Civil Services Examination 2020-21 : A Quick Guide for Candidates

By | June 30, 2020
Civil Services Examination Complete Overview

Hello Everyone,

In this article you get complete knowledge about How to prepare well for Civil Services Examination, Success Plan For Preliminary and Mains Examination, Studying for General Studies, State Civil Services Information and How to face Interview Etc.

The Civil Services Examination is a challenge and Lakh of candidates appear in it every year.  About 8 lakh candidates had applied for UPSC Prelims in 2019. As many students appear in the examination, we answer some commonly asked questions.

To achieve success in the exam, it is important to study in a focused manner, both for the Preliminary as well as for the Main Exam. For an IAS aspirant, it is important to know the plan of the examination as well as what one might expect.

The examination consists of two parts: the Preliminary Examination (objective type), which is a qualifying examination, and a Main Examination consisting of written examination and interview.

The marks obtained in the Preliminary Exam are not counted in the Main Exam and it is only a screening exam. The Preliminary Exam is an objective type test. One can appear in the Main Examination only after passing the Preliminary Exam.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) holds the Preliminary Examination in May/June and the Main Examination is held in October/November. The notification for the Preliminary Examination is published in December every year. The exam is held in many cities in India and one can opt for a centre near one’s place so that unnecessary travel is avoided.

The number of vacancies are 1000-1200 every year. Reservation is made for candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.

Educational Qualifications:

The educational qualification required for this examination is Graduate in any discipline. There is no minimum percentage required in graduation. The only essential condition is that the graduate degree should be from a Government recognized University.

Plan of the Examination:

Civil Services examination Consist in mainly 3 Phase:

  1. Preliminary
  2. Main Examination
  3. Interview

Deep information on Exam Pattern of Civil Services, Syllabus, Different Subjects, How to prepare for Civil Services / IAS Interview etc provided soon here.

A Success Plan For Preliminary Examination

One important thing that candidates should keep in mind is that since the time between the Main Exam and the declaration of result of the Preliminary Exam is very less, it is advisable to begin preparations of the Main Exam along with the Preliminary Exam.

The General Studies paper covers the following areas:

General Science; Current events of national and international importance; History of India; World Geography; Indian Polity and Economy; Indian National Movement; General Mental Ability.

For this section, it is important to be updated in all fields. For History, Economy, Polity, etc, it is advisable to read Class 11 and 12 books published by the NCERT. Some books on the freedom struggle are published by the National Book Trust. For general knowledge and objective-type questions, refer to General Knowledge Refresher by O.P. Khanna. For General Mental Ability and current affairs, it is advisable to read The Competition Master regularly.

One question that is often asked by students is about the subjects that they should take up. Since some subjects are scoring, students wish to opt for them. But one thing that must be kept in mind is one’s aptitude. If one has studied a subject since school and one is comfortable in it, chances of doing well in it are greater rather than taking up an unrelated subject which one may never have studied. Generally speaking, do not choose an entirely new subject in which you will have to work very hard. If the optional is prepared well for the preliminary and the same subject is also planned to be opted as one of the optional, it is very useful and saves a lot of labour.

Once you have decided to appear in the Civil Services Exam, preparations should start early. A look at past papers helps get an idea about the kind of questions that are asked. Over the years, The Competition Master has published solved papers which can be referred to. It may be advisable to join a coaching institute so that one keeps in touch with other students and discuss issues with them. It is important, however, to select a good institute. However, one can be successful by self-study also.

Prepare Well

Before initiating the preparations, a few things must be noted by the candidates. The choice of optional subject for Paper-II has to be done very carefully. The candidates must plan ahead of time with eyes on the main examination and choose the optional which he/she intends taking up in the Mains.

The preparations done for the preliminaries would assist the candidates in getting good grasp of the subject and the effort put in would not go waste after the prelims. Secondly, optional subject carries more number of maximum marks as compared to the General Studies Paper. Hence, its importance cannot be undermined.

