IASbaba – UPSC Civil Services Mains Strategy – Paper 1

  • IAS baba
  • August 28, 2015
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Civil Services (Mains) Examination – General Studies

Strategy for Paper 1

Essay Strategy- Click here

Model Essay by IASbaba– Click here


GS – Paper 1, which is of 250 marks, is one of the most scoring papers in the written examination. It also has the most static portion of all the four GS papers – once you read the standard books and understand the content, answering questions from this paper becomes easier.

Having said that, static portion in this paper, does not mean factual questions, nor does it mean repeated questions from previous years. (Of course, exceptions are always there). It only means that the syllabus won’t change with the current on-going events. Many opinion-based questions are a part of GS-1 as well, which are based on the static portion.

One brilliant example from the 2014 paper can be cited here.

The third battle of Panipat was fought in 1761. Why were so many empire-shaking battles fought at Panipat?

This is rooted in the static portion of History. Most of the students read the details about the First, Second and Third Battles of Panipat. Even though this question is “Static” in its true sense, it is not “factual”.

The student must “think” on the spot for a variety of factors, as to why Panipat was the chosen place for many battles. This has geographical perspective, climatic, empire boundaries and many other such factors.

So, while attempting GS-1, even though it is rooted in static portion, one must not fail to “think”. While reading the static portion, one must always ask the questions “why” and “how”, more than what.

 The syllabus of General Studies- 1 can be broadly divided into History, Sociology, Geography and a few topics related to Anthropology.

The article discusses about Preparation Strategy for General Studies-1. The strategy gives you

  1. Topic-wise analysis
  2. Book recommendations and
  3. What to Read and How to read/Understand the subject.

Note: Before going through the strategy, click on Detailed Mind Maps for Syllabus. Mind Maps are only directive not exhaustive. It is done for a better understanding of the syllabus keeping in mind the requirements of a beginner


It includes the following subtopics

  • Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.
  • Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present significant events, personalities, issues.
  • The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors or contributions from different parts of the country.
  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.
  • 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.


1. Indian Culture: Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from Ancient to Modern times.


Frankly speaking, this topic is one of the most irritating topics in the whole syllabus as per many aspirants. There are literally thousands of paintings, folk dances, festivals, literary books, architectural marvels, and many more to remember. Considering the weightage given and the number of questions based on this is never more than 3-4. Out of 250 marks, the weightage given to this section is not more than 30 marks. So, the cost-benefit ratio of remembering so many names and information is a sheer wastage of time and memory space. Moreover, the questions asked are opinion-based and not factual.

We are not discouraging you to, not to study this section altogether. Rather based on input-output ratio, one most devote the time smartly. You should not panic! If you do so you will end up with a heap of resources. Hence, IASbaba intends to give you the best resources and approach that will not only save your quality time but also earn credit in generating quality answers. A myth about this section is that, it is completely static and only factual data has to be prepared through books and notes. Ah, really??

No, not at all!! Here you will get to know that even this section, seemingly factual can be prepared from newspapers if you can relate it smartly. In the dynamic section, we have explained this in detail.


Sources/books to follow


STATICCCRT Website and Tamil Nadu book- Class 11th

Read these resources as per your convenience.

  • Indian Performing Arts
  • Indian Visual Arts
  • Indian Literature through Ages
  • Old NCERT Class 11 – Fine Arts
  • Tamil Nadu- Class 11th book
  • Ancient and Medieval India –  Poonam Dalal Dahiya



In The Hindu, a section named ‘Friday Review’ is dedicated for updates in Indian Culture. It comprises of Dance, Music, Faith, Art and History and Culture.

UPSC has asked many questions from this section in past years. You just need to have a thorough understanding of topics mentioned in the syllabus. This will help you in picking up or selecting the right articles from the newspaper related to culture. And will immensely help you both at the Prelims and Mains. Let us see, How?

For example,

This article– mentions about Thang-Ta, a ‘Manipuri Marshal Art of Sword and Shield’. This can be asked in Prelims.

If you go through books and other resources, you will end up with unlimited facts and figures that’s beyond human capability. This is not required for this exam. What we suggest is study smartKeep your resources minimum and Revise again and again!!

