ias exam

The road to success in the IAS exam is tough and demanding, but one is rewarded with the title of becoming a Class I IAS officer with the honor of serving the country and being a part of some key decision making which could alter the course of the country’s law and order. Students who are determined towards making a career as an IAS officer will require strong will power, undeterred focus and a keen interest in the history, geography,economics, and politics of India and international affairs.

The IAS exam is conducted in three stages: Preliminary, Mains & Personal Interview. Every year more than 10 lakh students register for the UPSC exam, eventually, only 50% appear for it and about 15,000 are successful in clearing the first stage of this three-stage exam. The students who are successful in clearing the Preliminary exam then sit for the Mains and are called for the Personal Interview, to fill up 1000 officer vacancies every year.

With such a grueling process, students and educators rate the UPSC exam as one of the toughest competitive examinations in India due to the vast syllabus that has to be covered and the competition that exists. It is not uncommon to see IAS aspirants writing the exam multiple times before they are finally successful.

In this article, we will discuss some useful tips that students can make use of in order to crack the IAS exam in their very first attempt:

#1 Understanding the scope of the IAS syllabus

Experts and past toppers say that there is no clearly defined syllabus that the UPSC prescribes to. There is, of course, an indicative IAS syllabus that is given to the student, which includes topics of history, geography, economics, international affairs, science & technology, defense, agriculture, environment, politics, sports among other topics of national and international importance. Students must realize that they are writing the IAS examination for the job to become an officer to serve the country, which will require knowledge on anything and everything that pertains to governance and the people of India. Preparing well for the exam would only help the successful candidate in their profession in the future.

#2 Keeping yourself updated with current affairs of national & international importance

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Students must inculcate the habit of reading at least two to three different newspapers a day to keep themselves updated with the current affairs. This is an extremely important part of the IAS syllabus and the preparation because students can expect questions on these topics in all the three stages of the exam. In the Prelims stage of the exam, a student may get away with only having an overview of the topic. In the Mains stage of the exam, the student may be asked to elucidate and write about the topic in detail. In the interview stage of the exam, the student may be asked their opinion and ways in which they would solve the problem if they were given a chance. Hence, in-depth knowledge and interest to read and be aware is the most important quality that an IAS aspirant must have in order to clear the exam in the first attempt.

#3 Supplementing your knowledge with practicing previous year papers and taking mock tests

While studying for the IAS exam, it is important that students have a look at the past year papers from time to time to check if their preparation is going in the right direction. As a pattern, it has been seen that at least 50% of the questions asked every year have been asked in some past paper or the other. Hence, it is important that students are at least familiar with 50% of the questions that will be asked in the paper. This can play a positive effect on the level of confidence and hence giving the student an extra boost to attempt the remaining paper which may or may not be unfamiliar.

#4 Picking out the right study material to cover your IAS syllabus

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The IAS exam preparation market is flooded with all kinds of books and reference material covering the IAS syllabus. But it is important that students make a choice in terms of the books that they wish to study from in the early days of their preparation. This is important because students do not want a situation where they are uncomfortable with a certain author’s explanation and language used. Every IAS aspirant must give themselves at least 2 months before the beginning of their 12 month study period to create a preparation strategy which includes making a decision on the books to study from, choice of a coaching institute, newspapers, editorials, websites and apps to subscribe to and a schedule or a routine to follow.

#5 Attempt a minimum of 85 questions out of 100

As mentioned earlier, around 50% of the questions asked in an exam have been asked in some past exam.  So if a student has prepared moderately well, there is a good chance that they will be able to answer most of those questions. It is the remaining 50% of questions that decide the fate of the student’s performance in the exam. Hence, it is advised that students must attempt at least 30-35 questions out the remaining 50 questions if they want to be successful in the Preliminary stage of the IAS exam.

#6 If you are not clear of the choices given, use the method of elimination to arrive at the answer

Since the Prelims stage of the exam is a multiple choice type of exam, one out of the four options is definitely correct. But for every incorrect answer marked, the student loses ⅓ or 0.33 marks. But in case, the options are not clear, students must use the method of elimination in order to select the answer that they think is correct. In a situation that the student decides not to answer the question, they will be awarded 0 marks for that question. In competitive examinations which have negative marking, students need to be smart about how many questions do they want to risk by guessing an answer by the method of elimination and leaving the rest if they do not know the answer to them.

#7 Stay calm to have a clear view of your goal

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It is a 12-15 month long and arduous journey that an IAS aspirant takes to complete all the stages of the exam and come out successful. During this time, the student is expected to stay focused and only work with a single goal in mind: clearing the IAS exam. It is easy to get deterred and lose sight of this goal, but it is important to realize that and come back on track quickly. With the number and volume of topics that are covered in the IAS syllabus, it can get a bit overwhelming. It is important that the student stays calm and makes short term achievable goals that tie up to their final goal.Students must have a positive mindset that only works towards a winning strategy.

The 7 tips discussed above can help any diligent IAS aspirant to crack their IAS exam in the first attempt.

All the best!


Anish Passi, is the Director at Neostencil which is a unique platform for Test Preparation where you can access live classrooms of the best teachers in India, from the comfort of your home. He is an Engineer from McMaster University, Canada and an MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad. He previously founded Testcafe and has extensive experience in the Education industry.

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