UPSC Resources

This post won’t have much that is new, but that doesn’t mean it’s of no use. All of this has been written before, but it took me a lot of searching to find these gems among the huge mass of misinformation online.

There is one thing which I don’t think you’ll find in other sources- the approach I adopted for this exam. You will find that here. I recommend reading it after you read this.

A lot of people have asked me for a ready-made book-list, so I’ve laid out most of the resources I used.

But you must know that it doesn’t work that way. Think of a room that can fit only 800 people, but 500,000 people want to get in. What do you think would happen if there was such a ready-made technique to get in this room?

Everyone reading it would know what had to be done, and we’d be back at square one. This room cannot fit more than 800 people no matter what. So when everyone has the same strategy, then you need something more than that. Try to realize this now, not after you appear for the exam.

I’ll still mention most of the sources I’ve used. But if that’s all you take away from this post, I think you’re missing out on a lot.

You should also hopefully realize that these aren’t necessarily the best resources; they’re just the ones I used. You’ll find thousands of such lists online. Use whichever books/notes you find help you understand things easily – you will have to try quite a few resources and probably reject them before you find the ones you like. Don’t think you need to use any of the books I’ve mentioned here – use them if they help, ignore them otherwise.

Two Great Blogs – Mains and Prelims

You should read this blog, by Gaurav Agarwal (AIR 1, 2013) – if you’ve listened to my talk at ForumIAS, you will see yourself that what I said that day is already on the internet; you just need to find it.

This is a generalist exam, not a specialist one. You don’t need to write spectacular answers; in fact I would say you shouldn’t even try. Answer every question, and answer it as close to the word limit (not too much more, not too much less). If you’ve given a paper under exam conditions, I’m guessing you’d know how hard it is to complete a paper with average answers. Trying writing only great answers and you won’t finish – you have only 7 minutes per 10 marker and 11 per 15 marker.

I will say that this one blog made the whole exam process so much easier than you can possibly imagine. But it took me quite a long time to really understand what this exam demanded.

This sounds generic, and won’t help you probably, which is why I’ve explained it in much greater depth on the other page I linked earlier. You can find it here (same link as the first one).

This is a blog by Abhijeet Sinha, (AIR 19 CSE 2017). It is the best prelims advice I’ve come across. I had come up with many of the strategies and had a similar approach as Abhijeet, but he thought of quite a few guessing techniques that hadn’t occurred to me. This is what he says on his blog:

I almost always attempted over 95 questions, even though I barely knew more than 50 questions with full certainty ( no blind guesses though). Secondly, my focus remained more on deducing the right option by following all kinds of thumb rules, some of which I inherited others which I developed on my own. Thirdly, more than prelims, I have always focused on Mains preparation, as I believe that, prelims can at most stop one from being an IAS officer, it can never make a person an IAS officer, but mains can

I had devoted as little time as possible to prelims; the goal was only to clear it, not to top it. You need to know where you stand – if you’re getting low marks in mock tests, this wouldn’t be a good idea.

Again, the approach you adopt depends on what suits you – some people go for accuracy, and attempt fewer questions but make less mistakes. I went for attempting almost everything, though even I barely knew 30, max 40 questions with full certainty. I usually scored decent in mock tests, though I made many wrong guesses on the day of the prelims – around 25-30 I think. But I’d attempted so many that I still cleared.

See the techniques Abhijeet has mentioned. Extreme options are usually wrong – this you might already be aware. Etymology can reveal a lot, common sense can help eliminate options – go through the examples Abhijeet’s shared, and then try using them in your mock tests.

That’s the real purpose of mock tests. The questions you get there are almost never the same as the ones in the exam – don’t give mocks trying to mug up the answers you got wrong and hope they come in the exam, that’s a very inefficient way to use your time.

You must also know – these are guesses. There’s not 100% certainty you’ll be right if you apply these techniques. But I still feel it’s better than leaving a question blank. If you left 4 questions, you’d get zero marks for them. If you guessed blindly, you have a chance of getting 1 in 4 correct – that’s also zero marks (2 marks right, 2/3 marks wrong per wrong question, and 3 wrong questions). But most guesses aren’t blind – you can usually eliminate at least one option, so you have a chance of getting more than 0 marks. I would attempt if I could eliminate even one option, but you need to decide what works for you.

