UPSC CSE/IFS Prelims Strategy and Booklist

Hi All,

Thank you for all the congratulatory love, it was truly overwhelming ๐Ÿ™‚

As promised, here is sharing my strategy and book-list for Preliminary stage (1st round) of the UPSC / IFS examination (will come up with next stages soon). I am sharing this as beginning contours for you since I could score in the range of 150-160 out of 200 in GS paper 1 (Cutoff range expected 110-115 for CSE , 132-138 for IFS ).

But eventually you will have to end up having your own unique plan, depending upon your strengths and weaknesses (post taking atleast 10-15 Mock tests). I had devoted 3 months fully to Prelims last year , and with June 18 being the date of exam this time, you should be up to speed already by now. Remember here you are competing with close to a million folks, so stakes are much, much higher than Mains and Interview. In prelims, UPSC will brutally reject candidates, reducing them from 1000000 to 15000 , so get the drift that daily Mains answer writing can wait a bit for now . While Prelims is more knowledge-based and Mains focuses on testing your critical and social-thinking, that doesn’t mean UPSC will always keep it that way ! So be prepared for any scenario, is what say the wise !

(Update : My UPSC scorecard)

(Some new posts I wrote which can be of help to people preparing for IFS Exam : Cracking Indian Forest Service Examination Mains Strategy , My Forestry Optional Revision Notes and UPSC IFS Interview Transcript (Score 204) )

(Also, here is an updated webinar of mine for a general guidance on UPSC : )

After analyzing the past few years’ papers (if not please do so, atleast from 2010 onward), you would have realized that current-affairs based questions have spread to even “Static topics” like History and Geography. So smart study and Googling would be of great help while preparation. eg. if you read an article on drought, connect it to historical, indigenous water-related solutions basis harvesting, baolis, tankas etc.

Remember these key ideas all the time

  1. Minimum sources, maximum revisions. To give an idea, revising THRICE whatever you have read is essential for retention and assimilation. So minimize the sources, else it will be chaos at the end. And PLEASE don’t fall prey to the millions of “Must Read” Booklets in the markets that are released 20 days before exam to scare aspirants all over ! Trust yourself.
  2. Spending more time analyzing the mock tests than the actual time spent on taking tests !
  3. Critical thinking and ‘joining the dots’ . Try to enjoy the learning process. In my case, making fortnightly visits to National Museum / National Gallery of Modern Art / Humayun Tomb / Old Delhi/ nearby sanctuaries etc were welcome and refreshing learning tours . I credit National Museum majorly for understanding and completing substantial portion of Art and Culture + Ancient India syllabus !
  4. Coaching dilemma ? Well , to each his own. I didn’t do any coaching for GS or optional subjects, but registered for Test Series at Vision and Insights. Used to go to write the tests at Vision Center weekly just to get a reality check that there are SO MANY people out there competing ! Any more exposure than that would have given diminishing returns for sure!

My Booklist for each topic :

I) Current events of national and international importance.

  1. The Hindu, Indian Express ( pick up only those things which are not covered in Hindu). Also, I avoided note making for papers, Vision does the task better !
  2. Vision IAS Monthly booklets for the last 1.5 years before prelims. This time, booklets from Nov 2015 – May 2017 should be read.
  3. If you end up being lazy some days, fret not ! Just put those backlog papers aside and read Insights‘ Daily Current Affairs summary online.

II) History of India and Indian National Movement.

  1. Ancient India – Old 11th NCERT + BBC Documentary on Story of India + Tamil Nadu textbook 11th
  2. Medieval India – Old 11th NCERT . Would suggest don’t fret much here. Remember concept of ROI ?
  3. Art and Culture – 11th Fine Arts book is a treasure trove. But don’t make the mistake of reading it just once or twice. Each word is crucial. To be read 4-5 times and related aspects googled (esp the monuments, and it is interesting too) .
  4. Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania old notes ; New one is a lot more bulky, so I avoided it. Also , a visit to National Museum if in Delhi would be useful .
  5. Indian National Movement – Bipin Chandra’s Struggle for Independence + Spectrum for Revision. Gave “Plassey to Partition” a reading but can easily say you may avoid it.

