UPSC General Syllabus for Paper I – (200 marks) Duration: Two hours (Counted for the merit rank in the Prelims)

  • 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 specialization.
  • General Science.

Here, we have put an effort to break down the syllabus, make it as much simple as possible. Along with topics and subtopics, we have also tried to analyze the trends in UPSC IAS Examination to make the picture clearer. We recommend the aspirants to go through each of the topics to get an idea of how to approach towards the examination.

Well-formulated strategy to cover all the topics smartly along with optimum time management is the key to success. Now the notion has changed and only hard work doesn’t suffice to clear the exam. You must know to work smartly along with working hard because as the saying goes, “everything beneath the sun is the syllabus for UPSC aspirants”. So if are working hard only you might not be able to cover the whole syllabus ever but smart work along with hard work can help you get through the door easily. This is because UPSC wants generalists who know something about all the things and not necessarily everything about some things. e.g if you are studying Polity then you need to be familiar with the basic concepts of Polity and not the theories of all the thinkers.

Here we have tried to break down the whole syllabus of prelims along with analysis of recent trends on which UPSC is asking questions frequently. However, as we all know UPSC Exam is always full of surprises, so one must try to prepare holistically and in best possible manner.


  • While preparing polity for prelims, special emphasis should be on the Constitution.
  • Under Indian Constitution, chapters related to Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, Fundamental Duties, President and Parliament are the most important.
  • Apart from this students should focus on issues in news and try to relate them to the provisions in the Constitution.
  • In recent times, UPSC is also asking more and more questions from Government schemes and policies for which the best source is News Paper.
  • Take a look, the image suggests important areas in polity from questions has been asked this year.

Trend Analysis:

A look at the past five years UPSC prelims GS I question papers reveals that the number of questions on polity has been on the wane. But come 2017 and the number shot up to 23 from a mere 7 in 2016. Also, this year’s questions were more of interpretation based than asking just about knowledge and facts. This only goes to show that you cannot afford to skip any section which is considered important. The following table reveals an interesting picture.

YearNumber of Polity questions


Few Examples: This question was asked in 2017,

Question: Democracy’s superior virtue lies in the fact that it calls into activity (2017)

(a) The intelligence and character of ordinary men and women.

(b) The methods for strengthening executive leadership.

(c) A superior individual with dynamism and vision.

(d) A band of dedicated party workers.

Answer: (a)

Source: NEW NCERT Class 8 Civics, Chapter 3, page 32

This question has been raised from very fundamental topic “Democracy” about which we all know. But look at the options given, certainly, it is not easy to choose the right choice unless your basics are not clear.

So one must know and understand the meanings of all the basic terms like Republic, Sovereignty, Socialist, Democracy, Liberty, Freedom, Equality etc.

Let’s see one other question from Polity-

Question: One of the implications of equality in society is the absence of (2017)

(a) Privileges

(b) Restraints

(c) Competition

(d) Ideology

Answer: (a)

Again this question is based on meaning and implication of a simple term “equality”. Clearly, rule of law has been established to bring about equality and rule of law abolishes any kind of special privileges to bring equality.

Question: Which one of the following objectives is not embodied in the Preamble to the Constitution of India?

(a) Liberty of thought

(b) Economic liberty

(c) Liberty of expression

(d) Liberty of belief

Answer: (b)

Source: NEW NCERT Class 11, Political Science, page 45, Also M. Lakshmikant.

This clearly reflects that understanding is much more important than remembering facts. Also, new NCERT books from class 8th to 12th which somehow were considered irrelevant, are of much more important. NCERT are also very much important for building fundamental concepts and understanding.

Resources to refer:

Primary: NCERT books from class 8th to 12th. , M. Lakshmikant, Daily Newspapers- The Hindu & Indian Express, PIB.

Secondary: D D Basu, Subhash Kashyap etc.



  • Modern Indian History (commonly Indian freedom struggle) carries the high weight in this portion. Also, it is the easiest and scoring portion.
  • However, In history, as per the few past years trend, UPSC is focusing more on ancient and medieval history, therefore, aspirants are advised to devote an equal amount of time to ancient, medieval as well as modern history.
  • Topics related to Indus Valley civilization, Jainism, Buddhism, Mughals and southern kingdoms are important from ancient and medieval history.
  • Revising old NCERT’s, again and again, is the best way to prepare this subject for Preliminary Examination
  • Also, students can prepare their own notes (especially for Ancient and Medival India) to revise effectively during last few days. As in these topics a lot of things has to be remembered, so making notes helps certainly.

