IAS Exam 2016 : A Complete Guide

Have you considered applying for the IAS Exam 2016 ? Are you driven to be a part of the India’s governmental force, and make a career in the exciting and prosperous, yet challenging field ?

IAS Exam

In India this position brings various roles and possibilities to candidates, involving finance & accounting, police, foreign services, alongside the role of district collector.


IAS Officers who work hard can achieve position of department head.

Officers on this level represent India on international debates and gatherings, run campaigns and impact the law. It’s no wonder that only the brightest and the most capable ones take the steps necessary to work in the Indian Administrative Service.

And the biggest step one can take to become an IAS officer, is to pass the IAS exam. The rigorous selection process takes a lot from candidates. But, when you pass the exam and selection you can proudly say to yourself that you have succeeded where thousands failed.

This exam is formally known as Civil Services Exam; it is challenging, with a significant level of competition. So, if you’re up to become an IAS officer, you have to bring your best for selection. Although being difficult to get selected, you should have the drive and the attitude to succeed, you’ll be able to reach the goal of passing the exam with serious IAS preparation.

Today we’ll bring the IAS exam closer to you, give you advice about sections of this exam, how to prepare, what to do and what not to do, and many more tips. After reading this beginners guide to IAS exam 2016, you’ll be one big step ahead of the competition.

So, let’s dive in.

Table of Contents:

 1 Elements of IAS Exam
 1.1 Preliminary Exam
 1.2 Mains Exam
 1.3 Interview
 2 Statistics of IAS Exam
 3 Eligibility to IAS Exam
 3.1 Academic Norms for IAS Exam 2016
 3.2 Eligibility Criteria of Nationality
 4 How to Prepare for IAS
 4.1 Recommended Books for IAS Prelims Exam
 4.2 Time Management Tips
 4.3 Recommended Books for IAS Mains Exam
 5 Common Mistakes of IAS Applicants
 5.1 Reasons Behind Failure
 6 On the Day of Exam
 7 Conclusion

Elements of IAS Exam

stages of IAS exam

The IAS exam is among hardest employment examinations you can take in the world, and an IAS officer selection process consists of three stages :-

  1. Preliminary Exam
  2. Mains Exam
  3. Interview/personality test

The period of the process takes around one year, from the initial notification in May, when Indian Administrative Services announce the beginning of the selection process.
Final results are announced in May/June, where only 0.01% of initial applicants receive the call letter to join as IAS, IPS, IFS or any other service as per their rank and choice.

Preliminary Exam

IAS Exam begins in August, and it consists of the General Studies Test and Aptitude test, for which candidates can choose from 23 optional subjects.

Today called General Studies test consists of :-

  • Paper 1
  • Paper 2

This exam usually gives candidates the choice of several answers for the question. This type of questioning provides the most precise data for evaluation.

Paper 1

It examines the applicant’s knowledge of current events in the country, polity, the history of India, economy, ecology, climate and geography of India. This paper is an ‘entrance’ test where the commission evaluates is the candidate eligible to continue to the main examination.

Paper 2

It examines the analytical side of the candidates. Communication, problem solving, data interpretation, language skills, and logical reasoning. The candidates must score at least 70 points to be eligible to continue to the mains.

The purpose of these tests is to diversify the candidates, because of the big numbers of people that apply to the tests. These two papers are not included in ranking. After this phase, big numbers of unprepared applicants are cut off so the skilled and prepared candidates can commence the real test.

Mains Exam

It starts in December, contains nine papers, where two are qualifying, and seven are ranking ones.

Here candidates face several types of questions, in various topics; from several choices questions, to 600-word essay questions. Two qualifying tests in this examination determine the applicant’s eligibility – those who don’t pass these tests won’t be ranked by the number of marks won on tests.

The number of marks determines the ranking of the candidate, and the selected number of applicants with top scores are called for the interview or a personality test, held at April-May period.

*Two qualifying papers

These are language tests, one selected by the candidate from the Indian Languages included in the schedule, and other in English.

