How to become an IAS Officer

How To Become an IAS Officer

The post of an Indian Administrative Services officer is considered to be a position in "Category A" list of officers for Indian Civil Services. Together the IAS, IPS, and IFS are considered as the most prestigious and well-respected jobs in Indian Civil Services. IAS officers hold positions that are considered to be the most respectable and strategic positions in the Union Government, State Government, and Public Sector Units in India. In this article, we have provided in detail the steps to become an IAS officer. It starts with eligibility followed by the different stages of the UPSC Exam. It finally concludes with different roles, duties, and designations of an IAS Officer.

Here is the content of this article - "How to become an IAS Officer"

  1. Eligibility criteria for becoming an IAS Officer
  2. How to become an IAS officer
    1. Knowledge of the exams
    2. Prepare for general studies
    3. Refer previous year question papers
    4. Develop a subject-wise preparation strategy
  3. UPSC Civil Services Examination
    1. Preliminary Examination for IAS
    2. The Main Examination
    3. Personal Interview Round
  4. Roles and Responsibilities of an IAS Officer
  5. Reference Books for IAS Exam

Eligibility Criteria for Becoming an IAS Officer

There are quite a few requirement boxes that one needs to tick in order to even be eligible to 'apply' for the most prestigious exam in the country. But the most important criteria is personal eligibility and self-evaluation. One needs to be clear about their purpose for wanting to do IAS and a little bit of self-reflection and understanding will definitely go a long way. The other technical nitty-gritty is mentioned below.

Educational Qualifications

Following are the educational qualifications necessary in order to be eligible for the examination

  • To be eligible for the exam one must have a degree from an Indian University.

  • The university can be Central, State, Deemed University or an open university under the UGC act.

  • If attained through correspondence or distance education also, one is allowed to appear for the exam.

  • MBBS graduates can also appear for the exam, even if not completed the internship.

  • If you have cleared any of the final levels of any professional course from boards like the Institute of Chartered Accountant of India (ICAI), ICSI and ICWAI, then you can appear for the UPSC.

  • If the candidate has completed the degree in a foreign university recognized by the Association of Indian Universities, then that candidate can appear for the UPSC exam.

Age Requirements

The UPSC has strict requirements regarding the age of a candidate. Here's a list:

  • While appearing the exam one has to ensure that they are not above the age of 32 if from the general category.

  • The candidates who are above 32 before August 1 in the year of appearing for the exam are not eligible.

  • The age will be relaxed up to 35 for the candidate from the OBC category and up to 37 years for candidates who belong to the SC/ST category. Some other leniencies provided by the government for the under-represented sections of the society are as follows:

Physically Handicapped: Category - General - 42 years, OBC - 45 years, SC/ST - 47 years

J & K Domicile Candidates: Category - General - 37 years, OBC - 40 years, SC/ST - 42 years, Handicapped - 50 years

Ex-Servicemen Candidates: Category - General - 37 years, OBC - 40 years, SC/ST - 47 years

Disabled Defence Services Personnel: Category - General - 37 years, OBC - 40 years, SC/ST - 42 years

Number of Attempts

Every candidate appearing for the Civil Services Examination has a set number of attempts

  • The number of attempts for all the general category students is 6, OBC category students are 9 and for SC/ST category students is unlimited.

  • The number of attempts for physically handicapped candidates in all the categories is unlimited

How to become an IAS officer

Becoming an IAS officer means that you get the opportunity to work with the Indian Administrative Service and work with the Government of India on the inside. Here is a stepwise guide that will help you crack the Civil Services Exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission:

Step 1: Knowledge of the exam

To become an IAS officer, you are required to clear the Civil Services Exam, also known as the CSE, conducted by the Union Public Service Commission every year. The examination is conducted in three distinct stages, on an elimination basis after each stage:

Stage 1- Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary Examination is popularly known as CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test), which consists of two exams conducted on the same day. Paper I deals with General studies. Paper II, on the other hand, tests your Aptitude. Both these papers only serve on a qualifying basis, that is, the marks secured in the Preliminary examination are not considered for the final IAS score but act as a qualifier for the Main examination. 

Paper I

  • Total marks- 200
  • Duration of the exam- 2 hours (+20 minutes for blind students)
  • Total number of questions- 100
  • Type- Objective

Paper II

  • Total marks- 200
  • Duration of the exam- 2 hours (+20 minutes for blind students)
  • Total number of questions- 80
  • Type- Objective

Cut off marks for the Preliminary Examination

 Sl. No  Category  Minimum Qualifying Standards
1 General 98.0 
2 OBC  96.66
SC  84.0 
ST  83.34 

Stage 2- Main Examination

The Main Examination is popularly known as 'Mains'. It consists of a written examination, constituted of 9 papers in total, conducted over a span of 5-7 days. All answers are required to be of descriptive type.