III) Indian and World Geography โ€“ Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.

  1. Class 11th and 12th New NCERTS (old ones seemed very depressing, I skipped completely)
  2. GC Leong for Physical Geography
  3. Geography Videos . Please be very selective here. Go through important ones on Mountain ranges, Climate Patterns, El Nino, forest distribution etc.
  4. Your wall should typically resemble this:
  5. wp-1490364235512.jpg

Consolidate trivial information into one or two pages maximum ! Sample below – Rivers of India and their tributaries ( This helped me get 2 questions right )


IV) Indian Polity and Governance โ€“ Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.

  1. Laxmikanth as the primary source
  2. DD Basu for specific topics like local governance, scheduled areas, salient features etc.
  3. Download any Constitution app on your phone. Glance through in metro rides or with relatives around !

V) Economic and Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.

  1. Economic Survey ( would be uploading my notes soon ). But please do read it once fully before using any XYZ summary notes .
  2. GKToday’s compilation on government schemes and policies. Very exhaustive and suffices.
  3. Budget 2017-18 Summary ( I preferred listening to Mr. Jaitely’s speech and taking down notes :D)
  4. Class 12th NCERT for Macroeconomics basics . If not, refer to ppts
  5. Investopedia/Arthpedia for understanding any economic term you have issues with
  6. Yojana – 1 to 2 chapters from each month’s copy. Others get repetitive.
  7. Other books Kurukshetra etc etc AVOID.

VI) General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change โ€“

  1. Shankar IAS – The green Bible book ! It is simple, lucid but needs good amount of revisions. Focus on climate change and organizations parts
  2. Google “Environmental organizations” and open the Wikipedia page. The list there from A-Z should be casually read over a period of 2 weeks . Be curious. But don’t go overboard.
  3. Ministry of Environment Website ( Envis portal) It has crazy amount of information. But quite useful. Be wise and have an eye on previous year questions to know your limits of searching !

VII) General Science

Vision IAS write-ups and Google Alerts on Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology ! For non-science background, a revision of 6th to 10th NCERTs is recommended. Rest don’t waste much time here. Trust your common sense, look out for UPSC favorites like light, waves, atmospheric gases, green chemistry etc.

That’s that viz book-list .

I think what works for anyone has to be a blend of hardwork, smartwork, presence of mind and some calm (of course Lady Luck is proportional to the other factors). The 2016 paper was highly current affairs based but had covered most of the subjects. Consider a question which asked the meaning of eripatti about which I had no clue. But it clicked that since eri as a water management structure in TN was mentioned in a Yojana piece, and patti relates to land, the statement given was correct.

Many questions also required basic common sense even if we had no clue before. For example the inland port question, AP and Karnataka were easy to eliminate as they are coastal states, while Chattisgarh’s topography would make it tough to have a navigation connected to sea, therefore answer should be Rajasthan (which was correct) ! And yeah, even movie review buffs were gifted 2 marks with the question on Hollywood flick based on Ramanujan !

Some General Observations and Suggestions:

1) Integrative study has to be the way forward, since no silos exist between subjects now as well as current affairs.
2) For basics, ‘N’ number of materials won’t work. Same holds true for current affairs. Vision IAS was a winner in this context! (but it surely needs 2 complete revisions, not mugging up but “assimilating”!)
3) Economic survey is compulsory beyond doubt. Neem-coat statement was a direct ripoff. And almost all economy questions found a basis in this survey . All schemes asked in the exam (the objectives i.e) were mentioned as one liners here which were asked.
4) Meditation helped. And it always does help. Waking up on 7th August with a 15 minute meditation/yoga had the highest ROI. Not to forget picking tenets of being a Karma Yogi through Bhagwad Gita ๐Ÿ™‚
5) Test series are a must, but again unless atleast 15-20 papers revised, wont really stick on. Here , I maintained a diary of errors, wherein all my errors/ doubtful questions were jotted down. Last one week before exam, my work was only to revise that one diary ! Sample below:

6) Structured Timetable-making is necessary. But even more important is “Mid policy reviews” of the same ๐Ÿ˜› ; I had 7 iterations for July 2016. Because I missed out something or the other in the first 6 each time !
7) Having faith in your efforts. Somewhere, someone is watching your efforts ! I had zilch previously and struggled at 100. This time scored >150 !

