General Studies 1

General Studies 1 paper covers history, culture, geography, and a few other topics. Below, I’ve taken the syllabus verbatim from the notification, and indicated how I prepared a particular topic. I’ve also included links to my online notes.

If you want to skip the discourse and get to the booklist I recommend, please scroll down to the end of the text.

  • Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times

I was always wary of studying this portion. It seemed too vast and too unpredictable. Nevertheless, I tried (and mostly failed) to study things that people recommend. Firstly, I tried NIOS. Then, I tried Spectrum. Finally, I decided to give everything else up, and just follow one set of notes properly- I picked GK Today (for no particular reason).

My advice is to not spend very much time here. Follow one source, and make peace with the fact that you can probably never feel well prepared for this portion.


  • Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
  • The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country.

There are two distinct periods that fall under this portion:

  1. 1717 (Farrukhsiyar grants farman to the East India Company to conduct inland trade in Bengal) to 1857 (first battle of independence)
  2. 1857-1947

For (i), Bipan Chandra’s ‘History of Modern India’ (I think this used to be an NCERT) is useful. This was the first book I read for my UPSC preparation. However, I didn’t make notes, and forgot most of it. Closer to the exam, I googled all the major incidents between 1717 and 1857, and made short notes on them (these include Carnatic wars, Battles of Plassey, Panipat, Buxar, Anglo-Mysore wars, Anglo-Maratha wars, and several important treaties, charters, and social reform movements). I consolidated all of these into brief notes in a timeline form. You can find this here. I think for the 1717-1857 part, this is enough for GS (the timeline notes go on beyond 1857, and till 1947; however, the notes in the link above are not exhaustive for period after 1857, and should be used only as a ready reference. Please see below).

For (ii), I read Bipan Chandra’s ‘India’s Struggle for Independence’ and ‘Spectrum’. I think Bipan Chandra’s book gives you a good base, but it also jumps around somewhat, and is rather bulky. I focused mostly on Spectrum.

For revision, I made chapter-wise questions from Spectrum. You can find them here. (Please note that next to some questions, I have mentioned Page numbers. Please ignore these- they do not correspond to where you will find the answer in the Spectrum book).

Aside from the above, especially for prelims, one needs to remember factoids related to Congress Sessions, Governor-Generals/ Viceroys, and Personalities (notes included in links). (For the personalities file, I just noted down whatever name I came across in Spectrum/ Bipan Chandra. I made brief notes for some, but not all, of them).


  • Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country

I watched Pradhanmantri TV series. I tried making episode-wise brief notes, but couldn’t finish these for lack of time. Notes upto Episode 7 are here.

I also read the relevant chapters from Bipan Chandra’s ‘India Since Independence’. I ignored most of the stuff after Green Revolution, and did not focus at all to the political fortunes/ misfortunes of various national/ regional political formations. I think UPSC does not ask questions on these.


  • History of the worldwill include events from 18th century such as industrial revolution, world wars, redrawal of national boundaries, colonization, decolonization, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism etc.- their forms and effect on the society

I wasn’t sure what all topics to study for this portion. To be safe, I decided to complete the topics included in the syllabus for World History in the History Optional for UPSC (look for world history topics in History Optional Paper 2 syllabus; link here).

While searching for sources, I came across a wonderful website: . It has incredibly detailed topic-wise notes on all the topics in the syllabus. However, please don’t get bogged down by the level of detail on this website. Always remember that this is meant for people who have chosen history as their optional. Be smart, and sift through what’s needed for GS. Basically, ensure that you know all the topics in the website above, but don’t go too deep.

Aside from this, I also read Norman Lowe for world history after the First World War. I made short, handwritten notes for some of the chapter that were quite useful in revision. Find them here. Please note that I didn’t make notes for some important chapters because I didn’t have the time; please try and cover those, too.

Once you’re done with all of this, a good way to revise is to download the question bank meticulously prepared by Mrunal Patel, and available on his website. He has taken questions from past History optional mains papers, and also from annual examinations of various reputed universities around the country. I copy pasted all of these into a word document, and you can find them here. I didn’t write answers to any of these question because I didn’t have the time, but after I was done preparing World History, I ensured that I knew the answers to all of these. If you can do the same, I think there isn’t very much else that UPSC can ask from.


  • Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent);
  • Factors responsible for the location of primary, secondary, and tertiary sector industries in various parts of the world (including India)
  • Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc.,
  • Geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
  • Salient features of world’s physical geography.

I initially started by studying GC Leong, but I now think it’s useless. Please study geography NCERTs meant for standards 6-12. I think if one understands everything that is in the NCERTs, then one can handle geography GS questions quite easily. However, I also think that the explanations given for many things, especially geo phenomena such as atmospheric circulation, cyclone formation etc. are very rudimentary, and need to be heavily supplemented by the internet.

