About UPSC

Civil Services Examination

General Introduction

Civil Services Examination is the most prestigious examination in our country. It is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Through the Civil Services Examination, administrators are selected for various reputed civil services of the country, such as IAS, IFS, IPS, IRS, IRTS. Every year around 10 lakh candidates apply for this exam, out of which about 4 to 5 lakhs appear in the exam and finally about one thousand candidates become successful and serve the country.

Examination Pattern

Civil Services Examination is conducted in three stages- Preliminary Examination, Main Examination and Interview. The nature of the exam is different in each stage, like objective questions are asked in the preliminary examination. In this, 4 options are given for each question out of which the candidate has to choose one correct option. The main examination is conventional-type, in which descriptive answers have to be written in the prescribed word-limit for the given questions. Oral questions are asked in interviews. Next we shall discuss all the three stages of the Civil Services Examination :

Preliminary examination

Structure of the Preliminary Examination

Preliminary Examination consists of two question papers. The first question paper is of 'General Studies', while the second is called 'Civil Services Aptitude Test' or 'CSAT'. In the preliminary examination, the question paper of 'CSAT' is of qualifying nature. Both the papers are of 200-200 marks, thus the exam is for a total of 400 marks. The first paper i.e. General Studies consists of 100 questions of 2 marks each, while the second paper (CSAT) has 80 questions of 2.5 marks each. Both the papers have 4 options with each question, out of which the candidate has to choose one correct option. In both the papers, 'Negative Marking' is applicable, under which marks of 1 correct answer are deducted if 3 answers go wrong. Under this rule, in General Studies Paper, 2 marks are awarded for a correct answer, while 0.67 marks are deducted for a wrong answer. Similarly, 2.5 marks are awarded for a correct answer in CSAT, while a wrong answer results in a loss of 0.83 marks.

Since CSAT is in the form of a qualifying paper, in order to pass the preliminary examination, a candidate is required to get only 33 percent marks (about 27 questions or 66 marks) in the CSAT paper. If he scores less than this, he is considered a failure. The cut-off for preliminary examination is decided only on the basis of the first question paper i.e. General Studies Paper.

The Cut-off Level

The marks with which the last candidate succeeds in the exam, that level is called 'cut-off'. Suppose a total of 12,000 candidates passed the examination. For this, a list of total marks of all the candidates will be made, out of which top 12,000 candidates will be selected. Out of these selected candidates, the marks obtained by the last candidate will be called 'cut-off level'.
The cut-off is slightly less for reserved category and differently-abled candidates than for general category candidates. The cut-off for various categories in the preliminary examination for the year 2013 to 2018 was as follows -

Category 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
General/Other 241 205 107.34 106.00 105.34 98.0
OBC 222 204 10.00 110.66 102.66 96.66
SC 207 182 94.00 99.34 88.66 84.00
ST 201 174 91.34 96.00 88.66 83.34
PH-1 199 167 90.66 75.34 85.34 73.34
PH-2 184 113 76.66 72.66 61.34 53.34
PH-3 163 115 40.00 40.00 40.00 40.00

It is clear from the above table that the 'cut-off' is not always constant. Along with the change in the number of candidates, qualifications, number of vacancies and difficulty level of the papers, it keeps varying for every category.

Keep in mind that these calculations of marks are done after deducting the loss due to negative marking, that means, they are net marks. This means that any candidate should calculate his score by deducting 1 correct answer for 3 wrong answers.

Age Limit and No. of Attempts

Category Age Limit No. of Attempts
Genera 21-32 6
OBC 21-35 9
SC 21-37 21-37
ST 21-37 21-37
  • Age will be calculated from 1st August of the calendar year of the examination.
  • The Candidates, who were residing in Jammu and Kashmir between January 1, 1980 to December 31, 1989, will get a maximum age relaxation of 5 years.
    Syllabus of General Studies (Preliminary Test)

Paper I

  • 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, Biodiversity and Climate Change - that do not require subject specialization.
  • General Science.

