IES Prelims Paper Analysis for Last Four Years (2017-2020)

Updated On -

Jun 3, 2020

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Abanti Pramanik

Exams Prepmaster

The IES exam which was previously known as the ESE exam is organised by UPSC for the recruitment of engineers for different posts in the Indian Engineering Services. It is one of the most prestigious positions any aspiring engineer can hold in the public sectors of India. The recruited candidates are selected for various departments like the Railways, Telecommunication, Power, Central Engineering Services, defence services of engineers, etc. There are three stages of the exam from 2017- Prelims, Mains, and the Interview. The candidates are recruited for the following categories-

  • Civil Engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering

Check  UPSC IES 2020 Syllabus

However, the exam is quite tricky and to ace it, one must study the previous year questions for a smarter preparation strategy. Practising the previous year questions shrewdly is easier when you have a thorough understanding of the question pattern and this article aims at making that easier.

Important highlights of IES 2020

  • The IES Prelims has been conducted on January 5, 2020.
  • Those clearing the cut-off will have to appear for the mains which are scheduled for June 28, 2020.
  • There are 495 vacancies for IES 2020.
  • The personal interview rounds are to be conducted in September 2020.
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IES Prelims Exam Pattern

The exam pattern of IES has changed after 2016. In present day, the pattern followed for the exam started in 2017.

The IES Prelims pattern is provided in the following table-

IES Prelims Exam Pattern
- Name of the paper duration marks Number of questions
Paper I General Studies and Engineering Discipline 2 hours 200 100
Paper-II Technical Paper 3 hours 300 150
  • There is a negative marking of 0.33 for every wrong answer.
  • Paper I is common for all aspirants while paper II is specific to the subject you are taking.

Difference between the old and the new IES exam Pattern

The main difference between the IES exam pattern before and after 2017 lies in the marks distribution. The following graph can give you an idea about the changes in a nutshell-

changes in the IES exam pattern

A Brief on New IES Prelims Exam Pattern

The following are important facts of the new exam pattern that you should take into consideration-

  • The number of candidates qualifying to the Mains will be approximately 15 times the number of vacancies.
  • GATE Syllabus is now a subset of the IES syllabus.
  • The syllabus of technical papers in the Prelims is identical to that of the Mains.
  • The total score has been increased to 1300 from 1200.
  • The paper-1 now consists of general studies and engineering which earlier was general English and general studies. There are ten subsections in paper-1.

Advantages of the New IES Prelims Exam Pattern

  • The major advantage of the new exam pattern is the reduced number of papers and hence, the time. The objective paper-I and II are now combined into one paper which has significantly shortened the exam duration as well as the evaluation time.
  • Inclusion of engineering instead of general English in paper-I of IES Prelims has made the question pattern more relevant to the graduation stream of the students. Exclusion of English has proved advantageous for many aspirants for whom English was a weak spot, given there was 50% marks weightage on general English in paper-I before 2017.
  • Since the syllabus for prelims and mains is identical, the preparation time and effort become less and there will be better scope for revision.
  • Approximately 15 times of the available vacancy will qualify for the Mains which means if you are able to rank within the top 7500 in IES 2020 Prelims, you have a chance to qualify for the Mains.

Read About UPSC IES Cutoff

IES Prelims Topic-wise Weightage Analysis for 2017-2020

The IES Prelims 2020 has already been conducted in January and the results have been declared on February 20, 2020.

The following are a few highlights of the paper-I that has been noticed in the past five years based on the topic-wise weightage and difficulty level of the questions-

  • The topic-wise weightage for 2016 has not been included since the sub-topics inclusive of paper-I changed after this year. From 2017, the subtopics were based on general studies and engineering whereas till 2016, it was general English and general studies.
  • The paper-I in IES 2020 Prelims was deemed as “easy to moderate” by the aspirants.
  • Maximum number of questions (19 in all) were asked from Project management and standard quality.
  • Many claimed that the question was comparatively easier than IES 2019 Prelims.
  • Geography, science and technology, history, and environment-related topics were important as evident from the number of questions asked from these topics in 2018.
  • Current issues, polity and governance-related questions were replaced by economic and social development topics in the IES prelims 2018
  • Current affairs questions were more direct in approach compared to 2017.
  • Weightage of the basics of energy and environment has been consistent in the past four years which makess this an important topic. The same applies to standards and quality practice in Production.

