UPSC Mains: Syllabus And Answer Writing Tips

UPSC Mains: Syllabus And Answer Writing Tips

The article given below consists of the syllabus of the UPSC mains exam as per the official notification of UPSC and some tips and strategies for answer writing in the mains exam.

UPSC CSE is one of the toughest and the most challenging exam of the country. UPSC exam has a vast syllabus which is a bit difficult to cover if not studied strategically. Every year lakhs of students appear for the UPSC CSE exam but only few of them are able to clear the prelims and make it to mains exam, and very few of them pass the mains exam. This is because the candidates who clear the exam firstly understand the syllabus in detail and then start preparing according to it. So before starting the preparation for the UPSC one must go through the detailed structure of syllabus and thoroughly understand the exam pattern of UPSC Mains. 

The UPSC CSE exam is conducted in three phases: 

1- THE PRELIMS– a preliminary examination which consists of two objective-type papers 

2- MAINS– a main examination that consists of nine papers that include essay writing, in which two papers are qualifying and only marks of seven are counted

3- An interview round

UPSC Mains Exam Pattern-

• After clearing the Prelims the candidate is eligible to appear for the main exam which is the second phase of the UPSC exam. 

• The Mains examination constitutes of  total 9 papers

• Two papers of language out of 9 are the qualifying papers of 300 marks each

• These two qualifying papers are English Language Papers and Any Indian Language

• The papers on General Studies, Essay and Optional Subjects of only those candidates are evaluated who get 25% marks in both language exam papers. If a candidate fails to do so the marks are not counted.

Paper-IEssay (can be written in the medium of the candidate’s choice)250
Paper-IIGeneral Studies – I (Indian Heritage & Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society)250
Paper-IIIGeneral Studies – II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice & International Relations)250
Paper-IVGeneral Studies – III (Technology, Economic Development, Biodiversity, Security & Disaster Management)250
Paper-VGeneral Studies – IV (Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude)250
Paper-VIOptional Subject – Paper I250
Paper-VIIOptional Subject – Paper II250

Paper 1-

Qualifying Papers on Indian Languages and English

Structure of the UPSC language papers:

The types of questions asked are –

1. Essay – 100 marks

2. Reading comprehension – 60 marks

3. Precise Writing – 60 marks

4. Translation:

• English to compulsory language (e.g. Hindi) – 20 marks

• Compulsory language to English – 20 marks

Grammar and basic language usage – 40 marks

The rest of the seven papers can be written in any of the languages mentioned under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India or in English.

The pattern of the papers is as follows-

English Language:

• Comprehension of given passages.

• Precise Writing.

• Usage and Vocabulary.

• Short Essays.

Indian Languages:

• Comprehension of given passages.

• Precise Writing.

• Usage and Vocabulary.

• Short Essays.

Translation from English to the Indian Language and vice-versa.

II. Paper-I: Essay

Candidates may be required to write essays on multiple topics.

They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. The more exact and efficient the writing is the better you score.

General Studies -1 Syllabus

Also known as Paper-II of UPSC Mains.  The syllabus here includes- Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society.

Let us have a look at the detailed syllabus of General Studies-1:

The topic Indian culture includes Art Forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

• Modern Indian History

• The Medieval History 

• The Indian Freedom Struggle, Freedom fighters and their contributions.

• India Post-independence 

• History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.

• 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.

• Salient features of world’s physical geography.

• Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).

• 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. 

UPSC Mains Syllabus For GS-II (Paper III)

1. Indian Constitution- a detailed study

2. Federal Structure

3. Distribution of Power

4. Comparison between other nations and Indian Constitution

5. Parliament and State legislatures

6. Indian Executive and Indian Judiciary

7. Representation of People’s Act.

8. Responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

9. Various quasi-judicial bodies

10. Government policies and implementation

11. The role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders

12. 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

13. Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

14. Issues relating to poverty and hunger

15. Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures

16. Role of civil services in a democracy

17. India and its neighbourhood- relations

18. Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

19. Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

20. Important International institutions and agencies.

UPSC Mains Syllabus For GS-III (Paper IV)

1. Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment

2. Inclusive growth and issues arising from it

3. Government Budgeting

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

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; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing

6. Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management

7. Land reforms in India

8. Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth

9. Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways and others

10. Investment models

11. Science and technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life

12. Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and development of new technology.

13. Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights

14. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

15. Disaster and disaster management

16. Linkages between the development and spread of extremism

17. Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security

18. Challenges to internal security through communication networks, the role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money laundering and its prevention

19. Security challenges and their management in border areas – linkages of organized crime with terrorism

20. Various Security forces and agencies 

UPSC Mains Syllabus For GS-IV (Paper V)

1. Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics – in private and public relationships. Human Values -lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; the role of family society and educational institutions in inculcating values

2. Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion

3. Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service, integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections

4. Emotional intelligence concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance

5. Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and the world

6. Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance

7. Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.

UPSC Mains Syllabus For Optional Paper (VI & VII)-

It is very necessary to choose an optional subject which is right for you and helps you score better marks. Many candidates do their graduation in fields that they wish to choose their optional subjects in the UPSC exam or even you can choose the subject which you are most familiar to.  Choose a subject which you feel is easy for you and has less syllabus to cover. Many applicants adopt the overlapping technique, in which they select an optional subject that is also a significant component of General Studies. Optional choice should be made correctly as this can boost your marks in the final exam.

Here is a list of total 48 optional subjects in the UPSC Mains exam, which includes 25 core subjects and 22 Literature optional.

• Agriculture

• Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science

• Anthropology

• Botany

• Chemistry

• Civil Engineering

• Commerce and Accountancy

• Economics

• Electrical Engineering

• Geography

• Geology

• History

• Law

• Management

• Mathematics

• Mechanical Engineering

• Medical Science

• Philosophy

• Physics

• Political Science and International Relations

• Psychology

• Public Administration

• Sociology

• Statistics

• Zoology


• Assamese, 

• Bengali, 

• Bodo,

• Dogri,  

• Gujarati

• Hindi, 

• Kannada,

• Kashmiri, 

• Konkani, 

• Maithili, 

• Malayalam,

• Manipuri, 

• Marathi, 

• Nepali, 

• Oriya,

• Punjabi, 

• Sanskrit, 

• Santali, 

• Sindhi, 

• Tamil, 

• Telugu, 

• Urdu, 

• English.

The candidate needs to choose any one of the optional subject from the above given list. You can also analyze the success rate of different optional subjects and then make a choice.

Tips And Strategies For Better Answer Writing in The UPSC Mains Exam-

1-  Basic things to keep in mind before starting the UPSC preparation

➢ It is very necessary to develop good answer writing skills, because no matter what you learn, memorize, practice, and gain knowledge at the end what matters is the answer you have written on the answer paper.

➢ The answer should be written in an effective manner in order to impress the examiner.

➢ The candidate needs to make sure that the answers written by him/her are illustrative, readable, neat and clean.

➢ The answers should be precise and accurate. Do not make up the stories accurately answer what has been asked in the question.

➢ Generally, mains questions contain certain key terms called ‘directional words’ in them which work as a clue for figuring out how the questions are to be answered.

➢ In optional subjects, try to be more illustrative, explain the topics or headings thoroughly. This is the subject you have chosen for yourself; the expectations of the examiner are more in this subject.

➢ Time Management is a very important thing; many candidates fail to complete the paper. Practice of answer writing is crucial for time management so you need to start early.

➢ Analyze the syllabus deeply so that you can start preparing accordingly. To write good answers it is necessary to have a very basic to detailed knowledge of the topics.

➢ The practice of answer writing is very important; please focus on your writing skills. If you do not practice regularly you would never be able to write good answers on the day of examination. Good writing skills cannot be inculcated in a single night before exams.

➢ Initiating answer writing practice early will prove advantageous as it allows ample time for skill development.

➢ Try to express your opinions effectively with examples, evidences scientific figures etc. 

2- Read the question carefully-

Before you begin writing your answer, ensure a clear understanding of the question to stay focused and prevent veering off-topic. Do not make unnecessary stories answer accurately what has been asked. Reading the question properly is also important so that you do not give the wrong answer. Giving a wrong answer and realizing is later will kill you time. This will only be done when a candidate understands the syllabus well. The syllabus is explained above for more details you can refer to the official notification issued by the UPSC.

3- Good Presentation is necessary For UPSC Exam- 

It is necessary to write answers that are presentable and very effective. The structure should be understandable.

➢ Your answers should be written in a neat and clean handwriting. Give headings and subheadings wherever necessary. Also, maketables and figures if the answer requires them.