I’ve explained a little more about my approach toward prelims in the link I shared above, where I discussed my strategy.


I’ll go to another site now that helped me immensely. This is one of the best sources to know about the exam – the blog by Anudeep Durishetty, (AIR 1, 2017).

Before I go over the books mentioned by Abhijeet and Anudeep, I’ll mention this. I never used more than 1 book for a topic, unless it had sub-topics that were not covered in the first. My intention was always to utilize the minimum resources. The return on your time invested in the second book is very poor if you’re covering the same topics.

These books I used are exactly the same as mentioned on Anudeep’s blog.

  • Polity- Lakshmikant
  • Modern History – Spectrum (and Tamil Nadu 12th – only chapters 1-8 about viceroys (a question on Lord Dalhousie had come one year)
  • Ancient History- Old NCERT, RS Sharma (read most of it like a story, except important topics like Mauryas/Guptas/anything related to Buddhism/Jainism
  • Medieval History -Old NCERT, Satish Chandra (similar approach as ancient)

I didn’t follow the books he mentioned for these subjects:

  • Economics – one of my favourite subjects in college, didn’t need to refer to Micro/Macro or NCERT- I looked at Nitin Sangwan’s notes, mostly on topics like Gender Budgeting, Lead Bank etc not covered in college courses. Also requires googling for specific topics- IAS4Sure, GKToday sites usually show the required info. Depending on your background, Anudeep’s suggestion might be better for you.
  • Geography: Didn’t find it very important for the exam, nor very interesting compared to other subjects, honestly; I didn’t see many of the NCERT topics like dykes, sills etc in the past 3-5 year papers, so I skimmed these in NCERT very briefly – topics like Earthquakes, Disasters I gave more attention. Did not use GC Leong. I referred to PMFIAS for more complex topics (again same as Anudeep’s blog says). I referred to Nitin Sangwan’s notes (quite a few topics like stars/Chandrashekhar limit etc aren’t very important – you can skim these if you want).
  • Maps (I’ve kept this separate from geography): I used this answer by Tushar Gupta. Again, I always keep in mind ROI – effort to reward ratio. I didn’t use all the maps, only a few, and I didn’t make them on my own, I saved his (if you try reinventing the wheel in this exam you’ll never finish). I focused on main peninsular and Himalayan rivers, Lakes, Mountains (only major ones), National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Biosphere Reserves. I also used his maps for art and culture. For Prelims, remembering the sanctuaries/folk dances through maps was much simpler and faster. For mains, I liked the idea of drawing maps for Disaster management as he did, I’d recommend it too.
  • Environment: Very important for prelims, always carries a good weightage. I googled for environment notes (IAS4sure, gktoday or any coaching would do, they carry the same facts more or less), and glanced at Nitin Sangwan’s notes. International conventions, UNFCCC summits etc are given in a succinct manner. For mains, you can link it with current affairs and gktoday/ IAS4sure/ Googling /monthly compilations are helpful. You don’t need to know everything about everything for mains – I’ve explained in greater depth where I discussed my approach.
  • Art and Culture: Only Nitin Sangwan’s notes. Not a very rewarding subject – easy questions like Mahayana Buddhism everyone knows, and very pinpointed questions you’re unlikely to get right even with effort. I didn’t find memorizing states and their dances/crafts very intellectually rewarding, so I minimized the time on it, and focused on important topics – Buddhism/Jainism/foreign travelers/Indus valley, Maurya, Gupta, Turkish, Mughal art, architecture, literature.
  • World History (mains): Very less weightage + I’ve always been interested in it so already knew about the major topics – French, American, Russian revolutions + WWs. Still looked through Nitin Sangwan’s notes but don’t spend too much time on this subject unless you’re very unfamiliar with it, the cost to reward ratio isn’t great. International organizations (prelims) – I referred to an IAS Parliament (Shankar IAS) booklet + occasional googling to know the facts, and kept an eye out in the news – topics like Crimea/Palestine/Syria/Afghanistan are important for maps in prelims, and in the mains issues like the UNESCO question on anti-Israel bias (very hard to predict for mains, so don’t spend days reading everything)
  • Current affairs: Started with The Hindu, didn’t find it much use frankly but I’d read on my phone at breakfast out of habit since I’d always found simply eating food too boring. Gradually reduced the time I spent on this because the effort of making notes was far more than the benefit. I referred Insights current monthly news for prelims, and visions monthly news for mains.

