The Structure & Syllabus of Mains General Studies Paper I


The UPSC Mains Examination consists of nine papers spread over a period of five days. Out of these, two papers are of a qualifying nature while the remaining seven papers are used for merit ranking.

The Mains Papers are usually held in the months of September to December. Recently the UPSC has started scheduling the Civil Services exam such that the time available between Prelims and Mains is decreasing. As such, it has become important to understand the structure of mains papers and start preparing well in advance.

In this series of articles, we will be talking about the structure of General Studies Papers in Mains.

There are four papers on General Studies, which are designed to test the candidates’ general awareness on a variety of subjects. None of these are very specialized questions and only test basic understanding of the relevant issues and the candidates’ ability to analyse and develop a point of view on conflicting socio-economic goals. The UPSC states that a well-educated person would be able to answer the questions without specialized study, though this is rarely true as we tend to forget what we studied if we do not use it over time. In this article, we will discuss the broad structure of the General Studies Paper I.

The General Studies Paper I broadly deals with the following subjects:

  • Indian Heritage and Culture
  • History and Geography of the World and Society

The last major changes in the structure of the IAS Exam happened in 2013 and 2015. The changes from 2013 are important in the context of this article as they dealt with the fundamental structure of the Mains Examination. There was a minor change from 2016 to 2017 in the GS I paper structure, the marks distribution and word limits were changed from all questions being of equal weightage to a two-tiered weightage structure.

Structure of General Studies Paper I

The major features in the structure of GS Paper I in the Mains Examination are:

  • There are twenty compulsory questions written both in Hindi and English
  • The answers must be written in the language selected during application and printed on the admit card
  • The Paper is of a total of 250 marks
  • The pattern of questions since the last two years has been 10 questions of 10 marks each and 10 questions of 15 marks each. The word limit specified with each question is between 150 and 250 words. The answers should be within the word limit.
  • Most of the questions are structured in such a way that the topics overlap in the answers, such as a question on the Freedom Struggle would also touch on the subject of women’s empowerment, so it is critical to understand the context of each question and answer accordingly.
  • Indian Culture has been the topic of the first question in the paper for the last few years.

Syllabus of General Studies Paper I

Topic Subtopics
Indian Culture
  • Salient features of art forms, literature and architecture from ancient to modern times
Modern Indian History
  • Mid-eighteenth century until present
    • Significant events
    • Personalities
    • Issues
  • The Freedom Struggle
    • Various stages of the freedom struggle
    • Important contributors and contributions from different parts of the country
  • Post Independence consolidation and reorganization within the country
World History
  • Events from the eighteenth century until present
    • Industrial revolution
    • World wars
    • Redrawing of national boundaries
    • Colonization
    • Decolonization
  • Political philosophies
    • Communism
    • Capitalism
    • Socialism
    • Forms and effects of these philosophies on society
Indian Society and associated topics
  • Salient features of Indian society
  • Diversity of India
  • Effects of globalization on Indian Society
  • Social Empowerment
  • Communalism
  • Regionalism
  • Secularism
  • Population and Associated Issues
  • Poverty and developmental issues
  • Urbanization and its problems
  • Remedies to problems of urbanization
Women’s Empowerment
  • Role of women and women’s organization
  • Salient features of world’s Geography
  • Distribution of key natural resources across the world( including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent)
  • Factors responsible for the location of primary and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world(including India)
  • Important Geophysical phenomena
    • Earthquakes
    • Volcanic activity
    • Cyclones
    • Droughts
  • Geographical features and changes in their location
  • Changes in critical geographical features( including ice caps and water bodies) and in flora and fauna
  • Effects of changes in geographical features and flora and fauna

The topics covered in this paper while not from a very long list, are vast in scope and it is important to pay attention to News and Analysis on diverse issues such as women in the workplace, global warming and the discovery of archaeological sites, etc. The preparation done for this paper also comes in handy for other General Studies Papers as well in the interview.

Due to the subject wise marks distribution changing every year, aspirants should pay equal attention to all topics covered in the Mains GS Paper I Syllabus. It is also important to apply concepts from one topic into another due to the high number of questions which combine concepts in the second part of the question paper.

For detailed analysis and insights on the Mains General Studies papers, please visit the following links:

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