How to prepare General Knowledge and Current Affairs for IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021 exam

Updated On -

Mar 23, 2021

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Sudeshna Bhar

Exams Prepmaster

The importance of general awareness and GK questions for the IAS (UPSC CSE) exam is undeniable and in the past few years, its marks weightage has increased proportionally. Moreover, it has a very unpredictable nature as direct as well as analytical questions can come from this segment.

As current affairs and GK can be updated, the syllabus is not static either which means you have to prepare this topic afresh every year. The subject has a major marks weightage in prelims, but it also affects your performance in the mains and interview round too. You will find a lot of overlap between the general studies topics and GK and GA.

What makes the subject more challenging is the lack of a specific syllabus. On the UPSC website, you will find the only mention of “Current events of national and international importance” but the expanse of this statement is vast. In this article, we will discuss in detail the best approach to preparing this subject and ensuring you can score the maximum marks from the segment.

Importance of GK

Importance of GK and Current Affairs in IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam

In UPSC, there is a trend of setting generic questions that are current affair-based. Hence, you must make a preparation schedule accordingly:

  • The preparation you have taken for general knowledge and current affairs can be used for substantiating your general studies answers and enriching them. There are always interlinked topics where the current events can serve as illustrious examples in many situations.
  • The current affairs questions, based on traditional subjects like polity, geography, history, etc are commonly asked in IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains exam. To ace the traditional and general subjects too, you must be aware of the current affairs related to them which means, the subject is of utmost importance on its own as well as concerning other core topics. 
  • To prepare for current affairs, closely reading a national-level newspaper and current affairs magazines is a must. However, these do more than give you dry facts about recent events. The newspaper articles on various current situations have an analytical approach to them and hence you can develop a new perspective as well as your language for writing the answers for your Mains papers. The GS I, II, and III are all based on current affairs which means you must develop a sharp analytical mind to ace these papers as well as the prelims.
  • Furthermore, the UPSC Interview is an assessment of the candidates' IQ, social responsibility, and awareness of the national and international events in every field. Hence, to ace, the interview, your preparation for GK and current affairs can play a vital role.

The following table displays the marks weightage for current affairs in the past few years-

Year  Number of questions in prelims Marks 
2015 30 60
2016 27 54
2017 31 62
2018 28 58
2019 27 54

IAS Prelims Syllabus

IAS (UPSC CSE) Prelims- 200 marks- 2hours- Syllabus

When you closely go through the prelims syllabus, you will know the segments from where current affairs and general knowledge-based questions can be asked.

  • General awareness of national and international events which are important.
  • Indian history with specific emphasis on the Indian national movement.
  • Indian as well as world geography- physical, social, economic geography with a specific focus on India, and generic geographical knowledge of the world.
  • Economic and social developments
  • Ecology, biodiversity, and climate change

Questions can be asked which interlink a relevant current event with any of the core subjects. The following are two examples of such questions- 

  1. Which state government has launched the 'Maa' scheme to provide meals at INR 5/- to poor people?
  1. Bihar
  2. West Bengal
  3. Uttar Pradesh
  4. Gujrat
  5. None of the above

Solution - West Bengal

  1. Who is the first bowler to dismiss left-handers 200 times in Tests?
  1. Ravichandran Ashwin
  2. Dale Steyn
  3. Trent Boult
  4. Jasprit Bumrah
  5. None of the above

Solution - Ravichandran Ashwin

  1. In which state is running the ‘Mission Shakti Abhiyan’ to ensure the safety of women?
  1. Bihar
  2. Sikkim
  3. Tripura
  4. Uttar Pradesh
  5. None of the above

Solution- Uttar Pradesh

Check IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains 2021 Preparation Strategy for Public Administration Optional

IAS Important Topics

Important Topics to focus on while preparing current affairs in IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam

While preparing the current affairs and GK, there are few specific core topics that you must focus on as most questions that come for the exam are frequented from these sections -

  • Polity- Events related to the constitution of India, parliament, Bills, Acts, social issues, fundamental rights, central-state relationship, court cases relevant to fundamental rights or simply of high social impact are all topics which you must thoroughly cover in connection to the current relevant events.
  • Economics- All news related to the Indian as well as the international economy has to be covered from the past 6 months at least. International reports and indices, external sectors, inflation, unemployment, multilateral platforms for trade are topics you must look for in the newspaper.
  • Environment- The biodiversity in the global, national and regional level, threatened, and endangered wildlife species in India, various biodiversity hotspots, different conversation initiatives of the government, climate change, etc. are important topics about this core subject.
  • Art and culture- The latest achievements in this segment, news on national heritage sites and monuments, national and regional festivals, paintings, music, and dance forms, award ceremonies, etc. are important topics.
  • Science and technology- The latest scientific achievements and development in the country as well as at an international level. Indian space programs, contributions of Indians in science and technology all over the world are important topics.
  • Different government policies, initiatives, and schemes.
  • Annual budget and finance and economic surveys
  • Political international visits, important organizations, and major events.
IAS Primary Souces

