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The Toughest Exam in India: All you need to know!


India is known for its competitive spirit, especially when it comes to education. With millions of students appearing for various entrance exams every year, the quest for prestigious institutions and rewarding careers is intense. Among the multitude of examinations held across the country, there is one that stands out as the toughest: the Union Public Service Commission Civil Services Examination, commonly known as the UPSC CSE.

What is UPSC CSE?

The UPSC CSE is a nationwide exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission of India to recruit candidates for prestigious positions in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Police Service (IPS), and other central services. It is considered one of the toughest exams due to its vast syllabus, low success rate, and comprehensive selection process.

Phases of UPSC CSE:

The UPSC CSE is conducted in three stages:

1. Preliminary Examination (Prelims): The first stage consists of two objective-type papers – General Studies Paper-I and General Studies Paper-II (CSAT). It serves as a screening test, and only candidates who qualify the Prelims are eligible to appear for the Mains.

2. Main Examination (Mains): The second stage consists of nine subjective papers, including Essay, General Studies papers, and two papers on the candidate’s chosen optional subject. Mains is crucial as the marks obtained in this stage determine the candidate’s ranking.

3. Personality Test (Interview): The final stage involves a personal interview where the candidate’s personality traits, communication skills, and overall suitability for a career in civil services are assessed.

Preparing for the UPSC CSE:

Preparing for the UPSC CSE requires dedication, hard work, and a strategic approach. Here are some tips to help aspirants in their preparation:

1. Understand the Syllabus: The UPSC CSE syllabus is vast and covers diverse topics ranging from history and geography to current affairs and ethics. Understanding the syllabus in detail is crucial for effective preparation.

2. Create a Study Plan: Devise a study plan that allocates sufficient time for each subject and revision. Consistency in studying is key to success in this exam.

3. Practice Answer Writing: Since the Mains exam is subjective, practicing answer writing is essential. Focus on structuring your answers logically and presenting your arguments cohesively.

4. Stay Updated: Current affairs play a significant role in the UPSC CSE. Stay updated with national and international news through newspapers, magazines, and online sources.

Tips for Prelims and Mains:

  • For Prelims, focus on mastering the basics and practicing previous years’ question papers.
  • For Mains, develop a thorough understanding of the optional subject chosen and practice answer writing regularly.

Success Rate and Competition:

The UPSC CSE is known for its low success rate, with only a fraction of candidates clearing the exam each year. The intense competition and high standards set by the UPSC make it a formidable challenge for aspirants.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

1. What is the age limit for appearing in the UPSC CSE?
The age limit for the general category is 21-32 years, with relaxation for reserved categories.

2. How many attempts are allowed for the UPSC CSE?
The number of attempts varies based on the candidate’s category, with general category candidates allowed a maximum of six attempts.

3. Is coaching necessary for UPSC CSE preparation?
While coaching can be helpful, it is not mandatory. Many candidates have cleared the exam without formal coaching through self-study and online resources.

4. Can I choose any optional subject for the UPSC CSE Mains?
Yes, candidates can choose any optional subject from the list provided by the UPSC for the Mains exam.

5. How can I improve my essay writing skills for the UPSC CSE Mains?
Practice is key to improving essay writing skills. Focus on clarity of thought, logical structure, and effective expression of ideas.


The UPSC CSE is not just an exam but a journey that tests one’s knowledge, perseverance, and character. While the path to success may be challenging, with the right approach and dedication, aspirants can aspire to achieve their dream of serving the nation through the esteemed civil services.