The Nature of Preliminary Examination

The Civil services Examination comprises of

  1. Civil Services Preliminary (CSP) exam
  2. Civil Services Main (CSM) exam, and
  3. Personality Test (PT)

The Preliminary exam is called Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) which includes two objective type question papers of 200 marks each and of two hours duration. Out of these 2 papers,

Paper 1 is for General Studies, and

     Paper 2 is for General Aptitude.

Paper 2 is of qualifying nature and one has to score a minimum of 33% which translates to 66 marks. There are 80 questions in the paper.

Therefore, the merit list is decided by the marks obtained in Paper 1 only. Thus, the General Studies paper becomes very important. The paper comprises 100 question of 2 marks each. Since 2011, the pattern of Civil services curriculum of Examination has been changing.

If one sees the syllabus, the syllabus looks very open-ended and thus there is involvement of subjectivity therefore good analysis is required to be on track.

To start the preparation one has to get acquainted with various aspects of the syllabus, the meaning of different wordings used in the syllabus, the inherent explanation of the contents, a proper preparation plan and a strategy.

Syllabus for 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, and 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 Paper II(200 marks); Duration: Two hours

  • 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)

Apart from the syllabus, the past questions also become a source of approach generation and development. The past papers are indicative of

  1. Areas from where the questions are asked
  2. The level of difficulty of questions.
  3. Weightage to different sections of the syllabus

It serves good purpose to go for a detailed analysis of the syllabus. The paper can be divided into two broad segment:

  1. Static part and  2. Dynamic part

Static part includes

  1. History: Modern, Ancient and Medieval
  2. Art and culture of India
  3. Indian Polity
  4. Geography: PhysicalGeography, Locations and India
  5. Ecology and environment
  6. Economics and social development
  7. Government schemes and Programmes
  8. Multinational institution, treaties and agreement
  9. General Science

— while the

The dynamic part includes:

Current affairs and new developments. These topics are mainly drawn from:

  1. Environment and ecology, environmental concerns and their recent dimensions.
  2. Government schemes and Programmes
  3. Multinational institutions, treaties and agreement
  4. Science and technology,
  5. Social development, social schemes, models of social growth and development.

The weightage ratio of static part to dynamic part is generally 60:40 with a variance of 5-10 questions.

While the static part of the paper ascertains whether a candidate shall come close to the cutoff, the dynamic part is decisive for one to qualify and how comfortably one qualifies. So, no student can afford to neglect it because it shall atleast cost anyone a full year of time or indecisiveness whether one would qualify or not. This indecisiveness can be a serious dampner in one’s preparation as the days immediately after CSP are wasted by the candidates in predicting the cut-off.

The Nature of the Preliminary Examination

  1. To begin with, it’s an objective type test where the candidates are given multiple choices for a question and they have to pick up one correct answer.
  2. The Preliminary Examination test is meant to test in a candidate-his basic understanding of the topic, hold over the basic facts and concepts, and the candidate’s ability to differentiate between right and wrong answers and more importantly between close answers. It tests the foundation that the candidates have built for themselves and whether that foundation can take the load of some additional information, interrelations of information and its processing into knowledge.
  3. The preliminary examination is meant to test in candidates-the precision with which the candidates can mark their answers, their ability and attitude to differentiate not only between right and wrong but also between similar facts. Thus it seeks to find out whether the candidate is able to differentiate between secularism and secularization, between nation and state, between State and state, between OPEC and OAPEC, between sea and ocean, between port and harbor, between heads of government and heads of state and so on.
  4. The preliminary examination is meant to test whether the candidates have a learner’s attitude or a judgmental attitude; whether as a learner they take charm in their studies or they treat it as burden and whether they enjoy or slog with their studies. A slogger can never sustain as he/she is soon going to be fed up with it.
  5. The preliminary examination is also meant to test whether the candidates can be put off guard or not; and if they have been put off guard, how do they manage it. It means that the candidates have to have a lot of mettle to tackle surprises.


The type of examination that prelims is, with its ill defined syllabus and context that is universal and anything under the Sun that can be asked, it is imperative that the student maintains interest in the learning process and his studies. Interest is a product of upbringing, strength, the peer environment, the learning environment, as well as the ability and the will to have an identity.

