UPSC CSE (IAS) Exam Pattern, Apply Online, & Admit Card

Topics Covered: UPSC CSE (IAS) Exam Pattern for Prelims, Mains & Interview Round, Steps to Apply Online, Important Instructions for Filling the Application Form, Application Fees, Admit Card & Steps to download Admit Card

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 and the process of how to apply online for UPSC. 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.

But, before I continue any further, I’d like to say that if you are not really interested in reading about my college days, which is perfectly alright & I won’t mind at all, you can directly go to the topics of IAS Exam Pattern, UPSC Apply Online or UPSC Admit Card by searching for them in the table of content below.

So, where was I?

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: the UPSC exam pattern, the UPSC apply online process, and the UPSC admit card & how to download it.

So, without further ado, let’s begin.

Table of Content – UPSC Exam Pattern, Cut Offs, Apply Online, & Admit Card

UPSC Exam Pattern

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

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. 

Prelims & Mains Exam Pattern for UPSC CSE

IAS Exam Pattern for UPSC Prelims

The Prelims stage IAS exam pattern basically 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.

UPSC CSE Exam Pattern for Prelims - General Studies & CSAT

To explain the above image, 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)

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: 

  • 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 questionsmost 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 paper 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.

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. 

UPSC CSE Exam Pattern for Mains - Qualifying (Language) & Merit (Esaay, GS & Optionals) Papers

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.  

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 the panel asks is to extract suitable answers out of you. Your answers will then be scrutinized meticulously, and you will be judged on your social and mental traits. 

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 2021 Eligibility Criteria and ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements.

UPSC Apply Online

In this section, I shall be explaining to you the Online Application process for the UPSC exams.

Latest update: 

Due to the second wave of COVID-19, UPSC decided to postpone the UPSC 2021 Prelims to 10th October 2021. While the dates of the UPSC 2021 Mains are 7,8,9,15 & 16 January 2022. 

You should also note that the 2021 UPSC CSE (Civil Services Exam) notification was released on 4th March 2021, along with the start of registrations for the IAS exam on the same day itself. The submission window for new registrations was then closed by 24th March 2021. 

To give you a better idea about the 2021 UPSC CSE application process timeline, I have listed a table below: 

Events Important Dates
UPSC CSE Notification 2021 4 March, 2021
Last date of Application 24 March, 2021
UPSC Prelims 2021 10 October, 2021
UPSC Mains 2021 7, 8, 9, 15 & 16 January, 2022

UPSC Apply Online Process

The following are the steps that you normally need to follow while applying for the UPSC exam:

Step 1: You need to go to the official UPSC website, www.upsc.gov.in, and look for the “apply online” button on the homepage. Click on it you’d be directed to a new page. On the new page, there’d be a link, “Online Application for Various Examinations”. Select the UPSC Civil Services exams by clicking on this link and proceed to apply for them.
OR
You can also alternatively directly go to www.upsconline.nic.in and click on “Online Application for Various Examinations of UPSC”.

Step 2: Clicking on it will direct you to a new page, where you should click on “Part-1 Registration”.

Note: Before you fill the registration form, make sure to meticulously go over the “Important Instructions to keep in mind while filling the UPSC application form” that I have written below.

Step 3: In the Part – I registration page, fill in all the personal information like name, age, corresponding address, etc.

Step 4: After filling in the details, please ensure that they are absolutely correct because you won’t be able to change any of them after clicking on the submit button down below. 

Step 5: Next comes the step of clicking on the submit button. 

Step 6: Next, you’d be needed to fill in the part – II registration page. In it, you should submit all the important documents such as your educational certificates, age relaxation if applicable, ID proof, photograph, signature, payment details, and declaration.

Step 7: Then fill in your exam center preferences. 

Step 8: Then give in your email address for further correspondence with the UPSC.

Step 9: Finally click on the “I Agree” button and submit the application form. 

