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This article was first published 6 years ago  » Getahead » UPSC exam tips: How to crack General studies

UPSC exam tips: How to crack General studies

By Akriti Mattu
May 03, 2017 08:41 IST
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These tips will help you excel in the competitive exam.


The Civil Services Exam is one of the most coveted competitive tests of our country.

Lakhs of aspirants from India will attempt the examination this year to qualify for approximately 980 job positions across the country.

The preliminary examination will be conducted on June 18 this year, followed by the main examination in October.

Three key factors are crucial for scoring good marks in the examination are -- 1) knowledge; 2) access to good resources and 3) amalgamation of knowledge and resources.

1. Knowledge

The nature of the Civil Services Exam is such that one's brain will have to get accustomed to being a vast store house of information.

The syllabus is so hefty that this information will have to be assimilated well and then put to use.

ALSO SEE: Want to be an IAS officer?

2. Access to good resources

Having proper access to good study material is a must if an aspirant has to crack Civil Services.

Resources include books, online portals, guidance from past year successful aspirants and coaching (although not a necessity).

3. Knowledge and good resources

Once an aspirant learns the craft of reading thoroughly from the various resources available and making use of them in the exam, nobody can stop the individual from featuring in the final merit list.

The following tips will help you strategise and maximise your overall score in the exam.

Preparation of General Studies

General Studies comprise a major chunk of the CSE syllabus.

Also, the marks fetched here are counted for selection in the preliminary stage.

No aspirant can qualify this prestigious exam without having an excellent grip over General Studies.

General Studies isn't just one subject. It is a combination of various subjects, the preparation strategy of which I will elucidate below –


The syllabus for history can be divided in 3 parts:

  1. Ancient Indian History
  2. Medieval Indian History
  3. Modern Indian History

A bulk of the history questions asked in CSE preliminary exam usually come from the 'Modern India' part of the syllabus.

Medieval Indian History and Ancient Indian history don't constitute a major part in terms of the number of questions asked.

So if one has to prioritise the topics for Indian History, Modern India (especially the struggle for independence) should be given preference over Medieval Indian History and Ancient Indian History.

Having said that never leave out the low priority topics altogether. Remember, UPSC loves to surprise its aspirants.

Art and Culture

Art and Culture comes across as a tricky component of the GS Syllabus to a lot of aspirants.

The syllabus is expansive and the topics, unclear.

My suggestion to aspirants would be to never study art and culture in isolation. Prepare it along with Indian history and relate it to the specific times.

Some must read topics are as follows:

  • Literature and language
  • Religions/religious reforms/saints
  • Paintings/dance forms/drama/music/festivals
  • Famous individuals related to art and culture (Contemporary Included)
  • Food practices


Geography is divided into two parts:

  1. Indian Geography
  2. World Geography

Indian Geography

It has been seen that Indian Geography is given more weightage in the Preliminary Examination.

Must read topics are:

  • Physiography of India
  • River systems of India
  • Climate
  • Mineral wealth of India
  • Soil and soil types in India
  • Agriculture
  • Forests
  • Wildlife and conservation
  • Human geography

Rote learning would be a total waste of time.

Try building up your fundamentals for geography. Start with physical geography and then move on to Indian geography.

World Geography

Once you have a good grip over physical geography and geography of India, you're good to proceed further to World geography.

Must read topics are:

  • The Earth and the universe
  • Land forms and their formation
  • Atmosphere
  • Wind system
  • Clouds and precipitation
  • Hydrosphere
  • Different types of climate and climatic regions of the world


Every year a bulk of questions are asked from Polity.

Good thing is that all those questions despite ranging from moderate to difficult level are doable in nature.

You can score precious marks here which you might lose out elsewhere.

The most comprehensive and resourceful book for studying polity for the prelims is Indian Polity by M Laxminkanth.

The book covers almost all of the topics that are a part of the syllabus. It has been very well structured and benefits the candidates to the maximum.


A lot of aspirants get scared about this subject.

It comes across a strange subject for their IAS preparation. But there is nothing to worry.

Let me clarify right in the beginning that you do not need to have prior knowledge of economics to crack the questions based on it. I say this from my personal experience.

You will understand concepts as you keep reading. In fact, economics might become your favorite subject from the syllabus.

To understand Indian Economy better, you need to have the right resources. There are no better books than NCERTs that would build your fundamental understanding of the subject.

Read the following right at the onset of your preparation:

  • Principles of Macroeconomics – Std XII
  • Principles of Microeconomics – Std XII
  • Indian Economic Development – Std XI

Having an understanding of certain important concepts of Microeconomics would certainly go a long way towards building your basics. Once you're confident here, go to the more detailed books.

Never forget the budget and Economic Survey of India.

Also, read magazines like Economic Times and Business Standard especially the issues on the Union Budget.

Note down all important policy decisions of the Government of India.

Science and Technology

There are mostly analytical questions that show up in this section.

For scoring well in Science and Technology section, you have to be aware of the latest developments in technology across streams.

Questions on technology should be prioritised over questions from basic sciences.

Focus on what is happening in India that is relevant to the field of science and technology.

Follow ISRO, DRDO, Ministry of Science and Technology and what they do. The best way to do that is to religiously follow science and technology section of The Hindu.


Ecology, environment, biodiversity and climate change is the most challenging part for civil services aspirants.

Ever since, the preliminary examination for Indian Forest Services (IFS) has been clubbed with Civil Services Prelims, the weightage allocated to this section has considerably increased.

Naturally, it calls for greater attention.

Students pursuing IAS exam general studies preparation can no longer afford to overlook this section.

Here are some of the best sources to study the Environment Section for CSAT Preparation:

  • NCERT Geography – Std VI to Std XI
  • NCERT Science – Std VII to Std X
  • NCERT Economy – Std XI
  • NCERT Biology – Std XII
  • NCERT Chemistry – Std XII
  • Shankar IAS – Environment
  • Notes from NIOS
  • ICSE Books- Std X and XI
  • India Year Book
  • Orient Blackswan School Atlas
  • Hindu Official website
  • Environmental Studies For Undergraduate Courses by Erach Bharucha
  • Ecology and environment by P D Sharma
  • Down to Earth Magazine
  • Science Reporter
  • Economic Survey of India
  • Official Website of Environment Ministry

Current Affairs

Civil Services preparation cannot be deemed complete without a proper knowledge of Current Affairs.

One should never lose track of current events.

UPSC asks questions from various sections relating them to current affairs. For instance, if demonetisation was in news recently, the question pertaining to it will be a part of both current affairs as well as Indian economy.

Read more than one newspaper daily. Don't just read it, jot down important notes and keep revising.

The journey from, 'I am an aspirant' to 'I've become a Class I Officer' is a long one.

Make sure you survive the journey and reach your destination with pride. Hard work doesn't have short cuts.

This article is written by Akriti Mattu, digital marketing lead from Mockbank, a Bengaluru based edu portal catering to the job search/exam preparation needs of aspirants.
Akriti qualified Civil Services but chose a different stream professionally.

Lead image used for representational purposes only. Image: Vlad Meytin/Creative Commons

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Akriti Mattu