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Ultimate Guide To UPSC IAS Exam Preparation

Ultimate Guide To UPSC IAS Exam Preparation
Hey Pal!

We are really happy to see that you took the right step towards achieving your dream. If you are reading this ultimate guide for UPSC IAS Exam Preparation, then you are one of the many IAS aspirants who are working really hard to become a civil servant, but you are still unsure regarding your path to success!

We completely understand your confusion and dilemma, and let us clarify that, it is completely normal and nothing to worry about if you do not know how to prepare for IAS. You could be a student who has just passed his Intermediate or a Graduate who is planning to appear for this prestigious examination, or you could be a student in his final year and also could be the one doing a job and preparing as well for the IAS.




We also know that there are thousands of questions in your mind from ‘the exact time to kickstart your preparation for IAS’ to ‘how to write quality answers?' to 'How to sail through the personal interview?’

Now, when you have landed up here, we are going to share with you the right strategy and approach for preparation of this exam and the dos and donts which you should always keep in mind while starting your preparation. We will also provide you with complete guide as to how to manage your time and how to prioritize your subjects and current affairs so as to ace this examination in a single attempt.

Before we directly jump into the usual stuff which every article you read mentions i.e., the syllabus stuff, there is something you need to be very specific of for the IAS Exam and that is the changing nature of this exam throughout the years. To understand the preparation requirements of your examination, first we must get to know the basics of this exam better.

If you are starting your preparation, then you must be aware of the fact that year by year UPSC has been upgrading its style of framing questions and it is its unpredictable nature of setting the question paper that creates a blunder for the aspirants to prepare because at the end of the day they end up complaining that everything seems to be important. So, below are the few things you must need to know before jumping into it.

The Exam Pattern

Your exam is a really curriculum heavy paper which is divided into 3 major stages: –
  • The Prelims
  • The Mains
  • The Interview
You must be aware of the fact that you cannot appear for the next stage without successfully crossing the previous one. Also, each stage will be much more difficult than the previous one.

You must keep in mind that the first two stages, i.e., the Prelims and the Mains demand sound knowledge from the candidate on a plethora of topics. The candidate is expected to showcase their diagnostic and conceptual skills within a fixed span of time, in the first two stages.


Even though the final stage i.e., the personal interview round is not a test of your writing abilities, it still requires as much alertness and knowledge as the former ones.




The Exam Dates and UPSC CSE Syllabus

Another important aspect of preparation for this exam is to manage the time you have. Just have a look on the picture below.





Let me tell you how does it works!


This clock works in many ways. It doesn't let you distract from your goal. We are humans and in today's world we are prone to a number of distraction. This clock will remind you that each and every second of yours is important and within this every second other aspirants are doing some productive work when you are wasting your time.

Another interesting benefit of keeping this timer is the deadlines. You can easily mark deadlines and can easily monitor them. This will help further in two major ways:

1. You will never fall short of planning.

2. You will be able to finish your syllabus on time.

So, if you plan well, half of your task is already done. The key to your success depends on how closely you can align yourself with the UPSC syllabus and the allotted exam dates. If you haven't set an alarm yet, then first minimize your browser and set up an alarm and come back to this article to continue.


Hopefully you have done this task!


Now comes the important dates. Usually the exam timing will be as follows: –

  • Prelims –  June (2020: 31st May; 2019: 2nd June; 2018: 3rd June; 2017: 18th June)
  • Mains – Sep/Oct (Usually a 3 month time is given between prelims and mains)
  • Interview – Feb-April (Usually a 3 month time is given between mains and the interview)
All aspirants have their own capacity and abilities, so it would not be fair to fix any particular time when you should start your preparation, but it is an advice that you should start the preparation process a year prior to your examination date because the syllabus is really vast (not meant to scare you or something but this is the fact), which we will be covering later in this article in detail.

Now, as I said before, there is no fix time when you should start your preparation. If you are good at grabbing concepts, then you can easily make through even in 6-8 months time. (Example: 2015 Topper Artika Shukla (AIR 4) : She started preparation in  January 2015 and appeared for prelims on 23rd August 2015). So, never underestimate yourself.


Have a Realistic Approach towards The Competition In The UPSC Civil Services Exam

UPSC IAS exam is one of the major qualifying exams in India. There are hundreds of thousands of aspirants out there, just like you, who are investing their time, money and effort just to secure the coveted position of an Indian civil servant.

To have an idea, just have a look at the approximate scenario of this mega-crucial exam :

  • The Registration –  10 lakh or more aspirants every year
  • The Prelims Candidates –  An average of 4.5 Lakhs per year
  • The Candidates clearing The Prelims – An approximate 15000 every year
  • The Candidates clearing The Mains – Around 3000 per year
  • Candidates who appear in the rank list post interview - 1000 per year
Now, if you belong to the general category, you may need to be in the top 50% to get a spot in the final rank list ( as 49.5% seats are reserved).

Seems bit confusing?


Lets look at it the other way round!

Every year, lakhs appear for the IAS prelims exam. In the Preliminary Exam, only about 25% of those who wrote the exam manage to clear. Once the mains are done with, there is only a meager 15% that actual get to the personal interview stage.