Now coming back to the importance of the Newspaper – ‘while reading the newspaper keep an eye on the topics mentioned in the syllabus’. Newspaper gives you more information and dimensions that you seldom find in a book (or say miss in books).


For example,

Though not very useful from the point of view of a connected political history of South India, the Sangam literature portrays the social and economic conditions of its time with remarkable vividness. Comment (2013)

You might have read all the static part thoroughly, but still looking at this question makes you feel OMG!! Where the hell did UPSC come up with such a question?

The Answer to this is

If you read static books then there is every possibility that you may not be able to answer it because there are infinite aspects in Literature section. Also, many of you will never prepare in such detail. So the Mantra should be ‘take the reference from newspapers and then prepare about that topic accordingly’.


Here is the reference for above question asked by UPSC in 2013.


Previous Year UPSC Questions:


Chola architecture represents a high watermark in the evolution of temple architecture. Discuss.(2013)


Here is the reference for this question

Reference 2


Discuss the Tandava dance as recorded in the early Indian inscriptions.(2013)

Here is the reference for this question


To what extent has the urban planning and culture of the Indus Valley Civilization provided inputs to the present day urbanization? Discuss. (2014)

Here is the reference for this question


Gandhara sculpture owed as much to the Romans as to the Greeks. Explain. (2014)

Reference: For quite a sometime in 2012 and 2013, Buddhist Sculptures were in news due to its safety issues and attacks by Taliban.

Taxila university was one of the oldest universities of the world with which were associated a number of renowned learned personalities of different disciplines. Its strategic location caused its fame to flourish, but unlike Nalanda, it is not considered as a university in the modern sense. Discuss. (2014)


Recent opening of Nalanda University

Are you able to understand the intention behind these references and links?

So, do not read much into this topic. Just going through the CCRT website or notes, NCERT’s, The Hindu-Friday Review or other links related to this topic and answer-writing for some model questions is more than enough.


Some tips to remember for Culture

  • Focus on retrospective study, once finished with the static portion. What we mean by “Retrospective study”- Make a note of terms, articles, which are in recent news from The Hindu or other sources and revise them.
  • Don’t fall under the trap of reading more books, this will only increase your anxiety and lower your confidence. After going through previous year’s UPSC questions and the strategy on how to prepare for Mains on IASbaba, you would have realized that even if you remember most of the things, there is no guarantee that one can answer such questions.
  • Do not even think of mugging up. It is Mission- impossible!!Book references from fellow aspirants, coaching materials and books in the market will tempt you every now and then. But remember the Golden words of IASbaba‘it is a sheer waste of time!!’ Instead study smartlymake your own plan, stick to a few resources, critically examine the issues from every possible angle and revise again and again.
  • The cost benefit of preparing this section as compared to other topics is very less. Even if you go for extensive coverage, you may not be able to produce it. But if you prepare smartly as discussed above, then there is every possibility for you to produce quality answers in the exam.


2. Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present significant events, personalities, issues and The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors or contributions from different parts of the country.


Indian National Movement and Indian Modern history is one of the most interesting and eventful topics, which gives a sense of nationalistic feeling in us while reading it. So, this can be read from a plethora of books for self-satisfaction, or to know more about the epic struggle for independence.

Many people do read a lot of books on this topic, solely because the books are page-turners and written in the style of novels. They do give a very intriguing story, and reading stories are always entertaining. But for UPSC, this topic needs to be analyzed from a historiographical perspective (critically examination of sources), so just blindly turning pages, understanding only the “events” is not enough. The book that we recommend for the wholesome understanding and the implications of this phase is –




Spectrum’ Comprehensive History of Modern India

This book deals with more of understanding the philosophy of the events, rather than just listing the events and giving a gripping narrative. It is more of a subject matter book, than a story-telling novel.One book is more than enough for this whole topic. Other books like ‘India’s Struggle for Independence’ by Bipan Chandra OR ‘India After Gandhi’ by Ramachandra Guha, can be read if you have the time and energy.


Note: You may find NCERT’s useful too but for Mains; Spectrum Book will suffice your need as you must have finished NCERT’s for PRELIMS preparation.

In Dynamic section, we will refer to the aspects of Modern India and relate whether it can also be prepared from recent news or articles, or not?




