Strategy for UPSC Prelims Preparation 2020

Year on year UPSC Prelims exam is becoming more competitive. Around a million plus aspirants apply for the prelims stage of civil services exam and only around 15k - 20k aspirants qualify for the next stage. 

Thus one can gauge the exam is not about selection but about elimination. 98% - 98.5% of the aspirants applying for the exam gets eliminated in the first stage itself and so aspirants need to strategise their preparation and revision plan to hit the bull's eye.

Most of the UPSC prelims questions are based on current affairs and basic conceptual understanding of the concepts. Thus, UPSC Prelims Preparation needs to be coherent and in-depth.

UPSC Prelims Exam

UPSC Prelims is the first stage of UPSC Civil Services exam and comprises of multiple choice objective type of questions. The exam consists of two papers:


No of Questions Marks Time Nature Syllabus
General Studies Paper 1 100 200 2 hrs Taken into account for Merit List GS Paper 1 Syllabus
General Studies Paper 2 80 200 2 hrs Qualifying  GS Paper 2 Syllabus


Civil Services Prelims Preparation can take from six months to a year of dedicated effort, so one should start well in advance their UPSC Prelims Preparation.

Steps to prepare for UPSC Prelims 2020

Step 1: Decode the UPSC Prelims Syllabus

The syllabus provided by UPSC for civil services Prelims is crisp and to the point and it needs skills to decode and unbox all the topics in every single line of the syllabus. To make it simple we have decoded the syllabus of UPSC Prelims in the infographics below.

Step 2: Refer to the standard source of study

Most of the aspirants refer to multiple sources for study and focus more on easily available coaching notes rather than refering the standard books. This approach causes more harm than good. Sticking to the standard source of study has always been recommended by the toppers of the exam and so aspirants should study standard books and newspapers like The Hindu for their preparation and should create their own notes rather than depend on the readymade notes of coaching institutes.

Step 3: Plan your timetable

You are the best judge of your strength and weakness. Plan your timetable accordingly, do not just be a part of the rat race. Plan your timetable as per your convenience. If you can study best in the morning hours, keep your week areas in those hours, if you are a night owl do that in the late night hours. This is your journey and you are the architect of your journey.

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Step 4: Revision Plan

The revision plan should be taken up in three stages for the maximum outcome:

First, during the revision phase (Feb - April) start to practice from daily MCQs provided by various online IAS websites or app. These are based on a time-bound plan and help you completely revise the Prelims Syllabus in a time-bound manner and also lets you understand your week areas.

Second, 2 Months before the exam start practising full-length paper on alternate days. Try to finish the paper within the time limit and analyze all your mistakes the next day. Revise whatever mistakes you have made. Keep repeating it until the last 10 days of the exam.

Third, in the Last 10 days, revise everything once again and focus on your week areas which you came across during practice test, do not practice any more questions in the last 10 days as it may affect your confidence level.


Step 5: Appear for Mock Test

Mock Test is an important aspect of your preparation strategy for UPSC Prelims and you must include in your preparation journey. Generally, it is beneficial to join a mock test at the start of your preparation as it helps to assess your understanding at each level of your preparation and accustoms you to the demand of the exam

Step 6: Exam Taking Strategy

Analysing the strength of the question paper is a must and this will develop over time by giving various mock tests. While attempting the question for the first time keep in mind to gauge the strength of the paper. This will help you to decide the optimum number of questions to attempt to be on the safe side of the cutoff list.

Guesstimation is very important in an exam like UPSC Prelims, as you would be sure of only around 30-40 questions. For the remaining 60 - 70 questions, you will have to try your skills of guesstimation and eliminating the options. Make sure you have mastered this art during your mock exam stage.

Prioritizing is another skill that will come handy in this exam after you have attempted questions about which you are 100% confident, next you should approach questions in which you have eliminated two wrong choices, next you can attempt questions where you have eliminated at least one wrong choice but minimize attempt to such questions as the chances of getting a negative marks in such attempts is more. 

While answering prelims questions, understand the question before attempting to answer. It is said that "always read in between lines" while attempting UPSC prelims questions. Try to master this art during IAS Prelims preparation.

All the best for UPSC prelims exam.

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