CSAT Preparation Strategy/IAS Exam

CSAT Preparation

This Article contains the most effective strategy for CSAT Preparation.

Civil Services , popularly known as the IAS Exam is one of the toughest in the India. Each year lakhs of aspirants apply and only the best get selected.

CSAT Preparation

Step Wise Strategy 

Step 1: Know the Exam Pattern

IAS Exam General Studies

The first step leading to CSAT preparation is to familiarize yourself with the pattern of the examination. IAS Exam is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) each year.

It is conducted in 3 stages:

Stage 1: Preliminary Examination 

There are two papers in the Preliminary exam.

  • Paper I tests you on General Studies and Paper II tests you on Aptitude.
  • Qualifying Paper I lets you appear for the Mains examination.
  • Paper II is only to analyze you i.e it is only of qualifying nature.
  • The marks scored in Paper II are NOT added for the overall merit of the Civil Services Preliminary Examination.

 Paper I (General Studies)

200 Marks

Duration: Two Hours

Number of Questions: 100

Paper II (Aptitude)

200 Marks

Duration: Two Hours

Number of Questions: 80

Stage 2: Main Examination (Also known as Mains)

The Main Examination will consist of written examination. The written examination will consist of 9 papers of conventional essay type i.e descriptive in nature.

Stage 3: Personal Interview (Also known as PI)

Candidates who obtain minimum qualifying marks in the Main Examination as may be fixed by the Commission at their discretion, shall be summoned by them for an interview for a Personality Test.

Step 2: Know the Exam Syllabus

IAS Exam General Studies

A thorough knowledge of the complete prelims syllabus is a requiste for productive CSAT Preparation

Paper I Syllabus (General Studies)

  1. Current Affairs: Events of national and international importance
  2. History of India and Indian National Movement
  3. Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic geography of India and the World.
  4. Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  5. Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.
  6. General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change (no subject specialization required)
  7. General Science

 Paper II Syllabus

    1. Comprehension
    2. Interpersonal skills including communication skills
    3. Logical reasoning and analytical ability
    4. Decision making and problem solving
    5. General mental ability
    6. Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude etc.) (Class X level), Data Interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. – Class X level)

Step 3: Preparation of General Studies

IAS Exam General Studies

General Studies is an extremely important component of IAS/CSAT Preparation. It comprises a vast ocean of subjects.

Since the official syllabus does not give much detail of the topics to be studied under each subject it is expected to gain knowledge of them that should be slightly below the graduation level but definitely above the high school level.

There are 100 questions to be answered in two hours, each question carries two marks. It means there will be around 80 seconds to answer each question. So speed and accuracy is essential to tackle this examination. While the correct answer will fetch 2 marks, a wrong answer means a loss of 0.66 marks.

Any aspirant who has a grip over General Studies can be sure to be at a good spot in his/her CSAT preparation.

The 100 questions can be broadly divided into three categories:

      1. Multiple Choice Questions – single response correct
      2. Multiple Choice Questions – multiple response correct
      3. Multiple Choice Questions – Matching type

Step 4: Go Through Previous Year Papers

IAS Exam General Studies

Going through the last five year papers (at least 5 years) will familiarize you with the kind of questions asked in the examination.

One thing you have to understand here is that UPSC will NEVER repeat a question.

So don’t mug up questions. It’ll be of no use. What will be of use is the fact that the ‘type’ of question might get repeated.

Going through past year’s papers will will make you understand the scope of the questions being asked. So when you study different subjects, you will keep that in mind.

IAS Exam is not just about hard work. It’s a combination of both hard work and smart work.

Step 5: Subject Wise Preparation Strategy 

IAS Exam General Studies

History/Indian Culture

A considerable share of the total questions asked in General Studies for IAS, comes from Indian History.

The syllabus for history can be divided in 3 parts –

Ancient Indian History

Medieval Indian History

Modern Indian History

Most of the History questions asked in IAS Preliminary Exam usually come from Modern India & Art and Culture. It has been seen that Medieval Indian History & Ancient Indian History don’t constitute a major part in terms of the number of questions asked.

So if one has to prioritize the topics for Indian History, Modern India (especially the Struggle for Independence) & Art & Culture should be given preference vis-a-vis Medieval Indian History & Ancient Indian History.

Having said that never leave out the low priority topics altogether. Remember, UPSC loves to give it’s aspirants surprises.