Trend Analysis:

The number of questions asked from history and art and culture from 2011 onwards is given below:

YearNumber of questions


In the 2017 UPSC Prelims, there were 6 questions from modern history and 3 from ancient history. Modern History has always been given significant weight in this exam, so one emphasize more upon it.

Let’s discuss some examples from recent papers:

Question- With reference to the religious history of India, consider the following statements:

  1. Sautrantika and Sammitiya were the sects of Jainism.
  2. Sarvastivadin held that the constituents of phenomena were not wholly momentary, but existed forever in a latent form.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Clearly, this question was a tough one from Art & Culture and only few could have attempted correctly. But don’t worry, some questions are supposed to be left alone as no one is expected to mark all the questions.

Question: The Trade Disputes Act of 1929 provided for

(a) the participation of workers in the management of industries.

(b) arbitrary powers to the management to quell industrial disputes.

(c) an intervention by the British Court in the event of a trade dispute,

(d) a system of tribunals and a ban on strikes.

Answer- (d)

The Trade Disputes Act, 1929 used to settle industrial disputes prior to the year 1947. The main object of the 1929 Act was to make provisions for the establishment of Courts of Inquiry and Boards of Conciliation with a view to investigate and settle trade disputes.

Question: Which one of the following was a very important seaport in the Kakatiya kingdom?
(a) Kakinada
(b) Motupalli
(c) Machilipatnam (Masulipatnam)
(d) Nelluru


Thus, this section required comprehensive knowledge of history to confidently attempt the questions. Hence, it was difficult. But Modern History questions were relatively easy with only small chances to commit a mistake.

History is divided into three parts: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Modern History has the highest weight. Also, it is most interesting and easy to relate to, for most of us. Precise resources available for this part also makes it easy. Medieval has gained weight since 2015. Ancient History is mostly asked, related to culture. So, one should try to read both combined.

Resources to refer:

Modern India:

Primary: Spectrum (Rajiv Ahir), India’s Struggle for Independence (Bipin Chandra)

Secondary: Plassey to Partition (Shekhar Bandyopadhyay)

Medival History:

Primary: Old NCERT ( Bipin Chandra), History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra, Tamil Nadu Board book-Class 11th

Ancient India:

Primary: Old NCERT or India’s Ancient Past by R. S. Sharma (R.S. Sharma), Tamil Nadu Board book-Class 11th.


Art and culture:

  •  This subject has become important in recent times for both prelims and mains. Special focus on this subject should be in areas like paintings, architecture, dance forms, martial arts, folk cultures etc.
  • Buddhism, Jainism remain favorite areas.
  • Problem with the Art & Culture is that syllabus is too vast in comparison to the number of questions asked. But, as Art & Culture is also important from Mains Exam point of view, reading thoroughly it is worth.
  • Aspirants can refer to 11th standard NCERT- Introduction to Indian Arts, NIOS book on art and culture as well as CCRT website to prepare this subject thoroughly.

 Some examples of questions asked are given here under

Question: The painting of Bodhisattva Padmapani is one of the most famous and oft-illustrated paintings at

(a) Ajanta

(b) Badami

(c) Bagh

(d) Ellora


This question is asked directly from NCERT class-11th-“An introduction to Fine Arts”

Question: Consider the following pairs:

Traditions-                         Communities

  1. Chaliha Sahib Festival-      Sindhi
  2. Nanda Raj Jaat Yatra-        Gonds
  3. Wari-Warkari-                   Santhals

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) None of the above

Resources to refer:

Primary: Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania

Secondary: Facets of Indian Culture – Spectrum, The Wonder That Was India – A.L. Basham (only when you have time). Besides selective reading of NIOS material and CCRT.



Geography is the favorite of many, especially of those who are from engineering or medical background as theories make this subject interesting. We

  • For prelims, the focus should be on Indian geography.
  • Climate, Indian monsoon, drainage system are some important topics from questions has been asked frequently. One must read Indian Geography book (NCERT, Class 11th) line by line for that.
  • Under world geography, map reading is more important than any other thing. In map reading, special focus should be on areas which are in news. For example, Syria due to ISIS or the South China Sea due to Island issue.
  • Map reading is also important in Indian Geography, as at least one question has been asked every year based on the map. One must try to do maps parallelly while covering syllabus.
  • Current trend suggests that questions from geography have been asked from the topics which have been in news recently.
  • Geography is important from Mains exam’s point of view also. So, aspirants are suggested to prepare geography thoroughly once and for all.

