IAS Mains Exam

The Civil Services Main Examination is the second stage of the Civil Services Exam. Only those candidates who clear IAS Prelims are eligible to sit for IAS Mains. It comprises 9 papers, out of which marks for only 7 are taken into consideration while preparing the merit list & the remaining 2 are merely qualifying in nature.
Each candidate who is eligible for taking the Main Examination has to choose an optional subject, in addition to General Studies & Essay Paper, which are mandatory for all candidates. 

IAS MAINS 2017: Introduction, Eligibility, Application Procedure, Preparation Strategy, Exam Pattern 


What is IAS Mains?

IAS Exam has three stages. These are: IAS Prelims, IAS Mains & Interview Stage. For a candidate to become an IAS Officer, it is necessary for him to successfully clear all three stages. The Civil Services Main Examination is the second stage of the UPSC Civil Services Exam and it is also the most important stage. This is because out of a total of 2025 marks out of which candidates are finally evaluated, the IAS Main Exam accounts for 1750 marks.


How can I sit for the IAS Main Examination? What is the eligibilty for IAS Mains 2017?

Its very easy. You'd have to successfully clear the Civil Services Preliminary Exam to be eligible for the Main Examination.

How many candidates are called for IAS Mains Exam?

The number of candidates selected for IAS Mains usually lies between 13-15 times of the number of vacancies in that particular year. The UPSC in its official Civil Services Examination Notification declares beforehand the number of vacancies for that particular year. One can safely assume that the number of candidates to be called for IAS Mains would be close to 13-15 times the number of vacancies for that particular year.


Is there a separate Application Form for IAS Mains Examination 2017?

Candidates do not have to register separately for IAS Mains Exam. However, UPSC requires all successful candidates to fill a Detailed Application Form (DAF). The DAF has to be filled very carefully because the candidates are required to submit their Post & Cadre preferences besides other important details through the detailed application form only. 

Successful candidates appearing for IAS Mains are sent out an auto generated e-mail by the UPSC, with their login credentials. Candidates have to fill the DAF online and also take a print out of the same & send it over to the Union Public Service Commission in the manner as prescribed by the UPSC.


What is the nature of Civil Services Main Examination 2017? Is it objective type in nature or subjective type?

Unlike IAS Prelims, the Main Examination is subjective type in nature. Candidates have to appear for 9 papers, all of them being descriptive in nature.

The marks scored by a candidate in the Main Examination and Personality Test, are taken into consideration while preparing the Final Merit List. Hence, the Main Examination makes a significant contribution towards the final rank of a candidate. 

What is the pattern of Civil Services Main Examination 2017? How is it different from the Civil Services Preliminary Exam?

IAS Mains is very different from Prelims.

  • Nature of the Exam: A major difference here is that it is subjective type in nature unlike IAS Prelims, which is objective type in nature.
  • Marks counted towards the Final Merit: The marks for IAS Preliminary Exam do not get counted towards the final merit of the candidate. IAS prelims is simply a stepping stone or a necessary devil that acts as a screening test. It is necessary to clear the preliminary stage to be eligible for the Main Examination. However, it is the Main Exam whose marks matter while preparing the merit list. 
  • Optional Subject: For IAS Mains, candidates have to choose one Optional Subject beforehand. This Optional subject is not a part of the Preliminary Test and is only mandatory at the Mains stage. As per the latest pattern, candidates can choose their Optional Subject from a list of 26 subjects, irrespective of their qualification. This means that an engineer/doctor can choose from one of the humanities subjects as his optional and same goes for candidates who had Humanities subjects in their graduation. It is not mandatory to choose your subject of graduation as the Optional Subject.
  • Qualifying Papers on English & one Indian Language: Each candidate has to appear for these one paper on any of the Indian Language as well as one English paper. These papers are 300 marks each and are strictly of qualifying nature only. Their marks are not added to your Mains Score. However, it is mandatory for the candidates to clear both these exams for his/her Mains answer scripts to be evaluated. There is no such paper for IAS Preliminary Exam.

For a detailed description IAS Mains Exam pattern, click on the Exam Pattern tab above.


How to prepare for IAS Exam?

The Civil Services Exam is considered to be the mother of all exams. The syllabus is very vast and each part of the syllabus calls for a detailed strategy which may be unique for each candidate. However, Onlinetyari has set out a new initiative wherein we guide IAS aspirants by providing detailed strategies to tackle the IAS Exam. Kindly refer to our blog for detailed strategies. You can reach that through the following link: 







UPSC EXAM PATTERN: IAS Mains 2017 Pattern, List of Papers, Objective, Nature & Standard of Questions, Optional Subjects

IAS Mains 2017 Pattern:

The Civil Services Main Examination is subjective type in nature. As per the latest IAS Exam 2017 pattern, there are 9 descriptive papers in IAS Mains, out of which marks for only 7 are taken into consideration while preparing the final merit. The remaining two are merely qualifying in nature and the candidate has to score minimum marks prescribed by UPSC, each year, to qualify. 

The 7 papers whose marks are counted towards the final merit are of 250 marks each. While the two qualifying papers are of 300 marks each. 

