UPSC Civil Services Examination Mains

UPSCUPSC is the dream of many passionate candidates to get into a government service. UPSC selection process happens in 3 phases – preliminary exam, mains and the final interview. Preliminary exam being the major filtering step where the applicants to qualifiers ratio is far less than 5%, mains exam stands as the second filtering point where the percentage of appearing candidates vs qualified is around 20%. Although there won’t be good number of vacancies but the number of applicants is around 1000s of times more. UPSC mains has 9 papers in total with the scoring of 2 papers are only meant for qualifying and not considered for final ranking as like the other 7 papers.

UPSC Mains Exam Pattern

The UPSC mains exam has 9 papers in total whose pattern is disclosed in the table below.

Qualifying Papers, marks of these are not considered for final rank calculation
Paper A Candidates are given the choice to opt any language from the options provided by the UPSC on their portal. 300 marks
Paper B English 300 marks
Papers whose scoring are considered for final UPSC rank calculation
Paper 1 Essay, as per applicants choice 250 marks
Paper 2 General Studies I – Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World  and Society 250 marks
Paper 3 GENERAL STUDIES 2 – Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International  relations. 250 marks
Paper 4 GENERAL STUDIES 3 – Technology, Economic Development, Bio- diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management 250 marks
Paper 5 GENERAL STUDIES 4 – Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude 250 marks
Paper 6 Optional subject 1 250 marks
Paper 7 Optional subject 2 250 marks

UPSC mains exam Syllabus

Having a clear picture of the syllabus anytime in mind is of great benefit as it speeds up the preparation process and thus avoids pressure. For this reason, we here enclose the complete syllabus for UPSC mains exam that one should follow for best UPSC results.

Paper A and B

Both being language based papers, are to be answered either in English or in the respective chosen language.

  • Comprehension of passages given
  • Precise Writing
  • Usage and Vocabulary
  • Short Essay

Paper 1

This includes essay writing and the candidate is given choice and the writing can be in English or any other medium of candidates’ choice. Effectiveness and exact expression essay has the best credits.

Paper 2

The syllabus of each subtopic is in detail mentioned below.

Indian Heritage and Culture

  • Indian culture will cover the main parts of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Modern History

  • Modern Indian history dated back to about the middle of the eighteenth century to till date –all significant events, personalities, issues, happeninGeneral Studies worth considering etc.
  • The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from various corners of the country.
  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.
  • History of the world will take account of events happened from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redraw of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and their impact on the society.


  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
  • Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and
  • developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
  • Effects of globalization on Indian society
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.

Geography of the World

  • Salient features of world’s physical geography.
  • Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent); 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 activities, cyclones 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.


Governance, Constitution, Polity

  • Indian Constitution- historical underpinninGeneral Studies, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.
  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
  • Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
  • Comparison between Indian constitutional schemes to that of other countries.
  • Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.3
  • Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
  • Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGeneral Studies, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders

Social Justice

  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
  • Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
  • Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
  • Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
  • Role of civil services in a democracy.

International relations

  • India and its neighborhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupinGeneral Studies and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.


Economic Development

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
  • Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
  • Government Budgeting.
  • Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.
  • Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
  • Investment models.


  • Major crops and their cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.
  • Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.
  • Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management.
  • Land reforms in India.


  • Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
  • Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
  • Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.


  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Disaster Management

  • Disaster and disaster management.


  • Linkages between development and spread of extremism.
  • Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security.
  • Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention
  • Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism.
  • Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate.


Paper 5 is aimed at testing the candidates attitude and their move towards any issues concerning to the integrity, probity in public life and also their problem solving approach to various issues and conflicts that come by their way while dealing with society. Questions may also use the case study approach to determine these aspects. The below list of areas will be covered.

  • Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachinGeneral Studies of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values.
  • Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behavior; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion.
  • Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service , integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker sections.
  • Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.
  • Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world.
  • Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance.
  • Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity;
  • Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.
  • Case Studies on above issues.

Paper 6 and 7

These papers are optional subject papers and candidates are given the choice to choose any from the list given by UPSC. The optional subjects are from various core sections like Geography, History, Economics, Sociology, Public Administration, Philosophy, Psychology, Political Science, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science, Anthropology,  Botany, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Commerce, Electrical Engineering, Geology, Law, Mathematics, Management, Mechanical Engineering, Medical Science, Physics, Statistics, Zoology and Literature of any language chosen from the provided list.

UPSC Mains Exam Reference Books and Resources

With around thousands of thousands books available for UPSC mains exam, its difficult to cover all books for preparing to UPSC mains. The below list of books are few main books that are worth of selecting for UPSC mains and are from the shelf of the UPSC toppers.