Here’s a topic-wise weightage analysis-

Topics 2020 2019 2018 2017
Current issues of National and International importance relating to Social, Economic and Industrial development 10 4 4 10
Engineering aptitude covering Logical reasoning and analytical ability 10 14 13 8
Engineering Mathematics and Numerical analysis 12 4 7 8
General Principles of Design, Drawing, importance of safety 9 5 1 15
Standards and Quality practices in production, construction, maintenance and services 10 9 9 21
Basics of Energy and Environment: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, Climate Change, Environmental impact assessment 10 13 13 12
Basics of Project Management 12 13 12 4
Basics of Material Science and Engineering 11 14 26 9
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) based tools and their applications in Engineering 11 10 8 7
Ethics and values in the Engineering profession. 5 14 7 6

Check UPSC IES 2020 Prelims Result

Analysis of the IES Prelims Paper-1, based on 4-years data

When you go through the topic-wise weightage of the past 4years of IES prelims Paper-1 data, you can easily make an average marks and question distribution that can be expected in the upcoming exams. Making this estimate will help you strategize the study plan better and determine which topics should be given more importance.

The following table depicts the average marks weightage of the ten sub-topics based on the past five years-

Topics Average number of questions Average marks weightage
Current issues of National and International importance relating to Social, Economic and Industrial development 7 14
Engineering aptitude covering Logical reasoning and analytical ability 11-12 22-24
Engineering Mathematics and Numerical analysis 8 16
General Principles of Design, Drawing, importance of safety 8 16
Standards and Quality practices in production, construction, maintenance and services 12-13 24-26
Basics of Energy and Environment: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, Climate Change, Environmental impact assessment 12 24
Basics of Project Management 10-11 20-22
Basics of Material Science and Engineering 15 30
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) based tools and their applications in Engineering 9 18
Ethics and values in the Engineering profession. 8-9 16-18

A pictorial depiction for better understanding of the topic-wise weightage in average-

Percentage of Questions

Check IES Mains Eligibility

Categorizing the IES Prelims paper-1 Syllabus

When you smartly tackle the topics, the effort and time spent behind preparing for the prelims will become less and you will have more time to focus on mains as well. Considering the type, pattern and topic of the questions, the sub-topics can be clustered into three broad categories-

  • Static subjects
    • Drawing, design, safety
    • Project management
    • Quality practice
    • Material science
    • Engineering ethics
  • Dynamic subjects
    • Current affairs and developments
    • Energy and environment
    • Information technologies
  • Mathematics and reasoning
    • Engineering aptitude
    • Engineering numericals

If you consider the table of average topic-wise weightage from the past four years you can easily derive the weightage of each cluster.

Top cluster Weightage

As depicted by the topic-cluster, the maximum number of questions come from the static subjects which is a major advantage for aspirants. These topics have a fixed syllabus and hence you can prepare for it without any worries regarding the syllabus getting updated every year. The aim should be to secure more than enough marks to be well above the minimum cut-off. When you prepare smartly taking the maximum marks weightage from each topic into consideration, it becomes easier to determine which topics can be safely left out for better preparation of the important topics.

Prioritization is essential for better preparation and can be done better when you are aware of the topic-wise weightage. Moreover, you get ample scope to play according to your strength. For example, candidates who do not follow the current affairs very meticulously or those who are not very confident about their mathematics and reasoning can spare more time on the static subjects so that they can confidently attempt all the questions from this section with minimum mistakes.

While there is negative marking in IES, there is no topic-wise cut-off or paper-wise cut-off for Prelims. This means, even if you are leaving out a few questions in paper-1, if you are able to acquire enough marks through paper-2 and the attempted sections in paper-1, you will have a high chance of qualifying.

Also Read About IES 2020 Exam Analysis

Difficulty level analysis for Paper-1 in IES Prelims

The difficulty level of the IES Prelims paper-1 varies from one year to another. By thoroughly studying the difficulty level of the paper in the past few years, you can estimate the pattern of questions and the complexity you can expect in the upcoming exam. Irrespective of the difficulty, the best way to ace the prelims is taking the preparation well so that you are confident about your concepts and hence can attempt without any hesitation.

Paper analysis: IES Prelims 2020, Paper-1

The IES prelims 2020 was deemed to be easy to moderate considering its overall difficulty level. The following are in-depth analysis of the questions’ complexity from different sections-

  • Questions from current issues were mainly related to GST Bill, digital India and different government committees and were easy and straightforward.
  • The engineering aptitude section was moderately easy. It comprises sub-topics like numerical computation, pendulum, work and men, etc.
  • The engineering mathematics were difficult in IES 2020 Prelims. The main sub-topics that came in the question paper this year include partial differentiation solutions, Fourier series, complex analysis, chord of cone, etc.
  • There were nine questions from the general principles of design and drawing which were all difficult.
  • Standards and quality sections had a share of 10 questions and were moderately easy in IES Prelims 2020.
  • The environment and energy section was quite difficult which was a surprise for many students as these sections are generally easy to moderate almost every year.
  • Project management related questions were very easy and mainly came from topics like total quality management, optimizing strategy, fixation concepts, etc.
  • Material science and technology topics included ionic theory, crystalline and non-crystalline structure, resistance etc. and were of moderate difficulty.
  • ICT was moderately easy and the main topics which came in the exam included firewall, internet of things holostore, tools, cost constructive models, etc.
  • Ethics and engineering values involve questions from pre-post justification, ethical issues etc. and were of moderate difficulty.
  • The best part was there were no questions related to current affairs on an international level.
  • Also, engineering mathematics and numerical analysis was easy enough for the candidates to score full marks from this section.