List of Descriptive Papers for IAS Mains, 2017:

Papers to be Counted for Merit:

  1. Paper-I: Essay: 250 Marks
  2. Paper-II: General Studies Paper I: 250 Marks
  3. Paper-III: General Studies Paper II: 250 Marks
  4. Paper-IV: General Studies Paper III: 250 Marks
  5. Paper-V: General Studies Paper IV: 250 Marks
  6. Paper VI: Optional Subject Paper I: 250 Marks
  7. Paper VII: Optional Subject Paper II: 250 Marks

Qualifying Papers:

  1. Paper-A: Language -300 Marks : One Indian Language to be selected by the candidate from the Languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. 
  2. Paper-B: English – 300 Marks

What is the objective behind conducting the Main Examination?

According to the UPSC Civil Services Notification, the objective of the Main Examination is to assess the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of candidates rather than their information, memory and recall only. This means the candidates are evaluated not only on the basis of the information they possess but also their ability to understand, analyse and relate their knowledge in the context of the questions asked.

What is the Nature & Standard of Questions asked in the IAS Mains Exam?

As regarding the nature and standard of questions asked in the IAS Mains Exam, the general opinion that prevails is that UPSC can ask anything & everything under the sky. This is because they feel that the UPSC Syllabus leaves nothing untouched. However, there is a science behind this and the questions asked in the Civil Services Mains Examination are not so random after all.

Here's a brief look into what the questions asked in the Mains Exam are like & what they seek to test:

General Studies Papers: Nature & Standard of Questions

As per UPSC, the General Studies papers are so designed as to test the general awareness of a candidate on a variety of subjects. These subjects have been so chosen that they would be relevant for a career in the Civil Services. The nature & standard of questions asked would be such that a candidate would need no specialized study to answer them.

The questions test candidates on the following:

Basic understanding of all relevant issues:

The Civil Services Mains exam calls for simply a basic understanding of issues that are relevant to the exam. What this essentially means is that, you have to be aware of the issues that are relevant from the exam point of view and know certain basics around them. Since, there are issues too many, you can not afford to get into the details of all of them. IAS Mains syllabus would come in handy here. Always remember to go through the UPSC Syllabus while you prepare. 

Ability to analyze: 

Merely remembering facts around the issues is not sufficient. Candidates must be able to analyze those events in context of the larger picture.

For Instance, if there is a news around Ministry of Health running low on medicinal supply for MDR-TB, the candidate would have to understand as to why that news is important i.e. Why was MDR-TB specifically highlighted as an issue?, What were the reasons behind the shortage of medicines?, How this shortage is likely to affect health in India?, Is this the same for other diseases as well?, What are the possible solutions to the problem?, How can we prevent this from happening in the future? etc  

Form an opinion on conflicting socio- economic goals, objectives and demands:

All candidates besides knowing and analysing issues must also have the ability to form their own opinion around them. This is very critical to your scores in the General Studies Papers. As a candidate, you would have to look at all issues from a very balanced perspective. You can not afford to have a partisan approach. While framing your opinions, it is always advised that you must weigh both the pros and cons and then come to a conclusion. 

How to crack General Studies for IAS Mains?

All those candidates who give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers to the questions asked are likely to score better than the rest. UPSC is very serious around the Word Limits that are predefined for each question. Besides, the number of questions that are asked in the General Studies Paper is also a lot. Thus, there is a time constraint that you need to take care of.

So, remember, as an IAS aspirant, you do not need to have a doctorate in each of the subjects that are a part of IAS Mains syllabus to crack General Studies for IAS Mains. Just make sure you read the question well, write only relevant & succinct answers, present them wonderfully.  

NOTE: More on Strategy for General Studies IAS Mains on OnlineTyari Blog. 

Optional Subjects:

There would be two papers for Optional Subjects in IAS Main Examination. One for Paper-I & Paper-II each and both would be 250 marks each. i.e. If you have Sociology as your optional, you'd need to appear for Sociology Paper-I & Paper-II. Same goes for all optional subjects. 

The scope of the syllabus for optional subject papers (Paper VI and Paper VII) for IAS Mains is broadly of the honours degree level i.e. one level higher than the Bachelors' degree and lower than the Masters' degree. In the case of Engineering, Medical Science and law, the level corresponds to the bachelors' degree.

List of Optional Subjects for IAS Mains:

Each of the Candidates sitting for UPSC Mains Examination has to choose one optional subject from amongst the list of optionals provided by the Union Public Service Commission. It is not mandatory to choose your Optional Subject, the same as your Graduation/Post-Graduation subject. For example, an Electrical engineer can choose to appear for IAS Mains with Kannada as an Optional Subject, a Doctor can pick History as his/her optional, a humanities student can choose Medical Science if he so likes.

The list of Optional Subjects for IAS Mains is as under:

1. Agriculture 

2. Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science 

3. Anthropology 

4. Botany 

5. Chemistry 

6. Civil Engineering 

7. Commerce and Accountancy 

8. Economics 

9. Electrical Engineering 

10. Geography 

11. Geology 

12. History 

13. Law 

14. Management 

15. Mathematics 

16. Mechanical Engineering 

17. Medical Science 

18. Philosophy 

19. Physics 

20. Political Science and International Relations 

21. Psychology 

22. Public Administration 

23. Sociology 

24. Statistics 

25. Zoology 

26. Literature of any one of the following languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and English

Each of these Optional Subjects comes with its own detailed syllabus. For UPSC Syllabus, click on the 'Syllabus' Tab above.



