UPSC Civil Service Exam Pattern: Understanding The Approach

Last updated on 1 Oct, 2018 | 0 comments

upsc civil service exam pattern

UPSC Civil Service Exam is considered among the top competitive exams of India. Hence, it is very important that upsc civil service exam pattern is well known to all its aspirants. Commonly known as IAS exam, upsc civil service exam syllabus is a must known thing if you really consider yourself as an aspirant.

The UPSC Civil Services Examination (UPSC CSE) is a nationwide competitive exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission for recruitment to various Civil Services of the Government of India, including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Police Service (IPS) among many others.

UPSC Civil Service Exam Pattern

The Civil Services Examination is considered to be the most difficult competitive examination in India. On average, 900,000 to 1,000,000 candidates apply every year and the number of candidates appearing to sit the preliminary examination is approximately 500,000. The examination consists of the following three stages:

  • Stage I: A Preliminary examination consisting of two objective-type papers (General Studies Paper I and General Studies Paper II also popularly known as Civil Service Aptitude Test or CSAT)
  • Stage II: After that, Mains examination consisting of nine papers of conventional (essay) type
  • Stage III: And a personality test (interview).

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Process of Selection in UPSC CSE

A notification for the priliminary exam (CSAT) usually comes around Feb-March and the exam is held between June-July each and every year and results are published in mid-August. Candidates qualifying the CSAT can appear for the mains exam, which is generally held in the month of October every year.

The successful candidates qualifying both these exams can now appear for the interview (personality test) which is generally scheduled in the month of March, following by the final results which is usually announced in the month of May. Finally, the training program for the selected candidates commences around September.

The statistics show that over 9 lakhs candidates apply for the UPSC IAS exam that holds approximately 900-1200 vacancies. Click To Tweet

List of Services under UPSC CSE

All India Services (Group A)

  • Indian Administrative Service (IAS)
  • Indian Police Service (IPS)
  • Indian Forest Service (IFS)

Central Services (Group A)

  • Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IA&AS)
  • Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS)
  • Indian Corporate Law Service (ICLS)
  • Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS)
  • Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES)
  • Indian Foreign Service (IFS)
  • Indian Information Service (IIS)
  • Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS)
  • Indian Post & Telecommunication Accounts and Finance Service (IP&TAFS)
  • Indian Postal Service (IPoS)
  • Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS)
  • Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS)
  • Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS)
  • Indian Revenue Service (IRS-IT)
  • Indian Revenue Service (IRS-C&CE)
  • Indian Trade Service (ITrS)
  • Railway Protection Force (RPF)

Group B Services

  • Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service (AFHCS)
  • Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (DANICS)
  • Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Police Service (DANIPS)
  • Pondicherry Civil Service (PCS)
  • Pondicherry Police Service (PPS)

Preliminary Examination (CSAT)

From 2011 onwards, the preliminary examination, now popularly known as the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) (officially it is still called General Studies Paper-1 and Paper-2), intends to focus on analytical abilities and understanding rather than the ability to memorize. The new pattern includes two papers of two hours duration and 200 marks each. Both papers have multiple choice objective type questions only. They are as under:

  • Paper I tests the candidate’s knowledge on current affairs, history of India and Indian national movement, Indian and world geography, Indian polity (panchayti Raj system and governance), economic and social development, environmental ecology, biodiversity, climate change, general science and Art and culture.
  • Paper II tests the candidates’ skills in comprehension, interpersonal skills, communication, logical reasoning, analytical ability, decision making, problem solving, basic numeracy, data interpretation, English language comprehension skills and mental ability.

In August 2014, the Centre announced that English marks in CSAT-II will not be included for gradation or merit. In May 2015, the Government of India announced that Paper II of the preliminary examination will be qualifying in nature i.e. it wouldn’t be graded for eligibility in Mains Examination but a candidate needs to secure at least 33% marks in order to be eligible for graded on basis of marks of Paper I of Preliminary Examination.

UPSC CSE Mains Examination

The written examination consists of nine papers, two qualifying and seven ranking in nature. The range of questions may vary from just one mark to sixty marks, twenty words to 600 words answers. Candidates who pass qualifying papers are ranked according to marks and a selected number of candidates are called for interview or a personality test at the Commission’s discretion.

Qualifying Papers (Non-Ranking)

  • Paper A: One of the Indian Language to be selected by the candidate from the languages included in the Eight Schedule to the Constitution. (300 Marks)
  • Paper B: English (300 Marks)

Papers to be Counted for Merit (Ranking)

  • Paper I: Essay (250 Marks)
  • Paper II: General Studies I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the Worl16d and Society) (250 Marks)
  • Paper III: General Studies II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations) (250 Marks)
  • Paper IV: General Studies III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management) (250 Marks)
  • Paper V: General Studies IV ( Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) (250 Marks)
  • Paper VI: Optional Subject- Paper 1 (250 Marks)
  • Paper VII: Optional Subject- Paper 2 (250 Marks)

Subtotal (written test) : 1750 Marks

Personality Test (Interview) : 275 Marks

Grand Total : 2025 Marks

Current affairs is the most important aspect of the #UPSC question papers. So, daily reading of #newspaper is essential for an #IAS aspirant. Click To Tweet

Optional subjects

The subjects available for Papers VI and VII are: Public administration is one of the most sought after optional subjects in Mains examination as it has overlapping content with other subjects like Current Affairs, History, Polity. The standards of Optional papers is of Post Graduate level. Paper I is theoretical but Paper II is often dominated by Current Affairs and Application based questions.

Optional subjects for Paper VI and VII

  • Agriculture
  • Animal Husbandary and Veterinary Science
  • Anthropology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil Engineering
  • Commerce and Accountancy
  • Economics
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History
  • Law
  • Literature of any one of the non-English languages listed above
  • Management
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Medical Science
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Zoology

Personality Test (Interview)

Officially called the “Personality Test“, the objective of the interview is to assess the personal suitability of the candidate for a career in public service by a board of competent and unbiased observers. The test is intended to evaluate the mental calibre of a candidate.

In broad terms, this is really an assessment of not only a candidate’s intellectual qualities, but also social traits and interest in current affairs. Some of the qualities to be judged are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, balance of judgement, variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion , LEADERSHIP, and intellectual and moral integrity.

The technique of the interview is not that of a strict cross-examination, but of a natural, though directed and purposive conversation that is intended to reveal the mental qualities of the candidate.The interview is not intended to be a test either of the specialised or general knowledge of the candidate, which has been already tested through written papers.

Candidates are expected to have taken an intelligent interest not only in their special subjects of academic study, but also in the “events which are happening around them both within and outside their own state or country” as well as in modern currents of thought and in new discoveries which should rouse the curiosity of all well-educated youth.


Though UPSC civil service exam is considered to be one of the toughest exam with less than 1% selection, if proper guidance and strategy is followed, it can be cracked very easily. Every year more than 500,000 candidates appear for the exam and less than 1000 candidates are able to crack it.

Since it’s a long process you must hold on your frustration which is generally faced by every UPSC aspirant in some way or the other. So be patient and keep learning from your mistakes. UPSC allows an attempt of 6 times so that you have ample amount of time to crack it. So, don’t give up untill you get through all three phases.

Click Here To Visit Offical UPSC Website