How to prepare for IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains exam by self-study?

Updated On -

Mar 23, 2021

Abanti's profile photo


Exams Prepmaster

The IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam is one of the most popular recruitment exams taken by lakhs of candidates each year. It has a highly challenging process to judge the potential candidate’s intellectual capacity, knowledge and personality as well. Therefore, it requires an all-around development on the candidates’ part to attempt and clear the IAS Examination. The majority of the questions are asked under General Studies and current affairs from both India and around the world. Moreover, many candidates hope to clear it without taking any coaching classes. In hindsight, this is indeed possible as many candidates have cleared the UPSC Exam by simply self-studying by following a dedicated routine and giving enough time for the preparation.

With the IAS Prelims on June 27, 2021, and Mains on September 17-22, 2021, there is enough time to boost your preparation and cover the entire syllabus this year.

IAS (UPSC CSE)- Tips for Self-Preparation

There are three important key factors to clear the UPSC Civil Services Exam. This has been listed in the following points.

  • Stay up to date with Current Affairs
  • Choose the right optional subject
  • Follow NCERT Books

Apart from this, there are a few other tips that can help you to clear the UPSC exam. Hence, go through the following points one by one.

1. Prepare yourself beforehand

Incidentally, candidates have to set their goals and prepare both mentally and physically for the UPSC exam. They need to dedicate ample amounts of time if they wish to clear the exam through self-study.

The IAS Exam is one of the most challenging examinations with a lakh number of aspirants. Therefore, one should not take it lightly. Hence, go through the other tips very carefully.

2. Make a Time Schedule and Follow it

You can start the IAS Exam preparation by creating a timetable or a time schedule. This will help you to effectively utilize and manage your time. Allot a couple of hours a day dedicated towards study and the other half towards revision.

Make sure that the timetable is comfortable and suitable for you. Also, try not to put yourself under pressure as it can harm your mental well-being. Create small goals and stick to achieving them.

3. Go through the UPSC Exam Syllabus and Pattern

As we all know, the IAS exam consists of three stages. On its original order, these are Preliminary, Mains and the final interview round. The syllabus for both stages is different. However, you should start preparing for both of them beforehand.

Carefully go through the syllabus and prioritize the subjects according to your strengths and weaknesses. Gather the necessary study materials and make sure that you give ample time to each and every subject.

Must Read: How to Prepare for IAS Exam?

4. Start reading Current Affairs

Accordingly, you need to start reading the latest current affairs that are happening around the world. For this, you can go through the daily newspapers, magazines and gazettes. In addition, you can download certain apps that will keep you informed about the latest events at all times. These can greatly help you to score maximum marks as the majority of the questions are asked from general studies and current affairs.

5. Find and Study from NCERT Books

Earlier, NCERT books were mostly followed by CBSE and a few other boards. Thereafter, it was announced to be followed by ICSE boards as well. This change came into effect from 2019 onwards.

As a result, it is actually very easy to procure NCERT books that can help you cover various subjects in the IAS Exam syllabus. Moreover, the concepts are clearly explained and are easier to study from. Also, some of the questions in the IAS exams come directly from these books.

6. Choose the right Optional Subject

According to the official notification released in 2013, candidates now have the option to choose only 1 optional subject for IAS Exams. Before this, candidates had to choose two. It is extremely important to choose the right optional subject as it can determine the final marks of the candidates.

Currently, the optional subject carries exactly 500 marks out of a total of 2025. It is advised for the candidates to not follow the latest trends or choose the most popular subject. They should make their own decision and choose the subject that they’re comfortable with.

Accordingly, they can choose an optional subject in which they have a relevant educational background or those that overlap with General studies. This will help to reduce the preparation time for the IAS exams.

Check IAS Preparation Tips

7. Use the right Studying Techniques

To begin with, each person has their own studying style or technique. Therefore, what may be helpful for one can easily be unhelpful for the other. However, there are a few key points that can help an aspirant to study the right way. Hence, go through the points given below.

  • Make important notes while studying.
  • Remember the date and events of the latest current affairs. Make sure that you focus on those that affect the Indian or global economy.
  • Go through the solved papers of previous papers and find the common important questions.
  • Give mock tests and exams periodically. Do not forget to take it within the given time frame as same as the actual examination.
  • Go through the exam pattern and understand the types of questions thoroughly.
  • Continuously assess yourself and find your strengths or weaknesses. Thereafter, prepare for the exam accordingly.
  • Revise as much as you can as information can be forgotten pretty easily.

8. Follow Government Resources

A great way to stay up to date with the latest current affairs and general studies is by closely following the government resources. This includes popular government magazines and gazettes. In addition, candidates can also visit the official website of UPSC and other government websites to browse sample question papers and get the latest information on economic policies, current affairs, etc.

9. Practice for the Interview Round

As a good practice, it is advised to practice for the final interview round by taking mock interviews. Generally, the interviewing board of UPSC uses this stage to personally get to know the final candidates.

Hence, you will be asked personal questions regarding your interests, hobbies, educational background, family history, work experience, etc. They may also give you hypothetical situations to ascertain your presence of mind, communication skills, problem-solving and common sense.

10. Stay Healthy and be Positive

Finally, it is very important for the candidates to keep a positive attitude and don’t get pressurized during the preparation. It is very easy to feel demotivated, dejected, and stressed. However, you should not feel overwhelmed and study at your own pace.

Moreover, make sure that you do get a good night’s rest as sleep deprivation can easily affect your memory. Online platforms like YouTube are a great platform to clear your doubts and any problems that you might face. Do not forget to prevent yourself from being distracted while you’re at it.

Apart from proper sleep, make sure that you are taking care of your health as well. Do not skip meals and overwork yourself. A positive attitude can greatly help to boost your studying habits.

Check IAS Practice Papers

Other tips for self-studying for IAS Exam

In addition to the tips given above, here are a few other tips that can help you to clear the IAS exam. Make sure that you follow some of these as well.

  • Download the UPSC App from the Google Play Store as it offers various reading materials and the latest current affairs on a regular basis.
  • Make notes of important sections while studying.
  • Always find the source of any current affairs to determine its authenticity.
  • Do not sacrifice on your sleep or stress yourself.
  • For newspapers, ‘The Hindu’ is a popular choice for the latest current affairs while studying for IAS exams.
  • During studying online on YouTube, explore a couple of instructional videos, and find an instructor who clarifies your problems easily.
  • Always go through the previous year’s question papers and note down the important questions.
  • Refrain from using your smartphones and browsing social media platforms while studying.

Check IAS Previous Years’ Cutoff

How can it be better than coaching?

In comparison to coaching, self-studying can be seen as an exhaustive and difficult process in the beginning. It is very easy for students to become distracted or not follow the timetable accordingly. However, this depends from person to person.

Generally, those who are determined and focused can easily clear the IAS exam through hard work. Moreover, here are a few other benefits that self-studying can provide you during the studying process.

  • Get more time on your hands by eliminating commuting time to the coaching center
  • Save money by not signing up for coaching
  • Save extra time by not looking up different centers and comparing them
  • Reduce the chances of being let down by teachers or their teaching methods
  • Do not get confused by extra study materials given by the coaching centers

In summary, anyone can clear the IAS exam through hard work and dedication. Creating and following a strict timetable will greatly help the candidate in preparation for the same. It can be quite difficult to find the “perfect” coaching institute among hundreds. Hence, follow the tips given above and you will be able to get through the final merit list in no time.

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