Sociology Specific:

  • Sociology 1: IGNOU chapters (they sometimes repeat, you need to move fast if that happens) + going through Tusharanshu (AIR 75, 2014) notes if there was anything useful on that topic + occasionally referencing or googling for specific topics if needed. This paper is basically about the main thinkers – Marx, Weber, Parsons etc
  • Sociology 2: Referred Tusharanshu notes and quite a bit of yourarticlelibrary. This paper is very similar to GS except for the part about Indian sociologists. Very, very commonsense except for the Indian thinkers – you need to find names of sociologists whom you can quote for your answers I think – a test series I joined gave model answers, from which I listed the names of sociologists so I could mention them in my answers.

Sociology becomes much simpler when you link everything. So if you’re asked about Marx, you can use Weber/Parsons (functionalist) / Phenomenologists in your answers to critique Marx, and vice versa. I tried to drop as many names as possible in the answers to make them “sociological” – otherwise there’d be no difference between sociology and general studies.

These are basically the sources I used. I tried to keep it to the bare minimum. Only if a book adds value did I read it, otherwise I’d abandon it. They might look very few in number – that’s an advantage, not a disadvantage. And it seems easy now, but searching for these in this huge mass of information wasn’t easy.

Test Series

I didn’t take any coaching , so I can’t help you with that at all, and I won’t even try.

If you feel the need for coaching you should consider it – don’t imitate me or anyone else blindly. I’d recommend at least reading about the exam and starting things on your own. If you feel you need help, then coaching might be a good idea.

But don’t think coaching means you can stop using your brain. I’ve expounded on this in my other post on my approach. You are just one among thousands of candidates for your coaching centre – why would they give any special attention to you? Only you (and your family) care about your success deeply, because only you are the one affected by your failure. So don’t leave everything to someone who isn’t the one with skin in the game. This is the principal-agent problem in economics.

I joined two test series for mains, and one for sociology. I’ve written my feedback below. Keep in mind – I only wanted someone who would take my answers and give me feedback (I couldn’t be completely objective myself because of the self-serving bias, the tendency to look at your work and think it’s better than it is). If you need to watch videos/ask questions/have a mentor, you should check other reviews before you make a decision.

Efficiency is the painlessness of the process. I wanted a series I could attempt anytime at home, send it, and get the feedback on time. I don’t want to keep having to call and remind someone that it’s been weeks since I got my answer-sheet back.

Effectiveness is how useful the feedback was to improve on my answers. This also depends on how you use the feedback. In sociology, I scored 3.5 or 4.5 out of 10 at the beginning, you might score poorly too when you start – that is irrelevant. It’s the change that matters – are your scores rising?

Cost is the third and last priority when you look for a test series. As long as it’s not too extravagantly overcharged, don’t try to save 5 or 10K by opting for a cheaper test series and sacrificing quality.

A bad test series can set you back one year if you have to repeat the exam. One year is a long time, you’d probably value it much more than 5 or 10 thousand rupees. More expensive doesn’t mean it’s better either though, so read a few reviews if you’re not sure.

Test SeriesEfficiency Effectiveness
ForumIAS MGP (15 tests)GreatGreat
Lukmaan IAS (8 tests)OKAlmost great (less than MGP)
TriumphIAS (10 tests)BadGreat

I found all the feedback decent, partly because my approach to mains revolved around answer writing rather than revising material. ForumIAS was the most professional – I never had to remind them to return my answer-sheets.

An answer writing test series depends on what you make of it. You need to put in the effort to read the feedback and act upon it. You’ll get only as much out of it as you put into it.

