How To Prepare UPSC Civil Services Mains Paper-II (GS-1)

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Read this book before you begin (Review )

How to prepare GS-2 (i.e Paper – III)

How to prepare GS-3 (i.e Paper – IV)

How to prepare GS – 4 (i.e Paper – V)

UPSC has brought changes to the Civil Services Mains examination in both the pattern and the syllabus. We know that now there are 4 General Studies Papers apart from one Essay and Optional paper each.

This article discusses preparation strategy for General Studies -1 (i.e Paper-II, Paper-I is Essay)

Before you start reading further, please remember the following important mantra given by the  Almighty UPSC:

The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio‐ economic goals, objectives and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.” 

This sentence is the guiding light for your preparation. You don’t have to master the topics, all you need is BASIC UNDERSTANDING and the ability to analyze.

Basic understanding comes from reading and re-reading. Ability to analyze what you have understood from reading comes from WRITING PRACTICE.

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GS-1 broadly covers - Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society.

Under this heading  total 12 topics and around 40 sub-topics are given in the syllabus.

Two important things fundamental to your exam preparation:

  • Get familiar with all the topics and sub-topics by writing them many times – they should be  strongly etched in your memory.
  • Keep a copy of the syllabus always near you no matter where you are.

Now, how to deal with GS-1?

Assuming you are now familiar with the syllabus of GS-1, we will discuss a topic by topic what to read, from where to read and what not to read for these topics.

(Download Model Question Paper-cum-Answerbook For This GS Paper, Click this Link)


Indian Culture will cover the salient aspects of Art forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

In this topic, the sub-topics are  - Art forms, Literature, Architecture – from ancient to modern times. Before jumping into Big Books, first go through these beautiful books by NCERT – to get a glimpse of the sub-topics – they are

  1. NCERT Class VI – History – Our Past
  2. NCERT Class VII – Our Past -I
  3. NCERT  Class VIII – Our Past II and III
  4. NCERT Class XII – Themes In Indian History I
  5. NCERT Class-XII – Themes in Indian History – II
  6. NCERT Class XII – Themes In Indian History III

Hold on. Four books for one topic? No. You have to read only a few chapters from each book that are related to Sub-Topics. For ex, you have to read only Chapters 2 and 3 from Class-XII -Themes In Indian History-II book.

Apart from these you should have a reference book for getting more information:

  1. Facets of Indian Culture or
  2. Indian Art and Culture
  3. Download Free Material – Complete Set
  4. Graphic Book On Indian Art and Culture – Free Download


Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues

 Read this book: Comprehensive History Of Modern India – Spectrum (It covers topics from the Advent of British to India’s Independence – so covers this part of the syllabus completely.

Why this book? Why not Bipan Chandra?

Bipan Chandra is specifically for studying in depth the various dimensions and concepts of the Freedom Struggle. But for the above topic where ‘events, personalities and issues’ have to be read that too between 1750s to 1950s, Spectrum book covers all the topics quite comprehensively.

It is bulky and factual, so it is recommended for beginners both for Prelims and Mains along with Bipan Chandra’s book, but not for aspirants writing Mains this year who are running short of time.


[The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country.]

Because this topic demands specific knowledge of Freedom Struggle and its various facets, you must, along with the above mentioned book, read Bipan Chandra’s Struggle For India’s Independence.


Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.

For this you need to study Chapter 6 to 12 of India Since Independence – Bipan Chandra

0r Chapters 8 to 14 from India After Gandhi: The History Of The World’s Largest Democracy (above mentioned chapters cover completely this part of the syllabus)


[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 communismcapitalism,socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society.]

Except for Industrial revolution, Mastering Modern World History by Norman Lowe (Buy From Amazon India))covers all topics of this part of the syllabus – it is a very good book. Stick to only this book. Refer above links for a glimpse of those sub-topics in Wikipedia, but don’t dwell deeply on them. (A 30 % discount from Flipkart, or Or This IMPORTED copy provided you are rich- Rs 1700/ – this classic book contains insightful chapters on the 2008 Financial Crisis, and even Arab Spring and its aftermath!)

Above book is not available anywhere these days. Best alternative is a book by Arjun Dev – History of the World from the Late Nineteenth to the Early Twenty First Century

If both books are not available, then read this book – Old NCERT World History Class-X


[Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.]

