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The Complete Guide to UPSC Preparation Strategy for IAS 2023 Exam

Dec 6, 2022

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Crucial Stages of UPSC CSE Exam

Stage 1: UPSC Preliminary Examination

UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern

UPSC CSE Prelims Syllabus

The UPSC syllabus for General Studies-II or CSAT paper of Prelims consists of questions from the following topics:

Stage 2: UPSC Mains Examination

UPSC Mains Exam Pattern

UPSC Mains Examination Syllabus

Stage 3 - UPSC Interview/Personality Test

How to Prepare for UPSC CSE Exam? UPSC Preparation Strategy for the IAS Exam

Recommended Books for UPSC Exam Preparation

The Complete Guide to UPSC Preparation Strategy for IAS 2023 Exam

The Union Public Service Commission conducts the Civil Services Examination (CSE) every year to recruit eligible and qualified candidates for India’s Civil services (IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS, and many more). UPSC exam, also commonly known as the IAS exam, is one of the most prestigious exams in India. 

Every year lakhs of aspirants across the country try their luck and attempt this challenging examination, but only a few make it through. Cracking the UPSC CSE exam is not everybody’s cup of tea. The vast syllabus is one reason. The UPSC syllabus is lengthy and demands unwavering discipline and commitment to IAS exam preparation.

Crucial Stages of UPSC CSE Exam

The UPSC CSE examination is conducted in three stages: Preliminary Examination or Prelims, Mains Examination, and the Personality Test or UPSC Interview. Let’s help you understand the basics of these stages and some specific preparation tips that will help you in your UPSC CSE preparation. 

Stage 1: UPSC Preliminary Examination

UPSC Prelims being the first stage of the Civil Services Examination is the easiest of all the rounds of the CSE. However, if you are serious about UPSC 2023, it should not be taken for granted. Preparation for Prelims requires a proper study plan and a dedicated approach by aspirants to ace it. 

Prelims is a screening test to select candidates for the Civil Services Mains examination. The UPSC syllabus for Prelims has two papers, namely General Studies I and CSAT (General Studies Paper-II), of 400 marks comprising objective-type questions. Before we look at the UPSC syllabus Prelims, let us go over the exam pattern for Prelims exam. 

UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern

PaperTypeNo. of QuestionsMarksDurationNegative Marks
General Studies IObjective1002002 HoursYes
General Studies II (CSAT)Objective802002 HoursYes

UPSC CSE Prelims Syllabus

UPSC Prelims Syllabus for General Studies Paper-I

The UPSC syllabus for Prelims General Studies Paper I is mentioned below:

  • Current events of National and International importance.
  • History of India and Indian National Movement.
  • Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  • Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  • Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
  • General issues on Environmental Ecology, Biodiversity, and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization. 
  • General Science.

UPSC Prelims Syllabus for CSAT (General Studies Paper-II)

The UPSC syllabus for General Studies-II or CSAT paper of Prelims consists of questions from the following topics:

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

Let’s pause a bit here. Are you getting nervous? The UPSC syllabus is enormous but don’t worry, we can help you make it easier. Watch Siddarth Singh Sisodia sir as he takes you through a proven master strategy on how to ace the UPSC 2023 exam.

Now that you are familiar with the UPSC CSE Prelims, let us move on to stage 2 of the exam.  

Stage 2: UPSC Mains Examination

The UPSC Mains examination is intended to assess the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of candidates rather than merely the range of their information and memory. Much of what you study for Mains will have its roots in the NCERT books therefore, make sure to read them thoroughly. 

To prepare for UPSC 2023 Mains examination, here is what you should know.  

UPSC Mains Exam Pattern

PaperSubjectDurationTotal Marks
Paper ACompulsory Indian Language3 Hours300 (Qualifying)
Paper BEnglish3 Hours300 (Qualifying)
Paper IEssay3 Hours250
Paper IIGeneral Studies I – Indian Heritage & Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society 3 Hours250
Paper IIIGeneral Studies II – Governance, Constitution, Welfare Initiatives, Social Justice & International Relations 3 Hours250
Paper IVGeneral Studies III – Technology, Economic Development, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Security & Disaster Management3 Hours250
Paper VGeneral Studies IV – Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude3 Hours250
Paper VIOptional Subject – Paper I3 Hours250
Paper VIIOptional Subject – Paper II 3 Hours250

Here is what the UPSC says about the CSE GS papers, “The nature and standard of questions in the General Studies papers (Paper II to Paper V) is such that a well-educated person is able to answer them without any specialized study. 

The questions will be such as to test a candidate’s general awareness of a variety of subjects, which will have relevance for a career in Civil Services. The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, their ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.” 

UPSC Mains Examination Syllabus

We have mentioned the entire UPSC syllabus for the Mains exam in this article so that you don’t have to search anywhere else. Have a basic understanding of the syllabus to excel in your UPSC 2023 preparation. 

UPSC Syllabus of General Studies Paper 1 of UPSC Civil Services Examination

General Studies‐I: Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society.

  • Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
  • Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present significant events, personalities, issues.
  • The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.
  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.
  • History of the world will include events from the 18th century such as the industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.— their forms and effect on society.
  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
  • Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
  • Effects of globalization on Indian society.
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.
  • Salient features of the world’s physical geography.
  • Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).
  • Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclones etc., geographical features and their location changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

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General Studies‐ II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

  • Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions, and basic structure.
  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
  • Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
  • Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries.
  • Parliament and State legislatures—structure, functioning, the conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.
  • Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
  • Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Development processes and the development industry —the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
  • Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
  • Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
  • Role of civil services in a democracy.
  • India and its neighborhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.

General Studies‐III: Technology, Economic Development, Biodiversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment. 
  • Inclusive growth and issues arising from it. 
  • Government Budgeting. 
  • Major crop-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, - different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers. 
  • Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing. 
  • Food processing and related industries in India- scope' and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management. 
  • Land reforms in India. 
  • Effects of liberalization on the Economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth. 
  • Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc. 
  • Investment models. 
  • Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life. 
  • Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology. 
  • Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights. 
  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment. 
  • Disaster and disaster management. 
  • Linkages between development and spread of extremism. 
  • Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security. 
  • Challenges to internal security through communication networks, the role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money laundering and its prevention. 
  • Security challenges and their management in border areas - linkages of organized crime with terrorism. 
  • Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate. 

General Studies- IV: Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude

  • Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants, and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics – in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers, and administrators; the role of family society and educational institutions in inculcating values.
  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.
  • Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance, and compassion towards the weaker sections.
  • Emotional intelligence concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world.
  • Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations, and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance.
  • Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.
  • Case Studies on the above issues.

Before we move on to the next section, here is a video you must watch if you are preparing for UPSC 2023. We have compiled 25 of the most important MCQs from the previous 5 UPSC Prelims exams for every major subject. Go through them and simplify your UPSC 2023 preparation. 

Watch this episode of 5 Saal 25 Sawaal where M. Puri sir will take you through the most important PYQs for Polity and their solutions. Once you are finished, check out the rest of the episodes as well.

Stage 3 - UPSC Interview/Personality Test

Once candidates clear the Prelims and Mains, they appear for the final round of the UPSC exam, i.e the Personality Test, often known as the UPSC Final Interview. In your UPSC 2023 journey, this Personality Test will probably be the toughest round of all. 

The candidates are interviewed by a Board that has a record of the candidate’s career before them. The candidates are asked questions on matters of general interest. The object of the Interview / Personality Test is to assess the candidate's personal suitability for a career in public service by a Board of competent and unbiased observers.

The Interview / Personality Test is intended to judge the mental calibre of a candidate. In broad terms, this is really an assessment of intellectual qualities and social traits and interest in current affairs. Some of the qualities to be judged are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, the balance of judgement, variety and depth of interest, the ability for social cohesion and leadership, and intellectual and moral integrity. 

And those are all the details you need to know about the UPSC exam. Now that you are familiar with that the UPSC syllabus, exam pattern, Prelims, Mains and Personality Test, let us understand how to plan your UPSC 2023 preparation strategy.  

How to Prepare for UPSC CSE Exam? UPSC Preparation Strategy for the IAS Exam

We have compiled a list of essential steps that will help you prepare better for the UPSC 2023 exam. Follow them to upgrade your exam preparation and stay ahead of the competition. 

Complete the UPSC Syllabus: Once you are properly aware of the exam format and syllabus, make sure to cover the whole syllabus during your preparation. Don’t practice selective studying. It is like inviting unnecessary trouble. Starting from the NCERT books to the recommended texts, the syllabus should be covered comprehensively. As a UPSC 2023 aspirant, you can’t afford to leave any topic or chapter for granted.

Make Proper Notes: Retaining the whole study curriculum of UPSC is only possible if you make quick summary notes. The reason is that quick summary notes are convenient, easy, and less time-consuming to go through. Having self-prepared notes handy helps in focusing on important topics/questions without wasting much of your crucial time. For example, if you have hand-written notes handy, you will not have to revise the NCERT books page by page before the IAS exam.

Devote Extra Time to General Knowledge & Follow Current Affairs: Following current affairs and keeping a check on general knowledge is an important part of the UPSC syllabus. A good grasp of general knowledge can be achieved by reading different books, journals, and articles. Reading newspapers daily is the most effective means of keeping yourself updated on current affairs.

Practice Writing: Unlike Prelims, the Mains examination demands written answers. Acquiring the habit of writing and mastering it is a prerequisite for scoring well in the UPSC 2023 Mains exam. This habit can accompany you a long way to a successful end of your IAS journey. Set aside some time to practice full-length mock tests or subject-specific mock tests.

Keep Revising: All of your study efforts can go waste if you don’t revise. Since the UPSC syllabus is vast, it is impossible to retain it for a longer period. Inculcate the habit of revision in your daily study routine as soon as you start with the NCERT books in the beginning. It will be much easier for you to prepare for the exam. Revision is the key aspect that enhances our memory and learning.

