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UPSC Exam Pattern 2023 for Prelims, Mains & Interview

Topics Covered: UPSC CSE (IAS) 2023 Exam Pattern for Prelims, Mains & Interview Round, Negative Marking Scheme, Optional & Language pattern

There is a famous saying which goes as “When solving problems, search for the roots instead of fixing the leaves” and the same can be said for the exam pattern for UPSC CSE.  

Conducted on a national level, UPSC Civil Service Examination is known as one of the toughest exams in the country.  

Despite the high difficulty level and competent nature, lakhs of aspirants apply for the exam every year.  

That is so, because of the opportunity and the prestige that comes along for the candidates to be recruited in the various civil services.  

Therefore, to prepare diligently for a competitive exam like UPSC CSE, the applicants must have a thorough knowledge about all the important details to understand the nature of the examination.  

One of the effective ways to do so is to familiarize with the crucial aspect, i.e., UPSC exam pattern.  

Knowing the exam pattern is the first step towards preparing for the exam as it will enhance your understanding of the exam structure.  

Along with this, it also helps in identifying the important topics, the weightage given to the topics from the syllabus in the papers as well as the marking scheme.  

With reference to that, I will be discussing in detail about UPSC exam pattern 2023, for which I will provide an elaborate and simple explanation of the exam pattern for Prelims, Mains and Interview.   

So, without further ado, let’s begin to know more about UPSC CSE Exam pattern. 

Table of Content – UPSC CSE Exam Pattern 2023

UPSC Exam Pattern 2023

Exam Pattern Prelims Mains
Exam Mode Offline Offline
Exam Duration 2 papers of 2 hours each 9 papers of 3 hours each
Type of Paper Objective Descriptive
Type of Questions MCQs Descriptive
Total Number of Questions CSAT: 80 questions
GS: 100 questions
Usually, 20 questions per paper
Total Marks 400 1750
Marking Scheme +2 for correct answer, negative marking of 1/3 of 2 marks No negative marking
Talking about the exam pattern 2023, the UPSC CSE is conducted in an offline mode.

The questions asked in the examination are both objective and descriptive in nature.

The marking scheme for the exam also entails negative marking. The selection procedure for UPSC CSE is an elaborate process consisting of three stages which are:  

    • Prelims: This is the first round of the examination pattern and is also known as the elimination round as it is designed with the purpose of filtering undesirable candidates.  
    • Mains: This is the second round of the exam pattern. This examination is extremely crucial as the marks scored in the mains papers play a huge role in a candidate’s final selection. 
    • Interview: This is the third and the final stage of the exam pattern which is designed to test a candidate’s personality and acumen as a bureaucrat.   
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Basically, to ace the UPSC exams, knowing the UPSC exam pattern is of utmost importance. Everything that you’ll ever learn and prepare for during your IAS preparations will have to ultimately be calibrated to the IAS exam pattern. 

That’s how important the topic of the UPSC exam pattern is.  

Now that you know about the exam pattern, you should also go through the detailed UPSC (IAS) CSE syllabus here.

Complete Exam Pattern for UPSC CSE

IAS Exam Pattern for UPSC Prelims

The Prelims’ stage of IAS exam pattern 2023 consists of 2 papers –  

    • General Studies or Paper 1 
    • CSAT or Paper 2 

Both the papers are conducted on the same day. The type of questions asked in both papers is objective in nature with multiple choices provided per question. There is a negative marking of 1/3rd in both the papers.

