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UPSC Prelims Syllabus – A Detailed Discussion


Although UPSC provides an official version of the CSE-Prelims syllabus, it is insufficient. Many finer details still remain vague and this lack of clarity affects the execution. 

There are many hurdles in clearing the UPSC-CSE exam. And not having clarity about UPSC Prelims Syllabus is a prominent of these hurdles. In this article, we will try to analyse the ‘Exact Syllabus for UPSC Prelims’.  

Along with providing the broad topics as given by UPSC, we have divided the subjects into various topics and subtopics which will help you in your studies. The syllabus given herein is based on the analysis of the last 28 years’ papers of UPSC Prelims. And thus, we assure you that preparing all the topics mentioned here will ensure you’re at your best for the exam. 

Since we have discussed the syllabus in detail, the post has become long. For future reference, you may download the PDF version of the UPSC Prelims Syllabus. 

1. Official UPSC Prelims Syllabus

According to an official notification provided by UPSC, the syllabus for CSE Prelims consists of: 

  1. Current events of national and international importance
  2. History of India and Indian National Movement
  3. Indian and World Geography- Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.
  4. Indian Polity and Governance- Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
  5. Economic and Social Development- Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.
  6. General issues on Environmental ecology, Biodiversity and Climate Change – that do not require subject specialisation.
  7. General Science.

1.1 Analysis of official UPSC Prelims Syllabus

UPSC has given 7 broad subjects for the Prelims General Studies paper. Although a good starting point, these are certainly not sufficient when it comes to preparing for exams.

Thus we have to rely on other clues provided by UPSC regarding the Prelims syllabus. This clue is – the past year’s papers of UPSC Prelims. Although the exam pattern of UPSC-CSE has changed over the years, the syllabus of Prelims has stayed the same since 2011. This gives us plenty of questions from which, we can understand the detailed syllabus for UPSC Prelims.

2. Detailed Syllabus for UPSC Prelims

At the outset, we will divide the syllabus into 9 subjects 

As you can see, all the mentioned subjects have their parallels in the official prelims syllabus by UPSC. We shall discuss each subject in more detail for the purpose of clarity and execution. 


1. Art & Culture

1.1 Art & Craft

It also covers art and craft from ancient to contemporary times.  It includes art, craft, paintings, music, dance, theatre, puppetry, circus, cinema, martial arts and UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

1.2 Indian Culture and Heritage

Indian culture, cultural institutions, Indian cultural heritage, national symbols, languages, awards, and scientific achievements of ancient Indians. Various tribes and communities, festivals etc.

Ancient Indian History

2.1 Politics and Society in Ancient History

It covers the time from the prehistoric age to the advent of Mughals in the Indian subcontinent. Political and social life, Important rulers and dynasties, places and kingdoms, battles etc. 

2.2 Architecture in Ancient History

Architectural sites, caves, rock edicts, temples,  inscriptions, ancient paintings, sculptures, pillars etc.  

2.3 Literature in Ancient India

Important literature, languages and scripts, classification of literature, important scholars and writers, translations etc.

2.4 Religion and Philosophy in Ancient India

Vedic religion (Hinduism) and associated philosophies, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and other heterodox sects from ancient India, religious texts, principles, and proponents of religion. 

3. Medieval Indian History

Time from the first battle of Terrain (1191) to the mid of the eighteenth century (1757) is considered Medieval Indian History. 

3.1 Politics and Society in Medieval India

Rulers, dynasties, kingdoms, social and political life, important battles etc. from Medieval Indian History

3.2 Advent of Europeans in the Indian Subcontinent

The advent of various European powers in the Indian subcontinent, associated places, events etc. 

3.3 Art, Architecture and Literature in Medieval India

Mughal paintings, important writers, books and translations, 

3.4 Religion and Philosophy in Medieval India

Hinduism, bhakti cult, bhakti saints, Islam, Sufism, Sufi saints, Sikhism, Sikh gurus, and other religious developments and philosophies from medieval India.

4. Modern Indian History

Modern Indian History begins with the Battle of Plassey (1757) and ends with Indian Independence (1947). The questions in this subject usually consist of

4.1 Establishment of British Rule in India (1757-1857)

The decline of Mughal empire, rise and fall of regional empires e.g. Bengal, Hyderabad, Mysore, Marathas, etc., Establishment of the British East India Company and its administration.  

4.2 The Revolt of 1857

The revolt, major centres, leaders of the revolt, suppression of revolt etc.

