UPSC Exam Pattern 2021| UPSC IAS Prelims cum Mains Exam Pattern

UPSC conduct IAS exam every year for the recruitment of Officers for All India Services and various Central Services. UPSC exam is also known as IAS exam due to the popularity it has gained over the years. UPSC conduct IAS exam in three phases Prelims, Mains and Personality Test. It starts with the Preliminary exam and ends when the final result is declared. Candidates who pass the Prelims exam appear for the Mains and who pass the Mains exam appear for the Personal Interview. It is a complete cycle of one year. UPSC has set the IAS Exam pattern in such a way that it assesses the academic as well as general understanding of the candidates in all the three levels of the exam in a different way.

In this article we will discuss in detail about the UPSC Exam Pattern for Prelims and Mains.

UPSC Exam Pattern 2021 for Preliminary Exam:

It is the first phase of the IAS Exam. Every year lakhs of students appear in this exam. After qualifying the Prelims exam, students appear for UPSC Mains exam. Prelims exam consists of two papers which are General Studies Paper I and Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) Paper II. Both the Papers are Objective type with multiple choice answers. Both the papers are conducted same day in two different sittings. There is gap of three hours between both the papers.

PaperTotal MarksNumber of QuestionsDurationNegative MarksType of Paper
General Studies-Paper I2001002 hours1/3rd of the marks allottedScoring
General Studies- Paper II200802 hours1/3rd of the marks allottedQualifying

Following is the IAS Exam Pattern for Prelims exam: Paper I and Paper II

  • Objective type: First phase i.e. Prelims exam is of objective type. Here students have to mark the correct answer from the given options. UPSC provide four options out of which one is correct.
  • Screening test:UPSC prelims examination is just a screening test. Its marks do not get added in the final merit list. Still candidates need to prepare well for this exam as it is very unpredictable. The cut-offs set by UPSC, depends on the average score every year.
  • CSAT:Paper-II (CSAT) will be a qualifying paper with minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%.
  • Bilingual Paper: The Question paper will be set in both Hindi and English language. However, questions related to English Language Comprehension skills would be provided only in English.
  • Equal duration:Both Paper I and II will be of 2 hours duration.
  • Negative marking: There will be negative marking for every incorrect answer.
  • Multiple choice answers:Each question comes with 4 multiple choice answers. For each wrong answer, one-third (0.33) of the marks assigned to that question will be deducted as penalty.
  • No penalty if you leave the question:No penalty if the candidate decides to skip the question.
  • Blind Candidates:Blind candidates would be allowed an extra 20 minutes of time for each paper.

UPSC Exam Pattern for 2021 Mains Exam:

Only those candidates who will clear the declared cut off for the Preliminary exam will appear for the Mains Exam. IAS Mains exam consist of 9 Papers and all are of description type. The Papers continue for 5-7 days in one and two sittings. Out of these 9 papers, two are of qualifying nature.

With the help of the following table, we will understand the overview of the IAS Exam Pattern for the Mains Examination:

Compulsory Papers (Only qualifying in nature)Essay Paper (Scoring)General Studies Papers (Scoring)Optional Subject (Scoring)
English Paper1 topic from Subsection AGS Paper 1Paper 1
Indian Language Paper1 topic from Subsection BGS Paper 2Paper 2
GS Paper 3
GS Paper 4


UPSC Exam Pattern for Mains:

  • Language papers A and B are of qualifying in nature. Candidates have to score just 33% marks in these two papers.
  • Paper A is not compulsory for candidates from the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim as well as candidates with hearing impairment, provided they can prove that they have been exempted from such 2nd or 3rd language courses by their concerned board or university.
  • The Indian Language paper covers any of the languages included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • All other UPSC Mains papers are of a scoring in nature whose marks along with marks obtained by the candidates in the Personality test are considered for final selection.
  • The papers on Essay, General Studies and Optional Subject of only such candidates who attain 25% marks in both the language papers as a minimum qualifying standard in these qualifying papers, will be considered for evaluation.
  • In case a candidate does not qualify in these language papers, then the marks obtained by such candidates in 7 remaining papers will not be taken into consideration.
  • Total marks for the written test are 1750.
  • Selection of Optional Subject: 
  • Any ONE subject from the following subjects may be chosen by the candidate for Paper VI and Paper VII: Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science, Anthropology, Botany, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Commerce and Accountancy, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Geography, Geology, History, Law, Management, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medical Science, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science and International Relations, Psychology, Public Administration, Sociology, Statistics, and Zoology.
  • Apart from these, candidates can also choose literature of any ONE of these languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English.

In the following table, we will see in details the UPSC Exam Pattern for Mains:

PaperSubjectDurationTotal Marks
ACompulsory Indian Language3 hours300
BEnglish3 hours300
IEssay3 hours250
IIGeneral Studies I (Indian History & Culture, History & Geography of the World and Society)3 hours250
IIIGeneral Studies-II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International Relations)3 hours250
IVGeneral Studies-III (Technology, Economic Development, Bio-diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management)3 hours250
VGeneral Studies-IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude)3 hours250
VIOptional Subject- Paper 13 hours250
VIIOptional Subject- Paper 23 hours250
Total marks (written test)


Candidates who will qualify the UPSC Mains exam, will appear for the Personality test.



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