UPSC Syllabus

UPSC Syllabus for IAS Prelims & Mains 2021

Civil Services Examination is widely known as one of the most difficult and hankered examinations in India, that demands highly active studies and focus. To prepare for this exam, it is important for the aspirant to understand the syllabus for UPSC.

Union Public Service Commission which conducts the Civil Services Exam every year follows a standard exam pattern for the 3 stages, Prelims, Mains, and Interview; after completion of which the board selects the candidates based on their marks and ranks for the varied services like, Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Police Services (IPS), Indian Foreign Services (IFS) and other services.

However, different stages of the IAS exam have different syllabus. The UPSC Prelims Syllabus focuses on general and societal awareness which is tested by objective-type (MCQ) questions. The UPSC Mains Syllabus is much more comprehensive as this stage comprises nine theory papers, and the final interview stages tests the overall personality of the candidate by the competent board members.

UPSC Syllabus for IAS Prelims & Mains 2021

The Civil Services Exam is conducted in 3 phases:

  • 1. Preliminary Examination (Objective Type)
  • 2. Mains Examination (Subjective Type)
  • 3. Interview (Personality Test)

Phase 1: UPSC Prelims Examination

The UPSC Civil Services Prelims Examination is composed of two components:

1) General Studies

Paper Subjects Total Marks Duration
I General Studies (GS) 200 2 hours (9:30 AM to 11:30 AM)
II CSAT 200 2 hours (2: 30 AM to 4:30 PM)

2) Civil Services Aptitude Test(CSAT)

  • Broadly, the UPSC Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination consists of two papers of objective type, each of 200 marks (hence totalling 400 marks) and of two hours duration. To qualify for the Civil Services Mains, a candidate must attempt both the papers.
  • Further, the UPSC General Studies (GS) paper consists of 100 questions, while the CSAT paper consists of 80 questions. Both papers have negative marks for wrong answers marked to the tune of 1/3rd of the total marks assigned to that question.
    • To further illustrate this, each correctly answered GS question will be awarded 2 marks. So, 0.66 marks would be deducted from the total for every question that is wrongly marked.
    • Similarly, in the CSAT paper, since we have 80 questions for 200 marks, correctly answered CSAT question would attract 2.5 marks each, while every wrongly marked question would attract a penalty of 0.833 for each such wrong answer, which will be deducted from the total.
  • Questions that are not attempted will not attract any negative marks.

The two papers of the IAS prelims are discussed in detail below:

  1. General Studies (Generally conducted between 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM)
  2. The General Studies test is the first paper of the preliminary examination. This test is intended to test the general awareness of a candidate in a wide range of subjects that include: Indian Polity, Geography, History, Indian Economy, Science and Technology, Environment and Ecology, International Relations and associated UPSC current affairs.

  3. Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) (Generally conducted between 2:30 PM to 04:30 PM)
    • This UPSC Prelims syllabus for CSAT intends to assess the aptitude of the candidate in solving "Reasoning and Analytical" questions, apart from "Reading Comprehension" and the occasionally asked "Decision Making" questions.
    • The "Decision Making" based questions are generally exempt from negative marks.
    • The preliminary examination is only meant for screening a candidate for the subsequent stages of the exam.
    • The marks obtained in the Prelims will not be added up while arriving at the final rank list.

UPSC Syllabus for Prelims Exam

a) Syllabus for Prelims Paper-I (GS Paper)

  • Current events of national and international importance.
  • History of India and Indian National Movement.
  • Indian and World Geography-Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  • Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  • Economic and Social Development – Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc.
  • General issues on Environmental Ecology, Biodiversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialisation
  • General Science

b) Syllabus for Prelims Paper-II (CSAT Paper)

  • Comprehension
  • Interpersonal skills including communication skills
  • Logical reasoning and analytical ability
  • Decision-making and problem solving
  • General mental ability
  • Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) (Class X level), Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc. – Class X level).

UPSC Syllabus for Mains Exam

The UPSC mains exam consists of nine theory papers. Marks in seven of those papers are taken into consideration for preparing the final merit list. The other two papers, English and Indian Language, are qualifying in nature (candidates have to score 25% or above to be eligible for selection).

UPSC Mains Exam Pattern

Paper Subjects Total Marks Duration
Paper A Compulsory Indian language 300 (Qualifying) 3 hours
Paper B English 300 (Qualifying) 3 hours
Paper I Essay 250 3 hours
Paper II General Studies I – Indian Heritage & Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society 250 3 hours
Paper III General Studies II – Governance, Constitution, Welfare Initiatives, Social Justice & International Relations 250 3 hours
Paper IV General Studies III – Technology, Economic Development, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Security & Disaster Management 250 3 hours
Paper V General Studies IV – Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude 250 3 hours
Paper VI Optional Subject – Paper I 250 3 hours
Paper VII Optional Subject – Paper II 250 3 hours


Language Paper

Although both these papers are only qualifying in nature, candidates should not be complacent as if they fail to score below 25% in either of them, their remaining answer sheets won’t even be evaluated. Both the papers follow a similar pattern of questions as given below.

