In this article, Ayushi Sunder of NALSAR discusses how should a law student prepare for UPSC civil services examination.


Transforms one into an agent of change

Civil services offer one the opportunity to serve the society as an effective agent of change, when one feels disgusted by the lack of empathy and sensitivity by the powerful towards the nation. Entitled with the responsibility of policy execution, civil servants are given the chance to remove the existing infirmities and replace them with effective policies promoting welfare and betterment of population. The saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the nation’ indeed holds true and inspires youth to join this coveted services.

This career entitles one to enormous power

Career in Civil services lands one into a position clouded by enormous power. The individual is given high degree of authority and his/her policies have a huge impact, and affect large chunks of population. Civil servants are the true brains that for behind the legal and administrative framework of the nation. It is this power and authority that attracts thousands of youthful individuals.

Civil Services bring you Prestige

Apart from the wonderful perks that accompany a job in civil services, one gains enormous prestige. He/she is treated with utmost respect and high regard. Such individual becomes the source of inspiration for many and is often deemed the ideal figure. In context of Indian Society, this is the most respectable job and anyone interning this career obviously attracts lot of attention.

Offers you Diversity of Opportunity

Civil services that offers diversity in opportunities like no other form of employment. During tenure as civil servant, one can choose from plethora of options and explore vastly mutated of departments. Such dynamic character of services enables sone to contribute significantly to the society’s betterment.



  • It is mandatory for the candidate to posses a bachelor’s degree from any recognised educational institute or any other establishment that is recognised as a university in accordance with section 3 of the University Grants Commission.
  • Candidates who have appeared or are yet to appear for their final examinations also stand as eligible to apply.
  • Where the standard of the institution such as- Oxford/Harvard/Cambridge, from which the candidate has obtained his/her bachelor’s degree justifies his admission, the commission may consider forego the requisite of qualification of an eligible candidate.

Minimum age required is 21 years and the candidate shall not be older than 32 years as on 1st of August of the year in which candidate is applying.

GENERAL CATEGORY: 32 YEARS (if physically handicapped- 42 YEARS)

SC/ST: 37 YEARS (if physically handicapped- 47 YEARS)

OBC: 35 YEARS (if physically handicapped- 45 YEARS)


The prescribed upper age limit is relaxed for a period of :

  • 5 years, if candidate belongs to Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST)
  • 3 yeas, if the candidate belongs to Other Backward Classes (OBC)
  • 5 years, if the candidate has original domicile of the state of Jammu & Kashmir
  • GENERAL CATEGORY has maximum of 6 attempts. If physically handicapped, then 9 attempts are available.
  • SC/ST candidates have unlimited attempts
  • OBC has 9 attempts.


Entrance to this prestigious career takes place via a comprehensive examination termed as Civil Services Examination (CSE). Frequently named as Mother of all exams or Toughest examination of India, CSE takes into its ambit of syllabus ‘anything and everything under the sun’ – what this phrase actually refers to is that though an outline of syllabus is provided for reference, the syllabus of the examination is pretty vast and exhaustive. For the purposes of efficiency, this exam is conducted in 3 stages, namely:


  • This examination is mainly conducted for screening purpose and as a qualification for the mains. This examination consists of two mandatory papers. Each paper carries 200 arks and is objective in character, offering MCQs.
  • The aforementioned papers are recognised as General Studies- I and General Studies- II. Former paper tests General Knowledge of the candidate and his /her knowledge pool about the nation and regarding events of national-international significance. Latter paper tends to check the aptitude of the candidate by posing questions relating to numeracy, comprehension, decision-making and reasoning.
  • After the examination, Commission drafts a list of candidates who qualify for mains examination in accordance with the minimum qualification criterion of 33%.


A candidate’s rank in UPSC Civil Service Exam depends only on the mark scored in Main and Interview. The main exam has 1750 marks while interview has 275 marks.

Mains carry 1750 marks and are an important factor in determining one’s rank in the final results. This exam is subjective in character and consist of 9 papers in all. However, only 7 papers are considered for determining merit.

Papers of Indian Language and English are qualifying papers and are taken into account for final ranking. Each of these papers carries 300 marks and candidates are required to qualify each.

