UPSC Mains General Studies Paper 1 Syllabus & Structure

UPSC Mains GS Paper 1 is among the four general studies papers in a subjective format. It covers subjects such as History, Geography, Art and Culture, and Indian Society. In addition to GS Paper 1, there are eight additional papers in the Mains stage of the IAS Exam. This article offers insights into the GS 1 Syllabus and Structure to aid in your UPSC preparation.

IAS Mains General Studies – I

Subjects in GS Paper 1Sub-Topics
HistoryArt & Culture
Modern History
World History
GeographyPhysical Geography of India & World
Human Geography
Indian SocietyDemography, Social Issues, and Developments in Indian Society

In contrast to other general studies papers, GS Paper 1 includes subjects that may yield direct questions. For instance, in the case of History within GS Paper-I, questions can directly pertain to ancient, medieval, modern, and world history. Nonetheless, within Indian Society and Geography, aspirants must bridge the static syllabus of GS Paper 1 with current affairs to address specific topics effectively.

Focus Area in GS1 Paper

Art & CultureClassical dances
Temple architecture
Themes of ancient Indian history
Music and musical instruments
Modern HistoryFour important agitations/movements: Swadeshi and Boycott movement, Khilafat and Non-cooperation movement, Civil Disobedience movement, Quit India movement.
Social/religious reform movements: personalities and their contributions
Contributions of important personalities (Indian and foreign)
India after Independence & Political PhilosophiesAdmission of princely states
Role of important personalities
Important movements after 1947
World HistoryAmerican, French, Russian and Industrial Revolution
World War I and II
Current affairs
International pages of The Hindu and The Indian Express
Society of IndiaDiversity in India
Women Empowerment
Issues in Indian Society
GeographyCyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes
Location of industries in India
Water bodies
Climate change
Natural Resources

How to Approach GS1 Paper

HistoryArt & Culture
India’s Ancient Past – RS Sharma
Facets of Indian Culture (Spectrum publications)
Centre for Cultural Resources & Training (CCRT) website

Modern History
India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra
A Brief History of Modern India – Rajiv Ahir (Spectrum Publications)

India After Independence
India Since Independence – Bipan Chandra

World History
Mastering World History – Norman Lowe
History of the World – Arjun Dev
Society of IndiaNewspapers
Magazines (EPW)
Reports of NGOs, international organizations etc.
GeographyNCERTs from classes VI through XII.

GS-I Structure

Key features of the UPSC General Studies I Mains paper include:

  1. Question Format: The paper consists of 20 compulsory questions presented in both Hindi and English. Responses should be provided in the language chosen during the application process; answers in other languages are not assessed.
  2. Total Marks: This paper is worth a total of 250 marks.
  3. Word Limits: For 10-mark questions, the word limit is 150, and for 15-mark questions, it is 250.
  4. History Emphasis: The history syllabus places significant emphasis on Modern History topics, with questions pertaining to the Freedom struggle, Indian Renaissance, and related sub-topics.
  5. Geography Focus: In the geography syllabus, the spotlight is on current affairs-related topics, alongside static sub-topics.
  6. Indian Society Themes: Questions from the Indian Society syllabus encompass subjects such as women empowerment, secularism, and the cultural aspects of Indian society.

For a comprehensive understanding of UPSC Mains General Studies Paper-I (UPSC GS 1 syllabus), please refer to the detailed syllabus outlined below:

HistoryModern Indian History from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.
Post-independence Consolidation and Reorganization within the country.
History of the World will include events from the 18th century such as the Industrial Revolution, world wars, Redrawal of National Boundaries, Colonization, Decolonization, political philosophies like Communism, Capitalism, Socialism etc.— their forms and effect on society.
Art & CultureSalient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times
GeographySalient features of World’s Physical Geography.
Distribution of Key Natural Resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).
Important Geophysical Phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
Indian SocietySalient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
Role of Women and Women’s Organization, Population and Associated Issues
Poverty and Developmental issues,
Urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
Effects of Globalization on Indian society.
Social Empowerment

GS-I Trend Analysis

The table below presents significant questions from the IAS Exam for the years 2018, 2019, and 2020 in GS Paper 1 with the recurring trends observed within each subject.

History Trend Analysis

2020The rock-cut architecture represents one of the most important sources of our knowledge of early Indian art and history. Discuss10StaticNCERT Class 11th Fine Arts/Ancient History NCERT
2020Pala period is the most significant phase in the history of Buddhism in India. Enumerate.10Static + DynamicMedieval History NCERT/News Sources
2020Evaluate the policies of Lord Curzon and their long term implications on the national movements10StaticRajiv Ahir’s Brief History of Modern India/Bipan Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence
2020Indian Philosophy and tradition played a significant role in conceiving and shaping the monuments and their art in India. Discuss15Static + AnalyticalReference Book
2020Persian literary sources of medieval India reflect the spirit of the age. Comment15StaticThemes of India NCERT
2020Since the decade of the 1920s, the national movement acquired various ideological strands and thereby expanded its social base. Discuss.15StaticSpectrum/India’s Struggle for Independence
2019Highlight the Central Asian and Greco Bactrian elements in the Gandhara art.10StaticNCERT Class XII (Themes in Indian History)
2019The 1857 uprising was the culmination of the recurrent, big and small local rebellions that had occurred in the preceding hundred years of British rule. Elucidate.10StaticBrief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir
2019Examine the linkages between the nineteenth century’s ‘Indian Renaissance’ and the emergence of national identity.10Static
NCERT + Any reference book
2019Many voices had strengthened and enriched the nationalist movement during the Gandhian phase. Elaborate.15StaticNCERT Brief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir
2019Assess the role of British imperial power in complicating the process of transfer of power during the 1940s.15StaticNCERT + Brief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir
2018Assess the importance of the accounts of the Chinese and Arab travellers in the reconstruction of the history of India.10StaticNCERT Class XII – Themes in Indian History Part-II (Theme 5)
2018Throw light on the significance of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi in the present times.10Static + Dynamic (Current Affairs-Based)150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi was celebrated
2018Safeguarding the Indian art heritage is the need of the moment. Comment10StaticNCERT Class XII – Themes in Indian History (Part I, II and III)
2018The Bhakti movement received a remarkable re-orientation with the advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Discuss15StaticNCERT Class XII