Exam Pattern for UPSC CSE Prelims

To explain the above image of the UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern, let us look at the table and the subsequent points provided below:

IAS Prelims Exam Pattern Summary

Subjects Type No. of questions Total Marks Duration Negative marks
General Studies (GS) Objective 100 200 2 hours (9:30 AM to 11:30 AM) Yes
CSAT Objective 80 200 2 hours (2:30 PM to 4:30 PM) Yes

UPSC Prelims: Negative Marking Scheme

You must be aware that UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern entails negative markings. It’s time to know little more than that about it. I have provided the explanation of the same in the following points: 

    • The GS paper contains 100 questions with negative marking. Every right answer will fetch you 2 marks and every wrong one will cost you 1/3rd of that or .66 marks. Questions that you choose to leave unanswered will not fetch you or cost you any mark.  
    • There are 4 options for an answer to every question; if you choose more than one option for an answer, it will be treated as a wrong answer with the same penalty as mentioned above, i.e., 0.66 marks. 
    • The CSAT paper contains 80 questions,with negative marking. Every right answer will fetch you 2.5 marks, and wrongly answering a question with negative marking will cost you 1/3rd of that or .83 marks. The questions which are left unanswered will not fetch or cost you any marks.  
    • There are 4 options for answer to each question, if you choose more than one option for an answer, it will be considered as a wrong answer with same penalty as mentioned above, i.e., 0.83 marks.  

The Prelims exam is considered as the toughest stage, mostly because the UPSC cut offs for the Prelims exams depend on the average score every year and are known to be notoriously unpredictable.  

Check the latest UPSC Cut Off here 

That pretty much sums up the topic of the IAS exam pattern for the Prelims exam. Now it’s time for us to talk about the exam pattern for the UPSC Mains exam. 

IAS Exam Pattern for UPSC Mains

In order to appear for the Mains examination, you must clear the first step, which is the prelims examination.  

This means scoring above the declared cut off marks for GS Paper 1 and scoring the minimum qualifying marks for CSAT of the Prelims exam.  

The UPSC Mains exam pattern involves 9 papers which are conducted over a period of 5-7 days.

While there is no negative marking for the Mains examination, the papers consist of questions which are descriptive in nature with a total of 1750 marks  

Exam Pattern for UPSC CSE Prelims

Since, the UPSC Mains is subjective in nature, the candidates are required to write answers in an elaborate manner.  

Therefore, having a lucid understanding of all IAS-related topics is a must, and for that, you’d need to read from the best IAS books in the market. To know more about the best UPSC preparation books, you can go through the linked blog. 

IAS Mains Exam Pattern Summary

Papers Subjects Marks
Paper A Any Indian language (compulsory) – qualifying paper 300
Paper B English – qualifying paper 300
Paper 1 Essay (you can choose to write it in a medium of your choice) 250
Paper 2 General Studies 1 (Indian and World history, Culture, heritage, &Geography;) 250
Paper 3 General Studies 2 (Polity, Constitution, Governance, International Relations & Social Justice) 250
Paper 4 General Studies 3 (Economic Development, Technology, Disaster Management & Security, Biodiversity) 250
Paper 5 General Studies 4 (Aptitude, Ethics, & Integrity) 250
Paper 6 Optional Subject: Paper 1 250
Paper 7 Optional Subject: Paper 2 250

Assuming you understood the table, here are some important points I’d like to add for UPSC Mains Exam Pattern: 

    • Out of the 9 papers of the UPSC Mains exam, 2 are qualifying language papers, i.e., English and any other Indian language. Both language papers hold a maximum mark of 300 each. The minimum qualifying marks in these 2 papers is 25%. The marks obtained in these papers will not be counted for ranking. 
    • Both language papers have 100 marks worth of essay questions, 60 marks worth of reading comprehension questions, 60 marks worth precis writing, 40 worth translation-based questions, and finally another 40, worth grammar-based questions. 
    • If you’re unable to secure the minimum 25% of the total 300 marks in the 2 language papers, the rest of your mains papers will not be considered for further evaluation by UPSC. 
    • You can write all the papers, apart from the 2 language papers, in the language of your choice provided that it is listed in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. 

If you have Commerce and Management as your optional subjects, then you can check UPSC Commerce and Management syllabus.   

That said, let us now look at the list of optional subjects for paper 6 and paper 7 of the UPSC Mains exam.  

