UPSC Preparation - Month-wise and Subject-wise Detailed Strategy to Crack IAS Exam

Every year more than 10 lakh candidates apply for the UPSC Civil Services exam with an aim to become IAS, IPS, IRS, IFS. To prepare for this elite civil services exam, candidates should have a proper preparation strategy, timeline, and plan to prepare for UPSC Civil Service Exam.

To provide an overview, in this article we have provided the basic tips for UPSC preparation which includes Month wise preparation strategy for UPSC and Subject wise preparation tips to crack the IAS exam.

UPSC Preparation Time and Scheduling

It is important to stay focused and committed to the ambition of becoming an IAS officer. It is one of the toughest exams to crack and requires undivided attention. Experts say that a candidate needs at least 12 months of continuous hard work for UPSC preparation.

More than the stipulated time-frame, it is imperative to have a workable strategy which includes the number of hours a candidate invests in preparing the various subjects in the UPSC syllabus. Since the questions in the IAS exam are from 6th to 12th standard books, many students, who have a good academic record and follow a concept-based approach to studies, will have an edge over others. Such candidates may need even lesser time, maybe an average of 8 hours of preparation per day, to crack the exam in the first attempt.

Tips and Techniques for IAS Exam Preparation

  • Before Beginning the UPSC preparation, it is recommended to dig into the facts of the IAS profession, if this is the career path you wish to take, and what it takes to become an IAS officer.
  • It is important that the aspirant has a clear objective and will stay focused and motivated.
  • The aspirant should be extremely thorough with the exam pattern, should be able to comprehend all the technicalities to approach the three stages of the UPSC exam.
  • The Prelims is an objective-type exam based on the general studies knowledge and aptitude of a candidate. Mains, on the other hand, is subjective and needs academic skill efficiency.
  • With the help of the best general studies books, study materials, newspapers, magazines, etc. aspirants must create their own repository of the knowledge base.
  • Go through the previous set of question papers to get a close understanding of the IAS paper format and read on relevant topics.
  • Always make sure to have a strong understanding of fundamental and basic concepts. There is no need to go beyond the basics and understand more than the basic concepts. Remember, one is not aiming to be a laureate in one-field.
Don't Just Start - Plan your UPSC Prelims Preparation - Download Prelims  Preparation Strategy

Importance of Previous Year Papers in UPSC Preparation

  • It is crucial to understand the exam pattern and the best way to do it is to know the paper format.
  • The syllabus for UPSC preparation is huge and may appear tougher until one knows how the questions from each subject are exactly formatted in the paper.
  • Going through the archives will help a candidate to schedule the number of hours for each subject and help assess the correct approach to prepare for each subject. This way, one can invest time and effort in UPSC preparation methodically and inclusively.
  • After practising through the UPSC Previous year question papers, candidates will realize that questions are never repeated. So, there is no point in mugging up the answers. The approach should be to clear the basic concepts first and then practice as much as possible.

Tips to Prepare UPSC Exam from Home

  • Self-discipline is the key to effective UPSC preparation. Studying hard for pre-meditated hours is all okay, but more than the number of hours, it is necessary to master the personal attitude and approach. One can do this by building self-awareness and seeking help.
  • At every stage of the UPSC preparation, a candidate has the privilege to access a vast base of UPSC preparation resources online. These include counselling, mentoring and guidance on any topic they need help with. For example, the necessity of mock tests and online study material, which are an integrated part of the UPSC preparation.
  • Mock tests are like real-tests and help deal with the questions in the exact format and stipulated exam time to increase confidence dramatically.
  • Based on the format of the question paper, one needs to be careful of the negative marking pattern. To avoid any nervous or unnecessary answering, it is important to practice mock tests every day.
  • Online study material is important as online IAS coaching helps in live interaction with qualified coaches to help an individual know where he stands in the UPSC preparation.

Datesheet for Civil Services Examination 2020

Each year, the UPSC exam dates are released in February for the Prelims to be conducted in June of the same year. The Prelims results are released one month after the exam; in July. Thereafter the Prelims qualifiers are required to appear for UPSC Mains exam in September/October. The result of the Mains is declared in the following year, by February/March. The last stage of the UPSC exam, Personality Test/Interview, is held in March and April. The final results are announced later in May/June. Here's this year's schedule:

Civil Service Exam Important Dates
Notification February 12, 2020
Last Date To Apply March 3, 2020
Civil Services Preliminary Examination May 31, 2020
Civil Services Mains Examination September 18, 2020

Month Wise IAS Preparation Strategy for UPSC 2020 Exam

The exam cycle tentatively starts in the month of June and takes a year to complete all the stages. So, as such, you would be busy around the year preparing for one stage or the other. What smart students realize is that there is significant overlap in the syllabus of Prelims and Mains exams. So, it makes sense to have an overall preparation strategy as opposed to stage-specific approach.

