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

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Mar 22, 2021

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Exams Prepmaster

The IAS (UPSC CSE) Civil Service Exam comprises several stages and papers which you must qualify to get selected in the final merit list. There are 9 papers in the Mains which will be conducted over 5 days. There are four general studies papers for different subjects. This year, the IAS Prelims 2021 will be conducted on June 27, 2021 and IAS Mains will be conducted on September 17-22, 2021.

The following table demonstrates the pattern of the exam for a better understanding of the different stages you have to attempt.

Prelims General studies Aptitude test
Mains  Qualifying in nature
  • Paper A- compulsory Indian language- 22 languages
  • Paper B- English
  • To qualify, minimum 25% is necessary
Merit-based paper
  • Paper-I (Essay)
  • Paper-II (GS-I)
  • Paper-III (GS-II)
  • Paper-IV (GS-III)
  • Paper-V (GS-IV)
  • Paper-VI (Optional Paper-I)
  • Paper-VI (Optional Paper-II)
Personality test -
GS III Topics

IAS (UPSC CSE) – Topics in GS-III

The topics of GS-III papers are-

  • Economy and Infrastructure
  • Agriculture
  • Science, technology
  • Environment
  • Disaster management
  • Internal Security
Previous Papers

IAS (UPSC CSE) GS-III Topic-wise Question Analysis from Previous Years

The following are the topic-wise question analysis from the previous years. You can get a better understanding of the marks weightage by the subject:

Year Disaster management Security Environment Science and Technology Agriculture Economics
2013 2 5 2 5 4 8
2014 1 3 2 3 2 7
2015 1 4 1 6 2 6
2016 1 4 3 3 3 6
2017 1 4 2 2 4 6
2018 1 3 4 3 4 5
2019 2 4 2 4 4 4

Check: IAS 2021 Preparation Tips, Important Books and Exam Pattern

IAS Syllabus

Syllabus of Paper-IV, GS-III of IAS Mains

The following are the topics and sub-topics that you have to prepare for GS-III-

  • Indian economy- Topics related to economic planning, mobilization of sources, development, growth, and employment.
  • Security- Link between development and spread of extremism, Role of state and non-state components in creating challenges to internal security, Internal Security through communication networks: Role of media and social networking sites, Basics of Cyber Security- Money laundering and its prevention, Security challenges and their management in border areas: link of organized crime with terrorism, Various Security forces and agencies
  • General Awareness- Awareness on: IT, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology; Issues related to Intellectual Property- Rights in these fields
  • Environment- Conservation, Environmental pollution and degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment
  • Science and Technology- Developments in Science and Technology, Applications of scientific developments and its effects in everyday life
  • Achievements of Indians in Science and Technology- Important contributions of Indians in Science and Technology, Indigenization of technology and development
  • Inclusive Growthand budgeting- Inclusive growth and issues related to it or arising from it, government budget
  • Major Crops and Cropping Patterns- Major crops and cropping pattern in the country, Different types of irrigation and irrigation systems, Transport and marketing of agricultural products and issues related to it, E- technology in aiding the farmers
  • Subsidies, Poverty Alleviation and Agricultural Technology- Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies, Minimum Support Prices, Public Distribution System- Objectives, Functioning, Limitations and Revamping, Issues related to buffer stocks and food security- Technology missions, Economics of Animal rearing
  • Food Processing and Related Industries- Scope and significance, Location, Upstream and downstream requirements, Supply chain management
  • Liberalization- Effects on the economy, changes in industrial policy and its effects on the industrial growth
  • Infrastructure and Investments- Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, and Railways, Investment models such as Public-Private Partnerships, Build Operate Transfer etc.
  • Disasters and different approach to its management

Must Read: How to read a newspaper for IAS exam

Mains Structure

Structure of Paper-IV, GS-III- IAS Mains

As you note the vast and varied syllabus, one may wonder how it can be covered alongside the other topics and preparations you have. However, by understanding the question paper structure, you can plan your study strategy smartly and take the preparation such that you are able to attempt more than enough questions to fetch the qualifying marks necessary:

  • The question paper is bilingual and there are 20 questions in total printed in both Hindi and English.
  • The paper is segregated into two sections. The first section comprises 10 questions which are of 10 marks each. The word limit for each answer is 150 words. The last set of 10 questions have 15 marks each and the word limit is 250 words. Approximately 10 words more or less relaxation is allowed regarding the word limits.
  • The paper lays maximum emphasis on economic development and hence you can expect the majority of the questions to be somehow related to the topic. The section of environmental development overlaps with geography to some extent. Hence, your preparation for GS-1 and GS-2 will help you to a certain extent with this paper.
  • It is very important to maintain the word limit without compromising on the overall points you have or the quality of the answer.
  • Most questions on security, disaster management etc. are asked in the second half of the paper and hence you need to prepare longer notes and answers for this section.

Check How to write a good essay in IAS Mains exam

Prep Tips

IAs (UPSC CSE) Topic-wise preparation tips and strategy for GS-III

The following are specific tips for preparing each topic. It will require 3-4 months of weekly 10+ hours of study to cover the entire syllabus provided you are studying smartly.

