How to prepare for UPSC 2021

How to prepare for UPSC 2021

   Kautilya Academy    05-06-2021

The Union Public Service Commission, UPSC Civil Services exam has three basic stages. The first stage is Prelims which is objective in nature, the second stage is Mains which is a written examination and the third stage is the interview which is a verbal evaluation process.

Out of these, the prelims stage is unique in nature. where every aspirant irrespective of his level of preparation appears for this stage and aspirants who fail in any of the subsequent stages, start from here only. Hence, the preliminary exam demands a different approach due to sheer competition faced by aspirants from lakhs of aspirants. Failure in this stage can jeopardise the entire preparation strategy.

Based on our experience of the past so many years, we suggest the following strategies for the UPSC exam.

Strategy for the UPSC Prelims Exam

1. Cover the whole syllabus:

The syllabus should be covered comprehensively. No portion should be left for granted, whatever be the past trends. UPSC can tilt towards any portion from the massive syllabus and hence it's advisable to be on the safer side. Too much flavour from the Ancient India portion in UPSC Prelims 2020 should be a lesson.

2. Attempt mock test:

After coverage of a substantial portion of the syllabus, a decent number of mock tests must be attempted. The number of mocks should be reasonable. Too many tests would drain your precious energy and too few numbers would leave you unprepared. Mocks should be given in exam type environments only. Joining only one standard Test Series would be a wise idea. Post Test analysis is a must exercise. High performance should not bring elation and poor performance should not bring frustration. Just run the race to continuously improve yourself.

3. Proper revision:

The syllabus of Prelims is quite massive and scattered. More than coverage, it's important to consolidate the entire material. Hence, revision should be both reasonable and time-bound. A fine balance is demanded in the coverage of the syllabus and revision of the covered portion. The syllabus should be scanned properly and prioritized. That portion of the syllabus which is more data and fact-oriented must be revised multiple times before the actual exam. Such portions can be left for last time revision to keep it in fresh memory. 

Keep your subject-wise notes handy and go through them while revising. This will save a lot of time as you won’t have to go through every topic elaborately. “However, if you haven’t made separate notes yet, you can look for subject-wise revision notes released by some coaching centres two months before the exam. They are available online as well as in the forms of physical booklets,” says Singh.

4. Make proper notes:

No syllabus of UPSC can be covered with quality without making proper notes. Notes should be made in a proper format so that it becomes easier for the aspirants to memorize and reproduce. Notes should not be too bulky and hence the purpose of notes should always be tied in mind.

5. Avoid exploring new portion or topic before one month of exam:

The last month before prelims should not be given to cover any new stuff unless it's extremely and exceptionally important. The month should be kept exclusively for revision. Mains can be taken along with Prelims but a proportion of time should be justified.

6. Practice previous year question papers:

Past year papers should be like a radar of preparation which provides direction and orientation to your preparation. Apart from enhancing your knowledge base, past year papers help in forming your mental outlook. This increases your common sense and helps you in eliminating options.

7. Current affairs are the most amorphous part of prelims:

However, non-orientation preparation can destroy the entire purpose of Current Affairs. So, it's important to carve and confine the boundaries. One standard Newspaper, one monthly magazine, the gist of Indian Year Book, Economic Survey, Budget, PIB, and Yojna should be on your platter of Current affairs. Joining an exclusive current affairs course is a good idea but too much dependency can be a futile exercise.

8. CSAT should be taken very seriously:

Taking it lightly can cost a big toll. The people who are completely novice to CSAT should keep it at par with General Studies. But even the aspirants who are at a comparatively advanced stage should take it seriously. At Least past years papers should not be missed.

You need to score only 33 per cent on the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT). It is Paper-II of the UPSC Prelims exam. “Students do not need to spend too much time preparing for the preparation of CSAT. This paper is very well-balanced with around 20 questions from maths, 30-35 from English and some from analytical reasoning. Broadly speaking, CSAT can be divided into basic numeracy, verbal ability and reasoning. You can clear the paper if you have to command over two of these core areas. For example, if you are good in Verbal Ability (English) and Reasoning, not Basic numeracy (maths), then also you will be in a position to obtain the required 33 per cent. However, scoring below this will disqualify you and your Paper I won’t be checked,” says Singh. According to him, devoting an hour or two to CSAT every day during the three-month revision phase is good enough.