One common mistake that most IAS aspirants make while preparing history is that in search of relevant books & study materials, they end up with a multitude of resources.

Having too many books & study resources for one particular subject can do more harm than good when it comes to quick revision later.




Geography is divided into two parts –

Indian Geography 

 World Geography

It has been seen that Indian Geography is given more weightage in the Preliminary Examination.

The following are the broad topics that you MUST cover before the exam.

Indian Geography

      1. Physiography of India
      2. River Systems of India
      3. Climate
      4. Mineral Wealth of India
      5. Soil & Soil Types in India
      6. Agriculture
      7. Forests
      8. Wildlife & Conservation
      9. Human Geography

While you prepare for Geography of India, keep in mind that mere cramming up information would be no use.

Before you take up Physical Geography of India, have a clear understanding of fundamentals of Geography first. After you are thorough with the concepts involving Geography, you are fit to proceed towards  Geography of India. Here, understand each section, sub-section in great details.

For example, if you have to understand Physiography of India, look for critical pieces of information around the same. This would include Characteristics of each region, the process behind their formation, its mineral wealth, the climate of that region and why that is the way it is, Vegetation in that region and its direct/indirect relation to Climate & Human activities etc.

World Geography

The following are the broad topics that you MUST cover before the exam:

      1. The Earth & the Universe
      2. Land forms and their formation
      3. Atmosphere
      4. Wind System
      5. Clouds & Precipitation
      6. Hydrosphere
      7. Different Types of Climate & Climatic Regions of the World

Numerous concepts and phenomena related to Physical Geography are a part of World Geography. It is extremely important to highlight here that your understanding of World Geography would make Indian Physical Geography and a few other topics like Environment very easy for you.



There are a significant number of questions that are asked from polity and over the years they have been found to be direct and ranging from Easy to Moderate on the difficulty scale.

You must study from books that cover almost all of the topics that come under Indian Polity. Now there are three authors that have historically ruled the roost.

These are M. Laxmikanth, Subhash Kashyap & DD Basu.

The most comprehensive and resourceful book however, is M. Laxminkanth. In fact it is one of the best books for CSAT preparation for both Prelims and Mains. The book covers almost all of the topics that are a part of the syllabus. It has been very well structured in the form of short chapters and there are practice papers in the end as well. The language is simple to understand.

For polity, start with topics that are of keen interest to you. One does not necessarily have to begin in the same sequence as the Table of Contents. For instance, you may start with the chapter on Fundamental Rights & Duties much before you read the Process of the making of Indian Constitution. However, as you progress you would see that there are some chapters which are best read in the form of sets.

For example, it should only be natural to read up State Government and its Functioning after you read Union Government & its functioning. 

The questions asked from the polity section are both static and dynamic in nature. Both these type of questions can be related to events and issues that passed by or are being debated. Current events related to new Bills, Acts, Policies and related provisions should be persistently followed and related topics looked up in your reference books.

For example, if there is a landmark judgement passed by the Supreme Court around Freedom of Speech, it should automatically ring a bell in your head that you need to look at relevant chapters around Fundamental Rights and Judiciary in your course book.



A lot of aspirants get scared on hearing the name of economics. It comes across as this strange subject for their CSAT preparation.

But there is nothing to worry.

Let me clarify right in the beginning that you do not need to have prior knowledge of economics to crack the questions based on it. You will understand concepts as you keep reading.

In fact economics might become your favorite subject from the syllabus.

To understand Indian Economy better, you need to have the right resources.

There are no better books than NCERTs that would build your fundamental understanding of the subject.

Read the following right at the onset of your preparation:

      • Principles of Macroeconomics – Std XII
      • Principles of Microeconomics –  Std XII
      • Indian Economic Development – Std XI

Having an understanding of certain important concepts of Microeconomics, e.g. Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, Elasticity of Demands etc would certainly go a long way towards building your basics.

Now you may take up any book that takes up the case of Indian Economy in detail.

Never Forget The Budget & Economic Survey of India

The Economic Survey of India is the finest and the most comprehensive document about the state of Indian Economy. It gives you the rationale behind every policy decision, comparative analyses, Important Welfare Schemes and the road map for the future of Indian Economy. Studying theEconomic Survey in detail in a must for CSAT preparation.

Read magazines like Economic Times or Business Standard especially the issues on the Union Budget.

Note down all important policy decisions of the Government of India.