➢ Always use keywords to highlight important and scoring points in your answers. Try to underline the keywords. 

➢ Use examples for explaining if required, this will show your deep knowledge in the subject.

➢ Crafting the answer in a readable and well structured format is important.

➢ Always start the answer with an effective introduction.

➢ After introduction, frame the main body of the answer; provide examples and evidences in support of your answers.

➢ At the end summarize all the important points, conclusion is very necessary.

➢  A lot of aspirants have get confused whether to write in points or paragraphs. It depends on your comfort level. If you feel you can write better in points, continue doing so; and if you are comfortable expressing yourself in paragraphs, you should follow that practice.

➢ Make a logical structure that is easy to understand.

➢ When you switch to a new topic, make sure you change paragraphs.

4-  Use Simple Language-

You must opt for simple language. Avoid using very difficult and fancy words. Avoid using jargon and flowery language. Your writing should be easily understandable. Always write in a simple and error-free language. Your content should be easy to read and understand.  Carefully check the answers before you submit it. Avoid grammatical and punctuation mistakes. Avoid complicated words and language.

5-  Substantiate your answers-

Having an opinion and conveying it in a right and understandable manner is necessary. There will be questions in the exam which would require your opinion and point of view. Only making assertions or statements would not work in this exam, you need to provide evidences and examples. This will support your answer and impress the examiner. 

6- To the point-

Write accurate and to the point answers instead of writing down unnecessary stuff. Avoid using unnecessary technical terminology in your UPSC Mains answers. Always keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity. Divide your answers into paragraphs to make them more presentable and interesting. Also, avoid excessively long writing paragraphs. 

7- Stick to the word limit- 

Most of the questions have a required word limit do not exceed it. Exceeding the word limit will only waste your time and can also lead to loosing marks. Be precise and stick the word limit. Adhering to the word count is important. Do not write unnecessarily long answers this will never benefit you. Do not make stories, write accurately and precisely what the question demands.

8- Solve the previous year’s UPSC Exams question Papers

Solving previous year’s questions is crucial in making your concept strong. After you have acquired a thorough understanding of the topic through standard books and NCERT, the next stage is to solve the past five years’ question papers. It will assist you in answering practice questions, but it will also provide you with a good understanding of the test pattern and allow you to analyze the pattern of questions.

9- Enroll in the UPSC Mains test series

Enrolling in the UPSC Mains test series and analyzing your preparation level is the most critical as well as important step. The test series mainly helps students practice answer writing and understand the exam format. Still, it also provides a good idea of the likely questions and, most significantly, allows you to receive feedback from highly qualifiedprofessionals. Accept you mistakes and start working on them. This will improvise your answer writing skills.

10- Practice is the key to success-

“Practice makes a man perfect” is a very true saying we have always been told since childhood. You cannot develop good writing skills, time management skills etc. in one single day. If you don’t practice the answer writing daily you will never be able to write effective answers on the day of examination. Before 3-4 months of the mains exam the aspirant must start the answer writing practice. This will help you managing your time on the main exam day.

Current affairs and events make up most of the parts of the question paper; one must read newspapers and magazines. The Indian Express and Hindu are the two most widely published newspapers in India. Then there are sources like Lok Sabha TV, Rajya Sabha TV, editorials, AIR News, current affairs collection, economic surveys and budget to keep up with current events.

Gather as much knowledge you can from reliable sources this will help you very much in the answer writing.


Only after you clear your mains exam you will be called for the personal interview round. Along with self study right guidance is very necessary to pass any examination. A candidate must inculcate positive attitude and mindset which is really very necessary before one starts to prepare for an exam. Self discipline is must. One should consider all the subjects and then choose the optional subject. It is very necessary to make right choice of the optional subject so it helps you in scoring better marks and gives you an overall good ALL INDIA RANK. The right guidance and a proper schedule can help a person to crack an examination with flying colors. Along with hard work it is very necessary to do smart work. One must not waste time on unnecessary topics or easy topics. Hard work and dedication can help in achieving every dream in life. Also it is very necessary to keep yourself motivated throughout the journey. If you stay focused and prepare thoroughly you will definitely succeed. Stay delusional and highly optimistic. By regular practice and dedication for your dream you can master the art of writing good answers.

ALL the Best! Hope you achieve your dreams.

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