You should also keep in mind that there is a success rate of 50% in the IAS interview stage. Clearly, the overall success rate of  this examination series is only 1 %.


All these studies and calculations that we discussed above were not meant to scare you or demotivate you but just to make you realize the seriousness of this examination and the fact that your dream is shared by many and achieved by only a few. Therefore, you must have a strong strategy in place to move ahead in the right direction!

Also keep in mind, YOU NEED ONLY 1 SEAT, so doesn't matter how many students are appearing and how many vacancies are there, you must always give your 100% to get that one seat.




How To Start Preparing for UPSC IAS Civil Services Examination?

Okey now! This is where it all starts and ends!


There are only and only two ways where you can prepare for this exam :


1. Self-study (Recommended)


2. Enrolling in a reputed Coaching Institute


Lets have a look on both of these methods of preparation and choose accordingly.

Method 1: Self-Study 

  • In this method you are required to prepare your own plan and course of action and must follow it with self-motivation, determination and utmost discipline.
  • This self-study process has proved to be more acceptable since recently with a considerable high success rates owing to the online presence of some great coaching institutes and guidance that provide mentorship without even charging a penny.
  • These online coaching institutes and the study materials they provide are your best bet at making your IAS dreams come true through self-study.
  • There are a number of benefits associated with self-study and following any online guidance:
    • A number of good online mentors like Indiathinkers as well as top online institutes like Insights as well as the materials and guidance provided by us, are specifically targeted at aspirants who do not wish to enroll in offline tutorial classes and pay hefty fees.
    • There are online coaching materials, youtube videos and online notes that are provided by these institutes free of cost or at minimum affordable prices.
    • Further, these online learning platforms comes with the additional advantage of no time-constraint and a proper guidance at the comfort of your home without worrying about your stay outside or adjusting in a new city just to prepare for the exam. 
    • Also, when you are preparing on your own via online materials and courses available, you tend to explore more of your abilities and are not restricted to specified set of guidelines. You become well capable of understanding the need and requirement and the changing pattern of the examination when you do research and study.
    • This method is especially beneficial to all those aspirants who are working professionals or students.
    • You do not have to worry about being present at a particular address. As with the choice of time, you can study from wherever you want.
    • Also, it is a fact that the traditional coaching classes are highly expensive whereas via online coaching classes you get the same for you at only one-tenth of the price or even at no cost at all.
    • Most importantly, good online coaching guidance programmes provide an online personal mentor to their students along with other course material who are the subject matter experts who will plan schedule, guide, motivate, teach and clear the doubts of their student.
    • The need of a good mentor is very essential while opting for this method as someone who is doing self-study, it is possible that at some point of time you will feel disinterested, unmotivated or non-dedicated to your plan. (Ofcourse, the basic human nature)
    • Therefore, a good mentor is essential in guiding their students through such negative moments and making sure that they achieve their targets throughout and we have been doing this for years for those preparing for this exam.
  • There are a number of dos which you should have in hand while opting for this method. These are:
    • A foolproof plan in place: As mentioned earlier, if you have planned your journey accordingly, half of your task is done.
    • Maintain safe distance from advisers: You must seek advice from a very limited number of people. If you will talk to a lots of people, then you will end up confused and will ultimately quit.
    • A Good Start: Learning from the mistakes of others is somewhat smart strategy. Therefore, you must watch topper videos and have an idea of their study plan which they had followed. (Remember, it is only for the sake of making your own plan, copying the plan of toppers would lead you nowhere, so just observe and use the tactics to make your own path).
    • The Book List: Now this is a blunder among the fresh birds that you need to read lots and lots of books and sources in order to complete the syllabus. You must keep in mind the point number 2 (Keep away from advisers) as reading more books from a lots of topics would also end up creating confusion. So, you need to have books that covers almost all the topics from the syllabus. (It is a fact that no single book can cover all the topics, so prepare smartly). For this we have this list of books.
    • The Mock Tests: The best way to check the sharpness of an axe is by cutting a tree with it! Same is the case with your preparation. If you keep preparing without testing your preparation your will never be able to achieve your goal. Therefore, never miss out on the mock test series which are offered by the coaching institutes. This is a great test-based approach to understand where you stand with your preparations.
    • The Previous Year Papers: Now, this part is usually overlooked but it contains an extremely high weightage for effective preparation. You must attempt atleast last 15-20 years of previous year papers before appearing for the exam.


