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UPSC Prelims 2018: Guide to Study History

History is a crucial and unavoidable part of the UPSC syllabus. It forms an important chunk of the UPSC prelims syllabus. Also, the prelims syllabus just mentions ‘Indian history and Indian National Movement’. Defining Indian history is impossible and it extends from the age of the Indus Valley Civilization to 1947. Sounds intimidating? It needn’t be. If you are aiming at the 2018 UPSC prelims, and feel history is not cup of tea, don’t despair. With the right strategy and guidance, it can greatly enhance your score. Read on for a guide to study history for the UPSC prelims 2018.

Studying a vast portion is possible only if you divide it into clusters. Also, because of the paucity of time (since you have other subjects as well), it is important to know what are the most important topics in this area. You should learn to prioritise your studies accordingly. First, finish off the high priority areas and then move on to the subsequent topics.

Broadly we can classify the prelims history syllabus as:

  1. Ancient history
  2. Medieval history
  3. Freedom movement

First of all, before commencing your studies, it is recommended to do two things.

  1. Go through previous years UPSC question papers.
  2. Take a look at the timeline in Indian history, also called chronology. This will give you an idea of what comes after what and also give you a sense of wholeness to the different sections that you learn. 

Ancient history

  • Basically ancient history covers the Indus Valley civilization to the post-Gupta period.
  • Sources are important. Whenever you read about any topic, be it Harappan culture or king Ashoka, it is imperative that you know about the various sources. These are all explicitly mentioned in the NCERTs.
  • Administration under the Mauryas and Guptas is important.
  • Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain philosophical schools are also important. Buddhism is especially significant.
  • The development in art, literature and science is also important. For example, the contribution of Aryabhatta, Kalidasa, etc.
  • A trend observed in the prelims questions is to mix history with geography. So, when you learn about important historical places, you must know the corresponding place in the modern world also.
  • Another point to remember is to keep track of current affairs. Yes, the latest events are also connected to the past as far as UPSC is concerned. For instance, if a road was renamed on an important historical figure by a prominent leader of the country, you must read about that historical figure.

Medieval history

  • Here also, sources are important.
  • Important topics are Delhi Sultanate, Mughal rule, Akbar, Cholas, Vijayanagara, and Marathas.
  • Bhakti and Sufi movements are also extremely important as questions are asked from them.

Modern history

  • This is basically the British Raj section.
  • Don’t skip statutes, acts and proclamations.
  • Other important topics are landmark Congress sessions, socio-religious movements and reformers, British conquests in India (Subsidiary Alliance, Doctrine of Lapse, etc.), land revenue systems, important events in the freedom struggle, Gandhi, etc.


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