This portal ( ) is now deprecated and not updated any longer.

Print Friendly

UPSC Prelims Strategy: How to Score 150+ marks?

upsc ias prelims strategy

The post is contributed by Aishwarya Raj, AIR 28, Indian Forest Service


I wanted to convey my heart-felt thanks to ForumIAS for making such an amazing platform that has been extremely helpful for clearing all types of doubt-clearing for aspirants.
I have been a regular Test Taker at ForumIAS and have appeared for nearly all the Open Tests.

While I have gained a lot from the discussions and daily current news sections, I would want to contribute my bit by sharing my strategy/booklist for UPSC CSE/IFoS Prelims since could score a fairly decent 150+ in CSE Pre 2016.

Following is the Strategy to Score high marks in UPSC Prelims Exam:

Here is the strategy and book-list for UPSC 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 !

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 Online Test Series.

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,
  2. If you end up being lazy some days, fret not ! Just put those backlog papers aside and read ForumIAS 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 
  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 – 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. Your wall should typically resemble this:
  4. 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 – 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. But please do read it once fully before using any XYZ summary notes .
  2. Budget 2017-18 Summary ( I preferred listening to Mr. Jaitely’s speech and taking down notes :D)
  3. Class 12th NCERT for Macroeconomics basics . If not, refer to ppts
  4.  Investopedia/Arthpedia for understanding any economic term you have issues with
  5. Yojana – 1 to 2 chapters from each month’s copy. Others get repetitive.
  6. Other books Kurukshetra etc etc  AVOID.

VI) General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change –

  1. 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.
  2. Ministry of Environment Website. 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

Google Alerts on Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology ! Rest don’t waste much time here. Trust your common sense.

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.

The 2016 UPSC Prelims 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. Eg 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.
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 ?
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 ? ; 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 ?

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 ?

Note: UPSC Prelims Recommended Booklist


Print Friendly

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • batgirl

    Hello Sir, any suggestions on how to minimize negative marks while attempting questions?

  • Nupur

    Thanks for the valuable information regarding UPSC Prelims. While randomly browsing through the internet I also came across another website which was given good information like yours, i.e. It is also a helpful website to analyze and check which institute or UPSC Prelims.


    And how to prepare maps of world and india


    U joined any coaching? Or self study sir? Test series plzz tell?


    Congrats sir

  • Prasannakumar Madiraju

    can you please mention the important topics in GC Leong that i have to cover for the prelims

  • I have not read Savindra Singh, but yes it is supposed to be quite detailed . GC Leong works well for basics.

  • Prasannakumar Madiraju

    can i study physical geography by savindra singh instead of GC Leong

  • All the best Lady. 🙂

  • Sapna Dalal

    All the best:)

  • sharmeen wajarao

    Actually helpful.
    really nice piece of content and the way it has been explained.
    Also I have the strategy for the final month.

  • You are most welcome Pawan. All the best with your preparation 🙂

  • Pavan Kumar

    Mam you are just awesome thanks a lot for all you very valuable insights for the preparation. With lots of respect.

  • firewithin

    Hello Sir,

    I am aiming at 2018 (both civil and forest services)After reading numerous topper’s strategies,I agree that every aspirant should make their own strategy.I have taken coaching and a one attempt(non serious one,because i was asked by seniors).2018 will be my second attempt!
    Though i have fair idea,but before Forum and Insights come out with their pre cum mains 2018 plan,i would like to know how i can go about for the next three months and make the best out of them.

  • Avinash Singh

    Sir ji thoda late ho gaya, rat daale saare… Ya.. feel good and more confident now !

  • Sure . Go through some of the important ones at least. More so ones that were in news in last one year .

  • Avinash Singh

    Sir, preparing all alone on my own, so a bit more guidance will be helpful. I have learnt all tiger reserves/biosphere reserves and wetlands part. Do I have to learn all National parks too ?

  • Most welcome, all the best!

  • Zig Ziglar

    Thank you so much! Hope it works out for me :’) Thanks againn!

