I receive many emails and comments from IAS aspirants who are in school or college asking how they should start their preparation for IAS exam keeping in view the subjects to select later on. This post helps all those who are currently studying but plan to appear for the IAS later on.
First and foremost understand the civil services or IAS exam. It’s pattern, eligibility criteria, prelims syllabus before thinking about the mains exam. Think about your school or college exam; how many unit tests or semesters are there in the academic year or your course? What are the qualifying marks required for various papers? What is their syllabus and so on. You should approach the civil services exam in a similar manner. Develop curiosity about it and understand what UPSC expects from you as an aspiring civil servant.
Going by the latest trends and changes in the pattern, UPSC expects high integrity, sound judgement, and good knowledge of current issues from IAS aspirants. What it does not want are rote learners who rely solely on optional papers to qualify the prelims or mains. That’s why optional papers have been removed completely from the Prelims and restricted to just one subject consisting of two papers in the mains. While the weightage of general studies papers has been increased significantly. Now there are two GS papers common to all in Prelims and four compulsory GS papers in the Mains.
Since GS commands such huge importance in Prelims (100%) and Mains (70%), it is obvious that you should start with GS topics when in school or college. This will give you a good launch pad when you start your actual IAS preparation since you will have knowledge of many topics beforehand and you will find them quite familiar.
What to Read First
Before diving into the required books for IAS, I suggest you start reading a good newspaper like The Hindu or Indian Express (skip ToI) combined with a good magazine like Pratyogita Darpan. You can refer this post on how to read the newspaper for IAS. This will help you develop interest in current issues happening around you.
Next, you need to expand your general awareness or build up your GK base. I highly recommend the Manorama Year Book for this purpose. It’s language is really simple to understand, the data and facts are highly reliable and most importantly it’s trusted by UPSC paper setters since many questions are routinely asked in the Prelims from this book.
The Next Step
Once you develop the habit of reading these books, magazines and newspapers you are ready to move to the next level. It is important to realize that we are still focussed on the Prelims since this is the first stage you need to clear before you can appear for the Mains exam.
You should then focus on these books for Prelims to really begin your IAS preparation in the right earnest. But since you have to also focus on your school or college studies, don’t burden yourself by getting all the books listed on the page. Chances are you won’t have enough time to go through all the books.
Rather get books that you can go through in your spare time like the Oxford Student Atlas (which will also help you with your Geography studies). If you want to go even deeper, get the GS manual for paper 1 and paper 2 by TMH since this is a nice and reliable compilation of all the subjects and topics for prelims. Besides it is a good source of general awareness issues; not to mention they are really fun to read. At least I found them so.
What About Subject Selection?
As I mentioned above, optional papers come only in the mains; not in prelims. If you are still in school, don’t bother about optional subject at this stage. Just focus on the tips I gave above. If you are in under-graduate or post-graduate college, first check if your subject(s) is offered in the civil services mains exam or not. If it is offered, ask yourself do you want to choose the same subject as the optional subject in mains? If the answer is yes, go through its syllabus and so you can stress on the part that overlaps with the UPSC syllabus. This way you can save significant time during your actual preparation.
If the answer is no, ask yourself do you have the spare time to prepare the subject you will select for mains exam along with your college studies. If you have the time, start preparing. If not, it doesn’t matter. Just wait till you devote full time to your IAS preparation then you can worry about subject slection and preparation.
The point of this discussion was to make you realize that IAS exam and its preparation is a layered process which requires constant effort and patience to complete. You have made the right choice by selecting the civil services as your career option early on during your school or college itself. Now you need to channelize your enthusiasm and make the best use of your time by following the strategy listed in this post. This way you will get a head start over others when you appear for your first attempt.