Who qualifies?Who doesn’t?
  1. Enjoy their preparation.
Take it as burden.
2.       More emotionally involved in their preparation.Make their preparation every mechanical.
3.       Students who are involved with the chapter have a high degree of curiosity.Students who try to memories everything and have a tendency that is towards taking dictation
4.       Students who explore their surrounding and particularly their academic environment.Such students do not explore their surroundings enough, have a blinkered vision and thus become susceptible to rumours.
5.       Student who go for a planned conjunctive study of Mains & Prelims.Students who seclude their PT preparation.
6.       Who have introspected their self-understanding and know their strength and weaknesses.Students who always follow others and do not have their own perspective, own thinking and viewpoint that they can defend.
7.       Students who are solution oriented.Students who are negative minded.
8.       Students who whatever they study are very thorough with that, do not keep on hopping from one source to another following peer advice.Students, who are followers and always keep looking for the best book, best teacher, best material and are very inconsistent.
9.       They are very tolerant have high resilience and respond to a situation. Consequently, they listen and learn.They are very intolerant and reactive. They do not listen and react if the situation or statement is not as per their suitability.

Preparation for Preliminary Examination: Strategy, and Sustainable Planning

The preliminary examination has to be approached from two angles—one from the perspective of preparing only for prelims, only for the examination, only for the day of examination, and the second approach is to treat the examination as building the base for all examinations related to Civil Services, and also a prelude to Mains examination.

The examination is a consolidated effort that the candidates have to follow by amalgamation of whatever they have learnt in their schools, post school studies and that too through the eyes of a mature student.

Stages in preliminary examination preparation

Following the theme and philosophy of holding preliminary examination and the explanation of UPSC, certain policies and strategies can be devised. There are three stages that the candidate must pass through, while pursuing some parallel efforts throughout.

First is revisiting their school books.

The candidates must study the same school books that they have studied in their school. That may include books prescribed by their own respective state education board, by a local publishe rwho took a highly branded author, books that have been in running, in fashion and in vogue in their schools, and any other type of book that the school may have recommended. This will help the candidate recall everything that they had studied during school days, as school learning has the highest capacity of being recalled by a candidate. The focus areas have to be History, Geography, Economics, Ecology & Environment, Science and Polity. Textbooks on English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Physical Education, Psychology, Computer Science, Mathematics etc need not be referred at this stage. Also the coverage has to be from 6th to 12th standard only. Specialized subjects e.g. Commerce, Accountancy, Physics, Chemistry etc of 11th and 12th standard aren’t required to be covered by a CSE candidate.In case the local board books are not available, the NCERT books from 6th to 12thcan be studied.In the initial phase two cycles of reading is required. In the first cycle, only a cursory overview without considering the syllabus and content should be attended. In the second cycle, a more focussed approach is required. The candiadate should have learnt the syllabus and previous year questions by heart (or at least have a ready reference) by now. In the second reading therefore, the candidate needs to read the contents from the book with syllabus and pattern of UPSC in the back of his mind. After having gone through the school books, one mustframe some objective type questions and get it verified through his peer group. The closer the questions are to UPSC pattern, the better his outcome of initial readings is. This stage will get the candidate attuned to the expectations of UPSC.

The second is observe and classify the Mains Syllabus

The students must observe the syllabus comprehensively and thereafter separate out the topics meant for Mains examination and find some topics that will be common to preliminary examination as well. For example:

  1. Modern History
  2. Indian Culture
  3. Indian and World Geography
  4. Indian Economy
  5. Constitution and Polity, etc.

These components have to be prepared in a comprehensive and integrated manner with both Prelims and Mains in mind.

The third relates to have disciplined your preparation

The student must pick up their studies section by section and then topic by topic, chapter by chapter, and study different sections which itself will comprise of many sub stages-

  • Begin by reading and comprehension of the topic: Meaning that the topic is very well understood, even though it may not be to the level of analysis that the Mains examination requires.
  • Then, take efforts to increase retention of the topic: This may be through peer group discussion, revisiting some video classes, memorization or whatever that suits the candidate to help him retain the essence and facts of the topic.
  • This is to be followed by preparing Synopsis and summary oneself and that too comprehensively: The effort will help the candidate to organize himself and structure his thinking better.
  • Having understood the topic question solving will form an essential ingredient: This will involves solving previous year questions from both Prelims and Mains. If a candidate is not able to solve them satisfactorily, there is no need to press the panic button now as perhaps the most important aspect of the preparation is still left, i.e.,Revision.

After the completion of each section one must go for thorough revision first completely yourself and then through some peer group discussion and by regularly revisiting summaries prepared by yourself. Keep on testing yourself through some practice questions.

