UPSC Exam Pattern, Apply Online, & Admit Card

Topics Covered: UPSC CSE Exam Pattern for Prelims, Mains & Interview Round, Steps to Apply Online, Application Fees & Admit Card

When I was in DU, I used to play football for my college as a Centre forward. 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.

Okay, 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 (sarcastic), you can directly go over to the topics of IAS Exam pattern, UPSC apply online, and UPSC admit card by searching for them in the table of content below.

So, where was I? Oh, I was saying that we were one of the best football teams of DU, 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 and plans to score better.

We had once registered for a tournament and had to play really well in order to not get eliminated from it. This was an all-India tournament and the only the best college teams were allowed to play, but alas, I remember we were eliminated in the quarter final round of the tournament. We were beaten by a team from a college from Kerala in the penalty shoot-outs.

So, this was all in the 2nd year of college. By the time I was in my third and final year, my football days were over, and my focus had shifted to my career, and I found myself sifting through the prospects of appearing for the UPSC Civil services exams, and the UPSC eligibility citeria.

During my analysis of the UPSC exams, I went through the UPSC exam pattern, and the process of UPSC apply online. As I was at it, I couldn’t help but compare the exams to the football tournament that had happened the previous year.

What I found was, much like the fact that only college football teams and no others were allowed to register for the tournament, the UPSC exams too could be applied for by only eligible candidates. Also, like the different rounds of the tournament, the UPSC exams too comprised of several rounds, each tougher than the last.

Finally, the fact that to ensure victory in the tournament a football team would need to know the tournament roaster like the back of its hand, similarly a UPSC aspirant too would need to know the UPSC exam pattern like the same.

Having said that I guess by now you might have already figured out what this article is going to be about; namely the UPSC exam pattern, the UPSC apply online process, and finally about how to download the UPSC admit card. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

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

UPSC Exam Pattern

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 also, 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 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

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 the final merit list of successful candidates is prepared. 

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 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.

The IAS exam pattern for prelims in a tabular manner is given below:


IAS Prelims Exam Pattern

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.                         

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

Having said that it should be duly noted that, unlike the Prelims exam, the 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 IAS preparation books, you can go through the blog I have written on them.

Anyway, getting back, the exam pattern of the Mains exam is further explained through the table given below: 

IAS Mains Exam Pattern

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%
  • 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 be disbarred from further evaluation
  • In all the papers apart from the 2 language papers, you can write in the language of your wish 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 you are hearing impaired and can prove it through 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 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. 

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

UPSC 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 IAS syllabus once. 

With that out of the way, let is now take a look at the process of UPSC apply online.  

UPSC Apply Online

In this section, I shall be explaining to you the Online Application process for the UPSC exams. Before I get into it let’s look into the dates of the 2020 UPSC exams once. 

The 2020 UPSC exam is already on the way. The 2020 UPSC notification had come out at the beginning of the year on the 12th of February of 2020.

The last date to apply for the exam was March 3rd, and the prelims were held on the 4th of October 2020.  

It is to be noted that the prelims papers, which are normally held in late May to June every year were held in October this year due to the COVID situation. 

Therefore, it’s quite understandable that the 2020 UPSC Mains are to be held on the abnormal date of the 8th of January 2021, and the 2020 UPSC Interviews have been postponed due to the second wave of COVID-19.

Now the UPSC 2020 interviews will be conducted in the month of July 2021. 

Having said that you’d do good to note that UPSC was not going to follow the same trend UPSC for the 2021 UPSC exam.

The UPSC IAS Prelims for the year 2021 was scheduled to be held on the 27th of June 2021 and the 2021 Mains would begin from the 17th of September of 2021.

But this would have been only possible we would not have been hit by the second wave of COVID-19.

Latest update: 

Now, due to the second wave of COVID-19, UPSC decided to postpone the UPSC 2021 Prelims and conduct it on 10th October 2021 and the dates of the UPSC 2021 Mains will be 7,8,9,15,16 January 2022. 

You should also note that the 2021 UPSC CSE (Civil Services Exam) notification was released on the 4th of 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 the 24th of March 2021. 

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

Events Important Dates
UPSC CSE Notification 2021 March 04, 2021
Last date of Application March 24, 2021
UPSC Prelims 2021 October 10, 2021

UPSC Apply Online Process

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

  1. You need to go to the official UPSC website,, 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.
  2. You can also alternatively directly go and click on it.
  3. Clicking on it will direct you to a new page, where you should click on “part-1 registration”.
  4. 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.
Steps to Apply Online for UPSC CSE

Important instructions to filling the UPSC Application Form

  • You can submit the online forms only on the official website of the UPSC. 
  • 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 canceled. 
  • 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.  

