IAS Prelims, Mains & Interview Strategy for UPSC 2024

The Civil Services Examination is the most coveted examination in our country which gives you the golden opportunity to be a part of the team driving the nation. It gives you name, fame, power, prestige, reputation and plenty of scope to do something for the nation, expects you to be precise and focused on issues; to be analytical in a balanced way and to be capable of prompt and objective decisions in testing situations. During various stages of the examination, whether it be preliminary, main or interview, you are assessed for these qualities. Your academic qualifications take a back seat in the scheme of the examination. Therefore, do not fear about your profile insecurity that I am not from a big college, I’m not from English medium, and I don’t have work-experience, I did not get good marks in my academic education etc. A level playing field is offered for all irrespective of your qualifications.

There is no one best way to prepare for this examination, synchronous between your attitude and what UPSC wants from you is utmost necessary for this exam. In the course of time preparation becomes a Major Part of your life and it is important that you enjoy it. Understanding yourself in necessary as that will maximise your strength and help you work on your weaknesses. Keeping it simple is the Key. Complication creates pressure during exam cycle but Simplicity will gradually be rewarded.



NCERTs are necessary but not sufficient, though it is bible for the beginners in the initial preparation stage which in the due course of time requires a lot of value addition.

The following points should be kept in mind while doing preparation:

  • The focus should be on gaining basic clarity in each topic, which will come only through lot of logical questioning.
  • For any topic, try to do a horizontal and vertical reading of all the related topics which will definitely help to cover any topic holistically.
  • A thorough analysis of the previous year’s question papers and the recent trends so that one is in tune with UPSC recent trends.
  • Discussing elaborately with teachers, successful candidates and seniors so that one is on track during preparations. Form one cooperative, not discouraging and frustrating group with whom you can discuss your problems.
  • Prepare notes of each topic in such a way that you are not required to read the book again at the time of examination and supplement it with current developments.
  • Go through one standard book of each section several times instead of several books once.
  • Solve multiple choice questions from any standard book and assess yourself whether you are in position to answer 60% of questions correctly , if yes, then all right otherwise still preparation is required.
  • First of all, solve the questions you know then teaser questions and then follow elimination process. If you are in position to eliminate two options then risk may be taken.
  • Time management is the most important so be attuned with time always try to keep five minutes sphere time. Do not waste too much time on single question. Avoid attempting the questions which you do not know.

This is a test of your knowledge. It is usually a mix of easy, difficult and teaser questions. Teaser questions are those that appear to be easy but gets difficult when you solve them for example:

  • Q.1. What is peculiar feature of federal form of government?
  • (a) Division of power
  • (b) Dual government
  • (c) Written constitution
  • (d) Independent judiciary

Ans. (a) is right, though all the options are correct. If this type of situation arises then look at the central theme of the topic like central theme of federalism is division of power, parliamentary form of government is based on fusion of power, presidential form of government is based on separation of power.

  • Q.2. What was reason behind the great revolt of 1857?
  • (a) Stoppage of pension to Nana sahib
  • (b) The Doctrine of lapse policy of Lord Dalhousie
  • (c) Economic exploitation
  • (d) Greased cartage with cow and pig fats in the newly introduced Enfield rifle

Ans. C. All options are correct but option c was the key around which everything moved.


The Main examination is the major scoring part accounting for 1750 marks out of the total 2025 on which your rank will be determined. It consists of seven papers besides, English and anyone Indian language and Essay and four each in General Studies and one optional – are to be attempted. It is definitely a daunting task. The UPSC has made its paper very dynamic in last few years. Now the ‘bookish’ questions have reduced greatly and analyse types have increased. No longer are they asking questions where information is the key determinant (even in the prelims). What matters is one’s opinion and analysis. This cannot be found in any one place or book therefore, internet should be consulted.


Scoring depends on the perfection of your answers. You may know everything covering the full syllabus, but answering the papers in time with precision is the art to be cultivated. Hence, do practice, set a full paper for three hours and write. If you are not able to complete in time, write again. Along with perfection of answers go time management. You may require lot of practice to achieve this.

A rough estimate of the word count per page makes it easy to check the word limits while writing the exam in real. Any shortcomings in these areas need to be corrected. Writing holds the key. How precise you write matters a lot.


