Civil Services Examination

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Preparation for Civil Services


The Civil Services selection is one of the most challenging and untainted exams in India. The number of vacancies in the Civil Services varies between 600 and 700 every year with reservation quota specified for candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. This examination is conducted by the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) every year and the first stage of the selection process is announced in the national dailies in the month of November or December. The applications are accepted only till the middle of January. The notification with complete details of the total number of vacancies, the eligibility criteria, the plan of the examination and the date of the round of selection to various Central Services such as the IAS, the IPS, the IFS and the Indian Services in accounts, customs, revenue, postal, railway and defense is published in the Employment News paper.  Even the website has the complete details of the same.

Eligibility Criteria

·         The candidate must be a citizen of India between 21 and 30 years of age as on August 1 every year for the exam.

·         Relaxations to the age limit are available for 5 years for candidates belonging to the scheduled castes or those who were domiciled in J & K from January 1, 1980 to December 31, 1989.

·         A relaxation of 3 years is available in the case of Defence Services Personnel disabled in operations

·         A relaxation upto 8 years is available for Scheduled Caste candidate who is also a defence personnel, disabled in operations

·         A relaxation upto 5 years is available in case of ex-servicemen including Commissioned Officers who have rendered at least five years Military Service as on August 1 of that year

·         A relaxation upto 10 years is available in the case of ex-servicemen including Commissioned Officers who belong to the Scheduled Castes and who have rendered at least five years Military Service.

·         The date of birth acceptable is the one entered in the Matriculation or School Leaving Certificate. No other documents with respect to age are acceptable.

·         The candidate must hold a degree of any of the Universities incorporated by an act of legislature in India or educational institutions established by an Act of Parliament.

·         A degree from deemed universities under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 is also eligible.

·         Candidates having professionals and technical qualifications recognised by the government are also eligible.

·         Candidates having an MBBS degree but have not completed their internship will be provisionally admitted to the Main Examination provided that they submit a certificate of their Institute that they have passed the final professional medical examination.

·         Those who have appeared in the final year but do not have the result can also apply but they would have to produce proof of passing the exam with their application for the Main Exam.


There are 4 attempts permitted at the examination for the candidate. There is no restriction on the number of attempts for scheduled caste candidates but Other Backward Classes have seven attempts. If a candidate appears in the Preliminary Exam or even appears in one paper, it is counted as an attempt. So, the candidate should make up his mind before applying and taking an attempt and only a serious attempt should be made.


The competitive examinations held by the UPSC consist of two parts which are the Preliminary Examination of objective type and the Main Examination of descriptive type along with an exhaustive interview. The Prelims are referred as the screening mechanism or the elimination round for reaching the next phase of the Mains examination. It is estimated that approximately in a year, 200,000 candidates appear for the Prelims and less than 20,000 qualify for the Mains. Thus the number of candidates for the Prelims is about 10 times larger than the number of vacancies available.

The Preliminary Examination

The prelims are held either in the month of May or June. It is held in many cities in India and the candidate can opt for a centre near his place so that unnecessary travel is avoided. It consists of two tests of two hours each. The question types are objective with multiple choices. The two papers are the General Studies and an Optional Subject with maximum marks of 450 as given below.

Paper I

General Studies

150 marks

Paper II

One subject to be selected from below

300 marks


450 marks

The General Studies (GS) test contains 150 objective, multiple-choice questions primarily covering the six topics such as the constitution of India, the history, the geography, the economics, the science, and the current affairs. The second test is based on the optional subject chosen, from the 23 subjects, by the candidate. This objective, multiple-choice test contains 120 questions. The 23 subjects for the Paper II are Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science, Botany, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Commerce, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Geography, Geology, Indian History, Law, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medical Science, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, Statistics, and Zoology. It is not compulsory to choose the same subjects of the candidate’s graduation. The question papers are available in Hindi and English. The course content of the syllabi is of degree level. The blind candidates are given an extra time of 20 minutes for each paper. The results are declared in July-August and the successful candidates are called for the main examinations. The marks obtained in the Preliminary Exam are not counted in the Main Exam and its score has no bearing for determining the final merit list for the services. It is only a screening exam and the candidate can appear in the Main Examination only after passing the Preliminary Exam.

The Main Examination

The mains examination is held either in the month of October or November.  It comprises of 9 papers in all with the duration of 3 hours for each paper.  The successful candidates of the main examinations are eligible for the interview. The Mains examination pattern is given as below.

Paper I

One of the languages to be selected from the Eighth

300 marks

Schedule of the Constitution

Paper II


300 marks

Paper III


200 marks

Paper IV & V

General Studies

300 marks each

Paper VI-IX

Any two subjects from list of optional subjects.

300 marks

Each subject has two papers.


