IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains 2021 Preparation Strategy for General Studies Paper I

Updated On -

Mar 22, 2021

Abanti's profile photo


Exams Prepmaster

IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains contains 4 General Studies papers. The General Studies Paper 1 is divided into 5 sections: Art and Culture, Modern History, World History, Indian Society, and World and Indian Geography. Among these sections, Indian society and Indian & World Geography are more important. If you judge this paper in the point of view of difficulty level, it is moderately difficult depending on the candidate’s educational background. 

Question Distribution

IAS (UPSC CSE) General Studies Paper I: Topic-wise division

In UPSC Mains exam, questions of General studies Paper: I, are mainly taken from 9 major topics. Through analyzing previous years questions papers, the expected number of questions comes every year is shown below:

Sections Number of Questions (10 marks) Number of Questions (15 marks)
Art and Culture 1 - 2 0 - 2
Modern History of India and World 2 -3  1 - 3
Indian Society and Economy 2-3  1 - 3
Geography and Environment 3-4 2-4
Current Affairs 0 - 2  1 - 2
Miscellaneous 0 - 1 0 - 1
Previous Years Paper

IAS (UPSC CSE) General Studies Paper I: Previous Years Question Papers

Previous Years Question Papers really matter while preparing for IAS General Studies Paper-I. Practicing sample question papers and mock tests are also beneficial for each type of candidate. In the below chart, candidates can easily download question papers.

Name of Years Link to download
2020 Download
2019 Download
2018 Download
2017 Download
2016 Download
2015 Download
2014 Download
Topic-Wise Strategy

IAS (UPSC CSE) Mains 2021: General Studies Paper I Topic-wise Strategy and Study Materials

When you start preparing for General Studies Paper-I, it is important to note the minute details of the important topics. Knowing important topics and sections will help you to get ready for that section very minutely and in between the lines so that you don't have to miss any questions unattempted.

Indian Arts & Culture for General Studies Paper I

In the General Studies Paper I, Arts and Culture, also known as the ‘Indian Heritage and Culture’ is 15 % of the total questions. Before start preparing, divided this section as per the important topics. Indian Art can be classified under three headings such as Performing Arts, Visual Arts, and Literary Arts.

Performing Arts :

  • Performing arts include the various dance forms, music, Indian theatre and puppetry.
  • Dance forms are majorly divided into Classical Dances and Folk Dances.
  • Classical dance forms include some very famous dance forms for example Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Mohiniyattam (Kerala), Kathakali (Kerala), Kathak (North and West of India), Odissi (Odisha), Manipuri (Manipur), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), and Sattriya (Assam).
  • The Folk dance forms of India includes Chhau, Bihu dance, Garba, Dhamal dance, Dumhal, Chakyar Koothu, Lavani, Bhangra, etc. which are very important for this section.
  • Another performing art is Music which can be divided into three styles: Carnatic music, Hindustani music and Folk music.
  • Indian theatre is basically of two types: modern and traditional.
  • Puppetry incudes string puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets and glove puppets.
  • The difference among these are and the characteristics of each form of performing art are very important. ‘-

Must Read: How to read a newspaper for IAS exam

Visual Art:

  • Visual arts can be divided into three such as architecture, sculpture and painting.
  • Indian architecture can be studied through these major topics: Prehistoric architecture, Indus valley civilization, Temple architecture, Buddhist architecture, Indo-Islamic architecture, Modern architecture.
  • The most famous sculptures which are important for General Studies Paper - I, are : Prehistoric sculpture, Indus valley civilization sculpture, Buddhist sculpture, Gupta sculpture, Medieval sculpture, Modern India sculpture.
  • Indian painting can be studied through the leading painting methods such as Miniature paintings, Wall paintings of India, Modern Indian painting.

Literary Arts:

Literary arts can be studied under Vedic literature, Puranas, Classical Sanskrit literature, Early Dravidian literature, Pali and Prakrit literature, Medieval literature, Trends in medieval literature, Women poets in Bhakti literature, Modern Indian literature, Emergence of nationalism, Literature of nationalism, reformism and revivalism, Indian romanticism, Emergence of Gandhi, Progressive literature, Literary scene after independence, Dalit literature, Use of mythology, Contemporary literature.

