The UPSC holds the Civil Services Examination for getting into the IAS in two stages.

Stage I is known as the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination. This is also referred to as the ‘Preliminary Examination’ or simply as ‘Prelims’ by candidates.

Stage II is known as the Civil Services Main  Examination (Written and Interview).

The Preliminary Examination is held for screening candidates for the Main Examination.

The Main Examination (Written and Interview) is held for selecting the candidates for the IAS and the various other Services.

In Stage II, the Written Examination is held first. Candidates that the UPSC decides have qualified the written examination are called for the Interview for the Personality Test.

 The Preliminary Examination 

The Preliminary Examination is composed of two papers. They are called General Studies (GS for short) Paper I and General Studies Paper II.

GS Paper I tests the knowledge and the ability of the candidate.

GS Paper II tests whether a candidate possesses the minimum qualities that are considered a pre-requisite in an Officer of the All India Services and the Central Services.

GS Paper II is a ‘qualifying’ paper. The qualifying marks have been pegged at 33% by the UPSC.

All candidates who hope to proceed to Stage II, viz. the Main (Written) Examination, must qualify GS Paper II.

The marks obtained by a candidate in Paper II are not counted towards determining the merit of the candidates in the Preliminary Examination. That is done purely on the basis of the marks secured by the candidates in GS Paper I.

However, the marks secured in GS Paper I of only those candidates who have qualified GS Paper II are considered for determining the merit secured in the Preliminary Examination.


Both GS Paper I and GS Paper II are objective type papers containing multiple choice questions. Each question has four choices as an answer and the candidates have to choose what they think is the most appropriate answer to the question.

Both, GS Paper I and GS Paper II, carry 200 marks each.

GS Paper I has 100 questions. Each question carries 2 marks.

GS Paper II has 80 questions. Each question carries 2.5 marks.

Both, GS Paper I and GS Paper II have a duration of two hours or 120 minutes each.

Thus, in GS Paper I, 100 questions have to be answered in 2 hours or 120 minutes. This means that candidates get 72 seconds to answer each question in Paper I.

In GS Paper II, 80 questions have to be answered in 2 hours or 120 minutes. This means that candidates get 90 seconds to answer each question.


The reason for breaking down the time available for answering each question into seconds is only to bring home to the candidates the fact that the time available for answering each question is very short. Therefore, they must remember that they will not have the luxury to think deeply and for long to work out the answer to each question. Each question has to be answered quickly.

What this implies is that candidates must practice answering the questions within this time frame, again and again, before the examination, so that they get familiar with the format and do not get unnerved due to the paucity of time during the Preliminary Examination. This means that they must attempt to answer as many mock question papers as they can before the examination. The more they practice, the less uncertain and nervous they will feel at the time of the actual examination.


UPSC has prescribed negative marking for both the papers. For each incorrect answer, 1/3 or 33% marks allocated for that question will be deducted. In simple terms, this means that if a candidate answers 3 questions incorrectly, then he/she will lose 2 marks out of the cumulative total in GS Paper I and 2.5 marks out of the cumulative total in GS Paper II.

Negative marking can bring down the marks of a candidate drastically. Let me explain by giving an example. Suppose, out of the 100 questions in GS Paper I, a candidate answers 61 questions correctly. Then, the candidate should be awarded 122 marks. But, suppose the same candidate answers the remaining 39 questions incorrectly. Then 26 marks will be deducted from the candidate’s total (39*1/3*2= 26) due to the application of ‘negative marking’. As a result, the total marks secured by the candidate will come down to 96 (122-26).

The results of the Preliminary Examinations of the earlier years show that the cut-off marks for General Category candidates are usually around 110-115. In our example here, the candidate, who, in the normal course, should have comfortably sailed through the Preliminary Examination by scoring 122 marks in GS Paper I, if there had been no negative marking, would have failed. And Negative Marking would have been his/her undoing.

The purpose behind giving this graphic example was to drive home the point that candidates must not try to guess the answers to the questions that they do not know. Instead of helping them, this tendency may prove to be their undoing. This is true for both GS Paper I and GS Paper II.

Candidates must stick to the questions whose answers they are certain of. If they can successfully resist the temptation to guess the answers to questions that they are not sure of, the chances are that they will, in all likelihood, clear the Preliminary Examination.

Those candidates whom the UPSC deems to have qualified the Preliminary Examination advance to Stage II of the Main (Written) Examination. Usually, the UPSC calls candidates numbering twelve to thirteen times the number of vacancies referred to it by the Government, for the Main (Written) Examination.


Nine papers in different subjects are prescribed for the Main (Written) Examination for the Civil Services for getting into the IAS. These papers are of the conventional essay type. Two out of the nine papers are ‘qualifying in nature’.

Qualifying in nature’ means that the candidates must secure the minimum marks prescribed for these papers in order to ‘qualify’ for the other 7 papers to be taken cognisance of by the UPSC. If candidates do not qualify in these two papers, then the UPSC will not take cognisance of their performance in the remaining seven papers and these candidates will be deemed to have failed in the Written Examination.

The two ‘qualifying’ papers are (i) Indian Language  and (ii) English.

Candidates have to choose one of the languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution that they are comfortable in and appear in that paper.

The UPSC has prescribed 25% marks as the qualifying marks for these papers. This means that candidates must secure at least 25% marks in each of these papers to qualify for their performance in the remaining 7 papers of the Main (Written) Examination being taken cognisance of.

The level of knowledge expected of a candidate for these two papers, viz. Indian Language and English, is of the Matriculation standard. They are not very difficult. The UPSC only expects the candidates to have a working knowledge of these subjects. It does not expect the candidates to possess a very high level of knowledge in these two papers.

The remaining seven papers are known as “Papers to be counted for Merit”. This means that the merit list of the candidates will be drawn up on the basis of their performance in these seven papers. These papers are:

compulsory papers

Paper I

Essay                                 250 marks

Paper II

General Studies – I              250 marks

(Indian Heritge and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)

Paper III

General Studies II                250 marks

(Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International Relations)

Paper IV

General Studies III                250 marks

(Technology, Economic Development, Bio-Diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)

Paper V

General Studies  IV                250 marks

(Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)

Paper VI

Optional Subject Paper I         250 marks

Paper VII

Optional Subject  Paper II        250 marks

Sub Total (Written Test)            1750 marks.

Interview (Personality Test)       275 marks

Grand Total                                2025 marks


Those candidates who are deemed by the UPSC to have cleared the Written Examination are called for the Interview for a Personality Test. Usually, the UPSC invites candidates numbering twice the number of vacancies referred to it by the Government, for the Personality Test. Based on their overall performance in the Written Examination and the Interview, a Merit List of candidates is drawn up and candidates are selected for the various services.

This is the broad pattern of the IAS Examination. The UPSC has been following this pattern for many decades now. Occasionally, minor changes in the form of a slight change in the syllabus may be brought about, but generally speaking this has been the pattern of the Examination.

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