Candidates can choose from 22 Indian languages for the first paper, and the English grammar and usage are main skills graded in the second paper.

When you pass the language papers, the real exam starts.

Next six papers cover everything that is mandatory for one IAS officer to be proficient at, and the list is impressive.


You have to prepare for every segment of this list.

IAS Exam Interview – Personality Test

When you manage to get an invitation for the interview, you have succeeded where thousands didn’t. You should be grateful and joyful, but only for a short amount of time. You have to prepare for the IAS Interview the best you can, as this phase will determine are you capable enough to represent the Indian Government with your actions and personality.

You will be examined and observed by a board of observers and professionals that decide are you a good fit for the career in public service. This evaluation interview is the time where you must show your mental assets, judgment, leadership and intellectual integrity.

This conversation determines a lot what your final ranking will be. Candidates who scored great on the tests, and performed badly in the interview ranked lower than the candidates who were more exceptional at the interview.

IAS Exam Interview

You have to be prepared, and most of all, relaxed and confident.

The interview is an opportunity to create a real image of yourself, give the numbers in the test a personality and integrity, thus ranking you the best way possible.

Statistics of IAS Exam

This exam brings various opportunities for the candidates, and many are aware of the advantages of being IAS officer. That’s why the average number of applicants grows at a steady pace. The usual number of candidates varies around 900,000.

The number of vacancies varies each year, and that number impacts the possible positions that candidates apply for and determine the rankings the most. The number of vacancies in Civil Services in 2015 was 1129, according to the notification.

The success rate for getting into the Indian Administrative Service varies around staggering 0.02%.

The more prestigious positions at the IAS are filled with the most successful candidates, and candidates ranked less are assigned to positions in other sectors.

Usually, from possible 200,000 candidates, only 170 get the position in Indian Administrative Service.

Eligibility to IAS exam

To be eligible to apply for IAS exam, candidates must fulfill many conditions, separated into categories. This fact is mandatory to know because there were numerous cases that not eligible runners found out that they weren’t suitable to apply for the selection process after the exam.

This problem happens because the commission verifies the eligibility of the candidate only after the successful passing of the IAS Mains examination.

Therefore, applicants must be positive that they fulfill eligibility terms for the IAS exam. Otherwise, they might face the elimination for the reason of not being eligible to apply in the first place.

Caution: Be positive that you fulfill the eligibility conditions!

Here is the Eligibility Table from the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances.

Eligibility for IAS Exam

Academic Norms for IAS 2016

  • Bachelor’s or Graduation Degree is necessary for the IAS and IPS – candidates without this degree won’t be considered eligible.
  • For the other cadres besides the above mentioned two, conditions may vary.
    Technical or Professional Degrees from Universities recognized by the Government of India are eligible to apply.
  • Applicants with MMBS Degree, or in the process of their internship are eligible to apply for the exam. The applicants need to submit a certificate from the University where they completed the prerequisites and the proofs that they are in waiting process to obtain a Medical Degree.
  • A member of Indian Administrative Service or Indian Foreign Service from the previous examination that is a valid member of the Service is not eligible to contest at the examination.

Eligibility Criteria of Nationality for IAS 2016

  • IAS & IPS – Indian Citizenship is mandatory.
  • Other Services – To be considered, candidate must be:1). Citizen of India/Nepal/Bhutan/Tibetan refugee settled in India before 1st January 1962
    2). Refugees from Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, East African countries and Vietnam with permanent settling in India

The eligibility question must be handled with care, and on several occasions, eligibility certificate must be obtained. If you’re preparing for IAS Exam 2016, you must take care of this asset. If you’re not confident that you’re eligible for the application, contact Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances.

How to Prepare for IAS ?

To achieve the goal of becoming an IAS officer, one must start preparing for the exam as per the IAS exam pattern. The approach to this exam must be taken very seriously, involve detailed planning, and constant effort on a daily basis.

After all, this is the hardest examination to qualify in India.