The Hindu: Referring to newspapers will increase your awareness on the topics and aspects that is important from any section mentioned in the syllabus. It is important to study from static sources or books but it is more important to know and smartly guess what topics are important for the respective year.

And this can best be done by following the news and articles coming in newspapers like The Hindu. We will show you how?


Note: In past years, most of the questions asked by UPSC from Modern India had appeared in some or the other form in newspapers of that year or preceding year. In 2013, almost all the questions asked by USPC had appeared in the news. Let us check to build credibility



Examples: Check these questions from 2013

Defying the barriers of age, gender and religion, the Indian women became the torch bearer during the struggle for freedom in India. Discuss.

Reference: This article that appeared in March 2013, should have formed a light for preparing the content for answering the above question. The article even mentions about the crux word, ‘The Torch Bearer’. How easy it would become for aspirants if they prepare like this!!


Several foreigners made India their homeland and participated in various movements. Analyze their role in the Indian struggle for freedom.

Reference: This article that appeared in August 2013, could have acted as a building base for above question.


In many ways, Lord Dalhousie was the founder of modern India. Elaborate.


Reference 2:


Why did UPSC ask this question?

Because Telegram service was stopped and when the telegraph service was first set up in India, part of Lord Dalhousie’s ambitious reforms, it was the symbol of an advancing modernity.

Discuss the contribution of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to pre-and post-independent India.

Reference: Many articles appeared in The Hindu in the year 2013, mentioning about the contribution of Abdul Kalam Azad. Likewise such personalities are to be prepared in the Modern India section. You should prepare about all because UPSC is unpredictable but if you stick to smart study like this, your efforts will be maximized towards achieving success rather than wasting your time and energy.


Now check the questions from Mains-2014


Examine critically the various facets of economic policies of the British in India from mid-eighteenth century till independence.

Reference: Though it is an easy question and forms part of every static book in detail. But one can easily know that it may catch the attention of UPSC as it has appeared in the newspaper in some or the other form.

3. Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.


Post-independence consolidation is much more interesting than Indian National Movement, because it has its effects on the present scenario too. Instead of reading a book, we would refer to watch a web-series on the same.




  • Pradhan Mantri on YouTube: This program has 24 episodes, which gives a detailed analysis of events right from 1947 to 2014. Each episode takes one phase and the anchor talks about the issues pertaining to those times. Ofcourse, there is some bias in the depiction, but ongoing politics is always embedded with media bias. A true civil service aspirant should aim to extract the required knowledge and should ignore the inherent media bias.


After this, any of the standard books can be read for a further in-depth understanding, like

  • You can also refer to Modern India, Old NCERT book.


4. History of the world – From mid 18th


Before reading such topics, always try to watch videos on that, to have a basic ground-level understanding. These topics consist of a bunch of sub-topics like World Wars, American Revolution, French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Industrial Revolution etc. Most of them are stand-alone topics, and can be understood within 10-15 minutes if you watch the right videos.


We would recommend Khan Academy’s series of lecture videos which can be accessed online. Salman Khan, who is financed by Google, has created hundreds of videos on such topics, and watching them would help one understand the topic really well.After which, any standard book can be taken to give a further in-depth reading like

  • One very good book to refer is Contemporary World History by J.S.Rajput published by NCERT. But this is not available nowadays. It is available in the premises of the Holy Mukherjee Nagar as Xerox 🙂



  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
  • Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.
  • Effects of globalization on Indian society.
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.


Note: Refer to Mind Maps for Sociology topics. It has various dimensions related to all these topics. Detailed Mind Maps


All the topics can be read from the NCERT Sociology text-book, class 11th and 12th, newspapers, online articles etc. Many of these issues have been discussed/addressed in websites such as QUORA.COM


Note: YOJANA published by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should be your first preference for social issues.

Most of these topics are dynamic, rooted in the static portion. So, a separate study from standard books is not needed. Just a general awareness along with original thinking is more than enough.

For eg., In 2013, a question on the implications of globalization on the old-age was asked. You cannot find such answers in a single “standard book”. What it requires is awareness and on-the-spot thinking. So, instead of reading books, reading the newspapers along with innovative discussions is what is necessary.


1. Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.


