. General Studies Paper 2 (known by the pet-name “CSAT”) has all aptitude and reasoning related questions. It can be seen as a single subject. What you need to crack this paper is not knowledge, but CSAT skills :-). Anyway, if we consider UPSC syllabus that way, the count can be reduced to 8.

But subjects like History, Geography, Polity, Economics etc cannot be studied in a few hours, right? Almost all of these are graduation subjects, often done as three year course. But does a candidate has 3 years x 7 = 21 years to prepare these subjects? 🙂 No. He doesn’t! That much time is not needed either. And for UPSC Prelims, which is objective, you don’t need to prepare like what you did for your graduation exam. This is a whole different area.

Enough; Tell me how much time is required to Clear UPSC Prelims?

Coming to it 🙂 If you know the scheme of UPSC exam, the subjects and sub-areas of importance, the whole Prelims syllabus can be covered really fast. How fast? With proper guidance, a serious student capable of doing smart-work can clear prelims even with less than two months of preparation! Yes! No exaggeration! There are many who cleared IAS Prelims with less than that time frame.

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Motivational quote from the UPSC Civil Services 2013 topper Gaurav Agrawal for those who start late:

If you are confident enough in paper 2 (CSAT) , prelims specific preparation can be done in last 1-2 months itself.

Now convinced? Who else is eligible to provide that positive affirmation than All India Rank 1. Of course, not everyone can clear prelims with 2 months of preparation. Many will need much more time to learn and understand the UPSC pattern. The time required might be 6 months for some or 1 year for the other. Considering Prelims and Mains as a single package (Prelims-cum-Mains-Integrated-Approach), a 12 month advance preparation can be considered as ideal. But if you don’t have that much time available to spend, don’t worry at all. We said that as an ideal case; but not always necessary. What is necessary is your alignment with UPSC requirements.

As you may know, only when tested in an exam atmosphere with negative marking, you can improve the ability to deliver in the actual exam hall. Try for free the UPSC Prelims online mock exams by Clear IAS Exam – the new innovative platform which integrates learning with test-taking. You would be surprised to find how fast you can learn!

UPSC Requirements

For 2011 and 2012, there were many candidates who successfully cleared prelims with only a few months effort. The reason was their high score in UPSC Prelims General Studies Paper 2. 2011 Prelims cutoff was 197 out of 400 and there were  candidates who scored more than 180 in Paper 2. So with just 17 marks in Paper 1, they had cleared Prelims!

But things are getting harder since 2013. Cut-offs have gone high. Competition too. Now, you cannot clear Prelims, just with your CSAT skills. There is a possibility of separate cut-offs for paper 1 in future. So a balanced approach is always ideal.

Also read:  UPSC Civil Services Prelims Mock Test Question Papers (GS) – Test 1

Besides, passing IAS prelims is only the first stage of UPSC Civil Services Exam. Mains stage require vast reading. If you are not sound in your fundamentals, you will find crossing the mains stage really tough. CSAT skills have no use in Mains. It’s your understanding on current affairs, Indian Society, History, Indian Economy or Indian Constitution which helps. So a good command on Prelims General Studies Paper 1 subjects is essential for success in UPSC mains too.

PS : Also remember that IAS exam can be attempted by Final Year Candidates too. Students in final year can write provided they must be in a position to produce the Degree certificate while applying for the main examination. UPSC definitely will keep the final year students in mind while setting questions.  For IAS Mains nature, see what is provided by UPSC in the official notification : The nature and standard of questions in the General Studies papers (Paper II to Paper V) will be such that a well-educated person will be able to answer them without any specialized study. So why worry, uh?

How many hours should an aspirant study to clear IAS?

time management for upsc exam

Again the answer varies. It depends on the person. But to be practical, it’s not easy to put more than 15 hours of effort for a whole year (UPSC exam cycle). It might be possible for 1 or 2 days, but not easy the whole period. What matters is not the quantity of time, but the quality of time. Even if you study only for 3-4 hours a day, make a sincere and concentrated effort. Even if you are going slow, make sure that you are moving forward. Be focused. Finish each topics. Use online websites like and official government websites to supplement the preparation. Use the right books. Write down important points. Do smart work. Take UPSC Prelims mock tests. Success will be yours! All the very best!

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