Science & Technology

There are mostly analytical questions that show up in this section.

For scoring well in Science and Technology section, you should  first try to analyse the kind of questions that have been asked in the previous papers.

Mostly, all of the questions from Science and Technology section are analytical/conceptual in nature. A lot of them hold relevance because of the events going on around us.

So, current affairs across the world goes in-sync with your conceptual knowledge. All you need here is the right approach.

I suggest you to strengthen your basics first.

It’ll go a long way in your CSAT preparation.

      • Start reading from ICSE Books(Classes 7-10).
      • Focus on the science behind various natural phenomenon. This would make your learning more fun as well.
      • Go through previously asked questions from the Science & Technology section and understand which topics are more relevant and frequently asked.
      • While you are preparing, make sure you stick to the basics only.
      • If you don’t understand concepts well enough from ICSE books, browse the internet.
      • But do not spend too much time understanding the concepts in great details. Remember, you don’t need to hold a doctorate before writing the exam.

If you analyse previous years’ question papers thoroughly,  you will realize that most questions were asked simply because they were in news in the last 10-12 months before the exam.

Focus on what is happening in India that is relevant to the field of Science and Technology. Follow ISRO, DRDO, Ministry of Science & Technology and what they do.

The best way to do that is to religiously follow Science & Technology section of The Hindu.


Ecology, Environment, Biodiversity & Climate Change is the most unsettling part for civil services aspirants. There are many reasons behind this.

The first & foremost being that there is no study material which can be thought of as concrete or complete in itself. Ever since, the preliminary examination for Indian Forest Services (IFS) has been clubbed with Civil Services Prelims, the weightage allocated to this section has considerably increased. Naturally, it calls for greater attention.

Students pursuing IAS exam general studies preparation can no longer afford to overlook this section.

Here are some of the best sources to study the Environment Section for CSAT Preparation –

      • NCERT Geography – Std VI to Std XI
      • NCERT Science – Std VII to Std X
      • NCERT Economy – Std XI
      • NCERT Biology – Std XII
      • NCERT Chemistry – Std XII
      • Shankar IAS – Environment
      • Notes from NIOS
      • ICSE Books- Std X & XI
      • India Year Book
      • Orient Blackswan School Atlas
      • Hindu Official website
      • Environmental Studies For Undergraduate Courses by  Erach Bharucha
      • Ecology and environment by P. D. Sharma.
      • Down to Earth Magazine
      • Science Reporter
      • Economic Survey of India
      • Official Website of Environment Ministry


Current Affairs

CSAT Preparation cannot be deemed complete without a proper knowledge of Current Affairs. One should never lose track of current events.

UPSC asks questions from various sections relating them to current affairs.

For example, if a money bill was in news, UPSC will frame a question on it that will be a part of both polity and current affairs.

Something like El Nino can be asked because it was in news. It’ll be  apart of current affairs, environment as well as geography. So, try reading current affairs relating them to your syllabus.

Always follow the business & economy section of a leading daily for economics current affairs.. The Hindu, Indian Express & Business Standard are the most reliable resources. Pick any one of these and follow it religiously. You may also follow leading economists/analysts e.g. CRL Narasimhan (The Hindu) and their opinions in these dailies. Always make sure you look at any event with a balanced perspective.

The Hindu is a MUST READ newspaper when it comes to cracking the IAS exam general studies preparation. So, be sure to read it daily. Don’t just read it , jot down important notes.

Step 6: Enroll yourself in a Test Series

IAS Exam General Studies

Once you have got a good grip over a large part of the syllabus, get enrolled in a good test series. Attempt regular mock tests. Also, it is expected of you to go through at least five year previous question papers in detail.

Remember hat you don’t have to go to Delhi (as many perceive) to crack Civil Services. There are numerous online test series available.

If you have access to mock tests in your city, good. If not, get yourself enrolled online. The key here is to practice as much as you can. I insist , you get enrolled in test series of more than one agency.

The more sources you practice from , the better it will prove for your CSAT Preparation.

All the best with your preparation 🙂

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Useful Links for IAS Aspirants




References upsc.gov.in

  • Ayushman

    thanks for the post


      you are welcome Ayushman
      Hope it helped you

  • Sahil

    This is one of the best articles on GS Preparation. Please put for CSAT and mains also.


      Thanks for your kind feedback Sahil

  • Kiran

    thanks great

    • Do read our other articles on Civil Services Preparation.