By Neeraj Kansal, Director

As per an online survey conducted among over 20000 civil services aspirants, more than 40% opine that they are directionless about their preparation strategies.


 Participate in the survey here


An ever mushrooming number of coaching institutes, huge availability of unverified content online, endless photocopies, and the penetration of social media apps like Telegram, WhatsApp & Facebook etc. have confused the students about what to read and what to leave. Here I am going to discuss about certain practical tips which may be helpful for an aspirant and will help him to decide which books to read, better time management and give right direction to his preparation.


We have devised the A I M Strategy for preparing civil services exam. Here –

A stands for Analyse,

I stands for Identify, and

M stands for Matter.


A – Analyse – know which topics to prepare


The first and the foremost step is to analyse the UPSC Syllabus and Previous Year Qs (PYQs) very deeply. Here analysis means that you need to go thru both the documents, understand what type of questions are being asked, where are they located in the syllabus etc. A careful analysis of these two will help you to make a list of topics that are to be prepared for civil services exam. We have prepared a list of 358 Topics (in total) that need to be prepared for this exam including all the three stages – prelims, mains and interview. However, you must not skip this step of analysing yourself even if you follow this list given by us. This analysis will build your long-term skills of preparing smartly.


View list of 358 Topics for civil services here


I – Identify – know how a topic should be prepared


The analysis of Previous Year Qs (PYQs) tremendously helps a student in giving him the right direction in which he must move. There are 5 learnings from analysis of PYQs –

1.    Identify how important is a topic from exam point of view (depending on the number of questions that came),

2.    Identify  how many books should you read for a topic (depending on what type of questions are coming),

3.    Identify how deeply you should read a topic (depending on the difficulty level of the questions), and

4.    Identify whether a topic is more important from Prelims or Mains perspective (depending on number of questions that came from a topic in Prelims & Mains).

5.    Identify how important a topic is from current affairs point of view (depending on current perspective asked in a topic).


It is important to understand that you do not have to excel every topic. A rigorous R&D on every topic is infact negative for your preparation. Identifying the relative importance of topics will help you in your Topic Management & Time Management. You should spend lesser time on topics that have less number of questions as compared to others with high number of Questions (basically you have to see input/output ratio).


View PYQs to identify important topics here


M – Matter – what to read and how much to read


Before we look at what to read, it is more important to know how much to read. If you have analysed the Previous Year Qs (PYQs) well, you will notice that every question has a keyword like Discuss, Analyse, Critically Analyse, Explain etc. Every keyword has its own meaning and depth. Further, the main part of the question generally has many sub-parts. Let’s understand this with one example, in a question like “Critically analyse the issues associated with urban mobility sector in India.”


We need to break the question into sub-parts like –


Critically analyse the issues associated with urban mobility sector in India. (200 Words)


Now, we need to see what critically analyse means. Critically analyse is the highest level of question that can be asked in UPSC. In such questions, you have to write like a judge. Both, explanation (in favour – why & how), and its critique (why not & how not) are equally emphasised. Your opinion is also required.


View list of keywords & what they mean here


Now in this question, you need to write many different angles on urban mobility sector. If you know just 5 points in favour, 5 against, and 5 as suggestions; your job is done. If we consider that every question in the next exam will be of this difficulty level; even then you do not need more than 5 points on any aspect of the topic.


It means that as far as any topic is concerned, you just need to prepare 5 points each for various aspects of a topic. PYQs and syllabus will help you to understand how to know which various aspects of a topic are. 


Now, knowing that you just need 5 points each for various aspects of a topic, next question is what to read? There is no standard book-list available for civil services exam. The toppers and those who fail – both read same set of books. What matters most is how you read a book. The strategy aligned above will definitely help you in improving your book reading skills.


I will give you to a tool that will help you decide which book/ notes/ sources are good for you. Before this, you need to understand how to make notes first.


How to make notes – the notes making skill affects your success rate


You must have seen people or even you may be preparing notes using the following process –


Normal way of making notes


Read a bookmake concise notes from itread another book/ notesenrich earlier notes → so on


However, the problem in this method is that your focus is on book, not on what was needed to be read. You are just concising a book, irrespective of whether it is required from examination point of view or not.