Rest of the 7 papers include:

  1. Essay for 250 marks.
  2.  Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society for 250 marks.
  3. Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations for 250 marks.
  4. Technology, Economic Development, Biodiversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management for 250 marks.
  5. Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude for 250 marks.
  6. Optional subject PAPER-1 for 250 marks.
  7. Optional subject PAPER- 2 for 250 marks


  • Candidate who qualify the mains as per prescribed criteria laid down by the commission receives a phone call by Commission for the final stage- interview, popular known as personality test. This test is conducted mainly to determine the candidate’s personal suitability for the services.
  • He/she is questioned by a board of competent and unbiased authorities about general interests of the candidate and attempt is made to make an assessment of candidate’s traits and qualities. Some characteristics that board always look forward to is vigilance, mental alertness, opinion formation, leadership traits, logical inclination, balance of judgement.
  • The personality test usually proceeds in the format of a purposive and cordial conversation and does not aim to test the knowledge of the candidates in specific regard.
  • Candidates are posed questions relating to their profile and bio-data and are also asked about their views on recent events of national and international significance. Candidates are subjected to questions that involve handling situations, to test their administrative and leadership qualities. Curiosity of the candidate to learn and explore is always appreciated. Interview carries 275 marks and is counted while calculating merit.


After the examination is over, Commission draws up a final list of selected candidates. The candidates are then allotted services in accordance with their ranking and preferences given. Following are the series that are offered under the label of Civil Services.

Group A Services

  • Indian Administrative Service
  • Indian Foreign Service
  • Indian Police Service
  • Indian P & T Accounts & Finance Service
  • Indian Audit and Accounts Service
  • Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise)
  • Indian Defence Accounts Service
  • Indian Revenue Service (I.T.)
  • Indian Ordnance Factories Service (Assistant Works Manager, Administration)
  • Indian Postal Service
  • Indian Civil Accounts Service
  • Indian Railway Traffic Service
  • Indian Railway Accounts Service
  • Indian Railway Personnel Service
  • Indian Railway Protection Force (Assistant Security Commissioner)
  • Indian Defence Estates Service
  • Indian Information Service (Junior Grade)
  • Indian Trade Service, Group ‘A’ (Gr. III)
  • Indian Corporate Law Service

Group – B Services

  • Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service (Section Officer’s Grade)
  • Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Civil Service
  • Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service
  • Pondicherry Civil Service
  • Pondicherry Police Service

A combined Preliminary examination is held for Indian Forest Service and Indian Civil Services.



The two highly important domains overlap with each other when it come so formulating regulations for public. And this point of intersection creates a fertile pool for the law graduates to choose civil services was there career. Law is a major aspect of public policy. Legislations are required to prime policies, and ultimately it is the authority of law that makes a public policy enforceable. A law graduate can handle framing and implementation of public policy in much more efficient fashion for he.she knows the exact manner in which the legitimacy of the law is to be exploited in order to make public policy an effective instrument of maintaining public order and regulating population behaviour.


While drafting a policy, several opinions regarding objectives, structure, application, expectations of the policy are taken. Exhaustive discussions ad heated debates are witnessed in the process. however, what ultimately shapes the policy into a concretised framework is the intelligent opinion that will form the subject-matter of the policy. Individuals from legal background are extensively trained in logical analysis and opinion formulation. They are well-versed with the practice of tracing the pros and cons of a given issue and to logically analyse the circumstances. Their research is deep enough to dig out possible forms of future challenges and here can formulate the ideal opinion about any proposition. Premising policy on such informed and intelligent opinion results in concrete regulations that are highly effective and are error-free to a great extent.


While framing the policy, thousands of factors have to be kept an taken into consideration. One of the most important factors is the legal framework of the area for which the policy is drafted, once again law graduates prove themselves better than individuals from non-legal background in analysing the situation to determine an accurate methodology for applying policy. For a policy to be executed, one needs prior thorough knowledge about the legal structure applicable to the area. Only a person informed enough about legal technicalities will be able to efficiently and smoothly operate a policy that lies well-within the legal boundaries.



A common misconception among the youth is that one shall choose an optional subject that conforms to the below mentioned questions. However, what is to be understood is that ‘what is the best optional subject?’ may mean different to different individuals and may also vary as per the individuals’ background and interests.

