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UPSC CSE Exam Pattern 2023

Topics Covered: UPSC CSE (IAS) 2023 Exam Pattern for Prelims, Mains & Interview Round

When I was in my third and final year, my focus had completely shifted to my career, and I found myself pondering my prospects of clearing the UPSC Civil Services Exams.

During my analysis of the UPSC exams, I went through the exam pattern of UPSC CSE. As I was at it, I couldn’t help but compare the exams to the football tournament that had happened the previous year. Let me tell you a bit about it.

When I was in my 2nd year at DU, I used to play as a Centre forward for the college football team. Every day after class, I used to go to football practice with my team.

We were actually pretty good, as a matter of fact, we were one of the best in those days and to maintain our standards we had to work hard. Hence, after every practice session, I and my teammates used to sit down in our hostel mess hall and discuss strategies & plans to score better.

Coming to the tournament that I referred to above, We had to play really well in order to not get eliminated from it as this was an all-India tournament and only the best college teams were allowed to play. Unfortunately, we were eliminated in the quarter-final round of the tournament.

Now, the reason I told you this anecdote is that much like the different rounds of the tournament, the UPSC exams too comprised (and still does) of several rounds, each tougher than the last.

Also, the fact that to ensure victory in the tournament a football team would need to know the tournament roaster inside out, similarly a UPSC aspirant too must know the UPSC exam pattern like the back of her/his hand.

Having said that I guess by now you might have already figured out what this article is going to be about. In all clarity it is about the UPSC exam pattern 2023.

So, without further ado, let’s begin.

Table of Content – UPSC CSE Exam Pattern 2022

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

UPSC Exam Pattern is an aspect that remains static. It may change in one lifetime, however, until then get hold of the pattern given in the table above.

As I have mentioned before, to ace in any field, may it be at sports or at academics, you’d need to analyse and know the playing ground like the back of your hand. As a sportsman and a successful academician, I can vouch for the importance of knowing your playing field and the rules of the game wholeheartedly.

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.

So, to get to the real thing the UPSC exam is comprised of 3 stages. The first stage as per the examination pattern is the Prelims round, which is essentially an elimination round designed to filter out a majority of unsuitable candidates.

Then comes the second phase as per the examination pattern or the Mains round, which is basically the core of the UPSC exams and the most important step of selection.

Lastly, comes the third stage as per the examination pattern, or the personal interview round, which is designed to test your personality and your acumen as a bureaucrat. We’ll go through each stage in detail.

Complete Exam Pattern for UPSC CSE

IAS Exam Pattern for UPSC Prelims

The Prelims’ stage of IAS exam pattern 2023 consists of 2 papers, both conducted on the same day. The question type in both papers is objective with one right answer out of several multiple choices.

Exam Pattern for UPSC CSE Prelims

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

IAS Prelims Exam Pattern Summary

Paper Subjects Total Marks Duration
1 General Studies (GS) 200 2 hours (9:30 AM to 11:30 AM)
2 CSAT 200 2 hours (2:30 PM to 4:30 PM)

UPSC Prelims: Negative Marking Scheme

You must be aware that UPSC Prelims entails negative marking. It’s time to know little more than that about it. Here’s the elaboration.

Assuming that the table given above is able to sufficiently inform you about the total marks and time duration of the 2 papers of the Prelims exams, there are some important points that I’d like to add. However, before putting light on that let me inform that the following points are relevant with UPSC Exam Pattern 2023, in case you were wondering.

  • Paper 1 or 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.
  • Paper 2 or the CSAT paper contains 80 questions, most of them 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. Certain questions designed to test your decision-making skills will not cost you any marks if answered wrongly. Also, questions left unanswered will not fetch or cost you any marks.

The prelims paper, as I have mentioned before is essentially a qualifying stage designed to filter out the unsuitable candidates from the exam process.

The remaining candidates get to appear for the Mains exam. Also, important to note down is that the marks secured in the prelims paper will not be counted when UPSC prepares the final merit list of successful candidates.

Having said the aforementioned, I don’t even for a moment mean to imply that the prelims papers are less important or are easy to crack.

I would even go so far as to say that clearing the UPSC prelims is even tougher than clearing some of the other eminent exam prelim papers in the world.

This is 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

The UPSC exam pattern for the Mains examination involves 9 papers that are conducted over a time period of 5-7 days.

The UPSC Mains exam will be available for you to appear, if and only if you are able to clear the Prelims exams.

You can appear for IAS Mains only if you could clear the prelims exam.

This means scoring above the declared cut off marks for Paper 1 and scoring a minimum of 33% in paper 2 of the Prelims exam.

Exam Pattern for UPSC CSE Prelims

Having said that it should be duly noted that, unlike the Prelims exam, the UPSC Mains exam consists of only Descriptive/subjective type questions of a total of 1750 marks, meaning you’d have to elaborately write your answers instead of choosing the right ones from among a host of choices.

