UPSC Prelims and Mains Exam Syllabus

The Civil Services Exam (CSE) is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and is one of India’s most popular and competitive exams. 

UPSC conducts the exam in two different stages – Prelims and Mains. An interview then follows the exams. Both stages offer various challenges for the candidates. Thus, they require additional preparation strategies as well. 

There are several differences between the Prelims and Mains exams. They range from the format and time duration to subjects and syllabus . UPSC Syllabus questions are to be answer in descriptive format only.  All these key differences have been explained in detail below. 

Format of UPSC Syllabus

UPSC conducts the Preliminary exam in an objective type pattern. So, you are required to fill your answers in an OMR sheet. All the questions for the UPSC Prelims Syllabus are to be answerd in objective format.

The Mains exam, on the other hand, follows a subjective pattern. Thus, the candidates need to write their answers in a question-cum-answer booklet. 

Structure of Syllabus of UPSC

The UPSC Prelims involve two General Studies papers. Those who qualify for the Mains need to give 9 papers under the UPSC Mains. 

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Paper 2 of the Prelims stage is a qualifying paper. The candidate must score at least 33% marks in this paper. In the Mains stage, there are 2 qualifying papers out of 9. The other 7 papers are a part of the merit calculation. 

Time Duration

In the Prelims stage, the exam duration for both papers is 2 hours. However, all 9 papers in the Mains stage are 3 hours long. 

Subject Choice

Both the Prelims and Mains stage cover a wide range of subjects. However, there is no optional subject in the Prelims exam. Contrarily, in the Mains exam, you need to choose an optional subject. The candidates can select their optional subject from a list of 48 options. 

Syllabus for Prelims and Mains Exam for UPSC

The UPSC exam has an extensive syllabus. It covers a wide range of topics in both stages. Here’s what you can expect from each paper in terms of the syllabus:


  • General Studies Paper 1 

This paper covers the following topics:

  • Economy
  • Current Affairs 
  • Social Development
  • Indian Polity & Governance
  • Science and Technology
  • Indian and World Geography
  • Indian History and National Movement
  • Environment, Ecology, Biodiversity and Climate Change
  • General Studies Paper 2/ CSAT 

The second paper involves topics related to the following:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Communication Skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Quantitative Ability
  • Analytical Ability


  • Paper-A 

The candidates need to select an Indian language compulsorily for this paper. 

  • Paper-B 

This is a mandatory English paper for all candidates. 

  • Paper I 

This paper requires the candidates to write essays on diverse topics. 

  • Paper II (General Studies Paper I)

Under this paper, you can expect topics related to the following:

  • Indian Heritage and Culture
  • History and Geography of the World and Society 
  • Paper III (General Studies Paper II) 

This paper deals with issues related to the following: 

  • Governance
  • Constitution
  • Welfare Initiatives
  • Social Justice and International Relations
  • Paper IV (General Studies Paper III) 

The following topics can be expected in this paper:

  • Technology
  • Biodiversity
  • Agriculture
  • Economic Development
  • Security and Disaster Management 
  • Paper V (General Studies Paper IV) 

This paper encompasses topics such as Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude.

  • Paper VI 

This paper caters to the optional subject chosen by the candidate. This is the first paper on the optional subject.

  • Paper VII 

This is the second paper on the optional subject. 

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The UPSC Prelims and Mains exams have several differences. However, you would find an overlap between some topics in both stages. 

But the formats of the papers in the two stages are different. Therefore, you need to prepare yourself to deliver the required information in both objective and subjective formats. 

While the Preliminary exam is a qualification round, the Mains exam is essential for your merit. So, you need to pay equal attention to both and cover all your bases. 

BYJU’S Exam Prep helps you do the same by providing a comprehensive learning environment with everything you need to crack a competitive exam.

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