UPSC IAS Prelims: Last Five Year Paper Analysis (2015 to 2019)

Updated On -

May 20, 2020

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Sudeshna Bhar

Exams Prepmaster

UPSC IAS Prelims preparation will not be completed unless and until you solve previous years question paper and analyze the sections according to their importance. This will invariably help you to strengthen your preparation on each topic. To ease your difficulties and save you time, we are providing you a detailed analysis of topic-wise questions as well as a topic-wise average weightage in this article.

UPSC Prelims Subject-Wise Weightage and Marks Distribution

UPSC IAS Prelims Exam has 2 Papers: General Studies Paper-I and General Studies Paper 2 (CSAT). 200 marks have been allocated to each paper but CSAT candidates only are required to obtain 33% to qualify. General Studies Paper-I is much more important because the score of this paper will decide your ranking. To know more, check out UPSC IAS Prelims Exam Pattern and Syllabus.

Prepp Test Series

Here we will see from 2015 to 2019 UPSC IAS Prelims General Studies Pape-I analysis so that candidates can understand the importance of each subject:

UPSC IAS Prelims 2015 Question Paper Analysis:

Among 9.5 lakhs applied candidates, approx 4.5 lakhs candidates had appeared in UPSC IAS Prelims 2015. Of these, 15003 were declared qualified for IAS Main Exam. (written test).

Topics Number of Questions Marks
Current Affairs 14 28
Geography 12 24
Indian Economy 13 26
Environment 13 26
Polity 12 24
General Science and Tech 9 18
History 13 26
Art and Culture  5 10

Compared to 2014 this year General Studies Paper I had more straightforward and factual orientation. Overall, the difficulty level of the paper can be bifurcated into easy, moderate and hard based on the complexity of the questions. Current Affairs gained the majority in this paper. Economics and Geography together hold a weightage of 40%.

UPSC IAS Prelims: 2015 Question paper analysis

Economics has the highest weightage of more than 20% in overall General Studies Paper I. Here, the difficulty level is divided according to the types of questions such as 6 questions were easy, 12 questions were moderately difficult and 4 questions were hard to answer.

Though it may look like the questions are from economics but UPSC took those questions from current affairs, which makes it more difficult. According to the analysis, other topics like Science & technology, Ancient history, medieval history, and Art & Culture should be done after finishing those with higher priority topics like Current Affairs, Geography, Economics and Social Development, Indian polity, Modern history, and Environment and Ecology.

UPSC IAS Prelims 2016 Question Paper Analysis:

Out of a total of 11.36 lakhs aspirants who applied for the exam of 2016, only around 6 lakh candidates took the exams (55% attendance). Out of this number of candidates, 15,452 candidates did manage to qualify the primary stage of the selection process, making a 3% success rate.

Topics Number of Questions Marks
Current Affairs 27 54
Environment and Geography 10 20
Indian Economy 18 36
Polity 7 14
Indian History 15 30
Geography 7 14
Science and Technology 8 16
Art and culture 8 16

Conventional popular topics like Indian Polity, Indian History and Geography had very fewer questions this year, even when compared to the previous year.

About 50 questions were asked on contemporary issues. Even in the science and technology section, the focus was on current topics related to the subject. The overall difficulty of the paper was easy according to attempted candidates.

The sudden change in the pattern of IAS prelims 2016 question paper surprised many students, but it was a blessing for all the aspirants who regularly read the newspaper.

UPSC IAS Prelims: 2016 Question Paper Analysis

The difficulty level of the major questions related to Current Affairs was moderate, but questions from Ancient History, Economic & Social Development, and Environment were hard for candidates to attempt.

After looking into the questions and figuring out the sources, we will see that most of the questions are picked up from The Hindu, NCERT Study Material, Economic Survey and Govt websites. So, these candidates who started their preparation to clear the basic concept from NCERT books, take the upper hand in attempting the questions.

