Syllabus of Prelim Exam



  • Observe the grey cells. There are wide ups and downs in various subjects each year. So, it’ll be a mistake to
    presume that in 2019, large maximum number of MCQs came from ‘x’ subject so same will happen in 2020.
  • UPSC keeps the trend unpredictable to prevent coaching classes and senior players from gaining
    advantage. Therefore, you must prepare all subjects diligently.
  • Having said that, it’s not humanly possible to prepare every topic exhaustively, therefore, let me give you the
    tips for preparation of each of these subjects to kick start your preparation with our detail information about the upsc prelims syllabus:



This section has become prominent since the merger of Indian Forest Service (IFS)’s prelim with UPSC civil services prelims

  • NCERT: Class 11 Chemistry’s chapter on environmental chemistry
  • National Institute of Open Studies (NIOS)’s Environment module freely available on their official site:
  • Environment book by Shankar IAS
  • IYB20 Chapter 11 (energy),12 (Environment) and 27 (Water)
  • In agriculture: Current Affairs focus on recent Government schemes and theory focus on NCERT
    Geography text books- crop cycles, soil types, micronutrients etc. however, in the real exam they tend to
    ask advanced theories related to genetic engineering and cropping methods but remember that it’s meant
    to test IFS candidates, you’re not supposed to score 200/200 marks. Refer to cutoff table one more time.


  • Don’t waste time in memorizing dates, names, numbers, figures because in economy, UPSC MCQs are
    designed to test your conceptual knowledge and command over the ‘gist’ of any current affairs scheme or issue.
  • And on the same trend, don’t waste time in academic books like Mishra Puri, Uma Kapila, Dutt Sundaram etc.
    they’re meant for economics optional subjects. While some of their chapters have good content for Mains and Essay exam but their utility for prelims is almost none.
  • Both for prelims and mains, the most important documents are Government Budget and Economic Survey.
  • For theory, current and contemporary affairs, you may go through my lecture series available at
  • You may skip Microeconomics, because they’re not asking it each year regularly.
  • Further strategy is given in the separate chapter of this book.


  • NCERT Text books on civics, political science and sociology because verbatim questions have come in UPSC prelims– 2018.
  • Indian Polity by M. Laxmikanth and IYB-20 Ch. 3, 20, 21 and 28
  • For current bills and acts, you may follow:
  • For Mains Examination Paper 1 and 2, again polity related topics are asked. For that refer to IGNOU MPS-003
    module, freely available on their official repository 


First you should be clear by new vs old NCERTs:

  • Old syllabus NCERTs have more emphasis on dates, names, wars, treaties. But such GK type MCQs are rare in recent UPSC exams. While Newly updated NCERTs have more emphasis on art, culture, secularism,
    Buddhism, Jainism and such MCQs are more frequent.
  • Therefore, some coaching faculties and toppers from old era, who’re not updated with this trend analysis, they continue to recommend old NCERTs but I recommend you to go for NEW NCERTs.


  • For theory refer to NCERTs combined with Disha General Studies Manuals’ science portion.
  • For Current and contemporary topics focus on public health, space exploration and ICT.


  • Don’t look at current affairs as a ‘separate subject’. They’re embedded within other subjects I already mentioned – be it economy, environment, polity or science.
  • While the Hindu used to be considered the ideal newspaper for UPSC but in recent years, most prelims and mains questions could be solved from Indian express as well. So you may use any of them which is easily and cheaply available in your city.
  • Stand-alone current affairs like who won Nobel, who won Oscars, who won Olympics etc. are important for clerical exam but very rare in UPSC IAS/IPS exam, ever since the CSAT reforms of 2011. So you may downplay them.
  • What should be the span of current affairs preparation? Based on the trend of last five exams, I would recommend you to focus on current affairs from Jan-2019 to April-2020, for the upcoming prelims-2020. However, the number of current affairs questions from (D-1) year is gradually declining as seen in following table, so also go through Contemporary affairs from (D-2) year i.e. from 1/1/2018 onwards.


  • Since UPSC has made this paper qualifying (33%), so as such Disha’s Paper-II manual is sufficient as BASE
    material for Maths, reasoning and comprehension.
  • But in last two prelims, UPSC has made the comprehension portion more complex and lengthy so many
    candidates unable to finish the paper on time. There are no shortcuts to mastering the reading comprehensionyou’ve to cultivate the habit of reading newspapers and magazine columns on daily basis.
  • For the advanced theory on assumption, inference, syllogism etc. you may refer to Analytical reasoning by MK Pandey.


from 2011 to 2014, even Prelim paper-II (Aptitude)’s marks were counted while shortlisting candidates to Mains
exam. Hence cutoffs look higher than 2015 and 2016.

As you can see from above pie chart, since 2018 the number of easy questions
has greatly declined. This, combined with the corresponding increase in the (D-
2) contemporary affairs gives a slight advantage to senior players who’ve been
appearing in this exam for more than one year. Therefore, first attempt
candidates must not allow any level of complacency or laziness in their
preparation if they want to crack the exam in first attempt itself.

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