  • Selected Contemporary Essays by Saumitra Mohan for Essay Paper
  • Essays for Civil Services by Pulkit Khare for Essay Paper
  • India After Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha for History from General Studies 1
  • Norman Lowe OR History of Modern World by Jain and Mathur for World History from General Studies 1
  • Social Problems in India by Ram Ahuja for Indian Society from General Studies 1
  • IAS Mains General Studies Paper 2 by Arihant Manual for General Studies 2
  • Current Issues – Monthly current affairs magazine for General Studies 2
  • Governance in India for CSE. For General Studies 2
  • Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor for Foreign Policy preparation for General Studies 2
  • India and the World by Surendra Kumar for Foreign Policy preparation for General Studies 2
  • IAS Mains General Studies by Arihant Manual General Studies 3
  • India’s National Security: A Reader for Internal Security preparation of General Studies 3
  • Challenges to Internal Security of India for Internal Security preparation of General Studies 3
  • Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude for Ethics preparation of General studies 4
  • IAS Mains General Studies – Ethics by Arihant Manual for General Studies 4

Apart from the list make sure to habituate newspaper reading and magazine reading; choose and spend only on useful topics and also from newspapers that maintain standards.

UPSC Mains Cutoff Marks

The cutoff marks vary from year to year depending on various factors like number of candidates appearing for the exam, number of vacancies, difficulty level of the exam etc. Below table gives the UPSC mains cutoff marks.

Category UPSC mains cutoff marks
General 665 – 679
OBC 602 – 631
SC 615 – 633
ST 610 – 620
PH 1 550 – 615
PH 2 550 – 630
PH 3 450 – 515

UPSC Mains Preparation Tips and Tricks

  • gate tipsBe an optimistic candidate with a seek for future, stay yourself motivated, energetic and active and healthy all through the time for a stress free mind that eases the preparation.
  • Don’t make any last minute changes.
  • Practice writing daily atleast for an hour.
  • Keep practicing questions from sample papers, previous papers and even attend online mock tests. Though previous papers may appear bit difficult for you but never lose hope, this will help you strengthen yourself for the big day of exam.
  • Never miss a revision. Atleast revise the notes made by you if not complete syllabus.
  • Plan systematically and implement peacefully.
  • Have a clear picture of the syllabus in mind that aids a lot during the preparation for the UPSC main exam.
  • Prepare both general studies papers and optional papers with balance, both have their importance on the scoring.
  • Keep yourself up to date of the current affairs.

UPSC Mains Sample Questions

UPSC Prelims sample questions

  • How do you justify the view that the level of excellence of the Gupta numismatic art is not at all noticeable in later times? (150 words)
  • Clarify how mid-eighteenth century India was beset with the spectre of a fragmented polity. (150 words)
  • Why did the ‘Moderates’ failed to carry conviction with the nation about their proclaimed ideology and political goals by the end of the nineteenth century? (150 words)
  • What problems are germane to the decolonization process in the Malay Peninsula? (150 words)
  • How does the Juno Mission of NASA help to understand the origin and evolution of the Earth? (150 words)
  • “Inspite of adverse environmental impact, coal mining is still inevitable for development”. Discuss (150 words)
  • Mention the advantages of the cultivation of pulses because of which the year 2016 was declared as the International Year of Pulses by United Nations. (150 words)
  • How does the cryosphere affect global climate? (150 words)
  • In the context of the diversity of India, can it be said that the regions form cultural units rather than the States? Give reasons with examples for your view point. (150 words)
  • What are the two major legal initiatives by the State since Independence addressing discrimination against Scheduled Tribes(STs)? (150 words)
  • The spirit of tolerance and love is not only an interesting feature of Indian society from very early times, but it is also playing an important part at the present. Elaborate. (250 words)
  • Examine how the decline of traditional artisanal industry in colonial India crippled the rural economy. (250 words)
  • Highlight the importance of the new objectives that got added to the vision of Indian Independence since the twenties of the last century. (250 words)
  • Account for variations in oceanic salinity and discuss its multi-dimensional effects. (250 words)
  • Petroleum refineries are not necessarily located nearer to crude oil producing areas, particularly in many of the developing countries. Explain its implications. (250 words)
  • In what way can floods be converted into a sustainable source of irrigation and all-weather inland navigation in India? (250 words)
  • What characteristics can be assigned to monsoon climate that succeeds in feeding more than 50 percent of the world population residing in Monsoon Asia? (250 words)
  • The women’s questions arose in modern India as a part of the 19th century social reform movement. What are the major issues and debates concerning women in that period? (250 words)
  • Distinguish between religiousness/religiosity and communalism giving one example of how the former has got transformed into the latter in independent India. (250 words)
  • “The growth of cities as I.T. hubs has opened up new avenues of employment, but has also created new problems”. Substantiate this statement with examples (250 words)

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