Economy and infrastructure

The topic has several sub-topics like planning, growth, employment, development and mobilization.

  • Though the topics covered in this section are static in nature, the questions are tricky and dynamic. The NCERT books can help with clearing your conception and giving you a brief idea about the basics of these topics. Use a single reference book for in-depth studies after you have gone through the relevant NCERT chapters.
  • NCERT class X, XI, and XII for economics and staying updated about the economic situation of the country as well as the world through a standard newspaper will help you prepare notes for the prospective questions.
  • Understand the basis of the questions first while practicing mock papers. While writing your answer you have to briefly explain the concept first followed by an in-depth analysis of how the concept is relevant to the current economic condition of the country and its relevance and effects on the life of the citizens in every strata.

Important books and sources-

  • TMH book on Indian Economy for prelims and mains examination. Author – Ramesh Singh
  • Indian Economy for Civil Services Examinations. Author – Ramesh Singh (older versions)
  • Business Standard
  • Economic Times
  • Financial Express
  • NCERT textbook for class X – Understanding Economic Development
  • NCERT textbook for class XI – Indian Economic Development
  • NCERT textbook for class XII – Macroeconomics (Focus on chapters – 2, 5 and 6)
  • ET in the Classroom

Check Common Mistakes In UPSC IAS MAINS Exam

Inclusive growth and related issues

  • The challenges, measures, methods and strategies related to inclusive growth of the country has to be prepared for this sub-topic.
  • You will not get extensive materials and it is mainly based on your analysis of the current affairs relevant to the topic. Hence, newspapers and magazines and the internet are the best sources you rely on.
  • Conceptualization of the inclusive growth and the past performances and future prospects with respect to India are of utmost importance in this section.

Sources to study:

Government budgeting

It covers the budgeting aspect of the Indian government.

  • The topics like the method of preparing the budget, how it is passed in the parliament and the different stages of getting enacted and finalized.
  • One has to look at the questions from dual perspective- first from the perspective of polity and next from the economic views.
  • The questions are such that you can answer it if you have a thorough knowledge of the current affairs related to the present years’ budget report.

Sources and reference books:

  • NCERT Class XII (Macroeconomics)
  • The Hindu/Business Standard
  • Recent Annual Budget
  • Indian Polity- Laxmikant (Chapter on Annual Financial Statement)

Check Best Books For UPSC CSE Prelims Exam 2021

Liberalization of economy and its effects

This is most important with respect to the Indian economy as the subjects under this sub-topic are very relevant to the Indian economy.

  • You have read about all the liberalization policies and the effects it has on the people, the challenges of such policies since independence, globalization and privatization.
  • For this section as well, the questions are very dynamic and one can answer them easily if they have a good knowledge of the current affairs that are relevant to the concept.
  • Lay emphasis on the economic growth and industrial growth that has been accelerated by these policies.

Reference books and sources:

  • NCERT Class XI Indian Economic Development
  • Indian Economy for Civil Services Examination by Ramesh Singh.
  • The Hindu and Business Standard (Newspaper)

Infrastructure and investment models

The section deals with the different infrastructure necessary for the development of the country.

  • The kind of challenges that are faced while improving infrastructures like railways, energy, ports, Airports etc.
  • The effect of different government schemes and policies are also important.
  • You have to acquire thorough knowledge of the latest policies and schemes to answer the questions from this section which are very dynamic.
  • For investment models, you have to study the investment structure for infrastructure development in particular.
  • Investment strategies and PPPs should be understood by the candidates to relate the concepts with the current affairs.

Check IAS 2021 Eligibility (Preliminary), Age Limit, Qualification, Medical test


This segment coincides with the GS-II, hence your preparation strategy can be made accordingly.

  • The topics are mainly related to cropping and its pattern in India which can be prepared at a basic level from the NCERT Geography books.
  • The transportation, marketing and distribution of agricultural products is another important topic for this section.
  • It is a mix of geography, economics and technology and the questions are accordingly asked. While answering any question from this section, you have to take this approach as well and explain your point of view from all three perspectives.
  • Farm subsidies topics should be studied with an analytical perspective as the answers and notes have to be written accordingly. As the word limit is to be strictly followed, the analysis must be to the point and precise.
  • Land reforming is a subtopic of agriculture. It has been in the news very recently for numerous reasons, making it an important topic for the IAS Mains 2021.
  • Land ceiling policy, tenancy reforms, different movements related to land reforms, recent acts and policies are particularly important in the land reform section.
  • Food processing and related industries and basic ideas about how they function, their location and importance is essential to answer the relevant section under agriculture sub-topics.
  • Have an objective type approach to these topics by learning the important terms and acts thoroughly. Exclusively focus on agriculture and geographical topics and the effects of economy on these aspects which is a common type of question in this paper.