  • No problem, you don’t have to apologize please :). See you yourself have the best strategy basis the situation you are in and the time you have in hand – All Vision tests and full length of Insights should do. Vision is more comprehensive and was closer to the exam (2016), but it is best to not have any repeat expectations this year around !

  • Zig Ziglar

    Thanks a lot! I had decided to do only vision. Anyway, between Insights & Vision, which one would you advise to focus more on? For eg. Doing all tests of Vision and just the full length tests of Insights as time is less and revision is important! I’m sorry for asking so many silly things. I’m panicking a little as prelims is nearing :/
    Thanks again for patiently answering all the queries! 🙂

  • Well I stuck to Vision and Insights mostly, depending solely on one series can be slightly risky.

  • Depends if your economics fundamentals are strong or otherwise. If NCERT is covered already, you may decide to skip Mrunal if time is less. Just skim through the Eco survey ppts he uploaded this year.

  • Zig Ziglar

    Also, would you recommend solving mock tests of 2-3 institutes like insights, vajiram, vision ias or solve just one institute’s mocks and then revise them later?

  • Zig Ziglar

    Hi Aishwarya, can you please tell me if Mrunals lectures/ppt are necessary or can one skip them for prelims?

  • Raju Modi

    Thank you sir

  • You may read it , but 12th macroeconomics book should not be missed.

  • Raju Modi

    In CSE,should I read (Ramesh singh’s Indian economy) instead of ncerts of economy?
    Kindly Help!

  • Thank you buddy. That feeling is most natural, but trust me all other people are going through similar feelings as well ! You will do very well, all the best !

  • S A

    I keep coming back to read this post whenever I feel overwhelmed and think I’m not doing enough seeing people solve mcqs all over the Internet while I’m still struggling to finish questions from my test series and note mistakes while not compromising on revision of textbooks. Very well written sir

  • Educolada India’s Education Po
  • ममता


  • waise thanks… 😛

  • Sapna Dalal

    Wapis toh prelims ke baad hi aaya jayega..answer writing ke liye
    Prep is fine..
    Ya..i tough times..
    Acche log toh bilkul nahi..
    Bhulne ko toh Sara syllabus hai humare pass..?

  • ममता


  • Pagal 😛

  • ममता

    Thik hai 😮

  • 😀

  • ममता

    I am fine dear….and life is also rocking as always….

    My preparation is going good….rest tow result hi btaega dear….kb vapis aa rhe ho insight secure pr…

    How’s prelims preparation going on ??

    Bhut busy rhte ho…job VOB krrhe ho kya…

    Yad krne keie Thank you …i was like ….sapna to bhul hi Gai 🙁

  • 😛 😛

    Profile kholo hi mat….. 😀

  • Sapna Dalal

    Aur bebe…
    Hows life
    Hope u r faring well with preparations

  • Sapna Dalal

    Bhai tanne bhi bera aur manne bhi…
    Behaal hai
    Hum sab?

  • ममता

    Status zahar hai ye vala bhi….roz roz copy krte hue sharam ati h mujhe….मेरा ज़मीर dhikaarta hai mujhe :p

  • के हाल हैं छोरी? 😛

  • Hi Avinash, the river list above is just a consolidation of data given in 11th and 12th Geography NCERTs and physical map of India. Since we don’t get much time in the end, try making things simpler for your revision 🙂

  • Avinash Singh

    Ash Sir, if dont mind, can u help us where we can mange to get , the one live consolidated river-tributaty list ?? Or did u make on ur own ?

  • Thank you. All the best to you too 🙂

  • I am glad this post could be of use to you 🙂 I attempted 96. In tests my attempts varied from 80 to 90, so the idea was to preferably exceed 90 if the paper was doable.

  • Sapna Dalal

    Roger that.
    All the very best for your future.
    Jai Hind.

  • You are welcome Sapna. I have mentioned in one of the comments below, used to read 2 papers and then a monthly summary Magazine for revision purpose. And loads of tests helped to improve recall.

  • @disqus_MA7ERq91wI:disqus – Sir, I keep this article open and follow through everyday !
    Many thanks !
    One question – How many questions did you attempt? Did you arrive at the number after your test series practice?

