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UPSC Civil Services Exam: The overhaul in the exam pattern in the past six years

The civil services exam is conducted by the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) every year. The exam is conducted in three stages and they are prelims, mains and personality test/interview and prolongs almost for a year.

The civil services exam pattern has seen a complete overhaul in the past six years and there have been minor and major changes in the pattern. There have been no changes in the age limit or number of attempts so far in the civil services exam but the exam pattern has undergone various changes in which the civil services mains exam has been affected.

Let’s have a look at the overhauls that the civil services exam pattern has gone through over the past six years.


The UPSC Civil Services Exam Pattern first saw its changes in the year 2011 with the introduction of CSAT paper in the civil services prelims exam as General Studies paper 2. The CSAT GS paper II tests the candidates’ logical reasoning and aptitude. Also, both GS Paper I and CSAT GS Paper II marks were counted in the merit list of the prelims exam.


In 2012, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) decided to make the UPSC Syllabus of Civil Services Examination more generic with completely a different and new pattern. Keeping two optional papers with two sessions i.e. Paper I and Paper II for each and also two general studies paper with one essay paper was included in the overhaul made in the Civil Services Exam pattern of 2012.

Paper I  One of the Indian  languages to be selected by the candidate from the Languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution 300 marks
Paper-II English 300 marks
Paper III Essay 200 marks
Papers IV & V General Studies 300 marks for each paper
Papers VI, VII, VIII & IX Any two subjects to be selected from the list of the optional subjects set out below. Each subject will have two papers. 300 marks for each paper
Interview 300 marks


While in 2013, the UPSC Syllabus for Civil Services Mains Exam was made much more specific and definite with a lot of major changes. UPSC added another paper to the general studies papers of the mains exam called ethics, integrity and aptitude paper and made one optional subject with two papers, which was a major transformation done by the UPSC.

The UPSC Exam Pattern didn’t see any changes in the Civil Services Prelims Exam of 2013. 

The UPSC Civil Services mains written examination had the following papers (which is the existing main pattern exam):

Qualifying Papers
Paper A
(One of the Indian Language to be selected by the
candidate from the Languages included in the Eighth
Schedule to the Constitution). 300 Marks

Paper B

English 300 Marks

Papers to be counted for merit


Essay 250 Marks 


General Studies–I 250 Marks
(Indian Heritage and Culture
History and Geography of the World
and Society)

General Studies –II 250 Marks
(Governance, Constitution,
Polity, Social Justice and
International relations)

General Studies –III 250 Marks
(Technology, Economic Development,
Bio-diversity, Environment, Security
and Disaster Management)

General Studies –IV 250 Marks
(Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) 

Optional Subject –

Candidates can choose only one optional instead of two, and there will be two papers from a single optional (Paper VI and Paper VII); Also only students who have graduated with language as a major subject can choose that language/literature as their optional. i.e., people with BE, MBBS or B.Sc., BA (History) can not opt for English/Kannada/Tamil/Telugu or any other language as their optional for mains)

Optional Subject – Paper 1 250 Marks


Optional Subject – 2 Papers  250 Marks

Sub Total (Written test) 1750 Marks

Personality Test 275 Marks


In 2014, the civil services exam pattern didn’t see remarkable changes apart from the essay paper of mains exam which saw a slight change to 1 topic from each section which was 2 until then.

Also, the number of attempts and age limits for the general category candidates saw some changes like the number of attempts was raised to 6 from 4 while the maximum age limit was increased from 30 to 32 years.


As the UPSC Civil Services Exam question papers are unpredictable similarly the changes in the exam pattern by the commission was ambiguous. The UPSC Syllabus for the prelims remained the same for both the papers (General Studies Papers 1 and 2) were for 200 marks for the duration of 2 hours.

But in 2015, the UPSC brought some minor changes in the civil services prelims exam by making the CSAT general studies paper 2 as qualifying in nature in which a candidate should score a minimum of 33% or 66 marks out of 200 marks in order to qualify for the UPSC Civil Services Main Exam, the second stage of the exam.

And the UPSC said in their notification released in 2015 as given below.

“The  Commission will draw a list of candidates to be qualifies for Civil Services Main examination based on the criterion of minimum qualifying marks of 33 % in General Studies Paper II of the Civil Services Preliminary Examination and total qualifying marks of General Studies Paper I of Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination as may be determined by the commission.”

Last year in August 2015, the commission constituted an expert committee under the chairmanship of BS Baswan to review the civil services exam pattern. The committee after examining submitted the report to the centre, which has declined to share the Baswan Committee report that has recommended changes in the civil services exam pattern.

And, the latest news was that the UPSC is examining Baswan Committee report on changes in civil services exam and the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh said the Lok Sabha that under the consideration of the government, there is no recommendation to give more weightage to general studies paper in Civil Services Examination conducted by the UPSC.

For many years’ civil services aspirants have been voicing out their concerns in which many have alleged that the change in the exam pattern with the introduction of CSAT Paper is urban bias as the CSAT general studies paper 2 is an analytical and English comprehension which most of the aspirants from the rural and regional language background find it difficult.

Recently, a day before the announcement of the UPSC Notification 2017 for Civil Services Examination, a bunch of aspirants gathered in front of the commission’s office and grieved saying that the government is experimenting on the UPSC aspirants.

For many years’ civil services aspirants have been voicing concerns over, what they Iallege, the urban bias in Civil Services Examinations. Since the CSAT paper is dominated by English comprehension and mathematics, many argued that the introduction of this paper has put aspirants from rural and Hindi background at a disadvantage.

The ambiguous surrounding the UPSC Civil Services Exam Pattern is getting on the nerves of many aspirants and the UPSC is examining the Baswan Committee Report on the Civil Services Exam and the government yet to receive its approval.


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