UPSC Civil Services Syllabus

Don’t fall for the classic blunder: skipping the syllabus!

  1. Knowing the precise demands of the UPSC Syllabus and what not to study is the first step.
  2. Without an understanding of the syllabus, you will be scanning through endless content without any direction, wasting your time and energy.
  3. UPSC has a well-defined topic-wise syllabus. But it doesn’t list the study material/reference books from which these topics must be prepared.
  4. The level of depth demanded by these topics can only be assessed through the previous year’s questions. Rest assured, the Civil Services Exam is an examination to recruit generalist bureaucrats who would be able to handle any department under the government. The exam, therefore, demands the exact same thing, your vastness and breadth of understanding and not depth of understanding.
  5. More often than not, the syllabus requires multiple readings.

The most satisfactory way to understand the whole syllabus is under the guidance of a mentor. A seasoned mentor can help develop clarity, and save precious time, and iterations in figuring things out.

The Civil Services Examination is conducted in 3 stages

  1. Preliminary Stage – General Studies & CSAT(qualifying)
  2. Mains Stage – 9 Theory Papers (GS I-IV, Language Papers(qualifying), Essay & Optional)
  3. Personality Test – Interview

*qualifying papers require you to score minimum marks. Their score is not counted in the final tally.

UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Exam

The UPSC Civil Services Preliminary Exam is the first phase of the Civil Services Exam. Every year more than 11 Lakh aspirants fill up the form but around 98-99% get eliminated in the prelims. So, the very first crucial step is to have a grip on the Syllabus of UPSC prelims. 

It consists of 2 compulsory papers.

Compulsory PapersPaper-I(GS) Paper-II(CSAT)
Number of Questions10080
Total Marks200(2 marks/question)200(2.5 marks/question)
Negative Marking(0.33) of the marks assigned to that question will
be deducted as penalty
(0.33) of the marks assigned to that question will
be deducted as penalty
Time Allotted2 Hours (9:30 AM -11:30 AM)2 Hours (2:30 PM – 4:30 PM)
QualifyingCounted for merit. qualifying paper with
minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%. Not counted for merit.
UPSC Prelims

Paper 1 GS syllabus is as follows

  • Current Events of National and International Importance.
  • Ancient & Medieval History of India and Indian National Movement.
  • Indian and World Geography-Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  • Indian Polity and Governance-Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  • Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.
  • General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity, and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialization.
  • General Science.

Paper 2 CSAT Syllabus

  • Comprehension; Interpersonal Skills including Communication Skills.
  • Logical Reasoning and Analytical Ability.
  • Decision Making and Problem-Solving.
  • General Mental Ability.
  • Basic Numeracy (Numbers and their Relations, Orders of Magnitude, etc.) (Class X level).
  • Data Interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency, etc. — Class X level).

UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam

The UPSC Mains exam consists of 9 papers, out of which two language papers are qualifying papers of 300 marks each and rest 7 are counted for merit.

The papers are divided into 2 categories- 

  • Qualifying papers – Any Indian Language Paper and English Language Paper
  • Papers to be counted for merit – Paper 1 to Paper 7
PaperSubjectDurationTotal marksTime AllottedNature of paper
Paper ACompulsory Indian language3 hours3003 hoursQualifying
Paper BEnglish3 hours3003 hoursQualifying
Paper IEssay3 hours2503 hoursMerit-based
Paper-IIGeneral Studies I3 hours2503 hoursMerit-based
Paper IIIGeneral Studies II3 hours2503 hoursMerit-based
Paper IVGeneral Studies III3 hours2503 hoursMerit-based
Paper VGeneral Studies IV3 hours2503 hoursMerit-based
Paper VIOptional I3 hours2503 hoursMerit-based
Paper VIIOptional II3 hours2503 hoursMerit-based
UPSC Mains

Must-Know Facts about UPSC Mains

  1. The Mains examination constitutes the 2nd phase of the Civil Services Examination.
  2. Only after successfully qualifying in the prelims exam would the candidates be allowed to write the IAS Mains.
  3. The Mains exam tests the candidate’s academic talent in depth and his/her ability to present his/her understanding according to the requirements of the question in a time-bound manner.
  4. Candidates will have the option to answer all the question papers, except the Qualifying Language Papers, Paper-A, and Paper-B, in any one of the languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India or English. 

Syllabi of the papers included in the scheme of Civil Services (Main) Examination are given as follows:— 


The paper aims to test the candidates’ ability to read and understand serious discursive prose and to express ideas clearly and correctly, in the English and Indian languages concerned. 

The pattern of questions would be broad as follows: 

(i) Comprehension of given passages. 

(ii) Precis Writing. 

(iii) Usage and Vocabulary. 

(iv) Short Essays. 

Indian Languages:— 

(i) Comprehension of given passages. 

