IAS Preparation Guide – How to Prepare for IAS Effectively
Aiming to become an IAS officer? You need to prepare for IAS the right way. This IAS Preparation Guide contains all the resources and information required for IAS preparation. This guide is very detailed and contains a table of content for easy navigation. It is recommended that you bookmark this page (press Ctrl+D) to come back often for the latest IAS preparation tips.
Overview of the IAS Exam
To get started with IAS preparation you should first have some idea about the service itself. This will ensure your IAS preparation efforts are channelized in the right direction. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is a career nonpareil – one that cannot be compared to other jobs or services. First let us get acquainted with the basics of the IAS exam.
When to Start Preparing for IAS
Many IAS aspirants have this doubt about the right time to start IAS preparation. Should you start preparing for IAS exam when you are in school or in college or after completing your graduation? These questions are answered in detail in the article below:
Start with the Basic NCERT Books
Now that you have a good idea about the IAS exam, it's time to move to the next step in our IAS preparation journey which is laying a strong foundation with NCERT books. But why should you read NCERT book for IAS exam? Because NCERTs contain the fundamental knowledge to lay a strong foundation over which you can then refer the standard books for IAS. But you don't need to read each and every NCERT book. Rather you should only read only the essential NCERT books for IAS preparation which have been listed in the post below. The NCERT books can also be downloaded.
Read the Standard Reference Books
Once you have laid a strong foundation with the essential NCERT books it is time to move to the higher step in your IAS preparation efforts by reading the standard reference books for the IAS exams. But you might ask there are so many books prescribed so which books should you read if you are just starting to prepare for IAS? The answer is simple. Refer the books listed on the page below:
On the above page you will find standard reference books for Prelims as well as Mains. But since you are just starting with IAS preparation, it is recommended that you get the reference books for Prelims for the time being since this is what is required right now at this stage of your IAS preparation.
Prepare a Time Table for IAS Preparation
Now that you are aware of all the important books, NCERTs and standard reference books, to prepare for IAS exam it is important to start with the actual preparation. For this task, you should prepare a daily time table or schedule of study. About 9-10 hours of daily and consistent preparation efforts are sufficient to crack the IAS exam.Do not fall for myths that you need to prepare for 14-16 hours daily to crack the UPSC exam. This is not humanly possible. While preparing your daily schedule you should be flexible to allow for short breaks and leisure activities. A sample time table for IAS preparation is given below for your reference:
You are advised to prepare your own time table as per a schedule that suits you.
Set Short term and Long term Targets
Once you have a time table ready and you have started preparing for IAS as per this routine you should short term and long term targets.
Short term targets include:
Long term targets include:
Example of Each Goal
Weekly Preparation Goal
Completing the Freedom Struggle topic of Modern History in one week
Monthly Preparation Goal
Completing Ancient, Medieval and Modern Indian History topics in one month
Quarterly Preparation Goal
Completing two topics from Paper 1 (let's say History and Geography) and three topics from Paper 2 (let's say Decision Making, Data Interpretation and Basic Numeracy)
Six Monthly Preparation Goal
Long term IAS preparation goals should ideally be a combination of Prelims and Mains preparation targets. Your daily time table should reflect this accordingly. Suppose you are preparing your optional subject side-by-side then in 6 months time you will want to prepare at least 50% syllabus of Paper 1 of the optional subject along with 4 topics of General Studies (for Prelims Paper 1 and Mains).
How to Prepare Current Affairs for UPSC
Preparing current affairs for civil services exam is crucial since 8-15 questions are asked from the current affairs topic every year in the Prelims. Current affairs is also very important from Mains perspective for preparing GS Paper II and III (International relations, Economy, Technology, Biodiversity, Security and Disaster Management).
Also you should remember that current affairs preparation goes hand in hand with general awareness preparation. Both are intertwined. So which are the good and reliable sources to prepare current affairs and general awareness for Prelims and Mains? You should rely on the following:
How to Read the Newspaper for IAS
You should develop a habit of reading the newspaper for 60-90 minutes daily. Newspaper reading is indispensable for current affairs as well as boosting your general awareness knowledge-base. The editorials are one of the most important pages of a newspaper. Read the article below to know how to read the newspaper from the IAS exam perspective.
