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

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.

how to prepare for upsc civil services mains new pattern, upsc new pattern and new syllabus, strategy for IAS main examination, UPSC


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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263 responses to “How To Prepare UPSC Civil Services Mains Paper-II (GS-1)

  1. V.Umarani

    Sir!!! regarding environment,ecology and bio-diversity , whether any magazine should be followed for current affairs. Please suggest me what they are.

    • ADITYA

      You can read down to earth magazine. it Is very good for environmental ecology and climate change perspective. plus very helpful to get a environmentalist perspective on important legislation.

  2. Aspirant

    For the World History section, as you have mentioned, Norman Lowe does not cover events from Pre-World War. Could you suggest any book which covers 18th and 19th century World History comprehensively

  3. anusha

    is it necessary to read complete book of india after gandhi or Chapters 8 to 14 sufficient? wat about topics like jp movement,minority,is it not needed for mains?

    • ADITYA

      I would personally suggest india after independence over india after gandhi. i believe the latter book Is not fit from academic point of view to be studied for such a exam. it has been written with a novel style just like john keay writes.

  4. akash kumar

    A brief History of Mod India or Comprehensive History of Mod India(spectrum)…which one should I go for(for both prelims and mains)??I already have bipin chandra.

    • ADITYA

      For history as part of general studies brief history of india spectrum plus bipin or comprehensive Is suffice. comprehensive plus bipin history seems overkill for me. albeit you can refer 2 to 8 from comprehensive to cover period of 1750 to 1850 if you are going to use bipin for topic 3 of syllabus.

  5. sonu

    Hi, you said not to refer more than 1 book for a topic but you have recommended both spectrum and bipin chandra.Please clearify. Also what chapters we have to study from certificate geography.
    Another concern: should we just study gs and no options for upsc’14 as other optional may aslo be removed next yaer?

    • ya right. I didn’t say for same ‘subject’. Bipan Chandra doesn’t cover from 1700 to 1857. You have to read it from somewhere else.

      Did UPSC tell about removal of optional? It’s a rumour. But it is good to finish all GS papers first and also keep in touch with your optional.

      • ashutosh singh

        donot spread rumours here keep all shit off!! or ****off. insight admin be strict about rumours ,i was disturbed b’coz of this comment as i have finished my pubad course. get rumours off. upsc will not make any change for next two three years at least so just study optionals also.

        • Hey relax. You should not get disturbed by any comment. I never allow rumours on this blog. I have replied him that it’s just a rumour.

          And, even if you are angry, try to be polite. :-)

    • Regarding topics, please read what I have mentioned in the article. First read completely and then complain.

      • sonu

        Thank you so much for so quick and personnel replies.Really appretiated. You are really amazing. I had posted the same query about studying optionals only , in other websites but still waiting reply.This site indeed has the insights.

  6. juneid

    sir, is there any single book which covers all the topic.

  7. preeti

    sir,i request if you could plz mention which chapters to read from the 6 NCERTs you have mentioned for Art and History:

    NCERT Class VI – History – Our Past
    NCERT Class VII – Our Past -I
    NCERT Class VIII – Our Past II and III
    NCERT Class XII – Themes In Indian History I
    NCERT Class-XII – Themes in Indian History – II
    NCERT Class XII – Themes In Indian History III

  8. nalanda

    Hello,you are doing a good job by providing guidance to IAS aspirant and thats also free of cost.keep it up.ok now my question is that “how many chapters should i study from INDIA’S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE BY BIPIN CHANDRA FOR HISTORY AS MAINS SUBJECT?”plz reply me as soon as possible.

  9. preeti

    sir plz reply to my question its been 2 days i hv been waiting for ur reply…….plz reply me as soon as possible…..

  10. preeti

    thanq sir…

  11. ADITYA

    Sir your site Is absolutely great for guidance to candidates like me who hail from humble economic background. sir i have a doubt regarding wording of syllabus.
    Sir the topic no 7 says : role of women and women organisation population and associated issues poverty and developmental issues urbanization THEIR PROBLEMS AND THEIR REMEDIES.
    Sir my doubt Is whose problems AND remedies Is the Last wording talking about? Is it of the women’s problems? and are the topics of population poverty and urbanization relate exclusive to those faced by women or by the populace as whole?
    Thanks again for your valuable guidance vinay sir.

  12. Carie

    Sir,can u suggest me good books for history optional for mains.
    Thank u…

  13. R Dinesh Babu

    sir…what is the fee structure in your institute for history optional along with test papers also……!!! only history optional(subject+test papers)…..!!! waiting for ur answer and eager to join…!!!

