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An Approach for Integrated preparation of Mains cum Prelims for IAS Examination

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  • Published
    2nd Jul, 2020

UPSC Civil Services examination has the most challenging exam status due to the extensive syllabus. Each step demands the conceptual depth of the subjects. Syllabus of Prelims and Mains overlap in many areas. The art of getting maximum marks and utilizing the best of available resources in a limited time is the only way that can ensure success in this exam. What we call it – ‘minimum input & maximum output’. In this context, the pre-cum-mains integrated approach is considered to be the best method for the preparation of the examination. Before we know how to find the best results from an integrated approach, we should understand why this method is the best?

Why Integrated Approach?

Syllabus of the Prelims is nothing but a subset of the Mains: 70% syllabus of Prelims overlap with Mains syllabus. Following comparison shows the overlap of Prelims syllabus with various Mains Papers:

Prelims syllabus

Mains papers with same topics

History of India and Indian National Movement

General Study Paper 1

Indian and World Geography - Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World

General Study Paper 1


Indian Polity and Governance - Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.

General Study Paper 2

Economic and Social Development - Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, Etc.

General Study Paper 1, 2 & 3


General Issues on Environmental ecology, biodiversity, and climate change - that do not require subject specialization

General Study Paper 1 & 3


Science & Technology

General Study Paper 3

Current Events of National and International Importance

General Study Paper 1, 2 & 3

Also, this is a known fact that the level of depth required to cover up in the Mains syllabus is much higher. If a candidate is well-versed with the syllabus of the Mains, he/she will have no difficulty in the Preliminary examination.

Question from the same topics but with different approaches: If we carefully look at the previous year Prelims and Mains question papers, we can identify the common areas and topics from where questions had been asked repeatedly in pre and mains. But being objective in nature Preliminary exam focuses on the conceptual knowledge of subjects. But mains exam, being a subjective exam, the questions are analytical in nature and are mostly based on current affairs. The following table substantiates the above fact.


Prelims Question

Mains Question

Right Issues 

Q. Right to Privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty. Which of the following in the Constitution of India correctly and appropriately imply the above statement? (2018)

(a)     Article 14 and the provisions under the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution

(b)     Article 17 and the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV

(c)     Article 21 and the freedoms guaranteed in Part. III

(d)     Article 24 and the provisions under the 44th Amendment to the Constitution.

Q. Which Article of the Constitution of India safeguards one’s right to marry the person of one’s choice? (2019)

(a) Article 19

(b) Article 21

(c) Article 25

(d) Article 29


Q. Examine the scope of Fundamental Rights in the light of the latest judgement of the Supreme Court on Right to Privacy. (2017)


Q. Does the right to clean environment entail legal regulations on burning crackers during Diwali? Discuss in the light of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and Judgement(s) of the Apex Court in this regard.  (2015)




Welfare Schemes

Consider the following statements: (2018)

1.       Aadhaar card can be used as a proof of citizenship or domicile.

2.       Once issued, Aadhaar number cannot be deactivated or omitted by the Issuing Authority.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a)     1 only

(b)     2 only

(c)     Both 1 and 2

(d)     Neither 1 nor 2


Q. Two parallel run schemes of the Government viz. the Aadhaar Card and NPR, one as voluntary and the other as compulsory, have led to debates at national levels and also litigations. On merits, discuss whether or not both schemes need run concurrently. Analyse the potential of the schemes to achieve developmental benefits and equitable growth. (2014)


Government Budgeting

Q. What is/are most likely advantages of implementing 'Goods and Services Tax (GST)'? (2017)
1. It will replace multiple taxes collected by multiple authorities and will this create a single market in India.
2. It will drastically reduce the 'Current Account Deficit' of India and will enable it to increase its foreign exchange reserves.
3. It will enormously increase the growth and size of economy of India and will enable it to overtake China in the near future.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below.

(a)     1 only

(b)     2 and 3 only

(c)     1 and 3 only

(d)     1,2 and 3

Q. Discussion the rationale for introducing Good and services tax in India. Bring out critically the reasons for delay in roll out for its regime. (2013)

Land Reform

Q. With reference to land reforms in independent India, which one of the following statements is correct? (2019)

(a) The ceiling laws were aimed at family holdings and not individual holdings.

(b) The major aim of land reforms was providing agricultural land to all the landless.

(c) It resulted in cultivation of cash crops as a predominant form of cultivation.

(d) Land reforms permitted no exemptions to the ceiling limits.


Q. Discuss the role of land reforms in agricultural development. Identify the factors that were responsible for the success of land reforms in India. (2016)


Q. Establish the relationship between land reform, agriculture productivity and elimination of poverty in Indian Economy. Discussion the difficulty in designing and implementation of the agriculture friendly land reforms in India. (2013)

  • Every section of General Studies is interlinked: After reading the entire syllabus, we can understand that not only there are areas overlapping between the topics of Preliminary examination and Mains, but interlinking between different sections of the Mains For example, the syllabus of World History has some applications in Polity, International Relations (IR), Globalisation, and Economy. The same way we can find interlinking between topics of Economy and IR, Society and Governance, etc.

