Importance of Previous Year Question Papers in UPSC Preparation

UPSC Preparation:Be a catalyst for change! “This advice is given by most of the world’s famous thinkers, authors and sportsman to be successful in the life. When it comes to the most prestigious and celebrated job in India, i.e., Indian Administrative Services (IAS) or Indian Police Services (IPS), the catalyst who plays a significant role in achieving success is the UPSC Previous Year Question paper.

The question from the papers that are asked in previous years holds an important place in the UPSC exam preparation. The syllabus and scope of the Examination is very vast. Besides the coverage of every topic Under the Sun is not practically feasible by the aspirants. In such situation the previous year questions work as a Lighthouse for the aspirants. They provide the aspirants with the analysis of the range of topics being asked repetitively, coverage of syllabus, sources being used and the anatomy of the Current Affairs being asked.

The aspirants should study the UPSC previous year question papers thoroughly to gain the insight into the exam pattern, scope of the syllabus and coverage of current affairs.

Why Previous Year Question Papers are so important?

Helpful in preparing your Quality Notes

UPSC Preparation: The previous year questions enable the aspirants to understand the nature of questions being asked in the UPSC Preliminary and Mains Examination. Once the context of questions is clear, the aspirants can cover the topic from various sources accordingly. This also helps to limit the source material along with reducing the time required to be given to a particular topic. With exact understanding of the question, the aspirants can easily prepare their own crisp and concise notes which will be helpful for further revisions.

For example, consider the questions asked by UPSC on the topic “Urbanisation” from 2013 to 2019. This explains the variety of context in which the topic is covered.

  1. How is efficient and affordable urban mass transport key to the rapid economic development of India? (2019)
  2. The growth of cities as I.T. hubs has opened up new avenues of employment but has also created new problems. Substantiate this statement with examples. Urbanisation (2017)
  3. With a brief background of quality of urban life in India, introduce the objectives and strategy of the ‘Smart City Programme’. (2016)
  4. Major cities of India are becoming more vulnerable to flood conditions. Discuss. (2016)
  5. Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the three megacities of the country, but air pollution is a much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so? (2015)
  6. Smart cities in India cannot sustain without smart villages. Discuss this statement in the backdrop of rural urban integration. (2015)
  7. Discussion the various social problems which originated out of the speedy process of urbanization in India. (2013)

The study of previous year questions helps an aspirant to understand the trends in the Prelims and Mains papers.

With proper analysis of the questions an aspirant can comprehend the trend of the questions being asked. If we consider the pattern of questions being asked from 2016 to 2020, we understand that the UPSC Prelims Papers are becoming more and more “Applied” in it sense.

Consider the two Prelims questions on the topics from History, “Foreign Traveller”. Considering the huge gap between two years the importance of this topic remains intact.

Following persons came to India at one time or another (UPSC Pre-1999)





Arrange them in chronological order





Which one of the following foreign travellers elaborately discussed about diamonds and diamond mines of India? (UPSC Prelims 2018)

1.Francois Bernier

2.Jean-Baptiste Tavernier

3.Jean de Thevenot

4.Abbe Barthelemy Carre

Prepare with accurate approach (Essay)

The UPSC exam preparation demands accuracy in terms of strategy and the approach to be followed. If the aspirants keep preparing in vague, they will not see the output. For good results, the focus should be on correct approach. The accurate approach can only be gained from the correct analysis pf previous year UPSC questions.

This can be explained efficiently with the example of UPSC Mains Paper on Essay. There are few subjects on which the Essay has been asked every year. The aspirants need to prepare for those topics as these are the easiest way to gain marks in Mains Exam. Some of those subjects are: –

  1. Democracy
  2. Economy
  3. Education
  4. Women
  5. Ethics
  6. Social Issues
  7. Science and Technology

Secure the marks from repetitive questions

The most significant benefit of the UPSC Previous year analysis is that when the questions are repeated in Prelims or Mains Exams you can assure yourselves that the marks of that questions are secured. This will be a huge advantage in a competitive exam where 1 mark has the ability to push or pull your Rank in the final List.

To clarify the repetitiveness in the questions, consider the following examples from Prelims and Mains: –


Which of the following Kingdoms were associated with the life of the Buddha? 1.    Avanti 2.    Gandhara 3.    Kosala 4.    Magadha Select the correct answer using the code given below. (a)1, 2 and 3 (b) 2 and 4 (c)3 and 4 only (d)1, 3 and 4Which of the following kingdoms were associated with the life of the Buddha? 1.   Avanti 2.   Gandhara 3.   Kosala 4.   Magadha Select the correct answer using the codes given below. (a) 1, 2 and 3 only (b) 2 and 3 only (c) 1, 3 and 4 (d) 3 and 4 only

MAINS: Example from Sociology Optional

  Write short note on Sociology and social anthropology. (2000/20)    Compare and contrast Sociology with Anthropology. (2013/10)  

Practice the Exact patterns: UPSC Preparation

Practice is the key to success in the examination. The aspirant should devote definite time from their schedule for practicing the previous year questions. The UPSC aspirants should solve and practice the Previous Year questions as this will enable them to comprehend the pattern of the questions. This will prepare them for the actual exam.

How to Analyse the Previous Year Question Papers?

We have seen the importance of the significance of analysing the previous year questions. Now the important question in how this can be done?

Here we are providing the simplest steps to analyse the UPSC Previous Year Questions: –

  1. Select the Topic to be studied from the respective Paper of Prelims and Mains.

(For Example: History à Freedom Struggle à the revolt of 1857)

  • Write down the number of questions asked on topic “The revolt of 1857” in UPSC Prelims and Mains Exams from the year 2013 to 2020.
  • Analyse the pattern in the questions and focus on minute details.
  • Consider the weightage given to the topic every year.
  • Select the sources to be studied which can be NCERTs and reference books.

(Minimize the number of sources to be studied for the topics having less weightage of marks and Focus on covering the topics with high weightage thoroughly.)

  • Analyse the importance of topics in Prelims and Mains and prepare notes accordingly. You can all also make value-additions in you notes from good articles of The Hindu and Indian Express.
  • Revise and Practice Previous year questions and get them evaluated.

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