In-Depth Jobs

Issue no 20, 13-19 August 2022

Civil services (main) Examination

Preparing for GS I & II

S B Singh

For the Civil Services (Main) Examination, the first thing to bear in mind is its nature and scope with a view to go for a balanced, timely preparation and secure good marks. While the optional paper does play a crucial role in fetching a good score, the four GS papers hold the clue to a high rank as they carry a total of one thousand marks. The main exam has been designed to test the following qualities in a candidate.

Cognitive skill: It means the skill to make sense of what you read and understand. Everybody reads books, newspapers and magazines, but not all make adequate  sense of  what is written there. In other words, you need to have a clear grasp of the issue, topic you are reading. Cognitive skills are both inherited and acquired. By cultivating the habit of purposeful reading of issues described in the sources sharpens your cognitive skills. Therefore, what you read is not enough, what you understand by reading it is also required.

Linguistic skill: Stated simply, it is about your writing skills. Since the entire main exam is a written exam, you need to write hundreds of pages in  all the papers. How well you right depends on how effective your writing style is. The main components for effective writing are: clarity of thought, seamless expression,  cogent views, and multi-dimensional content. If you can hone these skills through long –term practice, your writing ability will match the requirements of the exam. Half the success in the mains exam will depend on your writing ability, and this calls for a very serious consideration in your preparations.

Normative skill: This means putting values in your answers. Not all, but many questions will demand applying certain norms, values and ethics.Unless you have developed your normative skills, you may not be able to take the right stand on the issue. Say for example, a question is asked on patriarchy, gender gap, democratic deficit, environmental degradation etc., you will have to apply certain norms and values to answer the question. Those norms should be applicable to the issue you are discussing and not unrelated norms.Again, this requires immense practice to master your answer with desirable norms and values.

Time-management skill: Since there are large number of questions asked  in the  main exam, these days, without time management, it is impossible to finish the entire question paper. Quite a few candidates come out of the exam hall complaining that they could not write answers to all the questions for lack of time though they knew it.  This is sheer lack of time management. You cannot go to the exam hall and expect to write  all the answers unless you have practiced it several times before. You should be prudent to find out easy questions that will take less time for you to write. Save your time by first attempting those questions you  know well before tackling more time consuming  questions.

Preparing for GS –I Paper: Three different disciplines,  viz;  History, Geography, and  Social issues constitute the syllabus of GS-I Paper. Of these, history accounts for the bulk of the syllabus comprising as it does three segments of history- Modern India, Post-Independent India, and World History. Again, of these three segments, modern India takes the lion’s share as nine to ten questions out of a total of twenty questions are usually asked from this section.Therefore , one needs to prepare modern India on  priority basis.  On post-independent India, questions are asked intermittently, not regularly.  But be that as it may, one needs to be prepared with this part also. The major developments in independent India on the front of agriculture, industrialization, scientific progress, cultural landscape, socialism, Nehruvian foreign policy should be studied. On world history, every year one or two questions are asked, mostly from Russian, French Revolutions, World WarI, and II, Cold War and post- cold war world.

In Geography, the questions are very dynamic and contemporary. Conventional questions that are usually taught from text books are not asked quite often. Instead, contemporary issues are emphasized which relate to environment, ecology, agricultural production etc. It will be wise, therefore, to keep oneself abreast of these latest developments.

On social issues, poverty in all its dimensions, population issues, demographic transition in India and the world are important to cover.Hunger, nutrition, food security are other related issues worth preparing.