The Mains are further divided into two types:

Qualifying- Includes 2 papers, which are only qualifying in nature and do not constitute the total merit:

  • Paper A- One compulsory Indian language
  • Paper B- English

Total marks- 300 each

The total duration of exams- 3 hours (+30 minutes for blind students) each

Minimum score- 25% each

Type- Descriptive

Merit formation- Includes 7 papers, all of which constitute the total score of the CSE UPSC:

  • Paper I- Essay
  • Paper II (General Studies I)- Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World, Society.
  • Paper III (General Studies II)-  Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice, International Relations
  • Paper IV (General Studies III)- Technology, Economic Development, Bio Diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management
  • Paper V (General Studies IV)- Ethics, Integrity, Aptitude
  • Paper VI- Optional subjects
  • Paper VII- Optional subjects

Stage 3- Personal Interview

Candidates qualifying with the minimum score are then invited for a personal interview. This is the final stage of the Civil Services Exam. The candidate is judged based on assessment skills, mental alertness, judgment, intellect, and integrity. 

The maximum marks that can be awarded for the interview stage are 275.

Total marks for the Civil Services Examination conducted by the UPSC are 2025.

Step 2- Prepare for General Studies

The official syllabus for the CSE does not give a detailed idea of the topics that are to be studied under each subject. Hence it is advisable to do enough general studying so as to increase your knowledge at least above the high school level.

It is also advisable to develop a strategy in order to cover important subjects one at a time, and also to answer these questions in the stipulated time frame. Each candidate gets two hours for the preliminary examination, which means that you have about 80 seconds to accurately answer each question.

Do keep in mind that though the correct answer will fetch you 2 marks, an incorrect one will result in the negative marking of 1/3rd marks.

Step 3- Refer previous year question papers

It is necessary that you make yourself familiar with question papers of at least 5 previous years. It is to be noted that the UPSC never repeats a question, so memorizing the answer to these questions will get you nowhere. However, you can expect similar questions and have a certain idea of what type of questions you need to prepare yourself for.

Hard work definitely pays off, but developing a smart strategy helps in coping with the requirements to crack the examination.

Step 4- Develop a subject-wise preparation strategy

When you develop a subject-wise preparation strategy, it increases your chances of being more productive and retaining a majority of the information regarding topics you have studied.

Also, make sure to pick up the right study material for the exam. NCERT books are the top recommendation as they will help you on a fundamental level, and clear your doubts on both the Prelims and Mains stages.

Besides all the steps mentioned above, remember that patience, determination, and discipline is the key to crack the Civil Services Examination conducted by the UPSC.

UPSC Civil Services Examination

The UPSC Exam is also known as the Civil Services Exam is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, the central agency for selecting civil servants in India.

The exam is conducted annually and millions of aspirants appear for the exam and this makes it tough to clear the exam in the first attempt for many.

There are no restrictions placed on the candidate based on their financial, social or educational background, and anyone can apply for the IAS Exam and appear for the CSE depending on their preparation and potential.

Preliminary Examination for IAS

The Preliminary Examination for IAS is also called the CSAT or Civil Services Aptitude Test. Here is what you need to know:

  • The Preliminary Examination consists of two objective type papers. One of the two general studies paper consists of general studies and the other paper consists of the aptitude test, which is also known as the Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT)
  • Paper 1 with general studies consists of topics like history of India, economy, social development, Indian and World geography, science & technology, polity and governance, environment & ecology, etc.

  • Paper 2 of CSE prelims consists of questions in relation to logical reasoning, analytical ability, English language comprehension, data interpretation, basic numeracy or maths, etc.

  • Both the topics will be held on the same day and will be objective type. The candidates will be notified about the CSE Prelims exam date in the month of February every year.

  • The application forms will also be made available in the month of February and the last date of submission will be in the month of March and that would be announced later. The admit card can be downloaded three weeks before the exam.

  • The discretion to announce the date of the exams is with the UPSC, but the exams are usually held in the month of June. The publication of the Answer key will be followed by the announcement of the UPSC results of that year. The results of Prelims will be done in the month of August/ September.

The Main Examination

The Main Examination is also called the 'Mains'. It accounts for a high percentage of merit in the overall score. The second stage of the CSE exam is the mains and it consists of 9 descriptive exams.

The syllabus for each paper will be as follows.

Syllabus of IAS Mains



Marks Allotted

Paper no. 1

In this paper, you need to write an essay in the language chosen by you

250 marks

Paper no. 2

General Studies 1: This paper consists of topics related to Indian Heritage, Indian Culture, Indian History, Local and World Geography.

250 marks

Paper no. 3

General Studies 2: This paper consists of topics in regard to Polity & Governance, Social Justice & International Relations, and Constitution.

250 marks

Paper no. 4

General Studies 3: This paper will test the candidates on the topics like Economic Development, Technology, Bio-diversity, Security & Disaster Management.