Question-With reference to ‘Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)’ sometimes mentioned in the news while forecasting Indian monsoon, which of the following statements is/are correct? (2017)

1. IOD phenomenon is characterized by a difference in sea surface temperature between tropical Western Indian Ocean and tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean.
2. An IOD phenomenon can influence an El Nino’s impact on the monsoon.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer- (b)

IMD bases its Monsoon predictions on both IOD and El-Nino. This was an expected question.

The IOD is an irregular oscillation of sea-surface temperatures in which the western Indian Ocean becomes alternately warmer and then colder than the eastern part of the Indian ocean. IOD is also known as the Indian Niño.

Question: The most important fishing grounds of the world are found in the regions where:(2013)

(a) warm and cold atmospheric currents meet

(b) rivers drain out large amounts of fresh water into the sea

(c) warm and cold oceanic currents meet

(d) the continental shelf is undulating

Solution:  (c)

Question: Consider the following pairs (2014)

Region often in newsCountry
1. ChechnyaRussian Federation
2. DarfurMali
3. Swat ValleyIraq

Which of the above pairs is/are correctly matched?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Solution (a)

Darfur is in Sudan and Swat valley in Pakistan. This question was not very unexpected because these regions were in news because of ongoing conflicts there. Such questions are always expected from UPSC.

Question: With reference to river Teesta, consider the following statements:

1. The source of river Teesta is the same as that of Brahmaputra but it flows through Sikkim.
2. River Rangeet originates in Sikkim and it is a tributary of river Teesta.
3. River Teesta flows into Bay of Bengal on the border of India and Bangladesh.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 and 3 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Solution: (b)

This year a quite interesting question was asked. We see India’s map almost on a daily basis while preparing for the exam. But are we able to create a picture of the map in our minds during the exam? Check it here, are you able to imagine the map of India exactly as you want to? Such kind of questions suggests one has to be observative during the exam preparation more than anything. Because most of the questions will be always on unexpected lines.

Question: If you travel by road from Kohima to Kottayam, what is the minimum number of States within India through which you can travel, including the origin and the destination? (2017)

(a) 6

(b) 7

(c) 8

(d) 9

Solution: (b)


Environment and Ecology

  • This subject has become very important since 2013 when prelims for Civil Services and Forest Services were merged.
  • Variety of questions are asked from this subject and hence it needs a thorough preparation.
  • Many questions have been asked from very basic definitions of terminologies like “Niche”, “Environment” etc. So, one has to be very keen while studying Environment.
  • Yet some important topics for this subject are the location of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, endangered species in India and their habitat, various international conventions on climate change, basic concepts related to ecology and environment.
  • Also, ongoing happenings are very important for this part.
  • Global Environmental organizations, NGOs, Treaties etc. are most important areas from Environment and Ecology.
  • Agriculture has also become very important along with Environment.

Trend Analysis:

YearNumber of Questions


Question: Consider the following statements in respect of Trade Related Analysis of Fauna and Flora in Commerce (TRAFFIC):

  1. TRAFFIC is a bureau under United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

2. The mission of TRAFFIC is to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature.(2017)

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: b

TRAFFIC is an NGO, not a bureau under UNEP. So, 1 is wrong. TRAFFIC is governed by the TRAFFIC Committee, a steering group composed of members of TRAFFIC’s partner organizations, WWF and IUCN. It is working globally on Wildlife trade monitoring network.

Question: With reference to ‘Global Climate Change Alliance’, which of the following statements is/are correct?

  1. It is an initiative of the European Union.
  2. It provides technical and financial support to targeted developing countries to integrate climate change into their development policies and budgets.
  3. It is coordinated by World Resources Institute (WRI) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 3 only
  3. 2 and 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Answer: a

Resources to refer:

Environment by Shankar IAS, Last five chapters of biology book NCERT class 12th



  • The current pattern of questions in Economics is mainly related to basic concepts, current events, international organizations etc.
  • To be able to attempt the questions from economy successfully, a student should first clear the basic concepts from 11th and 12th standard NCERTs.
  • Apart from this, regular updates from news especially related to RBI and Government initiatives are a must.
  • One of the best ways to study economics is to continuously link news articles with basic concepts of economics for a better understanding of the subject.

Important topics for Economy:

It has been seen that UPSC asks questions frequently from some of the important areas in economics. Given is the list of such topics ( though holistic reading is must, more attention should be given to these topics.

  • National income accounting, inflation, the balance of payment, fiscal policy, monetary policy, RBI, PSL.
  • Finance commission – recommendations, themes.
  • International organizations – World Bank, IMF, WTO, UNCTAD, WEF and their reports. Bodies like G-15, G-7, G-33, etc.
  • Basic economic terms, demographic dividend, inclusive growth.
  • Government schemes and budgets.

