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upsc prelims streategy


CSAT stands for Civil Services Aptitude Test. CSAT or Civil Services Aptitude Test was introduced in 2011 to test candidates’ analytical skills. It is the second paper in the UPSC Prelims. Officially, it is known as General Studies Paper – II. Hence, in the context of UPSC Prelims, GS Paper II refers to the CSAT while in context of UPSC Mains, GS Paper II is the Polity (etc.) paper. Candidates are advised to understand the complete UPSC syllabus and the syllabus of CSAT in UPSC Prelims to avoid confusion.

CSAT Syllabus – GS Paper II

The CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test) syllabus comprises the following broad categories:

1. Comprehension

The Comprehension has become a primary section in all recruitments. The toughness of the question in the comprehension section can managed, after the adequate amount of practice. But aspirants must improve their Basic English. Reading newspaper reports, editorials and magazines will be helpful in sharpening your reading skills. The important aspect is practising the question from the comprehension section from previous years question papers. One can also attempt passages which are easy and topics which are familiar. Make sure you should create a habit of reading and referring to dictionary.

2. Logical reasoning and analytical ability

Logical reasoning hold an important part in CSAT. The difficulty level of the reasoning section in the CSAT paper is not high for many aspirants. Generally, a candidate can solve the questions if one is aware of the types of questions in the reasoning section. In order to attempt most questions effectively, one should practice at least 50 - 60 questions every day. The candidate should understand and read about the topics, concepts which are important. But, simple reading the questions and answers will not be helpful without practicing them.

3. Decision-making and problem-solving

This section is an important section which tests the decision making and problem solving skills. Since the questions are not technical and are situation-based and generic one needs to practice a lot of questions. The purpose of the section is to measure the use of logic and common sense in solving of problems confronted in administration. Daily practice and solving previous year question papers will help to cross this hindrance.

4. Basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc.) and Data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency etc.).

The questions on Basic numeracy in the CSAT paper will be easy, since most of them are matriculation level. Regular practice and understanding of the basic concepts helps to score better. Practising 40-50 questions from the section is a must. In order to succeed in data interpretation, one needs to learn and study the concepts of statistics. One of the positive elements is that toughness of the section is not high. Most of the questions are based from data table and bar graphs. Anyone who can understand the basic concepts can attempt this questions. Candidates with good practice along with the mathematical part of the section.

Many aspirants feel that the CSAT is a hindrance to their progress during the preparation for civil services. But they don't understand that, one needs proper planning and a clear strategy to cover the topics of CSAT. If you plan ahead and balance your efforts, you will be able to score very well in the CSAT. One must understand that- CSAT requires a good understanding and practice.

Step 1: Take CSAT seriously

There are candidates who have actually failed to pass this paper. As a result, despite scoring high in GS these candidates didn’t qualify for the Mains examination. So, take it seriously - you must clear this paper at all costs.

Step 2: Evaluate yourself before you begin preparation

  • Attempt last year’s CSAT paper and check your score. This will give you an idea of where you stand vis-a-vis the CSAT paper.
  • If you score high then keep CSAT on the back burner for now and focus on GS. You can start your CSAT preparation two months before the exam. If you score less - don’t worry – starting immediately, follow this strategy and all shall be well.

Step 3: Get a comprehensive CSAT manual

A manual will provide you with a one-stop solution for your preparation, the importance of which cannot be overemphasized.

  • You do not need to learn everything in the book cover-to-cover. You should pick and choose topics as per your requirement.
  • Keep every Sunday for CSAT practice and solve some questions from the mock question papers.
  • Candidates who are struggling with the CSAT paper should practice at least 1 hour daily. This can be reduced to weekly 3-4 hours or 1 mock paper per week depending on your requirement.

If you consider yourself extremely weak in CSAT you must take a Test Series. In any case, taking up a test series helps as it not only keeps you on your toes, it also keeps you familiar with the CSAT pattern and topics. Lastly, in qualifying papers like CSAT you should try to maximize your strengths rather than your weaknesses. The overall aim should be to get basic familiarity with any area you are not comfortable with so that you do not miss out on easy questions. There is no point in spending excessive time for a paper that is only qualifying in nature so keep in mind the amount of time you are going to devote to CSAT. CSAT preparation must not affect GS preparation at any cost. Remember that being familiar with the CSAT topics, regular evaluation (coaching test series or self-evaluation) and focusing on your strengths will get you there. Yet, do not let over-confidence or ignorance stop you from preparing for this paper. You must clear the CSAT at all costs!


  • If you feel that your general English comprehension and basic math skills are not up to the mark, you should spend a decent amount of time on the CSAT paper.
  • This holds true especially for aspirants from the humanities and arts background who have not been in touch with such subjects ever since their school days.
  • For those candidates who are at ease with the type of questions asked in the CSAT paper, practising the adequate number of UPSC previous years’ question papers for CSAT will do.
  • But if candidates do not practice the CSAT question papers, it would be very difficult to complete the 80 questions in the prescribed time limit of two hours.
  • You should score at least 66 marks. If they do not qualify, even very high marks in the GS paper I will not help them clear the IAS prelims stage.
  • For candidates to increase their speed in solving math questions in the CSAT paper, they can take help from certain well-used mathematics tricks.
  • Also, some of the CSAT questions are lengthy and rather time-consuming. It becomes doubly important for candidates to practice mock test papers or enroll for a CSAT test series.

To conclude this strategy let us remind ourselves of some very basic things - like revision, steadiness, relaxation and motivation. In CSE preparation revision is extremely important - the more you revise the better you remember. Therefore we advise you to revise at least weekly if not daily. Relax as much as you can. Do not over stretch yourself. If you cannot finish a topic in one day, do it the next day. Sometimes, it is more important that you revise your half-finished topics than to finish them without proper understanding. Finally, motivate yourself, tell yourself that you can do it. You must remain motivated throughout the CSE year - from Prelims, to Mains to Interview.

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