IAS Exam Success Tips

The Civil Services Exam conducted by the UPSC is one of the most prestigious exams of the country. Every year, thousands of candidates work hard to clear the exam, but only a few lucky ones get through. The first attempt, that any candidate makes towards qualifying this exam is the most crucial of all, as this is the one which is given with full enthusiasm. Any candidate appearing for the first time must thus not aim at just clearing the Prelims, but should aim to make it through in the first attempt. Candidates who have successfully cleared the exam in past are a good resource when it comes to obtaining tips for successfully clearing the exam.

A good understanding and hold on the syllabus is the most primary requirement of civils’ preparation.

Aspirants must go through previous years’ question papers. It helps in determining the type of questions and also in identifying the best source of reading material. An analysis of previous years’ papers helps in putting the syllabus in a better perspective, by highlighting the area from which more questions have been asked. Also, it might be helpful in identifying trends in the paper, if any

Current Affairs is not a separate subject area to be covered, but is an integral part of the UPSC syllabus. Current affairs and contemporary issues are, in fact, the dynamic areas in all the syllabus topics, which are most important from the examination’s point of view. Read one newspaper and one magazine regularly.

Using mind-maps, flow charts, short-cut techniques, etc. to make notes helps in quick revision and better retention.


It is always a good idea to begin preparation by getting subject fundamentals in place. The best source to get clarity and a good hold on various subjects is NCERT books

Read the same book multiple times to get a good grip. Focus only on what is mentioned in the syllabus (this is where again syllabus is important!!!), rather than covering the entire book altogether.

Develop a habit of thinking – in terms of forming linkages of a given topic or subject with other issues. A lot of cross-questioning happens during the interviews and this method helps one with being thoroughly prepared on any given topic.

Talk to parents, friends, relatives, room-mates or whosoever is nearby. In the worst case, talk to yourself. Ask questions related to issues that come across and talk on how they can be resolved. This will help adding innovation to one’s thinking capabilities, while also helping tighten grip on the topic.

Many aspirants are not sure on the optional subject they want to choose. Many seek suggestions from others when deciding on the optional subject. Instead, the optional subject must be with what one is comfortable and also confident about. Also, while deciding on the optional, do not focus on how candidates scored in the subject in previous years. Choose an optional which one feels confident about and on which one is also able to find enough reading material, as well as guidance.

Reading newspaper – There are many who do not understand the language or the content initially, however, on repetitive attempts, results start showing up. Finish the magazine within the period for which it is assigned, so that enough time is available to revise it again later.

Take down notes of all that seems important. Notes will be of great help during the revision as it is difficult to go back to everything in detail at the last minute.

Lastly, cover the entire syllabus – for both the Prelims and Mains, before appearing for the Prelims.


Prelims Strategy

  • Many civils aspirants study for Prelims and Mains separately, while not following a comprehensive study for both the levels. However, both must be considered as one examination and the entire syllabus must be covered before one appears for the Prelims.
  • With so many aspects to take control of – the current affairs, the class notes, the NCERTs, the subjects, the coaching – UPSC puts one’s management skills at test too. The first management mantra is – REVISE!!! No matter how simple and easy the topic is, one must revise all that he / she has read through the day. It takes two-three hours to revise on the same day, while postponing it may make the exercise endless. Also it is recommended that after an advanced session on a topic, go back to the NCERTs again and relook at the basics as well.
  • Giving mock tests is a great add-on to the ongoing preparation. It makes one familiar with the examination pattern, mistakes to avoid, strategies to score good etc. Also the mock tests serve as a good practice session, before one finally sits for the final exam. Also, instead of focussing on writing practice at this stage, it is important that candidates focus more on the MCQ’s.
  • Secondly, do not attempt the exam if not well prepared. Poor preparation will only waste an attempt. Instead wait – get back in gear, focus more and prepare better for the next year. It is a thing of pride after all to clear the paper in first attempt.
  • NO ONE IS 100% PERFECT, NOR DO YOU NEED TO BE A PERFECTIONIST. If you are thorough with your studies and revision, have faith in yourself and GO AHEAD.

The prelim preparation strategy can be summed up as:

Revise thoroughly all the content – Repeat.

Solve previous years’ question papers.

Take a test series to familiarise yourself with test taking and also with important

themes expected in the exam.

Do not lose focus and just concentrate on the syllabus.


Mains Strategy

Prelims is just a qualifying stage, Mains is the life-changing stage of any UPSC aspirant. UPSC ranks determine the service one gets, and rank depends on performance in Mains.

Remember, while Prelims exam ask Multiple Choice Questions, Mains exam ask Descriptive Questions. So, what is also at test here, besides knowledge and analysis, is writing and presentation skills.

Second, read every single line of the question.  Practice writing on a daily basis. Pick up an editorial from a newspaper and rewrite it in your own words.

The Mains exam is lengthy and it is imperative to manage every second efficiently. There might be candidates who have a very slow writing pace, and might be looking for ways to tackle the same. Practice tests come in handy for such candidates


One full preparation for the Mains must be done before the Prelims, the period after the Prelims must be devoted more towards revising the concepts. Read the same piece of content again and again, go through the notes and revise all that one knows already.

Attempt all questions in the paper. Do not get de-motivated if a particular answer is not known in complete. At least attempt all questions– based on whatever is the best understanding of that particular topic.

Open the answers with a brief background of the topic or keyword identified. Always provide a context for the answer in this section. The answer to the specific question being asked then makes up the body of the answer.

Also add multiple dimensions to the answer, by dividing the question into parts. And the conclusion should always be optimistic, a forward-looking conclusion.

Try to answer questions in a manner that it is easier for the examiner to check. Drop in terminologies in the answer and highlight them

Underline important things. This makes the answer more readable and understandable for the evaluator, making the task of answer checking effortless.

If there is shortage of time, instead of going for textbased answers, opt for flowcharts. One may easily sum up the entire answer, in a flowchart.

Make diagrams, but only where they are necessary.


Summing up the main points of Mains Preparation:

Revise and practice all the time

Continue reading newspapers and making notes

Give Practice Tests – as many as possible

Prepare your answers well – Structure them

Work on the presentation aspect of answers

Learn to manage time

Focus and concentrate


The Personal Interview

This is the final day and everything is just a surprise. No candidate knows what will happen this day – what questions will be asked, who will be the chairperson. As the nervousness sets in, many candidates even forget their graduation subjects at the time of interview, leave alone the answers to questions being asked.

It is important that a candidate should have a good command over language and is able to communicate effectively. At times, during interviews, candidates search for words and thus run short of time in expressing themselves. A good way to prepare for interviews is to watch debates and news on television channels.

Just as the test series are important to prepare for the Mains exam, mock interviews serve as a platform for interview preparation. A candidate must attend at least 3 to 4 mock interviews before the final drill, and ensure that all feedback offered by the interview panel has been put to use during the preparation


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