Strategy and Tips to Prepare Art and Culture:

  • Other than these important topics, one also should study Musical Instruments, Religion, and Indian Philosophy topics.
  • Art and Culture can get a bit confusing. So, when trying to note the definitions of each term so that you can memorize them.
  • Begin your preparation with NCERT Books.
  • You should look for topics related to art and culture and make notes on each topic.
  • Along with the above NCERT books, you should also start reading NIOS Book on art and culture as they can find all information related to art and culture in one place.

Recommended Books for Art And Culture:

  1. Indian Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania
  2. Indian Culture and Heritage of NIOS
  3. National Culture of India – Abid Hussain
  4. NCERT Standards Textbooks: IX, X, XI, and XII

Check  IAS Previous Years’ Cutoff

Indian History and World History

This section contains almost 30- 35 % of General Studies Paper: I. History according to movements and timespans, is divided into 7 major topics. The following table will guide you about the topics you need to cover for UPSC:

Important Topics Details
Modern Indian History Socio-Economic Condition of People
Middle of the Eighteenth Century Until the Present European Penetration of India
British Conquest of India
British Policies and their Impact
Socio-Cultural Reform Movements
Uprisings Against British Pre-1857
The Freedom Struggle Growth of Nationalism in India (1858-1905) Political, Economic and Administrative Unification of the Country
Role of Western Education
Role of Press
Rediscovery of India’s Past
Early Political Movements
Formation of INC
Era of Moderates
Growth of Militant Nationalism and Revolutionary Activities (1905-1918) Swadeshi and Boycott Movement
Surat Split
International Influence
Morley-Minto Reforms
Growth of Communalism
Beginning of Mass Nationalism Mahatma Gandhi-ideas and leadership
Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms Rowlatt Act,
Satyagraha and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Non-Cooperation Movement
Swarajists and No-changers
The emergence of new forces
Revolutionary Activity
Simon Commission and Nehru Report
Civil Disobedience Movement
Round Table Conferences
Communal Award and Poona Pact
Participation in Elections to Central Legislature (1934) and Provincial Assemblies (1937)
Government of India Act,1935
Towards Freedom and Partition (1939-1947) National Movement During World War II
August Offer
Individual Satyagraha
Growth of Communalism
Peasant Movements
State People’s Struggle
Cripps Mission
Quit India Movement
Wavell Plan
INA and Subhash Chandra Bose
Cabinet Mission
Nationalist Upsurge Post-World War II
Independence with Partition
Post-Independence Consolidation Nehruvian Era
Shastri Era
Indira Gandhi Era
Rajiv Gandhi Era
Post-1991 Era
History of the world American Revolution
Russian Revolution
French Revolution
Unification of Italy
Unification of Germany
Bi-Polar World and Cold War
Unipolar World
Disintegration of USSR

Must Read: Mistakes to avoid in IAS Exam

Tips and Strategy For History

  • History questions are some of the easiest questions and direct questions asked in Prelims Examination.
  • Almost 70% of questions asked in Prelims from post-1857 history can be attempted with a thorough reading of Spectrum’s book. So you can study this section with IAS Prelims.
  • History will always remain that subject which requires you to invest more time than others in GS I.
  • After completing each portion candidates should practise previous year question papers.
  • Revision is considered as an essential part of the preparation for history.
  • One should prepare short notes and jot down the important points. This will help you in the last-minute revision.
  • IAS Mains is a descriptive type. So while writing answers one should mention the dates of events and wars accurately.
  • Follow the current affairs to stay updated about researches and discoveries.

Recommended Books for History:

NCERT Books:

  1. NCERT Standards XI Modern India- Bipan Chandra
  2. NCERT Standards XI Medieval India – Satish Chandra
  3. NCERT Standards XI Ancient India
  4. NCERT Standards XII Theme in Indian History- I , II and III
  5. Contemporary World History for Standards XII of Old NCERT Book
  6. Contemporary World History (NCERT) -Arjun Dev

Preferable Books:

  1. Mastering Modern World History by Norman Lowe
  2. History Of Modern India – Bipan Chandra
  3. A New Look at Modern Indian History From 1707 to the Modern Times- Alka Mehta and B L Grover S
  4. Europe Since 1815 -W.C. Craig
  5. Industry & Empire -E.J. Hobsbawm
  6. History of the World from the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century by Arjun Dev.
  7. Current Affairs:

