Preliminary exam

Preliminary examination

The Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) includes two objective type question papers of two hundred marks and two hours time duration for each paper. One is on General Studies and the other is General Aptitude Paper( which has now replaced the optional subject that was there earlier). With the Civil Service exam having very limited seats it’s a very difficult exam to crack. Many students appear multiple times to clear it.

This is the first stage of the exam and should never be taken lightly. The preparation should be such that you should not have any doubt about clearing the exam. The prelims should only be a passing phase. If you prepare well for the mains exam and be clear about the basics, then prelims should not be problem.

Paper I -(200 marks) Duration : Two hours

  • Current events of national and international importance.
  • History of India and Indian National Movement.
  • Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  • Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  • Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
  • General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialisation General Science.

Paper II-(200 marks) Duration: Two hours

  • Comprehension
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills;
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problemsolving
  • General mental ability
  • Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. – Class X level)

Note 1: The CSAT aptitude test or Paper-II of the Civil Services (Preliminary) examination will be a qualifying paper only with a minimum of 33% to be secured to sit for the Civil Services (Mains) exam.

Note 2: The questions in both Paper-I (current affairs) and Paper-II (aptitude test) will be of multiple choice, objective type for 200 marks each and the time allotted for each paper is two hours.

Note 3: It is mandatory for the candidate to appear in both the papers of Civil Services (Prelim) examination for the purpose of evaluation. Therefore a candidate will be disqualified in case he or she does not appear in both the papers of the (Prelims) exam.

Since the preliminary exam in particular is a test of endurance, candidate must prepare on the physical as well as mental level. The main constraint is the time one gets to answer the questions. On an average one gets around 40 seconds for each question.

One sure way of dealing with this stress is to take a few deep breaths. Meditation and Yoga also help in dealing with stress to a great extent.

The prelims exam since is a multiple choice question test, it needs a different preparation and a proper strategy. The first thing a candidate needs to bear in mind is that the examination is designed to evaluate certain qualities like a sharp memory and basic retention power. There are ways to increase one’s memory like preparing charts. One gets confused when faced with mind boggling facts and figures. Important facts and figures can be simplified and represented on charts and they can arranged in the form of tables or graphs. Another thing to remember is to make short and brief notes on each topic so that the entire syllabus can be revised a few days before the exam.

It is better to use diagrams and link words which make it easier to understand difficult concepts. One more technique to help in retaining information is the use of abbreviations. Since the syllabus involves exhaustive information abbreviations help you to remember it better. It is a good method to remember dates, facts and figures in a picture format and to break up complex names and places into smaller and simpler words. The last and the most important technique is to do regular revision. This helps in retaining the maximum information. A separate time slot should be given to doing not only regular but multiple revisions like daily, weekly, monthly etc.

Many candidates make a mistake of overloading themselves with lots of information and end up remembering nothing. One should be able to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information. Since the preliminary exam is an elimination round the candidate should also learn to focus only on the information needed and filter out the rest. It helps to discuss with friends and teachers but the most reliable way is to solve past years question papers. One should also keep abreast with current events and information related to them.

An important thing to remember is that for this exam it is not just enough to remember information but to understand the concepts as well. Instead of memorizing facts and figures, conceptual clarity in needed. The questions asked are of 10+2 level. Therefore emphasis has to be on conceptual clarity. Any concept has to be understood with its origin, merits and de-merits, then it needs to be analyzed with other relevant topics and lastly it has to be correlated with the events that have taken place during the year.

The preliminary exam requires candidates who have the acumen and the ability to choose the right option from four given options. This needs a proper method of elimination. It is a good idea to go through previous years and model question papers and solve as many of them as possible. Taking a mock test of a certain number of G.S. questions and mathematics and general ability questions would be a good practice work and help to pick out the most appropriate option.

Each prelims paper is for two hours but a lot of time is wasted in signing attendance sheets etc, therefore there is a lot of need for effective Time Management is needed for the actual exam. It is not enough to know the right answer but it has to be marked correctly on the answer sheet. Speed and Accuracy are important, so solving model question papers on a regular basis would be a great help.

A good presence of mind is needed to eliminate the least appropriate options and arrive at the right one. However beware of negative marking so it is better to mark only sure shot answers than making guesses.

Throughout the preparation for the prelims exam, it is important to remember that any topic or concept should not be studied in isolation. It is better to understand and establish a correlation between related concepts from other subjects and current events and happenings.

Even with all this preparation, it is necessary to have a positive attitude and a great amount of will power to succeed to achieve your goal that of getting through the civil services examination with flying colors!

