How To Start UPSC CSE Preparation at Undergraduate Level?

Tables Of Content
Firstly, there are few things that should be kept in the back of the mind during the entire phase:
Now, comes the main part of the blog that is how to go about the preparation:
How to choose the optional?
How to read the newspaper?
Courses available in Apti Plus for Undergraduates:


UPSC CSE is India’s most sought after examination among the youth as it is the gateway to the most coveted jobs in the country. This can be attributed to various factors such as outreach, power and status associated with civil services.

The purpose of the article is to guide the aspiring youth, those who want to start preparation at the UG level itself, on the nuances of the preparation and the exam. It will deal with what is required from such aspirants, the strategy they need to follow, how to choose the optional, how to read the newspaper and finally courses available at Apti Plus for you.

It is necessary to realise that the competition is enormous. Only, around 800 out of one million who apply make it the final list. The exam needs patience and perseverance along with due diligence and dedication.

Every civil services aspirant must be familiar with the pattern of UPSC CSE and syllabus. General Studies forms a compulsory part of the syllabus at all the three stages of the exam be it prelims, mains or interview. General Studies has a wide range of subjects to be covered namely, polity, geography, history, economy, environment, disaster management, international relations, ethics, social issues/ society, governance, science and technology to name a few. Added to this is the optional subject, ethics and essay paper apart from language papers.

Each and every serious aspirant should inculcate the well-known saying that “EACH AND EVERY MASTER/ EXPERT WAS ONCE A BEGINNER”. There is no such thing as an overnight success. All the successful person that one may admire or idolize worked on their craft for many sleepless nights.

Firstly, there are few things that should be kept in the back of the mind during the entire phase:

  • UPSC is not looking for specialists in each of the subjects mentioned in the syllabus but it wants the future civil servants to have a general knowledge on the topics mentioned in the syllabus.
  • We all have experienced this natural tendency of comparing ourselves with others. REMEMBER…If you are starting something new, never compare yourself with others especially the successful ones and those who have been doing it for a long time.
  • If one goes through the pattern of marks scored by successful candidates in prelims or mains stage one will find that a score of 55-60% can make you sail comfortably through the prelims stage and a 50% score in mains exam with a decent interview performance can fetch you a very good rank in the final list. It is definitely a no brainer that scoring 50% marks does not require some kind of specialization.
  • Believe in self: try, try and try again until you succeed
  • Identify reasons for failure: no one is perfect. focus on both strengths and weaknesses (most aspirants just focus on their strengths). Do a meticulous analysis of test series results and work on the weaknesses.
  • Be in a positive environment
  • Be patient: time heals all difficulties and hope is a great balm, Work hard for a better tomorrow
  • Introspect
  • Never give up: nothing is impossible, problems are part of the journey which are going to be resolved ultimately
  • Acknowledge your success
  • Follow simple/ uncomplicated approach: Jump onto the IAS bandwagon with a proper strategy for the subjects.
  • Do not lose the ‘BALANCE’: remain consistent. It is not like do hard work for 6 months and then nothing
  • Maintain a balance in almost all spheres of life-neither eat too much nor exercise too much. Maintain balance between static and dynamic portions of the syllabus. They just take a break of few days and start preparing for mains/interview again.
  • Do not believe in rumours: do not allow things to demotivate and distract you. Focus solely on the preparation and nothing else.
  • Read from limited sources and revise the limited set of books, notes that have been prepared at least 3-5 times. DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE LOST IN ONLINE OCEANS…
  • Do not procrastinate: Many aspirants plan thoroughly and set monthly, weekly and daily goals. But, due to procrastination are unable to complete them. It leads to piling up of topics to be covered. It leads to stress and skipping of topics and ultimately giving up.
  • Do not allow fear of failure stifles you into inaction. Successful candidates do not allow fear to hamper their preparation.
  • Attitude: Cracking the UPSC civil services  is not for the faint-hearted or languid ones. Stay motivated and stay hungry.
  • Cover the basics first, then go to intermediate level, and only once intermediate is cemented in the grey matter, go to advance stuff.
  • Do not ignore the body: continuously do exercise, maintain yourself physically emotionally and mentally, pursue your hobbies/passion.
  • Remember the harder you work, the luckier you will get.
  • Finally, embrace the hard reality-that in this exam there are only 2 possibilities-one will either SUCCEED or will either fail. Before undertaking this journey one should be ready to face any unpredictable circumstance/hardship/risk. To put it simply, ONE SHOULD BE READY TO EMBRACE FAILURES. Tough times, failures, hardships are inevitable. No matter how strong or powerful or confident one is, tough times will come: viciously forcing their might and causing one to crumble.