Download IAS 2021 Sample Papers

Economy and Social Development

Economy and Social Development is majorly overlapping General Studies Paper: III as well as General Studies Paper-I. So preparing for this section will help you to prepare for both papers simultaneously. In the case of General Studies Paper-I, 20 % of the total questions are form Economy and social Developments. While preparing you must focus on the below-listed topics:

  • Economic growth and development – basic concept and definition of economy and economics, use and transfer of resources, distributive effects, macro and microeconomic policy, micro-macro balance, the distributive impact of economic policies, development versus growth, determinant of growth and development, concepts such as HPI/MPI, HDI, PQLI, GEM, GDI/GII, TAI, Green index, sustainable development, India’s ranking in the various indices.
  • Poverty – definitions, causes, distribution-deprivation, income versus calories, measurement of poverty, the status of poverty, eradication programs, poverty and resource policy, tribal rights and issues, livelihood mission.
  • Demographics – census data, populations by gender, by state, by age group, socio-economic status, caste, religion, literacy levels, etc. Trends in human development – interstate comparison, etc.
  • Fiscal policy – definition, component, receipts, revenue and capital account, tax revenue, expenditure, budget.
  • Social issues – financing health policy, education policy, sanitation, drinking water, social security, infrastructure policy, international trade issues, regional cooperation.
  • Also, focus on issues currently in news related to the above topics – NREGA, MSMEs, Make in India, industrial corridors, NITI Ayog, black money, international treaties and organizations, India’s policies with neighbors.

Quick Tips:

  • Start your preparation with NCERT books. It may look very basic, but these books will help you to clear the basic concepts.
  • For those who have studied some level of Economy, a good book to read would be TMH’s Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh or Sanjeev Verma’s book.
  • The economy is also an important section of UPSC Prelims. So, you can align your preparation for this section with UPSC IAS prelims.
  • Other than books, do read economy surveys and newspapers emphasis on economic developments and falls.
  • Questions in this area will be very conceptual and a thorough understanding of concepts is required.
  • Economics is a precise science. Make sure to use the correct technical words. For example, don’t use income when you mean revenue.
  • Use the graph.
  • While writing answers, including current updates and economical term, will be very beneficial to gain more scores in IAS Mains 2021.

Recommended Books for Economics and Social Developments:

  1. Indian Economic Development - NCERT Standards XI
  2. Macroeconomics – NCERT Standards XII
  3. TMH’s Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh
  4. Indian Economy – Sanjeev Verma
  5. Public Finance – H.L. Bhatia
  6. International Economics – H.G. Mannur

Must Read: How to Prepare for IAS Exam?

Geography and Environment for General Studies Paper I

Geography and Environment is another major section of IAS General Studies Paper-I. This section holds approximately 35 - 40 % of the total. There are several areas to focus to prepare this section:

  • the world including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent;
  • factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world including India
  • Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc.,
  • Geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
  • Geomorphology – the interior of the earth, tectonics, physical phenomenon, mountain building, volcanoes, earthquakes, weathering & erosion, rocks, landforms.
  • Climatology – atmosphere, temperature distribution, jet streams, pressure & wind systems, air masses, fronts, cyclones, humidity, precipitation, geographical phenomenon, climatic regions of the world.
  • Oceanography – ocean relief, temperature distribution, ocean currents, salinity, coral bleaching, marine pollution, sea-level change, UN laws, etc.
  • Biography – soil profile, degradation, conservation), biotic regions, deforestation and conservation of forests, changes in critical geographical features, environmental pollution

Quick tips for Geography and Environment:

  • Candidates always can begin their preparation with NCERT books, but make notes of your own with the help of other books.
  • Try to remember and practice definitions and terms related to this section. They will poof to be fruitful in both IAS 2021 Mains and Prelims.
  • Keep an eye on current affairs and the latest news on cyclones and countries affected and the disaster caused.
  • Use graphical maps and draw them if needed while writing answers.
  • Also, practice maps in both India and world so that you get a good idea about the geographical setting.
  • Geography through a nontechnical subject but it is really based on facts.