Introduction: Catchy introduction which addresses the question head-on. It should reflect whatever you are going to write in the main body. The main body should be interlinked with introduction.

Background: Though it is not required in all types of questions, wherever it is applicable write to make your answer effective.

Main body: There is always apprehension in the mind of students either to write answer in points or paragraphs. I would suggest you to write brief paragraph and then link it with points.

Conclusion: It should be suggestive, futuristic, positive, innovative, creative and solution oriented. Do not write negative aspect in the conclusion.


Comment: Here you have to discuss the pros and cons of the matter and conclude

Evaluate: Here you have to analyse and find the implication.

Illustrate: write answer with contemporary relevant examples.

Explain/Describe: here you have to list out all the features of the matter

Critically assess/Examine: one has to combine the effects of comment and evaluate here.

  • Catching the nerve of the question and answering makes the difference. For this, you need to be cool and composed. Read the question carefully once and understand/underline the key words on which it is to be answered.
  • Do not lie to the examiner. Save time and energy by not trying to fool the examiner and writing just any nonsense. Mostly in such cases we keep writing the same thing again and again it just irritates the examiner therefore, avoid it.
  • Answer should be balanced because extremes in public life are mostly bad and one has to be avoided.
  • Short, to the point, covering as many dimensions and aspects as possible.
  • Do not only fill pages with irrelevant aspects.
  • Diagrams if possible or needed. Not always possible or needed.
  • Contemporary touch and applicability -use current affairs to strengthen your argument
  • Maps- draw India or world maps in geography/history papers
  • Interlinking of topics
  • Underline important points
  • Graphs- to better represent data.
  • Flow charts
  • Try to address the question in the introduction rather than giving irrelevant answers
  • A balanced approach in answers are usually missing, either it will be very critical or totally out of context.
  • Most of the times, aspirants was unable to fully understand the requirement of the question
  • Most of the times, only few of required aspects/dimensions were covered in answers
  • Write in points so that you can more marks rather than writing same point in big paragraph.
  • The UPSC has penchant for at times stunning the candidates with out of the box questions, ignore it because very limited people in the country know these answers well, so focus and prepare the conventional portions first before venturing into these unconventional areas.
  • Make notes as you read. It's impossible to come back to the text books during revision. Notes should be so comprehensive that once you are done, you would not have to take the text-book again.
  • The basic approach should be study, revise and improvise.
  • Do not use guides, standard preparatory material or NCERT text books
  • Keep on referring to previous years question papers to check if you have missed any topics.
  • Prepare for the subjective papers for the main examination. Note down extra facts for the prelims as you make descriptive notes.
  • More time should be spent on thinking about the topic and making innovations, rather than on reading too many study materials available in market.
  • The previous papers should be thoroughly analysed to understand the trends and the expectations of the examiner.
  • The preparation should be focused and all the hard work should be channelized in the right direction.

Previous pattern of UPSC had little to do with time management as most of the questions were 30 and 20 marks. Now the pattern tests your clarity of thought, ability to express and the quickness in response times thus the Mains in itself is a Personality Test.

  • So you are basically selling yourself by what you write in those three hours. This constraint in time reflects your spontaneity and originality in answering because limited response time makes your answer flow from your subconscious.
  • Focus on maximising the marks in entire paper, instead of answering some questions in effective way.
  • In case you do not know some questions then how you can follow this approach. Give the first two hours for all the questions that you knew very well. Say you give those extra one to two minutes each question maximum. Rest of the questions you can grade the time limit according to your comfortability in answering.
  • Like sometimes you might not have any clue about questions in Science and technology or art and culture. So in those cases you can write what you know and leave those questions.
  • Also paper checking is a tiresome process so you have to make answer reading effortless which will come only if you have clarity in what you know and your handwriting should be legible.

Essay writing is an art. It requires your creativity, imagination, innovation, analysis and opinion thereby examiner can easily judge your personality, traits and attitude. It is not much about knowledge test but your creativity, imagination and innovation. The major difference between essay and others papers is: While the other papers are based on knowledge and logic, essay is based on imagination therefore essay question never seeks factual answers.