Preparing for GS Paper –II

This paper consists of polity, governance, society, and international relations. Needless to say, emphasis is given to polity and international relations in this paper. For polity, one should make verticals like parliament, state legislatures and cover them from each angle. For example, one should know the functions of parliament, bicameralism in Indian  legislature, role of the upper houses,  passage of bills, parliamentary privileges, disruptions in parliament, role of opposition and the question of opposition unity, anti-defection law , parliamentary vs. presidential form of govt. Likewise, on judiciary, one should read about some  recent landmark judgments, role of the supreme court, need for All India Judicial Service, collegium system of appointments, accountability of judges, tribunals, alternate dispute resolution mechanism, judicial reforms, pendency of cases, judicial infrastructure, bail reforms, reforms in the criminal justice system. Similarly,  if one wants to cover our electoral system, one should start with the role of the Election Commission of India, need for reforms in the  election commission, its functions, model code of conduct, electoral reforms, reforms in electoral representation system, simultaneous elections, culture of freebies, bribery, role of political parties , etc. On federalism, one should know the uniqueness of Indian federalism and its real working. Concepts like cooperative federalism, competitive federalism, coercive federalism should alsobe prepared.Due emphasis should be laid on fiscal federalism. Then, the posts of the president and governor should be thoroughly studied right from their election procedure to critical evaluation of their functioning.Then, the functions of CAG, Attorney General should be looked into.  Panchayati Rajinstitutions are extremely important, particularly with respect to their financial health and autonomous functioning.


Governance is another important section in GS-II syllabus. Though governance encompasses a wide range of issues today, for UPSC Mains exam purpose, the topics to pay more attention are: civil services reforms, police reforms, working of constitutional and statutory institutions like the CBI, CVC, NHRC, NCW, NCM, various regulatory committees, public distribution system, citizen’s charter, deficiencies in the working of  important acts like the abortion law, human trafficking act, surrogacy act, whistle blower act, RTI, etc.

Preparing for international relations: This part of the syllabus covers three parts- Indian foreign policy, international relations, and international institutions.On Indian foreign policy, there will be questions on changes  in our foreign policy.For example, there were many shifts noticed in our foreign policy during  the Covid pandemic. Our approach towards globalization has also been impacted  by the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme .Another shift that can be identified in India’s foreign policy is de-hyphenation of  our hyphenated foreign policy.Similarly, India has moved from nonalignment to multi-alignment in recent times.Such issues need to be understood in their contemporary international context. Then, major initiatives like the Act East Policy, Act Far East Policy Think West Policy, Neighbourhood First Policy, Extended Neighbourhood Policy must be studied. Next, India’sbilateral relations with its south Asian neighbours,viz; Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan , Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Afghanistan  should be covered. India’s role in regional organizations like SAARC, BIMSTEC, BBIN should also be understood. Our engagement with our extended neighbours, i.e., Central Asia, South East Asia has received new vigour. This should be carefully examined in terms of benefits accruing to India through such policy thrusts.Another major priority in our foreign policy is engaging Africa. Thus, opportunities and challenges in Africa for our country must be covered.Then , our bilateral relations with the major powers-USA, China, Russia must be studied in all their dimensions. In recent times, we are also engaging deeply with \Japan, Australia, UK, EU on a bilateral basis.The evolving contours of these bilateral engagements should be keenly followed. Finally, Latin America is emerging as a potential area of cooperation. Foreign policy initiatives towards this region   need a careful examination.

Turning to India’s joining various groupings, special attention should be paid to BRICS, SCO,QUAD, I2U2, IPEF,G-20.India and UNO, India and WTO, India and NIEO are other topics to be covered well.

AS regards international institutions, UN reforms, reforms in the WTO, IMF, World Bank should be focus of study.

Finally, for international relations, the emerging New Cold War, US-China as well as US-Russia rivalry should be looked into. India’s response to the international crises like Ukraine war, food shortage, oil shortage, disruption in global supply chains need to be factored in your preparations. The emerging world order, issues of multilateralism are other topics requiring good attention.

Suggested readings:


1. P M Bakshi: Indian constitution

2. D DBasu: Constitution of India

3. Granville Austin: Indian constitution

4. M P Sharma: Indian Federalism

5. UpendraYadav: Making sense of Indian democracy

Governance: There is no particular book that can cover the syllabus of governance.However, websites of various ministries, PRS India are useful. ARC-II  Reports are highly recommended.

International Relations:

1. RajivSikri: Strategies and Challenges

2. MuchkundDubey: India’s Foreign Policy

3. Shyam Saran: How India Sees the World

4. Shiv Shankar Menon: India and Asian Geopolitics


(S B Singh is an academician and IAS mentor. He can be reached at: Views expressed are personal.