Preparation Tips for Beginners from IAS Topper Shashank Shekhar Singh

Shashank Shekhar Singh cleared the UPSC civil services exam 2016 with an all India rank of 306. In this article, he gives preparation tips for beginners in the UPSC prelims exam. Singh says that the IAS prelims exam is primarily an exam of rejection and not selection since a huge majority of the candidates who take the prelims are not able to clear it and move on to the next round, the UPSC mains.

First of all, beginners should go through the UPSC syllabus which is commonly described as a ‘bible’ for aspirants. Secondly, they should understand the format of the prelims exam. There are two papers in the prelims namely, the General Studies paper I and the CSAT. The following table gives the important details about both the prelims papers.


Total marks


Pass percentage

Negative marking

Number of questions

GS Paper 1


2 hours

Cut-off marks decided by the UPSC



GS Paper 1 (CSAT)


2 hours





You should clear previous years’ CSAT papers and assess for yourself your expertise and command over the paper. If you are comfortably scoring well above the required 33%, you need not spend more hours for the CSAT. You can spend your time for the GS paper 1. If you find it difficult to score the required marks in it, you should focus on the CSAT as well.

Another important tip for clearing the prelims is to read newspapers daily. English medium students are advised to read ‘The Hindu’ and Hindi medium students can read ‘Dainik Jagran’. It is very important to make notes from the newspapers because otherwise you will forget what you have read. As and when you read the newspaper, you should have the UPSC syllabus in front of you (unless you have it imprinted in your mind). This way, you can filter out all the relevant information from the unnecessary news given in the paper. Avoid news related to crime, sports, film and political controversies (except for those which give insights into topics in polity and governance).

So, two things to remember while reading newspapers:

  • Weed out the irrelevant material.
  • Make notes simultaneously.

How to study for current affairs from the newspapers?

Whenever you are reading the newspaper, keep an atlas ready with you. For instance, if you are reading about the Prime Minister’s or the President’s visit to another country, mark that country on the map. Also mark its capital city. In addition, find out about that country’s trade with India, its specialties, etc.

Again, if you are reading about any major scientific development in the country, find out about the basic concept behind that development. You could be asked questions on the basic science behind it.

Finally, the most important tip that can be given to aspirants is ‘PRACTICE’. The UPSC prelims exam requires not only knowledge and analysis, but also practice. Aspirants should first practice the IAS prelims question papers of the last 15 years. Then, they should take mock tests ideally by enrolling in a mock test series. BYJU’S brings out mock test series every year that is designed by experts to give you the extra edge in the IAS prelims.

The right approach, right dedication, right hard work, right investment of time and energy, and money in acquiring study material is enough to help you sail through the 2018 UPSC prelims exam.

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