(ii) Precis Writing. 

(iii) Usage and Vocabulary. 

(iv) Short Essays. 

(v) Translation from English to the Indian Language and vice-versa. 

Note 1: The papers on Indian Languages and English will be of Matriculation or equivalent standard and will be qualifying only. The marks obtained in these papers will not be counted for ranking. 

Note 2: The candidates will have to answer the English and Indian Languages papers in English and the respective Indian language (except where the translation is involved).

PAPER-I Essay: 

Candidates may be required to write essays on multiple topics. They will be expected to keep close to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.

PAPER-II General Studies-I: 

Indian Heritage and Culture, History, and Geography of the World and Society.  

  • Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, literature, and Architecture from ancient to modern times.  
  • Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, and 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, redrawing of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism, etc.— their forms and effect on society.  
  • Salient 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, communalism, regionalism & secularism.  
  • Salient features of the world’s physical geography.  
  • Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent); 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, tsunamis, Volcanic activity, cyclones, etc., geographical features and their location changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

PAPER-III General Studies- II: 

Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

  • Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions, and basic structure.  
  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues, and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels, and challenges therein.  
  • Separation of powers between various organs disputes redressal mechanisms and institutions.  
  • Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries.  
  • Parliament and State legislatures—structure, functioning, the conduct of business, powers & privileges, and issues arising out of these.  
  • Structure, organization, and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.
  • Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.  
  • Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions, and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.  
  • Statutory, regulatory, and various quasi-judicial bodies.  
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.  
  • Development processes and the development industry —the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.  
  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions, and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.  
  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, and Human Resources.  
  • Issues relating to poverty and hunger.  
  • Important aspects of governance, transparency, and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability, and institutional and other measures.  
  • Role of civil services in a democracy.  
  • India and its neighborhood- relations.  
  • Bilateral, regional, and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.  
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora. 
  • Important International institutions, agencies, and fora- their structure, mandate

PAPER-IV General Studies-III: 

Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management  

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development, and employment.  
  • Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.  
  • Government Budgeting.  
  • Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, – different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport, and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.  
  • Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.
  • Food processing and related industries in India- scope’ and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management.  
  • Land reforms in India.  
  • Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy, and their effects on industrial growth.  
  • Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways, etc.  
  • Investment models.  
  • Science and technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.  
  • Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and development of new technology.  
  • Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology, and issues relating to intellectual property rights.  
  • Conservation, environmental pollution, and degradation, environmental impact assessment.  
  • Disaster and disaster management.
  • Linkages between development and spread of extremism.  
  • Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security.  
  • Challenges to internal security through communication networks, the role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money laundering, and its prevention.  
  • Security challenges and their management in border areas – linkages of organized crime with terrorism.  
  • Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate.

PAPER-V General Studies- IV: 

Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude  

  • This paper will include questions to test the candidate’s attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity, probity in public life, and his problem-solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilize the case study approach to determine these aspects. The following broad areas will be covered:  
  • Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants, and consequences of Ethics in-human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics – in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers, and administrators; the role of family society and educational institutions in inculcating values.  
  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behavior; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.  
  • Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance, and compassion towards the weaker sections.  
  • Emotional intelligence concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world.  
  • Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations, and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance.  
  • Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.  
  • Case Studies on the above issues


Optional Subject Papers I & II 

Candidates have to choose an optional subject from amongst the List of Optional Subjects. He/She has to write 2 different papers on the same subject.

Some Important Facts:

The Main Examination is intended to evaluate the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of candidates rather than merely the range of their information and memory. 

The nature and standard of questions in the General Studies papers (Paper II to Paper V) will be such that a well-educated person will be able to answer them without any specialized study. 

The questions will be such as to test a candidate’s general awareness of a variety of subjects, which will have relevance for a career in Civil Services. 

The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives, and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful, and succinct answers. 

The scope of the syllabus for optional subject papers (Paper VI and Paper VII) for the examination is broad of the honors degree 1evel i.e. a level higher than the bachelor’s degree and lower than the master’s degree. In the case of Engineering, Medical Science, and law, the level corresponds to the bachelor’s degree. 

Now, to succeed in UPSC-CSE, only knowing the syllabus is not enough. Understanding twists & overlapping areas are a crucial aspect of preparation. To tell the truth, if anyone can be your true torchbearer throughout your IAS journey, he is your mentor. Never deprive yourself of his priceless guidance.

The desire to complete the course alone in its entirety is the major cause of most time mismanagement. Many applicants set out to cover the entire syllabus blindly only to discover later that many topics are simply too broad or that very few if any, questions are being asked from certain sections. A lot of time is wasted in this effort because those topics are required to be addressed differently, and the time saved on their coverage could have been better spent on other parts of the syllabus.


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