Exam Pattern Of UPSC IAS Civil Services Examination

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts the Civil Services Examination every year for recruitment to various prestigious positions in the Government of India. This article aims to give the reader an overview of the UPSC exam pattern and syllabus for CSE 2021.

The UPSC Civil Services Examination, commonly known as the IAS exam due to the high visibility and popularity of the Indian Administrative Service as a career option, 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 vast 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.

UPSC Exam Pattern and Syllabus PDF:-Download PDF Here

For the updated exam pattern, check IAS Notification 2021 in the linked article.

UPSC Exam Pattern 2021

The pattern of UPSC examination is officially divided into two stages called Preliminary and Main Examination while in practice, it is a three-stage exam.

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.

The three stages of the IAS exam are Prelims, Mains and Personality Test.

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IAS exam pattern for UPSC Prelims

The Prelims Exam date is 27th June 2021. 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 Exam are given below:

Paper Type No. of questions Marks Duration Negative marks
General Studies I Objective 100 200 2 hours Yes
General Studies II (CSAT) Objective 80 200 2 hours Yes

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

IAS Exam Pattern for UPSC Mains

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. The details of UPSC Mains Exam are given below:

Paper Subject Duration 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 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.

The maximum marks allotted for the interview stage is 275, thus bringing the total marks for the merit list consideration to 2025.

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

UPSC Preparation:


  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

    1. Hi Danial
      To sit for UPSC Prelims 2020, the minimum educational qualification is a Bachelor’s Degree. The minimum age limit is 21 while the maximum is 32 (Unreserved Category.) Read Eligibility Criteria for UPSC Exam in the linked article.

  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…

    1. 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

    1. Hi Pradeep
      You can check the following links to complement your preparation:
      1. UPSC Books
      2. NCERT Books PDF

  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.

    1. 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 ?

    1. Hi
      Please check below mentioned links:
      1. IAS Exam
      2. UPSC Syllabus
      3. UPSC Eligibility Criteria

  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?

    1. No, you have to select one subject for which you will have two papers. Check the list of UPSC Optional Subjects in the linked article.

  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.

    1. Hi
      You should first know the UPSC Eligibility Criteria in detail, which you can find in the linked article. Then, you can follow-up with the following articles:
      1. IAS Exam
      2. UPSC Notification
      3. UPSC Syllabus

  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

    1. Hi Babita
      There is no such subject as ‘Computer Science’ in the list of optional subjects given by UPSC. You may choose one from the stated Optional Subjects for UPSC.

  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

    1. 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??

    1. Hi Prajwal
      Taking it that you already know the exam pattern, we suggest you go through the UPSC Syllabus thoroughly. Then, you can start with important NCERT Books. Anaylse the UPSC Previous Years’ Question Papers. Make sure to keep yourself updated with current affairs.

  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.

    1. Hi Aman
      You will be eligible to sit for UPSC 2023 and onwards.

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

    1. 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

    1. Hi
      You should for frequent revision technique that helps you to stay in touch with what you have learnt. Read more about in the article here

  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 ?

    1. 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?

    1. 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

    1. Yes, you can go through the Psychology Optional Syllabus for UPSC at the linked article

  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?

    1. Hi
      All the papers in UPSC Mains are descriptive-type. Essay, GS I-IV, Hindi Language, English Language, and two optional papers.

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

    1. Hi
      As per the exiting UPSC Eligibility Criteria, you can sit for UPSC 2024. The minium age should be 21.

  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?

    1. Only 1 subject has to be chosen. Any subject from the list of optional subjects can be chosen.

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

    1. You can sit for the 2028 examination going by the current UPSC eligibility criteria.

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

    1. Hi,
      Yes. As far as the UPSC CSE format is concerned, failing in any of the stages would require candidates to reappear in the prelims of the next year. Learn about UPSC Eligibility Criteria in the linked article.

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

    1. Yes, it is valid.

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

    1. Hi,
      Get the detailed information about Paper A in UPSC Mains here.

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