Finally, make sure the people who care for you are given their due importance even when you are studying. Avoid the naysayers and those ‘suggestion-based’ people who love to make off-the-tangent remarks, but make sure meeting close family and friends does not stop. They will be your support and strength while sailing through this long-arduous journey ๐Ÿ™‚

Run, laugh, smile and be happy. It will all be fine someday , if not today ! And that is when the sweet smell of success will be truly of worth. Public Servants ought to have the quality of patience after all ๐Ÿ™‚

All the best !



For more UPSC related answers, find me on Quora


57 thoughts on “UPSC CSE/IFS Prelims Strategy and Booklist

  1. Sir ghoom gaya๐Ÿ˜ญ It would have been so good, had this idea of “if it’s easy, it’s not worth it” had been only limited to love๐Ÿ˜
    Anyway, mind telling me what you graduated in?
    Also, seriously very kind of you for making such a helpful post. ๐Ÿ˜„ Must have been tedious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, thank you so much V . It wasn’t really tedious, the syllabus and book-list have by now been ingrained in memory :P. I just hope this post can prove be of some use to the people writing exams this year :). My graduation was in Chemistry and MBA in Marketing and Trade.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! You’re being modest though, pretty certain about the entire syllabus too (most if not all!) Yes, that’s really kind of you. Chemistry? Wow! *please excuse me while I try to disappear!* ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Abhay, most welcome ! The prelims stage for both IAS exam i.e. CSE and IFS exam is common. Only the cutoffs vary for both the exams about which I mentioned above, basis which written rounds are conducted separately for the candidates who clear 1st stage .

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just write something about the feeling when you attained the desired results, your time and attitude while preparation. This will help to many. Thank you

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I must say you have high quality content here.

    Your page should go viral. You need initial traffic only.
    How to get it? Search for; Miftolo’s tools go viral


  3. Woah!!! Have I stumbled upon blog full of treasures, I guess yes!!!!
    This is gonna be really helpful……
    I am reading AL Basham….. For ancient and medical history, it’s lengthy but it covers everything……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My current affairs prep was with TH, IE , RSTV and some Youtube videos on current issues. Also, Vision Monthly current affairs was read in the end for revision purpose.


  4. Hello brother. Hearty congrats 2 u on your stupendous success. Are u available on twitter or any other social platform Luke quota where I can interact with u on holidays without intruding your privacy. Actually I want to know the important topics that u had prepared from ecology and environment for prelims examination .

    I am a graduate of civil engineering from UCE Burla, Odisha (batch of 2016)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sidharth, thanks a lot. Yes, I am available on Twitter (@11theboy) , though not very active yet. You can post your queries anytime on this blog or Twitter (And hopefully Quora soon !) For ecology and environment, catch hold of Shankar’s book and focus on climate change, organizations, summits, species, pollution, environmental laws and NGT, geographical, wetlands and wildlife spread of India etc. Also, the strategy suggested above for E&E can be added.


      1. Thanks a lot brother for your benevolent attitude and advice. Another question that I would like to ask you is that considering last year’s current affairs heavy based prelims, what strategy should a beginner starting from scratch have for prelims this year ? I believe strong static preparation is absolutely vital and current affairs + test series should go hand in hand for getting 130+

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hey Sidharth, I think you answered your question yourself pretty well ! At this stage, you are expected to have covered basics well and be upto speed with test series. Do preferably two, I preferred Vision and Insights. They will help you cover a major part of current affairs and also allow you to revise. Also have an eye on the current affairs daily summary these online websites provide.