Now, comes the main part of the blog that is how to go about the preparation:

  • First and foremost, just like any robust civil engineering structure requires a strong foundation similarly it is important to get the essential things right. One should therefore begin with the NCERTs. These books do not require any prior knowledge/ help to study and will ensure that by the time you end reading the book you will have gained enough conceptual understanding and clarity that is required to ace this exam. But it is important to study these books with full diligence aided with multiple revisions.
  • Do not run after numerous sources. Limit the starting phase of preparation to these books. Keep telling yourself that aim is not to master the plethora of books available in the market but to ace UPSC CSE by doing smart preparation.
  • Now, aspirants might ask what should be covered and what should be left? Answer is very simple. You need to do two things. One, be thorough with the syllabus. It should be on your tips. Two, go through the previous years’ questions to get a rough idea on what is asked and how it is asked.
  • Remember, this is a slow process. It will take you at least a month to adapt and gain clarity on things.
  • SMART STRATERGY with the following key points kept in mind:
  • Learn in multiple ways: Human brain is able to learn better when we see, hear and read; rather than when we read alone. So, just don’t read a particular topic, watch a video or hear a podcast on the same.
  • Read multiple subjects in one day
  • Take handwritten notes
  • Learn by association: we read that WBCs are cells of the immune system. If we remember them as soldiers, it would be easy to recall that they protect the body from foreign invasion.
  • Simplify the information
  • Read textbooks effectively
  • Don’t cram, understand


  • 1st revision goal: understanding the issue
  • 2nd revision goal: understanding inter connected issues (even if they can’t be memorised, no worries, take it step by step)
  • 3rd revision goal: memorization
  • 4th revision: very precise and specific recall, as per the need of questions being asked.
  • 5th revision: precise inter connected recall as per the required cocktail in a GIVEN QUESTION, as per its language/tone and tenor.
  • Keep revising at regular intervals
  • Once you cover the NCERTS, start giving very basic mcq tests. These are easily available on the internet.
  • For mains, start with back exercises at the end of the chapters given in NCERTs. Don’t practice answer writing initially. Start forming answering in the back of the mind in introduction-body-conclusion format. Do this for initial one month of preparation. Then switch over to actual answer writing. The initial answers will not be up to the mark. This is a very slow and gradual process. So, don’t get disheartened. Just keep doing the right things.
  • The next step would be to supplement preparation with current issues. You can start by reading Hindu coupled with magazines like Yojana and Kurukshetra.
  • And finally, after building a strong foundation in initial 6 months (thorough with NCERTs with multiple revisions) jump to standard books that have to be covered. (Mentioned in the earlier blogs)
  • This should be coupled with additional current affairs sources like government websites, pib, budget, economic survey, EPW etc. the approach now should be to make linkages with the knowledge that you have gained and with the syllabus and make points on it. Try making own notes in concise manner for easy revision and retention.
  • Answer writing is a must at this stage. It will help you in better composing/learning as well. For prelims start giving mocks. Couple this with PYQs.

How to choose the optional?

Choosing the correct optional subject is the biggest dilemma faced by any CSE aspirant. The importance of the correct selection can be judged by the fact that if one looks at the performance of top 100 ranks in the final merit list, the deal breaker are the marks in optional and interview. Marks in GS are almost the same!!!

However, more often than not, it is observed that aspirants end up choosing the wrong optional which hampers their chance for selection. In addition to this, having chosen the wrong optional in earlier attempts they have to switch to other in the next, which leads to wastage of critical resources.

Factors to be considered:

  • Interest in the subject
  • Understanding ability and confidence level on that subject
  • Understanding eg: graduation subject
  • Syllabus and role of current affairs
  • Subject integration with GS Syllabus to simplify preparation
  • Analysis of previous year papers
  • Availability of Good teachers, materials, guidance/ peer group, tests etc

STEP 1: Take out a printout of the CSE Notification.

STEP 2: Read the optional list showing the 26 optional subjects

STEP 3: Strike out the subjects you will not take no matter what. Eg: A commerce graduate won’t take Mechanical or Civil engineering or likewise. Also, simultaneously keep going through the detailed syllabus for the subject before striking out.

STEP 4: As the number of options becomes lesser, eliminate with more care-only if you are 100% sure of not picking that one.

