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IAS Officer Shares Must-Read Booklist & Key Tips to Crack UPSC CSE Prelims

IAS Officer Shares Must-Read Booklist & Key Tips to Crack UPSC CSE Prelims

Preparing for UPSC Civil Service Examinations? IAS officer Srushti Jayant Deshmukh shares a list of must-read books and crucial tips to help aspirants ace Prelims.

Srushti Jayant Deshmukh bagged the All India Rank 5 in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Service Examination (CSE) in 2018. Having completed her education from Bhopal, she went on to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering from Lakshmi Narayan Institute of Technology, Bhopal.

In this article, Srushti shares with us the online resources she relied on and her booklist.

General tips for prelims

Identify your habits

Be mindful of how much time you spend on various activities each day. Srushti says that she used a mobile app to track how much time she was spending on various activities through the day. This helped identify the points that needed to be changed and she worked on those. She also says that it will help aspirants make a schedule and follow the same to maximise their time.

Do not overexert yourself

Do not indulge in activities that physically and mentally tire you out. Doing so will reduce the time you can allot to study. “An exhausted body and mind will only lead to a very low productivity,” she says. While it is important to find avenues to relax and engage your mind and body, find activities that do not leave you washed out.

Build a strong foundation

“Always begin with the standard NCERT textbooks. Ensure you have limited but quality resources while preparing,” says Srushti. Using the NCERT books as a foundation course, Srushti built upon this with other resources. Whatever is mentioned in the NCERT books may or may not be asked directly in the prelim exams, says Srushti, however, it is important to be well-versed with this book to be able to absorb the content in other books.

Strategise your time

Are you a UPSC CSE aspirant?

With the UPSC 2021 prelims scheduled to be held on 27 June 2021, aspirants have about three months to prepare and revise. “With each passing year, the prelims are getting unpredictable. At this time, aspirants must start focusing their energy and time on only preparing for the prelims and not concentrate on the mains.” While it is good to focus on reading and revising, now aspirants must also start actively solving mock tests.

One year’s preparation compressed into two hours

“Everything that an aspirant has spent close to one year studying will be tested in the two hours that one spends attempting the prelims,” says Srushti. Managing those two hours and being able to recollect everything that you have studied is the key. This can only happen with practise. Therefore every week, aspirants must solve at least one mock paper, which consists of 100 questions.

Revise the last one year’s current affairs

If you are an aspirant looking to appear for the UPSC 2021 prelims, then you should start revising current affair events dated January 2020. There might be months that you missed reading the current affairs section and now is a good time to catch up. Also look at online resources like the Press Information Bureau (PIB) and Rajya Sabha TV and magazines like Vision IAS, Yojana, and Kurukshetra.

Revise with a clear analysis strategy

While most aspirants spend time attempting mock tests, what many do not do is spend time on analysing their answers. Srushti says, “If you spend two hours attempting the mock test, I would say spend double that time on analysing the answers. While analysing the paper, you will get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses and one must work on them accordingly.”

Categorise your mistakes

Are you following these strategies for the UPSC CSE exam?

“Aspirants should ideally aim to get more than 110 in the prelims to be able to clear it,” she says. It will help if the aspirants start categorising their mistakes. For example, if an aspirant has got 20 answers wrong, one should see why those questions have been marked wrong. Is it because you did not know the concept? Figure out whether you failed in the application of the concept or if it was a wild guess, a reckless attempt or if you misread the question. “When you categorise your mistakes you will be able to prepare much better,” she adds. Bridging this knowledge gap will really help in getting a better score.

Check your internal body clock

With just a few months to go for the UPSC 2021 prelims, one must try and set your internal body clock to what the exam demands of you. “If you are used to staying up at night and studying, it is important that you start altering that to enable you to attempt the paper well,” says Srushti. When attempting mocks, do so in the same time frame that the actual examination will be held and create a similar ambience to help you get into that zone.

Book list

Disclaimer: Pick up new books only if you are starting out your preparation at this stage. Else, stick to the books that you have already been using. Do not go through multiple sources for content, stick to the ones you feel most comfortable with.

NCERT Textbooks – Use the Social Studies textbooks of classes 6 to 12 as your base books.


  • Ancient India – Tamil Nadu textbook (class 11)
  • Medieval India – Tamil Nadu textbook (class 11)
  • Modern India – Rajiv Ahir (Spectrum)
  • World History – Norman Lowe (World War I and II)

Culture – Nitin Singhania
Geography – GC Leong
Polity – Lakshmikanth M and DD Basu
Economy – Ramesh Singh
Ethics – Lexicon for terms and R Rajagopalan book for case studies.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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