About salient features of Indian Society – don’t look anywhere else – Just read this NCERT – Indian Society Class 12 (Complete book without watermarks)

Two indispensable books to cover this topic:

(above books are critically acclaimed and are taught in many universities as a text, and is written by an acclaimed scholar)


[Role of women and women’s organizationpopulation and associated issues,poverty and developmental issuesurbanization, their problems and their remedies.]

Other sub-topics are general in nature and can be found in Magazines and Newspapers. If one is thorough with current events questions on these sub-topics can be answered very well by consolidating their knowledge.


[Effects of Globalization on Indian society]

This is also general in nature. If you have a basic understanding of Indian Society and Globalization, their mutual relation can be elucidated with ease. Here is a good article from a Marxist politician about the topic. (UPSC people love the slightly leftist version of everything)

To know more about effect of Globalization on Indian Society, you need to know better about Indian Society. This book is a must have for broad understanding of the Indian Society.

If you want to learn the impact of Globalization on Indian Economy, here is a book. (Purely optional)


[Social empowermentcommunalismregionalism secularism.]

This is again generic. But you must know the basic concept of communalism, regionalism and secularism. Wikipedia comes handy here.


For Regionalism In India.


[Salient features of world’s physical geography.

To cover this part two books are necessary:

1. Certificate Physical and Human Geography 1st Edition

2. NCERT Class-XI – Fundamentals of Physical Geography


[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)]

1) NCERT Class XII – Human Geography

2) NCERT Class-XII – India-People and Economy

3) For reference:Geography of India 4 Edition


[Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakesTsunami, 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.]

This is a repetition actually. You can read Physical Geography book by Goh Cheng Leong which is mentioned above (Certificate Physical and Human Geography 1st Edition)

This topic on critical changes in  geographical features is broadly related to climate change and other anthropogenic factors(such as depletion of resources, dumping of wastes etc). Geographical features like rainforests, ice caps, rivers, corals, cyclones all get affected by climate change. Anthropogenic factors are involved in increasing desertification, vanishing forests, biodiversity, pollution of rivers and lakes, etc.

Your focus should be on such changes. Question may be on how monsoon is affected by global climate change? or how a cyclone is affected by global warming? What effect has the melting ice cap on the biodiversity in the polar regions? etc

(Download Model Question Paper-cum-Answerbook For This GS Paper, Click this Link)

Until now we saw what books to read. Now the question is how to remember most of the things we read and how to translate them into better answers.

  • A common mistake most of the aspirants commit is reading so many books for a single topic.This mistake costs both your time and ability to remember things clearly and concisely.
  • Stick to a single source and read it again and again. Remember The Same Source. Avoid the temptation of doing ‘Research’ on a topic.
  • Always Remember – UPSC tests Basic Understanding. Not mastery over a topic.
  • Make short notes on each topic. It is while making notes that readers tend to do RESEARCH and scout various sources. Stick to one book even if you are not 100% satisfied with it.
  • Remember that old saying? – Jack of all trades, master of NONE. If you try to do Research, most probably your name won’t appear in the Final List. I guarantee it.
  • For Paper-II (i.e GS-1) being thorough with Current Events plays a crucial role in enabling you to acquire analytical skills.

Very Important Part In The Preparation

  • Writing. Writing. Writing.
  • But what? – One must practice answer writing to Previous year questions, or take a Mock Test. Whatever, before you enter examination hall, you must have spent lot of time on answer writing.

Most Important Part In The Preparation

  • Revision. Revision. Re-Revision.
  • You do this and you appear for the Personality Test.
  • If you don’t Revise what you read all these months – you slightly miss the Personality Test, or You narrowly miss appearing in the Final List.

Well, to sum up. To get the interview call all you need to do is: Read, Re-read the same source, Write and Revise.

Preparation for this  paper can be finished in 20 days provided you are focused and determined.

Of course. Eat well, Sleep well and Keep a good health. If you get a running nose on the day of the exam, 2 hours out of 3 hours goes in draining it and drying it.


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  • rashmi rana

    i am very very impressed by the quality of this this website :) … i wish availability of such quality site for hindi medium also :(

  • suraj singh

    Respected sir,
    Please provide such quality site for hindi midium also, bcoz understanding the english matters takes too much time and i’m facing dificulties in time management.
    Plz sir help us……plz plz plz….
    Thanks in advance.


      Dear Suraj,

      Unfortunately our Hindi is not so good. We do not have people to either translate or write in Hindi for this website. I understand your concern, but I am helpless. Thank you.

  • Amit

    How is Khullars book of Comprehensive geography of India instead of Geography of India 4 Edition.