SYLLABUS FOR IAS MAINS: UPSC Syllabus for IAS Mains 2017, Qualifying Papers, Essay Paper, General Studies IAS Mains 2017, Optional Subjects for UPSC

As per the revised UPSC pattern, candidates have to appear for 9 descriptive papers as part of IAS Main Exam. And out of these nine papers, marks for only 7 are counted. The remaining two are merely qualifying in nature and the candidate has to score minimum marks prescribed by UPSC, each year, to qualify. 


Candidates have to qualify two papers: Paper A: English & Paper B: Indian Languages (mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution). These two exams are of 300 marks each. It is important to note that if a candidate fails to qualify any of these papers, his answer scripts for the remaining papers will not be evaluated. The Commission will have the discretion to fix qualifying marks in any or all papers of the examination.

Civil Services Main Exam 2017 Syllabus:

Paper A: English

UPSC Syllabus & pattern of questions for English Paper for Civil Services Main Examination broadly follows as under:

1. Comprehension of given passages 

2. Precis Writing 

3. Usage and Vocabulary 

4. Short Essays 

Paper B: Indian Languages

Candidates have to pick one from amongst the list of languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The IAS syllabus and pattern of questions for these Indian Languages will follow the following sheme:

1. Comprehension of given passages 

2. Precis Writing 

3. Usage and Vocabulary 

4. Short Essays 

5. Translation from English to the Indian language and vice-versa 

Civil Services Main Exam 2017 Syllabus: Papers to be counted for Merit:

As per the latest IAS Mains 2017 syllabus, each candidate has to appear for 7 papers whose marks will be added to his/her final score. These papers are:

  1. Paper-I: Essay: 250 Marks
  2. Paper-II: General Studies Paper I: 250 Marks
  3. Paper-III: General Studies Paper II: 250 Marks
  4. Paper-IV: General Studies Paper III: 250 Marks
  5. Paper-V: General Studies Paper IV: 250 Marks
  6. Paper VI: Optional Subject Paper I: 250 Marks
  7. Paper VII: Optional Subject Paper II: 250 Marks

The syllabus for each of these papers is given below:

Paper I: Essay

Maximum Marks: 250

The essay is to be written in the medium or language of the candidate's choice. Candidates will be required to write essays on specific topics. UPSC will give the choice of topics. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression.

General Studies I: Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society.

Exam Duration: Two Hours

Maximum Marks: 250 

  1. Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times. 
  2. Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues 
  3. The Freedom Struggle - its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country. 
  4. Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country
  5. History of the world will include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society. 
  6. Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India. 
  7. Role of women and women's organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies. 
  8. Effects of globalization on Indian society Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism. 
  9. Salient features of world's physical geography. 
  10. Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian sub-continent); factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India) 
  11. Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes


General Studies II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Exam Duration: Two Hours

Maximum Marks: 250  

  1. Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure. 
  2. Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein. 
  3. Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions. 
  4. Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries 
  5. Parliament and State Legislatures - structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these. 
  6. Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity. 
  7. Salient features of the Representation of People's Act. 
  8. Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies. 
  9. Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies 
  10. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. 
  11. Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders 
  12. Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections. 
  13. Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources. 
  14. Issues relating to poverty and hunger. 
  15. Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures. 
  16. Role of civil services in a democracy. 
  17. India and its neighbourhood- relations. 
  18. Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India's interests 
  19. Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India's interests, Indian diaspora. 
  20. Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate


General Studies III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Exam Duration: Two Hours

Maximum Marks: 250  

  1. Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment. 
  2. Inclusive growth and issues arising from it. 
  3. Government Budgeting. 
  4. Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers
  5. Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing. 
  6. Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management. 
  7. Land reforms in India. 
  8. Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth. 
  9. Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc. 
  10. Investment models. 
  11. Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life 
  12. Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology. 
  13. Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights. 
  14. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment 
  15. Disaster and disaster management. 
  16. Linkages between development and spread of extremism. 
  17. Role of external state and nonstate actors in creating challenges to internal security. 
  18. Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention 
  19. Security challenges and their management in border areas; linkages of organized crime with terrorism 
  20. Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate

General Studies IV: Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude 

Exam Duration: Two Hours 

Maximum Marks: 250

  1. Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships. Human Values - lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values. 
  2. Attitude: content, structure, function; its influence and relation with thought and behaviour; moral and political attitudes; social influence and persuasion. 
  3. Aptitude and foundational values for Civil Service , integrity, impartiality and non-partisanship, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance and compassion towards the weaker-sections.
  4. Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance. 
  5. Contributions of moral thinkers and philosophers from India and world. 
  6. Public/Civil service values and Ethics in Public administration: Status and problems; ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance; strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance. 
  7. Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen's Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption. 
  8. Case Studies on above issues

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