Primary Sources to Study for IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains

You can study this subject from offline or primary sources as well as secondary or online sources. The following are significant offline sources that you can rely on-

National level newspapers

The Hindu

  • The Hindu is considered a standard in new reporting on the national and international level and the language and presentation of the paper not only gives you the latest news but also improves your stylistic approach to the subject.
  • This is the best source through which you can prepare socio-economic and political issues related to current affairs.
  • Go through the Editorials and Opinion pages where you will find highly analytical views and insights on the trending political topics and government policies. This will help in shaping your answer-writing skills for the better.
  • The Thursday edition has a special science and technology section which is very useful to learn about the latest scientific developments.
  • Economic development and policies are reported with proper analysis of the present situation as well as analysis based on relevant references from the past.
  • This paper is also a good choice to get the latest updates on national and international level environmental crises and events.

The Indian Express

  • The articles on international relations are the best in this newspaper compared to others.
  • The newspaper is specifically written and recommended for IFS officers and aspirants of IFS.
  • You can find several dimensions and perspectives on IR from this newspaper which can be used for enriching your answers further.

The government published Magazines and bureau reports

Press Information Bureau

  • You can find all the policies and programs updated by the government daily that are not always important enough to be published in the newspaper.
  • Feature topics like important personalities and their contributions, selective historical accounts.
  • Articles and editorials are written by government officials have added authenticity and can be used as a rich source of information for your answers.

PRS legislative research

  • You will find various discussions on bills and policies from this source.
  • Reports on tabled as well as non-tabled bills in the parliament are also available here.
  • Summaries of different important acts and bills will give you an insight into it in a concise manner.
  • Monthly policy reviews where you will find comprehensive reports on various major political developments in different sectors of the country.
  • The legislative research can help the readers keep proper track of various policies and events and reports of government and parliamentary committees.

Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis

  • Learn all about the Indian national security system, defense relationships, and internal security from here.
  • This is a very effective source to prepare all about international relations, and government approach for national and international diplomacy.
  • It is also a helpful source for Paper-3 of IAS Mains which is on Internal and External Security.

Yojana and Kurukshetra magazines

  • These magazines are published by the government and cover diverse topics on national economic and social domains.
  • Detailed analysis of the latest government policies and schemes and programs are available through these magazines.
  • Social and economic issues affecting the vulnerable sections and related policies.
  • You can also develop your perspectives and opinions on government programs and policies from these magazines.

Check IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains 2021 Preparation Strategy for Anthropology Optional

IAS Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources to Study

A major secondary source is the Lok Sabha TV and the debates of Lok Sabha and Rajya sabha. You can follow the channel or check online sources like YouTube where the important highlights are uploaded as excerpts-

  • Follow the discussions on different socio-economic and political discourses.
  • Expert opinions from people who are either government officials or subject experts. This will give you resources to substantiate the answers better.
  • Watching and listening to the live discussions will help you to remember key points better than going through different written materials and finding out the important parts that are relevant to your GK and current affairs preparation for the IAS exam.
  • These discussions are very valuable specifically for mains preparation.
  • Also, follow analytical videos and articles based on these discussions to form fresh perspectives and derive underlying implications and possible effects on the near future.

Other secondary sources and important and recommended books for the subject-

IAS General Tips

General Tips to Study IAS (UPSC CSE)GK and Current Affairs

With so many different types of resources and no fixed syllabus, students often get confused about where to start the preparation. The syllabus is ever-evolving which makes it trickier. Here are a few generic tips to keep in mind when you are accumulating all such sources and creating a diverse study plan-