Syllabus of CSAT

Paper II

  • Comprehension; Interpersonal Skills including Communication Skills.
  • Logical Reasoning and Analytical Ability.
  • Decision Making and Problem Solving.
  • General Mental Ability.
  • Basic Numeracy (Numbers and their Relations, Orders of Magnitude, etc.) (Class X level).
  • Data Interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. — Class X level)

Main Examination


Phase II of the Civil Services Examination is called 'Main Examination'. Candidates who have qualified in the preliminary examination are invited to appear for the main examination during the month of September-October. While the preliminary examination is completely objective-type, in which the candidate has to choose the correct option out of the 4 options given for each question, in the Main Exam, different descriptive questions with different word limits are asked which have to be answered in the prescribed word-limit. This is the reason that writing-style is considered as an important ability to succeed in the main examination.

Structure of Main Examination

The main examination consists of 1750 marks in which 1000 marks for General Studies (4 papers of 250 marks each), 500 marks for an Optional Subject (2 papers of 250 marks each). ) And 250 marks are scheduled for the Essay paper. In addition, 2 papers of 300 marks each are of English and Indian language [(Hindi or any other language included in the 8th schedule of the Constitution)] which are of qualifying nature. Both these papers of Indian language and English also have minimum 25% (75 marks) qualifying marks .

The present system of main examination is as follows -

Paper Subject Marks
Paper – I Essay (can be written in the medium of the candidate’s choice) 250
Paper – II General Studies – I (Indian Heritage & Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society) 250
Paper – III General Studies – II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice & International Relations) 250
Paper – IV General Studies – III (Technology, Economic Development, Biodiversity, Security & Disaster Management) 250
Paper – V General Studies – IV (Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude) 250
Paper – VI Optional Subject – Paper I 250
Paper – VII Optional Subject – Paper II 250
Qualifying- 1 English Language Paper 300**
Qualifying- 2 Indian language Paper [(Hindi or any other language included in the 8th schedule of the Constitution)] 300**

** Note that marks in both qualifying papers are not added for the determination of merit.

Note: The main examination question papers are simultaneously in both Hindi and English languages, but the candidates are allowed to answer in any of the 22 languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Candidates, in their Civil Service Examination form, have to mention a language as their medium for the main examination. They have to write the answers of all the question papers of the main examination in the same language. Only in the subjects of Literature is the exemption that the candidates write the answers in the script of the same language, even if the medium is not the language. For example, if the candidate of English medium selects Punjabi as an optional subject, he or she will write the answers in Gurmukhi script. In the remaining cases, it is not allowed that the candidate answer different question papers in different languages (although some States Public Service Commissions have given such permission).

List of optional subjects for Main Examination

  • Agriculture
  • Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science
  • Anthropology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Commerce and Accountancy
  • Economics
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History
  • Law
  • Management
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Medical Science
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Zoology
  • Literature of one of the following languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi , Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English.

Qualifying Subjects

The Main Examination has two question papers of qualifying nature. One is Hindi or any language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. Second is of English language.

Indian Language Paper

For the Indian language paper, the candidate selects one of the 22 languages included in the Eighth Schedule. As an exception, this question paper will not be compulsory for candidates residing in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim.

Total marks of this question papers is 300, in which the qualifying marks have been set to be 75 (25% of the total). The format of the questions would normally be as follows-

1- Comprehension of given passages
2- Precis writing
3- Word usage and vocabulary
4- Short essay
5- Translating from English language to Indian language and Indian language to English language

English Language Paper

Total marks of this question papers is 300, in which the qualifying marks have been set to be 75 (25% of the total). The format of the questions would normally be as follows-

1- Comprehension of given passages
2- Précis Writing
3- Usage and Vocabulary
4- Short Essay


  • Indian Language and English papers will be of matriculation or equivalent level, in which the candidate has to qualify only. The marks obtained in these question papers are not included in determining the merit.
  • All candidates' Essay, General Studies and Optional Subject papers will be evaluated along with qualifying papers of 'Indian language' and English, but Essay, General Studies and Optional Subject papers will be considered only in the case of such candidates, who have secured 25% marks in Indian language and English papers as minimum qualifying standards in these qualifying papers.
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