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:

  • 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 choosing provided that it is listed in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution.
  • Paper A is not compulsory for you if you belong to certain North-Eastern states, or if you are hearing impaired and have supporting documents.

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 6 & 7 Optional 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

The last thing to note is that you have the liberty to 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.

With that, we come to the end of this section.

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

As mentioned earlier, having a clear understanding of the exam pattern is paramount to a successful UPSC (IAS) preparation strategy.

This clear understanding will help you immensely when you start taking your mocks, particularly, ensuring that you get a feel for the exam duration and the marking scheme.

Check out our UPSC CSE mock test series and attempt the free mock tests.

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

Important Information: Before discussing the UPSC Interview Round, let me put light on one of the most important aspects of exam preparation, the Previous Year Papers. I have dedicated a special page to UPSC Previous Year Papers, so kindly take a peek at the page and know what kind of questions comes in the UPSC CSE exam.

IAS Exam Pattern for UPSC Interview Round

The interview round is the final stage of the UPSC exams. If you are able to make it into this round, know that you did so by clearing through the written segments of one of the toughest exams in the world, and give yourself a pat on the back.

However, you should not rejoice as yet, because the war’s not yet won.

You still have to clear the last round or the Interview round.

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

The questions that are asked in the interviews are to extract the most suitable answers out of the candidates, which are then thoroughly scrutinized by the panel. Based on the findings, the candidates are judged as to how close their mental and social traits are to those 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.

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

With this, we come to the end of the topic of exam pattern. Now that you know about the exam pattern, you should also go through the detailed UPSC (IAS) CSE syllabus here.

With that out of the way, let us now 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.


The page has briefly introduced you to the eminent exam pattern of UPSC CSE exam. Though it is not difficult to remember, yet let me stress on the note that throughout your exam preparation the exam pattern needs to be at the top of your mind.

While this page is devoted to only one exam aspect, you can become familiar with all the UPSC CSE elements by reaching one place.

Go through the UPSC CSE Complete Info Page to know every bit about the most prestigious exam in the country.

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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.

FAQs: UPSC CSE Exam pattern

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    Is there negative marking in the UPSC IAS Exam 2023? 

    Yes, there is negative marking in the UPSC Prelims Exam. 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). 

    But on the other hand, there is no negative marking in the UPSC Mains Exam

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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 focus most on and the ones that you can leave for later. 

    I’d further add that the topics you’d need to focus on most can depend on a number of factors. Factors such as the weightage of the topic from the point of view of the exams, and 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. The first one is General Studies (GS) paper, and the second is the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) paper. Both the papers have objective-type questions and have a total of 200 marks each.  

    Now when it comes to the IAS exam pattern of the GS paper, it should be noted that the paper 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.  

    As far as the IAS exam pattern of the CSAT paper is concerned, the paper contains 80 questions and has 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? 

    Okay, this is a very important question, according to the UPSC Exam Pattern the selection process for the UPSC IAS is a 3-stage process

    The first stage, called the Prelims is an objective type exam comprising of 2 papers. The 2 papers are the GS and CSAT papers 

    The next stage, called the Mains exam, comprises a number of descriptive papers and finally, 

    The third and last stage is the interview round, also known as the Personality development test 

    Now it should be noted that to appear for the mains exam, candidates need to first appear for the Prelims, then if they qualify that, they get to appear for the Mains. 

    After the Mains exam, candidates are shortlisted for the interview rounds based only on their Mains exam marks. 

    Your final selection will depend 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 that are usually conducted over a span of 5 days. 

    Out of the 9 papers, two are language papers and those are qualifying in nature, meaning that the other 7 papers of any candidate will only be checked if he/she secures a minimum of 25% marks in the 2 language papers. 

    The 2 qualifying language papers are of 300 marks each with no negative marking and have to be completed under a maximum time duration of 3 hours each. 

    Among the other 7 papers, there is 1 essay paper, 4 General Studies papers, and 2 papers based on the optional subject that a candidate chooses. 

    These 7 papers carry a maximum of 250 marks each and have to be completed within a maximum duration of 3 hours each. Also, like the language papers, these papers have no negative marking. 

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    How many subjects are there for IAS Prelims? 

    The GS and CSAT papers together cover a host of different subjects.  

    However, the main subjects from which questions are asked in the GS paper are Economics, Geography, History, Environmental science, Sociology, Political science, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.   
    As for the CSAT paper, questions are asked primarily from 2 subjects – English and Aptitude. 

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    How many papers are there in IAS Mains? 

    There are 9 descriptive type papers in the IAS Mains. 2 of them are qualifying language papers, 4 are general studies papers, 2 are optional subject papers, and 1 an essay paper.   

    The language papers are of 300 marks each with a maximum time duration of 3 hours each, whereas the rest of the 7 papers each are of 250 marks with the same time duration, i.e., 3 hours. 

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