  5. Thnks alot for this post!! I’m gonna appear nexr year for IAS and it gonna help me alot.thnku so much again!!keep posting!!keep motivating!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amazing content! Also, I would like to ask, since the cutoff to appear for Forest Services mains is higher. Should one prepare for the IFS mains examination, while preparing for the prelims (in the initial months), or one should solely focus on the prelimns. Hope you get my apprehension. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. First of all congratulations sir ! I’m preparing for UPSC CSE 2019 and I’m sure this post is going to be very helpful for many aspirants like me… So thank you so much ๐Ÿ˜‡
    I would love to read more tips regarding note-making and answer-writing… Looking forward to read more stuff from you โœŒ

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello.
    How did you carry out mains answer writing practice ? Will Insights Secure writing initiative help for IFoS Mains ?
    Thanks for your guidance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Sidharth, I wrote 10 tests of Vision for writing practice alongwith making short notes on topical issues. Insights can be helpful but their questions get very repetitive, you should know which ones are to be skipped.


  9. Sir, Generally the material online available don’t differentiate between prelims and mains syllabus. Can you please post the detailed syllabus of prelims(official UPSC syllabus is in very vague term) so that we can concentrate on only prelims part.


  10. Can you please practically tell that is it possible to cover all the things you mentioned in a year of preperation. ?
    I am asking this because when I read your post it all seemed quite to the point but as I am acctually starting to study, at time it becomes too tedious and dipressing.
    And I am being a person who love nature, reading and poetry and living in natural setting, at times it all seems very useless to sit in room and just assimilating knowledge.
    I am very clear I want to do IFS.

    Can you please guid and provide subjectvise strategies.


  11. Hello,
    I am a Bsc chemistry (1st year) student & aspirant of upsc cse.
    I need to focus on my graduation along with preparations of cse.
    So, initial or beginning preparation, I started with Lucent gk book, vocabulary & current affairs through mobile apps.
    Lucent s GK book
    In this book , I started from Indian polity regarding constitution establishment. After completing polity, I may go for geography or eco with simultaneously revising my polity. Aftercompletion from lucent gk book , I may go for ncert of class6-12 books of history , polity , geo, eco.
    Sir, DO YOU THINK MY INITIAL STRATEGY IS GOOD ?As I have to maintain my preparation level of cse in accordance with focus on my graduation. Also , suggestion you Give to an aspirant who has decided to opt chemistry in mains .
    Thank you
    Hope for your valuable reply


  12. Hi Aishwarya
    I am preparing for the IFS 2018. I was confused about joining the test series of ‘insight’. The only confusion about this is that if I join the test series it seems that it binds my timetable. I am more of a free learner type person. Though I am following my own timetable.
    Is it okay if I only join the weekly tests at last month or should I join it from now itself ?
    What do you suggest and did you join the full test series of the weekly once which contains full syllabuses?
    And if you did join the full one , did you follow the time table provided for test series?
    * all this is about prelims.


  13. Hi Aishwarya
    I am prepeiring of IFS 2018
    I just wanted to clarify one doubt about the joining of test series for prelims.
    The doubt is that I wanted to join the test series but the schedule provided on the site (insight) seems quite packed up and binding on my own timetable.
    I was thinking about just joining the test at last months which contains the full syllabuses.
    What do you suggest in this case. Is it enough to join the full test of should I join the test series from now and follow the timetable accordingly ?


  14. Hi I am preparing for csat 2018 ..And I just started last month do you think I have enough time ?
    I am more worried about aptitude


      1. Most people usually prepare it alongside. You have to prepare one additional optional for forest service , in case the other optional is same for both IFS and CSE. Focus well on prelims to ensure you clear the cutoff for both.


  15. Sir, BBC documentary on Ancient India is not available due to copyright issues. Any other sort of interesting series in You Tube?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s