Sources/books to refer

  • NCERT– Indian Society Class 12th– More than enough for basic understanding
  • You don’t need to read Ram Ahuja or any other book for this. Save your time and work efficiently. A basic understanding and general awareness is enough to answer UPSC questions and NCERT book will solve your purpose.


2. Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.


As you can see these topics are dynamic in nature and enough content can be found from newspapers and YOJANA articles of previous months. Before jumping into sources to prepare, let us have a look at previous year’s questions asked by UPSC.

How does patriarchy impact the position of a middle class working woman in India? (2014)

Do you need to refer to any book to answer this question?

Not really. What you need is to quantify your knowledge base and analytical approach to such topics and the best ingredient available is Newspaper articles, debates and discussion on Rajya Sabha or social platforms etc.


Why do some of the most prosperous regions of India have an adverse sex ratio for women? Give your arguments. (2014)

Check these articles published in The Hindu in 2014 and introspect.

Reference 1

Reference 2


The life cycle of a joint family depends on economic factors rather than social values. Discuss (2014)

Check this article of The Indian Express published in 2014



Discuss the various economic and socio-cultural forces that are driving increasing feminization of agriculture in India. (2014)

Read this article, published by Live Mint in 2014



Sources/books to refer



3. Effects of globalization on Indian society

This topic is a general one. You do not need to go through any book to prepare. Play smart and prepare the relevant stuffs from current affairs and news. Have a look at a question from 2013 Mains paper.

Critically examine the effects of globalization on the aged population in India. (2013)

Check this article published in Yojana, 2013



Sources/books to refer

  • No book as such because while studying from sociology, class 12th, economy and polity, you will generate enough content to understand this topic.
  • Articles from newspapers- A must
  • Yojana Magazine- Check for update



4. Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.


All these topics do not require any scholar understanding. You just need a basic knowledge and analytical perspective to relate the basics into contemporary developments.

Note: Reading a whole book or several sources for these topics has many disadvantages. One of them is cost benefit ratio. Second is wastage of your precious time and energy. If one plays smart here, can substantially devote his/her energy for other important topics having more weightage.


One such example is from the question asked by UPSC on Secularism, in 2014.

How do the Indian debates on secularism differ from the debates in the West? (2014)


In 2014, BJP Government came to power. There were questions raised on the secular fabrics of India by some religious fanatics that followed a huge debate and row over Indian Secularism. One article in The Hindu went on for an analysis of Indian versus Western Secularism. Hence UPSC came up with this question.

Refer to QUORA for having multidimensional views and opinion on social issues and topics related to this section.

Growing feeling of regionalism is an important factor in the generation of demand for a separate state. Discuss. (2013)

Reference- Telangana Formation


Sources/books to refer

  • No book to refer other than NCERT’s. While studying from NCERT’s, you will be able to gather enough content for these topics.
  • Newspaper Articles- For analytical aspect
  • Do browse the website of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and look for any important update on Social Empowerment.




It has following subtopics

  • Salient features of world’s physical geography.
  • Distribution of key natural resources across the world; factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).
  • Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location – changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.


1. Salient features of world’s physical geography.

Generally aspirants rush to cover geography in length and breadth from number of books be it NCERT’s, Majid Hussain or G.C.Leong. But the changing trend by UPSC says otherwise. We are not discouraging to study basic books like NCERT’s but do not end up in rote learning. Since the change in pattern, 2013, UPSC is asking more of analytical questions than static. However, one should not ignore basic books as it forms the base for developing analytical perspective.


Now let us check some of the questions asked by UPSC in 2013 to understand the strategy and way ahead.


What do you understand by the theory of continental drift? Discuss the prominent evidences in its support. (2013)

Though static in its true sense but this topic and many more can be prepared with more attention while preparing from newspaper. How?

Yes, the same year two articles came in The Hindu. Click on the references below

Reference 1

Reference 2

Note: The comparison is not to discourage anyone from reading basic books rather it is to make you understand the smart way of learning. One can memorize everything on earth but UPSC exam is not about this. If you slightly tweak your preparation towards smart study, success will follow in less time.

Geography becomes very interesting when you can visualize various phenomena, and the best books to help you with that are the standard ones which everyone must read atleast twice.


