UPSC Books and How to Study for IAS

Though each of the aspirants would like to crack the exam and be an IAS officer, only a few are able to do so. It, however, does not imply that those who fail to achieve their goal are lacking in capability in some way or another.

The enthusiasm and the spirit of the aspirant is high enough to be lowered by various hurdles that they encounter on the road to reach their goal. It is the lack of opting for a proper strategy that drags their goal farther and yet farther……… The choice of the books and the impractical way most of the candidates study also proves to be contributory to failure.

Many begin to look for a suitable IAS coaching institute while others look for the best of the online coaching. The choice varies from one individual to another.

However, most of the aspirants preparing for IAS face a dilemma in common. They feel that the syllabus for the IAS exam is too vast and no details related to it must be ignored. Thus they begin to study everything related to it. No wonder, they soon discover that they have, unwittingly, accumulated a huge collection of study material comprising huge piles of books as well.    

In their anxiety to leave no stone unturned to prepare everything properly to crack the IAS exam in a single attempt, they seem to forget that an individual, howsoever competent, has his own shortcomings. So nobody can study and/or retain all the details of whatever he has read beyond a limit.

Best IAS Books

Useful Resource to Read:

1.       Best Study Plan for Beginners Targeting 2019 IAS Exam

2.       Eligibility for UPSC Civil Services Exam

3.       All you need to know about the Civil Services Exam

Points to be noted while studying for IAS

Most of the time, we prepare to achieve our goal, but go astray in between. It optimizes the probability for failure rather than success.

The points given below, if noted well by the IAS aspirants, may help the candidate achieve his goal as the studying strategy opted by him would be more pragmatic in that case.

  • It’s not the quantity, but the quality that matters: It does not make any sense whether an IAS aspirant reads 3 books or 10. Rather than the quantity i.e., the number of the books read by him, it is the quality of effort made by him that counts far more in the long run when it comes to answering the questions in the Prelims, the Mains and finally the Interview. Thus whatever you study and whatsoever book you read, be it a book or a magazine or for that matter, any study material, your entire focus must not waver. Your goal is to crack the UPSC exam and be an IAS. Even if you read fewer books as compared with other candidates (or at least, even if you think so!), keep making frequent revisions so that you do not forget what you have studied.
  • Keep the objective in mind: Keep in mind what for are you reading the books? You aim at joining the Indian Administrative Service. UPSC conducts the exam in order to recruit the civil servants. And you should study accordingly. Even if you compete with all of the other aspirants, reading all the books that you may lay your hands on, remember that UPSC is not looking for research scholars! So it only makes sense to utilize your time, effort and energy keeping in mind that you have to study and prepare well in order to join the Indian Administrative Service and not to research and teach at a university in the capacity of a professor.

The very understanding of what the UPSC exam is meant for and hence, what is required to clear it is highly crucial to crack the exam, specifically if you want to do so in the first attempt itself.

Thus studying each of the topics as specified by the syllabus, you should keep in mind, how is the knowledge thus gained, would help you as a civil servant. It will help to study for clearing the UPSC exam rather than being a research scholar or a professor. As a result, you would be better able to answer the questions in the exam.

  • Cultivate interest in various subjects: Try to take interest in whatever you read. Besides, UPSC desires all of the candidates to read a variety of subjects. The list includes geography, art & culture, economics, history, polity, environment, internal security, ethics etc. Nobody can read such a huge variety of varying subjects unless he feels interested to do so. Besides, why should the UPSC want the aspirants to read such a variety? It is so because a civil servant is required to be a knowledgeable person who could perform all the duties of various types required of him under the sun. Thus a good knowledge of various subjects gives him a fairly holistic idea to take a decision after opting for a holistic perspective that finally proves to be justifiable for all concerned.
  • Study to get rid of all the prejudices of various types: The books and the study material chosen by the aspirant should be such that apart from being holistic, his thoughts, perspectives, and ideologies concerning various issues not only evolve, but evolve in a manner that he is capable of thinking and making decisions without any prejudices.

It must not be forgotten at any cost that a civil servant is to serve as an administrator who should be absolutely unbiased, only then would he be able to take a holistic view of the entire society without any kind of discrimination.

Books and the Study Material

UPSC Books to read

It should always be kept in mind that both the Prelims and the Mains IAS Exams are required to be studied for in a logically integrated way.  However where the requirements to prepare for the Prelims and the Mains differ from each other, they must be taken into account.