Paper analysis: IES Prelims 2019, Paper-1

The IES 2019 Prelims paper-1 was of moderate difficulty and definitely more difficult than the paper of IES 2020. The trend of the GS paper keeps shifting as the topic-wise weightage for several sub-topics drastically changes every year, making it very risky to draw a pattern and entirely skip any particular topic. The following is the detailed analysis of the IES 2019 GS paper and the difficulty level of each topic this year-

  • The current affairs questions mainly were asked from economics this year and were slightly tougher than usual. There were 9 questions which means it had a fair share of marks and hence essential.
  • The engineering aptitude questions were rather difficult. However, the questions were very scoring if you have prepared the geometry part well.
  • Mathematics was quite easy this year and scoring enough. Any candidate who has prepared well could have scored full marks from this section.
  • The number of questions from the designs, drawing section was rather less this year. The questions were application-oriented but easy. Mainly questions based on Auto CAD were asked which indicates UPSc’s shift towards the latest trends and technology.
  • Quality practices related questions were easy to moderately difficult. There were 9 questions and one 3 was considered easy.
  • Questions from the environment were easy and predictable. The questions were more about the technicalities of the subject than based on current affairs.
  • Project management had a diversity of questions based on all the sub-topics under this section. This shows UPSC is trying to cover as much of the syllabus as possible through the GS paper and hence, you cannot leave out any part.
  • Material science questions came primarily from crystallography and polymers and ceramics. There were 14 questions of moderate difficulty from this section.
  • ICT questions were rather tough in IES prelims 2019 and most questions were network-based.
  • There were 14 questions from the ethics section and they were mostly closed-end questions that were easy to moderate.

Check IES 2020 Exam Pattern, Marking Scheme, Syllabus and Model Papers

Paper analysis: IES Prelims 2018, paper-1

The IES prelims paper-1 for 2018 was moderately difficult considering all the sub-categories. The detailed analysis is as follows-

  • There was a shift from Indian polity and constitution related questions towards economic and social development in the current affairs section this year.
  • The importance of questions related to science and technology as well as humanities subjects like history and geography did not diminish.
  • Questions related to history and Indian national movement were difficult.
  • The Indian polity related questions were moderately difficult.
  • Economic and social development based questions were moderately easy and focused primarily on small finance banks, NPCI, BTIA, government budgeting, international economics, and other topics with high factual elements.
  • Environmental ecology, biodiversity and climate change-related topics were easy to moderately difficult. Questions mainly on gharials, lions’ translocation, m-stripes were asked and this has been a trend since the past couple of years.
  • Questions from science and technology-focused mainly on the use of science in our day-to-day life.

Cut-off trends in IES Prelims

To ace the paper through smart and strategic preparation, having a clear idea about the past cut-off trend is helpful. The cut-off marks vary depending on the stream you have chosen and it is variable every year. The cut-off is determined by UPSC based on several key factors like the number of candidates appearing for the exam, the difficulty level of the prelims, past year cut-off trends, and the available vacancies.

When you are hard-pressed for time and need to prepare very strategically, keeping the cut-off in mind and focusing on topics with maximum marks weightage so that you can score more than enough to cross the cut-off is a strategy followed by many aspirants. This is where understanding this trend can help you immensely.

The following graph depicts the cut-off of trends for the general category in the past three years.

IES Prelims subject wise cut off trends

As depicted by the bar graph above, the cut-off for the general category can be anywhere between 188 and 256. This entirely depends on the difficulty level of the paper. The harder and more difficult the paper, the cut-off marks go lower accordingly. The cut-off for the reserved category is much lesser than that for the general category and can go down up to 90-100 depending on the cut-off for the general category in a particular year.