A candidate doing well in the optional paper is expected to fare well in the examination. Moreover, the optional subject for Paper-II should usually be the subject in which the candidate has either attained proficiency/higher academic qualification or in which the candidate feels at home. Another consideration is the performance of candidates in the said subject in the recent past.

There are several 20 subjects like History, Psychology, Sociology, Public Administration etc in which even the candidates not having special or additional educational qualifications have been doing reasonably well, while the subjects like Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering are considered to offer tougher questions and the candidates with exceptionally good preparation only may expect to do well. But this observation may not be taken as the universal truth. Moreover, the aptitude and proficiency of a particular candidate in a given subject also plays an important role in arriving at a decision.

Availability and access to good and prescribed books is yet another consideration and often the candidates are also guided by this factor, particularly in smaller towns. Books for preliminary examination are available in plenty in common subjects but in case of specialised optional like Mathematics, Engineering, Agriculture etc, one has to look carefully for good books which cover all parts of the syllabus.

Preparations for Paper-II also need specific planning. It would be wrong to confine the studies only to the multiple choice objective type questions. Unless a detailed study of the subject is carried out, it would be difficult to answer the questions on the subject properly. The aim, must, therefore, be to clearly understand the basics of the subject by covering each and every aspect of the syllabus.

This provides a candidate with adequate self-confidence and knowledge to answer the questions correctly. It is better to consult various books on different aspects, as it is very rare that one single book covers the entire syllabus with total efficiency. After going through all parts of the syllabus in detail and getting hold of the basic concepts, it is desirable to have sufficient practice in solving multiple choice objective type questions.

A good book on objective type multiple choice questions or a good question bank on the subject concerned may assist the candidates a great deal. Such practice, on the one hand, would perfect the art of answering the questions correctly and rapidly, and on the other would enable the candidates in understanding the questions asked in various forms. It is normally observed that at times even simple questions are asked in such a complex manner that it becomes difficult to understand the question correctly.

There is not difficult to find out a candidate who had, during the past couple of years, appeared in the prelims with the same subject. It is always better to discuss the subject, its intricacies, pattern of questions and the books to be studied. In addition, it is also not difficult to identify the candidate offering the same optional subject for Paper-II within the same town/city.

It is always fruitful to have detailed discussions on various parts of the syllabus, books to be consulted for the basics, multiple choice question books or question banks and other related issues. Finally, the practice of correctly marking the answer sheet by using minimum possible time will go a long way in helping you succeed

General Studies

While the Optional (Paper-I) subject is very important, the candidates also need to do well in Paper-I. This paper has a maximum of 200 marks but in a competition like this where even a single mark matters a lot, these marks play a decisive role. Most candidates do well in Paper II since the subject chosen is of their interest and knowledge. As such the importance of Paper I is immense.

Paper-I determines the top honours and a candidate doing well in this paper as well, can hope to find his/her name in the list of candidates qualifying for the main examination. As there is no choice of subject for Paper-I and all the candidates are required to solve the same questions, this paper assumes enormous importance as anyone spoiling this paper cannot have any chance of qualifying the examination.

General Studies paper consists of questions on Indian Polity and Economy, History of India including Indian National Movement, Indian and World Geography, Current Affairs of National and International Importance, General and day-to-day Science, Mental Ability and Basics of Statistics etc.

Questions on planning, budgeting, developmental programmes, latest issues of political and constitutional importance, panchayati raj, electoral reforms, natural resources, culture, growth of nationalism, Committees, Commission etc can be expected almost every year. Emphasis normally are placed on the general aspects of the subject which every educated person aspiring to join the Civil Services as an officer, is expected to know.

The fact that this paper needs special and thorough preparations need not be over-emphasised. The aspiring candidates are expected to have keen interest in the General Studies and are supposed to have a good amount of interest in current affairs. All the preparation starting from a scratch cannot be completed in the short period of 4 to 5 months and the candidates must begin preparations early.

Regular and detailed reading of a good national newspaper, a standard competition magazine and a basic book on general knowledge is the essential pre-requisite. Those readers who still have two to three years of time left for becoming eligible to go in for Civil Services Examination must begin preparations now. The candidates who do not have enough background in 20 the General Studies may have to put in harder effort to catch up with the others.

