Exam Pattern Of UPSC IAS Civil Services Examination

The UPSC Exam pattern is set by the conducting body, i.e., the Union Public Service Commission. It is a yearly conducted examination and the paper pattern for the IAS Exam has been the same since 2013. This article aims to give the reader an overview of the UPSC exam pattern and syllabus for CSE 2024.

UPSC Exam Pattern and Syllabus PDF
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The UPSC Civil Services Examination is considered to be the toughest examination in India. It has earned this moniker partly due to the intense competition and partly due to the comprehensive UPSC Syllabus. Apart from that, the exam pattern for UPSC CSE is quite complicated, and a typical examination cycle lasts for almost a year from the preliminary exam until the final results are declared.

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For the updated UPSC syllabus exam pattern, check IAS Notification in the linked article.

UPSC 2023

UPSC Exam Pattern 2024

The UPSC civil services exam pattern is officially divided into two stages called Preliminary and Main Examination while in practice, it is a three-stage exam. The third being Personality Test/Interview.

As per the IAS exam pattern, candidates who clear the Prelims are eligible for Mains and candidates who clear the Main reach the interview stage.

Stage 1: UPSC CSE Prelims Exam Pattern

The Prelims Exam date is 26th May 2024. Visit the link to get free study material and preparation strategy for UPSC Prelims.

The UPSC exam pattern for the Preliminary stage consists of two papers, conducted on one day. Both the papers comprise objective type questions with multiple choice of answers. The prelims examination is a qualifying stage to filter candidates for the mains exam. The marks secured at this stage are not counted towards the final merit list, though candidates have to prepare well for this exam as cut-offs are unpredictable and depend on the average score every year. The details of UPSC prelims pattern is given below:

Civils Exam Pattern – Prelims
Paper Type No. of questions UPSC Total Marks Duration Negative marks
General Studies I Objective 100 200 2 hours Yes
General Studies II (CSAT) Objective 80 200 2 hours Yes
Total UPSC marks for Prelims 400 (where GS Paper II is qualifying in nature with minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%)

To sit for prelims, one has to fill the application using the UPSC Apply Online portal.

Stage 2: UPSC CSE Mains Exam Pattern

The UPSC exam pattern for the Mains stage consists of 9 papers conducted over 5-7 days. Only those candidates who secure at least the declared cut off in General Studies I and 33% in General Studies II in Prelims will be allowed to appear for the Mains Examination. 

As per the exam pattern of UPSC Mains, all of the papers consist of descriptive answer type questions. It is an exhaustive phase and the total marks in UPSC mains can directly affect your final scores. Thus, the UPSC exam marks for the mains phase are extremely valuable as it acts as a key factor in merit declaration. The details of UPSC syllabus with marks are given below:

UPSC CSE Exam Pattern – Mains
Paper Subject Duration IAS Total marks
Paper A Compulsory Indian language 3 hours 300
Paper B English 3 hours 300
Paper I Essay 3 hours 250
Paper II General Studies I 3 hours 250
Paper III General Studies II 3 hours 250
Paper IV General Studies III 3 hours 250
Paper V General Studies IV 3 hours 250
Paper VI Optional I 3 hours 250
Paper VII Optional II 3 hours 250

All of the mains papers except for the language papers A and B are of a merit ranking nature. Paper A and B are of qualifying nature and candidates must score at least 25% in each for the marks from their Paper I – Paper VII to be given weightage.

Paper A is not compulsory for candidates from the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim as well as candidates with hearing impairment, provided they can prove that they have been exempted from such 2nd or 3rd language courses by their concerned board or university. The Indian Language paper covers any of the languages included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.

The subjects which are covered by the General Studies Papers in Mains Exam are:

General Studies I General Studies II General Studies III General Studies IV
Indian Heritage and Culture Governance Technology Ethics
History and Geography of the World Constitution Economic Development Integrity
Society Polity Bio-diversity Aptitude
Social Justice Environment
International relations Security and Disaster Management

The Optional subjects for Paper VI and VII of the mains examination have to be any one of the subjects from the following list:

Agriculture Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Anthropology Botany Chemistry
Civil Engineering Commerce and Accountancy Economics Electrical Engineering Geography
Geology History Law Management Mathematics
Mechanical Engineering Medical Science Philosophy Physics Political Science and International Relations
Psychology Public Administration Sociology Statistics Zoology
The literature of any one of the following languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English.

