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My Sources: GS Prelims and Mains

Hello everyone :) Different toppers talk about myriad sources that helped them optimise their marks. Here are my sources for preliminary and mains. This is the best and most simple strategy I found for myself after two years of being lost in the civil services wilderness. Please don’t rely on me totally. Watch the videos of other toppers and you may find better, different sources that are more suited to your mind. However, I will request you to keep three important things in mind:

  1. It is better to strictly limit your sources and define the boundaries of your preparation. If you proliferate your sources and keep buying new material, you’ll just keep swimming in the vastness of the UPSC ocean and never reach the shore.
  2. Instead of increasing your knowledge, it is better to optimise your marks with whatever you know. It is a common misconception in UPSC circles that the more you read, the more you will score. Not necessarily. The more you revise what you already have, the more you will score.
  3. Stay away from the random material in the Rajinder Nagar markets. Magic Booklets, World Focus, Chronicles, what not. Stick to your basic books and focus on effective revisions and testing.

Preliminary- Paper 1

Current events of national and international importance: Vision IAS monthly current affairs (very important!), The Hindu newspaper, Revision Modules by Insights and Government Schemes module by Vision IAS. You can do the daily Insights online quiz before sleeping on your phone.
History of India and Indian National Movement: Old NCERT for Ancient, New NCERT for Medieval, Modern India Spectrum, Fine Arts Class 12 NCERT for culture, Selective chapters of Nitin Singhaniya to cover dances and paintings that are not covered in the Fine Arts NCERT
Indian and World Geography — Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World: Class 9, 10, 11, 12 NCERTS. Focus most on Indian Geography. Medium focus on physical and economic geography. Least emphasis on human geography. Make a list of probable Atlas questions in your Prelims register. If you don’t want to read NCERT for physical geography (it is too boring), you can buy Manocha Sir’s notes.
Indian Polity and Governance — Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc: Laxmikanth
Economic and Social Development Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector initiatives, etc: Class 12 Macroeconomic NCERT (last three chapters), Cover International Economic Organisations from Sriram’s Economics notes
General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change — that do not require subject specialization: Shankar IAS notes, Last 3 chapters on ecology in class 12 Biology NCERT
General Science: Class 9,10 ICSE for Biology

Other Sources: VisionIAS test papers and solutions, Previous 5 year UPSC papers- analyse each and every question. You will find that certain types of questions are being asked each year in a different form.
You should get these questions right to push you above the cutoff.

Preliminary- Paper 2

Solve the previous year UPSC papers to get an idea. If this is really your weak area, then you can buy CSAT mocks from any decent coaching institute and solve them at home.

Mains- Hindi Qualifying Paper

Since I’m terrible at Hindi, I decided to play it safe. After my preliminary result, I joined a tuition with a super nice teacher who lives in my sector. I invested 2–3 hours on the weekend, mostly when I was taking a break from GS or optional. We solved all the previous year Hindi papers together. For the basic grammar (muhavras and prayvaachis), I referred to the Samanya Hindi and Nibandh book available on amazon.

Mains- GS 1

  1. Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times — Fine Arts Culture NCERT
  2. Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues — Modern India Spectrum, Modern India NCERT
  3. The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country — Modern India Spectrum, Modern India NCERT
  4. Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country — Politics Since Independence NCERT
  5. History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society — Class 10 NCERT
    For certain other topics like American Revolution, French Revolution — make a list and watch a video on Khan Academy (make basic mind maps) or some internet searching helps too (not too detailed — focus only on causes, key events and consequences)
  6. Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India, Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies — Effects of globalization on Indian society
    Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism — Vision IAS social issues section in the monthly booklets and selective study of Sociology NCERT
  7. Salient features of world’s physical geography — Physical Geography NCERT
  8. 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) — Vision IAS handout
  9. 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 — I made a list of important geophysical phenomena and had a page on each from the Physical Geography NCERT, I used Shankar IAS for points on climate change

Mains- GS 2

  1. Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure — Laxmikanth
  2. 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 — Laxmikanth
  3. Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries — I only did the basic comparison between Indian, American and British constitutions from Laxmikanth. There is also a table on how the Indian constitution has taken the best from the different constitutions around the world.
  4. Parliament and State Legislatures — structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these — Laxmikanth
  5. Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity — Laxmikant
  6. Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act — Vision IAS handout
  7. Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies; Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies — Laxmikant, Vision IAS handout
  8. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation — Vision IAS government schemes that you did for preliminary, Vision IAS handout
  9. Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders — Shubhra Ma’am’s book
  10. Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections — Vision IAS government schemes that you did for preliminary, Vision IAS handout
  11. Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources — Covered in GS 3
  12. Issues relating to poverty and hunger —Covered in GS 3
  13. Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures — Covered in Ethics
  14. Role of civil services in a democracy — Covered in Ethics, Vision IAS handout
  15. India and its neighborhood- relations — Optional Notes, Mains 365 by Vision IAS
  16. Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests — Optional Notes, Vision IAS International Relations sections in the monthly booklets or Mains 365
  17. Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora — Optional notes
  18. Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate — International economic institutions from Srirams, Optional notes