Because of this fact, you have to prepare accordingly; the massive competition and difficulty of the tests are the enough reasons to slim down your chances. If you decide to apply for the IAS Exam 2016, and you haven’t had any experience with this examination or careers within public services, you should take at least 10 month of IAS preparation. Because of the wide range of areas and knowledge needed, the preparation for the successful passing of IAS Exam can take several years.

People often don’t take this test that seriously and don’t pass the Preliminary Examination, spending their attempts.

That is not a good idea !

Preparation for the exam should consist of studying the IAS Syllabus, both for prelims and main, and books for the topics covered. There are a lot of volumes that cover the topics covered by the exam, and you should get a hold of the books on every topic to cover IAS exam pattern from every corner.

Tackle the Preliminary test first :-

  • General Knowledge – This field represents your scholar skills.
  • Ecology – Gaining more importance in the recent years, should focus a good amount of time and effort into this category because the Government is shifting to the eco-friendly systems.
  • Economy – Banking, trade, credit supply and more necessary knowledge in this field.
  • Geography – Map-based questions, and knowledge about places of interest in India.
  • General Awareness and Current Affairs – The area of the current affairs is covered to see the candidate’s awareness of the present-day undertakings in the country.
  • Polity and Culture – The understanding of the Government structure, the laws, and Constitution of India
  • History – Important events from Ancient India, Medieval times, and modern history.
  • Science –Science questions usually follow technology implementation.

Here is the recommended list of books for the IAS Exam Prelims :-

IAS Syllabus
UPSC Civil Services Syllabus
Absolute must-have,
the book from which you
start your studying process
General Studies
General Studies
Paper 1 for
Civil Services Preliminary
Examination 2015
(English) 1st Edition
An all-in-one book for
civil services prelims,
which will help a lot.
General Knowledge
Manorama Year Book
General knowledge is
prepared best from this book.
Our Constitution:
An Introduction to
India’s Constitution and
Constitutional Law
(English) 5th Edition
Indian Constitution

Our Parliament
(English) 1st Edition

The best choice to understanding
Polity and prepare for this section.
UPSC selects question directly
from the Constitution.Subhash Kashyap,
the author, was the Secretary
General of Parliament.

He’s the best source for
the Parliament-related questions.

India’s Struggle for
Independence (English)
Ancient India (Class XI)

Medieval India (Class IX)

An excellent resource for the
history-related questions,
covering modern history.An Ancient India resource
from author RS Sharma

A Medieval India resource
from author Satish Chandra

Oxford Student AtlasCertificate Physical and
Human Geography
(English) 1st Edition
You must study the map of India
every day, and learn about
geographical places of the
country as well.That is the best resource for both.
Physical Geography topic is explained
the best in this book, by Goh Cheng Leong.
Economic Survey 2013 – 14
(Set of 2 Volumes) (English)Indian Economy for
Civil Services Examination
(English) 6 Edition
The Survey is released every year,
and the facts about Indian Economy
are covered here.Economy syllabus for Prelims,
in detail. By Ramesh Singh
Environment and Ecology for
Civil Services Examination
Very useful book for both
Prelims and Mains by Majid Hussain
NCERT textbooks of class IX and X
Besides IAS syllabus and general studies book,
NCERT books of class IX & X will
complete the science-related
knowledge needed for the IAS Exam
Paper 2: General Studies
General Studies for Civil Services
Preliminary Examination
(Paper 2) 2015 (English) 1st Edition
This is the complete guide
for the Paper 2,
from Mcgraw Hill Education

Bonus: Here is the resource page with NCERT books.

Addition: Subscribe to newspapers like Indian Express and The Hindu for daily consumption of current affairs. Read the papers at least an hour a day. The current affairs are imperative, as you’re applying for Civil Services – you have to be informed. 

After obtaining the needed books, you should schedule your months, weeks, and days for studying. The volume of written word you need to consume is significant, but not impossible to digest – categorize the content, and plan the consumption, testing, and revision.

