How to Prepare for GS Paper 1 for UPSC CSE Mains: Syllabus, Booklist & Strategy

Titled “Indian Heritage and Culture, History, and Geography of the World and Society”, General Studies Paper 1 is one of the nine papers in the UPSC Civil Services (Main) Examination. It consists of 250 marks and is among the seven papers that are ranking in nature. It means that the score obtained in GS 1 paper gets added to the total marks which determine the final rank of the candidate.


History, Art & Culture, and Geography are the three major subjects that are covered in this paper. Subjective questions are asked from the micro topics under these three subjects in the examination. Let’s look at the syllabus and preparation strategy for GS Paper 1 for the UPSC exam.

Syllabus of GS Paper 1 for Civil Services Main Examination


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

  • Indian Culture - Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature, and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

  • Modern Indian History from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.

  • The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.

  • Post-independence Consolidation and Reorganization within the country.

  • History of the World will include events from the 18th century such as the Industrial Revolution, world wars, Redrawal of National Boundaries, Colonization, Decolonization, political philosophies like Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, etc.— their forms and effect on the society.

  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.

  • Role of Women and Women’s Organization, Population and Associated Issues, Poverty and Developmental issues, Urbanization, their problems, and their remedies.

  • Effects of Globalization on Indian society.

  • Social Empowerment, Communalism, Regionalism & Secularism.

  • Salient features of the World’s Physical Geography.

  • 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).

  • 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.


How to prepare for GS Paper 1: Strategy & Tips

It is clear from the syllabus of the GS Paper 1 that broadly history, art & culture, and geography are to be covered to ace this paper. Following are some of the strategies that you can adopt to prepare this paper:

  • History: Since the syllabus mentions only modern history, you can cover it from the books Spectrum (A brief history of Modern India) & Bipin Chandra (History of Modern India)

  • Art & Culture: Do not ignore the ancient and medieval history areas as questions from Art & Culture are asked from this portion. Glance through Class XI NCERT of Art & Culture to prepare this portion. Additionally, you can also refer to Indian art & culture by Nitin Singhania

  • Indian Society: The contemporary topics such as Indian Society, Role of women’s organization, globalization, etc can be effectively covered by reading newspapers, monthly magazines, and PIB & PRS websites. 

  • Geography: The Geography part of the syllabus can be effectively covered from the NCERTs of Class XI and XII followed by a reading of books by Majid Hussain and GC Leong. 

  • Previous Year Questions & Mock Tests: Cover at least ten years of PYQs to assess the type of questions that are being asked and also browse through the answer copies of toppers. You can easily get these answer copies online. Evaluate them to understand the important elements of a good answer and incorporate it into your answer-writing. Practice it regularly and get your copies evaluated by your mentors.  


Recommended Booklist for General Studies Paper 1 for IAS Mains Exam


  1. The Wonder That Was India – A.L. Basham. (Culture)

  2. India’s Ancient Past – R.S. Sharma. (Culture)

  3. Indian Art and Culture – Nitin Singhania. (Culture)

  4. A Brief History of Modern India - Spectrum Book (History)

  5. History Of Modern India – Bipan Chandra. (History)

  6. India’s Struggle For Independence – Bipan Chandra. (History)

  7. India After Gandhi – Ramchandra Guha (History – GS1)

  8. Norman Lowe OR History of Modern World – Jain and Mathur (World History – GS1)

  9. Social Problems In India – Ram Ahuja. (Indian Society – GS1)

  10. Geography of India – Majid Husain. (Geography)

  11. Oxford School Atlas – Oxford. (Geography)

  12. Certificate Physical and Human Geography – Goh Cheng Leong. (Geography)


You do not have to read all the books from this list cover-to-cover, however, try and cover the chapters relevant to the General Studies Paper-1 syllabus and make your notes for repeated revision. 


You can effectively cover the entire syllabus of General Studies paper by enrolling in our comprehensive course for General Studies.


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