References and sources:

  • Yojana and Kurukshetra Magazines
  • The Hindu Internet articles on the topics.
  • NCERT, Resources and Development,
  • Geography Yojana and Kurukshetra Magazines
  • State of Agriculture Report (Published by the Ministry of Agriculture).
  • Agriculture – Price policy and Minimum Support Price (MSP)
  • News articles on farmers issues
  • Farmers need a free market – Article by Business Line
  • India’s Food conundrum. Article by The Hindu newspaper
  • How to fix agricultural pricing mess. Article by Business Standard
  • Cropping pattern in India (Understand the concepts only)
  • Agriculture – Price policy and Minimum Support Price (MSP)
  • News articles on farmers issues
  • Farmers need a free market – Article by Business Line
  • India’s Food conundrum. Article by The Hindu newspaper
  • How to fix agricultural pricing mess. Article by Business Standard
  • Public Distribution System (PDS) –IGNOU Study notes Set 1
  • Public Distribution System (PDS)and Food securityIGNOU Study notes Set 2
  • News reports published in leading newspapers
  • For basics for Food security – Refer to NCERT textbook – Class IX (Economics)
  • The shaky geopolitics of India’s Food security. Article by The Hindu newspaper
  • Food security bill – The devil is in the detail. Article by The Hindu newspaper
  • Land ReformsIGNOU Study notes Set 1
  • Land ReformsIGNOU Study notes Set 2

Read IAS Exam Pattern 2021, Syllabus, Marking Scheme and Compulsory Papers

Science and technology and environment

The topic covers general science as well as current development and its effects on everyday lifestyle. It is best to have a basic knowledge about the different scientific discoveries which help in our daily life and how they have evolved over the years.

  • The basic topics in the science and technology section are also essential for your prelims preparation. Hence, you can simultaneously do them and manage your schedule accordingly.
  • For in-depth studies, you have to be aware of the different achievements of India in the field of science and technology, important personalities in these fields starting from ancient times till date.
  • Rely more on the internet for this topic as you will find the latest updated news and articles which will help you to make better notes.
  • Current affair-based scientific questions are in general about space technology and its recent developments, biotechnology, robotics and how it is affecting human lives all over the world.
  • You have to practice looking at these scientific questions from an economic point of view as well as its scientific advantages. Keeping a regular tab on the latest economical surveys will give you enough statistics which can make your answers more substantial.
  • From environmental science, you will get all kinds of questions that are based on the concepts of biodiversity, climate change, conservation of wildlife and forestry, the acts and policies passed for this purpose, pollution and the effects of human activities on the environment. In short, the topics related to the environment which are based on human action or caused by it are particularly important.
  • Current affairs on the environment and wildlife are very useful for the preparation of the answers for this section.

Reference books, study materials and sources

  • The Hindu newspaper and internet articles
  • Environmental survey (current issue)
  • Sources like the Ministry of environment
  • Annual report of the environment ministry for the present year.
  • Issues of conservation
  • Environment impact and its assessment
  • Issues of EIA as given in The leading newspapers
  • NCERT textbook from class VI to X.For getting conceptual clarity on the topic
  • Books by Spectrum publishers– Toppers prefer this book to read for the science subject
  • Developments in science and technology –this book is highly vast. Read this textbook selectively
  • Frontline
  • New scientist website
  • Wikipedia
  • India Year Book
  • Shankar IAS Academy (Environment Book)
  • NCERT (Chemistry and Biology Class XI and XII) Selected chapters.
  • Websites (Environment Ministry, UNEP etc.)

Check IAS Previous Years’ Cutoff

Disaster management

Disaster management is a very dynamic topic and also a current affair owing to the present states. Hence, it is an important subtopic for IAS 2021 Mains.

  • This topic is easy enough if you are updated with the recent disasters- natural and man-made in the Indian subcontinent.
  • The questions are designed to test your understanding of the concept as well as awareness about the current scenarios and perception of how disasters affect the economy.

Reference and sources:

  • NCERT, (Natural Hazards & Disaster Management), Class XI
  • NDMA website (Publications and Reports),
  • The Hindu newspaper
  • Environmental survey (current issue)
  • Sources like the Ministry of environment
  • Annual report of the environment ministry for the present year.
  • Issues of conservation
  • Environment impact and its assessment
  • Issues of EIA as given in The leading newspapers


This is another very dynamic topic about the internal and overall security system and its necessity for the country.

  • Understanding the correlation between the different stages and issues of development and how it gets affected by the spread of extremism is the primary concept that should be clear while preparing this topic.
  • The link between extremism and the challenges of development like unemployment, poverty, and ineffective governance are all important topics that must be explored.
  • Understanding the role of neighboring and external countries is affecting the security of India and the actions that are taken against them is another important topic.
  • By religiously following the newspaper on a daily basis and making notes of all the relevant news, you can find numerous case studies and examples to substantiate the answer better.
  • The mandate of the different security agencies of the country should be carefully studied and referred while you are writing the answers.

Check IAS Practice Papers

References and sources:

There are not many references and sources for this particular topic. The internet is the best source you can get. The following are some notable sources that will be helpful:

  • The Hindu
  • Challenges to Internal Security of India, by Ashok Kumar and Vipul.
  • IDSA website,

Aspirants of IAS 2021will get ample time to cover the entire syllabus even if it is lengthy if they begin their preparation as soon as possible.

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