Which is the most scoring optional?

First of all, there is no such thing called most scoring optional. Equipped with adequate and through knowledge followed by appreciable opinion-inclined answer writing fetches one decent marks. What may be a cakewalk for one person may be an Everest-climb for another. So it is advisable to stay away from such labelling of subjects and to choose as per individual requirements.

Which optional is the easiest to study?

A subject appears easy if a person is able to answer all questions from the domain. However, this is possible with in-depth study accompanied by good memory, which differs again from individual to individual. So, no optional can said to be the easiest. Also, every optional paper has standard as high as graduation level study of the subject, which is quite a tough task to undertake.

Which is the most popular optional?

Popularity is often determined by the numbers in which individual choose a particular optional. Often that optional which is opted for the most is considered the most popular subject. But popularity shall not be a criteria as when can never depict the challenges that he/she may face while studying the subject. If the candidate has no prior knowledge of the subject, that may complicate the procedure and will make the candidate susceptible to poor scores.


Following factors shall be taken into account while choosing an optional:

  • Easy availability of study material
  • Easy availability of Coaching
  • Size of syllabus
  • Interest in the subject
  • Knowledge of the subject
  • Ability to think about the subject via multiple points of view


Who can opt?

A prevalent thought is that law being a highly specific subject, one shall opt for law only if he/she has legal graduation or comes from legal background. However, non-legal graduates can also opt for law.

Is it beneficial?

  • Syllabus of law optional overlaps with cereal studies, hence no thorough specific study is required.
  • Papers are application-based, therefore rote-memorisation is not needed.
  • Questions posed are generally related to current events. Therefore, one can answer by focusing on current affairs.
  • Syllabus in not very exhaustive and can be easily covered.



As a law graduate, one has an edge of logical and analytical approach over the other. One shall exploit this to make full use of reasoning and fetch high scores. The papers, often pose questions that demand decision-making on part of the candidate. If one systematically figures out the positives and negatives, and premises his answers on reasonable grounds, he/she can produce concrete answers that satisfies the question adequately. Therefore, immense focus on answer-writing, both logically and legally, is required.


Questions if answered with appropriate and applicable sections and legal provisions brigs weight to the answer. It depicts search and knowledge on candidate’s part. Application of relevant laws solidify the answer and lays down concerts solutions the problem raised in the question. Therefore adding legal dimension is highly essential to score high.


Though law papers are application-based and often involve practical problems, significance of memory while attempting a law optional paper cannot be ignored. In order to concretise the answers by adding legal elements to it, one needs to be well-versed with the relevant laws and provisions. Section numbers and case laws to support the answers have to be kept handy while answering application-based papers. Hence, it is recommendatory that candidates work on their ability to memorise the case names and legal provisions.


One can conclude on an optimistic note that law offers a great opportunity to excel in civil services. What one essentially needs is thorough knowledge and the right approach. If individuals keep themselves informed and well-updated, perform with a logical approach, he/she can come out with flying colours.

Explore more on how to crack civil services – Read the interview of civil services examination toppers who are students of law. (Source – Superlawyer)

Noor Shergill on cracking the civil services examination

Seema Pujani on cracking the civil services examination

Paramvir Singh on cracking the civil services examination

Abhishek Tripathi on cracking the UPSC exam

Abdaal Akhtar on cracking the UPSC exam


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  1. Hi, this is a very nice explanation of approaching the upsc exam. But I just wanted to ask If one wants to pursue a PG Diploma law course in a topic which is part of optional syllabus then it might really help that person. So what are your thoughts about this and can you help choose about the course and college?

  2. The importance of coaching for UPSC exam can never be undermined. A UPSC exam is acclaimed to be the toughest of all. Because it tests well-rounded preparation on a variety of subjects. It also checks the candidate’s proficiency in chosen learning streams and his ability to communicate. I am not saying UPSC exam needs over preparation. But it necessitates a structured preparation, focused dedication, and latest techniques to solve the problems. And it could only be possible after joining a certified coaching institute.

  3. I must say that its really very well researched and well planned article. On one hand you covered civil services beautifully and on other hand you guided IAS aspirants about selection of optional subject.
    Good Job.