IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021 Toppers’ Preparation Strategy

Updated On -

Mar 19, 2021

IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam also known as Indian Administrative Services is the dream come true for millions of aspirants in India. Similar is the situation with services like Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), etc Recruitment to 24 services including IAS, IPS, IFS etc is conducted via a common exam called the UPSC Civil Services Exam (UPSC CSE).

Crash Course

For cracking the exam like IAS (UPSC CSE) only a planned and guided preparation with the right focus can help. Aspirants, who are preparing for the IAS exam, their goal should only be to clear the IAS, and not to acquire knowledge in a subject. When you study at the university, you should study for knowledge; but when you are studying for the IAS, you should study solely with the intention of clearing the UPSC exam. This attitude and focus will make a huge difference in your preparation and performance in the exam.


UPSC Civil Services Exam (CSE) consists of 3 stages. Candidate has to clear each stage to get into further stages. The stages are:

  1. Preliminary Exam (objective)
  2. Main Exam (written)
  3. Interview (personality test)
UPSC Toppers Yearwise
Year IAS Topper Rank 1 IAS Topper Rank 2 IAS Topper Rank 3
UPSC Toppers 2020 To Be Announced To Be Announced To Be Announced
UPSC Toppers 2019 Pradeep Singh Jatin Kishore Pratibha Verma
UPSC Toppers 2018 Kanishak Kataria Akshat Jain Junaid Ahmad
UPSC Toppers 2017 Anudeep Durishetty Anu Kumari Sachin Gupta
UPSC Toppers 2016 Nandini K R Anmol Sher Singh Bedi Gopalakrishna Ronanki
UPSC Toppers 2015 Tina Dabi Athar Aamir Ul Shafi Khan Jasmeet Singh Sandhu
UPSC Toppers 2014 Ira Singhal Renu Raj Nidhi Gupta
UPSC Toppers 2013 Gaurav Agrawal Munish Sharma Rachit Raj
Prelims Stage

IAS Prelims Stage

The prelims stage consists of two general studies papers:- 1) General Studies - I and 2) General Studies - II. Here are the number of students who filled registration form for the IAS(UPSC CSE) exam vs who actually appeared for the IAS( UPSC CSE ) Prelims exam in the past few years :

Year No. of candidates filled form No. of candidates actually appeared in prelims round No. of candidates who cleared prelims round and entered IAS Main round
2019 8 Lakh (approximately) 4,93,972 lakhs 11845
2018 1065552 5,00,484 10419
2017 969065 4,62,848 13300
2016 1128262 4,59,659 15382
2015 945908 4,65,882 15008

After seeing the competition aspirant can understand the value of proper preparation.UPSC exam is an amalgamation of both Knowledge and strategy.

Mantra for success in IAS exam = 50% Knowledge + 50% Skills (strategies)

Mains Stage

IAS Mains Stage

Once an aspirant clears the IAS preliminary exam, the aspirant has to clear IAS main exam, which has 9 papers - 4 General studies paper, 1 essay paper, 2 language paper, and optional papers. check mains GS syllabus and mains optional syllabus. Candidates should complete 60-70% syllabus of the mains exam.

Year No. of Candidates Appeared in Mains No. of candidates who cleared mains round
2019 11845 2797
2018 10419 2961
2017 13300 2564
2016 15382 1992
2015 15008 2034

From the above table, as we can see we have a number of students appearing to selected for further rounds in the ratio of almost 5:1. Being part of those candidates who get selected to the further round need a comprehensive analysis of the syllabus and choosing the right optional subject.

Interview Round

IAS Interview Round

After clearing IAS Main stage, candidates have to clear the Interview round, also known as the personality test. It is a test where the interviewer is not judging the knowledge of the candidate rather they are testing a candidate’s presence of mind, psychological health and wits, and control over language. The interviewer wants to check whether the candidate has the potential to demonstrate good administrative skills.

Year No. of candidates appeared in Interview round No. of candidates who cracked the IAS exam
2019 2797 896
2018 2961 759
2017 2564 980
2016 1992 1,209
2015 2034 1,164
Toppers Strategy

Generally, an IAS interview lasts for about 30 minutes and aspirants face interview questions that cover a broad range of topics. 

