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UPSC Civil Services Exam Pattern: IAS Prelims, Mains Paper Pattern

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UPSC Exam Pattern: The Union Public Service Commission conducts the examination which is one of the most toughest and prestigious examinations for competitive exams in India. Before starting with the exam preparation you need to understand the UPSC Exam Pattern. It is annually conducted and it is observed that major changes were not done in the paper pattern since 2013. To crack this highly competitive exam, candidates must have a clear and better understanding of the UPSC Exam Pattern, which will play an important role in their preparation strategy.

The UPSC Examination serves as a main gate to the different reputed authorities that include the Indian Administrative (IAS), Indian Foreign Services(IFS), and Indian Police Service(IPS). In this article, we will aim to provide you with an overview of the UPSC exam pattern and the other components that are important for the preparation.

Table of Content:

UPSC Exam Pattern

UPSC Exam Pattern is the officially released paper pattern on which the exam will be conducted. The Union Public Service Commission is the agency assigned by GOI(Government of India) for recruiting candidates. The UPSC CSE is a three-stage exam:

  1. Preliminary Examination
  2. Main Examination
  3. Personality Test (Interview)

Exam Pattern for UPSC Prelims

The Preliminary Examination consists of two compulsory papers:

  • General Studies Paper I
  • General Studies Paper II (CSAT)

GS Paper I covers variety of topics such as geography, economics, current affairs, etc., whereas GS Paper II(CSAT) has Decision Making, Analytical Ability, Interpersonal Skills, Problem-Solving, etc. Total marks for each objective type paper is 200 marks. The questions are based on the UPSC syllabus prescribed by the officials.

Exam Pattern For UPSC Prelims
Two Compulsory PapersGeneral Studies Paper – I & General Studies Paper – II(CSAT)

Number of Questions (GS Paper – I)


Number of Question(CSAT)


Total Number of Marks

Total – 400

  • GS Paper – I- 200 Marks
  • CSAT – 200 Marks

Negative Marking

1/3 of the total marks allotted to the question will be deducted for every wrong answer

Time AllottedTwo hours for each exam: GS Paper – I- 2hrs CSAT – 2hrs

UPSC Mains Examination Pattern

The UPSC Main Examination is a descriptive examination that checks the aspirant’s in-depth knowledge and deep understanding of different subjects. It consists of nine papers, out of which seven are counted for ranking purposes. The papers include Essay, General Studies I, II, III, and IV, and two optional subjects chosen by the candidates. The optional subjects are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including literature, history, political science, geography, and more.

The Main Examination consists of nine papers:

  • Two compulsory language papers (one of your choice and English)
  • Seven optional papers (you can choose any four)

a) Compulsory Papers: These include Essay Writing, English Language Comprehension, Precis Writing, and General Studies (four papers covering diverse topics such as Indian Heritage and Culture, Governance, International Relations, Ethics, and Integrity).

b) Optional Papers: Candidates need to choose two optional subjects from a list of available disciplines, such as History, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science, Economics, Sociology, and more.

The language papers are of 300 marks each, while the optional papers are of 250 marks each. The questions are essay-type.

UPSC Mains Marks Distribution

The marks distribution for the Main Examination is as follows:

  • Language papers: 600 marks
  • Optional papers: 1000 marks
  • Total: 1600 marks

Paper – I



Paper – II

General Studies – I


Paper – III

General Studies – II


Paper – IV

General Studies – III


Paper – V

General Studies – IV


Paper – VI

Optional Subject – Paper I


Paper- VIII

Optional Subject – Paper II


Exam Pattern for UPSC Mains Optional Subjects

  • The Paper I of the optional subject focuses on the subject-specific topics as per the chosen optional subject.
  • The syllabus for each optional subject is specified by the UPSC.
  • Candidates need to have an in-depth understanding of the chosen subject and its core concepts.
  • The topics covered in Paper I of the optional subject may vary depending on the subject chosen.
Optional Subjects (Choose any one)Exam PatternOptional Subjects (Choose any one)Exam Pattern


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Political Science & International Relations

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Public Administration

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Civil Engineering

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Commerce & Accountancy

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Electrical Engineering

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Mechanical Engineering

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Medical Science

2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper:

3 hours duration)


2 papers (each paper: 3 hours duration)

Please note that each optional subject consists of two papers, and each paper has a duration of 3 hours. It is important for candidates to thoroughly prepare for both. The Syllabus and pattern for each optional subject may vary to the choices of the person.