Once you know the right sources to prepare current affairs for IAS it is time to move to the next step of your IAS preparation ladder.
Prepare Notes for IAS Exam
Note making is an art which you should master if you are preparing for the IAS exam. Why is it so? Because you cannot read entire books and manuals 15-20 days before the exam, Prelims or Mains. So you need to prepare short, concise but effective notes that will help you revise quickly before the Prelims and Mains exams. Go through the following post to learn the exact steps to prepare effective notes for IAS exam.
These notes will prove to be a real boon when you revise for the Prelims and Mains.
Mindmap: IAS Preparation Strategy
IAS Preparation Tip 1 – Work Smart Not Just Hard
Most of us are used to working hard. Our education system is such that unless we cram tens of books each year, whether or not we understand what’s inside the book is immaterial, we cannot progress to the higher level. So most of us are accustomed to working hard which in the context of IAS preparation refers to studying 10 hours or more, every day. So much for hard work.
Now comes the smart part. Smartness could mean different things to different readers. It could mean reading selectively but reading well, reading many books selectively, mixing books and notes, making micro notes, proper time management, taking mock tests and so on.
Smart work is all this and more. In fact smartness is the approach you adopt in a particular situation. To prepare for IAS smartly requires you to be flexible as opposed to rigid, to experiment as opposed to sticking with the familiar, to plan ahead as opposed to the short term only.
The Right Time to Start IAS Preparation
This brings us to the topic of starting IAS preparation. Is there an ideal time to start IAS preparation. Should you start IAS preparation after school or college or after graduation? You might have these questions in your might as you prepare for the IAS exam. All these questions are answered in the article below.
The next step when starting your IAS preparation is to get familiar with the Prelims syllabus. Doing this you will know exactly what you need to cover within this time frame to crack the prelims. The good part about the new IAS syllabus is that optional subjects have been done away with. So you can just concentrate on General Studies. And if you’re like me then studying GS is like listening to music; there’s no hard work involved. Just pure fun. Preparing for IAS need not necessarily mean monotony. The more you enjoy preparing GS the easier the Prelims goal will become. That’s smart.
Once you know the syllabus get started with the actual preparation. Obviously everyone can’t prepare for 10 hours, particularly working people. But even working people can crack the IAS. The exact time is not important here. Some can achieve in 6 hours what others can in 10 hours. It depends on you. If you’re just starting out I’d suggest you start with 4-5 hours and scale up gradually.
Prelims Paper 2 (CSAT) Preparation Strategy
As you know that Paper 2 (CSAT) is now only qualifying in scope and you require just 33% or 66 out of 200 marks to qualify this paper. The marks obtained in this paper are not counted for preparing the merit of candidates who will qualify the Prelims and write the Mains exam.
So your workload is considerably reduced, especially if you’re from a non-Science and non-Engineering background. You can now mostly focus on preparing the Paper 1 topics.
And you just need to focus on Comprehension, Data Interpretation, Interpersonal Skills, Logical Reasoning and Decision Making in Paper 2 to obtain 66 marks. These five topics are considerably easier to prepare and attempt as compared to mental ability and basic numeracy topics.
Also remember that there is no negative penalty for questions on Decision Making. At least 5 questions on Decision Making will be asked in Paper 2 so you can and should attempt these questions without any fear.
Also if you analyze the previous 3-4 year papers, you will know that at least 5 Comprehension passages are asked in every Prelims and these are easiest to score off in Paper 2. So you can easily score 50 marks from just Comprehension passages! Rest of the marks can be obtained from Data Interpretation, Decision Making and Interpersonal Skills questions.
IAS Preparation Tip 2 - Try Single-tasking it’s more efficient than Multi-tasking
Yes I know you need to prepare history, geography, current affairs, mental ability etc. Only thing is don’t prepare all at once. Chunk it down. Pick one subject, let’s say Polity, and combine it with current affairs which you should cover for some time everyday. Current affairs preparation consists of reading the newspaper, a good current events magazine and a year book.