Pay special attention to current affairs

This is the most crucial part of the UPSC Prelims exam. “If you look at the recent UPSC trends, you will see that current affairs are integrated into various subjects like Science & Technology, Economy, Polity & Governance. History and geography, on the other hand, are static,” says Singh. “You have to be abreast with current affairs for at least 18 months. The best way to stay updated on current affairs is to go through newspapers every day. Always do in-depth research for any topic that is making it to the news frequently. You should be aware of its history and corresponding theories.

Strategy For UPSC Mains Exam

‘Strategy for Mains’ has been prepared using inputs from various honest and trustworthy sources like ex-students with experience of appearing in Mains, students who have excelled in last year’s Mains and from candidates who have over the years shared their valuable insight on Mains examination with us.

This strategy is also very flexible in that it allows you to concentrate on your daily studies while aggressively pushing yourself towards newer boundaries. Please do not hesitate to challenge or customize the various stratagems you’ll find mentioned here because we want you to adapt and evolve according to your own strengths and weaknesses when preparing for the Mains examination. We wish you good luck with your efforts and sincerely hope your name appears on the final cut-off list!

Do’s and Don'ts:-

What’s done is done, don’t look back:-

One of the first suggestions that we are going to make is not to succumb to stress and hopelessness if you could not make it through prelims this year. This is because even if somebody doesn’t clear the Prelims this year, and if he or she is a serious contender, there is always the possibility of clearing the Prelims in the next year. So prepare just like this is your first attempt.

‘Horses for courses’ approach:-

The fundamental difference between CSE Prelims and Mains is that while the Prelims focusses on recognition (of information) and requires an exhaustive study covering a wide variety of topics, Mains need the ability to recall, analyse and express (ideas and information, including one’s own thoughts) properly which can only be done through an intensive study of the topic. Therefore it is very important to stay focussed and cover in-depth, the topics that you have picked for Mains and in doing so you have to match your skills with the subject at hand. Using the right approach and picking the right parts of the syllabus for the intensive study will not only help manage time but also garner more marks in the end.

It is also equally important to understand the syllabus for the Mains pretty well. The syllabus is designed in such a manner that it cannot be directly studied in isolation from current happenings. Moreover, the syllabus is open-ended and requires much analysis and an understanding of the underlying trends and ideas. To help you grasp the Mains syllabus, we have divided it into ‘core and peripheral’ areas. Core areas are essential to help build the ‘Mains vocabulary’ and should not be ignored at any costs. If due to the paucity of time one is unable to thoroughly study all of the core areas of the syllabus, at least the basic level of study, by going through the relevant NCERTs, must be done. The peripheral areas can be safely kept aside for study in free time or can be covered when the core areas are done.

GS Paper I

Indian National Movement and Post Independence consolidation of India.

  • The questions are interlinked about several affairs. For example- Linking Gandhian ideology to the national movement. So focus should be on underlying themes rather than the events.

  • Sources

    • Bipin Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence and India Since independence.

    • Also, Focus on current based themes such as anniversaries of any important event during the Freedom Struggle.

Indian Society

  • Prepare current affairs based questions. For Basics – Indian Society Class XI Ncert.


  • Prepare important geographical phenomena with a special focus on Human Geography.

  • Class XI and XII NCERTs.

  • Focus on Important Geophysical phenomena - Earthquakes, Tsunami, Landslides etc in news.

World History

  • Focus areas are the Enlightenment, American and French Revolutions and the World Wars.

  • Sources

    • Class IX and X NCERTs

    • Mastering Modern World History - Norman Lowe

GS Paper–II

Federal relation between Union & States Separation of Powers between various institutions

  • Usually, current based Questions are asked.

  • Sources

    • For basics, follow Lakshmikant without getting into detail like for Prelims.

    • For Current DCAT or any other standard magazine.

Comparison of Indian Constitution with various constitutions of important countries

Government Policies

  • Sources

    • India Year Book 2018.

    • Last one year Yojana and Kurukshetra. (For effort maximization refer to Academic Vitamins in DCAT for in-depth analysis).

    • Focus on CAG report on government schemes in news.

    • Also, focus on Flagship schemes of the government and their impact.

NGOs and SHGs

  • Questions related to issues in news are mostly asked.