I’ve written about how you should use a test series in greater detail here

If you plan to make notes, you should see this answer by Archit Chandak. I don’t think I could add anything to it to make it better. If you read it, you’ll notice these things –

  1. The note is within 250 words
  2. It covers all dimensions of a topic.
  3. Notes are as short as possible – keywords rather than full sentences

For prelims, I referred to VisionIAS and Insights full mock tests. I didn’t do any section tests, I didn’t think it was worth it, but I’d recommend that if you’re weak in a particular section, you might consider them. I usually gave one a day for the last 1-1.5 months, probably anywhere between 30-50 tests in all. I don’t recall exactly, and it should not matter – maybe you get by with fewer tests, or you need more – do what works for you (this is the crux of this exam and life, I’d say).

Don’t try to memorize all the solutions you got wrong – in all likelihood they’ll never come again, and you’ll take at least 4 hours to go through each paper. Note only those you consider important. I’ve written more on this on the other page I linked in this blog – I did not study for 200 marks – prelims is only to qualify. What you don’t study is even more important than what you study in this exam.

Learn to guess from the options through these tests. Develop the strategy you use – whether you bubble the ones you know, or you wait till the end to bubble – whatever you do, don’t make bubbling errors or run out of time in the exam and forget to bubble because you never practised.

After you’ve read this, you might want to check out the link I shared at the beginning. I’ve talked about an approach that I found immensely powerful. When I followed it, I only had to read a fraction of the material most people do, yet I could recall almost everything I read and most importantly of all, write good answers in the exam.



An eye opening experience by reading your blog at 3:46 am…


Just don’t delete these blogs, atleast not before 2022.

Sachi Mishra

Brevity is the soul of wit….


Thankyou so very much Sir for simplifying the most complex thing about this exam!! Really grateful to you 🙏

Ankit Kumar

Sir Can you tell about your Ethics preparation Strategy.

Ankit Kumar



The information was really brief and well penned… I appreciate your effort sir…. Congratulations to you

Sai Mukesh

Feel totally lost in self study sometimes, because there is a gap btw the content provided by standard books and the upsc mains questions. do you recommend forumias full time coaching as i am already their test series and CA student

Shubham Agrawal

You are just acting modest to project yourself different and simple.
But you should know reality that things are not so easy (not for you too).
So stop lying and please provide relevant information
All the best


No one said it’s easy. A one year exam cycle with 3 stages, 7 written papers isn’t easy and only 800 selections / 5 lakh applicants isn’t easy.

If it was easy I wouldn’t have to write such lengthy posts about it either.

But I guess “relevant information” means notes – all the sources are written above already (Spectrum, Laxmikant, Lexicon, Nitin Sangwan’s notes, Tusharanshu’s notes, Insights / Visions monthly compilations, Maps by Tushar Gupta, Shankar IAS environment handouts, Class 11/12 Ancient, Medieval history and geography NCERTs)

There’s nothing magical about the resources I have used. Every year 800 toppers clear with 800 different booklists. Mine isn’t any better than anyone else’s – you should compare 5-10 booklists and finalize your own. If you don’t understand this now maybe you’ll realize after a few attempts.

I’ve just tried to simplify (simple is not the same as easy) the process of studying.
There’s no way to avoid putting effort by yourself – my intention is to make the effort guided, that’s all. Not to spoonfeed anyone because I know it won’t be any use.

(By the way – your point is valid. I might have given that impression.
One tip – don’t bother though. If you get anything from this blog that helps you, use it. Otherwise you should focus on looking for other toppers blogs – there are plenty. Don’t spend your time criticizing complete strangers; it’s not going to add value to your life)


Sir please add your upsc notes. That can give me a idea about how to make notes


Thanks sir for your statergy. I will waste my time in only reading upsc books and didn’t understand these exam how exam it is.
Thanks for your effort it help me lot.


Sir , how did you managed college studies with upse preparation . As iim schedule is too tight


how do i use can’t figure it out.


Sir, please share your complete source for mains


Can you please upload your sociology test copies, if possible? Can really help in answer writing.


See the page called Useful CSE links:

Sawan Sehrawat

Hi Pratyush, thanks for making it simpler or my efforts would have gone for a toss.

Had few questions regarding current affairs.
I’ve been following up with Vision IAS monthly magazine and The Hindu.

