How to begin UPSC Preparation: A definitive guide

How to begin UPSC Preparation? This is the first and foremost question in every aspirant’s mind the day he/she decides to choose to be come an IAS Officer. Well, the first thing you need is patience. So read this definitive guide patiently. If needed, read again and again. This has worked for me and many toppers every year. So let’s begin to understand how to begin UPSC preparation.

How to begin UPSC preparation
How to begin UPSC preparation
  1. Download the UPSC Prelims syllabus and the UPSC Mains syllabus and take a print out. Keep studying the syllabus everyday for at least 7 days. Understand each topic and sub-topic given in the syllabus. This will make your life easy.
  2. Have the Previous Years Topicwise UPSC Prelims Questions book by your side. This is again extremely important. Before going through any topic, you go through the Prelims Questions asked from that topic. It will make you understand what to focus on and what to ignore while studying.
  3. Go through the Booklist for UPSC Preparation and make sure you have all the books with you before you begin UPSC preparation.
  4. Now start from NCERTs. Forget the big books. Pick any subject NCERT which you find most interesting. Keep preparing 2-3 subjects in parallel so that you don’t get bored of one subject. Finish NCERTs in 2-3 months and make sure to highlight whatever seems important in the second reading.
  5. You should also start reading Indian Polity by Laxmikanth during this time. Since the institutions at the Centre have counterparts in the States, plan to study them in sequence. For example, after President chapter, study Governor. After Prime Minister chapter, study Chief Minister, and so on.
  6. Do not worry about newspapers until you grasp basic economics concepts from NCERTs. For most aspirants, newspaper reading should start after 1.5 to 2 months of NCERT reading. Why? Because you will struggle to understand many things in newspaper and waste 4-5 hours on it if you start before building base.
  7. Listen to AIR News at 9pm every night and watch The Big Picture debate on RSTV Youtube channel while having dinner. That is what I used to do.
  8. After 3 months, if you have studied diligently, you should have finished NCERT reading once and started second revision. You should have basic understanding of India’s history, geography and economy by now. You must also have started reading newspaper by now. Your Laxmikanth reading should have progressed.
  9. Now is the time when you should start planning revision of NCERTs. Keep 2 hours for that everyday.
  10. Spend 2 hours on newspaper to begin with but gradually reduce it to 30-40 minutes over a month. It will happen automatically.
  11. Pick up the other non-NCERT books suggested in the booklist. Study them diligently with frequent revision.
  12. After 4 months of preparation, you will have solid knowledge base because you have finished NCERTs, read other books and read newspapers and listened to RSTV debates. So start practising answer writing. Remember, when you think of starting mains answer writing, you will feel underprepared. You will want to postpone thinking that I will start after I read more. But do not fall in that trap. Start writing whatever you can. Habit is important. You will improve very fast.
  13. By this time you should be deciding the optional subject. You will make an informed decision as you understand your interests better. Choose the optional and start preparing. Divide the syllabus into 3 months schedule and complete it. Emphasize on the topics from which questions have been asked in previous years.
  14. For the next few months till 2 months before Prelims date, you should be doing the following:
    • Revising basic books again and again
    • Covering Mains topics like Ethics, World History etc.
    • Covering Optional Subject
    • Practising answer writing
    • Practising Essay Writing on weekends
    • Reading monthly current affairs of last one year
  15. Now 2 months before Prelims, stop. doing all that. Just finish Prelims Mock Tests. When I say finish mock tests, it means:
    • Finish answering the test paper
    • Check your answers
    • Read up explanation of all the answers
    • Read up the topic whose question you marked incorrectly.
  16. You should be finishing 2-3 test papers daily. That will be a solid 120-150 papers solved in 2 months. That is more than enough preparation for Prelims

Between Prelims and Mains

  1. You have given Prelims. Now relax for 7 days. Take a break. Visit home if you are away from home. Unwind
  2. Your mains preparation has already been in process as per plan above. Now you should totally focus on
    • revision of basic books
    • revision of monthly current affairs magazine
    • Linking basic knowledge and current affairs while practising answer writing
    • Practising answer writing to previous years questions from Optional subject
    • Essay writing practice. Write at least 2-3 essays a week.
    • Cover some extra topics in syllabus like World History, governance, Ethics, etc.
    • Practice Ethics answer writing
    • Join a Test Series for GS as well as Optional.

UPSC Interview Preparation

After the UPSC Mains is over, evaluate your position. But regardless of your chances of qualifying for UPSC Interview or not, revise all that you have studied from the beginning. You will have ample time till Mains results are announced. Use this time to fill the gaps in your coverage. Cover the areas which are your weak points.

When the Mains result is announced and you are called for Interview, focus on the Interview preparation.

  1. Read my UPSC Interview strategy and Interview session which helped me score 195 without much sweat.
  2. Join UPSC Mocks in 3-4 institutes and make sure to attend one mock every week.
  3. Use the mocks to self-evaluate your personality. Do not take their feedback to heart.
  4. Work on improving your physical and mental health. Do yoga and physical exercise and meditation.
  5. Make sure to keep your spirits and self-confidence high. Rest strategy you can read from my own interview experience shared above.

Have any doubts or comments? You can post in the comment section below.

24 thoughts on “How to begin UPSC Preparation: A definitive guide”

  1. Bahut hi shandar prayas hai
    Ekdm aise hi guide ki jarurat thi
    Sir u touched heart
    Sir mai beginner hu aur isko follow karne ke liye resource (books) khojna suru kr diya hu
    Bas ek request hai sir avi old NCERT nhi mil paa rha hai
    If any suggestions thn convey

  2. Priyanshi upadhyay

    Thankyou sir !! I’m priyanshi upadhyay from bokaro Jharkhand studying in class 11th …my dream is to become an IAS officer …I have low middle class background …I thought that I will do BA from a simple college and side side by side I will start my upsc preparation along with graduation …sir plz guide me for my future !!!

  3. Sir I have some problem, please answer
    1. I’m not going for enginnering as I don’t have that much money and going for B. A in humanities. Do in UPSC engineering folks can boost my rank as I have experience of tech?
    2. I have 2020 Economy lectures of Mrunal sir from unacademy. Should I go for it?

    1. As I give my first attempt after graduation. In 2020 meine 12th ke boards de hai.. toh Mrunal sir ke economy abhi se karna sahi rahega ya 1 year phele?

    2. Somesh Upadhyay

      Many have benefited from Mrunal’s economy course on his website. I don’t have any idea about his unacademy course. Focus on you humanities so that you can use it as optional. Best wishes.


    sir All India Radio sunane ko apne kaha. but google karne par do AIR aate hain. kindly provide link of the mentioned site from where you listened news. Apne mobile par suna tha ya PC par. Kya All India Radio ka koi genuine app aata hai jisko download karke news suni ja sake.

  5. atul kumar singh

    sir, my english as well as hindi is not upto the label. should i first focus on writting or it will automatically improve over time.

  6. Vidushi chauhan

    Sir I want to join your telegram as well as watsapp group .I sincerely need someone who can guide me during my preparation .I have finished from Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi and prepairing for UPSC

  7. Sir, I just completed my graduation in B.Tech and just heard about UPSC and i have no idea about this exam. Can i start preparing or its too late ?

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