UPSC IAS Prelims 2017 Question Paper Analysis:

Out of a total number of Approx 10 lakhs candidates, only 5 lakhs (Approx.) appeared in the UPSC IAS 2017 Prelims exam, making 50% attendance rate. Out of the appeared candidates, only 13,366 candidates qualify for IAS Mains 2017 which makes a rate of 2.6% success.

Topics Number of Questions Marks
Current Affairs  34 68
Indian History 14 28
Geography 7 14
Indian Polity 22 44
Indian Economy 8 16
Science and Tech 4 8
Environment 11 22

Like 2016, Almost 34 questions out of total of 100 questions in 2017 were asked from the Current Affairs section made an approach in the same direction of the question pattern. Contemporary issues of the last couple of years were also focused.

UPSC IAS Prelims: 2017 Question Paper Analysis

Indian Polity and Governance took the second position in the number of questions. The questions were directly asked from the core subject and all of these focused on conceptual clarity of basic polity. Questions required interpretation, interconnection, deduction etc. which can only be done by an aspirant who has understood rather than mugged up the things. Diverse topics like conceptual analysis of democracy, equality, rights and duties, decentralization, the mind of the Preamble makers, DPSP, Fundamental Duties, the form of government including parliamentary and cabinet, Parliamentary proceedings, elections and voting, Speaker, Judicial Review, Indian federalism, etc. were on main focus.

Unlike previous years, in 2017, the questions from Geography were comparatively lesser in numbers, whereas environment & climate-related questions were quite more this year. General Science was almost invisible.

UPSC IAS Prelims 2018 Question Paper Analysis:

A huge number of 1755945 candidates were applied for UPSC IAS Prelims 2018 Exam, but only 801476 candidates showed up which makes an attendance rate of 45%. Out of total attendance, 10246 candidates were successfully qualified for the prelims exam making a success rate of 1.3 %.

Topics Number of Questions Marks
Indian Polity 13 26
International Relations 5 10
Indian Economy 16 32
Technology 10 20
General Science 2 4
Environment 12 24
Indian History 15 30
Art and Culture 6 12
Current Affairs 21 42

This time, UPSC asked a variety of questions and the options made the questions more tricky. Some multiple pieces of information were asked and the available options really a good mix which just exaggerated the difficulty level.

After studying the 2018 question paper, we can say that out of 100 questions, 12 were easy, 54 were in medium difficulty level, and 34 questions were tough in nature. The easy and medium questions were straightforward and were very common in their orientation.

UPSC IAS Prelims: 2018 Question Paper Analysis

Questions from current affairs were an amalgamation of direct and indirect related to towns in the news and their related countries which is quite easy for average students who followed the newspapers for the whole year. On the other hand, questions related to Indian Polity are so framed, that even the best students get confused as well as some of the questions were the blended with Current Affairs, Law and Indian Economy.

There were 16 questions from the economy, among which 13 were difficult in nature. Indian Banking System acquired prominence this year and 4 questions were asked from this area. These questions were also not easy in their orientation and questions related to Merchant discount rate, Definition of legal tender Money was hard to answer for those who did not prepare in depths.

UPSC IAS Prelims 2019 Question Paper Analysis :

A total number of approx 12 lakh candidates applied for this exam but only approx 49 % of candidates appeared in the exam. Out of this number of candidates, only 11,845 candidates have cleared UPSC Prelims Exam making a success rate of 2.4 %. the difficulty level of the exam was of 'moderate to difficult'.

Topics Number of Questions Marks
Current Affairs 22 44
Environment  11 22
Indian History 17 34
Polity 15 30
General Science and Technology 7 14
Geography 14 28
Indian Economy 14 28

Most of the history related questions were from modern part: 5 questions from modern history, 4 questions were an amalgamation of history with art and culture, 3 questions were from ancient history and 1 from the post-independence period.

Out of 100 questions, 15 were from Indian polity and governance. They were easy and attemptable in this section. Except for a couple of questions which could be called ‘difficult’, the rest was doable if you had studied the basic sources.