  • Sources

    • Internet for basic functions of NGOs and SHGs and their role in Indian democracy.

    • DCAT Magazine Articles, TTP, Academic Vitamins.

Issues relating to poverty and hunger

  • Questions related to issues in news are mostly asked.

  • Sources

    • DCAT Magazine Articles, TTP, Academic Vitamins.


International Relations

International institutions

Electoral Reforms

  • Prepare for current affairs. For eg. The simultaneous holding of elections.

  • Sources

    • DCAT August Issue for in-depth analysis.

GS Paper III


Agricultural Issues

  • Prepare time tested areas like Farm subsidies, MSP, Irrigation etc.

Macroeconomic issues that are ‘in the news’ including issues on infrastructure like waterways, railways and ports

  • Prepare topics like Monetary Policy, RBI’s role in the economy, Employment viz. skill training, Economic Survey Vol. II, 25 years of LPG subsidy, Civil Aviation Policy etc.

Science & Tech.

  • Prepare from current affairs topics New Technologies, India’s Defence and Space program, Milestone development in Medical Science, Nanotechnology, and Biotechnology.

  • Sources

    • The Hindu Science and Tech segment for the last year. (Refer to archives in case you have missed any segment).

    • DCAT September issue supplement.


  • Prepare exclusively from current affairs but also study the science behind the facts. For example, topics like CAMPA Bill or the man-animal conflict viz. culling etc.

  • Sources

    • The Economic Survey chapter on Climate Change.

    • DCAT supplement.

    • India Year Book environment chapter.

Disaster Management

  • Prepare from current affairs keeping an eye out for policy frameworks. Topics like Urban flooding and water crisis, Drought and Farmer’s suicides, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the National Disaster Management Plan should be prepared.

  • Sources

    • NCERT Class XI: Physical environment.

    • DCAT October issue supplement.

    • ARC recommendations (only summary).

Internal Security

  • Traditional topics connected with current affairs is the way to go. For example, Cross border terrorism and Mob lynchings, AFSPA, Money laundering viz. Fugitive Absconders Bill, NRC and Assam Accord etc.

  • Sources

    • DCAT October issue Supplement.

    • Internal Security of India-Tata Mcgraw Hills.

GS Paper-IV


Case Studies

Best prepared after consulting previous years Q&As. There are lots of case studies out there so knowing which ones to read and which ones to not read will save a lot of time. Please go through previous DCAT issues and the forthcoming Ethics supplement that we are working on.


Prepare on topics that have current relevance, like Doping (ethics in sports). Also prepare on ethical issues in corporate governance, Civil Service, environment and the art of ethical living, international issues and relations.

  • Sources

    • Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude.


  • Prepare ethical biographies and understand the reasons behind some of the historical decisions taken by the leaders (like Gandhi) who shaped Indian history and society.


The art of coverage of Mains syllabus is a secret that very few will share in all honesty. The untold secret of Mains prep is the fact that the syllabus cannot be covered 100%. The most brilliant of candidates will testify that even their own coverage of the syllabus was not completely 100%. The best way to, therefore, prepare for the Mains is to selectively choose or leave topics. But such decisions have to be taken after due considerations and not just randomly. Topics that have been in the news are generally considered more important. So they must be prepared at all costs.


There are going to be areas of the syllabus that you will be familiar with and there will be topics that will be relatively easier for you to master. These areas should serve as your strength and in no way should you take them lightly. These areas should rather be intensively studied so that whenever a question comes from ‘your area of expertise you can answer them with gusto and lucidity. For areas in the syllabus that you find challenging it is best to tackle them relentlessly until you succeed but it must also be kept in mind that time is of the essence here. Do not waste time chasing after topics, the study of which requires unreasonable amounts of time. Remember to maximize your gains and cut your losses


The art of Answer Writing


Please go through the following points and remember them by heart because it will help you not only in CSE Mains but also every time you open a question paper in any examination in your life.

  • To write an answer first understand the question. Every question should be read and re-read at least two to three times before attempting an answer. In the meaning of the question lies the secret to a good answer. Only if the aspirant can understand what the question is demanding then he or she can treat it with finesse. Please consult the table given here to see what different types of questions mean.