June to October:- Focus on the preparation of UPSC optional subjects. General Studies for Prelims and Mains should also be done on the side by side.

October to December:- Complete syllabus of the static part of the GS for both Prelims and Mains.

January to February:- Practice answer writing for Mains as well as the optional subject.

March to May:- Devote these last three months extensively for Prelims- for both Paper 1 as well as CSAT. Practice mock tests and revise as much as you can.

June to October:- Revise the optional subject and join the test series for Mains, essay as well as the optional subject.

Note: The above suggestions apply to the vast majority of candidates who are preparing full time for the CSE, without taking up employment. For other candidates, the preparation may have to be rescheduled accordingly. You can consult NeoStencil for further help.

Want to score 110 Plus in UPSC Mains GS Paper 1 - Read GS Paper 1 Strategy Here

Subject Wise UPSC Preparation Strategy

Preparation of General Studies

If one can master the basic knowledge of General Studies, he is bound to qualify the Prelims. The whole pattern of UPSC Prelims is based on general studies, which in turn, has a vast variety of subjects to dwell upon. One should ideally aim for subject knowledge at the high school level.

Here is a subject-wise strategy for mastering General Studies:

History of Indian Culture

A significant portion of the General Studies Paper is related to the Indian History subject divided into-Ancient, Medieval and Modern History parts. Therefore, while preparing for your exam focus specifically on Modern India, Art and Culture.

Don't refer to too many books. History of Modern India by Bipin Chandra is one of the best books a candidate on Modern History.


Candidates have to study Indian Geography and World Geography as a part of the UPSC preparation. Indian Geography topics such as river systems, climate and physiography of India to mineral wealth, soil types and agriculture economy of India, etc. should be given the top priority.

While studying Geography for the UPSC exam, a recommendable approach would be to understand geography from the fundamentals. A perfect example here is to understand a region in totality. Study physical geography including topography characteristics, the region formation, its mineral wealth, climate and other basic details of the geographical location of the place in great detail.

While studying World Geography, two topics are of prime importance- physical geography and the environment. Along with this, study about the earth and the universe, wind systems, formation of landforms, clouds and precipitation and atmosphere. It is advised to keep Atlas with you while reading geography so that you can learn with the map by integrating it with the theory.


Study topics such as fundamental rights & duties, the Indian Constitution, the state government machinery or function of the central government in detail.

Polity is about civil government and there is no limit to learning on the subject for an Indian Civil Service aspirant. It is important to know the fundamentals of the subject. Keep yourself updated with the latest policies and changes. Civil matters are under continuous discussion and one should be aware of the present decision and be able to analyze it with regards to events occurred in the past.


An IAS aspirant studying Economics must be able to have a perspective on the Indian economy and the state-of-affairs. It is essential to have clarity of the concepts to do so. Key topics to study are: Principles of Macroeconomics & Microeconomics and Indian economic development. Refer to the class 12th books of the subjects.

Along with this, it is essential to read about the Indian Budget and follow an analytical approach, linking the vital finance decisions with the status quo.

Science & Technology

This section mostly contains analytical questions which make the Science and Technology paper section very scoring. A lot of questions are asked on issues related to what is happening around us.

The right approach would be strengthening the fundamentals first. The best way to do that is to refer to the 7th-10th standard ICSE books to understand the principles of science and its natural phenomenon.

It is also advisable to go through the question papers of the last few years and understand what topics are relevant and then build on the frequently asked topic questions.

There are important websites such as the Ministry of Science & Technology, ISRO and DRDO which make the subject more contextually relevant to understand.


In a continuously developing global environment, this subject is a bit difficult to manoeuvre and master. There are multiple perspectives and high pace developments in the environment and climate change. Also, there is no specific study material that aspirants can refer to. To understand the basics, refer to the NCERT books on geography, science, economy, biology, chemistry, Rajagopalan's Environmental Studies: From Crisis to Cure and class 10th-11th ICSE books. Subscribe to Down the Earth magazine and refer to the Environment Ministry's GOI website.

Current Affairs

While preparing for Civil Services, it is important to keep a regular track of current affairs. The Prelims paper may have questions linked to polity and economics. For example, any news of climate change can be asked from the perspective of Indian economics or Indian environment or both.

Therefore, it is crucial to relate current affairs to the fundamental knowledge of every subject of the UPSC syllabus. Make sure you read The Hindu, Indian Express and some business publications like Business Standard and Hindu Business Line.

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What is the Indian Administrative Service?

Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is one of the most prestigious posts among the 24 services offered during the Indian Civil Service recruitment. An IAS officer is a part of the unified system (called Indian Bureaucracy) that works towards efficient delivery of the administrative functioning of our nation.