UPSC Interview (Personality Test) Pattern

Candidates who qualify for the Main Examination are called for the UPSC Interview, also known as the Personality Test. This stage assesses the candidate’s overall personality, communication skills, and ability to handle stress and pressure. The interview panel consists of experts from various fields who evaluate the candidate’s suitability for a career in civil services.


Total Marks

UPSC Interview 275

Negative Marking in UPSC

There is a negative marking of 0.25 marks for each wrong answer in the Preliminary Examination. However, there is no negative marking in the Main Examination. The detailed description of the negative marking in the Prelims exam is shown below:


Questions (Number)

Total Marks

Negative Marks



2 per Question

0.66 per negative Answer



2.5 per Question

0.83 per negative Answer

UPSC Exam Strategy

Check out the following strategies which candidates are following in order to achieve good results in the exam as per the UPSC exam pattern:

  • For Exam preparation, you need to analyze the UPSC Syllabus and check the areas that require attention strictly as per the exam pattern. Make a plan that covers all the topics and Subjects.
  • Stay updated with latest news. Read newspapers, magazines, and related articles. Just stay focused on topics of national and international importance, government schemes, and social issues.
  • Do regular mock tests and previous year’s question papers to develop your time management and skills of problem-solving. This specific UPSC Preparation Tip will help you to get familiarize yourself with the exam pattern and help you to identify your strength and weakness.
  • Work on writing skills to express your ideas and thoughts clearly and concisely. Practice writing essays and answers to manage your writing and time during exams.
  • Select your optional subjects based on your interest, familiarity and ability. Take guidance from experts and analyze, the syllabus.


Once you understand and master the UPSC exam pattern you will be able to achieve success in the highly competitive civil services examination. You need to remember that consistent hard work, a disciplined study routine, and continuous self-assessment are the keys to cracking the UPSC exam.

Important Links for UPSC Exam

FAQs on UPSC Exam Pattern

1. What are the 3 stages of UPSC exam?

The UPSC examination consists of three stages: the Preliminary Examination, the Main Examination, and the Personality Test (Interview). One must clear each stage to progress to the next one.

2. Can I choose any optional subject for the UPSC Main Examination?

The UPSC provides a list of optional subjects that are mentioned above from which candidates can choose any subject. However, it is essential to check the updated list and syllabus provided by the UPSC to make proper decisions.

3. What is the weightage of the UPSC Main Examination and the Interview in the final selection?

In total, the marks that are obtained in the Main Examination and the Interview (Personality Test) are considered for the final selection. The Main Examination carries 1750 marks in total, while the Interview carries 275 marks.

4. What are the Changes in UPSC Paper Pattern?

The UPSC has made a number of changes to the paper pattern of the CSE in recent years. These changes have been made to make the exam more challenging and to ensure that it tests the candidates’ knowledge and skills in a comprehensive manner.

5. What is the UPSC Exam Pattern for IPS?

The UPSC also conducts the Indian Police Service (IPS) Examination. The paper pattern for the IPS Examination is similar to the CSE, but there are some differences. For example, the IPS Examination does not have a language paper.

6. What is the difference between UPSC Exam Pattern and UPSC EPFO Exam Pattern?

The UPSC also conducts the Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) Examination. The paper pattern for the EPFO Examination is different from the CSE and the IPS Examinations. For example, the EPFO Examination does not have a General Studies paper.

7. What are the 9 papers in UPSC mains?

The 9 papers in UPSC Mains are:

  • 2 compulsory papers of language
  • 7 optional papers form which 4 are to be selected.

Last Updated : 12 Jan, 2024
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