A Complete Guideline to the IAS Examination

Sep 14, 2015

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There are a few things in the world that have managed to take up permanent real estate in our beliefs. One of those is that brainstorming is an absolute deal-breaker: participate in one and most of your doubts will vanish into thin air. The other is the honor and security of a Government job. And we have managed to hold on to these beliefs since the two concepts came into existence.

The temptation of a Government job has redefined career opportunities for the young guns. Most students shape their goals around securing a Government job.

An overwhelming number of vacancies have opened up in the last few decades. And this has fueled the youth to give their best shot at securing the spots up for grabs. With the rising number of candidates aspiring for Government jobs, the competition has been getting tougher every year.

Speaking of tough, the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) examination ranks among the toughest entrance examinations in the world. Trust me, I have seen aspirants sweating bullets before the examination. And that is just how it begins.

However, my intention isn’t to scare you away. In fact, it is quite on the contrary. A tough exam is not necessarily impossible to crack. Yes, appropriate and timely preparation is crucial to ace the exam, but what we fail to comprehend most of the time is that, it is equally important to have a complete know-how of the examination to have an edge over your fierce competitors.

And that is exactly what you are going to get in this article. In fact, a combination of both in the right proportion.

Let’s dig in.

right proportion

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More about the IAS

Short for Indian Administrative Service, IAS forms a major part of the executive branch of the Government of India. It helps in maintaining and upholding the neutrality and continuity in the administration of the nation.

It forms a significant part of the trio that comprises All India Service. The other two being:

Indian Administrative Service came into being during the partition of India and Pakistan. Before that, it was known as Indian Civil Service (ICS), which was then divided into Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) and IAS.

Here’s an interesting fact: Nirmal Kumar Mukherjee was the last IAS officer who joined as an ICS. He retired in April, 1980.

An IAS officer has a plethora of responsibilities. A few, among others, include:

  • Framing and implementing the policies of the Government
  • Follow-up on the proper implementation of said policies
  • Handling the administration of the areas that they are allotted to supervise
  • Serving as Heads of Department, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) or in the State Secretariat

Living up to the role isn’t a cakewalk, hence the high standard of the examination.

Details about the IAS Exam

The IAS exam is a part of the Civil Service Examination that is conducted throughout the nation by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Some of the other civil service departments that the Civil Service Exam conducts the recruitment drive for include Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Revenue Service (IRS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and so on. Among all these, IAS ropes the maximum popularity.

This exam is conducted once every year and is divided into two primary stages. These include:

  • Preliminary
  • Main and personal interview

Qualifying every stage will make you eligible for the succeeding one.

Eligibility Criteria

Certain norms have been put forward as the eligibility criteria for IAS aspirants. They include the following:

Eligibility Criteria

  • The candidate must be a citizen of India. Candidates who are Nepal, Bhutan or Tibetan refugees must furnish an eligibility document by the Government of India to be able to appear for the exam.
  • Candidates should be between 21 and 32 years old with the number of attempts being less than 6. However, for OBC and SC/ST candidates, the upper age limit stands at 35 and 37 respectively, with the maximum number of attempts being extended to 9 and infinity respectively.
  • Candidates must hold a Bachelor’s degree from a recognized university. Candidates who have appeared for the final exam and are awaiting their results are also eligible to apply for the examination.

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All candidates have an option of choosing the medium of answering the questions. Your options are restricted to:

  • English
  • Any language from the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution

Exam Pattern and Syllabus

The exam pattern along with the syllabus of IAS exam is as follows:

  1. Preliminary Exam

The question pattern of the preliminary exam is primarily objective. It is divided into two papers and carries 400 marks.

Paper I

Marks: 200

Duration: 2 hours


  • Indian History and Indian National Movement
  • Geography: Indian and global
  • Indian Polity and Governance including the Panchayati Raj, the Constitution and so on
  • Current events: National and international
  • Economic conditions and social development including concepts like poverty, sustainable development, demographics and so on
  • Environmental conditions including climate, biodiversity, ecology and so on
  • General Science, which includes the basic concepts of Physics, Chemistry and Biology

Paper II

Marks: 200

Duration: 2 hours


  • Comprehension
  • English Language
  • Reasoning, analytical and mental ability
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Decision-making and problem-solving
  • Basic numerical ability and data interpretation

Once you qualify the Preliminary examination, you will be allowed to appear for the Main exam, the pattern and syllabus of which has been discussed below.

discussed below

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  1. Main

The Main examination for IAS comprises 9 papers. However, for two particular papers, you would only need to score more than the minimum marks stipulated by the UPSC. The marks for these two papers are not counted for the final ranking. These two papers are also termed as qualifying papers.

Qualifying Papers:

Paper A

Marks: 300

Syllabus: Any modern Indian language.

The question pattern comprises:

  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Precis
  • Essay
  • Translation from that language to English and vice versa

Paper B

Marks: 300

Syllabus: English Language

The question pattern is similar to that of the previous paper with the translation part omitted.

