UPSC Mains General Studies Paper 1 Syllabus, Strategy & Structure

GS Paper 1 of UPSC Mains is one of the four general studies papers. It is a subjective type of paper consisting of subjects like History, Geography, Art and Culture, and Indian Society. Along with GS Paper 1, there are eight other papers in the Mains stage of the IAS Exam. This article will provide you with the GS 1 Syllabus and Structure for UPSC Preparation.

Candidates can refer to syllabus and structure of GS-II, GS-III, and GS-IV from the links mentioned below:

Table of Contents:

IAS Mains General Studies – I

The table below mentions the subjects included in UPSC Mains Paper-II which is also called the Mains GS 1 along with NCERT Notes on each subject:

Subjects in GS Paper 1 Sub-Topics
History Art & Culture
Modern History
World History
Geography Physical Geography of India & World
Human Geography
Indian Society Demography, Social Issues, and Developments in Indian Society

IAS aspirants can get important NCERT notes on Modern History and Geography from the links below:

Unlike other general studies papers, GS Paper 1 syllabus has subjects from where direct questions can be asked. As in the case of History of GS paper-I. Questions can directly be asked from ancient, medieval, modern, and world history. However, there are also topics in Indian Society and Geography, where an aspirant needs to connect the static syllabus of GS Paper 1 with the current affairs.

Candidates preparing for UPSC 2020 can get NCERT Notes on Ancient and Medieval History for UPSC Prelims, below:

Strategy for UPSC Mains GS Paper 1

GS-I Strategy – Recommended Video
Focus Areas in Mains General Studies-I
The table below gives the focus areas in Mains GS Paper-I which an aspirant should focus on:

Focus Areas in GS Paper-I

Subject Topics
Art & Culture
  • Classical dances
  • Temple architecture
  • Themes of ancient Indian history
  • Literature
  • Music and musical instruments
Modern History
  • 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)
India after Independence & Political Philosophies
  • Admission of princely states
  • Role of important personalities
  • Important movements after 1947
  • Communism
  • Capitalism
  • socialism
World History
  • American, French, Russian and Industrial Revolution
  • World War I and II
  • Current affairs
  • International pages of The Hindu and The Indian Express
Society of India
  • Diversity in India
  • Women Empowerment
  • Issues in Indian Society
  • Cyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes
  • Location of industries in India
  • Water bodies
  • Climate change
  • Natural Resources
Aspirants know that questions from each of the topics hold value. To get the previous year Topic-Wise GS 1 Questions in UPSC Mains, you can check the linked article.
How to approach Mains General Studies Paper 1

The following table will mention the important sources which an aspirant can refer to prepare for UPSC Mains GS-I:



History Art & Culture


  • India’s Ancient Past – RS Sharma
  • Facets of Indian Culture (Spectrum publications)


  • Centre for Cultural Resources & Training (CCRT) website

Get previous years’ Art & Culture Questions of UPSC Mains GS 1 in the linked article.

Modern History


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

India After Independence


  • India Since Independence – Bipan Chandra

World History


  • Mastering World History – Norman Lowe
  • History of the World – Arjun Dev

Aspirants can get the previous years’ History Questions of UPSC Mains GS 1 in the linked article.

Society of India
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines (EPW)
  • Reports of NGOs, international organizations etc.

Aspirants can get the previous years’ Indian Society Questions of UPSC Mains GS 1 in the linked article.

Geography NCERTs from classes VI through XII.

Aspirants can get the previous years’ Geography Questions of UPSC Mains GS 1 in the linked article.

For topics like Indian Society and Geography, aspirants can make use of current affairs and also can take help from the below-mentioned links to prepare accordingly:

GS Paper-I Structure

GS Paper 1 - Mains GS 1 Structure

Detailed Structure of Mains General Studies Paper-I for IAS

The important features of the UPSC General Studies I Mains paper are:

  1. There are 20 compulsory questions printed in Hindi and English which are to be answered in the language selected while filling out the application form. Questions that are answered in any other language are not evaluated.
  2. The paper is of a total of 250 marks.
  3. The word limit for 10 marks questions is 150 and 15 marks is 250.
  4. From the history syllabus, there is a significant emphasis on Modern History topics with questions asked from Freedom struggle, Indian Renaissance, and related sub-topics.
  5. From the Geography syllabus, the emphasis lies on current affairs related topics along with static sub-topics.
  6. From the Indian Society syllabus, the questions are asked from topics like women empowerment, secularism, a culture of Indian Society, etc.

GS 1 Syllabus

GS Paper 1 Syllabus - Mains GS-I Syllabus for UPSC

Aspirants can find the complete History Syllabus for UPSC from the links mentioned in the table below:

The detailed syllabus for UPSC Mains General Studies Paper-I (UPSC GS 1 syllabus) is tabulated below:

Topic Sub-Topics
  • Ancient History
  • Medieval History
  • Modern Indian History from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
  • The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.
  • Post-independence Consolidation and Reorganization within the country.
  • History of the World will include events from the 18th century such as the Industrial Revolution, world wars, Redrawal of National Boundaries, Colonization, Decolonization, political philosophies like Communism, Capitalism, Socialism etc.— their forms and effect on society.
Art & Culture
  • Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times
  • Salient features of World’s Physical Geography.
  • Distribution of Key Natural Resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).
  • Important Geophysical Phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
Indian Society
  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
  • Role of Women and Women’s Organization, Population and Associated Issues
  • Poverty and Developmental issues,
  • Urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
  • Effects of Globalization on Indian society.
  • Social Empowerment
  • Communalism
  • Regionalism
  • Secularism.