STEP 5: Now you will be left with 3-5 subjects. Now consider the above mentioned factors and prepare a chart.

STEP 6: Now rank the above priority wise.

STEP 7: Now zero upon an optional. Read the basic books for at least a week. You will be able to clearly analyse your aptitude for the optional and whether you will be able to read it for long time. If answer is NO, move to next priority and follow the same process.

STEP 8: Now finalize the optional.

How to read the newspaper?

It is true that nobody likes to read newspaper daily for exams. In fact, even after selection civil servants do not read it diligently. BUT, THERE IS NO SINGLE CIVIL SERVANT WHO COMPLETELY IGNORES IT DURING PREPARATION.

It is very true that questions are directly lifted from newspapers The Hindu, Indian Express in all the three stages of the exam.

The most important question is how to read it. Most aspirants take 4-5 hours to complete it. Some get distracted and start reading masala items and some get so bored that they altogether start postponing it thinking that they will cover the entire week’s newspaper on weekends. The weekend never comes and piles just keep on forming for years!!!

BUT by a proper practice of effective reading, a newspaper can be completed in less than an hour with additional 30 minutes devoted for notes making.

  • Filtering according to the need of exam.
  • Read from exam perspective and not for recreation.
  • Avoid unimportant news however impressive they may be.
  • Syllabus should be on the tips.
  • Never postpone for a single day.
  • Make short notes simultaneously.

Now what to read and what not to read will depend upon the return on investment/ yield as well as the phase of examination. Each news item will fell in one of the 4 mentioned types.

TYPE I: High Yield- cost benefit analysis is awesome, read very carefully, make comprehensive notes

TYPE II: Medium Yield- cost benefit analysis is good, make short notes

TYPE III: Low Yield- cost benefit analysis is average, just glance through

TYPE IV: No Yield- avoid the piece

Now go through the titles of each page of the newspaper and analyze them and put them in above categories.

  • Maintain a notebook for each month.
  • Divide it according to subjects-Polity, Geography, History, Economy, International, Environment, Security/Defense and Science and Technology.
  • Maintain a separate notebook for optional. For any topic of the syllabus which may have current affair linkage, jot down the relevant news in 5 points. This will be a creative addition to your answer.
  • Try to jot down any issue in point format i.e. the important facts, figures, quotes, data, judgments, keywords etc.
  • Do not make paragraphs.
  • Everything should be in your own words.
  • Do not store newspaper cuttings. 

A SMART approach is required to effectively read the HINDU in one hour and make notes in the next half an hour. Initially you may even take 3 hours but with practice and perseverance, in two months, you will reach the target of completing the newspaper quickly with maximum ROI. You will develop the capacity to filter out the content.

Courses available in Apti Plus for Undergraduates:

Foundation Courses: These courses are preparation pathways for fresh civil services aspirants aimed at laying the right foundation according to the demand of the civil services exams.

2 YEAR FOUNDATION COURSE FOR UNDERGRADUATES “You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure”.

If you nurture a childhood dream of becoming an IAS officer and don’t know where to start.. Then relax!Built on this motto, Apti Plus provides a single unified 360-degree guidance program meticulously designed for aspirants who want to start preparing early which is right after Class XII Board exams. Joining the Foundation Course will not only save time which is lost in preparation but make the aspirant confident and ready for the exam right after Graduation. Coverage of entire Syllabus (Both Preliminary & Main Examination), Optional Subject and Test Series is included.


Given the growing demand of Distance Education, following its principles of incorporating the latest and result-driven methods, Apti Plus Academy started Distance Learning course-a carefully designed study approach with the aim to bridge the gap between source of information and the learners and to help aspirants who are not able to join classroom classes get the expertise & proficiency of Apti Plus at the comfort of their home. Unlike the traditional modes of distance learning, this distance learning programme lays great emphasis on enhanced efficiency, student motivation and improved results. The programme is known for its highly researched content, best preparatory tools and benefits like self-inspiration, ease of accessibility, time savvy, easy access to the experts.


NCERT is the basic reading book which extensively covers the civil services examination syllabus pattern in a very simple and lucid manner. It eases the learning process in the initial stage and boosts the self-confidence of the civil service aspirants. It has the touch of eminent authors, builds the basic concepts, acts as a genuine source of information and as a direct source of questions asked in exams. Apti Plus Academy provides with a 2 months Foundation Course for NCERT preparation.

The key is to continue persevering in a planned manner. REMEMBER….

Wishing you all the best for preparation!!

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