Papers to be counted for final ranking

Paper I

Marks: 250

Syllabus: Essay writing

You will be given a few topics to choose from. Once you select a topic, it is absolutely imperative to stick to it and not change your mind midway. The perfect essay is articulate, orderly and concise. Be sure not to traipse into unnecessary information in your essay. Stick to the point and include facts.

Paper II (General Studies I – History and Geography of the nation and the world, Indian heritage and culture)

Marks: 250


  • Indian culture: art forms, architecture and literature starting from the ancient to the modern times
  • Modern Indian History: important personalities, events etc. from the mid-eighteenth century to the present age
  • Post-independence scenario of the country
  • The Freedom Struggle
  • Features of the Indian society
  • Role of women
  • Urbanization, poverty, developmental problems of the nation
  • Effect of globalization on the nation
  • Communalism, secularism, regionalism and social empowerment
  • Physical geography of the world
  • Factors pertaining to all types of industries across the country
  • Distribution of natural resources across the world
  • Significant geophysical phenomena and the consequences


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Paper III (General Studies II – Constitution, governance, polity, international relation, social justice)

Marks: 250


  • The Indian Constitution, comparison of Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries
  • Functions and responsibilities of the states and the unions
  • Government policies for the development of various sectors
  • Issues pertaining to poverty and hunger
  • Schemes for vulnerable sections of the population
  • The role of civil services in a democracy
  • The effect of policies of developed and developing countries on India and so on

Paper IV (General studies III – Technology, environment, biodiversity, economic development, security and disaster management)

Marks: 250


  • Indian economy including problems regarding mobilization of resources, employment, growth and so on
  • Facts related to crop patterns, irrigation, transport of agricultural produce, technology to help farmers, direct and indirect farm subsidies, land reforms, etc
  • Infrastructure: roads, railways, airports, ports, etc
  • Role of liberalization of the economy
  • Development of science and technology and their effects in everyday lives
  • Advancements in the fields of IT, nano-technology, robotics and so on
  • Security challenges of the nation, various security forces and the likes

Paper V (General Studies – Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)

Marks: 250


  • Role of ethics in human actions
  • Values imbibed from lessons and teachings imparted by famous leaders, role of education, family and society
  • Human behavior, various types of attitude and its consequences
  • Emotional intelligence and its application in governance
  • Implementation of values and ethics in public administration
  • Probity and transparency in government, public service, various rights and codes
  • Case studies

Paper VI and VII (Optional Subjects Paper I and II)

Marks: 250 each

Syllabus: Candidates get to choose the optional subjects from a list

Interview/Personality Test

Personality Test

Marks: 275

You can choose your preferred medium of communication.

Here‘s a quick guide to help you prepare for the interview.

IAS Exam Dates for 2016

The updated IAS exam calendar stands as follows:

Here‘s the updated UPSC calendar.

For more details, you can keep a tab on the UPSC website.

How to Clear the IAS Exam?

Now that you have a complete idea of the syllabus, preparing for the exam will be easier. Your primary aim at this moment should be to clear the preliminary exam. However, you would also need to keep in mind that your preparation days leading to the Main exam after the Preliminary exam are numbered. So, you would need to begin preparing for the Main exam in small doses from now on.

You already know which areas to focus on. So let’s find out how you can optimize your preparation.


  • First things first, chalking out a schedule is crucial. Every day should be planned and mapped out in a timetable. If you don’t believe in a routine, then you will have to pay for it. Think of the trophy at the end of the race. That is going to be your motivation.
  • Identify the portions in the syllabus that require the most attention. Those are the sections that you need to address first. Here’s a quick heads-up: a large chunk of questions feature from ecology, environment and culture and art. If that’s where you are lacking, you still have enough time to pull the reins.
  • Get your basics straightened. A lot of questions are going to feature from your basic Science and aptitude knowledge. A thorough idea about the concepts is an absolute necessity. Be sure to polish your concepts from the ground up. Nothing is more dangerous than a superficial knowledge.
  • Read the newspaper every day. Reserve a certain part of your day for the daily news and go through every update thoroughly. Your aim is to ingrain those to your memory.
  • Get your hands on previous years’ question paper. Solve those meticulously. And appear for mock tests as well.
  • Sometimes while studying by yourself, you suffer the immense risk of procrastination. You can slay that by enrolling in an institute. Trust me, it helps.
  • Revise as much as possible. The more you revise, the more likely you are to recollect your studies easily. Time management is essential. Otherwise, it will slip away from your hands and you will have nothing to do about it. An exam revision timetable can help you curb this.
  • Refrain from hitting the panic button every now and then. It never helps. Remember this is not the end of the world. If you fail the first attempt, there’s always next year. Do not forget to eat and stay healthy to keep all health problems at bay.

There you go. You have the all the information you need. So what are you waiting for? Start preparing now.

What other preparation tips would you like to add to the list? Share those with us in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you.

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