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  • Writer's pictureATISH MATHUR

The 2021 Preparation Plan

Updated: May 5, 2021

This planning document applies to you if you are writing the 2021 Civil Services Examination, irrespective of whether you have written a previous attempt or not. If you have written previous attempt, please read the points mentioned towards the end of the document.

Step 1: Setup your study area

  1. A proper study table or even a folding bed study table

  2. Folders, File Organisers, A4 Sheets Bundle etc.

  3. Pens, Pencils, Highlighter, Post-Its

  4. A white board (Optional)

Make sure you study area is well lit and ventilated.

Step 2 : Syllabus

Take a printout of the syllabus and paste it over your study table or near your study area. Make sure you have read every word of your syllabus both for the Prelims and the Mains and for all areas including GS, CSAT, and Optional.

Step 3 : Optional

The Optional makes up for two of the subjective papers in the Mains stage (Subjective). The most important utility of the Optional is to fetch you the highest possible marks. It does not matter at all if you have chosen a different optional than your graduation subject. The best way to decide what an optional is empirically.

After you have shortlisted a few optionals based on your preferences, pick up the past year papers of that optional and read a minimum of one chapter from each paper of each shortlisted optional from the material freely and readily available online. After this, make a rational decision of choosing an optional where you can get a minimum of 260-270 marks within a reasonable amount of time and you have a baseline interest in the optional. Your decision must be based on all these factors weighed in equally and not solely on any one of these factors. Remember, this is a calculated decision which can reduce your increase your attempts drastically. This is one the most crucial decisions you will have to make and you should take a minimum of 2 weeks to arrive at this decision so that you are not hurrying through it.

Step 4 : Resources

There is a very simple rule to shortlisting GS resources - Minimum Sources Maximum Revision. Reading more sources does not make a significant impact on your scores. As much as possible, stick to one resource. Under no circumstances will you refer to more than 2 sources for the same subject. Do not break this rule, no matter what happens.

Understandably, you might be concerned about not getting coaching notes if you are not enrolled in one. There is a very simple way to solve this. Almost all book shops in Rajinder Nagar area of New Delhi courier all study material to almost all places in the country. Class notes of coaching institutes are also available with these Book Shops and can be ordered to be delivered at your door step. I would advise you to buy material from these book shops instead of directly buying material from coaching institutes as the latter is expensive. Remember, a penny saved is a penny earned. You can google ‘Book Shops in Rajinder Nagar, Delhi’ and call them up directly to set up your orders. The popular ones are Kumar Book Centre (KBC) Book Shop, Image-runners etc.

The most important resource that should get before you get anything else is past year papers for Prelims and Mains (Including your Optional). You do not necessarily have to get Mains past year papers with Model Answers but with respect to the Prelims, do make sure that you get any publication with answers and explanations. Ideally, get a publication which categorises questions topic wise for the Prelims as it would be easy for you refer as you get along with your preparation.

Step 5: The Study Plan

Phase I : October - December : 3 Months approx.

Your day gets divided into three parts: 50% for Optional, 30% for GS, and 20% for Current Affairs.

  1. Full revision of the Optional Subject, Consolidated Notes, and at least 2 rounds of tests

  2. If you are doing now full GS Subject, then History OR Geography+Env, if you are planning on doing two GS Subjects then, Polity + Economics.

(Note that History means all portions of History irrespective of Prelims and Mains. History will usually take about 3-4 months when done side by side an Optional). Ensure that you do Optional and one GS subject side by side. Do study NOT too many different things daily.

Phase II : January - March : 3 Months approx.

  1. Remainder GS Subjects

  2. Ethics Static portion revision

Coverage Check : One Revision of Optional + GS Core and Ethics Complete by March 2021

Phase III - April - June : 3 Months approx.

  1. Prelims GS Revision

  2. Boxes of both Volumes of Economic Survey released in February

  3. Important Schemes/Reports/Defence Exercises/etc for the Prelims

  4. Vision PT 365 on Environment and Science & Technology

  5. CSAT Past Year papers and revision of problem areas

  6. Solve 3 GS Mock Tests every week

  7. Read answers and explanations of at least 20 questions from another GS Mock Test everyday before you sleep.

Step 6: Current Affairs

If you cannot read the paper daily, make sure to read the Hindu reverse chronologically on a weekly basis. Identify the issues and prepare 2-3 page reckoners for that issue. For example, in a given week, Air India is in news, prepare a larger 2-3 page note on Civil Aviation in India in a Model Answer format which would cover Prelims and Mains both. A reckoner in this case would include - Basic Information about Civil Aviation, Brief History of Civil Aviation, Designate Ministry and Important Schemes on Civil Aviation, Problems and Solutions for the sector. Keep spaces between your headings and points so that you can add on in case the same issue comes up later. Never make notes date wise, always make your notes issue wise. It does not matter if you make your notes digitally or otherwise.

Step 7: Answer Writing

  1. One essay every month starting October till March

  2. 3-4 case studies every month starting October till March.


Remember, you are writing a government exam. There is no X-factor in answer writing. The most conventional and simply written answers are the best answers. A candidate who attempts most number of questions in a mains exam even in an above average manner gets more marks than a candidate who attempts fewer questions brilliantly.

Everyone gets the same range of average marks in GS - I, II, and III which is about 85-110. The Optional, Essay, and Paper IV is where the scope lies to really rake in marks. Put in your efforts accordingly.

Nobody including me knows how exactly does the UPSC evaluates Mains answers. Our personal experience and interactions with students give us a fair idea about what works and what does not. Do not fall for magic answer writing improvement courses often marketed around you.

Ground Rules

  1. This is a marathon not a sprint. Pace yourself well and never let yourself burn out. Do not study for more than 6 days a week initially. Keep a day off for recreation or consolidation of your week. Do not do anything new that day.

  2. Sleep well. The Human body’s sleep cycle works in multiples of 1.5 hours. Control your sleep. Sleep for a minimum 6-7.5 hours. If needed, take a power nap in the afternoon.

  3. Diet and exercise is crucial. It will aid in increasing concentration and ensure you are generally healthy.

  4. If you are someone who spends a lot of time on social media, deactivate your accounts.

  5. Keep two circles of friends - one, who are preparing for this exam, and two, who are not. Keep in touch with them. It will always give you perspective and a reality check.

  6. No new relationships or attachments during the preparation period.

  7. In case you start facing anxiety or any mental health issue, please seek help immediately

  8. Never ever get intimidated by the sheer number of people who prepare for this exam. Your actual competition is with only 30 percent of the total number of people preparing for this exam.

  9. Do not make notes of things already written in the form of notes for eg - Lakshmikant

  10. Divide phases into weeks and set your targets as specifically as you can. Make sure you achieve them.

  11. Number of hours put in does not really matter, what matters is what you gained qualitatively that day.

  12. Never read a chapter/subject without FIRST referring to past year papers; 2011 onwards for GS Prelims and Mains; Past 20 years for Optional.

  13. Do not study International Relations before World History; Ethics, Governance and Social Issues before Polity and Economics.

For those who have written the 2020 attempt : Before you start prep, sit with the prelims paper 2020 and figure the following things out -

  1. Why did you get some of the questions wrong : Source, Revision, Logic, Elimination?

  2. Which areas seems unfamiliar to you and why?

  3. Please don’t take the 2020 attempt as the new norm. The paper was as weird and unpredictable as every year.


Atish Mathur


  • Polity, Governance, and Indian Government and Politics - Political Science and International Relations Optional (Vajiram & Ravi IAS, New Delhi)

  • Polity, Governance, Social Issues, Ethics (Unacademy)

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