General Studies Paper-I Topic-wise Preparation Strategy

The UPSC Mains Exam has 9 papers comprising four General Studies Paper viz., GS Paper I, GS Paper II, GS Paper III, and GS Paper IV, Essay Paper, Compulsory English Paper, Compulsory Indian Language Paper, and Optional Subject Paper I and Paper-II.

The general studies Paper I syllabus of the UPSC Mains exam has been broken into main topic wise to make aspirants’ mains exam preparation effective and revision easier. Also, the book list or sources to be referred to cover the GS Paper I syllabus is given. Candidates’ writing UPSC 2021 Civil Services Mains can utilize this topic-wise preparation for GS Paper I in their revision and need not panic if they have missed any topics, either they can add or skip if they find it difficult, as it is always advised any last moment inclusion of new topics will spoil the entire preparation.

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How to Prepare GS for IAS Mains?

Before starting your preparation keep in mind the instructions given by the UPSC.

The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.

This article gives aspirants’ an idea on topic-wise UPSC GS preparation (General Studies Paper I). Aspirants’ should keep in their mind always and should understand that they don’t have to master the topics and all they need is a basic understanding and the ability to analyze.

Two mantras, candidates should keep in mind during their preparation.

  • First Mantra, understanding comes from reading and re-reading
  • Second Mantra, ability to analyze what you have understood from reading and this comes from writing practice.

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The UPSC Syllabus of GS Paper I broadly covers Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society and the complete syllabus is given below.

UPSC Mains Syllabus for General Studies Paper I
Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society:

  • Indian culture covers the salient features of Literature, Art Forms, and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
  • Modern Indian history includes significant events, personalities, issues during the middle of the eighteenth century until the present
  • Various stages and important contributors and contributions from different parts of the country in ‘The Freedom Struggle’
  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country
  • History of the world includes events, forms and effect on the society from 18th century like world wars, the industrial revolution, colonization, redrawal of national boundaries, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc
  • Salient aspects of Diversity of India and Indian Society
  • Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and remedies
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism
  • 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
  • Effects of globalization on Indian society
  • 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
  • Salient features of World’s physical geography

We have broken the GS Paper I Syllabus into 12 major topics, which has around 40 sub-topics as given in the UPSC Syllabus to make the aspirants’ preparation easy and effective.

Two fundamental things to keep in mind during their UPSC Mains Exam Preparation 

  1. Candidates should get familiar with all the topics and sub-topics by writing them down many a time; we would advise to by-heart the UPSC Syllabus.
  2. Candidates should keep a copy of the UPSC Syllabus with them no matter where they are.

 Now, here’s how to prepare GS for UPSC (Paper I Syllabus topic-wise)

Considering aspirants’ are familiar with the syllabus of GS-Paper 1; here, we discuss what to read, from where to read and what not to read from each topic of the GS Paper I. 


Indian Culture will cover the salient aspects of Art forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times

In this topic, the sub-topics are Art forms, literature, Architecture from ancient to modern times. All an aspirant need to refer to cover the Art and Culture topic is two sources and they are:

  • NCERT Books
  • NIOS Books

Before referring any other sources to read, aspirants must start with the Class 11 NCERT – An Introduction to Indian Art. Then should proceed with the below-mentioned list of NCERT Books (IAS Aspirants can download History NCERT Books PDF by clicking on the link).

  • NCERT Class VI – History – Our Past (Chapters 4,5,9 and 12)
  • NCERT Class VII – Our Past –I (Chapters 5,6,8 and 9)
  • NCERT  Class VIII – Our Past II and III (Chapters 4 and 6)
  • NCERT Class XII – Themes In Indian History I (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12)
  • NCERT Class-XII – Themes in Indian History – II
  • NCERT Class XII – Themes In Indian History III

While reading these NCERT Books, candidates should look for topics related to art and culture and make notes on each topic. Candidates will not find separate art and culture chapters in these NCERT Books so they have dug it from the chapters make notes on the topics.

Candidates’ should read only a few chapters from each book that are related to sub-topics mentioned in the GS Paper I Syllabus. For e.g. they have to read only chapters 2 and 3 from the NCERT Class12– Themes in Indian History – II textbook.

Along with the above NCERT books, one should also start reading NIOS Book on art and culture as they can find all information related to art and culture in one place.


Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues

Under the second topic, candidates’ should cover important events from the 1750s until the present time. Points of focus under this topic are:

  • Freedom Struggle
  • All important events and contributions of personalities that have had an important impact on the country till now.

To cover this topic, aspirants should refer to sources as mentioned below.