  • Before attempting an answer it is necessary to have at least a bare minimum framework for the answer. Things like how to begin, what point should come where and how to close the answer, should be decided beforehand. This helps streamline thoughts and saves valuable time. You can use the rough pages in the answer sheet for this purpose.

  • Always and as a rule of thumb answer only what the question demands. Do not write unnecessary things or give useless data (false information is even worse) related to the topic but not demanded by the question. This will generate a negative impression on the examiner and may even affect the marking process. It will also save time. If there are multiple parts in a question, remember to answer the question completely and not just one part - do justice to all parts of the question. Also do not overshoot the word limit as it would be a double penalty as one would lose out on time and may also be penalized by the paper checker.

  • When writing an answer, it always ends on a positive note. Even after intense criticism, find a way to end on a positive note. This is because the Mains test is meant for budding Civil Servants and not University students. Civil Servants are supposed to be positive individuals with a positive outlook on life. So, remember to put yourself in the shoes of a Civil Servant while answering any question in the Mains examination. Remember the saying ‘every dark cloud has its silver lining’ and apply it to your answer writing.

  • This is perhaps one of the most popular and yet one of the best pieces of advice for someone aiming to conquer the Mains exam - Practice Makes A Man Perfect. Practising answer-writing is a quintessential part of any Mains preparation. Write answers (including essays) daily and try to get them evaluated by either peers or professionals. Any form of evaluation is better than practising answer-writing all by oneself. You may join the Drishti IAS Mains test series for evaluating your answers. Remember that keeping stock of progress is very important and should be done at regular intervals.

  • Last but not the least, it is imperative to address the language side of the UPSC answer-writing technique UPSC wants its candidates to write in precise, easy to understand language while avoiding ‘flowery language’. This basically means that if an aspirant has a good command over the language he or she is writing in, it is best to write simple and fluid sentences while avoiding complex words and unnecessary stylistic elements. For those who have to struggle a bit with the written language, it is best to write in points or bullets the main parts of the answer, while writing simple and easy introductions and conclusions in paragraphs. It is therefore important to remember that for CSE Mains, ‘content is more important than the expression’, but at the same time mistakes in things like grammar and spellings may sometimes cause a reduction in marks. So, it does not harm practising answer-writing that is expressive and yet free from common spelling and grammatical mistakes.

UPSC Interview Strategy


We are discussing some important things to remember during UPSC Interview Preparation.


IAS interview is a half-an-hour exercise that can change your life. A high score in a UPSC interview can sometimes create a difference of more than 100 marks with fellow candidates in just under 30 minutes. Being the last round, this would give one, an unassailable lead in India’s toughest competition


1. Start early:-


It is very important not to lose time. Start early. Don’t wait for the results of the UPSC Civil Services Main Exam. Start polishing your personality as early as possible.


2. Know yourself:-


The most crucial problem with us is that we don’t know ourselves fully. A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the hearts. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves. Try to know the different aspects of your personality, even hidden or unknown. If any of your personality traits do not suit an IAS officer, try to overcome that weakness.


3. Read your bio-data multiple times:-


Most of the questions in the UPSC interview will be based on the biodata of the candidate. Copies of the Detailed Application Form (DAF) will be shared with each of the board members. It is extremely important not to fumble on personal questions. Revise your bio-data many times and prepare well for questions from areas like hobbies, education, work experience, service preference etc.


4. Develop a Positive Attitude:-


There are many myths and rumours about the IAS interview. You might have bad experiences from previous interviews as well. But don’t let negative thoughts ruin your chances. Don’t worry about matters – interview board, position, questions etc. – which are beyond your control. Hope for the best.


5. Don’t take UPSC interview in a light spirit:-

Be serious about the process and questions. Give respect to the board members who take your personality test. Never underestimate the people on the board. They have vast experience and knowledge. Don’t be too casual on serious questions.


6. Develop self-confidence:-


Everyone loves people with self-confidence. If you are sure about your beliefs, answers or solutions, express them confidently. But at the same time ensure that you don’t go overboard. Remember that the line between self-confidence and arrogance is very narrow.


7. Don’t lie:-


Don’t lie to impress the UPSC interview board. Never create fake facts in your bio-data. Very often they will catch you.


8. Improve your communication skills:-


Improve your command over the language for UPSC interview. If you search for words in the 25-30 minutes UPSC personality test, you may run short of time to express your ideas completely. Listening to debates and news on television channels is one practical way to improve communication skills. Also, start talking with your friends in the medium for the UPSC interview.