Group the subjects, and schedule blocks of time on a daily basis. For example, you can study history and polity the same day. Because polity is mentioned a lot in modern history, you’ll memorize the facts and data quickly.

Tip: If this method doesn’t suit you, try concentrating on a single topic, because some people aren’t comfortable with studying different subjects on a single day.

Schedule the time for writing, and write answers and essays. Work on your handwriting, make it more readable, and good-looking. You don’t want your handwriting to be unreadable.
USPC stated that “A well-educated person can respond to questions. An overall outlook is necessary and not in-depth studying”.

That means that you have to develop the ability to write an answer to any question and to make that answer a good one, no matter how deep your knowledge on the topic is.

Time Management tips for IAS Applicants

An average candidate preparing for IAS Exam Prelims spends 4-8 hours a day studying. There are stories and myths about candidates studying for more hours, but those aren’t realistic; you can’t concentrate on a single topic this long, plus you have to maintain your life as well. Many successful candidates prepared for the exams while working on their regular jobs.

Time management and enhancing the learning process is the best practice preparing for IAS Exam. You can use notes creating, practice papers, use audio or video materials, and combine the techniques. The comprehension of the knowledge is more important than the amount of text read. Don’t force yourself to continue with the lesson if you didn’t understand the previous one.

time management for IAS applicants

Take the amount of studying and preparing the way it suits you the best. Don’t go overboard and exhaust yourself, because you’ll procrastinate later when you wore yourself out. Add occasional breaks to your studying schedule – your brain has to rest, as well as your body.
If you concentrate to syllabus of IAS and solved tests, you’ll have significant advantages. You’ll have the closest look into the exam structure and formatting, and you can practice on solved tests to increase your skills and chances of providing the best answer.

Get a hold of recent 10-year answered tests, and combine them with the IAS Syllabus to master the form and spot the patterns of questions and facts.

Here is a good practice: Try focusing on the Prelims for the first half of the time you planned for your study campaign, and after that time, start adding the knowledge from the books needed from Mains. Because of the timeline of tests you’ll have the time (August – December) to ‘polish’ and improve your knowledge for the USPC Main Examination.

You can start getting books for the Mains in the last month period of your preparation for the Prelims. This trick works well, especially because you won’t feel overwhelmed with the quantity of books you need to go through. Adding the books this way also saves money.

Bonus: some of the books are fine for both Prelims and Mains examination.

Here are the books recommended for Mains :-

Paper 1
(Indian Inheritance, Culture, History, Geography of India and the World, Society)

​A History of Modern World
by Ranjan Chakravarti
India’s Struggle for Independence
by Bipin ChandraIndia

Since Independence (English)

World History topics,
with all important events
in the world’s history.The period from 19th century
to India’s independence.

The period from 1947
to present times.

Indian and World Geography
by Majid Hussain
This is a comprehensive guide that covers
the Geography of both Indian
country and the world.
(OI (English) 01 Edition
The best book for society-type questions for
both Prelims and Mains.

Paper 2
(Polity, Constitution, Social Justice and International Relations)

Our Constitution:
An Introduction to
India’s Constitution and
Constitutional Law
(English) 5th Edition
Our Parliament (English)
1st Edition

International Relations
in the 21st Century

(English) 1st Edition

These three books are the
best for the both
Prelims and Mains India’s relations with the
international community
and foreign policy.

Paper 3
(Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)

Indian Economy for
Civil Services Examination
(English) 6 EditionEconomic Survey 2013 – 14
(Set of 2 Volumes) (English)

Indian Economy Performance
And Policies, 15/e PB
(English) 15 Edition

These books are great for both Prelims and Mains

Freshest from the Indian Economy.

Recommended for being in touch with most recent changes and performance.

Environment and Ecology –
Biodiversity, Climate Change and Disaster Management (English) 3 Edition
Everything related to Ecology, Climate, and Disaster Management is covered in this book. A must-have.