All the papers except the Language papers A and B can be answered in English or any of the languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India. The optional papers can be answered in English even if none of the other papers has been answered by the candidate in English.

Stage 3: UPSC CSE Pattern for Interview

This is the final stage of the IAS Exam before the final results are declared. Officially it is called the Interview/Personality Test and counted as a part of the Mains Examination for merit ranking purposes. From a preparation standpoint, it is considered the third stage as preparation strategies for the written and interview stages are different. As per the IAS exam pattern, this consists of an interview by the UPSC board to assess the candidates’ suitability for a civil services career and associated responsibilities. The board consists of competent and unbiased observers who have a record of the candidates’ career. The board would judge the candidates mental and social traits by asking questions of general interest. Some of the qualities that the board looks for are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, a balance of judgement, variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion and leadership, intellectual and moral integrity.

UPSC Interview Total Marks 275

The total marks of the UPSC interview stage is 275, thus bringing the total marks for UPSC Mains and Interview for the merit list consideration to 2025.

Online Quiz 2023

The whole exam pattern of the UPSC IAS examination is comprehensive, and the competition is intense. One should start preparing in-depth as the examination process lasts for almost a year and not making the cut means starting from scratch the following year.

You can find more information here:

UPSC Books List PDF:
Download PDF Here

Apart from the UPSC paper pattern for prelims and mains, candidates can also refer to the links given below for UPSC preparation:

NCERT Notes For UPSC UPSC Prelims Syllabus
CSAT Syllabus and Strategy UPSC 2024
UPSC Books Daily News Analysis
UPSC Previous Year Question Papers IAS Current Affairs
UPSC Calendar 2024 Daily Video Analysis: The Hindu
UPSC Eligibility ‘Difference Between’ Articles

Frequently Asked Questions on UPSC Exam Pattern


Q 1. What are the total marks that can be scored in UPSC prelims?

Ans. The total marks in UPSC prelims are 400, wherein, two papers are conducted, each for 200 marks. Since both papers are objective type, there is a possibility to score the maximum achievable total marks of UPSC exam.

Q 2. What are the total marks for UPSC CSE Mains?

Ans. UPSC CSE total marks for the mains examination that are counted for merit declaration are 1750. To this, a maximum of 275 marks can be added after the Personality Test.

Q 3. What is the syllabus for UPSC Mains?

Ans. The syllabus for the civil service mains examination is quite comprehensive and the UPSC mains total marks are also calculated in creating the final merit. Aspirants can check the detailed UPSC Mains Syllabus at the linked article.

Q 4. What is the UPSC paper pattern?

Ans. The IAS exam is conducted in three stages Prelims, Mains and Personality Test.


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  1. Good evening sir/Madam
    I have completed bsc in hotel management degree in 2013
    Now I am eligible for IAS
    Can I give exams for IAS

  2. My date of birth is 21/05/2000 and my graduation is complete in 2021 june..so I’m eligible or not for 2021 upsc examination plz give and question answer…

    • Hi Prafull
      As per UPSC Eligibility Criteria, an aspirant has to be a minimum of 21 years of age before or on 1st August of the year of examination. In your case, you will be 21 on 21st May 2021 and if you pass your graduation degree, you can sit for UPSC 2021.

  3. respected mentors,
    i have completed my degree in economics and i started preparing for upsc, could u plzz suggest or guide me some books to read which will be worthwhile useful

  4. I am soon going to be a pharma graduate so what can be the optional subjects for me as none of the pharma subject is mentioned in the syllabus.

    • Hi Shivanshu
      UPSC provides a list of 48 optional subjects (25 subjects and 23 languages). One subject from the list can be chosen as your optional subject. Since, there is no such subject called Pharmacy, you can choose any other subject which you are most comfortable with. Read which subject is best for IAS Exam from the linked article.