“General Knowledge Refresher” by O.P. Khanna and “JobsCaptain” make a unique combination for this purpose. In addition, a good and basic book on Indian Constitution, latest plan document and budget/economic survey, basic books like NCERT books on Indian History and National Movement, World and Indian Geography and General Science are certain other books which can fruitfully supplement the efforts.

A good backgrounder on major national and international events assists the fresh starters to understand the background of any social, economic or political event, enabling them to understand the details and developments in a better way. In addition, the candidates who have recently taken the examination may also be consulted.

The candidates must bear one thing in mind. Exhaustive study of each and every aspect of the General Studies is essential. It would be wrong to presume that any single book would suffice. Every book has its strong and weak parts. It is, therefore, left to the candidate to consult as many books as possible, so that every aspect is studied in the required detail. Another important point is efficient time planning.

The time available with the candidates for preparations is limited and it has to be intelligently utilised. The candidates must not waste the time unnecessarily by going into lengthy details of one particular aspect, leaving other important aspects untouched. Moreover, it is better to draw up a formal time table so that no aspects of both the papers is left unprepared.

To conclude, proper selection of optional subject, availability and selection of proper books and magazines, meticulous time management, proper planning, hard work and will to succeed are some of the attributes which play vital role in making a candidate successful. One thing good about this examination is that the preparations made do not go waste and are properly utilised for the main examination.

Hard work invariably is rewarded with the sweet taste of success.

Success Plan for Mains

Preparations for the Civil Services Mains Exam should start along with those of Preliminary exam. This is because there is much common ground for study, and there is little time for the mains exam if one waits for the results of the Preliminaries. It is a long haul and preparations should be done with persistence, over nine months to an year.

Choice of subjects

One of the first questions that has to be answered is the choice of subjects. Here the choice should not only be with regard to your interests but also with regard to the study material available.

It has been found that even science and engineering students take up subjects like history, sociology, anthropology, grography, political science, psychology and public administration because there is a huge amount of study material available, which covers the entire syllabus.

Even if your branch of study is different, it is advisable to keep in touch with one of these subjects which will help you when you start preparations. Start collecting books and readings once you have made your choice.

The next step is to make a time-bound study plan, which would include not only studying the subject but improvement of writing expression. This is done by writing down the answers to the questions asked in previous years’ papers.

Show these answers to someone you know, like a teacher in your college or university, parents or friends. The study should be done according to the syllabus and also in the same chronological order as given in the syllabus.

The following topics need coverage for General Studies:

  • Current Affiars (National and International
  • Indian Polity
  • Indian Economy
  • Geography of India
  • Science and Technology
  • History of India and Freedom Movement
  • Study of thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore and more personalities
  • Statistics and General Mathematics Ability

To study current affairs, it is essential to read one national newspaper and The Competition Master. When you are studying the round up of national and international affairs, efforts should not be merely taking up the information but also to understand the issues involved.

Go into the background of events. For example, the recent Lok Sabha elections threw up many issues. Get to know these issues and be clear about them so that you can answer questions on them.

Reading List

With regard to other topics, the books published by the NCERT are the best source of study. Take up the text-books for classes IX, X, XI and XII. However, just reading these books will not serve the purpose. What is essential is that the person taking up self-study must pick up past question papers and write down the answers to questions asked therein. A practice in writing is what is required to attempt the paper.

Many students make the mistake of studying for hours but have no practice in writing down the answers, which costs heavily during the exam. The skill required is that of organising the arguments and making a coherent answer from the diverse material. One more thing that must be kept in mind is that the answers must be a little different from others and must have some extra bit that is missed out by others. This is not difficult if one has understood the issue in depth.

One important aspect of the Civil Services Mains Exam is that the questions do not ask for mere information as a reply, but seek analysis backed with arguments from the candidates. Usually, one gets the impression that one knows everything but thoughts do not flow out naturally as one puts pen to paper. Hence, writing down the answers is an important aspect of the preparation.