Problems I’m facing:

Vision IAS monthly magazine has well-detailed coverage of events. This is very useful from the mains point of view to get so many facts but I am reading those detailed versions in October 2020 and will appear (hopefully) for mains in September 2021.

1- Definitely not gonna remember so much event specific details without revision.
2- Revising monthly mag when the exam is near even for prelims is impossible.

At that time people prefer PT 365. If any way I have to revise from PT 365 which will miss many current affairs that might have been there in the monthly mag, then would it be the right approach to cover current affairs from PT from now only instead of the monthly mag and revise the same later?
As you said you don’t need to mug up everything and we can’t know everything.
I am confused about how to go for current affairs so that I remember at least 60% of the event-specific stuff when I go for both exams.

I don’t even remember details for the event happened or read even a month back (for eg – Green Economy, news and the world around it what they explain in the monthly mag) I don’t remember that after a month so according to monthly mag there is a lot to keep in mind. How to go about it?


I didn’t use PT, I only used the monthly magazine.
I don’t think you need all the details of everything. Either should suffice. Both might be too much.


Hi Pratyush, your blogs have been of immense help to me in understanding this exam. I had a question regarding covering current affairs. Is it important to read from the newspaper daily? Can we completely do away with it and read current affairs from monthly magazines? What are the possible advantages or disadvantages, if any, of newspaper reading for this exam as compared to daily/monthly compilations? Please suggest something.


Thank You so much .You’re great.


Hi Pratyush. Thanks for this wonderful blog. This is of immense help to many aspirants. You’ve mentioned agriculture as Part A and I think it makes sense to put it in that bucket, but I’m finding it hard to get a good resource for Agri. Can you share the resources you’ve used for Agriculture?

Thanks in Advance!!


Nitin Sangwan’s eco notes had most of it.
Rest from current news, schemes


Hello Sir,
Thank you so much for sharing
your resources and strategy.
I have sociology as my optional and haven’t taken any coaching. I watched one of interviews where you mentioned that you took few courses before for sociology.
Can you please share those courses. As I’ve no proper guidance, it’ll be of great help. 🙂


They were just introductory courses in my undergrad in IIT Kanpur.
You could probably listen to some introductory videos on YouTube


Sir, please share your complete resources for ethics

Veini Jain

did you do both ba and ma ignore notes for sociology?


Thank you so much for such an amazing strategy… it’s really of use and I’ll follow it up as I don’t have any peer group neither have I joined any coaching for preparation… 🙏🏻 You’re really humble I feel


Thank you so much for sharing this!! Your blog is really inspiring.

I needed one suggestion- Could you please tell when should one enroll for test series?

Shubhangi sisodia

hello sir
I was wondering is there any other platform where we can contact you , I found a ID on Instagram but couldn’t tell if it was fake or real ?


hi pratyush,
which publication ignou notes did you studied for sociology.


Hello Pratyush,
Could you please mail the IAS4Sure environment material? It is no longer available on their website. Thanks in advance!


Hi, Could you help me in finding Ignou chapters? I really had a hard time in finding relevant chapters as per syllabus.


expected it to be a generic “toppers blog” mentioning resources and test series, got blown away by the clarity of thought and recommendations that hit the bullseye. can’t thank you enough.


how did you manage study of PGP2 and upsc prelims and mains?

its bigger than achievement


thanku sir


Hi Pratyush, I appreciate the honest and practical tips you have shared. I wanted to know about your strategy for ethics, have been confused about it, did go through a lot strategy videos, but haven’t found anything solid.

Palakh Garg

Yes, I was searching for the same, please share your strategy of ethics paper.


I can’t Thank you enough


I am all in love with you but not wanting to replicate you, Pratyush effect XD

vivek anand

sir i am a fresher in this field and not able to strategize my self as i am self studying without coaching,i am referring to mrunal youtube videos and then books but not finding my way in when i am to watch the questions in mains .Please suggest me something that can be fruitful to my conditions.


You took coaching of Lukmaan IAS for GS4, How can one identify if he/she needs one?


Hello sir,
could you plz clearify that which were these IAS4sure notes for the environment…whether these are their current affair notes [of subscription 6000rs.] or you have downloaded them somewhere else.
plz answer asap.

Did you do just the monthly magazines of vision or mains365 also?