Indian Civil Service Officers are appointed at the centre, state and in the Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) to take responsibility for their governance. Aspirants who wish to make a career in the Civil Services must clear a competitive exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission every year. Here's the list of Civil Service posts that candidates can apply for:

  1. Indian Administrative Service
  2. Indian Foreign Service
  3. Indian Police Service
  4. Indian P & T Accounts & Finance Service, Group A
  5. Indian Audit and Accounts Service, Group A
  6. Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise), Group A
  7. Indian Defence Accounts Service, Group A
  8. Indian Revenue Service (I.T.), Group A
  9. Indian Ordnance Factories Service, Group A (Assistant Works Manager, Administration)
  10. Indian Postal Service, Group A
  11. Indian Civil Accounts Service, Group A
  12. Indian Railway Traffic Service, Group A
  13. Indian Railway Accounts Service, Group A
  14. Indian Railway Personnel Service, Group A
  15. Post of Assistant Security Commissioner in Railway Protection Force, Group A
  16. Indian Defence Estates Service, Group A
  17. Indian Information Service (Junior Grade), Group A
  18. Indian Trade Service, Group A (Gr. III)
  19. Indian Corporate Law Service, Group A
  20. Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service, Group B (Section Officer s Grade)
  21. Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Civil Service, Group B
  22. Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service, Group B
  23. Pondicherry Civil Service, Group B
  24. Pondicherry Police Service, Group B

Regardless of the education or social background, individuals who meet the UPSC eligibility criteria specified by the UPSC can appear for the test. Thus,  4-5 lakh aspirants across India apply for the exam for the 1000 vacancies that UPSC released every year. This makes the examination and selection criteria extremely competitive. 

A candidate applying under the General category can appear a maximum of 6 times for the exam. The number of attempts for candidates in the OBC Category is 9, whereas, for the SC/ST or Physically Handicapped, there is no limit.

However, one must not fixate on the limited number of attempts but focus on the quality of their preparation.

Hence, if an individual aspires to become an IAS officer, then he/she should be focused and committed during the time of the UPSC Preparation.

Determination and perseverance coupled with an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the subject would ensure an ordinary individual achieving extraordinary results in this competitive world.

Outline of the IAS Exam

IAS exam has three phases namely

  1. Preliminary (objective)
  2. Mains (subjective)
  3. Interview/Personality test

Preliminary Examination

UPSC Prelims is an objective type exam including two papers, General Studies Paper I and Aptitude Test(CSAT) paper II. Each paper carries 200 marks and is conducted on a single day.

The first paper(GS) consists of 100 questions covering a range of topics from geography, economics, polity, current affairs etc. The second paper consists of 80 questions which test the basic aptitude of the aspirants.

A preliminary examination is a screening test based on scores of the first paper(GS). The second paper is merely qualifying with a score of 33%, that is, 67 marks.

Mains Examination

This is the second stage of the exam. Only those candidates who qualify the Preliminary exam are eligible for the Mains examination. It contains a total of nine papers including an optional subject. All the papers are subjective where the candidates have to write answers in the space provided by the UPSC in the answer sheets.

The nine papers are as follows-

  • Paper A - Indian Language (Compulsory)
  • Paper B- English (Compulsory)
  • Paper I - Essay
  • Paper II - General Studies I
  • Paper III - General Studies II
  • Paper IV - General Studies III
  • Paper V - General Studies IV
  • Paper VI & VII - Optional Subject

Language papers are compulsory and qualifying in nature. Candidates must score a minimum of 25% of marks, i.e. 75/300. The marks are not added while calculating Mains scores of the candidate. The candidate can choose any language out of the 22 as mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, while the English language paper is compulsory for all.

The other seven papers are of 250 marks each. UPSC has provided a list of subjects out of which the candidate has to select one as their optional subject. The Essay and four General Studies paper are common for all.

The duration of this exam is six days. On most of the days, two papers are conducted, one in the morning and the second one in the evening. Each session is three hours long.

The result for the Mains examination is usually declared after more than two months from the last day of the exam.

Interview/Personality Test

Candidates successful in the Mains exam receive an online summon letter from the UPSC. The interview is conducted at the UPSC building in Delhi.

All the UPSC members have their board. Each board consists of 5-6 members with the UPSC member as the Chairman. The interview is worth 275 marks, and the combined total of Mains and personality test is considered for the final recommendation list. The recommended list is then forwarded to the DoPT, which marks the end of the examination cycle.


UPSC announces the results and the marks which can be accessed through a unique ID that each candidate is provided with. The cut-off marks are displayed on the official website of UPSC. Even those who could not clear the Preliminary stage get to see their scores.

Note: There is no official answer key for the Preliminary or the Mains exam that is provided.

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