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Special Content

Issue no : 03, 15-21 April 2023

IAS (Prelims) Examination- Focus on Core GS Areas


S B Singh

Whether in sports or examination, what matters is not the starting line, but the finishing line. In other words, however serious the preparations for prelims may have been in the beginning, unless it is sustained and accelerated at its last stage, the advantages gained during the early phase of preparation may become infructuous. Therefore, it is crucial to utilise the intervening period (i.e, from now till the exam date) for success at the most difficult first phase of the IAS exam, viz; prelims. In order to ensure success, the nature of the exam must be first understood properly. The prelims is a qualifying exam and it is immaterial for the final success. It is just meant to give you a permit to write the main exam which is the real test that would decide your success at the civil services. The objective should be- just secure minimum qualifying marks in the prelims exam. But minimum marks, or the required cut-off, in itself is very difficult to obtain given the unpredictable nature of the prelims exam. Therefore, one has to focus on the core areas from where maximum questions are asked and prepare accordingly. To grasp the pattern of the prelims, one has to analyse last several years' questions of UPSC, preferably those asked in last three years and find out as to which areas are carrying more number of questions. In order to secure the required cut-off, which is usually 95-100 marks out of a total of 200 marks in the GS paper, one needs to attempt some correct questions from all the areas. This calls for a balanced and complete coverage of the prelims syllabus.

It is neither possible nor desirable to prepare all the areas of the syllabus on an equal footing. This is so because, allotment of marks is not equal for all the areas of the syllabus. So, emphasis should be put on some areas which should be sufficient to acquire the required cut-off. Say for example, history alone carries 15-20 questions and therefore, constitutes a large chunk of the syllabus accounting for almost 20% of the total marks. Similarly, polity accounts for 15-17 questions and is, therefore, another major area to be covered. Geography, however, weighs comparatively less in terms of marks allotted to it nowadays and just 10-12 questions are being asked on this subject. This is due to the fact that now environment occupies more importance than geography and at least 10-12 questions are being asked on this area each year. Economy is another important area on which one can expect 15 plus questions. In science and technology, at least 15 questions will be set. Finally, current affairs makes for the bulk of the questions and 20-25 questions are usually set from different aspects of current affairs. The distribution of marks on different areas of the syllabus is not constant and varies from year to year, but the broad pattern remains the same. A realistic approach to cracking the prelims therefore would be to master at least three important areas of the syllabus in such a manner that one gets close to the required cut-off by attempting maximum questions from these three areas. This would reduce the burden to command all aspects of the syllabus which is not practical for any candidate. The standard approach is to select history, polity and economy as three priority areas to crack around 50 questions or so. Alternatively, one can always choose history, polity, geography and environment. This is subject to the condition that one should also know fairly well about current affairs and science and technology. The three priority areas will be easy to command instead of the stupendous task of complete command over the entire syllabus. To put it simply, you must excel in your chosen combination of areas and at the same time, also have a reasonable knowledge of other areas. The core of the prelims syllabus comes from the four disciplines- history, polity, economy, and geography. These cannot be prepared casually. Standard texts by NCERT are available on all these subjects that can be covered just in a few months time. Of course, just NCERT cannot be adequate for preparation and a few higherlevel books need to be referred to as well in addition to these. But a caution needs to be exercised, i.e., you should not read too many sources. Select your sources wisely and depend on them without feeling tempted to read anything and everything. In this information age, there is what is called the problem of plenty. You can never have a command over the syllabus from so many sources and it is not required either.

Preparing for History: History being a very important part of the syllabus, has to be given top priority in prelims preparation. Of the three areas viz; ancient, medieval, and modern India, one should prepare modern India thoroughly and next to this, ancient India should be accorded importance. Questions on medieval India are less compared to the other two periods.

Ancient India: Topics to be covered more intensively are: Pre-historic period, Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic Age, Religious movements including Buddhism, Jainism, Ajivikas, Brahmanism, six schools of philosophy and the Lokayat philosophy, Mauryan empire, 18 mahajanpads, foreign invasions and their impact, Gupta period, Harshvardhan, Sangam Age, Satavahanas, Chalukyas and Pallavas. More emphasis should be placed on aspects relating to art, culture, administration, and religion pertaining to each of the above mentioned topics on ancient India. One should cultivate the habit of preparing a glossary of important terms on ancient India. For this, you must look at the index given at the end of the books. Try to constantly update the glossary as you collect more and more information on the topics.

Medieval India: Topics to be covered: Delhi Sultanate, Vijayanagar empire, Cholas, Mughal period, Marathas, Sikhs, and the Bhakti and Sufi movements. Art and architecture of medieval India is very important and needs good coverage. Similarly, terms related to administration, taxes, etc. must be given due emphasis. Like ancient India, one should prepare a glossary of important terms on medieval India also.

Modern India: As stated above, Modern India needs extra focus as maximum number of questions are asked from this section. Topics to be covered are: Coming of the Europeans and the expansion of the British rule, Revolt of 1857 and other tribal, peasant revolts, formation of the Congress and the preCongress associations, Mode-rate phase, extremist phase, era of revolutionary terrorism, Home Rule League Movement, Gandhian phase- Champaran, Kheda Satyagraha, Ahmedabad Mills strike, Rowlatt Satyagraha, Khilafat movement, Non Cooperation Movement, Vaikom Satyagraha, Civil Disobedience Movement, formation of Congress ministries in the provinces, Quit India movement, and events leading to independence.

One should make specific notes on the following aspects of modern India.

·         Constitutional development covering all acts starting with Regulation Act 1773 upto Indian Independence Act 1947

·         Major commissions like Simon Commission, Crips Mission, Cabinet Delegation

·         Administration during the British period - civil services, revenue administration, judicial changes.

·         British agricultural and industrial policies, land revenue system, development of industries, changes in the structure of Indian economy

·         Educational policy with special reference to various educational commissions

·         Socio-religious movement - Brahmo Samaj, Prarthna Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical movement. Deoband, Wahabi, Ahrar movements among the muslims, The Aligarh movement of Syed Ahmed Khan. Akali movement, Namdhari movement, Nirankari movement among the Sikhs, and the Parsi social reforms

·         Important legislations passed during the British rule

·         Press policy of the British

·         Trade Union Movement

·         Role of foreigners in the national movement

·         Important Governor Generals and major events during their tenure


Making a plan for yourself on the above suggested pattern will make your preparation target-specific. Making notes is very important while studying. It is a must to go through previous years' questions asked by UPSC on history. For example, once you have finished ancient India, try to check how many questions of UPSC you are able to answer based on your preparation. If some areas remained untouched, you can accordingly prepare again.


(The author is an academician and IAS mentor. He can be reached at: sb_singh2003@yahoo.com)

Views expressed are personal.