250 marks

Paper no. 5

General Studies 4: This paper will have topics such as Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude.

250 marks

Paper no. 6

This will be the first paper for the optional subject.

250 marks

Paper no. 7

This is the second paper for the optional subject.

250 marks

Paper no. 8

Indian Language Paper:  in this paper, the candidate is expected to select a language from the Languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. If you are a candidate who belongs to the north-eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Sikkim, you are exempted from this paper

300 marks

Paper no. 9

This is to test the knowledge of the candidate in the English language.

300 marks

The optional subjects for the CSE Main exams include subjects like agriculture, animal husbandry and Veterinary Science, anthropology, chemistry, civil engineering, commerce, statistics, political science and international relations economics, electrical engineering, geography, geology, history, law, botany, management, mathematics, mechanical engineering, medical science, philosophy, physics, psychology, public administration, sociology, and zoology.

  • The students can choose from a wide range of languages for the Indian literature exam. The languages that are available are, Hindi, Kannada, Dogri, Bengali, Assamese, Gujarati, Bodo, Kashmiri, Telugu, Tamil, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, English, Urdu, Sanskrit, Oriya, Sindhi, Punjabi, Manipuri, Nepali, Marathi, and Santali.

  • The dates for CSE main will be notified in the month of August/ September. Application forms can also be taken in the month of August/ September.

  • Admit Cards will be made available before three months of the CSE Mains. The Main examination is usually conducted in October, however, the date and the month of the exam can be changed by the UPSC.

  • The answer key will be released in the following year after the result is announced. The results of CSE Main will be released in the month of January/ February of the following year.

Personal Interview Round

The Personal Interview Round is the final round of the Civil Services Examination. These are the facts you need to know:

  • Out of millions who have appeared for the exam Union Public Service Commission selects an interview around 2500-3000 candidates approximately every year.

  • Many boards are created by the UPSC which work on an everyday basis and one member of the UPSC will be heading each of the many boards. Every board set-up will have around 4-5 members who have different portfolios. The duty of the members of the board is to ask questions that will help them select a candidate based on their mental ability.

  • Most of the questions asked will be related to national and international current affairs. The board members can ask questions related to the personal profile submitted by them along with the application form.

  • A UPSC Civil Services Interview Round lasts for about 30 minutes. The purpose of the interview is to check whether the candidate is suitable for a career in civil services by gaining insight into the personality of the candidate as opposed to the mugged up knowledge one could use during the exams.

  • In this 'personality test', the interview panel assesses whether the candidates are politically neutral, honest and patriotic. A successful candidate is broad-minded, sensitive to the needs of others and has concern towards weaker sections of the society.

Roles and Responsibilities of an IAS Officer

Roles and Responsibilities of an IAS Officer

An IAS officer is considered as a backbone structure to the government of India.

  • One plays an important role in the administration and decision-making of the matters of the population of the nation.

  • An IAS officer is in a position of power where they have the authority to take decisions within reason regarding the policies and regulations in which their area of work will function, hence, it is considered as a powerful and a prestigious position.

  • Different roles assigned to an IAS officer are that of a Commissioner, Chief Secretary, Public Sector Unit Head, Cabinet Secretary, and Collector. The profession is considered to be knowledge because apart from getting exposure, one will be able to help millions of lives with the powers vested on them.

  • An IAS Officer is the designated person who has the power to allocate tasks regarding different administrative departments and their functions.

  • The role of an IAS officer is also inclusive of duties such as framing of policies, being an advisor to the ministers.

  • They are responsible for the efficient execution of designated duties in the administrative units.

  • Functions like maintaining the law and order situation, supervising revenue administration and general administration fall under the jurisdiction of IAS officers.

  • They also play roles of a Chief Development Officer or District Development Commissioner, stipulated role of an Executive Magistrate, which includes overseeing and implementing of State level and Central Government policies, supervising the expenditure of Public Funds and more.

Reference Books for the IAS exam

Along with the steps to become an IAS officer, you also need to ensure that you pick the right study material in order to crack the Civil Services Examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.

  • If you a Civil Service aspirant then there are certain books that will help you prepare better. More than the quantity of the books studied, it is the quality that can help you score better by giving the necessary knowledge.

  • For the History subjects, books that might help are History of Modern India by Bipin Chandra and India’s Ancient Past by R.S Sharma. These books will help one to study the subject in detail. Other books that can be referred to are India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipin Chandra and History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra.

  • For the subject of culture, the books- The Wonder That Was India by AL Basham and Indian Art and Culture authored by Nitin Singhania are considered as a necessity while preparing for the IAS exam.

  • Geography of India by Majid Husain and Oxford School Atlas by Oxford are the books that are most preferred for the subject of geography.

  • Indian Polity for Civil Services Examination by M Laxmikanth is referred for the polity.

  • For current affairs, refer to books like India Year Book and Manorama Year Book.

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