Some of the asked questions have been discussed here.

Question: Which of the following statements is/are correct regarding the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC)? (2017)

  1. It decides the RBI’s benchmark interest rates.
  2. It is a 12-member body including the Governor of RBI and is reconstituted every year.
  3. It functions under the chairmanship of the Union Finance Minister.

Select the correct answer using the code given below :

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2 only

(c) 3 only

(d) 2 and 3 only

Solution: (a)

MPC was in a lot of news. As it was relevant So, it became important topic to be asked.

1: It decides the repo rates, CRR, SLR etc. It replaced the earlier system of policy rate veto by the RBI governor.

2:  It consists of six members (RBI Governor, Deputy Gov RBI, One RBI officer and three members nominated by the government), and they hold office for a period of four years.

3:  The Governor of the RBI is the ex-officio Chairperson of MPC.


Science and Technology

  • Generally, aspirants neglect this subject while preparing for the prelims. But this subject is equally important to score well in prelims.
  • NCERT books of 9th and 10th standard of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology helps in preparing the basics of this subject.
  • Current events related to Science and Technology is another major area from where questions are asked.
  • Students can focus especially on Space related news, India’s achievements, any revolutionary innovations, and Nobel prizes.
  • Developments related to ISRO, NASA and other space agencies are always importat.

For Science and Technology section, one must focus on Current ongoing developments, rather reading some standard books.

Trend Analysis: There has not been asked many questions from Science and Technology section, especially from the books. But from recent developments or news 2-3 questions are askd every year consistently. So, stay updated you will be able to solve them 🙂

Question: What is the purpose of ‘evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA)’ project?

(a). To detect neutrinos

(b). To detect gravitational waves

(c). To detect the effectiveness of missile defense system

(d). To study the effect of solar flares on our communication systems

Answer: (b)

Check out the next question. This is also based on technology and comes under current affairs.

Question: Which of the following statements is/are correct regarding Smart India Hackathon 2017?

  1. It is a centrally sponsored scheme for developing every city of our country into Smart Cities in a decade.
  2. It is an initiative to identify new digital technology innovations for solving the many problems faced by our country.
  3. It is a program aimed at making all the financial transactions in our country completely digital in a decade.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a). 1 and 3 only

(b). 2 only

(c). 3 only

(d). 2 and 3 only

Answer: b



Current Affairs 

  • This section has become prominent from last 2-3 years as more number of questions are asked from current affairs.
  • Also, any current affair related to any subject mentioned above becomes important.
  • Best way to cover current affairs is to regularly read prominent newspapers and magazines.
  • The important point to remember is, study more than one newspaper but not too many newspapers.
  • Also, students should prepare notes from the newspaper regularly which immensely helps in revision just a few days before the examination.


Government Schemes:

  • This section has also become important along with Current Affairs.

Here are some examples of questions which were asked in Prelims 2017:

Question: With reference to ‘National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF)’, which of the statements given below is/are correct?

  1. Under NSQF, a learner can acquire the certification for competency only through formal learning.
  2. An outcome expected from the implementation of NSQF is the mobility between vocational and general education.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Question: Consider the following in respect of ‘National Career Service’:

  1. National Career Service is an initiative of the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India.
  2. National Career Service has been launched in the Mission Mode to improve the employment opportunities for the uneducated youth of the country.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Resources to refer: Daily News Papers- The Hindu, Indian Express, our Current Affairs section, our Monthly Magazine, PIB section etc.


Common observations (from 2017):

1) In 2017, the rotational shift has moved towards Indian Polity and Governance in place of Economic and Social Development. Questions were mostly logic and interpretation based than being factual.

2) History, Geography, Environment, and Science & Tech maintained their importance and visibility in terms of the number of questions asked.

3) Current affairs have also moved towards (Direct approach) in place of more inclination towards (Indirect influence) in 2016. All in all, it remains a major anchor. Current Affairs questions were more difficult this year. They were not direct questions unlike those of 2016. So, Current Affairs needs to be given more attention.

4) Contemporary issues of the last couple of years were also focused.

5) General Science remained invisible.

6) Language and key words were little confusing, hence paper required focused reading, interpretation and rational guessing.

None of these shifts can be called sudden. UPSC has shown its interest towards current affairs since last 3 years and it has only increased since then. So, stay updated with our courses and daily news analysis videos. And enjoy learning 🙂

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