This year, Shubhra Ma’am launched a book on GS 2 after the preliminary result. It had a list of 130+ expected questions and key points. I think this is a good and effective way to prepare GS 2 rather than hunting for books and making notes. She launched volume 1 and volume 2. I only had time to do volume 1. So I starred the important questions from Volume 1 and revised them multiple times.

This paper is also very dynamic so make a list of probable questions. Use Mains 365 intelligently (don’t get lost in it because they have some random, extra and in my opinion irrelevant material too). Have a page of 10–15 points on each topic of the syllabus.

Mains GS 3

  1. Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment — India’s Economic Development NCERT, Economic Survey Vision IAS summary
  2. Inclusive growth and issues arising from it — India’s Economic Development, NCERT, Economic Survey Vision IAS summary
  3. Government Budgeting — This year’s budget, laxmikanth
  4. Major crops 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 — Economic Survey, Vision IAS handout selective study
  5. 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 — Economic Survey
  6. Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing —Vision IAS handout (very selective), Economic Survey
  7. Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management — Economic Survey
  8. Land reforms in India — Optional
  9. Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth — Indian Economic Development NCERT and Optional
  10. Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc — Economic Survey
  11. Investment models — Vision IAS handout selective study
  12. Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life — Mains 365 selective study. I made a list of probable questions.
  13. Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology — Mains 365 selective study
  14. Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights — Mains365 selective study — made my own list of probable questions. Also did a pdf by the World Development Report on the 6 technologies to watch.
  15. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment — Shankar IAS
  16. Disaster and disaster management — VisionIAS pdf
  17. Linkages between development and spread of extremism — VisionIAS handouts
  18. Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security — Vision IAS Handout
  19. Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention — Vision IAS handouts
  20. Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism — Vision IAS handout
  21. Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate — Vision IAS handout

Again, this paper is dynamic. The best way I found was to have 10–15 points on each topic of the syllabus. I did the NCERT and Economic Survey really well so foundational concepts were clear. I made a list of probable questions from the different topics of the syllabus. I read some good editorials on the internet cybersecurity or disaster management to get some extra points.

Also, I decided to focus on my strengths and keep my sanity intact. I did economics and security really well and tried to gain maximum number from these two portions. I wasn’t too sure about Disaster Management and Science and Tech so I kept it minimal. I had a list of disasters and had 10 points on each using the Vision IAS handout. For SNT, I made a list of probable questions (20–25 in all) and did those only. Turns out that what I had studied for SNT was not directly asked in Mains. In the examination hall, I used common sense and answer writing flair to put something on paper.


For Ethics, I referred to Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude for Civil Services Examination. I also selectively skimmed and scanned a post that the folks at Insights published on their website.

I prepared my ethics notes (around 100 pages) with these two sources during my second attempt in 2015. I also used the Daily Secure Initiative to attempt a few ethics questions a week.
For my third attempt in 2017, I decided to stick to my notes from 2015 and the question bank of around 100+ answers I had written using Secure. I read everything that I had and made all my notes more crisp and concise — 40 pages. I focussed primarily on testing this year to prepare ethics. So I attempted all the previous UPSC ethics paper at home and got them checked by my father. I also did two ethics test papers with the vision IAS test series.

Therefore, I don’t know about the latest good coaching centre notes in the market. One of my good friends who is a 2014 batch IPS officer in the AGMUT cadre used Mohanty Sir’s notes to prepare Ethics. Maybe you can get hold of the visionIAS notes since Vision is one of the most credible centres for UPSC preparation that I have found.

Essay —

No source as such. I used all my optional and general studies preparation to write a decent essay. I wrote 5 essays as part of the Vision IAS test series to hone my writing style.

I hope this helps :)

And leaving you with a video I watched during my CSE prep days.
This guy has some excellent videos on some basic stuff like how to wake up early in the morning (lol) and how to maximise your productivity.

In the cacophony of the post-result hysteria, I hear this sometimes: “Megha got lucky!” I beg to differ. Blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice combined with a hell lot of patience and love has gone into transforming the IFS dream into reality. I learnt this gradually and the hard way: success is really about the routine that you run and the positive mindset that you bring to your defined goals. Successful people don’t just drift to the top. UPSC for me was nothing short of baptism by fire and I am super grateful to God that my tapasya paid off.

I hope that yours does too.



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