Following points should be kept in mind while writing essay:

  • Prepare synopsis of the topic you selected on the last page of the answer Booklet.
  • Introduction, try to write a quote, story, poem etc. so that it catches the eye of examiner but at the same time main body should be interlinked with introduction.
  • Arrange essay properly and ensure logical connectivity and coherency
  • Try to link the topic with history, present status and statistics, impact-social, economic, biological, ethnological, political, psychological, cultural, religious, historical, geographical, etc.
  • Merits and demerits
  • Relate the topic to present day social conditions prevailing.
  • Conclusion should be suggestive, futuristic, positive and solution oriented.
  • Your approach should be balanced knowing one part of the topic too much and not enough of the other part is not considered good.
  • Language skill matters in the essay so write a nice grammatically correct one but do not use too complicated words…just to keep it easy to read for the examiner.
  • Use headings and sub headings if possible.
  • Give emphasis on analysis and substantiate it with suitable illustrations.


Interview is not only of 275 marks but it decides your rank in the final list. The UPSC has developed a habit of giving fewer marks in the main examination; difference between the highest scorer and cut off mark is not so high therefore good performance in interview can decide your fate. It is not based on luck; most of the questions of interview can be predicted and prepared well in advance.

Following aspects should be kept in mind while preparing for interview:

  • Current affairs: Current affairs preparation for interview is different from preparation for mains. The newspapers of last few days and Current affairs awareness play a crucial role. Basically people who are taking your interview are not preparing themselves. So they will only remember current news and not the boring committees and legislations etc. So you will have to cover the current news for interview and develop your own opinion on all such news items
  • Detailed Application Form: The DAF is filled after your prelims qualification before appearing for mains and it cannot be changed later. It plays the role of resume during interview and contains other details like cadre and service preference. It is required that you consult seniors and mentors before filling in the details.
  • Graduation subject: Even if you are opting subject other than your graduation subject prepare at least current development and important theories of graduation subject. Question may be asked from this section. But you must have command and confidence in the subject you opted in the main examination.
  • Place of birth: know about art and culture, eminent personality, history, geography and other speciality of your birth place.
  • Home state: know about history, geography, art and culture, eminent personality, leader and their policy and programmes, caste and communal politics, problem of population, poverty, unemployment, women etc.
  • Hobby and Extra-Curricular Activities: Requires thorough preparation as they are self-declared.
  • Honest: Do not try to bluff and misguide the interviewers, be straightforward, modest, polite and respectful. If you answer 100% of question superficially you may not get even 30% of marks if you answer 30% of question honestly and up to the mark you may get good marks in the interview. Keep in mind nobody is perfect.
  • Realist and nationalist: No one is permanent friend and foe in the international relation only national interest prevails. Do not be casteist, communalist and regionalist but nationalist.
  • Mock interview: Attend as many mock interviews as possible so that you may rectify your mistakes and weakness.
  • Dress: Simple and sober so that it doesn’t get noticed and you must feel comfortable.
  • Job: If you were previously employed then you must prepare in detail about nature of your job and satisfactory reasons behind quitting the job.
  • Good sense of humour and presence of mind.
  • Extreme in public life is undesirable so be modest.



  • History – Bipin Chandra: Struggle for Independence and India after Independence, Spectrum
  • World History – Norman Lowe or Jain and Mathur only selected chapters
  • Art and Culture – Spectrum and NCERT
  • Geography – NCERT (6th to 12th), G C Leong, Atlas
  • Environment – IGNOU materials, ICSE Text book, Online/Wiki for all the various protocols, committees, etc.
  • Magazines : Yojana , Kurukshetra
  • Polity – M. Lakshmikanth or D.D Basu
  • Indian political system – A.S Narang
  • International relations: Peu Ghosh
  • Rajiv Sikri : Challenge and Strategy , Lok sabha and Rajya sabha TV debates
  • Magazine: World focus, Front line
  • Wikipedia on related topics
  • Economy – Mishra and Puri only selected chapters, Frank ISC Economics (11th and 12th), Economic Survey only relevant aspects
  • Science and Technology: 9th and 10th , Lakhbir Singh and Manjit Kaur ,TMH and Spectrum
  • Newspapers – The Hindu
  • Magazines – Science Reporter, Yojana , Kurukshetra
  • Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude: G. Subba Rao,
  • ARC Reports and Internet
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