Useful Resource to Read:

1.       IAS Exam Preparation Schedule for Working Professionals

2.       UPSC SYLLABUS – Understand it before starting IAS Exam Preparation

3.       Best IAS Interview Questions and Answers

4.       Which books for IAS Exam Preparation and How to Study for IAS?

The preparation for the Prelims requires the students to remember specific details, thus they are to be memorized. However, the focus lies on the analytical skills in the Mains. Thus the books and the study material required to study for both may differ at times.

Tips for studying for various papers are given below:

GS Paper 1

Art, Culture & Architecture

This paper is rather a tricky one to study for. The trend for the questions that are asked is far from being typical. Moreover, India is a nation that has a gloriously rich cultural heritage and there is a great variety of aspects related to it on various grounds such as social, political, religious, architectural, economical etc.

Thus, there is no dearth of questions that can be asked concerning India’s Art, Culture & Architecture. For example, the questions asked might be generic as they have been in the recent past, e.g., comparing the Indian civilization with others, Gupta coin art, the Vijayanagara empire’s art & culture etc.  

Current Affair

Useful Resource to Read:

1.       The Dos and Don’ts of UPSC Exam Preparation

2.       UPSC Exam Pattern

3.       How to write an Effective Essay in IAS Exam?

4.       How to Choose Optional Subject for UPSC? A Detailed Guide

The answers should take a holistic view.  Besides it is best to take a holistic view even of the evolutionary processes e.g., the evolution in puppetry, the change that came over music as the years went by, how paintings evolved from 16th to 18th century, etc. Thus the usual trend in any of the evolutionary processes or for that matter any other event/phenomena should not be missed.

The same applies to the architectural developments as well. For example, how different types of architecture differ from each other. Differences in the architectural styles exist between the Dravidian, Vesara and Nagara style.

Go through the past years’ papers

Studying the past years’ papers carefully also gives a fair share of the idea how to prepare for the exam.

The books to be studied

Here are quite a few books that may be helpful to prepare for both the Prelims as well as the Mains.

  • NCERT Fine Arts class 11
  • Tamil Nadu History Book 
  • Besides the book by Nitin Singhania may be read for selective reading for  Dances, Puppetry, Music, , basic understanding for various concepts including philosophy schools etc…)

Modern Indian History

  • India’s struggle with Independence by Bipin Chandra: It is a good book to begin with. However, reading the entire book may be quite time consuming for it is a bulky book. However the effort is definitely going to be fruitful for the reader will gain a good knowledge of India’s struggle for freedom.
  • SPECTRUM – A brief history of Modern India: The book is extremely useful both for the Prelims as well as the Mains. Thus underlining the prominent details would help further in making revision for the Prelims. Besides, if you are running short of time, it would be advisable to begin with SPECTRUM – A brief history of Modern India directly. 

But one must not forget that History should be read with an analytical perspective. Though being aware of all the facts is important, remembering the chronological sequence must not be ignored.

The Post-independent India

The questions from this section are usually quite specific covering various topics as given below:

  1. Emergency
    1. operation Blue star
    1. green revolution
    1. Indo-Pak conflicts etc.

It is heartening to know that gaining a thorough knowledge of the post independent India may usually help you answer 2 or 3 questions.

  • India since Independence by Bipin Chandra:  The book serves well for any kind of further reference if required. Besides, Pradhanmantri TV series  that was aired quite some time back on the ABP news may also be useful.
IAS Exam Pattern

World History

As an IAS aspirant is aware that the UPSC syllabus does not include World History for the GS Prelims, books on World History (NCERT) would suffice for GS Mains.

However specific preparation may be required for the following topics:

  • 18th century events including  Industrial revolution
    • American Revolution
    • Capitalism and the speed with which it came up
    • The World Wars
    • Colonization
    • Decolonization, etc.

However, it would be advisable not to delve too deep into the World History even if you find the subject interesting. Study in detail to crack the exam, of course. But the World History is a vast subject that seems to be never ending one. So along with studying the subject, be careful concerning time management so that none of the important topics from other subjects are left out from being studied. And remember that you need the time for making the revisions as well.

Social Issues

  • Social Problems in India by Ram Ahuja: It is a great reference for India’s social problems. However many of the problems are such most of us hear of everyday as listed below:
  • Poverty
  • female feticide
  • caste system
  • population explosion
  • people migrating from the rural to the urban areas for various reasons
  • problems resulting due to the above said migration
  • crimes against women
  • regionalism
  • communalism etc.

Whatever books and the study material an aspirant chooses, it is best not to get too anxious and focus on studying the topic at hand. As already said earlier, rather than reading too many books, what’s more important is that you make a comprehensive reading, covering the entire UPSC syllabus. Also, manage your time well so that sufficient time is left at the end to make the revision.


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