The second and most crucial stage of selection for IAS (Indian Administrative Services) is the Main Examination. The number of candidates admitted to the IAS Main Examination is roughly around 11 to 12 times of the approximate number of vacancies existing in a year. The IAS Main Examination is usually held from the last week of October every year.  The examination consists of the following nine papers:

Paper–A: One of the Indian Languages to be selected by the candidates from the languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. This paper of matriculating or equivalent standard and is of qualifying nature; this paper consists of 300 marks.

Paper-B: English language paper too is compulsory and is of matriculation standard and qualifying nature. The marks (out of 300) obtained in this paper are also not counted for ranking purpose. This paper too is of qualifying nature only.

Paper–I: This is a compulsory Essay paper, consisting of 250 marks. Can be written in either language.

Then, there are four General Studies Papers. A brief introduction to them is provided here:-

Paper-II (GS Paper-1): This paper includes India and world History, Art and culture, Indian and world geography and Indian Society. This paper seems with most familiar subjects like History, Geography etc. Also, this paper can be can be most scoring as almost all the subjects except World History are covered already thoroughly during prelims preparation. Many have also read these subjects during their graduation that makes these more familiar. And in the end, the most relaxing thing about this paper is that its syllabus is static. Except on some parts like Indian Society and Geography, there are not many new developments.

Paper-III (GS paper-2): This paper is all about the Indian Constitution and governance. This is related to legislative, Executive and Judiciary: Structure, Organisation, Functions & Responsibilities. Other than these it also contains very dynamic topics like Government Policies & Welfare Schemes, Governance, and International Relations. Remember in this paper, you don’t have to do one-time preparation but you have to evolve with time. Read daily newspapers, watch RSTV discussion (The big picture) and develop a keen interest in things going around you.

Paper-IV (GS paper-3): This paper includes Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management. Even this paper is very much diverse. It includes Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development, and employment. Major crops and cropping patterns, Land reforms in India, Infrastructure etc. Though a major portion of the syllabus is related to Indian Economy but rest of the syllabus covers a miscellaneous number of topics. Which makes this paper very dynamic and un-organized. One can’t rely on a single source to complete the syllabus. You have to stay updated with current developments in all the fields i.e. Science and Technology,  Climate Change etc.

Paper-V (GS paper-4): This paper is on Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude. It will also include questions to test the candidates’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity and probity in public life and his problem-solving approach to various issues and conflicts faced by him in dealing with society. Questions may utilize the case study approach to determine these aspects. It also checks if the candidate has aptitude and values for surviving and successfully performing his duties as a civil servant.

Then there are two papers of the chosen optional subject each carrying 250 marks.

Paper-VI: Optional Subject – Paper 1 -250 Marks

Paper-VII: Optional Subject – Paper 2 -250 Marks

We can summarise the whole Mains Exam pattern in this table-

PaperNo of questionMarksTime
Paper- I (Essay) 22503 Hrs
Paper- II (GS- 1)202503 Hrs
Paper- III (GS- 2)202503 Hrs
Paper- IV (GS- 3)202503 Hrs
Paper- V (GS-4)142503 Hrs
Paper- VI (Optional -1)82503 Hrs
Paper– VII (Optional -2)82503 Hrs


Thus the total marks of the written papers of the IAS Main Examination for the ranking purpose will be 1750 without counting the marks of two language papers which are of qualifying nature only.

The papers of the essay, General Studies and Optional Subjects of only such candidates will be evaluated who have obtained minimum qualifying marks as fixed by the commission in their discretion for qualifying the paper on Indian Language and English.

The optional subjects for the IAS Main Examination include Agriculture Animal husbandry and Veterinary Science, Anthropology, Botany Chemistry , Civil Engineering, Commerce & Accountancy, Economics,  Electrical Engineering Geography, Geology, History, Law, Management, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medical Science, philosophy, physics, political Science psychology public administration, Sociology, Statistics and zoology literature of one of the following languages: Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya, Pali, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu & Urdu.

The candidates have to select one optional subject out of the given list. Candidates can choose any subject of their choice i.e. there is no restriction that one can choose subjects which he/she has read in his/her graduation. So, an Engineer can choose Sociology as his/her optional.

So, this was a brief intro to the Mains Exam pattern and scheme. Now we will be dealing with detailed analysis of syllabus of all 4 GS papers and strategy for writing a good essay and choosing Optional subject wisely in their respective sections.

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