Step 10: After the final submission of your registration form, a Registration Number will be provided to you, save it for future reference.

Having said all of that, before you fill the registration form, make sure to meticulously go over the “important instructions to keep in mind while filling the UPSC application form” that I have written below. 

Another point to note is that of the UPSC IAS Application form withdrawal, meaning that if for any reason you’d want to withdraw your application form from further processing you can follow certain steps. I have mentioned these steps in the FAQ section given at the end of the article, you can check it out there. 

Steps to Apply Online for UPSC CSE

Important Instructions to filling the UPSC Application Form

  • You can submit the online forms only on the https://upsconline.nic.in/.
  • Do not leave out the fields with the (*) mark on them as they are to be filled mandatorily. 
  • Know, that once you click on the submit button and your application is submitted, no changes can be made after that.  
  • If you want to make any changes, submit a fresh application with updated information before the registration window closes. Also, only the registration-id of the latest application will be taken into consideration, and previous applications will be cancelled. 
  • There are 2 parts to the online UPSC application form, Part-1 Registration, and part-2 Registration. You’d need to fill & submit both before your candidature can be considered valid. 
  • In Part-1 Registration, fill in your personal details, educational qualification, and address.  
  • In Part-2 Registration, provide your payment details, your choice of Exam Center, photograph, signature, photo id documents, and declarations. 
  • As far as photos and signatures are concerned, upload a scanned copy of your signature and photo. Size of each file – 20 KB to 300 KB. The resolution: (350 x 350 pixels) to (1000 x 1000 pixels). The image file should have a bit depth of 24 bits. 
  • Provide your email address for the UPSC to communicate with you. 
  • Note that details like optional subjects, exam center, Choice of Indian language for Indian language paper, and medium of examination cannot be changed after form submission.  
  • Also, upload photo id documents in PDF format only. Size shouldn’t be more than 300 KB or less than 20 KB.  
  • Give your photo id card number in the application form and also upload a copy. You’d have to carry the same photo-id later to the exam hall.  

UPSC Online Application Fee

The Application fee for applying for the UPSC exams is 100 INR for general category candidates.

For people belonging to ST/SC/PwD categories or are females, the fee is 0 INR, meaning that they are exempted from paying the fee.

Category UPSC Prelims Exam Fee UPSC Mains Exam Fee
General/ EWS/ OBC Candidates (Male) INR 100 INR 200
Female candidates (All Categories) Exempted from fee payment Exempted from fee payment
SC/ ST/ PH candidates Exempted from fee payment Exempted from fee payment

For online payment of fees, you can pay through the net banking portal of the State Bank of India or by RuPay Credit/ Debit Card/ MasterCard/Visa. 

Now that you know about the UPSC Online application process, I think you’ll easily be able to register for the exams.

That’s all there is to know about the topic of UPSC apply Online for now.

UPSC Admit Card

Now, let’s look into the final section of this blog where I’ll explain how to download the UPSC admit card.

Before we continue any further, I would like to bring to your attention that the UPSC admit card for the 2021 Mains exam, which is going to be held from 7th January 2022 onwards, will be out on the UPSC’s official website. 

The UPSC admit cards are electronic in nature. That means it will not be sent to you by post, rather you’d have to download it from the official website of the UPSC and take a printout of it.

Let us now take a look at the steps to download UPSC Admit card for IAS prelims.

Steps to Download Admit Card:  

  1. To download your UPSC admit card you need to first go over to upsc.gov.in and click on the “Admit Cards” link on the right side of the page. You can also choose to go to upsconline.nic.in and click on the link called, “E-Admit Cards for various examinations of UPSC”. 
  2. You will then be redirected to a page where there is a list of the various UPSC exams for which e-admit cards are available. Apart from the ones for the exams, e-admit cards are also issued for various recruitment posts and e-summons by the UPSC.
  3. Next comes the step where you click on the link called civil services prelims exams (for the particular year) to download your IAS prelims admit card.
  4. Before you are able to download your admit card, you will be asked to enter your roll no. or registration Id for the UPSC prelims.
  5. The admit card will then open as a PDFDownload it and then take a print out of it. You’ll need to carry the admit card to your prelims exam center in order to be able to sit for both the prelims papers. 