 UPSC Mains Paper Optional and Language Subjects

List of Optional Subjects
Agriculture Anthropology Chemistry Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science Botany
Geology Law Mathematcics History Management
Psycology Sociology Zoology Public Administration Statistics
Commerce and Accountancy Electrical Engineering Civil Engineering Economics Geography
Medical Science Physics Mechanical Engineering Philosophy Political Science and International Relations
Literature of any of the following languages: Bengali, Dogri, Hindi, Kashmiri, Maithili, Manipuri, Nepali, Punjabi, Santhali, Tamil, Urdu, Assamese, Bodo, Gujarati, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Telugu, and English

An important thing to note is that you can write both your optional papers, namely Paper 6 and 7 in English, even if you have written all the other papers in some other language.  

I hope through this section you get to know everything there is to know about the exam pattern of the UPSC Mains exam.  

To know more about the type of questions asked in Prelims and Mains, you can check UPSC Previous year questions.  

Now it is time to talk about the final stage of the UPSC exams or the Interview round.  

IAS Exam Pattern for UPSC Interview Round

The interview round is the third and the final stage of the UPSC exams. If you are able to make it into this round, it means that you did so by clearing the written examinations, which is the mains exam.  

The Interview takes place within 2-3 months after the commencement of the Mains examination.  

The maximum marks allotted for the interview round for a candidate is 275 marks, which brings the maximum marks of the final merit list to 2025 marks (1750 of the Mains exams + 275 of the interview round).  

In this round, a panel of impartial and competent individuals will take your interview in order to test your personality.  

Keeping this in mind, the questions that can be asked in the interview could range from   

    • Personal details such as your interests, hobbies, work and education  
    • Current affairs issues of national and international importance 
    • Socio- economic issues currently taking place in the country or in your homeplace.  
    • Situational – based questions are asked to assess your decision – making abilities 
    • Opinion–based questions are asked to test your analytical skills as well as to judge your moral integrity.  

The candidates are judged as to how close their mental and social traits are to that of an ideal IAS officer. 

Some of the qualities that the panel would be looking for in you are critical powers of assimilation, a balance of judgment, ability to lead and create social cohesion, mental alertness, clear and logical exposition, variety and depth of interest, and intellectual and moral integrity.  

Before we proceed, let us take a look at the process of UPSC apply online but before we proceed with that you should know the updated UPSC CSE 2023 Eligibility Criteria and ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements.  

With this, we come to the end of the topic of exam pattern. 


We have finally arrived at the conclusion of the section. I hope you find the informative article helpful in your understanding of the exam. 

Till now, we have discussed in detail all the important information related to UPSC Exam pattern which includes Prelims, Mains and Interview. Its time for me to now bid you a farewell and wish you all the best for future endevours 

Best of Luck!! 

Keep Learning!! 

CEO of Anujjindal.in

About Anuj Jindal


Anuj Jindal, the founder, is an ex-manager from SBI, with an M.Com from Delhi School of Economics. He also has a JRF in Commerce & Management and NET in HRM, along with more than 5 years of experience in the field of Education.

UPSC CSE – Related Resources

FAQs: UPSC CSE Exam pattern

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    Is there negative marking in the UPSC IAS Exam 2023? 

    Yes, there is a provision of negative marking in the UPSC IAS exam and the marking scheme is as follows: 

    • For Prelims : Every wrong answer will cost you 1/3rd of the marks for that answer, i.e., 0.66 marks for Paper 1 (GS) and 0.83 marks for Paper 2 (CSAT).  
    • For Mains and Interview: There is no negative marking in these two stages.  
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    Why is it important to understand the IAS exam pattern? 

    Understanding the IAS exam pattern is an extremely important aspect of the IAS exam preparation. This will help you decide on the topics that you would need to prioritize and focus most on and the ones that you can leave for later.  

    Apart from that, it also helps in understanding other factors such as the weightage of the given topics in the exam, nature of the questions asked in the paper as well as help in better judgement of your own strengths and weaknesses.    

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    Are Commerce and Management good options to choose as an optional subject? 

    Yes, Commerce and Management are definitely good choices as optional subjects as they have a good success rate among candidates. Even though they’re not as popular as the other optional subjects like Geography or Public Administration, there have been several IAS toppers who have chosen Commerce or Management as their optional subjects and made it big.    

