IAS Preparation Strategy for UPSC Prelims Mains and Optional Exam.

Having a proper study plan and a well-articulated strategy becomes quintessential for an IAS aspirant to get through the Civil Services Exam. Here we put across some successful IAS Preparation strategies that have been utilized by our previous year’s IAS Toppers. You may ingrain a few from amongst the following to excel in the IAS exam. The contents include a Step by step IAS Preparation Strategy for UPSC Prelims, Mains, and Optional subjects.

Following a right strategy, which works for you, is of great significance to crack the Preliminary stage of this examination.

Gateway to UPSC Exam

You can write the UPSC Mains exam (2nd stage of the process) only upon clearing the Preliminary exam (1st stage). Underestimating the significance of UPSC Prelims would end the journey even before it has started. Less than 3% of the candidates who sit for prelims actually make it to the Main Exam by getting over the cut-off line. In recent years, the ‘Prelims Hurdle’ needs more effort to get through than Main Exam.

Many serious candidates lose out in the Prelims stage itself as they will have focused too much on planning beyond Prelims.

Focus on Prelims: Go with the UPSC cycle

In the months that fall between January and May, devote at least 70% of your time to Prelims Topics and solving the questions from previous Years, and analyzing them. Also, make sure that you are able to complete the paper in 1 hour and 40 mins.

Such an emphasis on Prelims during the above prescribed months will be clearly in sync with the UPSC civil services exam cycle.

Why You Need for IAS Preparation Strategy

To clear this exam, the candidate has to have a cogent and a coherent i.e, a right strategy. Often, candidates who put in the hard work as well as the candidates who are academically strong, find this first stage of the Preliminary Exam as a difficult encounter. The sole reason behind this inability to realize their potential is the lack of or adoption of a strategy that doesn’t suit the person in question.

Here are some of the strategies whose adoption might come in handy. You may call them Success/Winning strategies. You may ingrain one of them as a strategy or make a combination that really works for you. But always keep in mind that others’ strategies, including topper’s strategies, do not completely work for you. A simple logic behind this is that there exist Individual differences—be it intellectually, emotionally, socially, or otherwise.

Success Strategy 1 – Gain insights from Previous Year Papers

To get an idea about the Exam, it essential for you to go about all the previous year’s papers, especially post 2011. This gives you some understanding of the trends in questioning.

Further analysis of each question is suggested because such an exercise will guide your study habits towards those concepts and points on the lines of which UPSC has prepared the questions and the statements that ensue.

Success Strategy 2 – Run with the Test Series

You can just follow Legacy IAS test Series. This approach is more of an integrated approach and that is why it qualifies as the best strategy.

The approach is not about taking frequent tests and evaluating oneself on a periodic basis. The Test Series has a schedule that clearly mentions the topics that would be covered in each test. The Test Series is planned in such a way that all relevant portions and reference books, alongside previous year Question papers are covered too.

The best part is the discussion on the tests and clarification of the doubts in the classroom, in a dedicated session. Further, explanations to the options will be provided comprehensively to help the student to have a holistic understanding of the underlying concepts.

Advantages of Legacy IAS test series in a nutshell:

  • Coverage of all the relevant textbooks and online study material within a timeframe.
  • Every month Current Affairs test will be separate
  • Get an idea about the exam setting. Analysis of performance, which serves as feedback, even as one gets to know the strengths and weaknesses across subjects.
  • A simple way to course-correct your preparation
  • Serves as a revision of crucial topics that you have studied from the textbooks/Material
  • High chances of getting the same/similar questions in the actual UPSC Prelims exam

Success Strategy 3 – NCERT Texts’ coverage and beyond

NCERT textbooks from Class 6-12 are quintessential in UPSC exam Preparation. These are the basic books upon which information other sources can be utilized. These “other sources” are aplenty, offline as well as online.