UPSC Topper’s strategy

How to complete UPSC Syllabus in one year (preparation strategy by topper Akshat Jain ( IAS AIR 2 2018). 

UPSC preparation has been divided into 4 phases, which are mentioned below:-

Phase One (4 months )

  1. Read at least once the optional syllabus
  2. Daily answer writing based on the editorial, check how to read the newspaper
  3. For those taking coaching classes, revise what is taught in the class. The rest of the time needs to be devoted to optional.
  4. for those who are self-studying and worried about GS - Start studying NCERTs, But devote maximum time to optional. Check out books for GS

Phase Two ( Next Four Months)

  1. Main priority - General Studies. 
  2. Continue reading the newspaper but can stop answer writing
  3. Start giving full 3 hr Main format tests on GS topics, you can get online free tests.
  4. Revise the optional slowly and try to give a 3-hour test
  5. Start writing essays - once a week or once in 2 weeks ( 5- 6 essays before prelims)

Phase Three ( Upto Prelims Exam)

  1. Only priority Prelims exam, check out prelims syllabus 
  2. Periodically revise the notes from the prelims perspective.
  3. Attempt a maximum number of mock tests - sectional and full. check previous year question papers
  4. Work on paper solving approach at least 2 weeks from prelims.
  5. Don't stop reading newspapers. 

Phase four (After prelims)

  1. Only priority - Mains
  2. Start with optional and first take up topics which are covered properly
  3. Before the result of prelims, cover all the GS topics left out early
  4. Keep revising the complete set of notes
  5. Give full 3-hour tests – Essay, GS and optional, Don't wait now

Everyone should prepare their own strategy and should refer to these strategies for building their own master strategy.

Must read: How to prepare for IAS by self-study

There is a need for appropriate knowledge and strategy for cracking prestigious exams like IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam.

3 Months Crash Course

*The article might have information for the previous academic years, please refer the official website of the exam.


What should my top priority to clear the IAS exam?
jaya garg

Hi. Your main priority must be General Studies. Candidates must continue reading the newspaper but can stop answer writing. Give more mock tests on GS topics, there are a lot of free online tests that help you prepare for the exam.

What kind of questions are asked in the interview round?
jaya garg

Hi. The interviewer conducting IAS wants to check whether the candidate has the potential to demonstrate good administrative skills. Against thousands of candidates who appeared for the interview round, only a few were able to crack the IAS exam.

ammar zaheer ahmed
Is IAS a popular exam, how many candidates applied for the same the last year?
jaya garg

Hi. Yes, it is. Total number of candidates who filled the form was 8 Lakh (approximately), while the total number of candidates who actually appeared in prelims round were 4,93,972 lakhs. Out of which only few thousands cleared the prelims.

shafia fayaz
Hi....I am applying for 2022 , I have 1 year kindly suggest me I mean strategy ,which books I wipll cover and how long...
diya suresh

UPSC IAS prelims exam is a very competitive exam that needs strict preparation to qualify for Mains and Interview. The basic ideology for qualifying IAS exam is the fact that 50% is knowledge based and rest 50% is completely skill based.

  • Read newpaper daily
  • Those with coaching need to learn what is taught in class on daily basis and those opting for self study must devote maximum time to optional and NCERTs
  • Attempt maximum online test and mock test every day
  • Practise writing essays at least 5-6 till prelims
  • Practise more and more with previous year question papers, mock test and practise papers
  • Allot some time for revision before the exam
ananya pandey
How can I do IAS Exam Preparations?
jaya garg

You first need to analyze the trend, more current affairs based questions are being asked in both, Prelims and Mains stage of the IAS exam. Read newspapers like PIB, The Hindu, etc. for exam preparations. Get preparation tips here.

ankur jain
How to start IAS preparation at home? Can you refer some good books?
jaya garg

Candidates must preparing the basics and go through their NCERT Books and Daily Newspaper. Complete the NCERT of History, Geography, Economics and Sociology first before shifting your focus to other recommended books. Some books that can be referred include India’s Struggle For Independence (History) by Bipan Chandra, India’s Ancient Past (History) by R.S. Sharma, etc.