    Now to state, some advantages of choosing Commerce or Management as the subjects of your optional papers are that they’re generally scoring subjects as they’re logic and rationality-based by nature.  

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    What is the IAS exam pattern of Prelims? 

    The IAS exam pattern of the Prelims section consists of 2 papers. Both the papers have objective-type questions with a total of 200 marks each are as follows: 

    • The GS Paper 1 –  It contains 100 questions and has negative marking. For each right answer, the candidate receives 2 marks, and for every wrong one, they lose 0.66 marks. The total time duration for the GS paper is 2 hours.   
    • The CSAT paper –  There are 80 questions and has the provision of negative marking. For each right answer, the candidate receives 2.5 marks, and for every wrong one, they lose 0.83 marks. The total time duration for the CSAT paper is 2 hours. 
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    What is the selection process for the UPSC IAS Exam? 

    According to the UPSC Exam Pattern, the selection procedure for the UPSC CSE is a 3-stage process:   

    • Prelims – At first stage of the UPSC exam is an objective type of exam comprising of 2 papers. The 2 papers are the GS and CSAT papers.    
    • Mains – After clearing the prelims exam, the candidate appears for the second stage of the exam cycle which comprises of 9 descriptive papers and finally,   
    • Interview – After qualifying the Mains, the candidates undergoes the third and the final round which is also known as the Personality Test.    

    The final selection depends on the combined performance in both the Mains & Interview Round (i.e., marks obtained from a total of 2025 marks – 1750 for Mains & 275 for Interview Round). 


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    What is the pattern for the UPSC Mains exam? 

    According to the UPSC exam pattern, the IAS Mains exam has a total of 9 descriptive type papers. There is no negative marking and all the papers are of 3 hours each. The exam pattern for Mains is as follows: 

    • Out of the 9 papers, there are 2 are language papers which are qualifying in nature with 300 marks for each, the candidate is required to score a minimum of 25% marks in the two language papers with 300 marks each  
    • Among the remaining 7 papers, there is 1 essay paper, 4 General Studies papers, and 2 papers based on the optional subject that a candidate chooses. All the papers are maximum marks of 250 each. 


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    How many subjects are there for IAS Prelims? 

    The two papers in the UPSC prelims include some of the subjects as follows: 

    • GS paper –  For Paper 1 of CSE Prelims, some of the subjects are Economics, Geography, History, Environmental science, Sociology, Political science, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. 
    • CSAT paper – The questions are asked primarily from 3 subjects – English, Quantative Aptiude and Logical Reasoning . 
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    How many papers are there in IAS Mains? 

    There are a total of 9 descriptive type papers given in the IAS Mains which are as follows: 

    • 2 lanuguage papers – Paper A (Compulsory Indian Language) and Paper B (English) which are qualifying in nature.  
    • 1 Essay paper for which the candidate are required to write 2 essays.  
    • 4 General Studies Papers, i.e., GS Paper I, II, III and IV.  
    • 2 Optional Papers for which the candidate is required to select an optional subject. 
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    What are the important current affairs topics from where IAS questions can be asked in UPSC Prelims 2023? 

    Okay, this is a very important question because the current affairs topics form a major part of the question pool of the prelims stage. So let us understand the kind of topics that you should be aware of to successfully clear the UPSC cut offs for the prelims.  

    So, UPSC usually asks questions from schemes, programs, acts, and National/international events that have been in the news for the last 2 years. Therefore, to ace the current affairs portion of the Prelims exam, you’d need to go through all the current affairs news daily without a miss. 

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    What kind of questions are asked in the IAS interview? 

    The nature of questions asked in the IAS interviews varies from candidate to candidate as per their educational background and work experience if any. 

    The questions are also asked to test your mental and social traits which include the ability to critically analyze a piece of information, your balance of judgment, your mental alertness, logical prowess, and your moral and intellectual integrity.

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    Are only MCQs asked in the UPSC Exam?
    No. While objective-based questions are asked in the Prelims exam, the questions asked in the Mains examination are descriptive type.   

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