Method 2: IAS Classroom Coaching

  • This is another method of preparing for UPSC Civil Services Examination, where you can enroll yourself in a traditional offline coaching institute.
  • Unfortunately, for all the hype it has in India, it has failed to cater to the needs students when it comes to the individual perspective.
  • With a big batch of more that 100 students, coaching classes teach with the aim of finishing the syllabus. It is only common logic to decipher that in a class of 100+ students, it will be difficult to teach as per the individual needs of an aspirant.
  • It is a fact that, many students might be too shy to voice their doubts and it is also a grave reality that most of the doubts slips from your mind by the end of the 4-6 hours long class and that too is too tough to clear as the mentors are not available for a one to one conversation for most of the time.
  • Further, if you’re a student/working professional, it is not possible for you to attend all the classes as per the schedule of the offline coachings and you will not be able to catch up the same pace once you miss 2 to 3 lectures.
  • Further, the offline reputed coachings are available only in few metropolitan cities and getting to the address of your coaching class can be difficult for many.
  • Most importantly, coaching classes are highly expensive. For a number of aspirants, taking this big monetary decision often leads to crucial after effects as no coaching institute online or offline would guarantee you complete success.

How much a tradition coaching class for UPSC IAS Civil Services cost to an individual?

One wrong decision of yours can end up costing you a big amount - both money as well as time. You can't afford to lose time even if you afford the monetary price for the coaching.

Taking an average according to the current scenario, a traditional coaching institute will cost you upto a good amount of approximately 1.5 lakhs, only for the preparation for you prelims and mains. This excludes the cost of preparation for your optional subject which is another 50-60 thousands.


This does not end here.


If you are not a local resident, then you will easily end up spending a considerable 2 lakhs per annum on your accommodation and food.


It is also a fact that apart from few, many coaching institutes fail to properly guide students, leaving them with poor coaching and low-quality study resources.


Also, we don't force anybody to chose any particular mode, it all depend on you which path to take, we can only guide you to the right direction but make sure to research extensively on both the modes of study before choosing your best fit! Research about the institutes through their website, online forums, social media, and word of mouth.


It is definitely possible to clear IAS Exam without Classroom Coaching and there are many who have done this. You too can do it. All you need to have are : –

  • The Right Plan
  • The Right Direction
  • The Right Time Frame
  • The Right Books
Further, for a nominal price of less than INR 10000/-, a good online IAS coaching institute will provide you with an expert mentor and access to smart mock test series.


You must read:

What are the various Myths about UPSC IAS Exam Preparation?

There are a tons of rumors and doubts in the mind of people when it comes to UPSC exam preparation or whenever an aspirant desire to become IAS Officer. We have covered many of the major ones that are usually at the mind of the aspirants, we will quickly have a look!


Q. UPSC IAS is the mother of all the Exams in India. Is that the case? 


Answer. You must not prepare for this exam as if your life is dependent on it but like any other competitive exam. Do not make this exam a criteria to judge your success in life.


Q. You won't be able to clear the exam if you don't study for atleast 10 hours a day. Is it so?


Answer. No. Success in this exam follows a simple logic of Smart Work over Hard Work. You are not required to give your 10-15 hours of the day to the exam in order to clear it. According to the experts, consistent 4 hours of unadulterated study daily would work much better than that.


Q. Less Hours Of Study Means Less Study. Is it true?


Answer. No, absolutely negative! You must understand the thin line that differentiate between quality and quantity of the study. You must have enough time to relax your mind and body so that it could work efficiently. Scientifically, a good sleep increases your memorizing power and ability to think.


Q. Is English the hidden key to success?


Answer. Absolutely No! You don't need to be a lively English speaker in order to make it in the IAS examinations. You must remember that this is not a test of your language, but the test of your knowledge of India, your thought process, and your keen ability to reframe your knowledge conceptually for answering problem-solving questions.


Q. It is highly mandatory to relocate to Delhi to clear the exam. Is it true?


Answer. False. Against the popular belief, unfortunately, many of the coaching institutes in Delhi are surviving on reputation that was built years ago, and presently lack in quality. Also, these are a waste of big money as well. Owing to the era of digitalization, now you can choose an efficient online coaching institute irrespective of where you live.


Q. IAS is 50% hardwork and 50% luck. Is that so?


Answer. Definitely not the case. If you have worked hard to achieve your target with the right plan, determination, discipline and dedication, you will achieve your target. It’s that simple. Everytime you fail to achieve, remember that someone has done extra hardwork than you. So, never blame your destiny or luck for your doings.


Q. In this phase of high Competition, is it that Hard To Become An Officer?


Answer. To be honest, the numbers are very large. To be genuine, you should be prepared and not scared. We had discussed above the number of students who sail through. Understand that not each one of those lakhs of students has seriously prepared for this as you have.


Q. My friend has made it; He Know Someone In The System!


Answer. Completely wrong. The process of selection in all three stages of IAS examination is crystal clear and impartial. If someone made it over someone else, then that is because of their perseverance.


Q. We always fall short of time in completing every book. 


Answer. As we have discussed earlier, stay away from too many advisers as well as books on the same topic. They both will end you up in bitter confusion. You need to stop asking around for newer recommendations and keep your agenda as one topic one book!.


Q. Making notes and revision is more tedious that reading actual books.


Answer. It is extremely important that you make notes in your own language. Your notes are a summary of only the crucial parts of the topic; it will instantly remind you of the related information with the first look. Dates, phrases, people, event, example, etc.from a single source should suffice.


I hope you are now well aware of this Examination and all your initial doubts are clear. If not, then please comment below so that we could clear it further.



All the very best!




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