Special Scenario: 

If in case you have forgotten your registration Id for the prelims, you can click on the “forgot RID” option and enter the required details (Name, Mother’s & Father’s name, and your Date of Birth), then submit to view your registration ID.

After obtaining your Id you can continue with your download process normally. 

That’s the end of the final section or the UPSC Admit card section of the article.

I think I have given you adequate information about how to go about downloading your admit card. You need to follow the same step for the mains exam as well 

Conclusion

With that, we come to the end of this long and detailed article. I would recommend that you read through it as many times as it requires for you to understand the topics covered in it. I guess it’s now time for me to bid farewell.

Good luck and Goodbye! 

Founder & 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.

FAQs: UPSC Exam Pattern, Apply Online, & Admit Card

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    Is there negative marking in the UPSC IAS Exam 2021?

    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, the selection process for the UPSC IAS is a 3-stage process:

    1. The first stage, called the Prelims is an objective type exam comprising of 2 papers. The 2 papers are the GS and CSAT papers
    2. The next stage, called the Mains exam, comprises a number of descriptive papers and finally,
    3. 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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    When will the UPSC IAS Mains Admit Card for 2021 be released?

    The UPSC IAS Mains of 2021 will be held from 07th-16th January 2022. As for the admit cards for the same, they will most probably be released almost a month before the date of the Mains exam. I say this keeping in mind the general trend, i.e. the admit cards are usually being released approximately a month before the mains. 

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    What all information does the UPSC IAS Admit card have?

    The information written on the IAS admit card pertains to all the important inputs made by the candidate during the registration process such as:

    • Date of Examination
    • Name of the Candidate
    • Roll Number
    • Photo ID Card (e.g. Aadhar Card etc.)
    • Name of the Candidate’s Father
    • Name of the Candidate’s Mother
    • Physically Handicapped Status
    • Center & Venue of Examination
    • Time of the Examination
    • Candidate’s Photogragh & Registration ID

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    What happens if a candidate submits multiple online applications?

    In the case where a candidate applies for the IAS exam multiple times, only the last UPSC IAS online application form submitted successfully shall be considered for further processing. This means that all the previous application forms filled and submitted by the candidate will be ignored.

    Therefore, it is advised that you fill only one UPSC application form. 

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    How can I get my UPSC IAS Application Form Corrected?

    To get your UPSC IAS application corrected you should contact the Union Public Service Commission Officials. You can take this step if you have any doubts or objections regarding the same. Any discrepancies that you might find related to the UPSC IAS Application Form can be resolved if you contact the officials on the contact details that the UPSC has provided for candidates. I have mentioned them below.  

    UPSC Contact Details: 

    UPSC Help Desk/Phone numbers: 011-23098543 / 23385271 / 23381125 / 23098591.

    UPSC Official Website – https://www.upsc.gov.in/

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    How to withdraw the UPSC IAS Application?

    You can withdraw your application form in case if you find any discrepancy in it, or in case that you do not want to carry forward with the registration process. 

    In order to withdraw the UPSC IAS application form, you can follow the steps I have mentioned here. 

    First, you should go to the official website of UPSC. Then hover over to the section called “What’s new”. Then go to the “Withdrawal of Application link for Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination” of the year of concern. After that you should follow the instructions and then click on withdraw.  

    Next, click on the Application withdrawal link located on the right corner of the page once again. After that, read all the instructions carefully and then click on the Yes button given there. Next, fill in details like your Registration ID and press the enter.  

    Then you’d have to enter your details such as your name, Date of birth, Gender, Father’s and mother’s names, mobile number, and email ID. Then press on the Withdrawal of application form button for the particular year and press agree after that.

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