4.3 Events from 1857 to 1885

Transfer of rule from EIC to the British crown, important laws, political developments and organizations in this period 

4.4 From Establishment of Congress to its Split (1885-1907)

Important events in the early freedom struggle, establishment of Congress, role of moderates and extremists, Bengal partition, swadeshi movement & boycott, Surat split of Congress, British policies during this period 

4.5 Freedom Struggle Before Gandhi (1908-1917)

Home Rule movement, the role of Tilak and Annie Besant, the Komagata Maru incident, Gandhi’s arrival in India, Congress sessions during this period, the British Act of 1909 & British administration

4.6 Early Phase of Gandhian Struggle (1918-1925)

GOI Act of 1919, early Gandhian movements, Rowlatt Act, Jalionwala Bagh massacre, Khilafat movement, the Non-Cooperation Movement and its withdrawal, Congress sessions, important political events and British policies

4.7 Civil Disobedience Movements and Other Developments (1926-1932)

Dandi March, Civil Disobedience Movement, Gandhi Irwin Pact, Poona Pact, Round Table conferences, Congress sessions, Nehru report, British administration and other important events in the period

4.8 Events from 1933 to 1939

GOI Act 1935, Congress Socialist Party, 1937 provincial elections and 1939 Congress resignations, other important political events

4.9 Last Phase of British Rule (1940-1950)

2nd World War, Quit India Movement, various British missions/proposals for independent India, RIN mutiny, the role of Subhash Chandra Bose, constituent assembly, Indian independence, partition, early developments in independent India

4.10 Social Reforms and Reformers in Modern India

Arya Samaj, Bramho Samaj, Raja Rammohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, E.V. Ramaswami etc.

4.11 Literature in Modern Indian History

Literature, novels, journals and other periodicals, newspapers, translations etc. 

4.12 Revolutionary Movement

Chittagong raid, Abhinav Bharat movement, Anushilan Samiti, Ghadar movement, Kakori conspiracy, activities of Bhagat Singh and associates, other revolutionaries and their contributions to the freedom struggle

4.13 Evolution of the Education System in Modern India

Various British missions, laws, reports etc. for education, the establishment of colleges/schools and other efforts for education by Britishers and Indians

4.14 Tribal and Peasant Movement in Modern India

Tribal and peasant issues, important movements, agitations and revolts and responses to these

5. Indian Polity

5.1 Political Theory

Important concepts in political theory i.e. state, justice, equality, democracy, liberty, ideologies, rule of law, important ideologies etc.

5.2 Indian Political System

Indian parliamentary system, Indian federalism, separation of powers, judicial supremacy, electoral model etc.

5.3 Indian Constitution

Making of the Indian constitution, salient features of constitution, important articles and schedules, constitutional amendment scheme, judicial review and the doctrine of basic structure.

5.4 Fundamental Rights

Fundamental rights, Right to Education act, right to property, right to vote, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

5.5 DPSPs and Fundamental Duties

Directive Principles of State Policy and fundamental duties

5.6 Ministers, Ministries and Secretariat

Various state and central government ministries and ministers (including Prime Minister and Chief Minister), classification of Ministers, their powers and functions, various departments and schemes under them, secretariat system

5.7 President, Vice President and Governor

President, Vice President and Governor, their appointments, powers and functions, modes of removal, articles and acts regarding these. 

5.8 Union and State Legislature

Parliament of India and state legislatures (Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils), its speakers /chairman etc.,  its members (elected and nominated), powers and functions of legislatures and legislative assemblies, modes of removal, special privileges, parliamentary committees, bills and motions. 

5.9 Judiciary and Judicial System

Indian judicial system, courts and their powers, special courts like Lok Adalat, judges – their appointment, powers, functions and removals, various issues in the judicial system and latest judgements, important acts and amendments etc. 

5.10 Elections, Election Commission and RPA 

Elections in India at various levels, election commission, its powers, functions etc. Representation of the People’s Act and other important acts and amendments, election issues etc. 

5.11 Various Constitutions and Non-Const. Bodies and Posts

Various constitutional, non-constitutional bodies and posts e.g. Finance Commission, CAG, Attorney General, NITI Aayog, NALSA, NHRC etc. 

5.12 India’s International Relations

India’s foreign policy, India’s relations with other countries, international and regional institutions, agreements etc.

5.13 Important Acts and Constitutional Amendments

Important bills and acts, ordinances, and amendments to the constitution

5.14 Post-Independence History

Political developments in independent India, the formation of states, elections, committees and commissions etc. 