  14. rini

    sir strategy for geography plzzzz

  15. gyb

    truly a detailed analysis of mains (:
    a query:
    which chapters shud I read frm romila thapar’s ancient history fr mains as well as prelims?

  16. Varun

    I am enlightened by seeing this site.The only thing a serious aspirant needs for civil services is their hard work and proper guidance.The latter you have provided.NOW COMING TO QUERIES..

    1. For 2nd topic of gs paper1 history up to present: India since independence by Bipin chandra has many chapters like from 14(political parties….) to 24(The punjab crisis). Do I have to read all these chapters.
    2. The third topic of freedom struggle: There is a book named freedome struggle by bipin chandra(NBT). Is it sufficient or his other book India struggle for independece should be read.

    I can’t thank you enough for what you are doing and I don’t have any words to appreciate your work.
    Thanks in advance for replying……

  17. Nikhil D

    @Insights: I have a query regarding topic 5.

    The link you have give for world history (Amazon, India) takes us to the book ‘Mastering world history – by Judy Bittinger’. Is this book same as one by Norman Lowe? Can we buy this one? Please clarify. Thanks.

    • Nikhil D

      @Insights: Vinay Sir, can you please respond to my query? I have planned to complete this topic till November end. Your inputs will help.

  18. nitin

    sir i am preparing for ias in hindi and i am facing difficulty as your website have english pdf and material .i tried to search in hindi but not succed .i request you to please provide url or information for hindi medium student if avaliable

  19. Dear sir,
    help us to saying it that which chapters of NCERT books are required to study.
    It shall save our time and print cost. Pls!

  20. archit jain

    bhai….. thanks a ton….. u dunno how much easier have you made the preparations….. :):):)

  21. ABHI


  22. kapil saxena

    Plz tell me how to prepare for prelims 2014.

  23. puneet

    I am reading NCERT of 12th and making notes of the same…. it took me around 3-4 days to complete 15 themes of 3 books….
    Plz guide me how to read and make notes of all the books that you have mentioned in just 20 days!!

  24. Tejaswi

    I have followed INDIAN GEOGRAPHY by KHULLAR,
    is it necessary again to follow GEOGRAPHY OF INDIA by MAJID HUSSAIN,
    Kindly reply.

  25. Abhishek

    Hi Sir,

    The new questions are out. After looking at them what are your opinions on India After Gandhi vs India since Independence for Topic 4 – “Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country” of GS1.

    I have read “India After Gandhi”. And I loved the book. I started reading India since Independence, but I have to say, its no match to India After Gandhi.

    I wanted to know what you think.

    Also, the questions related to “Tashkent Agreement” and “India Bangladesh war of 1971″ are given in later chapters of the book. Does this mean a thorough reading of the complete book is required and not just chapters 8-14 as you have mentioned?

  26. Sir, I Am Going To Complete My +2 In 2014. I Wanaa Know That Whether It Would Be Right To Join Coaching Institutes Just After That

    • No. Join after your graduation. Pattern and trend keeps changing. By the time you finish graduation, your coaching might seem redundant if you go for coaching so early.

  27. vishal

    hello sir
    was going through your article “HOW TO PREPARE MAINS GENERAL STUDIES PAPERS “.sir, now that the mains questions are known, are there any changes in material/articles.
    can u please give your valuable updated suggestions and approach on how to prepare after seeing the question papers, if any , apart from ur articles.

    thank you

    • aditya

      I also logged in to say this same thing. Sir please update all your 4 articles of general studies study material in light of the questions of this years mains. It’ll really helpful to slim down the number of books as newspaper STUDYING Has gathered huge importance.

  28. is it necessary to read all chapters from mastering world history,as this book is very vast and sometimes deviates from upsc syllabus.

  29. UPSC Aspirant

    Sir i am confusing about ” TOPIC Number 2 ” – modern indian history book. Which Bipin chandra book are you talking about ? there are many books available in market under the name of bipin chandra :-
    1) OLD NCERT – Modern Indian History.
    2) Orient Blackswan Pubs.- History of Modern India.
    3) Penquin Pubs. – India’s Struggle for Independence.
    4) Penquin Pubs. – India Since Independence.

    and last you mentioned in prelims test series,
    5) Orient Blackswan Pubs.- From Plassey To Partition: A History Of Modern India by SEKHAR BANDYOPADHYAY.
    6) Spectrum – History .( this webpage )

    which one book is most recommended ?

