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civil services exam


Civil service examination or commonly referred to as IAS exam is an annually held entrance test to man the top positions in the Public services. It is conducted by a Constitutional Body called as Union Public service Commission (U.P.S.C) for various posts including all India services like IAS, IPS, IFoS as well as the other Central Civil services for instance IRS, IRTS, IFS, ICAS, IAAS, etc.


It was first held in 1855 in London under the name of Indian civil services (ICS) examination. This exam was conducted to get the best talent to work for better administration of India as British colony. At that time it was considered as the most sought after job by British people(thanks to reforms by Lord Cornwallis.. also known as the father of Indian civil services) and though it was open for all including Indians, the exam was so designed to systematically keep the Indians out of the Indian civil services. Because of a systematic discriminatory policy very few Indians were able to join the ICS. At the time of independence there were only 322 Indians in ICS. After Independence the Modern Civil service of India was formulated with the Vision of Sardar Patel, who considered Civil services as the steel pillars for modern India.

With time many things have changed as far as the Civil services are concerned but what hasn’t changed is the attraction of youth towards it. The Authority, perks, privileges, social prestige, honour and most of all the hunger to serve the unserved has made it the most sought after job amongst the youth in India.


Every year lakhs of aspirants appear in the exam after meticulous preparations which stretch for years. Aspirants put in most of their time in the day to cover the various aspects of the exam for instance the History, Geography, Economy etc. The sacrifice put in by the aspirants in it is commendable. They cut themselves from the social life; spend most of their time in libraries or within the four walls of their study room. They also sacrifice their professions for preparing this exam. But the price is worth of it all. The ultimate redemption of the hard work comes when an aspirant finds his/her name in the list of the selected candidates.

Exam Pattern & Selection Process

Today the exam pattern consists of three Stages with first stage including the Preliminary exam. The prelims is MCQ based and is conducted in the form of 2 papers i.e. is GS paper and the CSAT paper. The GS paper consist of 100 set of MCQs based on the general awareness regarding various subjects like Geography, History, Science, Current Affairs etc ( overall around 10 subjects ). The questions asked here are pretty deep and requires through understanding of the subjects as well as the Knowledge of the Current events on national and international importance. Therefore an aspirant needs to dig in deep within the subjects to grasp the concepts.

As far as the CSAT is concerned, it is again an MCQ based paper consisting of 100 questions. But the nature of questions is starkly different from the one asked in the GS paper. Here the Primary focus is to assess the Analytical, logical and Quantative reasoning of a candidate. Along with this the Basic English language understanding is also assessed through Comprehension Passages.

From 2015 onwards this paper of the Prelims was made qualifying in nature i.e. one has to score 33% marks (66/200) to pass it. The final cut-off is made through the GS paper therefore making it far more important as far as the preparation is concerned. The Cut-offs generally hover around 50% of the GS paper but it depends upon the difficulty of the paper. Also UPSC (the conducting body) is known to play the game in the most unpredictable manner and loves to surprise the candidates as far as the type of questions asked in exam are concerned.

If a candidate fails to go through the preliminary exam he/she starts all over again and starts preparation for the next year’s exam. Roughly 10 lakh candidates fill the form out of which around 6-7 lakh appear for it and only around 15000 are called to write mains examination. So the success rate is 1/50(pretty low isn’t it).

Those who qualify the exam are invited to sit in the Mains examination. This is the Stage II of the exam and is completely different from the Prelims. We can say Prelims is just a filtering process and Mains is the one where the real game starts. Before one sits in the mains examination he/she has to fill a Detailed Application form (called as DAF in Aspirant Community). The DAF consists of various sections including candidate’s personal information, academic achievements, hobbies etc. It also contains the service preferences (which service if selected he/she will like to opt for out of around 20 services offered) and Cadre preferences(cadres are allotted in case of selection in All India services i.e. IAS and IPS) of the Candidate. The interview of the candidate is conducted on the basis of this DAF. Therefore it can be said that the DAF is a window through which UPSC looks into a candidate.

Mains exam currently consists of 9 papers, all of which are Descriptive based (that means here a candidate is asked to write an answer within some prescribed word limit). Out of these 9 papers, 2 are qualifying in nature and rest are Scoring. These 2 papers include language paper and General English paper (one needs to get 25% marks in each paper i.e. 75/300). There are 4 GS papers all consisting of 250 marks. The syllabus includes topics covered in Preliminary exam as well as new topics like World history, Disaster Management, Internal Security, International Relations, etc. Apart from this we have a whole new GS IV paper called Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude. I will cover the topics in detail in my later blogs. We also have a paper on Essay of 250 marks. Then there are 2 papers on Optional subject (Paper I and Paper II). In Optional subject basically candidate has to choose a subject out of the given list where he/she thinks his expertise or interest lies. This Optional subject than has to be prepared in detail as the questions would be of high standard (Grads or Post Grads Level).

Finally the cutoff for mains is taken from these 7 papers and selected candidates are called for interviews. Again out of around 15000 candidates writing mains only 3000 are called for the interviews (You can do the maths regarding the Odds). Finally a candidate faces the interview sitting in front of UPSC panel consisting of 5 members. The panel asks questions regarding the candidate’s hobbies, his educational achievements and his views on various day to day affairs affecting the country and society. The marks are awarded accordingly (out of 275 marks). Finally the interview marks are added along with the mains marks and a final list is prepared for selected Candidates.

The final list or the Final result or As the Candidates say “the Judgement day” is announced within a week after all the interviews are conducted. Out of 3000 appearing only 1000 make the cut (maths is easy … calculate the Odds). These 1000 candidates are given the services according to their rankings and the preference of services mentioned in the DAF form. While the others they start preparing for the next year Prelims exam which generally at the time of announcement of the final result is just a month away.

Out of around 7 lakh Candidates 1000 make the cut. They realize their dream of serving the top posts in administration. As for the rest they get back to the starting line again, introspecting what went wrong, rectifying the mistakes they did, going on the drawing board and plan to crack the exam next year.

Final Words

One might feel that the journey is tough. One may question if is it worth all the sacrifice. The hard work, the effort put, the time devoted, is it all justified. The big question that comes to one’s mind is “what if I fail”. For all those questions, doubts and Uncertainties, i give you the answer, “Yes it is all worth it”. It is an amazing journey where you will learn a lot about yourself and your surroundings. You will emerge not only as a better person but as a better citizen. The journey will teach to be humble, focussed and always be hopeful.

Finally I would say, if civil service is your dream you need not to be in doubt, you need not to be uncertain, the journey may be tough but the fruit is sweet. And when you will complete your journey and get our name in the final list, what you will remember is not the rank or the list, but the journey which you travelled to reach here.

So all of you out there wondering if I need to go for it, this is what I have to say to you “Plan your journey, make a start, Take small steps, check your mistakes and fulfil your destiny. You are made for a bigger purpose. Come out of that comfort zone and realize what is yours.”

Contributed By Kuldeep Singh
Civil service Mentor

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