The preliminary exam is a test of recognition. It is sufficient if you can recognise the correct answer from given choices. So if you are strong in basics this should not be problem. Do not spend too much time in memorising facts. It’s fine if you can recognise it. Prepare some mnemonics, which will help you in recognizing the right answer.

One should do as many previous year papers as possible. It will help you in time management and also in identifying the weak areas. Please remember that this practice should be right from the beginning and not in the final stages.

Negative Marking

UPSC has taken a right step introducing negative marking to filter out candidates who get selected on the basis of smart guesses and luck. So, the serious candidates should cheer up now. Negative marking make paper more complex. But it is easy for a well prepared students and gives an extra benefit to a genuine candidates.

How to tackle negative marking?

  • Identify the areas of your strength in the question paper. Solve questions from these areas first. Solving easy question will boost your confidence.
  • Don’t waste your time for particular questions. Leave time consuming questions to take up in the end. • The definition of intelligent guessing changes now with negative marking. You should tick only those answers which you feel 70% correct.
  • Don’t play any blind and stupid game of guessing.
  • Practice…Practice…Practice…Mock tests reduce mistake in the exam and prepare you to face real environment in which you can tackle & solve the questions within time limit.
  • Mock tests provide you a platform where you can check your own weakness, mistakes and errors and develop a better understanding for solving different types of questions.

General Studies – Preliminary Exam

UPSC is not following a standard pattern of allotment of questions for various topics. It is becoming difficult now to attempt or even to prepare for complete syllabus. Hence, it is wise to stress on those subjects, which are common for Main Examination. The areas to be taken care of are Modern India, Polity, Indian Economy, Geography, Current Events and General Science. Considering the general nature of the examination the tactics must be to focus on greater rather than intensive coverage giving more stress on subjects, which are common to Main Examination.


The areas to be covered are the history from ancient to modern period. The basic understanding can be obtained from below 10th NCERT books. The focus should be on modern Indian history, which is covered in the mains. The basic knowledge in Ancient India and Medieval India is sufficient. The NCERT books (Class XI and XII) are good enough for the purpose.
You can refer following books

  • Ancient India , NCERT Class XI
  • Medieval India , NCERT Class XI
  • Modern India , NCERT Class XII
  • Modern India, Spectrum publications


The Constitution and various related aspects should be done well. Some articles and facts should be memorised. It is better to prepare this area well since it will be helpful in mains and interview. The Indian Polity by Lakshmikanth and NCERT books are sufficient. Also refer, DD Basu.
Suggested Reading: For Indian Geography

  • Physical Geography of India, NCERT Class XI
  • Land and People, NCERT Class XI For World Geography
  • General Studies Manual by TMH or Spectrum Publications. For Both Indian and World Geography, follow Prelims issues by Civil Services Chronicle Magazine or Competition Wizard Magazine.


The basic concepts are being asked along with current affairs based questions. The basic clarity can be obtained from the standard books. The current affairs can be studied from Economic Survey and the newspapers.
Suggested Reading:

  • Economic Survey
  • Dutt & Sundaram or Mishra & Puri or IC Dhingra

General Sciences

Some times the questions are asked very difficult that even science students find it difficult to answer. But the preparation should be in such a way that all the basic questions can be done correctly. The questions are also asked in applications orientation.
Suggested Reading:

  • Science and Technology, NCERT Class IX & X
  • What, Why & How books by CSIR.

Current affairs

This has become a very important component. The preparation should be continuous from the sources given in mains strategy. The notes should be focused on the factual aspects that come in the news. Many questions are asked from this area, so prepare thoroughly. The efforts will be useful for all stages of the exam. It should become a part of your daily routine.
Suggested Reading:

  • The Hindu News paper
  • Frontline Magazine
  • Yojana Magazine
  • Competition Wizard or Spectrum Issue on Current Affairs – This is just to make sure that you have covered all the current affairs issues in News Paper.

General Knowledge

Quite a few questions are asked from this area. Some difficult questions are also asked. Do not spend too much time in memorizing unnecessary facts. You should have a broad awareness about various fields. At the same time, focus more on areas, which have been asked in the past. India Year Book – This is important for the prelims and also for some mains two mark questions. But do not read every thing given in the book, be logical and concentrate on the basics, which can be asked in the exam. You should prepare notes on the various terms that are given in the book. Do not focus too much on unnecessary facts given in the book. Manorama Year book – This book should also be taken as reference. For the GS prelims, if you want a compilation of all material at one point then can refer some standard guide like TMH. But do not ignore the NCERT and other books since they give better clarity.


Do lot of practice from previous years papers. The preparation can also be made from some standard guide like General Studies Manual by TMH. The speed and accuracy should be practised. Concentrate on permutations, combinations, probability, logical reasoning