Now, pick up another section and follow all the aforesaid steps.

Alongwith the preparation of preliminary examination, the student must make

Parallel efforts along with and throughout

There are three parallel efforts the candidate must keep on doing in order to keep abreast of everything related to contemporary preparation.

  1. Mastering newspaper reading to extract questions out of any news. This is a trick that every candidate must know. There is a difference between a news and an issue. Questions now a days are mostly issue based, which test the candidates ability to apply it to their surroundings. Another type of question is observation based. It is really important to discard the unnecessary information and internalise the important ones. For example, Suppose there is a news item which talks about the visit of a political leader to a drought affected area. Now, here the details of the political leader, his political affiliations, his ideology, his behaviour etc would occupy the maximum space in the newspaper. However, none of these informations are relevant for CSE. In this news, what becomes important is- the location of the place (for example location with respect to Tropic of Cancer, the reason of that area being drought affected (for example rain shadow, continentality, etc.), water harvesting techniques in the affected area if any, government initiatives at all to tackle the issue and so on. This is the picture one must establish regarding the seggregation of relevant informations from the not so relevant ones.
  2. The candidate must study a feature everyday from the newspapers, note down its points and present it in his own The candidate should also frame subjective questions by identifying the core issues in the news items. This effort will keep improving their language, so essential for Mains preparation as well as to improve comprehension of the topic.
  3. While the systematic preparation goes on, the candidate must take two to three hours of their time to learn from any mode that they can find and which must feel very interesting to them, such as watching Youtube videos on any topic concerning the Preliminary Examination curriculum (such as supernova explosion, African game reserve, Basohali paintings, dynamics of working of a jet propulsion engine, etc.), watch news on a decent news channel, where panel members neither shout nor fight, talk to sincere friends, on films literature govt policy ethics, beauty etc. This effort will not only refreshen the candidate but also break the monotony of preparation. Mostly candidates ignore this aspect but it holds immense significance. A bored, depressed, unhappy and demotivated candidate can never qualify the CSE. Conversation if it is done in a proper language improves communication immensely.

Time frame of preparation

Every beginner has this issue of adhering to the dignity of time or one doesn’t know how much time is needed to prepare for prelims. The issues that confront a beginner is-

  • Should one prepare for PT exclusively or should one need to prepare for Mains side by side?
  • Do the students require to prepare everything simultaneously or one by one or step by step?
  • What one ought to do so with respect to answer writing of Mains as well as reading newspaper and current affairs?
  • Do optionals require an equal attention or should they be relegated into secondary preparation?

One needs to remember that one should always prepare in an integrated manner because if one neglects any part or marginalize a section then this requires to be compensated. However, the preparation may take a greater amount of time because of the time lag, which may double the effort. Every planning has to be strategized and customized as per every individual requirement and accordingly a separate strategy is required in this regard.

Prelims exam is meant for covering the syllabus to its maximum, the revision of the covered syllabus, and form a basis for the Mains examination. Preliminary Examination allows capacity building within the candidates for studies, learning, stamina, methods and tools for study and thus gaining an experience of preparing something so unknown, so extensive and sometimes so exotic as Mains examination.

Prelims preparation must begin atleast 10 months from the prelims date. As has been discussed above, the initial preparation must focus on such Mains topics which are equally significant for the prelims topic, or which comprise the Prelims topics within its ambit. There will be some topics that will be very important for Mains and they have to be prepared conjunctively in such a manner that both PT and mains are equally covered and equally prepared. Such Mains and prelims integrated topics include some chapters like

  • Entire of Modern Indian History
  • Indian Painting, Indian sculpture etc in Culture and Heritage.
  • Volcanism, Earthquake, Tropical Cyclones etc in Geography
  • President, Judiciary and the likes in Indian Polity
  • Inflation National Income etc in Indian Economy
  • Space Science, Nuclear energy etc in Science and Technology, etc.

While some purely Prelims like topics will comprise

  • Composition of Atmosphere, Resource distribution in Geography
  • Medieval India
  • Physiology in Medicine, etc.

Purely mains like topics will comprise

  • Internal Security
  • Indian foreign Policy
  • Ethics and Integrity
  • External Security
  • Governance and Urban Issues, etc.

Having achieved some comfort level, one must start writing one the topic everyday, which necessarily may not be an answer or essay everyday. It is important to maintain continuity of variations of preparation with focus on Prelims or Mains topic separated and demarcated clearly. Reading newspaper for current affairs is a part of Prelims as well as Mains so one must do it on a continuous basis. Making notes and synopsis must proceed on a parallel basis. Thus by the time, prelims exam approaches, one has developed factual mastery, developed adequate skills to read in less time as well as having known what is to be read and what is to be avoided.