Sources/books to prepare

  • NCERT- Class 11th, Physical Geography
  • Goh Cheng Leong– Physical Geography
  • Newspapers- The Hindu and Business Line
  • Videos on Youtube



2. Distribution of key natural resources across the world; factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India).


Most of the topics can be prepared from static books but a reference can be found from newspapers.

Let us refer to previous years questions and check whether they were part of newspapers or not?

With growing scarcity of fossil fuels, the atomic energy is gaining more and more significance in India. Discuss the availability of raw material required for the generation of atomic energy in India and in the world. (2013)

This question is more of static portion and general awareness. India is shifting towards Nuclear and Solar power. Lots of initiatives and governments efforts are put to achieve efficient technological advancement. Many articles appeared in 2013 newspapers suggesting the need of Atomic Energy and Solar Energy. So this question was expected



It is said the India has substantial reserves of shale oil and gas, which can feed the needs of country for quarter century. However, tapping of the resources doesn’t appear to be high on the agenda. Discuss critically the availability and issues involved. (2013)

In September 2013, India gave way to Shale Gas Policy. Many articles in newspapers appeared suggesting the critical issues involved.

Reference 1

Reference 2


Critically evaluate the various resources of the oceans which can be harnessed to meet the resource crisis in the world. (2014)



How does India see its place in the economic space of rising natural resource rich Africa? (2014)

This question signifies the interconnection of paper 2 and 1. Various articles can be found in newspapers of 2014 that has direct mention on the theme of this question. Check the reference



Sources/books to refer

  • Old NCERT Geography- Land and People
  • New Geography- Class 12th– Human Geography and India-People and Economy
  • Newspapers- The Hindu and Business Line


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.


These topics can best be prepared through newspapers because most of the changing phenomenon be it Earthquake, Cyclones, El-Nino, Tsunami etc are part of modern geographical changes due to climate change or Global Warming and finds mention in newspaper quite often.


Let us check previous year questions.


The recent cyclone on the east coast of India was called “Phailin”. How are the tropical cyclones named across the world? (2013)

The reference for this question can be found from this article of Business Line published in October 2013.


Bring out the causes for the formation of heat islands in the urban habitat of the world.

Urban Heat Island was in news for quite a long time and even now in news. Here are the references for this question that were published in The Hindu and Business Line ( 2013)

Reference 1

Reference 2


Bring out the causes for more frequent landslides in the Himalayas than in Western Ghats. (2013)

Uttarakhand Disaster was the reference here. But UPSC tweaked it and rather asked about the differences in the nature of Landslides for Himalayas and Western Ghats. One can find several articles at that time.


Most of the unusual climatic happenings are explained as an outcome of the El-Nino effect. Do you agree? (2014)

It was an expected question. 2014 was thought to be El-Nino year and several studies and reports were coming in support of the changing pattern of weather and climate.

Reference 1

Reference 2


Bring out the relationship between the shrinking Himalayan glaciers and the symptoms of climate change in the Indian sub-continent. (2014)

These articles published in 2014 will do the talks

Reference 1

Reference 2

Reference 3


Sources/books to refer

  • C. Leong
  • Newspaper articles- The Hindu, Business Line and Economic Times
  • Youtube Videos


Ending Note:

  • The given strategy tries to give the minimum number of books and sources to complete the portion, along with a dynamic study of the syllabus. But, before starting off with this strategy, a simple reading of all the NCERTs from 6th to 12th is mandatory, as it builds a basic foundation to start thinking in an objective and subjective matter.
  • The type of study for UPSC has changed totally. Just reading many standard books is of no use, because the number of questions that can be asked from such books which have been there for over 30 years is exhausted. So, a new, dynamic, on-the-spot thinking innovative questions are being asked, and one needs to utilize their time by using the internet and various other fora judiciously.
  • Do not read and accumulate data. Revision is key to your success. Do as many revisions as you can.
  • Start writing practice after one reading of NCERT (Beginners)
  • You should never wait to finish off everything to start writing practice. It will serve no purpose. In recent pattern, the importance of writing has immensely increased.
  • When you write something the retention is much more than reading. So, start writing as soon as possible. You can follow ‘Think, Learn & Perform’ of IASbaba.com for preparing yourself for writing ability and concept building for Mains



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