How to clear IAS Prelims

The larger picture

The IAS Preliminary Examination is changing

Since the Civil Service Examination 2011, the Preliminary Examination has constantly been changing. First, optional subjects were removed from the Preliminary Examination and CSAT was introduced. Later in 2015, the CSAT (Paper II of the Preliminary Examination) was made qualifying.

Certain generalizations

From the experience of the last 10 years of Preliminary Examination results, we can draw the following generalizations.

  1. A total of 9 – 10 lakh students fill up the application form and about 5 lakh to 6 lakh candidates appear in the IAS Preliminary Examination every year.
  2. Only about 10,000 – 15,000 candidates clear it every year. In other words only 2.5% of the candidates clear the first hurdle of the Civil Service Examination.
  3. The cut-off score to clear the IAS Preliminary Examination in the last 1 decade has hovered in the range of 52% – 56% marks
  4. A safe score to target will thus be at least 60% of marks – the higher, the better
  5. Getting 60% of marks in the IAS Preliminary Examination is not easy. It requires careful planning, consistent implementation, concentrating on the right sources and a lot of practice.
  6. Experienced guidance can be quite helpful if you are also willing to work hard.
  7. Mostly those students clear the IAS Preliminary Examination who already have a good preparation for the IAS Main Examination.
  8. The beginners need to be extra careful for the IAS Preliminary Examination as they are going to compete with a lot of such candidates who have already cleared the IAS Preliminary Examination in one of their earlier attempts. Such candidates constitute about 50% of those who clear the IAS Preliminary Examination in any given year.
What you must keep in mind if you are a first timer for IAS Prelims?
  1. Contrary to popular perception, the Prelims is not so much of a factual test. It primarily tests your concepts and grasp over core facts.
  2. Most questions are framed in a way which test your quality of understanding rather than range of information. So, whatever you read – read really well.
  3. You must read all the essential NCERT and some NBT books. They account for at least 30 questions out of 100. Find the essential NCERT and NBT list here.
  4. Apart from NCERT and NBT books, you will need to consult some more books for each area. A Prelims reading list is given later in this post.
  5. You must read The Hindu daily. Not less than 35 questions (out of 100) are directly based on this single source. While reading newspaper, your focus must be on developing clarity on current issues, grasping the vital concepts and essential facts. A great alternative may be to be regular with this website, but that is for you to decide. 🙂
  6. Be alert about Government’s legislative and policy initiatives. PIB is a great resource for this purpose. A good number of questions are asked from this area every year.
  7. Make your own notes in conventional areas, such as History, Polity, Geography etc. You will memorize half of the stuffs at the time of making notes only.
  8. Plan your time well. In the overall working day of 12 – 13 hours, you must devote about 7 – 8 hours to General Studies. It holds the key to your success in the CSE. Rest of the study time should be given to your optional subject. Only a minimal amount of time needs to be given to CSAT, as this paper is qualifying in nature but do not ignore CSAT altogether. That will be a fatal mistake.
  9. Practice MCQs a lot. This is essential to enhance your comfort with this type of questions. It will also test your knowledge in many diverse ways. Quality MCQs can be found in career magazines and popular guides.
  10. Make time for revision. Your performance in any objective type examination improves dramatically after the third round of revision. For doing your best at the Prelims, you must revise the whole syllabus at least 3-4 times.
What to read for IAS Prelims

History of India and Indian National Movement

  • NCERT XI and XII textbooks – both old and new editions
  • A New Look at Modern Indian History – B.L. Grover
  • Ancient India – DN Jha
  • Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania

Indian Polity and Governance

  • The Constitution of India (Bare Acts) – PM Bakshi
  • Our Constitution – Subash Kashyap
  • Our Parliament – Subhash Kashyap
  • Indian Polity – M. Laxmikanth
  • Indian Constitution at Work – NCERT (XI)

Indian and World Geography

  • NCERT Books – 6th to 12th
  • Certificate Physical and Economic Geography – Goh Cheng Leong
  • India Comprehensive Geography: Khullar

Economic and Social Development

  • Indian Economy Textbooks: NCERT XIth standard
  • Indian Economy by Uma Kapila (written for B. Com (H) of Delhi Univesity)
  • Government Publications: India 2017; Budget 2017 – 18 and Economic Survey 2016 – 17

Environmental Ecology

  • NCERT Geography Books – INDIA PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT: CLASS XI: UNIT III: Chapter 5: Natural Vegetation; PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY: CLASS XI: UNIT VI: Chapter 15. Life on the Earth and Chapter 16. Biodiversity and Conservation
  • NCERT Biology Books – Std. XII – UNIT X: Chapter 13 :  Organisms and Populations, Chapter 14 :  Ecosystem, Chapter  15  :    Biodiversity  and  Conservation, Chapter  16  :    Environmental  Issues
  • Environment and Ecology: Biodiversity, Climate Change and Disaster Management – Majid Husain
  • Current updates from – Geography and You; Down to Earth; Science Reporter

General Science

  • NCERT Textbooks (8th-12th)
  • Science Reporter
  • Popular Science Series Books of NBT
Will these books be enough?

Yes, they will be.

Remember, you have to read limited number of books for several rounds rather than “touch and go” with many books. When you read from a limited number of books, the most obvious gain is uncluttered preparation.  When you read these books for many cycles, you can absorb the concept much more clearly and for much longer periods of time. You then start developing newer insights and the ability to connect the concepts. It’s that kind of subject knowledge that the UPSC looks for rather than thousands of crammed facts.