General Studies GS 1 Strategy, Book list , Syllabus, Pattern and Past trends

The nature and standard of questions in the General Studies papers will be such that a well-educated person will be able to answer them without any specialized study. 

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.

Mains Pattern 

  • General Studies 1 will carry 250 marks.
  • Paper Pattern and Marking Scheme: The marking scheme is not specified in the syllabus, but looking at past papers, there are three types.
  1. 20 question of 12.5 marks each to be answered in 250 words: 2015 and 2016
  2. [10 questions of 10 marks each to be answered in 150 words]+ [10 questions of 15 marks each to be answered in 250 words]: 2017 and 2018
  3. 10 questions of 25 marks each to be answered in 150 words:2014

General Studies- I: Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society.

  • This paper ensures that a candidate is judged on the basis of in-depth knowledge and understanding rather than just byhearting collected information at the last moment.
  • A civil servant should know and understand the history and geography of a particular place, including the behavior of the society, to help himself mold and get transformed in such a way that his duties/actions would have the highest efficacy on the citizenry.

How to start

  • Get a printout of the syllabus and read it carefully. Your final aim must be to prepare enough content for each topic mentioned in the syllabus. Your notes at the end of preparation must have content on different aspects of every topic in the syllabus.
  • Go through the past five years’ question papers to understand the breadth and depth of questions UPSC usually asks. It’ll give you a good perspective of what’s important and what’s not. Read our Importance of Syllabus and past papers post.
  • This is not the time to be reading something new. Value addition has to be done, But do not start the preparation of a new subject now. This should be done before the Prelims examination.
  • Your target must be to gain knowledge and concept, not mugging up  facts.
  • For conventional subject superimpose current affairs over it. Read our Importance of Current Affairs post.
  • Try to gain minimum sufficient knowledge over a diverse set of subjects rather than obsessively focusing on one topic.

How to prepare

  • You must develop the skill to speed read a material and highlights important lines as you read. In the second reading, this highlighted portion is what you need to revise. 
  • Map of India is your most effective tool for illustration. For example, draw India maps and label relevant parts for questions on river linkage ,Historical sites etc. Practice it enough so that you are able to draw and label it under 60 seconds.
  • If you are taking a test series, please give tests with all the seriousness of the final UPSC exam. Observe strict time limits.
  • Always take test series as self assessment. Take the schedule as a guide to finishing the syllabus on time. It helps you develop a habit of sitting for three hours and write.
  • Be least bothered about underlining, highlighting, paragraphs or points etc. Just write what you know. Always stick to the question.
  • Writing Practice is very important as you prepare so following insightsonindia secure initiative and forumias mains marathon  or any other such initiative is also helpful.

What to read

Read only the relevant chapters from each book that are related to sub-topics mentioned in the GS Paper I Syllabus because mains is relatively restricted portion comparing to prelims which is open ended, so it is advised to stick to syllabus.


Indian Art and Culture

  • Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of art forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times. 
  • This topic has a low cost benefit ratio compared to the other topics in this paper. Only around two to three questions and worth not more than 25-30 marks are asked from this as shown in chart below.
  • The syllabus can be confusing and the sheer number of sources available for this can overwhelm most aspirants. Please refer our How to prepare for Art and Culture post to know all about it.


  • History can be further divided into four subtopics:
  1. Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
  2. The freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributions/ contributors from different parts of the country.
  3. Post-independence consolidation and reorganisation within the country.
  4. 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 communism, capitalism, socialism etc.— their forms and effect on the society.


  • The break-up from the past five years is given below.

  • Just memorizing features & events  won’t help in answering analytical questions.
  • Many aspirants start History with great enthusiasm and cover the initial topics around 1857 really well but start slacking off towards 1900s. This is a big mistake. Everything needs to be covered because every serious aspirant is going to answer the history questions as most of it is static[ though the type of questions asked can be challenging, every serious aspirant has the required knowledge and content because of the well defined syllabus and sources.]
  • You have to understand the circumstances under which the events took place. Always ask questions to yourself about the different factors involved in the historical events.
  • Sources:
  1. Modern Indian History and the Freedom Struggle.
  • A Brief History of Modern India- Spectrum Publications.
  • India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra [Read selectively for topics not covered in the first book].

2. Post Independence India.

  • India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra.[Only chapters Chapter 6 to Chapter 12 if paucity of Time ]
  • If possible selective reading of India After Gandhi.[Only chapters Chapter 8 to Chapter 14 If paucity of Time]

    3. World History.

  • Mastering Modern World History by Norman Lowe(Read only topics relevant to syllabus)
  • Read IASBYHEART World history Material
  • NCERT world history book Class IX & Class-X



  • Geography can be divided into:
  1. Salient features of world’s physical geography.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.


  • The break-up from the past five years is given below.

  • No need to read books of the optional or specialized books for geography. It will just consume your time during last minute preparation. 
  • As far as geography is concerned questions are direct and concept oriented so in dept prelims knowledge based on NCERT is more than enough.
  • Keep an eye for the topics given in the syllabus which feature in current affairs and make your own notes for it.


  • Sources:
  1. NCERTs
  2. Certificate Physical and Human Geography: GC Leong
  3. Google and YouTube

As you can see, these are the same sources that we use to prepare Geography for prelims. No special book is required for mains preparation of Geography as the questions asked are more current based than facts based. You need to know the basic terms and concepts, which are easily covered be the sources for prelims. 



  • Society can be divided into:
  1. Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
  2. Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
  3. Effects of globalization on Indian society.
  4. Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.


  • The break-up from the past five years is given below.

  • It is a myth that you don’t need to study Indian society because it’s very general and everyone knows it. Based on your general knowledge you can write answers but there is no guarantee that your general answer will suit the demand of the question. You will miss the key words and technical terminologies which can make your answers unique.
  • So follow the materials and take note of terminologies.
  • You should also read about role of women through different periods in history (including freedom struggle, art and culture etc). If you look at the past papers, you will know that you will have to integrate different concepts and come up with a coherent answer. So, try to interlink different parts of syllabus and prepare notes accordingly.


  • Sources:
  1. Read Sociology Std XI and XII NCERTs for understanding the basics.
  2. Prepare general structure for each topic in syllabus-a crisp definition, latest statistics, government schemes, criticism of these schemes; causes of issues such as communalism and regionalism, historical and current examples, their impact on our society.
  3. Follow Hindu editorial, special articles,Yojana and Kurukshetra for relevant articles.
  4. Any coaching material if you think it is helpful and good.


  • Important Points
  1. Keep revisiting  the syllabus and past papers so that you keep reminding yourself what you are preparing for. This will help you in focused preparation.
  2. Remember that note making is as important as covering all the sources. You need to revise as many times and in as less time as possible and nothing will help you in this endeavour than your own concise notes.
  3. Prepare your own strategy and stick to it religiously. No need to be over-ambitious. Prepare a strategy which you know you can follow religiously for the entire period of preparation.
  4. If you look at the past papers, you will know that you will know that many questions are a mix of different topics and you will have to integrate different concepts and come up with a coherent answer. So, try to interlink different parts of syllabus and prepare notes accordingly.
  5. Being thorough with Current Events helps you in acquiring  analytical skills. So follow your current affairs strategy religiously.


  1. Sir, ncert book list video is posted by you in your channel, either these books are enough for both prelims and mains or not?

    1. Dear aspirant,

      These are must read NCERTS. You have to read them compulsorily. They cover the basics for both prelims and mains. These will be enough to answer questions in prelims and mins. However if you have time , you can glance through other NCERT’s.

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