Given that NCERTs alone cannot get you over the line, you must see to it that NCERTs are covered as early as possible. It is preferable to complete them in the initial days of preparation, say 3 months. To revise them later, handy notes are to be made or use the Explanations of Legacy Daily Static Quiz, which encompasses over 1200 MCQs based on NCERTs

Success Strategy 4 – Bringing Current Affairs into focus

This is the Best IAS Preparation strategy that is to be supplemented with other strategies which you embrace. Legacy IAS publishes Current Affairs under various sections and compilations:

  • Daily Current Affairs which includes
    • Analyses of important Editorials from various Newspapers (Monthly Compilation available too)
    • PIB summaries on a daily basis (Monthly Compilation available too)
    • “Prelims Booster” with topics only relevant to Prelims but not for Main Exam (Monthly Compilation available too)
    • Daily Quiz—both Static and Current Affairs based (Monthly Compilation available too)
    • Infographics for bolstering retention of current events

Success Strategy 5 – Don’t let Paper-2 (CSAT) play the Spoilsport

In the years starting from 2015, the difficulty level of Paper-2 of Prelims Exam has been gradually increasing. Many students’ dreams are dashed just because of the lack of time in attempting the requisite number of questions to cross the Minimum cut-off of 33%. Side-lining this paper by assuming that you are good at Mathematics and English is like inviting a disaster.

Though one needs to score just 66 marks out of 200, you have to work for it. The right way ahead to be comfortable with this paper is to solve the previous years’ papers and Legacy IAS CSAT papers. Those students who lag in solving Aptitude questions can attend the sessions at Legacy IAS Academy, where certain tricks and shortcuts will be taught to get over the line.

Success Strategy 6 – Study based on ROI

The investments made during the preparation are Time, Effort, and Study Material.

Returns on each front must be in accordance with the investments made. The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a management theory which states that 80 percent of the output from a given situation is determined by 20 percent of the input.

Always first put effort in those areas, which yield maximum results. Keep the less Return on Investment (ROI) areas to be handled later.

Preparation for UPSC exam takes a lot of effort and demands highest level of consistency and commitment. Mains exam decides candidate’s future whether he/she would be getting IAS/IPS/IRS/IFS or IAAS or some other Central Service.

Boxes that need to be checked before starting preparation for the Mains examination:

  1. Go through the entire  UPSC Mains Syllabus of all the four General Studies papers
  2. Pick up the rights books for the right topics.
  3. Do read one book 10 times, instead of 10 books in a go
  4. Read at least one newspaper thoroughly on a daily basis by keeping syllabi in mind
  5. Try to make questions from the part of the editorial. Ponder over it: If you were the examiner, then how would ask the question on this particular topic
  6. Practice answer writing of at least 2 questions on General Studies every day
  7. Complete optional papers before December/January
  8. To engage daily in answer writing for the optional paper and keep them as notes for last-minute revision
  9. Do write one essay, once a week on various general topics and try to collect facts in various areas like social, environmental, economic, etc in a notebook to use in an essay
  10. Last but not the least, put revision in your daily schedule without fail.

Detailed Paper-wise strategy

General Studies Paper 1

1)Modern Indian History

  • Read history as a chain of events by focusing on cause and effect. Don’t try to remember history as facts and dates. Try to study history in chronological order and visualize yourself as a part of history-making.
  • For important topics prepare your own notes. For example 1857 struggle, Various acts, Swadeshi Movement, Arrival of Gandhiji, Gandhiji vs Subhash Bose, Gandhiji vs Nehru, Gandhiji vs Ambedkar, Non-cooperation movement, Civil Disobedience movement, August Offer to India Independence Act 1947, etc


  • Spectrum
  • Selected topics, which are not covered elsewhere, from Bipan Chandra (India’s Struggle for Independence).
  • NCERTs
  • Previous Year Mains Questions

2)Art and Culture-

  • Nitin Singhania (Selective)
  • NCERT- an Introduction to art and architecture
  • Try to analyze the socio-economic, political, and religious significance of various arts and architecture. This topic is majorly divided into 3 parts: Architecture, Literature, and Various Art Forms.
  • Give more time to architecture part, followed by performing arts (Classical Dance, Folk Music), Indian Painting (including folk), literature (Try to cover it in ancient Indian History itself)
  • Previous Years Mains Questions

3)World history

  • NCERT on World Civilisation.
  • Refer Legacy IAS’s ‘Concepts’ tab on www.legacyias.com
  • UPSC asks merely 1-2 questions from this section every year. So, it’s apt to allocate time accordingly.

4)Post Independence-

  • Cover major topics like Reorganization of states, Bhoodan-Gramdan movement, Land reforms, Wars, emergency, LPG era, etc. from NCERT
  • You can also refer to Legacy IAS’ notes.