  • Get familiar with the prelims exam pattern first as it is the first gateway to the selection process. Also, take into account the general studies papers where you will need GK and current affairs for substantiating and citing examples. So, before you start the preparations you know the areas where the knowledge can be implemented and strategize accordingly.
  • Identify the core areas where interlinking the subjects happens the most. This can be done by analyzing the previous year's IAS (UPSC CSE) Prelims and mains paper. Also, recognize the segments from where direct questions are asked as these are easier to prepare and you just have to memorize facts.
  • Keep your resources concise and enriched. Choose study materials carefully so that they cover the maximum segments of current affairs and GK thoroughly and are sufficient for the preparation. When you have too many different sources at hand, things can get confusing. If you are taking guidance from someone, they can filter sources and create concise notes for you which will be much easier than skimming long articles to recognize small but valuable information.
  • Be familiar with the core syllabus for Prelims and Mains so that you can recognize the segments related to which current affairs are likely to be more important. In IAS (UPSC CSE) exam, national-level events that are impacting the entire country and even have international influence are more important than regional ones. However, regional news that has become a matter of national concern should not be neglected. Current affairs as direct questions and as interlinked with geographical, political, sociological, and economic topics can be expected too.
  • While watching videos or the Lok Sabha TV, sit with a notepad and a recorder- if you can make rapid shorthand notes it will be helpful later, or else record the debate and replay it to make your notes. Keep such notes in one place so that you can refer to them later as and when needed.
  • Do not try to read the newspaper word to word and page by page- instead, recognize the important segments and pages and skim through them with a highlighter. Keeping paper cutting is a good habit but requires a lot of effort- highlighting the sections and taking relevant short notes for the date will be much easier. Check how to read the newspaper for IAS (UPSC CSE) exam here.
  • Make sure you allow time for GK and GA daily as it keeps getting updated.
  • Compile all information from different sources in one notebook and use sticky notes to bookmark important pages of the copy. This way you can do your revision from only one universal source and finding important notes will not be difficult either.
  • If you have friends who are going for the IAS (UPSC CSE) exam this year too, engage in peer discussions and healthy debates on different current topics. This will not only help you to remember the factual side of important events but also help to develop new perspectives and ideas on the event. This will also help to frame better answers for Mains.
  • Take mock tests and quizzes weekly to brush up on everything you have learned so far.
  • Use flow charts, mind maps, and diagrams to create interlinks between the current affairs you are studying. This way it will be much easier to remember how the topics can be linked. It will also help to answer questions that amalgamate current affairs and core subjects.
  • Do not spend too long going through online and video sources- only choose the ones which are short, concise, and from authentic people.

Current affairs and GK are subjects that you cannot cover in a few weeks or months but have to develop a genuine knack and curiosity to master the topics. However, when you have to prepare for the IAS (UPSC CSE) exam, and GK is a weak spot, you can develop your memory and interest by following the tips shared above. Staying updated with the events in the last six months before the exam is particularly important so that you can answer all the questions thoroughly.

Check IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains 2021 Preparation Strategy for History Optional

GK can become your strength and highly scoring if you prepare the subject thoroughly but it is also a topic which can be the reason behind failing the exam, as it is needed in every step. Hence, do take this subject seriously and make sure your preparation is thorough for the upcoming IAS (UPSC CSE) 2021 Prelims.



Ques. Which are the best general knowledge books for IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam?

Ans. India yearbook, Manorama yearbook, Mathrubhumi Yearbook, Yojana magazine, Lucent’s general knowledge, current affairs- Arihant are some of the best sources to study for general knowledge apart from newspapers. For general knowledge related to current affairs, The Hindu, Economic Times, Kurukshetra magazines are good sources.

Ques. What kind of general knowledge questions comes in IAS (UPSC CSE) Exam?

Ans. The general knowledge questions are usually based on polity, economics, art and culture, government schemes, policies and development, annual budget, science, and technology-related topics. An example of a general knowledge question is as follows-

Many household items like mattresses and fabrics contain Brominated flame retardants. Why are many people concerned about its use?

  1. They are non-biodegradable.
  2. They can be absorbed by humans and animals.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Solution (c)

Ques. Which is the best GK site for IAS (UPSC CSE) preparation?

Ans. You can prepare for GK and current affairs by following the sites like-

Ques. My GK is not good, can I still clear the IAS (UPSC CSE) exam?

Ans. You can if you can score exceptionally well in other segments which is nearly impossible and a huge risk. Hence, it is advisable that you take whatever possible preparation for current affairs in the past 6 months at least and there is a significant portion of marks allotted for GK-based questions in prelims and mains.

Ques. Is Lucent GK sufficient to crack the UPSC prelims?

Ans. While Lucent GK is a good book, to stay up-to-date with current affairs, you should also follow a national newspaper like The Hindu or the economics Times or their regional language equivalents.

Ques. Is knowledge about sports important for the UPSC exam?

Ans. Yes, you must stay updated with the latest events in the sports world, specifically if there are achievements from India in the current year as they form important questions for current affairs.

Ques. What is the difference between GS, GK, and GA?

Ans. GS is general Science, GK is general knowledge and GA is general awareness. For the IAS (UPSC CSE) exam, you will get questions from GK and GA.

Ques. How to improve my static GK for the UPSC?

Ans. Recognize the important segments from which the GK questions come frequently. Emphasis more on these topics while preparing. Set daily goals and mock tests so that you can cover the majority of the important questions. Lastly, follow daily newspapers for the latest updates.

Ques. How many months’ current affairs are required for IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains?

Ans. Current affairs of the entire year from the end of the last year prelims to the beginning of the present year prelims is important. But current affairs that are 6 months before the exam are the most important as maximum questions are asked based on these.

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