Online Fee Payment for UPSC Online Application

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 Prelims Exam Fee 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. 

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

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

UPSC Admit Card

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

It’s now time to you to know how to go about downloading your UPSC admit card for the exams. 

Before we continue any further, I would like to bring to your attention that the UPSC admit card for the 2020 UPSC Mains exam that will be held on the 8th of January 2021 onwards, will be out on the UPSC’s official website. 

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

Steps to Download Admit Card:  

  1. The UPSC admit cards are electronic in nature. That means your UPSC admit card 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. 
  2. To download your admit card you need to first go over to and click on the “admit cards” link on the right side of the page. You can also choose to go to and click on the link called, “e-Admit Cards for various examinations of UPSC”. 
  3. 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 exams, e-admit cards are also issued for various recruitment posts and e-summons by the UPSC.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 


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

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 a negative marking in UPSC IAS Exam 2021?

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

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    Why it is important to understand the IAS exam pattern?

    Understanding the IAS exam pattern is an extremely important aspect of the IAS exam preparation. This is because by understanding the UPSC exam pattern, you’ll be able to decide on the topics you’d need to focus on most 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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    Is Economics a good option to choose as an optional subject?

    Yes, Economics is definitely a good choice as an optional subject as it does have a good success rate among candidates. Even though it’s not as popular as the other optional subjects like Geography or Public Administration, there have been several IAS toppers who has chosen Economics as their optional subject and made it big.  

    Now to state some advantages of choosing Economics as the subject of your optional papers are that it’s a generally scoring subject, it’s a logical and rationality-based subject, also that there’s a significant overlap between the economics optional syllabus and the Mains GS 3 paper. 

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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, he loses 0.66 marks. Also, the total time duration for the GS paper is 2 hours. 

    As far as the IAS exam pattern of the CSAT paper is concerned, it is the same as that of the GS paper, the only difference being that the total number of questions asked in the CSAT paper are 80, compared to the 100 of the GS paper. 

    That said if you want to know more about the UPSC exam pattern and in further detail, you should go over this blog I have written above carefully. 

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    Is there any limit to attempt the exam?

    Yes, there is a limit to the number of times you can appear for the IAS exam especially if you belong to any of the categories other than SC/ST or handicapped. Candidates belonging to the SC/ST and handicapped categories have an unlimited number of attempts till their respective upper age limits.  

    However, talking about candidates belonging to the other categories, the maximum number of attempts allowed for General category candidates of 6, and for OBC it is 9. 

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    What is the selection criterion of the UPSC IAS Exam?

    Okay, this is a very important question, according to the UPSC exam pattern the selection criteria of the IAS exams 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 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 everyone who appears for the IAS exams needs 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 on their Mains exam marks. Only after scoring well in the interview round and mains rounds combined, does a candidate become an IAS officer. 

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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 style papers that are usually conducted over a span of 5 days.  

    Out of the 9 papers, two are language papers are qualifying in nature, meaning that the checking of the other 7 papers is done only if candidates secure a minimum of 25% marks in the 2 language papers. 

    Apart from the 2 language papers, there is one essay paper, 4 General Studies papers, and 2 papers based on the optional subject that you choose. 

    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. 

    As for the other 7 papers, each of carry a maximum mark of 250 and have to be completed within a maximum duration of 3 hours each. Also, like the language papers, these papers too have no negative marking.

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    How many subjects are there for IAS Prelims?

    Now to answer this question I would need to think for a while because the GS and CSAT papers together cover a host of different subjects. 

    So, the main subjects that questions are asked for in the GS paper are Economics, Geography, History, Environmental science, Sociology, Political science, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.  
    As for the CSAT paper, there are 2 subjects that questions are asked from, the subjects being 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 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 are of 250 marks each with the same time duration, i.e., 3 hours.  

    To know about the UPSC exam pattern in detail read the blog I have written above. 

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    When the UPSC IAS Prelims Admit Card 2021 will release?

    The UPSC IAS Prelims of 2021 will be held on the 10th of October 2021. As for the admit cards for the same, they will most probably be released almost a month before the date of the Prelims exam. I say this keeping in mind the general trend, i.e. the admit cards are usually being released approximately a month before the prelims. 

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    What Information does the 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 the name of the candidate, his roll number, date of birth, name of the candidate’s father, and the candidate’s photo. 

    Also included in the admit are the information like the date and time of the examination, and also the venue where the exam will be conducted. 

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    What happens if a candidate submits multiple online applications?

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

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


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