In particular, GS-1 is considered one of the most scoring papers which is true in the sense that maximum part of the syllabus is static. E.g. Art & Culture, Indian History or world History etc. are not going to change. However, UPSC does not give doles here. It makes you think and analyze. Look at the following question which was being asked in 2015:

Question: Why did the industrial revolution first occur in England? Discuss the quality of life of the people there during the industrialization. How does it compare with that in India at present times?

Here, it has asked to compare the situation in England during Industrial Revolution to that of India now.

UPSC Syllabus for GS paper-1 (Synopsis)

Indian Heritage and Culture, History, And Geography Of The World And Society:

  • Indian Culture Covers The Salient Features Of Literature, Art Forms, And Architecture From Ancient To Modern Times.
  • Modern Indian History Include The Significant Events, Personalities, Issues During The Middle Of The Eighteenth Century Until The Present
  • Various Stages And Important Contributors And Contributions From Different Parts Of The Country In ‘The Freedom Struggle’
  • Post-Independence Consolidation And Reorganization Within The Country
  • History Of The World Includes Events, Forms, And Effect On The Society From 18th Century Like World Wars, Industrial Revolution, Colonization, Redrawal Of National Boundaries, Decolonization, Political Philosophies Like Communism, Capitalism, Socialism Etc
  • Salient Aspects Of Diversity Of India And Indian Society
  • Role Of Women And Women’s Organization, Population And Associated Issues, Poverty And Developmental Issues, Urbanization, Their Problems And Remedies
  • Social Empowerment, Communalism, Regionalism & Secularism
  • Distribution Of Key Natural Resources Across The World Including South Asia And The Indian Sub-Continent; Factors Responsible For The Location Of Primary, Secondary, And Tertiary Sector Industries In Various Parts Of The World Including India
  • Effects Of Globalization On Indian Society
  • Important Geophysical Phenomena Such As Earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic Activity, Cyclone Etc., Geographical Features And Their Location- Changes In Critical Geographical Features (Including Water-Bodies And Ice-Caps) And In Flora And Fauna And The Effects Of Such Changes
  • Salient Features Of World’s Physical Geography

We have tried to break down GS-1 syllabus, section by section, making it as simple as it can be:

a. Indian culture: Art, literature, and architecture

This is a very vast topic as it includes various forms of painting, various folk dances, festivals, literary books, architectural structures and much more. The questions asked are opinion based and not the factual based. In this section, the questions can be answered if the aspirant is able to relate to the newspaper article which can be referred from The Hindu, Friday Review etc. The candidate should devote the time smartly and just not mug up everything. Before reading the newspaper one should be thorough with the syllabus so that when the important articles appear one can make notes and interlink.

Here are some examples of questions which have been asked in past:

Question: The ancient civilization in Indian sub-continent differed from those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece in that its culture and traditions have been preserved without breakdown to the present day. Comment. (2015)

This question requires observation, analysis rather than memorizing facts.

Question: Early Buddhist Stupa-art, while depicting folk motifs and narratives, successfully expounds Buddhist ideals. Elucidate. (2016)

The questions always look familiar as UPSC doesn’t deviate much from the syllabus. But in every question, a very specific demand has been asked. You can’t write down anything which you know related to that topic.

Resources/ Reference

Indian art and Culture- Nitin Singhania

CCRT Website

Old NCERT Class 11 – Fine Arts

Tamil Nadu- Class 11th book

NCERT books- Class 11th

Though this seems a long list of books but it’s not actually that much as almost all these books are read during preparation for Prelims. You have to just go through these books again to acquire some analytical skills this time 🙂

Indian History: Modern History from 18th century till present, significant  events, personalities, issues and the freedom struggle

This topic is very interesting as it gives us the enthusiasm to read about our freedom struggle and know more. We also become imaginative sometimes and questions give the nationalistic feeling. You have to start from the 1750s and The Indian National Movement (INM) (till1947) and then various socio-political events in Independent India like the reorganization of states, an evolution of political parties and political institutions. In this, as the events have taken place chronologically it is easy to remember the dates and events rather than mugging up. This topic has to be critically examined and analyzed from the historical point of view or just rather than knowing the events.

This is a static portion for this topic. It is important to analyze the previous year question papers and guess what is important for the respective year. Keeping one-self updated by reading the articles from THE HINDU helps in critically examining the answer. Last year the weightage for this section was given about 40 marks.

Resources/ Reference

NCERT books- completed before Prelims

Spectrum (Rajiv Ahir), or

India Struggle for Independence- Bipin Chandra, or

Plassey to Partition- Shekhar Bandopadhyay

From Mains point of view, Plassey to Partition can be the best book as in contains an in depth analysis of various events during Indian Freedom Struggle. But we would suggest going for it only if you have covered this book before the Preliminary examination.

Take a glance to the question asked in 2016 from Modern History section-

Question: Highlight the differences in the approach of Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi in the struggle for freedom. (2016, 12.5 marks)

Now take a look at the question asked in 2015.-

Question: Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, despite having divergent approaches and strategies, had a common goal of amelioration of the downtrodden. Elucidate.

Just the change of names? Mahatma Gandhi ji remain relevant to this day, not only in GS-1 paper but also in GS-4 (Ethics) and Essay paper 🙂  Not agree? Look at the question below asked in 2015-

Question: How different would have been the achievement of Indian independence without Mahatma Gandhi? Discuss. (2015, 12.5)

India after Independence: Consolidation and recognition within the country

This topic reflects the present scenario and is much more interesting than the India before Independence. There are many web series available online which can refer and is easily understood when viewed visually. Reorganisation of states, evolution of Political Parties are the most important section of this section.