It is important that 75 days prior to prelims the focus must be turned completely to the prelims exam with proper time provision for renewal of the topics and its revision.It is advisable to manage newspaper reading but if some one feels constricted then that can be avoided.

At a micro level, the students must prepare a schedule, a time table for everyday and must try to follow it as much….

The basic technique of preparing that time table is to actually prepare a table. Have a look at the differentiation of the topics and segments.

The entire strategy for a month can be summed up in following table.

Weekly SlotCORE of PT topicsParallel Mains topicsLighter topicsNewspaperPeer group learning
Week-IHistory, for exampleEssay practiceYou tube VideosCollecting factsStudied topics of preliminary examination
Week-IIPolity, for examplePrécis writingRSTV CollectionsRevise collected factsIdentify Topics For discussion among peer group

How to pick up important reading materials?


Most preferred Source will be any school book, that the candidates have studied. That’s most desirable, If not available, then NCERT

  • NCERT- Class IX, Chapters-2, 3, 4, 8-14
  • NCERT-Class VII-Environment and Resources
  • NCERT-Class XI- India, Physical Environment, Chapters1-6, Appendix 1-5
  • NCERT-Class XII-India, People & Economy Chapters 1, 5, 6, 7, 10

Having studied that, they must amalgamate their learning Through

  • Geography Through Maps – K.Siddhartha & S.Mukherjee
  • Basic Physical Geography- K.Siddhartha & S.Mukherjee
  • Geography for Preliminary Examination- K.Siddhartha & S.Mukherjee


  • Basic- NCERT history, that comprises class XI, and XI (old)
  • NCERT, Art & Culture Class XI & XII
  • Tamilnadu Board History, Class XI

For Advanced history – Bashan – The Wonder that was India.

  • India’s Freedom Struggle-Bipin Chandra.
  • Indian Heritage and Culture-K.Siddhartha.
  • Indian Heritage and Culture-N. Singhania
  • INDIA 2016, Indian Culture
  • CCRT website:/


  • NCERT Science, Class IX, Chapters 1-15
  • NCERT Science, Class X, Chapters 1-16
  • INDIA 2016
  • Manorama Year Book-2016
  • Physics for Beginners- Ensemble
  • Chemistry for Beginners – Ensemble
  • Biology for Civil Services- Ensemble
  • Science, Technology and Society- K. Siddhartha



  • NCERT Science, Class VIII, Chapters 7
  • NCERT Science, Class IX, Chapters 14
  • NCERT Science, Class X, Chapters 15, 16
  • Ecology & Environment – K.Siddhartha
  • Ecology & Environment for Preliminary Examination Vol-I


  • NCERT Class XI, Micro Economics, Chapter-1
  • NCERT Class XII, Macro Economics, Chapters, 2,3,5,6, Glossary
  • Sanjeev Verma- Indian Economy
  • Newspapers and Selected Sections of Economic Survey


  • NCERT Class XII, Chapter-1

Social development

  • NCERT Economics class XII, Humans as Resources
  • NCERT Geography class XII, People and Economy, Human development
  • NCERT Economics class XI, Indian Economic Development, Human capital

Poverty and Inclusive Development

  • NCERT Economics class IX, Poverty and Inclusive Development
  • NCERT Economics Class XI, Indian Economic development, Chapter Inclusive development
  • NCERT Economics Class XII, India, People & Economy, Chapter on Inclusive development

Current Affairs

  • Times of India
  • Hindu
  • Civils Daily

Practice Question Bank

  • Ensemble Series

Career Security Programme Schedule for Patna

 2016 Batch 1st Year Students


Visit Ensemble You tube channel to listen K. Siddhartha Sir’s instruction on UPSC preparation.


Basics (NCERT) and subject from school to graduation level

  • Indian Polity
  • Governance
  • Monthly 1 test
  • Hindi/English

Basics NCERT of subject at school level  to graduation level

  • Geography & Ecology classes for PT
  • Monthly 1 test
  • Hindi/English

Basics (NCERT) of subject at school level to graduation level

  • History, S & T
  • Monthly 1 test
  • Personality Development
  • Hindi/English

Basics (NCERT) of subject at school level to graduation level

  • Economy
  • S&T
  • CSAT
MayTest Series