Another thing is that the candidate must carefully read the questions in order to make out what the examiner is asking. Having done that, it is important to organise one’s thoughts before writing and the sequence of the answer should be from the most important/potent aspect to less important aspects.

If you do not have someone to show your answers, keep them away and after a gap of some time, read them again. You will discover many mistakes, which earlier you could not. Analyse the answers in order to improve them. This exercise of re-analysis of answers improves the ability to be precise. One of the important requirements of the Mains exam is that the answers should be crisp and to-the-point.

Optional subjects

While studying for the optional subjects, keep in mind that there is no scope for selective studies in the Civil Services Examination. The whole syllabus must be completely and thoroughly covered. Invariably, some candidates organise their studies in a manner that they study one subject thoroughly, with reduced emphasis on their second subject. It is imperative that equal stress be given to both the subjects you have chosen.

It is also important to remember that the level of questions asked is of the Masters level examination. The questions have an added spin in order to bring out the grasp of the candidate with regard to the basic concepts of the subject. Hence, if you choose subjects in which you do not have a basic grounding, it would be advisable to start from simple books.

After getting the grasp of the basic concepts, start with higher level study material. Here again, reflections on basic concepts and their application in real life is important. For best preparation and a success plan, it is suggested that the candidate make a habit of beginning his study by writing answers to three questions each day, one each from General Studies and two from optional subjects. Questions should be chosen from previous years’ papers and the answer writing should be preceded by study on the subject.

Most candidates do not have problems with regard to English and Hindi examinations and are able to qualify in them easily. However, it is important to have a good working knowledge of the two languages. In order to improve this skill, pick up a General Studies book and translate it into the language in which you are weak.

For instance, if you are weak in Hindi, try translating important essays on current affairs into Hindi which will not only improve fluency but also the general knowledge. Another way is to write letters to friends in the language that one is weak in.

Studying for General Studies

Giving a detailed description of the optional subjects is not feasible here but we give here some suggested readings for the General Studies paper. Students should remember that this list is not exhaustive and they should choose the books themselves based on recommendations of previous successful students, teachers and guides, etc. We are giving a list as a general requirement.

NCERT, IGNOU booklets and National Book Trust (NBT) publications are quite helpful. For the Preliminary paper, study the following books:

History: NCERT books of class XI and XII, Freedom Struggle (published by National Book Trust)

Geography: Class XII books of Geography (NCERT), a good atlas.

Indian Polity: Introduction to the Indian Constitution.

Indian Economy: NCERT and other books on Evolution of the Indian Economy.

General Science: NCERT books on science, a science magazine or newspaper supplements on science.

Current Events: A national newspaper, Internet News and Printed Magazines.

General Mental Ability: Do the Quantitative Aptitude published in, past test papers.

For the main examination, the study should be done in more detail. In addition to the above readings, the following are suggested as well:

History: India’s Struggle for Independence, IGNOU publications on Modern India.

Indian Culture: Art and culture portions of history books, India Yearbook (culture chapter), Encyclopaedia on Indian Culture, Gazetteer of India, books on culture published by Publications Division and National Book Trust.

Current Affairs: A national newspaper, The Competition Master, current affairs programmes on Doordarshan, news magazines.

General Information of IndiaToday’s most important topics in UPSC/IAS Exams

Statistics: Class XI NCERT book on Statistics.

Indian Polity: Introduction to the Constitution, Parliament.

Indian Geography: NCERT books on Indian Geography.

Economy of India: NCERT and other books on Indian Economy, financial newspapers, The Competition Master carries regular analysis of the Indian Economy.

Science: A science magazine, supplements in newspapers.


The final stage is that of interview. There are cases where students clear the preliminary and the mains but fail at the last stage. The secret is to start for preparations for the interview along with the written test. Develop the habit of debating and discussing issues with friends or parents.

Listen to the current affairs programmes and learn to organise thoughts the way the participants do. Develop interests and hobbies so that you are able to answer convincingly. Understand the current affairs and the issues behind the events. Remember that the interview is not a cross examination but a natural but purposeful conversation. It is an opportunity to reveal the mental qualities of a candidate.