Geography Trend Analysis

YearQuestionMarkNatureAsked From/Why
2020Discuss the geophysical characteristics of Circum- Pacific Zone10Static + DynamicIndonesia’s Mount Sinabung Volcanic Eruption was in the news
2020The process of desertification does not have climate boundaries. Justify with examples.10Static + DynamicUN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) moderated a panel marking panel the ‘Desertification and Drought Day 2020’
2020How will the melting of Himalayan glaciers have a far- reaching impact on the water resources of India?10Static + Current AffairsThe Hindu’s coverage on ‘Government plans to measure depth of Himalayan glaciers to assess water availability’
2020Account for the present location of iron and steel industries away from the source of raw material, by giving examples.10StaticNCERTs
2020The interlinking of revivers can provide viable solutions to the multi-dimensional inter-related problems of droughts, floods and interrupted navigation. Critically examine. 15
Static + Dynamic + Current Affairs
Cauvery-Gundar river linking project was in the news. 
The Hindu’s coverage, ‘Centre working on exclusive body for river-linking projects.’
2020Account for the huge flooding of million cities in India including the smart ones like Hyderabad and Pune. Suggest lasting remedial measures.15Static + Current AffairsUrban Flooding in Hyderabad and Rains in Pune remained in the news
2019Assess the impact of global warming on the coral life system with examples.10Static + Current Affairs-BasedIn News
2019Discuss the causes of depletion of mangroves and explain their importance in maintaining coastal ecology.10Current Affairs-BasedIn News
2019What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India?15Static + Current Affairs-BasedNCERT + Newspapers’ Editorials
2018Why is the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) needed? How does it help in navigation?10Current AffairsIRNSS was successfully launched
2018Why is India taking a keen interest in the Arctic region?10Static + DynamicIndia was an observer at the Council from 2013 onwards and re-elected as the observer
2018Define mantle plume and explain its role in plate tectonics.10StaticNCERT
2018What are the consequences of spreading ‘Dead Zones’ on the marine ecosystem?10Current Affairs-BasedIn News
2018“The ideal solution of depleting groundwater resources in India is a water harvesting system.” How can it be made effective in urban areas?15Current Affairs + StaticNCERT + News
2018Defining the blue revolution, explain the problems and strategies for pisciculture development in India.15StaticNCERT

Indian Society Trend Analysis

YearQuestionMarksNatureAsked From/Why
2020Customs and traditions suppress reason leading to obscurantism. Do you agree?15Static + AnalyticalGeneral Topic
2020Is diversity and pluralism in India under threat due to globalisation? Justify your answer.15StaticGeneral Topic/Any Reference Book
2020Do you agree that regionalism in India appears to be a consequence of rising cultural assertiveness? Argue10Static + AnalyticalDirect Topic from Syllabus
2019What makes Indian society unique in sustaining its culture? Discuss.10StaticClass 12 NCERT + Newspaper
2019“Empowering women is the key to control population growth.” Discuss.10StaticDirect from the topic mentioned in the syllabus
2019What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of secularism?10StaticDirect from the topic (Communalism) mentioned in the syllabus
2019What are the continued challenges for women in India against time and space?15Static + DynamicDirect from the topic (Role of women and women’s organization) mentioned in the syllabus
2018“Caste system is assuming new identities and associational forms. Hence, the caste system cannot be eradicated in India.” Comment.10StaticGeneral topic, direct from the syllabus
2018‘Despite the implementation of various programmes for eradication of poverty by the government in India, poverty is still existing’. Explain by giving reasons10Static + Current Affairs-BasedReference Book + News
Topic – ‘Poverty and Development
2018How is the Indian concept of secularism different from the western model of secularism? Discuss.10StaticAny reference book

IAS Exam Pattern

UPSC IAS ExamPattern of IAS Exam
Preliminary ExaminationGeneral Studies
Aptitude Test
Mains ExaminationQualifying:
Paper-A (One of the 22 Indian Languages)
Paper-B (English)
Papers to be counted for merit:
Paper-I (Essay)
Paper-II (GS-I)
Paper-III (GS-II)
Paper-IV (GS-III)
Paper-V (GS-IV)
Paper-VI (Optional Paper-I)
Paper-VI (Optional Paper-II)
Personality Test

The UPSC IAS Exam witnessed significant structural modifications in 2013, with minor adjustments occurring in 2015 and 2016. The alterations pertaining to General Studies are as follows:

  • 2013: The number of General Studies papers increased from 2 to 4.
  • 2015: CSAT marks ceased to contribute to the merit list, with only General Studies papers, essays, and optional papers considered for merit ranking, while CSAT became a qualifying paper.
  • 2016: The marks distribution for General Studies Papers shifted to a two-tier system, departing from the earlier uniform marks allocation for all questions.

Given the recent trend of in-depth analysis of UPSC papers, it is imperative to thoroughly comprehend the topics covered in General Studies Paper-II. Additionally, reviewing previous years’ UPSC questions and answers can enhance your ability to respond effectively and efficiently.

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