A better and directed way of notes making is as follows. It will restrict you from collecting unneeded data –


Take an A4 size page

(Assign 1 page per topic – you will have 358 pages for 358 topics of UPSC. There may be very few topics that will need more than 1 page)

Fold this paper into two halves vertically


Now you have 4 pages in a single sheet (1/2/3/4)

On page 1, write topic name. Use page 1 and 2 for writing 5 points each against all the aspects (static portion) of that topic.

Use page 3 to write important current related developments from that topic.

Use page 4 to write important facts, good lines that you come across in newspapers, and some good diagram or value addition related to that topic. You must keep in mind that not every fact is important from exam point of view. Keep restraint in noting facts. Analysis of PYQs will develop your ability to know which an important fact is and which is not.

Using this method, when you know that you have only 1 sheet per topic, you will restrain to collect unnecessary info and will focus on important points only. Further, in this way, your notes will be crisp (not detailed), easy to remember and help in better time management. Don’t worry, in the exam, you will be easily able to expand the notes into full-fledged answers.


Now coming back to the question – what to read? I would say that once you know how to read a topic and how much to read; you pick any book/ notes etc. you will be able to see yourself whether that book/ notes is of use for you or not. If you are weak on a particular aspect of a topic, you can refer any book to take points for that aspect only rather than reading the whole topic.


Unlearn the unneeded things – empty your garbage bin


During the process of preparation, you tend to gather many unneeded information. Over information and over analysis are dangerous in civil services preparation. Over the time, it becomes a garbage bin. It is very important for you to empty this bin and unlearn the unnecessary things. For this, you keep cutting the unnecessary points that you may have written in your notes.


Practice, practice & practice – there is no escape to it


Don’t wait for the perfect time to come when you will be fully ready to attempt a test paper. That situation will never come in your lifetime. Write at least 4-5 answers for mains and practice minimum one test every week. Do not care about your performance, marks or ranks. Just practice! It will help you identify your mistakes during preparing a topic. Over time, you will master this skill. Remember! Only a master of test papers is the master in UPSC.




CrackIAS follows a focused approach for civil services exam. We have divided the whole UPSC Syllabus into 358 Topics, and for each and every topic, there are separate notes for Prelims (in the shape of 10-Red Books) and Mains (13-Blue Books).


Our preparation strategy starts with a weekly timetable containing certain topics to be covered every week so that all 358 topics are well covered well before time. This is followed by a doubts clearing live video session every Saturday, and a Prelims and Mains test every Sunday.


We have segregated previous 40 years UPSC Papers for Prelims and 20 years papers of Mains – Topicwise – (as per the 358 topics of syllabus). It means that before you start any topic, you can see all the questions that appeared from that topic in last 40 years – Just at the click of a button. For example, all the 40 years questions related to the topic of Governor can be accessed just by clicking on the topic of Governor.


Our Program includes –



In case you want to practically see how CrackIAS helps students in civil services preparation, you may click on the following link. The link gives you access to our notes, test series, strategies, previous year questions etc. for 7-days.

When you are stressed and feel like quiting, just listen to this beautiful song.



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  1. Ishita

    Good Morning sir,
    Thanks a lot for your guidance. Really nice and helpful article.

    1. Neeraj Kansal

      Good to see that it’s helpful for you dear Ishita. Hope this will better your studies.

  2. Maahi

    Really helpful and explained very Well

    1. Neeraj Kansal

      Thanks for your appreciation dear Maahi.


    Thank you so much for your guidance.really it is very helpful to us. We want more informations from you…….

    1. Neeraj Kansal

      I am happy that it’s helpful for you dear Rizwan. Will be coming up with more problem areas and their practical solutions in coming days.

  4. Jasmeen

    Thanks to u for this guidence’s so helpfull?

    1. Neeraj Kansal

      You are welcome dear Jasmeen. Hope to see betterment in your studies.

  5. Ravitosh kumar Das

    Thanks you sir such a basic and full guidance in Upsc perspective it’s really helpful for upsc aspirants
    Again thanky so much sir

    1. Neeraj Kansal

      Thanks a lot dear Ravitosh. Hope this will help you better your preparation.

  6. neha saatvik

    Thank you sir..for such valuable guidance..really helpful

  7. Dince sunny

    Thanks for the guidance…. Thank you so much…..

  8. Dr. Palak Chaudhry

    Thanks for the guidance , it’s really helpful , seriously I was confused since months what to read and what not , thanku soo much .

  9. Kapil Rathor

    Thank you so much sir,for providing a must essential article for all of us . ?? ???

  10. Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

  11. Vikash

    Thanks sir it is very important sir

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