  • Sapna Dalal

    @disqus_MA7ERq91wI:disqus –thanks a ton for sharing your strategy.
    do shed some light on how you managed to revise current affairs without making notes from the newspapers…
    …will be a great help.
    thanks again.

  • You are welcome . What I did was a complete reading, it may work otherwise too for you 🙂

  • anil

    Thanks bro..Just a small doubt.should I read it completely.?

  • Thank you so much Shree, you yourself are an inspiration for all of us, so this appreciation coming from you means a lot 🙂 And the year-long struggle actually helped me come out with this strategy for future aspirants , one year ago I was fumbling for sources 😀 Cheers !

  • shree

    Every single word in the article has its significance.. not a single dimension of preparation strategy left.. 🙂 I wish i got to see dis an yr before 😀 ..huge work and good research seems to have been done by the writer.. Keep going.. n wish many more such clear guidances come our way… special congrats and thanx to Aish n the forum team..

  • You can go for either of the two, printed has the advantage you can underline and write short summaries at the end. As I said, three times reading will put things somewhere in your mind and that’s the only way that worked for me. You dont need to mug up stuff . First time read it like a story, second time underline and maybe collate a gist or highlight key words. Final time just look at whatever you had highlighted before. Hope that helps !

  • Goms

    K sir .Thanks

  • ForumIAS

    We will try.

  • ForumIAS


  • ForumIAS

    Would be announced from this week again 🙂

  • anil

    how to use ccrt website or printed material of ccrt for prilims and mains as it is very vast….should we read exhaustively..if not how to use it effectively for the best marks to score brownie points in culture for prilims and mains…thanks in advance bro…

  • Welcome. No , avoided India Year Book even though purchased it. Read schemes through GK Today compilation which was very exhaustive.

  • @disqus_MA7ERq91wI:disqus – Thank you ! Did you refer to the India year book for schemes?

  • Thanks Abhinav, those were really kind words . All the best to you !

  • Abhinav Kumar

    Run,laugh,smile and be happy. Congrates Aishwarya and thanks for sharing your experience. May God bless you.

  • Ajay Rathod

    giving attention to little details will surely help in prelims. Thanks a lot sir for valuable tip !!

  • ForumIAS

    True. Thanks.

  • You are welcome Ishi

  • Welcome Avinash

  • Ishi

    Congratulations and thanks a tonne for the Crisp and clear guidance. 🙂 Diary of errors is the best 😀

  • Hi, please add CCRT website to the list for Ancient/Med and Art/Culture, missed that out.

  • Avinash Pratap Singh

    thanks mam

  • Shakthi

    Thanku sir?

  • AR11

    You are most welcome buddy. My optionals were Chemistry and Forestry. I will come out with the details for mains and interview experience as soon as final marks are out. Hope to see you next year then, all the best 🙂

  • AR11

    Thanks for pointing this out, I forgot to mention. CCRT is an extremely important source that will help you. That book question was picked from first page of the website.

  • AR11

    As I mentioned in the article, current affairs is a continuum and has to be linked with whatever you study even in static. Material is same as everybody suggests , TH/IE, Forum/Vision/Insight, RSTV, Google etc. But the trick for prelims is to give attention to details, whatever you read. And that can be evaluated only through test series, so take as many tests as possible to get a flair and an intuitive sense.

  • AR11

    Thank you so much Shakthi, all the very best to you ! PS : I am a guy, and only the name suffices 🙂

  • AR11

    I am sure someone would be sharing the strategy for those subjects soon on Forum : )

  • AR11

    Hey common you needn’t apologise at all 🙂 Don’t worry about the fluctuations, keep practising and evaluating, that will hold you in good stead. Best of luck !

  • Oh….My bad luck 🙂

  • AR11

    Have a great day buddy ! Most welcome !

  • AR11

    Welcome Abhijit.

  • AR11

    Hi Aniruddh, you are welcome. My optionals were Chemistry and Forestry.

  • @disqus_MA7ERq91wI:disqus

  • Thank you so much.

    In case if you had Agriculture/Geology optional, could you please share your strategy for that as well?