Paper 4
(Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude)

Ethics, Integrity
and Aptitude
for Civil Services

(English) 2nd Edition
This book covers everything
related to the Paper 4

Papers 5 & 6 are optional, and the variety of choices for these papers is wide. Here are the possible options:

optional subjects for IAS exam

You have to choose carefully, according to your knowledge; you can only choose only ONE topic for the optional papers. There have been some theories about some subjects being easier than others, and some don’t. As a serious candidate for IAS officer, you shouldn’t look to cut corners and try to prepare for strictly preferred subjects.

People tend to pick the topics that have the smallest IAS syllabus, because of the already big amount of books to study. The problem with this choice is that a majority of candidates is going this way, making a significant competition on the subject so your ranking might be compromised if you opt for an ‘easy’ subject.

There aren’t easier or harder topics on this list; the goal is to score the most marks possible and rank yourself higher on the IAS ranking list.

Pick a topic that suits you the best. You’ll know the one when you analyze the subjects and compare them with your knowledge and experience.

Common mistakes of IAS Applicants

A massive number of applicants fail to reach the goal of becoming an IAS Officer. Many fail at the first step, not even showing for the Prelims. Nonetheless, many of the candidates fail to pass the Preliminary USPC Examination despite the hard preparation.

Next stepping stone for the candidates is the Main examination, where many fail short to advance to the next stage. The final step, the Interview is the last step where you can mess up your ranking and end up short of becoming IAS officer.

The reasons for failure are many; we will list them today for you.

The Preliminary
The Main
The Interview/
Personality Test
Not taking
preparation seriously
Not enough preparationNot being yourself
No planning &
Relying on other
people’s advice
Engaging aggressively
in conversation
No time managementFearTrying to sell
yourself too hard
Lack of concentrationWrong decisions
and directions
Fear of the examWrong choicesFear
No persistenceNo planning &
Lack of attention
Being uninformed enough
(Current Affairs)
Not being informed enough
(Current Affairs)

You may notice that fear and confusion are the roots of the problems that prevent you to shine on the exam and rank the best you can. The key lies in self-confidence, preparation according to the IAS exam pattern and clarity of mind.

There are specific situations where you can get lost, or pursue lost directions that will take you to the wrong place, and end in a bad performance on the USPC exam.

When preparing, know your sources and don’t stuck on book hoarding, or over-reading. Be systematic, create notes, and test yourself after passing the significant amount of the book.

Master the syllabus for IAS – Allocate enough time to do this, it will give you advantages in all the phases.

Make sure you’re perfectly calm and do your best to be both precise and polite in the UPSC IAS Interview – where graders will try to make you uncomfortable and anxious. When in this situation, candidates try to improvise to impress the examiners without proper knowledge, which may end in a bust and little marks won.

Avoid plain confirming of the grader’s questions, and try to be informative and polite. Believe in yourself and your knowledge, and don’t be afraid to give yourself time to think of the best response to the particular question.

P.S. There are a lot of stories out there that they did qualified the civil service examinations without any guidance but you need not to waste your time if you are able to invest on your studies, just grab the books as suggested above and join a decent institution that specializes in IAS coaching.

On the day of IAS exam

Stop the preparing process a day before the exam. Have a whole day just to relax, meditate, or do what makes you calm and content. Leave the time for yourself to be maximally relaxed.

When the date of the exam approaches, prepare your body for the exam. Have some lighter meals, and drink plenty of water. This practice will ensure proper digestion and brain functioning. Work on your sleep schedule at least one month before the exam. A good sleep will further ensure the brain functioning.

Wear comfortable clothes, and have at least three ball pens for the exam, just in case. Arrive at the examination center at least thirty minutes before the exam.

Be calm and believe in yourself and your abilities and knowledge. You can do it.


Thousands are dreaming working in the civil services of India. Working as an IAS Officer is an honor, and a privilege, reserved only for the brightest and the most capable ones. And those who prepare well get to live the dream.

Are you interested in working as an IAS Officer ? Have you tried to pass the IAS Exam ? How did you planned for IAS preparation ? What are your experiences? Tell us in the comments section below.

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