It is said that time we spend in college accounts as the most productive time in our life. The time we spend in our college period is perhaps the most memorable as we get to enjoy different things & meet a lot of amazing people. It is also the time when we are not as preoccupied with studies as we were required to be during our 10th and 12th standard. So this is considered to be the best time to start preparing for an exam that is considered to be one of the toughest to crack in the world – the UPSC Civil Services Examination. You will be glad to know that by the time you finish college, you will also be eligible to write the exam! 

Feeling excited to learn more? Read on to find out the tips we have curated to help you prepare for this examination while in college!

1. Know the exam well

The first step to facing any challenge is to know it well. The same applies here too. Read up all that you can about the exam. The Civil Services Examinations are held in three stages: Prelims, Mains, and Interview.

  • The Prelims consist of MCQs only and have two papers. 
  • The Mains consist of descriptive and essay-type questions and have nine papers. 
  • Finally, the Interview is conducted in front of a panel of judges some of which are ex-civil servants and subject experts. 

The Interview is intended for the assessment of your personality while the Prelims and Mains are for testing your knowledge and expression. 

To know more about the examination, click here

2. Decide your Optional paper/subject

There are two optional papers that you can choose for your Mains examination: One language paper and the other can be a language/a subject paper. There is a qualifying paper for the Mains for which you can choose from a set of regional languages in India. Another set of two papers for which you choose from a set of subjects (which include some languages too) provided by UPSC. 

For some, their subject from graduation is available and they select this as the syllabus for each subject is the same till the Masters level. Some on the other hand due to their adventurous spirit or fascination with the subject, take up something entirely different. Whatever you choose, you must choose before you start your preparation. Sometimes, you might not find the subject interesting even after trying a lot and might want to change it but that is completely normal.

3. Your preparation strategy

For an exam that has such a large number of subjects and a wide syllabus, your preparation strategy is very important. According to previous UPSC toppers, one should always prepare for Prelims and Mains together. Prelims require you to have a factual study whereas Mains require you to have good reasoning and a logical mindset while writing. But the problem is, when you wait to clear Prelims to start preparing for Mains, you might face an acute shortage of time as the Mains’ syllabus is vast compared to that of Prelims. So, always prepare for both together!

4. Decide your books and other sources

Just like institutions and companies try to cater to our needs, they also try to market the preparation for UPSC to students. There are a lot of institutions out there that provide coaching for UPSC and thousands of books that claim they are for UPSC aspirants. But you need to look out for the best options. Ask your seniors who have been in this field or anybody who has taken coaching or read books for the same and get their feedback. Then apply your logic and decide where you want to attend coaching or if coaching is required for you or not, etc. The importance of this step is that once you start your preparation, you should remain completely focused on that and shouldn’t go in search of other sources.

5. Plan your time

So now you have the sources, the general information, the preparation strategy, and loads of time. Feel something? Yep, it’s the laziness and procrastination creeping in! The huge amount of studying to be done and the fact that this is considered a really hard exam will only increase your initial inhibition & hesitance to start. So it is extremely important to plan the time available to you. Most of the previous toppers attribute their success to their perseverance and discipline. Discipline and proper planning are really important. Knowing when you will complete which portion, keeping deadlines for yourself, etc. will help you keep your progress in check and you won’t have to cram the day before the exam like we all usually do.

6. Revise

As said earlier, there are tons of sources. But you need to be choosy. According to expert teachers and previous toppers, it is not how much information you know that brings you marks but how well you can recall it during your examination that makes all the difference. We are all humans and we tend to forget things. That’s where revision comes into action. Whatever you learn, you must remember to revise it thoroughly. Revise it the next day, one week later, one month later, or whenever you want to. Just make sure you will be able to recall what you learned even in the most stressful time because let’s be real, we are all going to be stressed out during the exam.

7. Practice writing answers

Back in school, when we were preparing for boards, our teachers used to tell us, “Write previous papers and practice, that’s how you can learn time management.” 

You need to practice writing answers to previous year’s questions, if not for time management then to learn how to write creative and factually correct answers in the exam hall. The descriptive answers for Mains are not to be written like your regular science papers. They require factual backing, quotations of experts related to the field that the question talks about, our opinions, all written in good language. The questions might seem generic to us but if you write generic answers to them, then you won’t be able to achieve high ranks.

8. Watch and attend mock interviews

So, you have completed the Prelims and Mains. Now what? The Interview of course!! 

The tricky and relieving part of the interview is that you can’t prepare for it. What previous applicants say is that you should be very careful about what you write in the papers that go in front of the interview board. Their questions will be solely based on that. The interviewers will have the papers you appeared for in Mains, so you can expect questions related to your optional subject. If you belong to any minority community recognized by the constitution, then expect questions related to the culture of your community. There will also be questions related to the state you hail from. If you have shifted to some other part of the country during your studies, then questions will be there related to that state too. The key to getting a hang of it is to watch mock interviews on YouTube and also to attend mock interviews close to the date when your actual interview will take place.

9. Have confidence and do not stress

Do not stress! Stress will only make you forget all that you have studied with so much effort and you don’t want that. Confidence is a very important factor, especially for this exam. The Interview is meant to study your personality and a major part of cracking it is to be confident. But always remember, though confidence is important, overconfidence will only do you harm.

As Billie Jean King said, “Champions keep playing until they get it right”. Even if you don’t qualify in the first attempt, you are allowed to appear for this exam multiple times but this shouldn’t be on your mind while preparing. You should always aim to qualify it in one shot. You should also not be disheartened by failures. Most of us know that Ira Singhal secured the first rank in Civil service Examinations of 2014 but what we fail to remember is that it was her fourth attempt at passing the exam! 

Failures are only the stepping stones to success and each failure teaches us an invaluable lesson that takes us closer to achieving our goals. We wish you all the best for your journey!


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