You can read a good newspaper like The Hindu or the Indian Express, magazine like Civil Services Chronicle or Pratyogita Darpan and the Manorama Year Book. Schedule a particular time for newspaper reading, but in any case, don’t read the newspaper for more than 90 minutes.
Next, you can continue with the year book or start off with Indian polity. Whichever topic you choose get the right books only. Don’t refer more books than are absolutely essential. You don’t want a PhD in General Studies, you just need to clear it.
But before you start with the topic get the past 5 year’s solved question papers and combine it with the syllabus as the question papers and syllabus are your best guide for IAS preparation.
Once you have started with polity or any other topic see it through completion. Don’t try to multi-task. Mixing polity with history and geography will lead to loss of concentration and lower your output. Besides it will make your progress lower. On other hand once you’ve covered a topic in full you will gain confidence as you’ve pocketed x number of marks beforehand.
IAS Preparation Tip 3 – Adopt the Just in Time Approach
The JiT (Just in Time) Approach says we should seek information only when required at that moment. In this hyper-connected world there is an overdose of information and if you seek to acquire all information and knowledge before starting a task, you can never get started as you will lose yourself in the information maze.
Applied to IAS preparation what this implies is don’t try to cover all the books referred by your friends on a given topic, say GK. Since GK is so vast and constantly expanding you can never hope to “master” it. Rather, refer a good book like Manorama Year Book and a magazine along with the daily newspaper to build up your knowledge base.
If, while referring the past Prelims papers, you come across a new topic you can quickly refer the reference books at hand or head over to the library or internet and find out more. This way you retain the information for a much longer time rather than by trying to read everything at one go.
Smart IAS Preparation Tip 4 – Test Yourself Constantly
Taking the above JiT approach further let’s apply this to evaluating yourself. Instead of waiting till the last few days to take mock tests you should evaluate yourself right after completing a particular section in a topic. For instance refer the previous year’s question papers before starting Quit India Movement in Modern Indian History and after completing it. I’ve already written about the benefits of this approach so I need not repeat it here.
Adopting this JiT approach you know exactly where you stand, which topics have been covered well and which require more consideration. But more importantly it removes the uncertainty and anxiety to a certain level, if not completely. Before entering the examination hall you know what kind of questions to expect and this will boost your confidence and calm your nerves so you perform better than expected.
But going through the previous years papers is just the first step, I recommend you enroll for a good test series to know the latest trend of questions and also to prepare yourself for the forthcoming Prelims in a better way by attempting mock tests that cover the entire Prelims syllabus.
IAS Preparation Tip 5 – Shoot then Aim
Most IAS aspirants prefer to wait till the end moment to take mock tests or prepare for 2-3 years before making their first attempt waiting for the perfect preparation level. Unfortunately your preparation can never be perfect no matter how hard you try. The latest syllabus is such that questions will always be unpredictable. Gone are the days when you could rely on certain number of questions from a particular topic.
So instead of preparing for 2-3 years during which time the pattern (not the syllabus) could change so many times prepare for a year and jump into the fray. You can improvise along the way.
This also holds true for taking practice tests. I suggested constantly evaluating yourself after going through every topic rather than waiting till the end hoping to finish the entire syllabus before going through the question papers.
Guess what, we are never able to finish the syllabus completely. There’s always something left in the end, some topics that we wish we should have prepared differently. So shoot first then aim.
Smart IAS Preparation Tip 6 – Read Only What’s Absolutely Essential
Your friend tells you to refer MHE GS manual because that’s the best one around, another friend refers Arihant, while a third one suggests XYZ classes notes. And you unwittingly jump from book to book hoping to cover every source that’s considered important for that subject. Stop taking this information overload that you will never be able to process within the limited time at your disposal.
Refer the standard books and supplement the missing information from other book for notes. Instead of reading three books for polity stick to one for detailed explanation and one for the bare acts. Similarly, I suggest just NCERTs for Ancient and Medival Indian History. No need for epic titles.
You’ll discover you can extract so much more by re-reading limited number of books than running after the next shiny book just launched.
Resources for IAS Preparation
No guide for IAS preparation can be complete unless you know important sources for finding information online.
Reference Books for IAS
Topic-wise Books for IAS