UPSC Civil Services – An in-depth analysis of Pattern and Syllabus

UPSC Civil Services – An in-depth analysis of Pattern and Syllabus

The Civil Services Examination is widely considered as one of the toughest and prestigious examinations conducted in India.

UPSC conducts civil services examination whose syllabus is very complex to understand and same way to prepare in a realistic manner. Very few aspirants prepare this prestigious exam in a right approach with good understanding of syllabus but majority lacks it.

To understand the exam, one needs to understand the syllabus. This helps in eliminating the burden of reading unnecessary topics and keeps one strictly aligned to the expectations of the UPSC from Day one.

Openadda has come up with a complete list of subjects for the Civil Services Examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) based on the latest UPSC syllabus.

The UPSC prescribes a common syllabus pattern for included services.

The UPSC Civil Services Exam is conducted in three phases:

Phase 1: Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination (Objective Type)

Phase 2: Civil Services (Mains) Examination (Descriptive Type)

Phase 3:  Personal Interview (Personality Test)

Phase 1: Preliminary Examination:

The Preliminary Examination is composed of two components:

1) General Studies

2) Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT)

Paper Subjects Total Marks Duration
I General Studies (GS) 200 2 Hours (9:30AM to 11:30 AM)
II CSAT 200 2 Hours (2:30PM to 4:30PM)
  • Broadly, the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination consists of two papers of objective type, each of 200 marks (total of 400 marks) and two hours of duration. In order to qualify for the Civil Services Mains, a candidate must attempt both the papers.
  • Further, the General Studies (GS) paper consists of 100 questions, while the CSAT paper consists of 80 questions. Both papers have negative marks for wrong answers marked to the tune of 1/3rd of the total marks assigned to each question.
  • To further illustrate this, each correctly answered GS question will be awarded 2 marks. So, 0.66 marks would be deducted from the total for every question that is wrongly marked.
  • Similarly, in the CSAT paper, since we have 80 questions for 200 marks, correctly answered CSAT question would attract 2.5 marks each, while every wrongly marked question would attract a penalty of 0.833 for each such wrong answer, which will be deducted from the total.
  • Questions that are not attempted will not attract any negative marks.

1) General Studies (Generally conducted between 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM)

The General Studies test is the first paper of the preliminary examination. This test is intended to test the general awareness of a candidate in a wide range of subjects that include: Indian Polity, Geography, History, Indian Economy, Science and Technology, Environment and Ecology, International Relations and associated current affairs.

2) Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT)

(Generally conducted between 2:30 PM to 04:30 PM)

  • This test is intended to assess the aptitude of the candidate in solving ‘Reasoning and Analytical’ questions, apart from ‘Reading Comprehension’ and occasionally asked ‘Decision Making’ Questions.
  • The ‘Decision Making’ based questions are generally exempt from negative marks.
  • The preliminary examination is only meant for screening a candidate for the subsequent stages of the exam
  • The marks obtained in the Prelims will not be added up while arriving at the final rank list.

Syllabus for GS Paper (Prelims Paper I)

  • 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

Syllabus for CSAT Paper (Prelims Paper II)

  • Comprehension
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem solving
  • 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)

Phase 2: Civil Services (Mains) Examination Syllabus

  • The Mains examination constitutes the 2nd phase of the Civil Services Examination. Only after successfully qualifying the prelims examination, would the candidates be allowed to write the Mains examination.
  • The Mains examination tests the candidate’s academic talent in depth and his/her ability to present their understanding according to the requirements of the question in a time bound manner.
  • The UPSC Mains exam consists of 9 papers, in which two are qualifying papers of 300 marks each:
  1. Any Indian Language
  2. English Language Paper

Criteria for qualifying the Language Paper:

The papers on Essay, General Studies and Optional Subject of only such candidates who attain 30% marks in Indian Language Paper and 25% marks in English Language Paper as a minimum qualifying standard in these qualifying papers, will be taken cognizance of, for evaluation.

In case a candidate does not qualify in these language papers, then the marks obtained by such candidate will not be considered or counted.

Structure of the paper

The type of questions asked are –

  1. Essay – 100 marks
  2. Reading comprehension – 60 marks
  3. Precis Writing – 60 marks
  4. Translation :
  • English to compulsory language (e.g. Hindi) – 20 marks
  • Compulsory language to English – 20 marks
  1. Grammar and basic language usage – 40 marks

The rest of seven papers can be written in any of the languages mentioned under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India or in English.

Let us take a look at these papers:

Paper Subject Marks
Paper – I



(Can be written in the medium or language of the candidate’s choice)

Paper-II General Studies- I

(Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)

Paper-III General Studies- II

(Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Paper-IV General Studies- III

(Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)

Paper-V General Studies- IV

(Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)



Optional Subject – Paper I 250
Paper-VII Optional Subject – Paper II

(A Candidate can also take up literature as an optional subject and candidate need not be a graduate in that language’s literature.)


 Candidates may choose any one of the ‘Optional Subjects’ from the list of subjects given below:

  Optional Subjects  Literature Language
Agriculture Assamese
Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Arabic
Anthropology Bengali
Botany Bodo
Chemistry Dogri
Civil Engineering French
Commerce and Accountancy German
Economics Gujarati
Electrical Engineering Hindi
Geography Kannada
Geology Kashmiri
History Konkani
Law Maithili
Management Malayalam
Mathematics Manipuri
Mechanical Engineering Marathi
Medical Science Nepali
Philosophy Oriya
Physics Persian
Political Science and International Relations Punjabi
Psychology Russian
Public Administration Sanskrit
Sociology Santhali
Statistics Sindhi
Zoology Tamil

Phase 3: Interview/Personality Test (275 Marks)

  • Candidates who qualify the UPSC Mains Exam will be called for the ‘Personality Test/Interview’. These successful candidates will be interviewed by a Board appointed by the UPSC.
  • The objective of the interview is to assess the personal aspects of the candidate for a career in the civil services by a board of competent and unbiased members.
  • The interview is more of determined conversation intended to divulge the mental qualities and analytical ability of the candidate.
  • The Interview test will be of 275 marks and total marks for written examination is 1750. This sums up to a Grand Total of 2025 Marks based on which the final merit list will be prepared.


With Best Wishes

Team OpenAdda

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