300 marks

The Main Exam consists of a written exam and an interview test. The written exam of 9 papers is mainly conventional essay type. The marks obtained in the Main Exam determine whether the candidate is eligible for the interview or not. The first two are language tests. The Paper I is the Language Test in any one of the languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian constitution. They are Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Marathi, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya, Pali, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. The Paper II is the test on the English language.  Each test being worth 300 marks are at the high school level. The candidates are expected to only qualify in these tests. But the scores from these tests are not included in the aggregate marks. The language test is not required for candidates from the North-East. The Paper III is an essay test, worth 200 points. The candidate can write the essay in English or in any other language included in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution. The next two papers IV and V, each worth 300 points, are on the General Studies. The syllabus for each paper is different and these tests aim to judge the candidate’s awareness and his understanding and analysis of the contemporary events. The remaining four tests, each worth 300 points, are on the two optional subjects of the candidate’s choice. The subject matter is consistent with the college level education.

The optional subjects include Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science, Botany, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Commerce and Accountancy, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Geography, Geology, History, Law, Management, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medical Science, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science and International Relations, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, Statistics, and Zoology. But the following combinations are not allowed.

  • Political Science & International Relations and Public Administration
  • Commerce and Management
  • Anthropology and Sociology
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
  • Management and Public Administration
  • Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Science and Medical Science
  • Any two branches of engineering

The interview which is for 300 points is the last stage of the selection process. Almost twice as many candidates are invited for Interview as the number of vacancies. The interview calls are sent in the month of March or April of the following year on the basis of minimum marks fixed by the UPSC at its discretion. The objective of the interview is to assess the suitability of the candidate for a career in public service. The Board of interviewers will look for a well groomed personality with the social traits, the integrity and the qualities of leadership. Some of the expected qualities are the mental alertness, the critical powers of assimilation, the logical exposition, the ability to judge, the variety and the depth of interest, the social cohesion, the leadership, the intellectual and the moral integrity. The essential ingredient of succeeding in this exam is the knowledge of the contents and structure of the exam and the process. The marks obtained in the Main Examination and the interview will determine the final ranking. The candidates are allotted various services based on their ranks in the examination and preferences expressed by them.

The Preparation

The UPSC emphasizes in identifying the appropriate personalities and not just merely the candidates who display a certain level of excellence. As the Civil Services require its candidates to have an abiding faith in good governance and belief in a firm social commitment, the men and women who are the paragons of virtue are selected. The candidates who appear for this examination will face a different kind of examination than that of a University. Hence, the technique of preparation is also different to suit the matrix of this examination.

Success Plan for the Preliminary Examination

·         Efficient time planning is the most important technique in successful completion of this exam. As the time is limited, it must be used judicially. A proper planned time table is of great help in preparing for this exam so that none of the aspects is left unprepared. Also, the time between the Main Exam and the declaration of result of the Preliminary Exam is very less. So it is better to begin the preparations for the Main Exam along with that for the Preliminary Exam. Apart from vigorous preparation for at least one year, prepare from one more preceding year so that the chances of staying on the right path are more. Concentrating on the essentials of each theme or topic with an approach of developing a higher degree of intellectual curiosity is highly rewarded. The mind is the most important tool in this knowledge-based exam. It is common that every student has an overload of worries, fears, hopes and anxieties. But having a control over the mind and staying calm with the confidence of success while preparing and at the time of examination are essential for ensuring success.

·         The General Studies paper has a maximum of 150 marks and in this competitive exam, even a single mark matters a lot. The accurate and updated information is necessary in the fields of the General Science, the Current events of national and international importance, the History of India, the World Geography, the Indian Polity and Economy, the Indian National Movement and the General Mental Ability. The questions on the planning, the budgeting, the developmental programmes, the latest issues of political and constitutional importance, the Panchayati Raj, the electoral reforms, the natural resources, the culture, the growth of nationalism, the Committees, and the Commission are expected every year. The exhaustive study of each and every aspect of the General Studies is essential. Also depending on any single book is wrong as every book has both strong and weak points. Consulting as many books as possible in order to study every aspect in required detail. The regular and the detailed reading of a good national newspaper, a standard competition magazine and a basic book on general knowledge is the most essential pre-requisite.

·         Some of the suggested books for the General Studies are as follows. But the list is not exhaustive and many supporting additional reading can be made from different sources other than the following list.

o        History: NCERT books of class XI and XII plus Freedom Struggle published by National Book Trust

o        Geography: Class XII NCERT books of Geography

o        Indian Polity: Introduction to the Indian Constitution

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

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

o        Current Events: A national newspaper, The Competition Master, The Competition Success Review, Newsmagazines

o        General Mental Ability: The Quantitative Aptitude by R.S.Agarwal and also the exercises published in The Competition Master and past test papers

o        General Knowledge: General Knowledge Refresher by O.P.Khanna.