UPSC IAS Prelims 2019 Question Paper Analysis

The questions were asked from the following subsections of polity: Fundamental Rights, Historical background of the Constitution, Rights issues (tribes related), Basic structure, amendments, Judicial review, Judiciary, Executive, Legislature, Terms in political science.

Economic related 14 questions were asked from banking and finance, schemes, sectors of economy and balance of payments and international trade as well as fiscal policy, agriculture and labour rights.

But like other IAS Prelims questions, in 2019 even, contemporary issues dominated General Studies Paper-I though the graph of Current Affairs is facing down-side along with the Environment subject. However, subjects like History and Geography tops the chart as the questions of these sections increase every year.

Important Notes:

  • From 2015 to 2019, the most noticeable thing the effect of current affairs.
  • The majority among all topics, current affairs got on average 26.6 % of all questions.
  • Current affairs mostly come on government schemes, economic status and polity related topics.
  • Indian History is also an important section. The questions of this section are also arriving form Art and Culture. That’s why it is difficult to differentiate these two topics.
  • Science and Technology were moderate with most of the questions based on the application part of the technology like the question on the use of remote sensing.
  • UPSC IAS Prelims questions are mostly factual. So a good knowledge of each topic is essential.
  • To go in depths here is the average number of questions comes every year from several topics:
Topics  Average number of Questions
Current affairs 26.6%
Indian History 15%
Indian Polity 15%
Indian Economy 13.8 %
Environment  10.8 %
Geography 9%
Science and Technology 7.8 %
Miscellaneous  3 %

This chart shows that it is hard to predict the probable number of questions of IAS Prelims 2020. But a minute study is always beneficial. Hence we can see that current affairs are the most important section. For this section, candidates should make a habit of reading newspapers and magazines (online/offline) to gain as potentiality. Nevertheless, aspirants should practice previous year’s UPSC papers to check their preparedness.

One more thing, a balanced timetable to study each topic is a must. Then you will be able to beat the unpredictability of UPSC Prelims Subject wise marks weightage.


Ques. Is UPSC CSE Prelims postpone?

Ans. Due to the national lockdown for COVID - 19 outbreak, UPSC CSE was postponed. The new dates will be announced on May 31, according to the official notification on the UPSC official website.

Ques. How many papers are there in UPSC Prelims?

Ans. UPSC Prelims comprises two objective type papers ( General Studies Paper-I and General Studies Paper-II/CSAT) carrying 400 marks. Each paper of Prelims will carry 200 marks and will be of 2 hours duration.

Ques. Is there any negative marking in UPSC Prelims?

Ans. Yes, for every wrong attempt you will be penalized by 1/3rd of the total marks allocated for that question in the UPSC Prelims exam. This negative marking is in both papers of IAS Prelims – General Studies Paper I and General Studies Paper-II (CSAT). However, no marks will be deducted for unanswered questions.

Ques. How many students appeared for UPSC IAS Prelims 2019?

Ans. Almost 8 Lakhs candidates applied for UPSC IAS Prelims last year. Only 12, 000 candidates managed to qualify for the second stage of the selection process, UPSC IAS Mains.

Ques. How many hours of study is required for UPSC IAS 2020 Prelims?

Ans. To intensify the preparation, an aspirant should invent at least 9 - 10 hours of study on a regular basis for at least 6 months. But if candidates are feeling this is not enough, they should make a compact time table of 12 - 14 hours study table for IAS Prelims with 6-7 hours of sleep.

Ques. How can I start my IAS Prelims preparation at home?

  • At the beginning of your study, candidates should prepare for 3 topics parallelly - current affairs, one topic under comfort zone and one out of comfort zone.
  • Start your preparation with NCERT books by clearing basic concept clearing and then go for advanced books.
  • Practice previous years’ question papers and sample questions and keep the scratch papers for analysis to know your growth.
  • Lastly, take mock tests if possible. This will help you to speed up in the exam hall of UPSC IAS 2020 Prelims.

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