(Sample Chapters) IAS Mains: General Studies: Strategy & Suggested Reading

General Studies: Strategy & Suggested Reading

It is usually observed that many aspirants fear the GS paper. But with proper orientation GS becomes very scoring. The student who would have prepared for the general studies from the basic books, they will not have the slightest problem in the preparation for the main exam. In fact, many try to concentrate more on optionals than GS. This may not be a good strategy, as GS gives good marks with lesser efforts. The GS is also helpful in essay and interview, and also later on in career. Therefore, proper attention should be given to GS preparation. Firstly, the nature of GS should be understood. This can be done by a thorough analysis of the previous years papers. It can be observed that the examiner is not asking everything under the Sun, which is contrary to the opinion of many aspirants. The questions are focused only on certain dimensions, especially those relevant for an administrative career.

It is important to know the difference between a generalist and a specialist. A generalist is a person who knows “less and less of more and more”, while a specialist is a person who knows “more and more of less and less”. The Civils Exam in the GS paper is testing the Generalist approach.

(i) History–Modern India

The national movement and related developments have to be studied with good clarity. The aspirant should have a clear idea about the chronological sequence, the linkages between various topics and a good analysis about  each stage. It should be remembered that the portion is not to be studied as if writing History optional. The GS paper will only test the basic clarity on the national movement.

(ii ) Indian Geography

There should be a good understanding about the geography of India. This will also help a lot in prelims.


  • Some current geography based questions are also  asked.
  • Maps and diagrams can be used extensively.
  • Practice previous years question papers as much as possible.

(iii ) Indian Polity and Governance

There is a standard syllabus for this and good material with clarity is also available. The questions are mostly asked directly. So scoring becomes easy with good understanding with clarity. The knowledge in polity also helps a lot in the essay and interview. This will give a good foundation for the career as an administrator. It is very important to study polity well.

(iv ) Social Issues

There is no standard material for these topics. Further, questions are also not asked every year. Even if asked, mostly they are of general nature, which can be answered with common sense. So do not spend too much time on these areas or in search of material. Prepare well for other parts of GS and later if time permits then come to these areas.

Note: Current social issues based question can be asked. For example, some controversial case related to child labour comes in media, then you can expect a question on child labour.

(v ) India and the World

The questions are asked to test the basic understanding about the relations with other nations and India’s foreign policy. Mostly, questions are related to current affairs. There is a need to have clarity about the basic contours of the evolution of India’s foreign policy. But do not get into too much depth or controversial topics. You are expected to have a basic clarity on India’s external affairs.

(vi ) International Affairs

The questions are mainly current affairs related. The most important developments which appear in the newspaper will be sufficient for the preparation. Observe the terms, personalities, places, etc. which can be asked for the two markers. Also prepare for the institutions. First list out the various important institutions. Then gather basic material on them. You can also try the web sites of the institutions for the information.

(vii ) Indian Economy

This is an area, which is feared by many, especially because of lack of proper exam oriented textbook with clarity. But with some basic understanding, economy can become very scoring because of 15 two-mark questions, which you can cover easily if you practice old papers.

(viii ) Science and Technology

Some Art students fear this part and leave them for the exam. However, note that the examiner is not interested in the technical aspects. They are only testing if the candidate has basic understanding on the technological developments. In fact, technology is going to play a very key role in changing the administration. So, do take an active  interest in the technological developments, as they will help you in being an effective change agent when you join the service.

In the exam, the questions are being asked from both  the standard and the current affairs based. While preparing, concentrate on the relevance and the application of the topic. The following dimensions should be focused:

  • What is the basic technological dimension of the topic?
  • How is it being used; applicability?
  • Development in India.

There is no good material available for this area. Notes have to be prepared from various sources. The synopsis should also focus on the diagrams and figures, wherever applicable.

(IX ) Statistics

This is another area, which is feared by students from Arts background. While, others from technical background take it too lightly, and loose marks in the end. This area is very scoring for anybody who can concentrate on the basics and do lots of practice.

(X ) Current Affairs

This is the most important component of the preparation. It has crucial role in prelims, essay and interview. It requires continuous efforts throughout the year. The notes have to be prepared from various sources. The effectiveness of the preparation will increase if you have a good understanding about the questions that are asked every year. That way you will be in a position to discriminate between what to read and more importantly what not to ready.

Some Examples:

(1) Role of women in the development process: Role of women in financial, political and social development of our country. Not forget to mention barriers and suggestions.
(2) Comment highlighting the aim, organisation and achievement of the Nuclear Power development in India. This question can be divided into three parts:
(a) Aim of the development of the Nuclear Power.
(b) Organisation of Nuclear Power Project.
(c) Achievements of Nuclear Power development.
(3) While writing 20 words answer, remember to present introductory knowledge and most important information. e.g., Haripura: In 1939 session of congress held here, S.C. Bose was elected chairperson but due to Gandhi’s Protest, resigned.
(4) Characteristics imply both good and bad qualities.
(5) ‘Describe’, ‘Mention’, ‘Enumerate’ etc. demand the situation to be expressed as it is.
(6) Functions, duties and rights—Remember that ‘functions’ are those that are done according to the rules, like ‘what are the function of the President (mentioned in the constitution). Duty has a feeling of responsibility. Under ‘duty’ those facts are included which are expected from someone. It is the duty of president to protect the constitution. Rights are related to those facts, which are essential to fulfil the functions and duties like to initiate President’s rule in the state is not the President’s function, rather his ‘right’.


(1) Solve the question, that you know the best first.
(2) After this, the second and third questions should be the ones that you can answer the best.
(3) Give your Weekest question at the fourth place and better ones at fifth place. It gives a difference of 3–5% marks.
(4) Your efforts should be that you solve those questions first which can be divided into many parts. The more the parts of a question, the more scoring it would be. Another advantage of solving a question with many parts is also that you are saved for deviating.
(5) If there is any question that you are finding difficult, solve it later on.
One broad framework for analysing current affairs is to do so on following three parameters.
1. Economic
2. Social
3. Political

In case of international affairs in addition to above the fourth factor which is important is “geo-strategic”.

All issues in current affairs can be analysed on these parameters.

Relative importance to be given to the various topics in GS depends on respective interest and aptitude.

Start from the point where you feel most comfortable. Prepare notes, keep cuttings. Store them topic wise and try to understand the basic facts of the issue. Every current affairs related issue deals with Facts and Analysis. Facts needs to be correct and Analysis reasonable and objective. If you can keep this balance, then nothing can beat you.