Strategy for UPSC IAS Mains GS Paper I

The UPSC IAS mains paper consists of nine descriptive papers. The General Studies Paper I, more commonly known as GS I is one of them. This article suggests a strategy for UPSC IAS Mains exam GS paper I.

The UPSC syllabus for GS paper I can be divided into four as given below:

  • History
  • Political philosophies
  • Society of India
  • Geography


This is the most important section in GS I. Most questions are asked from this section, at times numbering close to 100. This can be subdivided into:-

Indian Art & Culture

Focus Areas:

  • Classical dances
  • Temple architecture
  • Themes of ancient Indian history
  • Literature
  • Music and musical instruments

Also study the Sufi and Bhakti movements, influence of Islamic art and architecture in Indian society.

Example question from 2013 mains:

Q) Discuss the ‘Tandava’ dance as recorded in early Indian inscriptions. (100 words)


  • India’s Ancient Past – RS Sharma
  • Facets of Indian Culture (Spectrum publications)
  • Centre for Cultural Resources & Training (CCRT) website

Modern History

This covers middle of the 18th century till the present era; personalities and issues, freedom struggle (different stages, contributors, contributions from different parts of India)

Focus areas:

  • Four important agitations/movements: Swadeshi and Boycott movement, Khilafat and Non-cooperation movement, Civil Disobedience movement, Quit India movement.
  • Social/religious reform movements: personalities and their contributions
  • Contributions of important personalities (Indian and foreign)

Q) Several foreigners made India their homeland and participated in various movements. Analyse their role in the Indian struggle for freedom. (200 words)


  • India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra
  • A brief History of Modern India – Rajiv Ahir (Spectrum Publications)

India after independence

The syllabus talks about “Post-independence consolidation and reorganisation within the country”.


  • Admission of princely states
  • Role of important personalities
  • Important movements after 1947


India Since Independence – Bipan Chandra

It is important to focus on current happenings and relate it to the syllabus.

Example question from 2013 paper:

Q) Discuss the contributions of Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad to pre- and post-independent India. (200 words)

World History

This is the least important section from the history portion in this paper in terms of the number of questions asked every year.


  • American, French, Russian and Industrial Revolution
  • World War I and II (Book by Arjun Dev is sufficient for this topic)
  • Current affairs
  • International pages of The Hindu and The Indian Express


Mastering World History – Norman Lowe

History of the World – Arjun Dev

Example question:

Q) American Revolution was an economic revolt against mercantilism. Substantiate. (200 words)



Here, you should understand the concepts clearly, their meaning, differences between them, and their impact on the world. The three important philosophies are:

  1. Communism
  2. Capitalism
  3. socialism


This is a very vast topic and you should focus on topics rather than books. There is no single book that can be mentioned as a source here. The important sources are:

  • newspapers
  • magazines (EPW)
  • reports of NGOs, international organisations, World Bank, etc.

Focus areas:

  • Communalism, Secularism, Regionalism, Globalisation
  • Women’s Issues
  • Current Affairs


Q) Critically examine the effect of globalisation on the aged population in India. (200 words)



Focus areas:

  • Cyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes
  • Location of industries in India
  • Water bodies
  • Climate change


NCERTs from classes VI through XII.

Here also, relate current affairs to the syllabus. If there is a natural calamity with profound effect, it becomes important. You should look at the scientific or geographical aspects of that phenomenon. Also important are reports tabled in Parliament regarding these issues.


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