The interview is not a test of specialised knowledge, as that has already been tested in written examination. The idea is to see the social traits of a person and his personality as suited to a career in the Civil Services. If a person gives the impression of being a bookworm, the chances of his selection are reduced. The candidate must exhibit an intelligent interest in events happening around him so that he appears to be a complete personality.

Finally, there is a very frequently asked question about whether a candidate should join a coaching centre and if so, which one. Coaching centres are helpful in the sense that they develop a discipline of attending regular classes. An instructor may be available who can give an opinion about the answers written by a candidate.

At the same time, the candidate will meet like-minded people with whom he can develop the habit of debating and discussion. However, the coaching centre must be chosen with care: the instructor must be erudite enough to be able to guide students. If he is not well read, the chances of guiding others would be diminished.

It must also be remembered that preparation for the optional subjects must be done on one’s own, as it is unlikely that any coaching centre would be able to do justice to all the subjects.

Interview is most dangerous phase in Civil Services Examination.

State Civil Services

Yet another opening to the administrative services in Government is in the form of State Civil Services (SCS) also known as Provincial Civil Services (PCS).

Every State Public Service Commission carries out a competitive examination usually every year for recruitment to the State Civil Services. The categories of services to which candidates are selected through the SCS examination are as under:

  1. State Civil Services, Class-I (SCS)
  2. State Police Service, Class-I (SPS)
  3. Block Development Officer
  4. Tehsildar/Talukadar/Asstt. Collector
  5. Excise and Taxation Officer
  6. Distt. Employment Officer
  7. Distt. Treasury Officer
  8. Distt Welfare Officer
  9. Asstt Registrar Cooperative Societies
  10. Distt. Food and Supplies Controller/Officer
  11. Any other Class-I/Class-II service notified as per rules by the concerned State.

All the above services offer excellent avenues in the middle level administration. After putting in a certain number of years in the State service, the officers of SCS and SPS may expect to be nominated to the IAS and IPS respectively, with some antedate seniority.

In the SCS, the officers get posted as Sub-Divisional Magistrates/Deputy Collectors, Land Acquisition Collectors, Additional District Magistrates, Municipal Administrators, Under/Deputy Joint Secretaries, Deputy/Joint /Additional Directors or Assistant Commissioners in the State administration. Similarly, SPS officers are appointed as Deputy/Additional Superintendents of Police.

One major advantage these services has is that one may expect to remain within that particular States and gain valuable experience before getting nominated to the IAS/IPS. This enables these officers to excel in their higher postings. A candidate joining SCS/SPS at a favourable age may expect to reach the level of the Secretary or DIG Police. However, the promotional avenues vary from State to State. Moreover, these services have built-in higher scales like senior and selection scale before getting into the IAS/IPS.

Most of the other posts enumerated above are class-II services and have their promotional avenues through the SCS class-I and the officers may subsequently get nominated to the IAS before retirement.

Most of the openings in the State Civil Services are executive in nature and the officers in these services are directly responsible for implementing all schemes, plans and programmes of the Government. The mental satisfaction of being at the centre-stage of implementing the Government policies is the hallmark of this career.

The Examination

The examination for State civil services is conducted by the State Public Service Commission concerned. The number of vacancies is dependent on the requisition by the Government which varies every year. The number of vacancies is also dependent on several other factors like promotions, retirements and expansion of cadre in a particular year in the concerned State. Any query regarding Civil Services Examination 2020-21, do comment in last.


All graduates are eligible to take this examination. Minimum age required is 21 years but the upper age limit may range between 28 to 35 years, varying from State to State. The State Governments usually allow relaxation in upper age limit to the scheduled castes/scheduled Tribes, Ex-Servicemen, physically handicapped and the employees of the State Government.

Some vacancies are reserved for various other categories which differ from State to State.
The examination is conducted as an all-India competition but during the interview it is desirable for the candidates to know the language, culture, customs etc of the concerned State. The number of vacancies being limited, the examination offers a tough competition to the aspirants and only the candidates with thorough preparations may expect to be successful.