  • One essay question for 100 marks – candidates have to select one out of a few given topics
  • Reading comprehension and related five-six questions for a total of 60 marks
  • Precis writing for 60 marks – the answer sheet will have a separate grid structure where this has to be written
  • Translation from English to chosen language for 20 marks
  • Translation from chosen language to English for 20 marks
  • Grammar and basic language usage such as synonyms, sentence correction etc. for a total of 40 marks


The UPSC mains syllabus does not have any prescribed syllabus for the essay paper as such. As per the UPSC, “Candidates are expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in an orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.”
Candidates are required to write two essays from a list of given topics for a combined total of 250 marks.

GS Paper 1

Indian Culture – Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Modern Indian History

  • Significant events, issues, personalities during the middle of the eighteenth century (1750s) until the present.
  • Different stages and important contributors and contributions from various parts of the country in ‘The Freedom Struggle’.
  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganisation within the country.

History of the world

  • Events, forms and effect on society since the 18th century (world wars, industrial revolution, colonisation, redrawal of national boundaries, decolonisation, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism, etc.)


  • Indian society and diversity – Salient aspects.
  • Role of women and women’s organisations, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanisation, their problems and remedies.
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.
  • Effects of globalisation on Indian society.


  • 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.
  • 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 polar ice caps) and, in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
  • Salient features of world’s physical geography.
GS Paper 2

Indian Constitution

  • Historical underpinnings,
  • evolution, features
  • amendments, significant provisions
  • basic structure doctrine
  • Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries

Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.

Separation of powers between various organs, dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions

Structure, organisation and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary

Parliament and State Legislatures

  • structure, functioning
  • conduct of business
  • powers & privileges and issues arising out of these

Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.

Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.

Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.

Government policies and interventions aimed at development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Development processes and the development industry – the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, institutional and other stakeholders.

Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and the States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and the States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Issues relating to poverty and hunger

Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.

Role of civil services in a democracy

International Relations

  • India and its neighbourhood – International relations
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting the Indian interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
  • Important International institutions, agencies, their structure and mandates
GS Paper 3


  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilisation of resources, growth, development and employment.
  • Government Budgeting.
  • Inclusive growth and associated issues/challenges
  • Effects of liberalisation on the economy (post 1991 changes), changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.
  • Infrastructure – Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
  • Investment models (PPP etc)
  • Agriculture
    1. Major cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers
    2. Economics of animal rearing.
    3. Food processing and related industries in India – scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management.
    4. Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions
    5. Land reforms in India.
  • Science and Technology
    1. Recent developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
    2. Achievements of Indians in science & technology.
    3. Indigenisation of technology and developing new technology.
    4. General awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nanotechnology, bio-technology
    5. Issues relating to intellectual property rights
  • Environment
    1. Conservation,
    2. Environmental pollution and degradation
    3. Environmental impact assessment
  • Disaster Management (Laws, Acts etc.)
  • Security
    1. Challenges to internal security (external state and non-state actors)
    2. Linkages between development and spread of extremism
    3. Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges,
    4. Basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention
    5. Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organised crime with terrorism
    6. Various Security forces and agencies and their mandates
GS Paper 4

This Ethics paper in the UPSC mains syllabus includes questions to check the candidates’ attitude and approach to issues relating to integrity and probity in public life and his/her problem-solving approach to various societal issues. Questions may utilise the case study approach to determine these aspects and the exam covers area as mentioned in the syllabus given below.

  • Ethics and Human Interface
    1. Essence of Ethics, Determinants and Consequences of Ethics in Human Interaction
    2. Dimensions of Ethics
    3. Ethics in private and public relationships
    4. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators
    5. Role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating moral and ethical values
  • Attitude
    1. Content, structure and function of attitude
    2. Influence of attitude in thought and behaviour
    3. Relation of attitude to thought and behaviour
    4. Moral and Political attitudes
    5. Social influence and persuasion
  • Aptitude
    1. Aptitude and foundational values of Civil Service
    2. Integrity
    3. Impartiality and non-partisanship
    4. Objectivity
    5. Dedication to public service
    6. Empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker sections of the society
  • Emotional Intelligence
    1. Concepts of emotional intelligence
    2. Utility and application of emotional intelligence in administration and governance
  • Contributions of Thinkers and Philosophers
    1. Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world to the concepts of morality
  • Public/Civil Service Values and Ethics in Public Administration
    1. Status and associated problems
    2. Ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions
    3. Laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance
    4. Accountability and ethical governance
    5. Strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance
    6. Ethical Issues in international relations and funding
    7. Corporate governance
  • Probity in Governance
    1. Concept of public service
    2. The philosophical basis of governance and probity
    3. Information sharing and transparency in government
    4. Right to Information
    5. Codes of ethics
    6. Codes of Conduct
    7. Citizen’s Charters
    8. Work culture
    9. Quality of service delivery
    10. Utilization of public funds
    11. Challenges of corruption

Optional Subject

A candidate has to choose one optional subject (out of a total of 48 options). There will be two papers for a combined total of 500 marks. Selecting the best optional subject for UPSC mains should be a careful and considered decision.