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

UPDATED on 21st December 2016

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 

Before you start reading further, please remember the following important instruction given by the 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 (Secure – 2017)

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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 with 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.


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. All you need to study for Art and Culture part is just TWO sources:

  1. NCERT Books
  2. NIOS Books

Among NCERT books, one indispensable source to read first and foremost before proceeding to any source is: Class XI NCERT  An Introduction to Indian Art. 

Once done with this book, then read following NCERT books. Here, in the following books, along with reading history of India, look for art and culture related topics and make a note of them. You will not find separate art and culture chapters in  these books, you have to mine them.

  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

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.

Along with the above NCERT books, you should start reading NIOS Book on art and culture:

You can download them here:  NIOS Art and Culture

In NIOS chapters, you find good information all in one place. For example, in 2016 Mains GS-1 there was a question on Krishnadevaraya’s contribution to art:

Krishnadeva Raya, the king of Vijayanagar, was not only an accomplished scholar himself but was a also a great patron of learning and literature. Discuss (200 Words, GS-1, CSM-2016)

For the above question, complete answer is given in NIOS chapter on Language and Literature (Click Here, Page no. 90 – 91)

Apart from these you should refer following sources for more information:

  1. CCRT Website
  2. 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


Note that this topic wants you to cover important events from 1750s to Present. It’s not just related to freedom struggle. You should focus on all important events and contributions of personalities that are significant and have had important impact on nation till now.

For this part of the syllabus, just rely on above mentioned NCERT books and current affairs. You don’t have to read any separate book. Looking at the kind of questions they are asking fro this part of the syllabus, your focus should be on understanding basic events from NCERT and keeping an eye on relevant current events. For example, Netaji Bose files were declassified in August 2016 and there were many articles comparing his contribution with Gandhiji and Nehru. Hence, there was a question on this issue in Mains 2016:

Highlight the differences in the approach of Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi in the struggle for freedom.  (200 Words,GS-1, CSM – 2016 )




[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 read Bipan Chandra’s Struggle For India’s Independence. You should revise this book at least 2-3 times.

Some prefer Spectrum’s modern history book. But for Mains preparation, Bipan Chandra’s book is very important.

If time permits, you can also read selectively from Plassey to Partition. This book is more analytical and has important insights on all important events and personalities related to this topic.


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. You should also read world history from NCERT books of class IX, X and XI (only modern world history part).

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

You can go through this book – Old NCERT World History Class-X – if you are fond of old NCERT books.


[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:



[Role of women and women’s organizationpopulation and associated issuespoverty 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.

This topic is mainly current affairs based. Keep tab on all important events that take place related to this topic.

You should also read about role of women from ancient to modern times (including freedom struggle, art and culture etc). UPSC will test your ability to integrate different concepts and come up with a coherent answer. So, try to interlink different parts of syllabus and prepare notes accordingly.


[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

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.