Check IES 2020 Application Form, Registration Dates, Fees and Process

Preparation for IES Prelims 2021, based on the 4-years analysis

The IES prelims preparation can be planned well when you are familiar with the question pattern and the complete analysis of the question papers in the past few years. The candidates for 2020 and 2021 are at an advantage since the syllabus and the question pattern changed after 2016 and hence they will have to pay more attention to questions from the past three years. However, the cut-off trends and specific topics are important even from the times prior to 2016 and the preparation should be done accordingly. Here are a few important factors that you must remember when you are preparing for IES prelims in the upcoming years, based on the analysis done so far-

  • The topic-wise marks weightage changes on a rotational basis for certain topics like current issues, general principles of design, quality practice etc. and hence you cannot leave these out or simply skim through the topics instead of an in-depth study.
  • The cut-off for electrical and mechanical engineering tend to be the highest among all the subjects.
  • Numerical based questions are generally easy and any candidate who has practiced the sums well will be able to score full marks, as evident from the trends in numerical based questions in the four years.
  • The current issues related questions are more about Indian polity and socio-economic developments.
  • The recent years witnessed more emphasis towards Indian issues than on international issues in the current affairs section.
  • Questions from environment and energy are more technical than current-affairs-based in the past 2 years.

A few tips on making a preparation strategy keeping the 4-years paper analysis in mind-

  • Specifically, lay emphasis on practicing all the numericals thoroughly and dedicate at least an hour every day to numericals alone.
  • Cover the entire syllabus thoroughly if you have the time. It is best not to skip any part owing to the rotational shift of importance of different topics in the exam.
  • In case you think you need to skip a few topics because of lack of time, do so carefully after judging the priority of the section in the past few years, based on the number of questions that has been asked from these sections.
  • Develop your speed and accuracy regarding solving the sums and make sure you are able to attempt maximum questions.
  • Make a habit of skipping questions you are not sure about since the exam has a negative marking scheme.
  • Specifically emphasis on the static subjects and the conventional questions that are often repeated over the years. The marks weightage of the static subjects is maximum over the years and hence you cannot skip any topic that falls under the static subjects.
  • Keep your study materials minimum and concise so that you are able to organize your study plan easily.
  • It is best to start preparing for the IES since the third year of your college as you are still in touch with the subject and at the same time, the topics covered by the IES Prelims Syllabus will be already covered.
  • Practice short cut methods and also step-jumping techniques so that you can solve different numerical problems in the minimum possible time.
  • Start preparation for Prelims and Mains simultaneously and at least 6 months before the Prelims is scheduled.

Check IES 2020 Cutoff for Prelims, Main Exam and Final/ Personality Test Cutoff

Keeping all these factors in mind, you can determine the time and effort needed for the preparation of the IES 2020 exam. The mains are upcoming and given the syllabus for prelims and mains is identical now, your preparation already has the head-start it needed. We hope you make the most of the time and the detailed analysis shared above to derive the best course of preparation that must be followed.


Ques. How much time should you spend preparing each sub-topics?

Ans. For the entire GS syllabus, spare at least 2-3 hours daily for preparation. The amount of time you give to a specific sub-topic entirely depends on the importance it has in terms of topic-wise weightage. If we go according to the past four years’ IES prelims paper analysis, basics of material science, engineering aptitude and product quality-related topics should be given the maximum time.

Ques. How to filter and study the current affairs that are relevant for IES?

Ans. Studying current affairs for IES mainly involves having a thorough knowledge of Indian polity, governance, different government committees, and major economic developments in a national and international level. Follow a national level newspaper and read the Indian polity and economics thoroughly to ace the questions from current affairs.

Ques. Are questions repeated from the previous years?

Ans. Yes, questions are often repeated from the previous years or at least have similar patterns. Hence you can practice them for better understanding. However, if you are following questions papers prior to 2016, you can safely skip practicing the general English related questions as the topics have been excluded.

Ques. Have there been any changes in the syllabus of IES Prelims paper-2?

Ans. After 2016, there have been several changes in the IES prelims syllabus as well. Significant changes have been noted in paper-2 of the prelims. The following are some of those changes which you must be aware of:

  • Topics and subjects which are common in the B.Tech. curriculum of most national and state institutions and universities are specifically stressed on.
  • Renewable sources of energy, mechanics, and robotics are some new topics introduced in mechanical engineering.
  • Engineering mathematics and signal systems are a new addition to the electrical engineering syllabus.
  • The topic of structural engineering has been added to the syllabus of civil engineering.
  • Several new topics have been added to electronics and telecommunication syllabus like VLSI, DSP, Embedded system, communication network, microwave, satellite communication, and basic electrical engineering.

Ques. Is there any minimum cut-off for paper-1 and paper-2?

Ans. The combined marks of paper-1 and paper-2 of IES prelims is considered to determine the prelims cut-off which is out of 500. Usually, the cut-off is approximately 45-50% of 500. It can be hence determined that scoring 80-120 out of 200 in paper-1 and 2 individually should be sufficient enough to cross the minimum cut-off.

Ques. Since the syllabus has changed after 2016- can I skip practising the question papers before 2016?

Ans. You can skip questions that are no longer relevant according to the new syllabus but it is best not to skip practising the entire question paper as topics which are constant even after the change are often repeated from these papers.

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