Note: My book, Fundamentals of Essay and Answer Writing is available now. It’s a comprehensive guide that helps you write better Essays and Answers in the UPSC Mains Exam. You can know about the book here.
These are the books I read for the Civil Services Prelims exam. I’ve written this post keeping in mind an absolute beginner aspirant who is starting from level zero.
As you start your Prelims preparation and read these books, please keep the following points in mind:
- Along with these books, get a printout of the syllabus and read it carefully.
- And when you start, I recommend that you begin with NCERT books. Read and revise them methodically to gain absolute conceptual clarity. They form the foundation of your knowledge which will help you immensely through all stages of the exam.
- Do not be scared at the long list of books. For a beginner, one year is more than enough to cover the complete syllabus of GS (prelims and mains) and optional.
- In the book list, wherever I had mentioned selective reading, it means there’s no need to read the book cover to cover. Go through the past five years’ question papers to understand the kind of questions UPSC usually asks. It’ll give you a good perspective of what’s important and what’s not.
- For the same topic, do not refer to more than one material. For example, take India’s freedom struggle (1857-1947). If you read that portion from the Spectrum publications, there’s no need to do the same again from Bipan Chandra’s book. Read the latter to cover those parts not covered in the former.
- Use internet extensively. Let me give a few examples. Youtube’s PMFIAS channel is an excellent resource for understanding complex Geography topics. Similarly, for Art & Culture, I used to watch videos of classical dances, folk dances, puppetry shows on Youtube so that I could memorise their features better. In Science & Tech, if you come across a term, say, Blockchain Technology, go to Youtube and see explainer videos. Even for Environment, suppose you read about endangered species such as the Red Panda and Malabar Hornbill, Google them and see how they look. Visuals stick in your mind far longer. Your target must be to gain knowledge, be it through books or through internet.
- If you are taking coaching, by all means read their notes. But please keep in mind that you cannot just read those coaching notes and neglect these standard books. For example, take Polity topic. A coaching institute’s notes will never cover the complete subject, only Laxmikanth does. So even if you refer to your coaching notes, you still have to read Laxmikanth and know it like the back of your hand. This principle applies for all subjects.
- For all subjects, you have to superimpose current affairs over it. To illustrate, in Polity topic, apart from reading the static theory portion, you need to keep an eye on current happenings. For example, if the Govt brings in Constitutional amendment for GST, you must read both about the major provisions of the amendment and the Constitutional amendment procedure itself. Do this for all subjects.
- To perform well in Prelims, revision is crucial. Without it, you will not be able to recollect whatever you may have read. So please dedicate adequate time for revision before the actual exam.
- Just because I am AIR-1, it does not mean that this book list is the last word. If you have been studying some other material, that’s fine, too. To succeed in this exam, the source of material is not important. What’s important is you to understand the concepts, memorise the facts well and have a firm grip over the entire syllabus.
The Complete Booklist for UPSC Civil Services – Prelims Exam (Paper I)
- Indian Polity by Laxmikanth
- Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh
- Mrunal.org articles
- Macroeconomics – NCERT Class XII
- Indian Economic Development – NCERT Class XI
- Economic Survey (Selective reading from Prelims perspective)
- The Hindu
- Internet for understanding concepts (Arthapedia, Google, Youtube)
Ancient History of India
- Old NCERT by RS Sharma
Medieval History of India
- Old NCERT by Satish Chandra (Selective Reading)
- A Brief history of Modern India- Spectrum Publications
- India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra (Selective Reading)
- NCERT by Bipan Chandra (For the period 1700s to 1857)
Indian Art and Culture
- An Introduction to Indian Art – Class XI NCERT
- Chapters related to culture in Ancient and Medieval India NCERTs
- Centre for Cultural Resource and Training (CCRT) material
- Heritage Crafts: Living Craft Traditions of India -NCERT
Environment and Biodiversity
- Shankar IAS book
- General Science books – IX and X standard
- The Hindu (Note down and read about the latest scientific terms, discoveries and inventions frequently mentioned in news)
- Google and YouTube
- Fundamentals of Physical Geography XI NCERT
- India: Physical Environment XI NCERT
- Fundamentals of Human Geography XII NCERT
- India: People and Economy XII NCERT
- Certificate Physical and Human Geography: GC Leong
- PMFIAS (Excellent resource for understanding complex topics)
- Google and YouTube
- Govt schemes compilation by the website Civils Daily
General Trivia (Eg: Global groupings, Reports, Institutions, Rankings etc)
- Any coaching material
- The Hindu
- Civils Daily
Mindset to tackle the UPSC Prelims Exam
Ten days before the Prelims is usually the time when your mind is rather restless and clouded in self-doubt. Even though you must have prepared thoroughly for the exam, covering all the sources, Some of you are worried that you haven’t yet finished a particular topic, some others are stressed whether they will make the final cut for Mains. Remember that it’s okay to be a little nervous at this point and that it happens to everyone. I was no different, too.
From my experience, I have distilled a few suggestions to help you perform well in the exam.
- In the final days preceding the exam, if you start reading entirely new material which you haven’t read before, you’ll only stress yourself out. Just refer to whatever you had already read. Revision is the absolute key. How effectively you perform in the actual exam depends on the quality of revision you do in these 10 days.
- Stay calm. While revising, do not get bogged down in one subject. Your target should be to revise all the topics methodically before the final day.
- Questions are going to be balanced and will be asked from across the syllabus. So if you are poor in one topic, that’s alright. You can offset it through performing well in your stronger areas. For example, if you are worried about Indian Art and Culture, do not freak out. You might lose out on some questions, but you will still have many others to solve.
- Just the day before the exam, ensure that you get 7-8 hours of quality sleep. A good night’s rest will rejuvenate your senses and ensures that your brain is alert and memory is on point.
- Many aspirants (especially engineering grads) tend to be careless about CSAT Paper 2. I’ve seen people who solve only 60 questions and think that’s enough to qualify them. Some are even more impulsive— they leave the hall 30 minutes before time. Don’t be that reckless brat. Your qualification for Mains will be based on your marks, not your audacity. Remember that just because the paper is qualifying, UPSC is not going to hand it you on a platter. This is why they have been constantly pushing up the difficulty level over the past few years. So solve CSAT with all the seriousness and intensity of Paper-1.
- While solving the paper, in the first iteration, go through all 100 questions sequentially and do three things: mark those answers you are confident about, round those questions that you are unsure or vaguely aware of (for guesswork later), and cross those questions which you have absolutely no idea about. In the second iteration, you come back again and try to answer those questions you are vaguely aware of through educated guesswork or elimination method.
- Don’t get mired in one question and waste your time. If you are unable to recall, make a side mark on the question paper and move on. Once you come back after solving remaining questions, chances are you’ll recollect.
- If we assume a moderately difficult paper, then you will confidently know answers to around 50-60 questions. But you must aim to attempt around 85-90 questions. That’s why educated guesswork is necessary and important.
- As you enter the exam hall, it doesn’t matter what books you may have read, or how many times you may have revised. What matters are those 100 questions. Put your emotions aside and solve those 100 questions with a laser like focus. Erase your fears, doubts and insecurities and stay positive and confident.
- Always believe and keep telling yourself that you have worked hard and prepared well so far and that you’ll do well. On the final day, summon your best self and you will absolutely ace the test.
For further reading,
A. You can check out my article on UPSC GS Mains Preparation
B. Article on how to make educated guess work in UPSC Prelims
Note: My book, Fundamentals of Essay and Answer Writing is out now! It’s a comprehensive guide that helps you write better Essays and Answers in the UPSC Mains Exam. You can know about the book here.