Question: Has the formation of linguistic states strengthened the cause of Indian unity?

Resources/ references

India since Independence- Bipin Chandra (Chapter 6-12)

India After Gandhi: The History Of The World’s Largest Democracy (selected chapters) is a really nice book but we would suggest going through this book you are keenly interested in things, otherwise India Since Independence is sufficient for covering syllabus.

World History: World wars, American revolution, French Revolution,          Russian Revolution, Industrial revolution

World History

History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redraw of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like Communism, Capitalism, Socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society. Its knid of fascinating to read all the events that happened around world. However memorising all that stuff is not easy. So, try to make some sort notes as while stydying.

On YouTube, there are many videos available. Before reading the books if the aspirant watches the videos it becomes easier for him/her to understand the topic through the maps, flowcharts etc. Then further in depth knowledge can be read from the books.

Question: To what extent can Germany be held responsible for causing the two World Wars? Discuss critically. (2015)

Resources/ references

Khan Academy lecture series

Modern World History- Norman Lowe

Old NCERT books


Sociology: Indian Society and Diversity

This section is as diverse as Indian Society is J from covering features of Indian Society, it includes diversity in India, communalism, regionalism & secularism.

Also, it includes effects of globalization on Indian Society, Role of women and women’s organization, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies. Let’s take these parts one by one-


Features of Indian society, Diversity in India

It covers basic features of Indian society and the vast diversity be it religious, caste based features or cultural diversity.

A basic question was asked from this topic in the year 2015-

Question: Describe any four cultural elements of diversity in India and rate their relative significance in building a national identity? (2015)

Here you can count on different religions and their sacred places are spread all across India e.g. a Hindu in Kerala visits Amaranth in J&K or a Muslim in J&K visits Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan, similarly other cultural elements like different food habits, major festivals etc.

Resources/ references

NCERT Book- Indian society (Class-12th)

For basic concepts, this single book is more than enough. However, for ongoing issues you have to stay updated through Daily newspapers like The Hindu, Indian Express and magazine YOJNA by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.


Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies, Globalization and its impact on Indian Society.

There is no single book to cover these topics, and if there is it should not be referred. As no single book can cover such diverse arena of topics and stay updated to the current tunes. You have to rely again upon Daily newspapers like The Hindu, Indian Express and YOJNA magazine, once you have made your fundamentals clear. You have to be analytical while reading these newspapers or magazines. Look at the question asked in 2015-

Question: Critically examine whether growing population is the cause of poverty OR poverty is the mains cause of population increase in India? (2015)

No book will tell the answer of this question. You have to think yourself during the exam. Illiteracy and poverty are the major causes of population explosion. Take example of Kerala with highest literacy rates it has one of the lowest fertility rates. While BIMARU states (U.P., Bihar, Madhya Pradesh etc.) have high fertility rates as illiteracy and poverty are high in these states.

Resources/ references

NCERT- Sociology (class-12th)

Newspapers- The Hindu, Indian Express and YOJNA Magazine


Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism

These topics are mostly related to current developments. Once you have gone through basic meanings of these terminologies i.e. communalism, regionalism and secularism you have to keenly observe on recent happenings. E.g. Rohit Vemula’s suicide and waking up BHIM army makes Dalit identity and empowerment a hot topic for UPSC. So, there was this question in 2016:

Question: Debate the issue whether and how contemporary movements for the assertion of Dalit identity work towards the annihilation of caste?


Resources/ references


Website-Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment



Since 2013 the UPSC has changed the pattern of asking the question. It is asking for analytical questions more than the static portion. As the year passes on the UPSC is more focusing on resource distribution and the marks allocated for that is more than 60 marks then very nest is on urbanization which covers up to 25 marks. Other than memorizing it is important to understand the concept with the help of maps.

Salient features of world’s physical geography.

Many of us find Geography interesting especially students from Engineering and Medical background. Because it includes various interesting theories and concepts and minimum things to memorize (like mapping part).

Since the change in pattern, 2013, UPSC is asking more of analytical questions than static. For that too, basic books like NCERTs and G.C. Leong hold most weightage. Look at the question asked in 2016.

Question: “The Himalayas are highly prone to landslides.” Discuss the causes and suggest suitable measures of mitigation.

It can be simply done from NCERT book, Class-11th.

Resources/ references

NCERT Books- Physical geography (Class-11th)

  1. C Leong- Physical geography

Majid Hussain- Geography of India


Distribution of key natural resources across the world:

It also includes distribution across the Indian Sub-Continent; Factors Responsible for the location of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sector Industries in various parts of the World Including India. UPSC doesn’t go into facts and memorized stuff, it asks relevant questions mostly, about which you will be familiar through newspapers and magazines most of the times.

Question: India is well endowed with fresh water resources. Critically examine why it still suffers from water scarcity. (2015)

Resources/ references

NCERT Geography- Land and People (Class-12th)

New Geography- Human Geography and India-People and Economy (Class-12th)


Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location – changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

This is the impact of changing phenomena due to climatic changes, Global Warming. El-Nino and La-Nino are also included in the topic.

Question: Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata are the three Mega cities of the country but the air pollution is a much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so?

Resources/ references

G. C. Leong

NCERT Physical Geography (Class-12th)

If you see whole GS-1 paper then we think you can materialize Geography, History especially Modern History and Indian Society part well. If you have prepared well these topics then there will be hardly any surprise in the Exam.

So, this was all about GS Paper-1 we have. We have covered other GS Papers in their respective sections. Now get to work and start preparing. If any doubts comes up regarding resources and references you are welcome in the comment box 🙂

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