Thus, there is some kind of interconnection in all parts of the course. Therefore, while reading any topic, we should take care of these interlinking concepts. This makes our subject understanding deeper and provides various dimensions in our answers, which is essential for good marks.

  • Time Constraint: The time gap between the Prelims and Mains exams is enough only for revision and practice. There is no time left to start a new subject. Thus, one should start preparing earlier for the mains along with prelims.

How to get maximum from an Integrated Approach?

  • Micro-management of the syllabus: Micro-management of the curriculum is most important for an integrated approach. First, we should get acquainted with the entire curriculum, then start creating dots of the syllabus. The more we break the syllabus to the micro-level, the more we will be able to strengthen our understanding of the topics and the syllabus as a whole. If we have a deep understanding of the entire syllabus, we will be able to use any topic in the context of the preliminary examination and main examination while reading it. For example:

    A. Inclusive Growth and Inclusion
  1. Meaning and concept of Inclusion
  2. Why inclusion and India’s experience?
  3. Social section initiative and inclusion process
  4. Ground reality and working of flagship schemes
  5. India’s growth story in this context
  6. Why India’s growth is not inclusive?
  7. Rural economy based growth.
  8. Sustainable agriculture, food security, and resilience for growth.
  9. Public Distribution Schemes: Way to inclusive growth.
  10. Financial inclusion as an instrument of inclusive growth.
  11. Poverty Alleviation and Employment Generation as a strategy for inclusive growth.
  12. Social sector development as an instrument for inclusive growth.
  13. Public-Private Partnership for inclusive growth.
  14. Industrial Integration for inclusive growth.
  15. Sectoral and regional diversification as a tool for inclusive growth etc.


B. Climatic Change and Global Warming

  1. The Greenhouse Effect and the current problem
  2. Consequences of Climate Change (case studies of the impact on various areas i.e. Agriculture, Water, etc.
  3. World/India’s Response
  4. Un-Convention on Climate Change and nature of dispute among nations
  5. Crux of major world summits to tackle the climate problem
  6. Carbon Trading concept and recent issues
  7. Upper Atmosphere Thinning
  8. Ozone Hole Galloping Antarctica Again
  9. Southern Hemisphere Affected More
  10. Sea Level Rise and its socio-economic impact
  • Connecting the Dots: The next step is to interconnect the micro-dots of the syllabus and understand their inter-relation. To write outstanding answers to general questions, you should have the ability to relate the topics. It is important to pay enough consideration in what way any topic is interrelated with other sections of the syllabus.
    • For example, we get ample understanding of micro topics of Society, like population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems, and their remedies, only if we study them with micro topics of the Economy like Welfare, Poverty, Unemployment, and labour.
    • Same way if we are studying Union Executive and its function in Indian Polity then simultaneously we will have to go through the State Executive and its function to have a thorough understanding of both the topics. Similarly one should link the dots with recent developments regarding the topic across the syllabus.
    • Study previous years' question papers of Prelims and Mains again and again and try to understand the interlinking of topics.
  • Concept Building: Concept is the focal point of the exam and the entire preparation rotates around its axis. A deeper understanding of the concept of subtle to subtle topics is essential. For this, you should try to understand each topic with its all possible
  • Analytical Approach: In UPSC exams questions are not straight and direct. This is because after clearing the exam candidates are going to be administrators of the country and to serve the public they will need a practical approach. To develop an analytical approach one has to go beyond theory or plain information.  Questions in the exam are applied in nature and can't be answered with only having the basic theoretical knowledge of the topic without knowing the practical applicability. For example, we can look at questions on Right Issues in Mains as well as Prelims exams. Always read a topic with the question of ‘why’ and ‘how’ in the mind along with ‘what’.
    • Sound Perspective: The right perspective means looking at things around from a holistic viewpoint and finding out co-relation between them and how they impact each other in general. In other words, it means looking at every event, fact, or information in relation with the other associated factor and determining its end effect or impact.
  • For example, merely reading the current affairs from the common man’s perspective can only help to gather basic information. But as an IAS aspirant, one is expected to have the zeal to see above and beyond the facts and figures and to find out how a particular scenario in news is going to play out in the long-term and what impact is it going to have on the nation as a whole.
  • Clarity in expression in answer writing: To get the best repay for one’s effort in Civil Services preparation one should have the ability to pen down his knowledge with the required eloquence. There should be clarity in expression to deliver the demand of the question in a focused manner, ability to answer all the sub-parts, and substantiate answers through facts, data, figures, and placing correct examples & Case Studies to justify points. This skill can be honed by practice. Candidates should take an integrated test series so that you can complete your small goals in time and review your progress.

The Civil Services Examination is a long journey that requires consistency and dedication over a long time period. A good strategy is crucial to this. Thus, a prelim-cum-mains based integrated approach is the best to ensure that you clear the exam.

By Manoj K Jha and Pankaj Dwivedi

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