preetam oinam
Is it important to join a coaching for cracking the IAS Exam?
jaya garg

Since each candidate has different needs and abilities, so joining a coaching institute or not is very subjective. In case you are sure that you can stay motivated and study at your own you can study without coaching as well but in case you need some assistance related to structure and pattern of IAS Exam then you can join it. Detailed preparation tips are here.

saurav kumar
What is the minimum age at which aspirants should start preparing for the civil Services Examination?
jaya garg

The preparation for IAS exam must be well-structured and candidates must start early. This is the time student is able to focus on the goal properly and is in a position to peak at the right time, starting early will be useful for the candidates as they get enough time to clear all the doubts.

utkarsha khatri
How can I prepare for civil services examination?
jaya garg

The best way to start for this examination is by knowing the nature of examination. Planning is utmost important and one need to plan and work the plan in a disciplined manner. NCERT books must be referred as they are considered as a must-read by experts as well as successful candidates,
For more details, you can refer here.

ashok kumar chaudhary
What is Booklist for the Prelims Exam for IAS ? As there are Consolidated Booklist.
manika gupta


Important books for UPSC (IAS) Preparation: Prelims

  • Indian Polity for Civil Services Examinations by M.Lakshmikant
  • Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania (Culture) 
  • Certificate Physical and Human Geography by Goh Cheng Leong.
  • Oxford School Atlas by Oxford Publishers. 
  • Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh (Economy)

For more information, please refer this page.

sir/mam, i have a questions. yet i have done all NCERT from 6th till the 12th class. i am preparing for 2021 usps exm... when should we join test series for prelims and main's.. i have well prepapred in ncert.. now i am studying advance leval books.
swati srivastava

Hi Jaswant, you can join test series as soon as you think you have basic knowledge as it will hellp you strengthen your preparation. For more details visit: IAS EXAM

hi sir my age 32 12.2.1988 can i attend IAS exam?
swati srivastava

Hi Priya, the maximum age is 32 years as on august 1 2020. So, you cannot give this exam as you have crossed the age limit. For more details visit: IAS EXAM

tamilmaran b
Hi sir..I have no idea for preparation,plz tell sum idea s for cracking this exay
aditi arun


To know about the preparation tips, kindly refer to – UPSC CSE Preparation tips

thahir sulaiman
Hi sir? how are you? I would like to apply for civil services examinations in 2021. Kindly clarify what are the book to prepare for the IAS examination?
aditi arun

Hello Thahir,

Here are a list of books that will help you cover the syllabus thoroughly – UPSC CSE BooksAll the best for your preparation!

penglang shiu
The book listed above are pretty good. Thankyou. But will it be relevant even for 2022-2024?
manika gupta

Hi Penglang, Yes, These books are relevant for 2022- 2024.

rahul sharma
I am just clear my 12th class and I am start preparation for IAS but I have no idea for starting preparation for IAS so mam plz give me right guidance....
akankshya pattanaik

Hi Rahul, 

For all the guidance on preparation tips, kindly check: IAS tricks and tips. Good Luck. 

uha rani
I am degree final year mam. My goal is ias mam. How to prepare daily mam please help me mam
akankshya pattanaik


For all the preparation tips amd tricks, kindly check: IAS examination preparation strategy

uha rani
Language names please tellme mam
akankshya pattanaik


The students will be tested on the strength of an Indian Language and there would be two optional papers that the candidates would have to select from. 

ashish bhadoriya
Hi mam actually i have started perpretion upsc exam so I have no any idea what I read book ,I have no idea what matter I read so plz help me mam.
komal chawla

Hi Ashish, The above-mentioned books are good for covering the syllabus and getting prepared for the exam.

sabira iram abdul samad nadkar
Meri ty ba complete nahi hui so Mai kaise upsc exam ka form bharo plz help me
shobhna chaturvedi

Hi Sabira, candidates who are waiting for the result of their graduation exam are eligible for IAS Prelims exam but they will have to present the degree at the time of appearing for IAS Main Exam. You can check other eligibility criteria in detail from here: IAS Eligibility Criteria