    Thanks in advance

  30. UPSC Aspirant

    Sir i am confusing about ” TOPIC Number 2 ” – modern indian history book. Which Bipin chandra book are you talking about ? there are many books available in market under the name of bipin chandra :-
    1) OLD NCERT – Modern Indian History.
    2) Orient Blackswan Pubs.- History of Modern India.
    3) Penquin Pubs. – India’s Struggle for Independence.
    4) Penquin Pubs. – India Since Independence.

    and last you mentioned in prelims test series,
    5) Orient Blackswan Pubs.- From Plassey To Partition: A History Of Modern India by SEKHAR BANDYOPADHYAY.
    6) Spectrum – History .( this webpage )

    which one book is most recommended ?

    Thanks in advance

  31. Rahul

    Sir, can you tell the chapters to be covered from “India After Gandhi” for topic 4……..i know that u already told 8-14 chapters from “India After Gandhi” or 6-12 chapters from “India Since Independence”. But later in reply of a comment ,u told the chapters 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 , 18, 27, 29, 30, 33, 34, 35 and 38 are to be covered from “India Since Independence”. So what about “India After Gandhi”????

  32. Rahul

    Sir, can you tell the chapters to be covered from “India After Gandhi” for topic 4……..i know that u already told 8-14 chapters from “India After Gandhi” or 6-12 chapters from “India Since Independence”. But later in reply of a comment ,u told the chapters 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 , 18, 27, 29, 30, 33, 34, 35 and 38 are to be covered from “India Since Independence”. So what about “India After Gandhi”????


  33. Jyoti

    NCERT_Geography 12th Class “India- People and Economy”…… downloaded from NCERT Site, but all the maps are blurred. Searched google for recent and Clear maps but couldn’t find all relevant maps!
    Can Someone Help, Please!


    Thanks Sir for your valuable suggestions, I request you to please tell the chapters to read from FACETS OF INDIAN CULTURE. I finished reading NCERT portion for indian culture told by you.

  35. Raju

    I liked to read your articles on IAS preparations however I am in 1st year of engineering this worth lot to me,so I want to say you heartily thank you.

  36. karan

    Sir you told me not to join coaching institutes before my graduation but can i read all those books which you have mentioned for gs 1,2,3,4. And secondly i want to know that as upsc has changed the exam pattern whether upsc also changes the syllabus contents annually . Sir i have one more problem. I have made my mind about choosing public administration for my future optional subject and naturally i would give more importance to it in my graduation but if at that time upsc announces that know there will be 2 optionals to choose. How one can tackle that problem. Sir i am really really inspired from your hard work which you are doing for the upsc aspirants. I am very enthusiastic about becoming an ias and i hope you help me clear all my answers as soon as possible.

    • Akash

      Dear Karan, mean while you should focus on GS, you never know if optional paper is bumped off from 2015 onwards :)
      #a friendly advice
      Thank you !

  37. Mourya Bicham Singh

    I will write my degree final year exams in march 2016…now I am in degree 1st year….my age now is 20…..will I be eligible to appear for prelims 2016…
    waiting for your kind reply..

  38. anilyadav

    iam an engineering student from andhra pradesh can i take telugu litreatrue as my optional subject plz anyone respond to me

  39. Hello sir,
    For world history i am going through Bv Rao. As i felt that books is lucid and easy to understand Please tell me is it okay for gs or do you want me to shift to norman lowe . Waiting for your reply
    Thanks in advance

  40. karan

    Sir pleaseeeeeeee reply my queries of feb 14 waiting for your reply.

  41. karan

    Sir pleaseeeeeee reply feb 14 queries

  42. yogesh patil

    Sir please suggest me books for “Sociology” mains optinal paper

  43. Look for vegetarian items at: The Vegetarian Resource Group web-site:.
    Fruits – three every day: apples, peaches, all all types of berries, pears, oranges,
    grapefruits, tangerines, cantaloupes, nectarines, (limes and
    lemons are free). It’s easy to make, there are tons
    of ways to mix and match flavor combinations, and it is
    almost always delicious.

  44. sir,how about spectrum book for geography…with this any other book is also reqd or is it sufficient with ncerts?

  45. vikas chaturvedi

    Hello sir,
    firstly thanks a lot for ur support. :)
    and, i m strictly going on ur sight as books recommend by you…

    Thanks :-)

  46. vikas chaturvedi

    And i want say to my friends more searching of books means more confusion, so select concise nd completly focus on it :)

  47. i am very confused,please tell me, for gs preparation in paper 2 . as i am reading india struggle for independence from bipan chandra. but i am founding it as deep study. is that only bipan chandra modern history is not sufficient along with any other good book for these 2 topics ( Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues and India’s Struggle for Independence )
    please revert as earliest.

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