  • 12th NCERT
  • Legacy IAS’ notes on topics like urbanization, women issues, old age issues, farmer suicides, regionalism, communalism, nationalism, etc
  • Go through newspapers and jot down the events/observations for this section
  • Analyze previous years’ mains questions


  • 11th and 12th NCERTs
  • For Distribution of Resources- Legacy IAS’ notes
  • For Value Addition- Legacy IAS’ notes
  • In the Mains exam, questions from geography are always easier.
  • Search current affairs-oriented topics from newspapers– like a disaster, environmental issues, etc as UPSC has a habit of asking questions from these topics in GS paper 1.
  • Learn to draw maps in answers.

General Studies -Paper 2

1)Indian Polity

  • M Laxmikant (This book is more than enough to solve any static question)
  • Legacy IAS’ Class notes (Here topics like Judicial review, Judicial activism, Governor’s constitutional discretionary powers, President vis-à-vis Prime minister, Presidential vs Parliamentary form of government, Comparison of various countries’ constitution vis-à-vis Indian constitution, etc are covered thoroughly)
  • For the current affairs part, refer to Legacy IAS’ website
  • Make syllabus-wise notes and divide the syllabus into various issues. For example, regarding Judiciary you can analyze various issues like Contempt of Court, Pendency of Cases, Vacancy of Judges, NJAC, NCA, AIJC, NGT, Discipline of Judges, etc. and write them at one place so that it is better to revise those when the exam is on the close heels.


  • M Laxmikant (To cover basic topics)
  • Legacy IAS’ notes
  • Newspapers
  • Previous years’ Mains questions
  • 2nd Administrative Reform Commission reports (Summary part), Punchi Commission

3)Social Justice-

  • Analyze major schemes related to education, health, and various poverty-related schemes from the Internet.
  • Prepare diagrams, flowcharts, Recommendations of various committees, and some case studies to improve your answers for this topic.
  • Various government websites

4)International Relations

  • Every year UPSC asks 2-3 questions in this section and most belong to India’s neighborhood relations
  • Read columns of C Rajamohan, Brahma Challaney, Suhasini Haider, Srinath Raghavan in various newspapers like Indian Express, The Hindu, etc.
  • Weekly, visit the Ministry of External Affairs Website and read ‘Distinguished Lectures’ and India’s Perspective
  • Visit Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses website
  • Legacy IAS’ current Affairs Booklet

General Studies– Paper 3

1) Indian Economy

  • Static Part- Shankar Ganesh/Ramesh Singh
  • NCERT– Class 11 and class 12 (Macroeconomics)
  • Legacy IAS’ lecture class on Economic Survey and Budget
  • Legacy IAS’ current notes
  • Focus on macro topics, instead of micro issues like change in the repo rate, etc.
  • Focus more on trends like Inflation, GDP, IIP, etc
  • Read major policies by Min of Finance or RBI
  • Don’t read profits, loss, revenue, etc of any company or bank on the business page
  • Students can avoid Economic Times safely for this section

2)Infrastructure and Investment models

  • Read newspapers for this section.
  • Infrastructure chapter in Economic survey
  • Investment models like PPP, Hybrid model, and annuity model. Don’t overdo these models. Just a basic understanding is enough at a macro level
  • Students can refer to Yojana Magazine– selective issues

3)Environment and Disaster Management-

  • NCERT booklet
  • Revise major Topics from Legacy IAS book
  • Follow various summits related to climate change, ozone hole depletion, plastic ban, IUCN, WWF, WEF, UNFCCC, UNCCD, UNCBD, etc
  • Read IUCN RED data list species especially related to Indian Subcontinent.
  • Read about Wildlife Protection Act and various flora and fauna in protected areas.
  • Read pollution-related news, reports, survey, or actions taken by the government.
  • For disaster management, refer NDMA website and 2nd ARC report on disaster management.


  • Refer IDSA Website
  • Read Legacy IAS notebook on security
  • Refer to UPSC Mains previous years’ question papers on these topics.
  • Read about Reform of Criminal Justice system, Police reform, Police Model Act, National Police Reform commission, SC guidelines in Prakash Singh case
  • Read about terrorism, Lone-Wolf attack, Urban Naxalism, Naxalism, NRC, etc

7)Science and Technology-

  • For Basics- Refer to google.
  • For Current- Legacy IAS
  • The Hindu
  • Main topics need to cover like Defence related, telecommunications (Wifi vs Bluetooth vs NFC vs White Fi vs Share It), Biotechnology like GM crops, Assisted Reproduction, 3 parent babies, Stem Cells, etc.
  • Go through UPSC Previous years’ Mains question papers.