5.15 Panchayati Raj and Local Governance 

Issues related to the urban and rural local governance, Panchayati raj etc. important acts and amendments e.g. PESA, 72nd and 73rd amendment etc. 

6. Indian Economy

6.1 Macroeconomic Concepts

Indian economy, macroeconomic concepts, growth, GDP, GNP, PPP, supply-demand, recession and other related terms etc.

6.2 Government Budgeting and Accounts

Government budget and economic survey, govt. expenditure, deficit, govt. debt and debt financing, other issues related to Indian public finance, various govt. accounts related to finance etc. 

6.3 Taxation System in India

GST and previous taxation systems for goods and services, various tax slabs, the impact of GST, corporate tax, income tax, tax evasion etc. 

6.4 RBI Functions – Money Supply, Monetary Policy and Inflation, Forex mgt., Balance of Payment

Various functions of RBI – particularly – money supply, currency management, management of inflation and associated monetary policy,  various monetary policy tools (SLR, CRR, OMO, Repo and other related rates etc. ), various inflation indices in India, forex reserve management, convertibility of rupee and exchange rate management, current account and capital account (Balance of Payment) 

6.5 RBI and Indian Banking & Finance System

Internal working of RBI, posts, appointments, tenure, history of RBI etc., Banking, finance and insurance sector, various issues and initiatives related to the banking/finance/insurance sector, financial inclusion, management of banking and finance sector by RBI, associated laws, guidelines, international initiatives e.g. BASEL guidelines etc., Payment ecosystem in India. 

6.6 Capital Market, Money Market and FDI

Capital market and money market in India, various instruments of capital/money market e.g. govt. Bonds, T bills, participatory notes, equity etc., their meanings, provisions etc. Indian stock market, SEBI, Foreign Direct Investment, govt. provisions/guidelines related to FDI. 

6.7 Industries

The industrial sector in the Indian economy including minerals, power and electricity, public sector enterprises, other terms and acts related to the management of industries and companies, various indices, govt. Bodies or acts regarding the Industrial sector etc. SEZ

6.8 International Trade

International trade, import and export, the volume of trade, various components of trade, major items of import-export, India’s EXIM policy – associated bodies, acts/ regulations etc. 

6.9 International Economic Organizations

WTO, IMF, World Bank, ADB, AIIB, G20, ILO, UN-CTAD and other international organizations/groupings dealing with economic and developmental issues. 

6.10 Population and Demography

Population, census data, various demographic indicators e.g. literary rates, male: female ratio, mortality rates etc. other population-related policies and significant issues. 

6.11 Poverty, Development, Health and Education

Poverty and its alleviation, health and sanitation, food security, subsidies, issues related to gender, education, inclusive growth and development

6.12 Employment and Skill Development

Employment and unemployment, skill-development-related initiatives, rozgar yojana etc. 

6.13 Agriculture

Agriculture and production, land reforms, MSP and food grains procurement, govt. schemes/initiatives for agriculture and allied activities. 

6.14 Economic Institutions, Laws and Policies

The topic deals with govt. bodies/institutions dealing with economic and developmental issues, laws and policies related to the same and recent developments in these. 

6.15 Five-Year Plans

Various five-year plans, their objectives, achievements etc. 

7. Geography

7.1 Physical Geography

The earth, origin, evolution, the interior of earth, distribution of oceans and land, earthquakes, vulcanism, planetary system, important landforms, rocks, soil and minerals, geomorphic processes

7.2 Climatology

Atmosphere, climate, rains, clouds, cyclones, winds, insolation various climates and associated forest types

7.3 Oceanography

Oceanography, oceans and associated landforms, ocean currents, and other related geographical features e.g. tides, isobars and isotherms etc.

7.4 Indian Geography – Map-Based Questions

Questions that can be answered on the basis of knowledge of India’s map, important places, state boundaries, longitude/latitude etc.

7.5 Indian Geography – Mountains and Glaciers

Indian geography – hills, mountain ranges and glaciers, associated landforms like valleys, passes etc.

7.6 Indian Geography – Rocks, Soil and Minerals

Indian geography – soil, soil types and its distribution, rocks and minerals, distribution of other natural resources

7.7 Indian Geography – Rivers, Lakes and Lagoons

Indian geography – important rivers, tributaries and river basins, associated landforms, lakes and lagoons

7.8 Indian Geography – Location, Climate and Forests

Indian geography – important geographical features, climate types in India, different forest types, monsoon

7.9 Agriculture and Geography

Important crops, their seasons, their production, major crop-producing areas, irrigation, various agriculture techniques etc. 