  • http://[email protected] Gurusha Rohin

    Hello sir , sir world history ke liye best book kis writer ki rhegi ……..


      Dear Gurusha Rohin,
      There are many solid books on World History available for UPSC Main Examination. Of course,Norman Lowe’s or Arjun Dev’s books are good but they will not help to answer the Main Examination’s History questions completely.

      Here is a list of solid books.You can go with any one of your wish and they covers the entire Syllabus. These books are recognised as the best in every top universitiy.


      2–JOHN MERRIMAN–A History of Modern Europe :From the Renaissance to the Present (W.W.NORTON)


      If you want to go with a Classic:–
      1:–C.J.H.Hayes–(A)–Modern Europe To 1870(Volume–1) (Surjeet Publications)
      (B)–Contemporary Europe Since 2870(Volume–2) (Surjeet Publications)

      Wishing you all the best.

      Sanjeeve Bhai.

      • SANJEEVE

        Dear Gurusha Rohin,
        Kindly read the Volume-2 of C.J.H.Hayes as “Contemporary Europe Since 1870″ (Surjeet Publications).

        The error is regretted.
        Wishing you all the best.

        Sanjeeve Bhai.

  • Anuva

    No words to say, what a grateful work your doing Sir.

  • http://INSIGHTSONINDIA.COM arpit shukla


  • Amit

    Sir I am confused between Khullar and Majid Hussain for geography! which one should I go for?

  • Meena

    hi, this strategy was for 2013 Mains, Is there any updated version for 2014 Mains?

  • Swaraj Mohanty

    Kindly let me know the expected date of result for Prelim 2014. According to the answer key for Prelim 2014 (provided by 3/4 different institution) I shall get 220 out of 385 marks. Am I in a safe zone ?

  • pratyush Dwivedi

    How to prepare ethics?

  • Tathagat

    respected sir(s) & co-aspirants,
    can you suggest which chapters we should have to finish from above mentioned books in the topic of 1,2&3 0f GS1??? PLS help!


      You have to read all chapters. If you are aiming for 2015, please read all chapters.

      • Tathagat


  • Tathagat

    sir i think i’ll get your kind reply.thank you.

  • Amit

    Awaiting for reply on whether khullar or Geography of India by majid hussain is good one. Also do we have to read India after independence as a whole or some part of it?


      Khullar is for Optional subject. It is given in-depth. You should primarily rely on NCERT geography books, and for reference go for Majid Hussain.

  • Amit P


    Do we have to read everything from India after independence by Bipin chandra or selective reading is enough.Also how many years of past question papers would be suffice to understand the question paper format of UPSC Mains. Awaiting your sincere reply.

    Thanks and Regards
    Amit P.

  • Ashwini R

    This website is doing great… thanku so much… this will help to the students those who r in confusion mood to start the syllabus…

  • Babuli patra

    I think this is the best way of preparation for UPSC examination.Thank u so much sir for describing all things……..

  • Navdeep Singh

    Sir Should i go for NCERTs to cover the topic no.12

  • Bobby

    Incredibly beautiful posts. Must for civil service aspirants

  • Mani

    sir, Iam preparing for Civil services exam and I am working. How to read news papers it is very difficult to me to read whole news paper can you suggest me?

  • amit patankar

    Do we need to read the whole ARC Report or just the recommendations and conclusion would be suffice.

  • MJ

    Apt, Precise and very Usefull

  • Navdeep Singh

    Sir should i go for ncerts only for topic no. 12 if gs 1

  • sud

    sir can u pls tell me which chapters should i study for gs1 topic1 in the ncert books u have mentioned and is it necessary to read other reference books after reading ncerts?

  • Peeyush India

    sir what about the current events ,,what we all get fm this website about various newspaper ,will that suffice or we need to refer yozna and kurukchetra also…pls shed sime light on this.

  • Subhash Chandra Tripathi

    good one…..
    thanks a lot,

  • nooffence

    Thanks sir….
    Its is really
    helpfulThanks alot

  • Arpit Patel

    sir, these articles were written before 2013 mains…after analyzing 2013 mains papers…is there any modifications in source list you mentioned here…?

  • navin

    sir please update the links for topics like regionalism, communism etc. with ur articles on them … thanks!!!

  • amit patankar

    Facets of Indian Culture or
    Indian Art and Culture
    Download Free Material
    Graphic Book On Indian Art and Culture
    do we have to read all four or either 1 of these.

  • rain and rainbow

    should we read 12th ncert- themes in world history?