Recommended Books for Geography and Environment:

  • NCERT Standards-XI– Fundamentals of Physical Geography
  • NCERT Standards XII – Human Geography
  • NCERT Standards-XII – India-People and Economy
  • Certificate Physical and Human Geography - G C Leong
  • Geography of India - Majid Husain
  • World Geography - Majid Hussain
  • School Atlas - Orient Black Swan

Miscellaneous Section of General Studies Paper I:

This section holds more or less 10% of General Studies Paper-I. Among the miscellaneous section, there are numerous topics to cover such as issues related to women, Indian society, Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism, Effects of Globalization on Indian society, General Science. This section is also related to current affairs. So keep an eye on the current affairs.

Recommended Books:

  • Indian Society – Ram Ahuja
  • Social Problems in India – Ram Ahuja

Check IAS 2021 Eligibility

Current Affairs for General Studies Paper I and IAS Mains 2021:

While any candidate is preparing for current affairs, this can get a bit confusing because the area of current affairs is really vast as well as hard to cover. This section covers almost 15 % of this paper and there is no limit of preparation for this section and current affairs are essential for all 9 papers of IAS Mains 2021. Preparing for this section will help you to prepare other General Studies Papers as well as the optional papers. Here are a few things one should keep in mind while preparing :

  • Start your preparation at least 7 - 6 months before the exam.
  • Do not go for every source you get. Limit your source. One cannot cover all the sources available in the market.
  • Go for the sources which offer the knowledge and information about India as well as would.
  • Fixed a limited time to prepare. Daily 30 - 45 minutes is enough depending on your intellectual ability and educational background.
  • Make note of important information. This will help you in the time of revisions before exam time.
  • Online reading is also a good source of information and it is also easy to make notes from online sources.
  • Focus on facts and issues and new law amendments or disasters or related to facts not on political news or trivial local affairs due to political parties.
  • Last but not the least, choose source according to your comfort zone, don't go for the language but on facts.

Sources of Current Affairs:

  • Newspapers( online / offline):
    • The Hindu
    • The Indian Express
    • The Times of India
    • The Hindustan Times
    • The Business Standards
    • The Economic Times
  • Weekly or Monthly Issues:
    • UPSC Monthly Magazines
    • Economic and Political Weekly
    • Yojana
    • Kurukshetra

Check IAS Selection Process

Do not memorize all current affairs

. It confuses you more. If you wish to save more of your time, one thing you can do is try to read and note current affairs online so that you can make note easily and have more sources at a cheap rate. In COVID -19 lockdown, it is a good period to prepare yourself for IAS Exam 2021.


FAQs: related to General Studies Paper- I of IAS Mains 2021:

Ques. Is Micro Economics important for IAS General Studies Paper-I?

Ans. It is highly unlikely that direct questions from Microeconomics appear in the General Studies Paper-3 in IAS Mains Exam. Economic Survey and Economics Current Affairs must be covered on a regular basis to score good marks in both prelims and mains.

Ques. Is human geography important for GS Paper I?

Ans. Geography syllabus can be divided into three sections: Physical, Economic and Human. Each section is important to study for the Prelims exam. In this article, we have provided all the important topics of Human Geography which should be a part of your revision process

Ques. Are 3 months enough for General Studies Paper I?

Ans. Yes, it is possible to complete it. Try to complete the whole syllabus of General Studies Paper I of IAS Main within 45 days so that there will be enough time to revise.

Ques. How many hours study for IAS Mains?

Ans. As we all know that IAS is one of the toughest exams conducted by UPSC. IAS Mains has 9 papers with a vast syllabus for each section of each paper. So on average 12 - 14 hours would be efficient but it would vary according to your educational background and logical & intellectual ability.

Ques. Can I qualify General Studies Paper - I without coaching?

Ans. Yes Anyone can with a good focus on self-study. It may not be for everyone. But if you think that you are confident enough, you should go for it. But taking advice in times of need is less time-consuming.

Ques. Is General Studies Paper - I mandatory?

Ans. IAS Mains 2021 Exam consists of 9 papers: 1 paper of Essay, 4 papers of General Studies Papers and 2 papers for Optional Subject as per the candidate’s choice. All 9 papers are mandatory. But the optional subject will be chosen by candidate out of 25 technical and non-technical subject.

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