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Prelims Strategy

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Prelims Strategy

The UPSC IAS Preliminary exam is the first stage of the Civil Services Exam. UPSC Prelims is the screening test for the Mains stage and largely  called the eliminating stage of the Civil Services Exam. Clearing Prelims by good margin avoid your time that is wasted between Prelims Exam and Prelims Result. So , it is important to score approx more than 60% to be on the safer side.

Questions asked in UPSC Prelims are of objective type and consisting of two papers , General studies 1 and general studies 2 (CSAT). CSAT is of qualifying in nature ( You have to score greater than equal to 33% i.e 66 Marks )

Although there is no single strategy to clear UPSC Prelims, these are the key points that have helped an aspirant to clear UPSC Prelims:

  • The analysis of previous year prelims papers of UPSC (including other exams such as CDS, CAPF) has to be done to get an idea about type of questions are asked in UPSC Prelims.
  • Understanding the basic concepts is the first step as it helps in building strong foundation. Here basic NCERT’s are of great help. Watch small videos to clear the concepts especially for science tech.
  • Other than NCERT books, the essential books for Prelims are Indian Polity by Laxmikanth, Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh etc.
  • It is very important to keep your sources limited . Whatever extra reading you do to understand the topic can be noted at one place for easy and fast revision.
  • Current Affairs preparation should be integrated in daily plan
  • Periodic revision is the key for memorization as UPSC Prelims will test your memorization.
  • We would advise you to solve mock test papers. Either join a mock test series or buy them from the market but every fortnight try to pick up one test paper, attempt it and read all the solutions, highlighting the important ones. This will help you in memorizing the content as well as condition you to attempt appropriate number of questions. Further, these tests would also add up as your notes. As prelims is largely an eliminating exam, so practice of making an intelligent guess is of utmost importance. Practice test papers as many as possible to hone this skill. This would give confidence and chance to do as many mistakes in mock tests itself and correct those mistakes well before actual UPSC prelims.
  • Always take a periodic break to refresh yourself.

Prelims examination is a test of an aspirant's diversity of knowledge, which includes traditional and contemporary issues. Around 10 lakh aspirants appear for the Preliminary Examination. The competition is very high. Preliminary Examination is a test of filtering out the right answer from the given options in a limited time. As easy as it appears or said, most of the time aspirants are not able to choose the right answer. A smart strategy involving diligent preparation and practice is what is required to be ahead of the others. 

Key Ingredients for success:

  • Strategy building and making the right choice of resources and making the best use of them. 
  • Doing SWOT analysis and working upon it. 
  • Hard and SMART work is the ultimate key for success. 
  • Every aspirant needs to maintain calmness, faith in one’s goal.
  • Self-Belief.
  • Whenever one feels low, talk to parents, mentors and well-wishers, try to get positive vibes from them. 


Step 1: When to Start Preparation- Ideal time to start preparation would begin by March/April of the previous year (assuming that prelims is in May/June the following year). One has to prepare simultaneously for both prelims and mains (One can utilize their time till March to prepare Optional Subject of Mains Examination and General Studies for Mains Examination)

Step 2: familiarity with the syllabus for both prelims and mains and at the same time going through previous year papers. This will help oneself to gauge the nature of exam, pattern, demand and difficulty, focus areas of UPSC, diversity of the syllabus to be covered. 

Step 3:  Identification of Strong and Weak Areas- A comprehensive strategy based on strengths and weaknesses of individuals would be essential to ensure success in examination. 

Step 4: Time Management- Division of time on different portions of General Studies. Time should be divided based on step 2 and 3. 

Step 5: Elaborate preparation of Subjects.


Resources (in addition to class notes):

GS 1


  • History:                   

  • Geography, environment and agriculture:

  • Polity:


  • Economy: 

  • Current Affairs:


GS 2

General Studies Paper 2 is only qualifying in nature. Therefore, aspirants should not prepare for it comprehensively. But, an aspirant should test his capability by gauzing oneself in a mock test of CSAT.

If aspirant is scoring less than 100 in mocks: 

  • He should have concern for the CSAT paper as well.
  • Books Recommended – R. S. Aggrawal/ Arihant/ Arun Sharma’s Quant, previous year papers
  • Identify weak zones.
  • Practice questions of mock tests of either institute. 
  • Regular evaluation of preparation

Some common mistakes committed by aspirants of UPSC

  1. not completing the syllabus, and reading topics which are out of syllabus. 
  2. Studying wide ranges of books without trying to revise. It is always better to read one book ten times instead of ten books without revision.
  3. Devotion to one subject, which results in less preparation of other subjects. 
  4. Lack of strategy for preparation.
  5. Not checking the preparation at regular intervals.

Points to keep in mind

  • A strategy once made shouldn’t be tinkered with.
  • Aspirants should follow the basic rule that is of ‘MULTIPLE REVISIONS’. They should try to restrict resources and focus more on revision.
  • Previous year UPSC Papers: Do all the previous 30-40 years papers thoroughly.
  • Health 
  • During Examination: When an aspirant enters the exam tremendous belief in one’s capabilities should be there. They should say to themselves that I will definitely clear this.
  • Making the best out of Various Resources and sticking to the resources.
  • While one is preparing for prelims, try to study in a holistic manner along with Mains preparation at least till 2 months of actual prelims examination. 
  • Try to go through all the Ncerts once for each subject along with one Standard book whichever one feels comfortable with. 
  • Try to have concise notes on each topic even if multiple resources are referred to by compiling best at one place.
  • Try to build a good peer group, which will act as mentor and motivator throughout preparation. 
  • Apart from these, Honesty, Hard work and Discipline is required.


Only thing that distinguishes a successful candidate from the unsuccessful one is: Consistency and Perseverance. Every aspirant should make out the best of the opportunity they get to realize their dream. If not, regret will be a constant companion for life. Everyone can be a topper one day – one has to believe this and do things right. 


Wishing all the best!!!