  5. Hie mam/sir
    I have completed my bams last year and i am interested in giving upsc exam next year But am little but confused about the prep of upsc can you please tell me the procedure for the preparation of
    upsc ?

  6. Hello!
    Need clarification. Do both Optionals consist two different paper each? If yes, do we have the option of selecting between Paper I and II?

  7. Respected mentors,
    I’m completed my graduation in 2020, and I’m interested in civil services so can I start the upsc preparation. Plzzzz suggest me the books of UPSC which will be worthwhile useful.

  8. respected mentor,
    I am a BE graduate . I am complete my graduate in 2022 . I am interested to write UPSC exam . But i didn’t no the details related to that exam please suggest the inform about that exam.

  9. respected mentor,
    i am post graduate in computer science i am interested in upsc exam ,can i apply as optional subject as computer science

  10. Sir/Ma’am
    What is option A compulsory indian language? Is it English or can we take English as option A.
    And how is it different from English Literature. Is literature same as other optionals like Anthropology etc

    • Hi Harita
      Paper A and Paper B are two compulsory language papers. While in Paper A, you have to choose one Indian language. Paper B is English Language paper. English Literature is one of the optional subjects in the list of 48 optional subjects.

  11. sir am currently doing my 2nd year engineering and i hav a dream to become a civil servant so how can i prepare for the upsc exam and should i start my prepration now itself??and what are the tips for prepration??

  12. I want to take mathematics as an optional subject, Can you please suggest appropriate book / books for this please

  13. Respected mentors.
    My DoB is 25/12/2001.
    When I will eligible to sit in exam.

  14. My birth year is 1988, will I be eligible?

    • Hi Arunabh
      You have to a minimum of 21 as of 1st August of the exam year. Also, one should not be 32 as of 1st August (exam year.) This is for general category. If you fall within the age brackets, you may sit for UPSC Exam. Read IAS eligibility here.

  15. hi, I want to opt for Management as an optional subject for the exam.

    please suggest me booklist and resources for the preparation of optional subject only

  16. Sir how to make revision stratgy of studied topics. I am pursuing graduation this year and complete 2021

  17. Is there any strategy to start the preparation from the selected subjects ? like starting preparation from the subjects with wider syllabus to the lesser one ?

    • Start with the subjects you are new to. Strategies vary from person to person w.r.t their interests in subjects and their existing knowledge of the syllabus. Hence, we suggest you take any two subjects per day along with current affairs. You can also make a timetable for UPSC preparation to track your goals.

  18. I have completed my graduation in bsc computer Science, statistics and mathematics. I have interested in the upsc Civil service exam. Please suggest best books for upsc prelims and mains.

  19. I’m from tamilnadu
    Can I choose my mother tongue to attend my personality test

  20. Will I be able to take up the Interview in my mother tongue even if I attended the prelims and the mains in English?

    • Hi,
      Yes, a candidate can opt for any one official language of India to be his/her medium of language in an interview.

  21. Hi , Mentor I have Completed my Masters In Psycholgy can I Take This as a Optional Subject in Upsc Exam

  22. Hello mentor , which are the subjective type writing papers( descriptive writing ) in upsc mains ? Only essays are their ? There are other descriptive writing paper in upsc mains other than essay writing?

  23. hi my birth date is 11/08/2002 can i take upsc in 2023

  24. Should 2 subjects be selected for the optional exams?
    Also are the subjects to be selected from a BSc point of view because of question pattern?

  25. My birth date is 10 3 2007. When I will give upse exam.

  26. If a candidates fails at interview of Mains stage does he need to re appear for all three levels again ?

  27. Does a degree form ignou is valid to appear in civil service exam

  28. What is the Paper A in the Mains Examination?
    Also what are the subjects available?

  29. Hello,
    I have a feeling that I might fail in my bachelor’s. So once I clear it by writing it once again, will I be eligible to give UPSC? Will it affect my chance to try out the UPSC exams?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Raja, Candidates who are in their final year or awaiting results are also eligible to appear for UPSC preliminary Examination. All such candidates who are likely to appear for IAS exams must produce proof of having passed the said examination along with the application for the main IAS examination.