Scheme of Examination:

The pattern of this examination is similar to the civil services examination conducted by the UPSC. Most of the bigger States follow the practice of holding a preliminary examination to short-list the candidates. Preliminary examination is almost on the lines of preliminary examination for the civil services examination conducted by the UPSC, with the exception that a few questions may be asked about the custom, traditions, planning and problems of the State concerned.

The smaller States with relatively lesser number of vacancies and lesser candidates may skip the preliminary examination. The Centres for examination are determined by the concerned public service commission considering the geographical area of the State and the number of candidates taking the examination.

Preliminary examination is followed by the main examination (Smaller States usually go in for main examination straightaway). Most of the States have adopted the syllabus and pattern of the Civil Services examination.

The only difference usually is that the language papers i.e. English and regional language papers are full-fledged papers and marks obtained in these subjects are also included for preparing the final merit list. Moreover, in the General Studies paper some questions on socio-economic conditions, planning, customs, culture etc of the particular State may also appear.

The details regarding optional subject for preliminary and main examination are given in the instructions for the examination given along with the application form. The readers may refer to the Career’s feature in November 1992 issue of ‘The Competition Master’ in which details of compulsory subjects for Civil Services examination are given.

The candidates may also refer to the question-papers of the previous few years which will normally clarify the trend of the questions.

Personal Interview

Main examination is followed by personal interview. In proportion to the number of vacancies, the candidates are called to appear before an interview board. The competition being very keen, the interview conducted by the State public service commissions assumes significance.

The purpose of the interview is to judge the suitability of the candidates for the State civil services. On the basis of the marks obtained in the main examination as well as the interview, a final merit list is prepared and the candidates are declared successful on the basis of their rank and choice of service after providing for reservations.

How to Prepare

Since the pattern, subjects and syllabus of the State civil service examination and the civil service examination conducted by the UPSC are almost same, it is recommended that the candidates must appear for both these examinations simultaneously. Only minor changes in the preparations would be required. The State public service commissions usually try to ensure that the dates of examination do not clash with those of the civil services examination.

There are several academies/institutions which offer guidance and coaching facilities to the interested candidates. While it is advisable to get some guidance, the candidates must be very selective while choosing an academy for this purpose. Formalised coaching suffers from one big drawback same standards are fixed by the academy for all candidates and no attention is paid to the existing level of preparedness of a particular candidate.

Hence, self-study has the advantage of proper planning for the distribution of time among various subjects as per one’s level of preparation in each subject. For preparing, the books on optional as well as compulsory subjects must be chosen with great caution. It is recommended that the successful candidates of the previous years should be contacted and details about the books for optional are obtained from them.

The candidates must also see for themselves that the prescribed syllabus is also covered by the books they wish to consult. Even while choosing optional one should be careful and the subjects already read should be preferred. If a new subject is required to be chosen as optional, subjects like Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, History, and Public Administration are the ones which can easily be prepared without any previous background. Of course the final selection would depend on one’s aptitude for a particular subject.

Special attention needs to be paid to the compulsories, particularly General Studies and English. For General Studies special preparations are required particularly for making preparations for the “State-specific” questions as no ready made material is normally available. Special efforts are required to procure and compile this part of General Studies.

For rest of the contents, a standard General Knowledge Refresher, supplemented by the year book published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, regular study of “JobsCaptain” (including previous issues for at least one-year), a good national as well as regional newspaper, Economic Survey, Plan Document, Economic Review/Survey of the State concerned etc are some of the essential aids. In addition, a good introductory book on Modern History and a good introductory book on Indian Constitution may also prove to be useful.

Once all the above material and standard books are arranged, the candidates must start preparing thoroughly. In-depth studies would not only help in the written examination, but will also add to the self-confidence of the candidate during the personal interview. Since there is no substitute to hard work and studies, a well-prepared candidate may find his/her name in the final merit list.

Additional Information

Further information about the subjects, syllabus, centres of examination etc are given in the advertisement and in the “instructions” for the candidates. In some States the examination is not conducted every year. In such States the candidates may have to remain prepared for longer duration and to grab the opportunity when it comes their way.

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