7.10 Indian Geography – Roads, Railways and Ports

Indian geography – Indian transport system, roads, railways, airports, river and sea ports. 

7.11 Indian Geography – Industries and Major Projects

Indian geography – location of major industries and large projects e.g. dams, electricity generation plants, irrigation projects etc.

7.12 World Geography – Important Features and Natural Resources

World geography – important geographical features – mountains, rivers, trenches, deserts, oceans etc., important places, distribution of natural resources

7.13 World Geography – Map-Based Questions

Questions that can be answered on the basis of knowledge of the world map, important countries and cities, national boundaries, longitude/latitude, and location of important geographical features.

8. Environment

8.1 Environment Ecology

Environment, ecology, ecosystem, energy flow, food chain and food web, biogeochemical cycles, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, biotic interactions etc.

8.2 India’s Biodiversity

Flora, fauna and Indian wildlife diversity, their natural habitats, peculiar features, the endangered status of various species, coral reefs, threats to biodiversity etc. 

8.3 Environment Pollution and Remedies

Environmental pollution – air, water, soil, noise pollution, radioactive pollution, e-waste, acid rain, remedies for pollution, govt. initiatives, bio-remediation etc.

8.4 Climate Change

Theoretical questions on climate change e.g. causes of climate change, contributing factors, terms associated with climate change, scientific solutions for climate change etc. 

8.5 Efforts for Environment Protection at Indian Level

Various govt. and non-govt. initiatives for biodiversity and environmental protection, climate change, ozone depletion etc. Wildlife protection act, protected areas, various projects etc. biosphere reserves, national parks, Ramsar convention and Ramsar sites, environment protection act etc.

8.6 Efforts for Environment Protection at Global Level

Global initiatives for climate, environment, biodiversity protection etc.

8.7 Agriculture and Environment

Agricultural issues that are concerned with the environment and climate change. Eco-friendly agricultural practices, organic farming etc. 

8.8 Renewable and Alternate Energy Sources

Renewable energy sources, non-conventional energy sources, solar energy, bio-fuels, and other new inventions in the field

9. Science and Technology

9.1 Electronics and IT

Various developments in electronics, telecommunication, information technology, cyber technology etc.

9.2 Astrophysics and Space Technology

Planetary system, astronomy, galaxy and other important topics of astrophysics, various space launch vehicles/ satellites/ missions of ISRO, NASA and other space agencies, other initiatives in the field of space technology

9.3 Biotechnology

Latest advances in the field of medical sciences and biology, genetic modification technology, DNA, nanotechnology in medical science, vaccine development etc.

9.4 Physics

General physics, with special emphasis on particle physics and nuclear physics

9.5 Chemistry

General chemistry

9.6 Biology

General biology with special emphasis on biology related to human beings

9.7 Diseases

A subtopic of biology, which discusses diseases, causes and means of transmission, prevention methods etc.

10. Current Affairs and General Knowledge

10.1 Defence-related Current Affairs

various missiles, tanks, submarines, fighter planes, other military vehicles and machinery, military exercises etc.

10.2 Nuclear Weapons and Treaties

Nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, various nuclear-related treaties/agreements etc. 

10.3 International Organizations, Reports and Rankings

International organisations and groupings, their mandates, members, reports and rankings etc.

10.4 General Knowledge and Other Current Affairs

Questions based on general knowledge and current affairs that can not be classified in other subjects (listed above)

3. Conclusion

Being aware of the scope of the examination is the first step in a good preparation strategy. We hope that this article about the ‘Actual syllabus of UPSC Prelims’ gives you the necessary clarity. I strongly recommend downloading the syllabus mentioned here (click here to download) and ensure that you prepare all the topics really well for exam. 

If you’re also looking to understand the UPSC prelims syllabus even in more detail, specifically from an exam perspective, I will recommend going through the PYQs on each of the topics mentioned here. Please have a look at our Prelims PYQ book arranged on the same lines. 

Best Wishes! 👍

UPSC Prelims PYQ Book Image
UPSC Prelims PYQ Book
  • Collection of more than 3200 Previous Year Questions (1995-2023)
  • All questions divided into 10 Subjects
  • Subject further sub-divided into more than 75 topics
  • All answers according to official answer key
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