9. Get straight to the point:-


Master the art of giving to-the-point answers. Very often, long answers can be condensed into crisp, but interesting statements. If you need more guidance on do’s and don’ts for the IAS interview, read our article on civil services interview where we have mentioned the books which help in UPSC interview preparation.


10. Don’t stop reading newspapers:-


Candidates often stop reading newspapers once the UPSC main exam is over. But, information about current happenings is very important for the IAS interview, just like the UPSC main exam. Have a general idea about the major happenings for the last year. Also, be familiar with the headlines and stories of the newspapers on the interview day.


11. Prepare well for your hobbies:-

Very often this is the first question the UPSC interview board asks, many times in a light mood. Make sure you start well. Don’t give cliche answers. Hobbies help the interviewer to understand the personalities of candidates. Keep practising your hobbies till the last week before the UPSC interview.


12. Revise your optional subject:-


It is seen that many candidates tend to neglect their optional subject after UPSC CSE Mains. But the UPSC interview panel may ask questions from your optional subject on the interview day. Brush up on recent happenings related to your optional subject.


13. Go through your graduation textbooks:-


UPSC expects candidates to take their graduation seriously. This is one area where the interview panel perceives the candidates to have expertise. So, more in-depth questions can come from this area.


14. Learn to give balanced answers:-


Your views should be balanced and impartial. This does not mean that you should not take a stand. Ideally, you should be without any political or social biases. Once you take a stand on controversial topics, be prepared with your justification for the same. Don’t give sweeping generalizations without a proper base.


15. Know your district and state:-


Questions may be asked about the district and state. Collect details about your birthplace. Know the problems in your village or city. Be prepared with solutions as well.


16. Keep calm:-


The questions may be from a wide area of topics/subjects. You sometimes may not know the answers of many. If you do not know anything about a topic you are asked, then admit that you do not have any idea. Don’t panic. Keep calm. Your emotional intelligence matters. Nobody knows about everything under the Sun. The UPSC board obviously knows that.


17. Don’t compromise your moral integrity:-


UPSC not only measures one’s intellectual qualities but also social traits. Ensure that your moral integrity is sound.


18. Maintain positive body language:-


Reinforce your spoken words through your body language. Avoid gestures that do not suit the occasion.


19. Understand the real ‘IAS interview questions:-


Most of the questions forwarded as ‘IAS interview questions on the internet are not questions asked in UPSC interview.

UPSC says ‘The interview test is not intended to be a test either of the specialised or general knowledge of the candidates which has been already tested through their written papers.


20. Don’t be swayed by rumours:-


Many UPSC candidates are seen to be carried about by the rumours about the personality test. Certain boards are seen as tight in awarding marks while others are perceived as liberal. Though slight variations may come, in reality, all boards award high and low marks depending on the performance of the candidate on the date of the UPSC interview.


21. Use common sense:-


Sometimes UPSC members ask questions that can be answered just by using common sense. But the stress on the interview day may hamper your thinking process. Realise that common sense is not common. Expect some puzzles which require on-the-spot critical or lateral thinking.


22. Dress neatly:-


The first impression matters. But it is not necessary to wear expensive blazers or suits for UPSC interviews. Be comfortable with what you wear. For gents, a light coloured shirt and dark trousers should give a professional appearance. A simple churidar or saree is recommended for ladies. Whatever you wear, in that dress you should look confident and neat.


23. Re-check your documents:-


We advise carefully verify the documents beforehand to avoid last-minute panic. Ensure that you have all the necessary documents ready. Read our article – checklist for UPSC interview – to know about the documents that should be brought in for IAS Interview.


24. Take mock IAS interviews:-


Rehearsals help to avoid common mistakes. Good mentors and friends can find your strengths and weaknesses and suggest necessary suggestions. IAS toppers like Gaurav Agarwal (2013 All-India Rank 1) have said that mock interviews help. They also help to improve your consistency. At the same time, care should be taken not to lose your genuine personality, because of the confusion created by different opinions from different people.


25. Be yourself:-



Don’t try to present before UPSC board a fake personality. Don’t mug up ready-made answers for the UPSC interview. Be yourself and express your opinion.


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