  • Abhijit Zarekar

    Thank you

  • The Singh hulk …

    Great suggestions and road map towards success…..Thanks a lot.have a g8 day

  • jokeratupsc

    Congrats, @disqus_MA7ERq91wI:disqus , great tips!!!
    may I know your optional for IFS exam, please come up with detailed strategy of IFS exam.
    thanks again for this wonderful article.
    wish you all the very best for your future endeavors, hope to join IGNFA as your junior next year!!!!


  • saurabh

    @disqus_MA7ERq91wI:disqus @forumias-7f07ca326ce76cdde680e4b3d568bce8:disqus Can I just ask 1 more Q.- As you rightly pointed out Medieval could have lesser returns. I’ve completed the old NCERT, so I anyways want to score whatever’s possible in it. But I couldn’t find answers to 2016 Pre Q. in the NCERT. Are you aware of any other source which people refer to? Any other tips for medieval?

  • Ajay Rathod

    How did you managed Current affairs and what material you have read? please throw some light here pls?

  • Shakthi

    Somewhere someone is watching your efforts ☺… beautiful article maam… hearty congratulations on your deserving and hard earned success…
    with love and respect an ifs aspirant

  • DesiPanda

    I truly apologise for my ignorance. Thanks for pointing out that tests are all about finding the loopholes and plugging them in. I was worried because I too was facing same fluctuations. Thanks again sir for finding out time to reply and best wishes for journey ahead.

  • AR11

    Thank you so much ! Well. I understand that is not the best of strategies to follow, but I would read two newspapers for recall purpose and then a monthly summary magazine in the end for revision. But as everybody recommends otherwise, making own notes is the best way to go about.

  • Zig Ziglar

    Congratulations and thank you for this detailed article! 🙂 I wanted to ask how did you manage newspapers without making notes?

  • Try one more time!

    Opss!! 😀

  • ForumIAS

    True that.

  • ForumIAS


  • ForumIAS


  • AR11

    Hi, I know the name causes confusion but here it is a guy 🙂 Marks really have no correlation in the sectional tests, but you should take full length tests seriously. My marks varied a lot from 100 to 130, so you can see for yourself. Enjoy the learning !

  • AR11

    Thanks man, that is exactly what I wanted to convey, own study plan is more important than copy-paste mechanisms 🙂

  • AR11

    Most welcome Gaurav 🙂

  • AR11

    Err, Aishwarya would do 🙂 You are most welcome !

  • AR11

    You are most welcome Ajay

  • AR11

    Thank you very much Saurabh ! NCERTs sure are helpful, but I didn’t read them for Science. As I said, your unique plan and evaluation will allow you to figure out if they are needed 🙂

  • Vinil Sivan

    I think every aspirant should read this article atleast 2 to 3 times before making their own study plan…:)

    Thank You….

  • ForumIAS

    Thanks. Yes, NCERTs would help as well(if you have time).

  • DesiPanda

    Mam how was score in test series which you practiced ? Just curious to know how to relate marks scored in test series with the direction of preparation or is it pretty irrelevant to give too much attention on marks and focus on learning.

  • saurabh

    Thanks & Congratulations @disqus_MA7ERq91wI:disqus @forumias-7f07ca326ce76cdde680e4b3d568bce8:disqus. Suggestions like the BBC Documentary, National Museum Visit were interesting & helps to bring the required Vibrancy in preparations which perhaps makes this examination special!..
    If I may ask wrt Gen. Science- Did you not read the 6th-10th NCERTs or any other foundational material ?

  • Try one more time!

    Thanks a lot sir 🙂 Helped a lot

  • AR11

    Thank you 🙂

  • ForumIAS


  • Ubermensch

    Very well summarised. Congratulations for your success, and thanks a ton for this 🙂

  • ForumIAS

    Hopefully 🙂

  • ForumIAS

    Thanks Ajay!

  • Ajay Rathod

    Thanks for the article. clears all the things in general .

  • AR11

    Thank you for the feature ForumIAS ! Hope it helps our community .

  • Goms

    Thanks sir.
    Sir why nowadays weekly prices are not announcing

  • ForumIAS

    Thanks Gaurav!


    Very detailed analysis . Thanks sir .