 General Studies– Paper 4

  • This paper is very important for the marks to vary a lot among students in this paper.
  • So, for this paper more than reading, it requires understanding and application, which comes from the rational thought process and more and more answer writing practice.
  • This paper contains two sections. Section A asks static questions and Section B asks case studies
  • The first student needs to learn the syllabus of this paper completely
  • Student needs to make handy notes of every topic given in the syllabus.
  • Case studies are asked from issues in Current affairs


  • Lexicon (for basic understanding)
  • Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude by G. Subba Rao and P. N. Roy Chowdhury
  • 2nd ARC 4th Report
  • RTI Act, Whistle-blower Act, etc

Case studies– Nearly half of the question paper comprises Case studies. So, the student needs to practice more and more case studies so as to fetch good marks in this paper.

Here students need to follow Buddha’s middle path philosophy. Don’t write extreme views. Students can quote Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore, Martin Luther, Buddhism and Jainism philosophy, etc in explaining their viewpoints. Students need to try terms from the syllabus as much as possible by writing all possible ethical values.

Whenever students give various possible options, then he/she needs to write merits and demerits of all options and choose that option as his/her decision which contains more merits.

Students can quote from constitutional values, societal values, various acts, etc to prove his/her point but it should be acceptable. Human rights, animal rights, children, and women’s rights need to be given more priority over others.

Last but not least:

  1. Revise, revise and revise
  2. Give one mock test every week
  3. Complete optional paper before January
  4. Review time table regularly
  5. Don’t waste too much time on social media
  6. Don’t isolate yourself—be an observant
  7. Regularly talk with your parents, siblings, and friends with a positive attitude
  8. Engage in physical exercise regularly
  9. Stay away from all negativities
  10. UPSC is not greater than your life.

Most of the candidates who have achieved success in this exam are of the opinion that selection of the best optional subject gets you halfway through in this examination. Few things students need to keep in mind.

  • The first step in optional selection is to go through the list of all the optional subjects and narrow it down to one or two choices.
  • The next step is to analyze the entire syllabus, previous year’s papers, past trends and try to get feedback from other aspirants who are proficient in the subject.
  • A subject should be such that it excites one and makes you think out of the box.
  • Selection of optional differs for different aspirants and hence it wouldn’t be correct to base one’s choice on other’s opinions. An aspirant should go for it only if it ignites an interest.
  • Once the Optional Subjects syllabus is mastered and you gain a good hold on the subject, marks will follow.
  • Loads of writing practice and an in-depth understanding will help one score well and it holds equally for all the subjects.
  • Other factors like the recent trend of marks, level of difficulty and familiarity of the subject, etc. help one make an informed decision.
  • An ideal option would be the one that wouldn’t hinder the time for General studies preparation and one can finish studying in a time-bound manner.


The overlapping strategy is followed by a lot of aspirants where one would choose an option that forms a considerable part of General Studies as well. So, when one starts preparing for that chosen optional, a considerable part of GS is covered as well. This might seem like a luring strategy but one should choose an optional only when it interests them genuinely. Many optional in some way or the other contribute towards GS or Essay preparation.

  • Political Science optional overlaps with Polity and India and the world part.
  • Geography covers GS geography, environment, climate change, etc.
  • Economics overlaps with the Economy part of GS mains.
  • Sociology overlaps with GS social issues and can also come in the Essay section.
  • Public administration and Law both cover Polity. Pub ad also overlaps with the governance part.

Last but not least:

  1. Choose an overlapping optional only if you are strong in that subject else it might backfire.
  2. Depending on the time left for preparation for that optional, one should take a call. It is advised to avoid taking an optional subject that requires extensive preparation.
  3. Complete optional paper before December-January
  4. Do a lot of answer writing practice of previous years questions
  5. Don’t leave any topic in the UPSC syllabus
  6. Don’t read too many books on optional paper
  7. Discuss various topics with your friends, teachers to get more clarity
  8. Make proper hand written notes for optional paper
  9. Follow the  All above IAS Preparation Strategies to achieve your life goal

Legacy IAS qualifies to be the Best IAS academy in Bangalore for it works to engender focused preparation with workable strategies for UPSC aspirants

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