How to Study for the Civil Services Exam?

Study For Civil Services, How to study for the civil services exam, Civil Services Exam 2020, Notification for CSE, the Prelims, General Studies, CSAT, Syllabus for the CSE, CSPE, UPSC

This is the first in a series of our blogs on how to study for the Civil Services Exam and clear it – we mean the Prelims, to begin with. Over a course of posts, we will try to address the aspirants’ some of the general concerns which, we think, are as hereunder. You are most welcome to raise other left-out issues through the comment-box.

  • When is the notification for Civil Services Exam issued?
  • How to study for the civil services exam?
  • What is the cut-off in the Civil Services Exam?
  • What are the Qualifications for the CSE?
  • How does the maximum age limit vary for different categories?
  • What are the posts available to the CSE aspirants?

Notification for CSE

Study for civil services, How to study for civil services?, Civil Services Exam 2020, Notification for CSE, the Prelims, General Studies, CSAT, Syllabus for the CSE, CSPE, UPSC

Well, let’s begin with the beginning – the notification. As per the Calendar, the notification for the Union Civil Services Exam this year is due soon – Feb 12th, to be precise. Expected last day to apply for the IAS 2020 Exam is 3rd March 2020. (On the side-lines: 3rd March is celebrated as the Founder’s Day in Jamshedpur, home to TATA Steel.) The one-day Preliminary examination is tentatively scheduled on the 31st May 2020, a Sunday as usual. The Main examination on its part is expected to commence on Friday, 18th Sept 2020.

The Union Public Service Commission conducts a long list of recruitment examinations. Still, UPSC – the name the Constitutional body is popular with – is almost synonymous with the Civil Services Exam. Such is the craze for the civil services among the youth and not any less among their parents as well. This leads to competition, and the pressure, in turn, leads to worries as to how to study for the CSE. In this forum, we will dissect the Civil Services – both the exam (the threat) and the posts (the opportunities). Strength and weaknesses parts of the SWOT analysis will also be dealt with in due course. So, you can expect a full package.

Age Criteria, Relaxations and Number of Attempts

The lower age limit for Civil Services Exam 2020 is 21 years while the upper age limit is 32 years. Date to be reckoned would be as on August 1, 2020. Six attempts are allowed to a candidate to clear IAS Exam 2020. However, it would be wise to have a solid Plan-B, if you find your plans going haywire even after 2-3 attempts. Take it as a warning lest you regret all your life. Anyway, upper age relaxation would be admissible for reserved category candidates as follows:

  1. Up to 3 years – OBC, Defense Services Personnel disabled in operations during hostilities
  2. Up to 5 years – SC/ST, Ex-servicemen
  3. PwD candidates – Up to 10 years

Posts available through CSE

As it is, the UPSC conducts the Civil Services Examination (CSE), a nationwide competitive examination for recruitment to various Civil Services of the Government of India. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), and the Indian Police Service (IPS) form the cream of the pie. The first one takes the most coveted position so much so that the UPSC examination is in some quarters simply referred to as the IAS exam. Details regarding the Posts will be covered in another blog.

Despite all the odds, aspirants will agree that the demonic exam is rather beautiful in the sense that it personifies a generalist’s view of the world. The examination takes a year to complete. It is conducted in three phases, each taking a different form. The first phase is of objective multiple choice type, the second one takes a written subjective form with the final avatar being an oral interview. In fact, the written main examination also encompasses questions of different dimensions like short-answer as well as long-answer questions. Medical examination and thorough police verification are on top of these. Quite a demon, indeed!

Select Previous Year QuestionsPrelims GS Paper I

The Prelims

The most important point about the Preliminary phase of the Civil Services Examination is that the Prelims, as it is popularly known, is mandatory, nonetheless of only screening value. Clearing it only makes you eligible for the main examination, popularly known as the Mains. The problem is that the mark of eligibility i.e. the cut-off keeps deviating in a range. The preliminary examination being only a screening test means that the marks obtained in the Prelims are not added up while arriving at the final rank list. But – a note of warning – don’t underestimate the power of the prelims. It may not make but may mar your dreams of becoming an IAS. It does happen! Amass overconfidence at your risk.

