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IAS Prelims 2020 Strategy for History

Updated On -

May 6, 2020

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History can become a very scoring subject for UPSC prelims if you are able to memorize well. Since it is so scoring and easy to study for anyone with a good memory, it is one of the most popular optional subjects in UPSC exams. The UPSC prelims history syllabus focus on three broad sections namely- ancient, medieval, and modern Indian history. The overall syllabus is huge but at the same time, there is a significant number of questions in IAS prelims that are from the history section. If your preparation for this subject is on-point, you can successfully solve all the questions from history. The article focuses on how to create a study routine to cover the entire historical timeline starting from ancient Indian history to the modern days.

Check IAS 2020 Preparation Tips, Important Books and Exam Pattern

Planning a strategy- understanding UPSC IAS History Syllabus

For exams like IAS, a smart strategy is much more useful than hard work. In order to come up with a strategy that works for you, it is important to recognize the different segments of the subject and the mark weightage they have. This way you can determine the portions were you must put maximum time and effort for preparation.

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Ancient Indian history

The following are the important topics from ancient Indian history, based on the frequency and volume of questions asked from these sections in the past few years.

  • Focus on different periods like the Stone Age, Paleolithic age, Mesolithic age, Neolithic and chalcolithic age.
  • Socio-economic-cultural facets of the Indus valley and Harappan civilization.
  • Different Harappan sites and their significance.
  • Artifacts excavated from these sites that denote their art, culture, and script used during this period.
  • Basic knowledge of Vedic society, family, marriage, norms, etc. - focus on the religious, social, and cultural aspects.
  • Read about the Dharmashastras, Puranas, six systems of philosophy, Vedas, Upanishads, etc.
  • Terms and their meaning- UPSC is frequently asking questions regarding the meaning of terms like Jana, Purohita, and Panchayattan, etc.
  • Guptas and the Mauryans emperors and their kingdoms.

Check IAS Mains History Syllabus, Important topics

Medieval Indian history

Medieval Indian history is from the mid 8thcentury to early 18th century AD. The number of questions from this section is rather limited and you will get 1-4 questions as most. Hence, the preparation should be accordingly taken.

  • Dates and facts related to the Mughals, Vijayanagar Empire, and the Sultanate rulers. Focus only on the economic, political, and social setup during these periods.
  • Religious movements like Sufi and Bhakti movements happened during this period and have significant marks weightage in UPSC Prelims. Focus on important saints, their chronology, doctrines, and their social impact.
  • Art and cultural aspects of this period are very important.

Modern Indian history

The time period is vast and so are the historical events during this period. The period primarily focuses on the emergence of a foreign power and the struggle for freedom. The maximum number of questions comes from this period. To cover the entire syllabus thoroughly, divide the period based on the time frame and event, and cover each section thoroughly. You can divide this period in the following manner:

  • Rise of foreign power in India
  • East India Company and its rise to power
  • British taking over Indian provinces and the reaction from Indians against it
  • Different economic policies of the British
  • Interference of the British Empire in the expansion of the East India company- establishing rules and policies to control the company’s expanse and further colonize India.
  • Socio-cultural effects of the freedom struggle
  • Movements and different aspects of the freedom struggle
  • Jot down the chronology and make sure you remember it well as the chronology of the modern Indian history can be very confusing.
  • Special attention to be given to the political and administrative system by the British, permanent settlement, acts, reports, and committees set up during this time.
  • Impact of these acts and provisions on the Indian society.

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Important books to follow

The key to starting your preparation is selecting books that help you cover the maximum parts of the syllabus in minimum time. Since UPSC follow the CBSE curriculum to a large extent, the History NCERT books are considered standard for clarifying the basic conceptions.

  • For ancient Indian history follow the old editions of Class VI and XI Ancient India NCERT books.
  • For medieval Indian history, class VII, XI, medieval India (old edition), class IX story of civilization part-I (old edition) and class X story of civilization part-II (old edition)
  • For modern Indian history Modern India NCERT Books by Bipin Chandra (old edition)
  • India’s Ancient Past- R.D. Sharma
  • Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania
  • India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipin Chandra

Making a study plan for important topics in History

The following table covers all the important topics in a gist so that you can follow it accordingly. It can be safely said that if you cover these specific topics from each of the periods, you will be able to attempt almost all the questions from history successfully.

Ancient Indian History Indus valley civilization
Aryan civilization
The Mauryans empire
Central Asian Contacts
South India
Gupta empire
Post-Gupta period
Medieval Indian History Turkish invasion
Delhi sultanate
Vijayanagar Empire
Modern Indian History Marathas- specific focus on Shivaji- Peshwa and their administration
European powers-chronology, important governor-generals
Reform movement- founders and contribution
1857 revolt
Freedom struggle- formation of INC, moderates, and extremists, Muslim league, Lucknow pact, acts and regulations
The Gandhian era-Gandhi-Irwin pact, quit India movement, august offer, Cripps mission, cabinet mission,
Indian National Congress
Subash Chandra Bose- Details on INA

Must Read: Best Books For UPSC CSE Prelims Exam 2020

General strategy to study UPSC History

The following are generic practices to study UPSC history. You must have a clear idea about the timeline and chronology of the events in order to attempt the IAS Prelims questions correctly. 

  • Create a chronology for every period with the important events mentioned. This will help you to revise better at the last moment.
  • Revise the entire syllabus at least two to three times in the entire time span.
  • Solve previous year papers as well as IAS practice papers for history on a regular basis to have better preparation.

It is easier to prepare for history compared to other subjects as it is factual rather than conceptual. You can read through the entire syllabus like a storybook and revise it a few times before the exam. With the exam likely to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you have a lot of time to prepare the IAS 2020 Prelims thoroughly. 

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