Prelims 2020 – Study plan.

As per the recent UPSC calendar, the UPSC Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination, 2020 shall be conducted on 31.05.2020. Starting today (i.e. July 1st, 2019) this leaves us with 335 days to complete our preparation for Prelims’20 examination.

If you looking for a detailed study plan for the Prelims’20 examination, you have landed at the right place!

Keep scrolling for a comprehensive Prelims’20 – 75 day plan which tells you about the syllabus, relevant sources, approximate timeline and a strategy which you can customize as per your own preference.

Prelims Syllabus (as per UPSC 2019 Notification) Relevant Sources (for sources marked in red – read below) Approximate Timeline
History of India and Indian National Movement

  • Ancient History
  • Medieval History
  • NCERTs
  • History – Tamil Nadu Text Book Corporation (Tamil Nadu Board Book).
8 days
History of India and Indian National Movement

  • Modern History


  • Spectrum – A Brief History of Modern India
  • History of Modern India – Orient Blackswan
12 days
History of India and Indian National Movement

  • Art & Culture


  • NCERT – Fine Arts
  • Indian Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania
5 days
Indian and World Geography – Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  • Geography NCERT – Class XIth & XIIth (4 books in total)
  • Certificate Physical and Human Geography – Goh Cheng Leong
8 days
Indian Polity and Governance-Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.  
  • Indian Polity – M. Laxmikanth
  • Indian Constitution at Work – NCERT
15 days
Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives etc.  
  • Economics NCERT – Class XIth (very basic Microeconomics) and XIIth
  • Major Focus on Current Affairs
  • Indian Economy – Ramesh Singh
  • Sri Ram Printed Notes
  • Mrunal Lectures
  • Economic Survey and Budget
12 days
General Issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change-that do not require subject specialisation
  • Environment by Shankar IAS
  • Major focus on Current Affairs
10 days
General Science
  • NCERT – Class VIth to Xth (cursory reading)
  • NCERT Class XIth Biology – Only chapters relating to Genetics and Biotechnology (cursory reading)
5 days
Current Events of National and International Importance
  • Daily reading of any one good newspaper
  • Any one good magazine
  • Any other study material of your choice
On-going process

*For the sources marked in red, the aspirants may choose to skip depending upon their comfort level, understanding and confidence level in the respective subject.

Now lets discuss some important points that one needs to keep in mind while preparing for the Preliminary examination. These are the common questions which every aspirant has in their mind.

  1. How important are the NCERTs? Can they be skipped? – The NCERTs cannot be skipped. Period. All the NCERTs must be read as many times as sustain-ably possible. Why are NCERTs so important? – a) There is no better source to build a strong foundation than the NCERTs; b) The NCERTs are lucid and in an easy to understand language; c) Many questions are directly being asked from the NCERTs in the recent papers.
  2. Is the timeline provided above strict? – No. the timeline provided above is not strict. Aspirants may choose to adjust it to their own comfort. We have made this timeline keeping a whole target of 335 days. Out of which we have given 75 days for the first reading because the first reading requires more time. The time required for subsequent readings shall reduce accordingly. Aspirants may choose to reduce/increase this as per their own comfort. A general breakup that we are considering here is – 150 days for General Studies (including ethics) and 120 days for optionals. The rest may be used for revision. This timeline is obviously flexible.
  3. How should one make notes? – It is advisable to make notes after the first or second reading. Because by that time, one knows what is relevant for the exam and what is not. Making notes at the first reading leads to many repetitions in the notes. For example, many topics in polity (like – oath, powers of president etc.) appear at many places verbatim. Therefore, after first/second reading, you will have an idea what is important and what is being repeated/irrelevant. Notes must be made keeping the fact in mind that the your aim is to have a document which shall be easy for quick reference and must not be bulky.
  4. Isn’t is better to read multiple books? – Though it may be beneficial to read multiple books, however, given the vast syllabus and constrain of time, it is important to make sure that you keep your sources limited. Thus, you can divide your sources into two parts – core sources and secondary sources. You must be completely thorough with core sources and must read it multiple times till your concepts are crystal clear. The secondary sources may be read cursorily as questions from fine print have also been asked in the Prelims exam. However, the input-output ration must always be kept in mind. Lets take an example. Many would say that Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania is a comprehensive source, however, reading the fine arts books would be beneficial in the following ways – (a) It would be like a revision of Nitin Singhania book as the subject-matter is essentially same; (b) Any matter skipped in Nitin Singhania book shall be covered. However, we repeat that the core sources must be given preference for repeated studies.
  5. How to prepare for History – History is possibly the biggest portion of the UPSC CSE static portion. And therefore the preparation for this subject needs a little more time and patience. The portion of history can be divided into the following sub-portions:

a. Art and Culture

b. Ancient and Medieval History

c. Modern History

For Art and Culture you can refer to the following books – (a) NCERT – Fine Arts; (b) Indian Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania.

Do you need to read both the books – Not essentially. However, keeping one book as your core source (preferably Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania) and cursorily reading the other one would be an advisable strategy. To make things easier, please note that the contents of both the books is quite similar and thus consider your secondary source as a revision reading of your primary source. Moreover the NCERT fine arts book is a lucid source in an easy-to-understand language which will help you in your mains preparation as well (we will be dealing with detailed Mains’2020 preparation strategy in another post).

How many times should the books must be read – You must read the books as many times as it takes you to have an understanding of the development of the course of events. In history, the timeline is very important. Many a times direct questions from the timelines are asked in the Prelims examination. For history it is advisable to make notes of timelines (just the timelines, and not detailed notes) starting from the first reading for easy reference.  You can make detailed notes from the subsequent readings.

The importance of practice tests – For history, the syllabus is vast which makes this subject even more challenging from the prelims perspective. It is very difficult to memorize all the data that is expected to be known for the prelims examination. Therefore, the prelims mock tests become extremely vital. Mock tests help you take educated guesses to eliminate the wrong options and eventually to reach the right one. In addition, do not be worried about low marks in history mock tests in the beginning. Mock tests would tell you about the areas which you need to work upon and constant practice would make you better.

The importance of previous year papers – Previous year papers for prelims are the best source to know what is more important and what is less important. For example, previous year questions will tell you that what kind of details should you focus on in case of, lets say, performing arts (e.g. Manipuri Sankirtana). You should constantly access the previous year papers (at least for previous 5 years) to get an idea about how to study. Click here for the previous year papers.


We will be updating this page regularly with more information. Stay tuned!

All the best.

Categories: POINT IAS

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