The Prelims consists of two objective-type papers viz. General Studies Paper I and General Studies Paper II also popularly known as CSAT – Civil Services Aptitude Test. This CSAT is truly qualifying with 33% as the pass marks. Another note of warning, though – CSAT is evaluated first and if you don’t clear the CSAT, you don’t clear the ritual called the Prelims.

Negative Marking

Candidates should note that they have set a penalty (negative marking) for wrong answers marked by a candidate in the Objective Type Question Papers. Yet, thank god, UPSC has not got the XLRI idea of penalizing candidates even for skipping or un-attempting a question.

Scheme of the CSE

Each year the UPSC notifies the syllabus of the examination in its official notification for the Civil Services Examination. There are separate syllabuses for the Preliminary and the Main examinations, in a sense the Mains syllabus being a colossal expansion of the Prelims syllabus. The Prelims Syllabus looks deceptively short but in reality, it is just an enumeration of different topics of various subjects.

The Civil Services Main Exam has four general studies paper, two compulsory language paper, one Essay paper and two papers of Optional subject, that is, nine papers in all. It is a conventional descriptive or essay type of exam. An intelligent and detailed analysis of the syllabus and the question papers of previous years of any examination forms the core of the strategy of clearing the exam, more so in the case of an immensely competitive exam like the IAS exam. Understand the syllabus first and the questions next. That is how you will come to terms with ‘how to study for the civil services examination’-type issues. It is a time-consuming exercise and we will take time, too. Here, you will get a general appreciation of the same.

Right now, let’s restrict ourselves to the syllabus for the Prelims. A note of warning, again! You will not clear the real threat – the Mains – if you start preparations for the same only after taking the Prelims. Worse still if you choose to wait for the results!

The Prelims has two components:






Negative Marks





2 hr






2 hr


Instructions for the Civil Services Examinees

Take due note of the following particulars. You will consume less time in the examination hall understanding them. However, this does not absolve you of taking the pains of going through the actual instructions in the hall.

  • A candidate must attempt both the papers.
  • Both papers have negative marks for wrong answers. It is 1/3rd of the total marks assigned to that question.
  • As it is, the quantum of negative marking is different in the two papers as the marks assigned vary. Each question of GS carries 2 marks. Negative marking is to the tune of 0.667 for each wrong answer. Each question of CSAT carries 2.5 marks. So, 0.833 marks would be deducted from the total for every question that is wrongly marked.
  • Un-attempted questions do not charge you with a penalty in the form of negative marks. A relief!
  • The General Studies test is the first paper of the preliminary examination. It is generally conducted between 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM. This test is intended to test the general awareness of a candidate. The subjects range widely from Indian Polity and Governance, Geography, History, Indian Economy, Science and Technology, Environment and Ecology, and International Relations to associated UPSC current affairs.
  • The CSAT paper is generally conducted between 2:30 PM to 04:30 PM. This paper intends to assess the aptitude of the candidate in solving ‘Reasoning and Analytical’ questions, apart from ‘Reading Comprehension’ and the ‘Decision Making’ questions. Good news is that the ‘Decision Making’ based questions are generally exempt from the scheme of negative marking.

The CSE Syllabus

  • Syllabus for GS Paper (Prelims Paper I)
    • 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
  • Syllabus for CSAT Paper (Prelims Paper-II)
    • 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

So, how to study for the Civil Services Preliminary Examination?  And, what do you need to clear the Prelims? – General intelligence, Numerical Ability, Problem Solving Aptitude and wide reading interests. The term ‘wide’ is significant. As they say, the Civil Services Exam covers just everything under the sun including of course the sun and the galaxies. In our considered view, memorization is not asked for. Genuine and intrinsic wide or extra-wide reading habits over a period will suffice. However, don’t panic for two reasons. One, these are the traits we look for in an educated citizen. Two, with us you can explore a pattern in question papers and develop a winning habit in yourselves. That way you can clear the Prelims rather un-worryingly.

The Cut-off

We know, we must address the most important query before we leave for the present. How much do you need to score to clear the Prelims, i.e. the cut-off? Well, score comfortably above 33% in CSAT and again, comfortably above 50% in the General Studies Paper and get your admit card for the Mains from the Dholpur House. We repeat, be comfortably above to ward off unforeseen deviations in a particular year by the Dholpur House! नाम ही काफ़ी है!

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