Analyze yourself: Timely analysis of your preparation is the most vital tool for getting the desired results. Be accountable and responsible for yourself. Analyze your exam preparation regularly and the best way to do this is to attempt a Mock Test. Do a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. Proper analysis will not only help you to work on your weak areas but will also help you to prepare for the UPSC exams effectively. 

Solve Previous Year Papers and Take Mock Tests: Solving practice papers such as Mock Test Papers, and Previous Year Papers (PYQs) while preparing gives you a tremendous amount of confidence. You get a fair bit of idea about how to present the answers in your exam. Attempting practice papers also gives you a reality check so that you can direct your IAS exam preparation accordingly. The number of practice papers attempted during UPSC preparation is directly proportional to scoring good marks in the exams. 

Next, let us look at a list of recommended books for you to read during your UPSC 2023 exam preparation. 

Recommended Books for UPSC Exam Preparation

One should refer to the books listed below for their UPSC 2023 Prelims Preparation:

General Studies Paper I Indian Polity by M.Laxmikanth India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh Oxford World Atlas For Current Affairs- The Hindu/The Indian Express Class 8th-12th NCERT books (History, Geography, and Polity
CSATEnglish Grammar and Composition: Wren & Martin Verbal & Non-Verbal Reasoning: RS Aggarwal TMH CSAT Manual

Here is the list of books you should refer to while preparing for the UPSC 2023 Mains examination:

General Studies Paper I India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra India After Independence (1947-2000) by Bipan Chandra From Plassey To Partition And After by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay The Story of Civilization, Part 2 by Arjun Dev, NCERT Mastering Modern World History for Class XII (Old NCERT Book) Introduction to Indian Art for Class XI (NCERT book) Geography of India - Majid Hussain World Geography- Majid Hussain Oxford Atlas Central Physical and Human Geography by GC Leong Indian Geography by D.R Khullar Geography NCERT books (Class XI  and XII)  XI Standard NCERT book on Indian Society (Chapters on Unity & Diversity and Population Issues) XII Standard NCERT book (Chapters on Communalism, Secularism and Urban Issues such as Poverty, Housing, etc.)
General Studies Paper IIConstitution of India at Work (Class XI) NCERT Book Indian Polity by Laxmikanth Governance in India Paperback by M. Laxmikanth From Government to Governance by Kuldeep Mathur Ethics in Governance, ARC Report Citizen-Centric Administration (Chapters 2, 5, 6, 7 & 8 only and box items in the report) Human Development Report & World Development Report Panchayati Raj in India by Kuldeep Mathur International Relations by Pavneet Singh
General Studies Paper IIIIndian Economic Development - XI Standard NCERT Book Indian Economy by Sanjiv Verma  Introductory Macroeconomics XII Standard NCERT Book (Ignore all diagrams & mathematical formulas) Economics Dictionary published by Collins & Penguin The Hindu or Indian Express Newspaper Certificate Physical & Human Geography by Goh Cheng Leong (Second Half of the Book) XII Standard NCERT Book on Biology (Chapters pertaining to Ecology) Indian Year Book (Chapters on Environment) Chapter on Climate Change from Economic Survey India’s Security in a Turbulent World by Jasjit Singh, published by National Book Trust of India Class VIII, IX, X Standard NCERT Books on Biology Environment and Disaster Management – Tata McGraw Hill
General Studies Paper IVEthics in Governance, ARC Report Lexicon by Chronicle Publications The Books on Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude published by Access Publication Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude by Subba Rao and P.N. Roy Chaudary

And with that, you are done! Now you know everything that is to know about the IAS exam and are ready to get started on your preparation for UPSC 2023 or further. 

Here is another tip. Throughout your UPSC 2023 preparation, there is a lot of work you will have to do. You have to go through a ton of books, make notes for each topic, chapter, and subject separately, get hold of Prelims and Mains mock tests to practice, stay up to date on current affairs, and revise it all when you are done. 

That is a lot of work. But you don’t have to do it by yourself. You can simplify your UPSC 2023 preparation by taking the help of a reliable study partner like PrepLadder. 

With PrepLadder you are going to study with India’s top-notch UPSC faculty and get closer to your dream of cracking the IAS exam with ease. 

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PrepLadder has everything you need to crack the IAS exam on one single platform which includes well-structured and conceptual video lectures by the DREAM TEAM, extensive QBank, Test Series, Current Affairs Magazine, NCERT notes, Past year questions, Custom Module, and much more. 

Follow PrepLadder’s Telegram channel for more posts like ‘The Complete Guide to UPSC Preparation Strategy for IAS 2023 Exam’, daily quizzes, current affairs and more. 

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Auther Details

Arindam Goswami

Arindam is a Content Marketer who looks after the Medical Super Specialty segment, specifically the NEET SS category, at PrepLadder. He aims to help aspirants crack exams and realize their dreams through his work.

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