·         Selecting the right subject for the paper on the Optional Subject is another important aspect of this examination. The candidates must plan ahead of time and choose the optional which he or she intends to take up in the Mains. Even though there are some subjects good for well scoring, it is always suggested to select the subject which is comfortable and studied since school. Taking up an unrelated subject will require too much of hard work and time. So it is suggested that selecting the subjects based on the interest, the existing knowledge, the aptitude, the proficiency, the availability of books, the reading material and the guidance will make the preparations easier. A detailed and focused study for the optional subject is a must. It is better to consult various books on different aspects without confining the studies only to the multiple choice objective type questions. Apart from 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. Such a practice helps in perfecting the art of answering the questions correctly and rapidly. It also enables the candidates to understand the questions asked in various forms as many times even simple questions are asked in such a complex manner that it becomes difficult to understand the question correctly. Preparing well in the optional subject for the prelims and taking the same subject as one of the optional subjects in the Mains will save lot of time and energy. Solving past question papers will also help to a great extent. Sometimes, it may be advisable to join a good coaching institute so that the study pace can be maintained well with other students and many issues can be discussed with them. However, it is possible to be successful by self-study also. Finding a candidate who had, during the past couple of years appeared in the prelims with the similar subject and discussing the subject, its intricacies, the pattern of questions and the books to be studied will additionally contribute to success.

Success Plan for the Main Examination

·         As there is very less time for the Civil Services Main examination, the preparations must be started well ahead of time along with those of Preliminary examination. The choice of subjects again must be based on the interests and the study material available. The subjects such as history, sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, psychology and public administration have huge amount of study material available. So, even though the branch of study is different, many science and engineering students take up these subjects.

·         The General Studies paper of the Mains exam includes exhaustive study of Current Affairs (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, Statistics and General Mathematics Ability. The questions are aimed at not merely asking the information as a reply, but seeking analysis backed with arguments from the candidates. A practice in answering the questions in time is suggested to attempt the General Studies paper. In addition to the books studied at the Prelims exam, some more books such as the following can be read. Again the list is not exhaustive, so as many additional references, and supporting books as possible are suggested for reading.

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

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

o        Current Affairs: A national newspaper, The Competition Master, The Competition Success Review, current affairs programmes on various TV channels, newsmagazines.

o        Statistics: Class XI NCERT book on Statistics.

o        Indian Polity: Introduction to the Constitution, Parliament.

o        Indian Geography: NCERT books on Indian Geography.

o        Indian Economy: NCERT and other books on Indian Economy, financial newspapers.

o        Science: A science magazine, supplements in newspapers.

·         It is well known in this exam that there is no scope for selective studies in the optional subjects. So a complete and thorough exhaustive study is required covering the whole syllabus with equal stress on both the subjects. The time bound study plan for the Mains should include studying the subject according to the syllabus with a view of improving the writing expression. It is useless to study for hours without practicing the writing part. This mistake will cost heavily during the exam. Apart from developing the skills of organizing the arguments, writing the answers in coherent manner from the diverse material is also required. The most important aspect is that the answers must be a little different from that of others with additional bits which are missed out by others. This is possible if the study is made in depth by understanding each aspect in detail. The previous years’ question papers must be worked out for excellent results and the answers must be verified and discussed with some subject experts. If this is not possible, the same papers must be examined after a gap of sometime by the candidate himself. This helps in realizing many mistakes which were not discovered before and the act of re-analyzing the answers improves the ability of being precise and accurate to a great extent.


The final stage is that of interview and it is pitiable if the students fail at this stage after so much of preparation. Interview is not a cross examination. It is a purposeful conversation giving opportunity to reveal the mental qualities of the candidate. The main secret for success is to start for preparations for the interview along with the written test. Certain tips for the interview are as follows.

·         Enhance the personality to suit the requirements.

·         Develop the habit of debating and discussing issues with friends or parents.

·         Listen to the current affairs programmes and learn to organize the thoughts.

·         Understand the current affairs and the issues behind the events.

·         Develop interests and hobbies so that you are able to answer convincingly.

·         Improve the communication skills and IFS aspirants require to be proficient in at least one foreign language.

State Civil Services

The State Civil Services (SCS) is another competitive examination at the state level for openings in the administrative services in the state government. Also known as the Provincial Civil Services (PCS), this examination is conducted by the State Public Service Commission of the respective state. The categories of services include the following.

(a) State Civil Services, Class-I (SCS)
(b) State Police Service, Class-I (SPS)
(c) Block Development Officer
(d) Tehsildar/Talukadar/Asst Collector
(e) Excise and Taxation Officer
(f) Distt. Employment Officer
(g) Distt. Treasury Officer
(h) Distt Welfare Officer
(i) Asstt Registrar Cooperative Societies
(j) Distt. Food and Supplies Controller/Officer
(k) Any other Class-I/Class-II service notified as per rules by the concerned State

The Examination

The examination for State civil services is conducted by the State Public Service Commission and the number of vacancies is dependent on the requisition by the Government which varies every year.


All graduates between the age groups of 21 and 28 are eligible to take this examination. There are relaxations in upper age limit to the scheduled castes/scheduled Tribes, Ex-Servicemen, physically handicapped and the employees of the State Government. Even though the examination is conducted as an all-India competition but during the interview it is desirable for the candidates to know the language, culture, and customs of the concerned State.

Scheme of Examination

This examination has a pattern similar to the civil services examination conducted by the UPSC. Even the preliminary examination is similar to that of civil services examination except for the few questions asked about 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. Based on the geographical area of the state, the Centres for examination are determined. For the Main examination, most of the States have adopted the syllabi 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. Besides, in the General Studies paper, the questions on socio-economic conditions, planning, customs, culture etc of the particular State may also appear.

Personal Interview

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


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