Aspirants can get a complete understanding of Geography syllabus from the links mentioned in the table below:

Must-Read Important Topics in GS-I for UPSC

The table below mentions the GS Paper 1 topics that are important for IAS Exam:

As we can see from the UPSC GS 1 syllabus, there is a probability of questions being asked straight from the topics and also can be asked using current affairs based approach. UPSC aspirants can also refer to IAS Topper strategies to better understand the exam.

GS Paper 1 Trend Analysis

The table below shows the important questions asked from the IAS Exam 2018 and 2019 in GS Paper 1 and the trend followed by such questions from each subject.

History Trend Analysis

GS Paper 1 - History Trend AnalysisGS Paper 1 - History Trend Analysis (2)

Year Question Marks Nature Asked From/Why
2018 Assess the importance of the accounts of the Chinese and Arab travellers in the reconstruction of the history of India. 10 Static NCERT Class XII – Themes in Indian History Part-II (Theme 5)
2018 Throw light on the significance of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi in the present times. 10 Static + Dynamic (Current Affairs-Based) 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi was celebrated
2018 Safeguarding the Indian art heritage is the need of the moment. Comment 10 Static NCERT Class XII – Themes in Indian History (Part I, II and III)
2018 The Bhakti movement received a remarkable re-orientation with the advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Discuss 15 Static NCERT Class XII
2019 Highlight the Central Asian and Greco Bactrian elements in the Gandhara art. 10 Static NCERT Class XII (Themes in Indian History)
2019 The 1857 uprising was the culmination of the recurrent, big and small local rebellions that had occurred in the preceding hundred years of British rule. Elucidate. 10 Static Brief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir
2019 Examine the linkages between the nineteenth century’s ‘Indian Renaissance’ and the emergence of national identity. 10 Static NCERT + Any reference book
2019 Many voices had strengthened and enriched the nationalist movement during the Gandhian phase. Elaborate. 15 Static NCERT + Brief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir
2019 Assess the role of British imperial power in complicating the process of transfer of power during the 1940s. 15 Static NCERT + Brief History of Modern India by Rajiv Ahir
Geography Trend Analysis
Year Question Mark Nature Asked From/Why
2018 Why is the Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) needed? How does it help in navigation? 10 Current Affairs IRNSS was successfully launched
2018 Why is India taking a keen interest in the Arctic region? 10 Static + Dynamic India was an observer at the Council from 2013 onwards and re-elected as the observer
2018 Define mantle plume and explain its role in plate tectonics. 10 Static NCERT
2018 What are the consequences of spreading ‘Dead Zones’ on the marine ecosystem? 10 Current Affairs-Based In News
2018 “The ideal solution of depleting groundwater resources in India is a water harvesting system.” How can it be made effective in urban areas? 15 Current Affairs + Static NCERT + News
2018 Defining the blue revolution, explain the problems and strategies for pisciculture development in India. 15 Static NCERT
2019 Assess the impact of global warming on the coral life system with examples. 10 Static + Current Affairs-Based In News
2019 Discuss the causes of depletion of mangroves and explain their importance in maintaining coastal ecology. 10 Current Affairs-Based In News
2019 What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India? 15 Static + Current Affairs-Based NCERT + Newspapers’ Editorials
Indian Society Trend Analysis
Year Question Marks Nature Asked From/Why
2018 “Caste system is assuming new identities and associational forms. Hence, the caste system cannot be eradicated in India.” Comment. 10 Static General topic, direct from the syllabus
2018 ‘Despite the implementation of various programmes for eradication of poverty by the government in India, poverty is still existing’. Explain by giving reasons 10 Static + Current Affairs-Based Reference Book + News

Topic – ‘Poverty and Development


2018 How is the Indian concept of secularism different from the western model of secularism? Discuss. 10 Static Any reference book
2019 What makes Indian society unique in sustaining its culture? Discuss. 10 Static Class 12 NCERT + Newspaper
2019 “Empowering women is the key to control population growth.” Discuss. 10 Static Direct from the topic mentioned in the syllabus
2019 What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of secularism? 10 Static Direct from the topic (Communalism) mentioned in the syllabus
2019 What are the continued challenges for women in India against time and space? 15 Static + Dynamic Direct from the topic (Role of women and women’s organization) mentioned in the syllabus

IAS Exam Pattern

Check the table below to understand the scheme and subjects of IAS examination:

UPSC IAS Exam Pattern of IAS Exam
Preliminary Examination
  • General Studies
  • Aptitude Test
Mains Examination
  • Qualifying
    • Paper-A (One of the 22 Indian Languages)
    • Paper-B (English)
  • Papers to be counted for merit
    • Paper-I (Essay)
    • Paper-II (GS-I)
    • Paper-III (GS-II)
    • Paper-IV (GS-III)
    • Paper-V (GS-IV)
    • Paper-VI (Optional Paper-I)
    • Paper-VI (Optional Paper-II)
Personality Test

There were major structural changes in the pattern of the UPSC IAS Exam in 2013 and a few minor changes in 2015 and 2016. The changes related to General Studies are listed below:

  • 2013: General Studies papers increased from 2 to 4
  • 2015: CSAT marks no longer counted towards merit list, only General Studies papers, essay and optional papers are counted for merit ranking while CSAT became a qualifying paper.
  • 2016: General Studies Papers marks distribution changed to a two-tier system instead of the earlier equal marks distribution for all questions

Candidates can understand the complete UPSC Exam Pattern from the linked article.

Due to the increasing trend of UPSC papers being analysis heavy in recent years, it is very important to read and understand the topics covered in the General Studies Paper-I and also previous year’s UPSC questions and answers to be able to answer effectively and efficiently.

The following articles given in the table below can be referred to for UPSC IAS exam preparation:

1 Comment

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