Tackling CSAT Paper 2 Topics: What You Need to Know

Since the change in IAS Prelims syllabus in 2011, paper 2 or CSAT paper of Prelims has been introduced. This paper consists of passages, decision making, reasoning, data interpretation and quantitative aptitude topics. In this post we see the types of questions asked in Paper 2 or CSAT paper since this paper cannot be neglected and many aspirants having a non-Science background find paper 2 topics. So we will list the topics, question types and find out which topics and questions are easy to score to ensure a good score in Paper 2. For reference purpose question papers from 2011 to 2013 Prelims have been analysed to get a good understanding of Paper 2.

Paper 2 or CSAT Syllabus

First, let’s look at the syllabus of paper 2. It consists of the following:

  • 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)
  • English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level)

Time allotted is 2 hours and 200 marks. Although the number of questions is NOT mentioned in the syllabus, every paper of the past three years from 2011 to 2013 contained80 questions. So each question carries 2.5 marks since it is clearly mentioned on the question paper that “all items carry equal marks“.

Now for the purpose of identifying scoring opportunities in Paper 2 let's re-organize the above 7 topics into simply 5 topics.

  • Comprehension including English language comprehension skills
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem-solving
  • General mental ability including basic numeracy and data interpretation

Now let us analyze each topic individually.

Decision-making and problem solving

As you're aware, questions on Decision Making do not carry any negative penalty for incorrect answer. So you can and should attempt all the questions on decision making. In fact, you should attempt these questions first since you do not want to leave them for the end when you are short of time.

TIP: Time management is crucial in paper 2 since you will need to go through many passages and also mental ability questions that require a lot of time. So its important to pick and choose the questions you should attempt in stead of a go-for-all strategy.

Usually 5-8 questions are asked on Decision Making and Problem Solving every year. In fact let's list the number of questions on decision making from 2011 onward:

2011: 8

2012: 7

2013: 6

Since each question carries 2.5 marks, you can score 12.5 to 20 marks based on this topic alone. Remember, questions on this topic can at times have more than one correct answer although you have to pick just one option from four. So if you're confused between two very similar options, don't waste too much time and just pick the option you feel most appropriate and move on. 

Comprehension including English-language comprehension skills

This is a very important topic in CSAT Paper 2 since anywhere between 10-12 passages are asked every year. Let's list the number of passages asked since 2011.

2011: 12

2012: 11

2013: 12

As you can see passages are the heart and soul of paper 2. At least 30 questions are asked every year based on passage reading. This translates to minimum 75 marks from passage reading alone. So it makes sense to improve and fine-tune your passage solving skills. Go through the following post to tackle passages effectively.

->Score easy marks with passages in Paper 2<-

Interpersonal skills including communication skills

This topic hasn't received much attention from UPSC till now. In fact there are no questions in 2011, 2012 and 2013 that can be identified from this topic. 

So is this topic to be skipped?

No. It just means UPSC can ask questions on this topic in 2014 or later prelims. But for the purpose of this post, we can safely stop discussion on this topic here itself.

Logical reasoning and analytical ability

Logical reasoning is a standard topic in most objective-type exams and CSAT is no exception to this. The good part is questions on this topic are usually of moderate difficulty level and can be tackled with ease with some practice. Let us see how many questions have been asked so far.

2011: 6

2012: 14

2013: 19

As you can see questions on logical reasoning have been increasing progressively since 2011 Prelims. It follows then that you should have adequate practice of logical reasoning-based questions to quickly solve questions in the exam and score between 15 to 50 marks with ease.

Even in logical reasoning all questions are not of same difficulty level. Usually relationship based questions are easier to solve than others. However, the overall difficulty level of these questions is easy to moderate. So some good scoring opportunities are present in this topic.

General mental ability including basic numeracy and data interpretation

Finally, we come to a very important topic in Paper 2: General mental ability, numeracy and data interpretation. There was a time when in old syllabus questions on this topic could be and were skipped by a large number of candidates. But now, this is simply not possible since skipping this topic will mean relying solely on passages and logical reasoning to score decent marks in paper 2. Such is the importance of this topic and this can be ascertained from the number of questions asked every year.

2011: 22

2012: 7

2013: 20

Except for 2012 when relatively less number of questions were asked from this topic, at least 20 questions on this topic have been asked each in 2011 and 2013. Thus, this topic accounts for at least 50 marks every year.

Questions on mental ability, numeracy and data interpretation can range from easy to difficult. Fortunately, UPSC generally avoids setting difficult questions on this topic. Question types include graphs and charts, probability, permutation and combination, speed, distance and time, percentage, area etc.

You will need good practice to attempt these questions quickly since it is quite common to get stuck with some question resulting in shortage of time to attempt other questions. In such a scenario it is always better to circle the question in the question paper to attempt it later if time permits.

Approach to CSAT Paper

I hope this post will help you overcome the fear of paper 2 by knowing exactly what you should focus on for scoring maximum marks in the CSAT paper. Remember, a pick and choose strategy is best for paper 2. Pick topics like decision making and passages first that are easiest to attempt and carry the least risk. This way even if you cannot attempt all the questions, at least you have attempted the most scoring questions first before moving onto the difficult ones.


Coming to mental ability topic, chart based questions are usually easier to tackle and should be attempted first among mental ability and data interpretation questions since they do not require calculations and can be solved by looking at the data presented.

Recommended Book for Paper 2

Again, we are lucky here since you require just one book to cover all topics in paper 2. And that book is:


Instead of listing the benefits of this book again, just go through this post to know why TMH Manuals are a must for Prelims preparation.

Practice Tests for Paper 2

Our Target 2014 and Beyond Membership Program offers many tests on paper 2 including full length tests. Even passages are covered and questions on decision making are among the best you will find in any online test series.

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