  • NCERT Books and Current Affairs
  • All a candidate has to do is refer UPSC Previous Years’ Question Papers and observe the kind of questions asked from this part of the syllabus and focus on understanding the basic events from the NCERT Books and abreast keeping an eagle eye on currents affairs for relevant news.


The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country

This topic demands specific knowledge of freedom struggle and its various facets, here we recommend Bipan Chandra’s Struggle for India’s Independence which is the best for the UPSC Mains Preparation though some may prefer to refer Spectrum’s Modern History Book., one should at least revise this book for 2 or 3 times. Here are a few key tips on how to cover the “Bipan Chandra’s India’s Struggle for Independence”.


Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.

This topic of the GS Paper I Syllabus can be covered by referring these two sources –

  • Bipan Chandra’s India Since Independence – Aspirants should read from Chapter 6 to Chapter12 in this book
  • India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest – In this book, one should read from Chapter 8 to Chapter 14.

The chapters mentioned in the above books will cover this topic completely.


History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redraw of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc., their forms and effect on the society.

We recommend the below-mentioned books to cover this particular topic.

Always start with the NCERT Books and candidates should read only the Modern History part from the below mentioned NCERT Textbooks.

  • NCERT Class IX
  • NCERT X (Old NCERT World History Class-X best recommended)

Other sources of reference along with the NCERT textbooks are:

  • Norman Lowe’s Mastering Modern World History.
  • History of the World from the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-First Century by Arjun Dev.


Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India

To cover salient features of Indian Society, candidates can just read the NCERT Class 12 Indian Society. To cover the in detail and entire topic other books recommended are:

  • Indian Society – Ram Ahuja
  • Social Problems in India – Ram Ahuja


Role of women and women’s organizationpopulation and associated issuespoverty and developmental issuesurbanization, their problems and their remedies

  • For women related issues in India, candidates’ can refer the Platform for Action-Report on Indian Women PDF, where they can find and learn everything about Women’s issues
  • To cover the other subtopics under these topics, candidates can refer the current affairs, we would recommend referring our Daily News Analysis for UPSC Current Affairs, which covers all the important issues in news and categorized into each GS papers of UPSC Mains Exam.

Candidates should also read the role of women from ancient (women’s place during the ancient times, how they were treated, famous women personalities, and etc.) to modern times that include freedom struggle, art and culture etc.)

Remember what we said at the beginning of this article to keep in mind the instruction given by the UPSC.

The aspirants’ should be able to incorporate the concept with the three different stages of history and articulate a logical answer, which is what the UPSC tests in each and every candidate. Hence, candidates while making notes should follow this accordingly during their preparation and answer writing practice.


Effects of Globalization on Indian society

This topic is general in nature, which needs a basic understanding of Indian Society and Globalization and an ability to interlink them with ease. Sources to refer to cover this topic are:

  • Indian Society – Ram Ahuja
  • Social Problems in India – Ram Ahuja

Along with referring the sources, aspirants should also check for recent issues in news.  


Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism

This again general in nature, candidates should know the basic concept of communalism, regionalism and secularism in India NCERT would come in handy.


Salient features of the world’s physical geography

To cover this topic of the General Studies Paper I of the UPSC Mains syllabus, the below mentioned two books would be sufficient and aspirants’ need not look for any other resource.

TOPIC – 11

Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India)

To cover this topic, the below mentioned two NCERT Textbooks would serve the purpose.

  • NCERT Class XII – Human Geography
  • NCERT Class-XII – India-People and Economy

TOPIC – 12

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.

Goh Cheng Leong’s Certificate Physical and Human Geography would suffice. This topic on perilous changes in the geographical topographies is largely related to climate change and other anthropogenic factors like depletion of resources, dumping of wastes etc. Geographical features like rainforests, ice caps, rivers, corals, cyclones all get affected by climate change. Anthropogenic factors are involved in increasing desertification, vanishing forests, biodiversity, pollution of rivers and lakes, etc.

Generally, questions are asked like the effect on monsoon due to global climate change, how a cyclone is affected by global warming, what is cyclones, how it is formed different categories of cyclone etc.

NOTE: Keep an eye on current affairs latest news on cyclones and countries affected and the disaster caused.

These are important topics one should give importance in the General Studies Paper 1 of the IAS Mains Exam.

Important points to keep in mind while preparing for UPSC Mains Exam.

  • Answer Writing Practice the most important one which aspirants’ should not miss.
  • Start with answering UPSC previous papers as it will give an idea of what kind of questions were asked, how to attempt the question and also a grip on answer writing in the actual exam.
  • Finally, which aspirants’ should not forget and above all never procrastinate i.e. revision and should remember always “Revision is the key to success”.

Refer UPSC Previous Years’ Question Papers, to get a glimpse of what kind of questions are asked on this topic.

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