UPSC Exam Pattern and Necessary Strategy

UPSC-CSE is one of the most prestigious civil service examinations conducted by the Unified Public Service Commission (UPSC) annually. The official name of the exam is UPSC Civil Service Examination. It is also known by another popular name called “IAS EXAM”. It is one of the toughest examinations in India. 

It is important for a civil service aspirant to be aware of UPSC Civil service Exam pattern. The knowledge of the pattern of the exam will help the aspirants to understand the UPSC syllabus and design a strategy required to clear the exam.

This prestigious examination is attempted by more than 5 lakh candidates every year. But only the best gets selected for the job vacancies. Being the guardian of merit UPSC examines the candidates in three stages to select the best among the candidates. The period for the whole examination process extends to over a year. 

UPSC Exam Pattern

The examination process for UPSC-CSE consists of three phases. they are the prelims, mains, and the personality test (interview). 


  • The questions of the prelims examination are objective in nature. There are two papers in the
  • civil service prelims. They are General Studies paper-1 and General Studies paper-2. 
  • The General  Studies paper-1 of prelims deals with subjects like History, Geography, Economy, Polity, Environment etc. 
  • The General Studies paper-2 deals with subjects like Mental ability, interpersonal skills, comprehension, basic numeracy etc. This paper is popularly known as Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT).
  • Each Paper is conducted for 200 marks and the time duration allotted for each paper is 2 hours. 


  • The mains stage is subjective in nature. Each examination will be of three-hour
  • duration. The answers must be written on paper. 
  • The mains examination consists of one Essay paper, four General Studies papers and two papers on one optional subject. Also, there are two qualifying papers. They are English language paper and regional language paper.
  • The Nature, subjects marks and Qualifying marks for each paper are given in the table below


Papers Nature Subject  Marks Qualifying marks
Paper A Qualifying Indian language 300 74 and above
Paper B Qualifying English 300 74 and above
Paper I Merit based Essay 250 Depends on cut off
Paper II Merit based General Studies- I 250 Depends on cut off
Paper III Merit based General Studies- II 250 Depends on cut off
Paper IV Merit based General Studies- III 250 Depends on cut off
Paper V Merit based General Studies- IV 250 Depends on cut off
Paper VI Merit based Optional Paper- I 250 Depends on cut off
Paper VII Merit based Optional Paper- II 250 Depends on cut off
Sub-total  1750

candidates will be selected for the interview depending on the marks scored by the candidate in mains examination.


The interview is a face-to-face process. The interview is conducted for 275 marks. It

evaluates the candidate’s potential and commitment to society. Finally, the ranks are calculated by adding mains marks (out of 1750) and interview marks (out of 275). UPSC will prepare the rank list based on marks scored out of 2025.

Strategy to Clear UPSC CSE

Strategies to clear UPSC CSE varies from person to person depending on the knowledge of the subjects, grasping capabilities and time left for preparation. The most common strategy followed by UPSC Toppers is given below.

Complete the Syllabus

Aspirants should complete the whole syllabus comprehensively. Initially, more importance is to be given to answer writing of GS and Optional Subjects. At the same time, Prelims is not to be neglected. The last 4 months of preparation can be dedicated to prelims.

Notes Making

Aspirants have to make their own notes for each subject. Notes should be made in a proper format so that it becomes easier for the aspirants to memorize and reproduce. 

Attempt Mock Tests

Aspirants should attempt as many mock tests as possible in order to gain knowledge of the nature of the questions asked in the examination. It also helps in time management in an exam environment.


Previous Year Question Papers

Aspirants have to go through previous years’ question papers to analyse the kind of questions and also segregate the important topics. Past year papers should be like a radar of preparation which provides direction and orientation to your preparation.

Current Affairs

Candidates should restrict to a few sources to cover current affairs. It is advisable to follow 1 standard Newspaper, 1 monthly magazine, the gist of Indian Year Book, Economic Survey, Budget, PIB, and Yojna to cover current affairs

 The most important tip for the effective preparation of the IAS Exam is “to limit the study material”. The market is flooded with study material. It is very important that the candidates select the best UPSC Books for the preparation. Restricting to a limited number of books with a number of revisions could yield great results.

Adopting the right strategy, learning what is needed, smart work along with patience, perseverance and dedication are very important to crack the examination. Civil Service Examinations is not any normal race; it is a marathon.


James Chalmers
the authorJames Chalmers