Basically, I googled everything I didn’t understand in an NCERT. I usually found either articles or YouTube videos that were extremely helpful in developing a strong, logical understanding. Be resilient, and don’t give up if you don’t understand concepts in the first couple of tries. Some of the concepts (looking at you, coriolis effect) are genuinely tricky, and require time and patience to understand.

For revision, I found it useful to summarize the NCERTs in questions. Again, much like history, I knew that I could be confident about knowing the NCERT’s contents if I could answer all of the questions that I framed. You can find these here.

Note: almost every year in prelims, there are some questions for which you need to know the world map. These could be locations of countries, rivers, famous landforms, seas etc. I found this website that lets you make a game out of trying to remember the world map. They have region-wise graphs for different countries, rivers, landforms etc., and close to prelims, I tried to ensure that I was attempting to pin down several different portions of this website at least once a day. It helped.

  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India
  • Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and
  • Developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies
  • Effects of globalization on Indian society
  • Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism

I think these topics are fairly general. I did not prepare these.



Topic Source I recommend Other sources (I didn’t do most of these)
Culture GKToday notes (available online) NIOS, Spectrum, NCERT, CCRT website
Indian History 1717-1857 Internet/ my notes Bipan Chandra (History of Modern India)
1857-1947 Spectrum Bipan Chandra (India’s Freedom Struggle)
1947-present Pradhanmantri Bipan Chandra (India Since Independence)
World History

Norman Lowe’s book

Question bank from Mrunal

Arjun Dev’s book
Geography NCERTs 6-12 GC Leong, Majid Hussain



56 thoughts on “General Studies 1”

  1. Hi Abhimanyu! firstly congrats for making it through in 1st attempt with such a good rank. I am preparing for CS 2018. I have one question with regards to culture. As you suggested you stuck to GK Today. Did you subscribe for their paid course to find segregated material on culture or is there any subsection under GK today. Would be great if you can cite the link.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pradhanmantri TV series : FROM Episode 8 To Episode 26, sir Plz do share your NOTES (ENGLISH ).Without you I will not take Next step in My preparation on This Particular Topic. Could u Plz do Help me out. Thanks in Advance.

    PLz Plz Plz Plz PLz PLZ …………..


      1. Sir your geography questions need learning of quite factual things .did u know answers of each and every question before prelims? How u memorize that much facts? Did u make questions with reading and learn facts chapterwise or u follow different approach ? Plz help


  3. Hi sir Abhimanyu Gahlaut
    Pradhanmantri TV series : FROM Episode 8 To Episode 26, sir Plz do share your NOTES (ENGLISH ).Without you I will not take Next step in My preparation on This Particular Topic. Could u Plz do Help me out. Thanks in Advance.


  4. Sir
    I have given two attempt to civil service, clear prelims both time
    Now I am confused whether to give it again or go for master in public policy usa or mba or rbi
    Your profile is exactly what I wanted – social sciences degree ,assignment regarding public policy

    So u were exactly doing what u wanted to do so why ias??
    I don’t want to be professor but want to do Job with diverse experience and public policy oriented -any suggestions helpful


      1. Sir, were you able to answer most of the questions after studying all the NCERTs? I mean.. just going through all the NCERTs will be sufficient?


  5. Hello Sir ,Thanks for your efforts for creating this wonderful blog to help many needy aspirants like me 🙂 ,It indeed is very helpful.
    Sir, I wish to ask you an important question .During the preparation of CSE as it is such a long journey there is a lot of time when we feel very Low ,Fearful ,worrrisome and self-doubting !! How to tackle these factors and emotions during the preparation phase ??


    1. Would u like to tell me about what selected chapters are important in bipin chandra India since independence.? As it is very much bulky and it is very hard for me to understand. Or u can also suggest me some other book except this bulky one.
      Thank u


  6. Congratulations to u Sir,
    forgive me for digressing from the main subject. Sir if you could share how did you
    -come upon doing M.Phil from such prestigious University? ur experience?How beneficial it proved for you?
    -What are the requirements needed and Exams one has to appear in inorder to get into such universities?
    -your thoughts on Indian Higher Education system Vs. Outside?

    [Sir i am currently pursuing BA(Economics,History,Public Ad) &
    i looked relentlessly on Internet seeking answers for my postgraduation plans…but everything got me confused because apparently 3 years programme has no such relevance….(since i wont be eligible for GRE soon after my UG..i might have to do MA in Economics to prove my eligibilty)…. if one is interested in taking masters course from abroad]


    1. Hi Nikita,

      – I chose to do a masters because I enjoyed studying economics at the undergraduate level. I had a great time at Cambridge, and I would put it very high up in the list of experiences that have shaped me as a person, and my outlook on the world

      – For econ masters in the UK, you need really good scores in your undergraduate degree, a well written statement of purpose, strong recommendations from your 2 to 3 of your college professors, and you need to take the GRE exam (and get very good marks in the quant section). In addition, some universities also ask you for writing samples, and scores on the TOEFL exam

      – For econ, It’s not true that all universities abroad are better than universities in India. In the UK, Cambridge, LSE, Oxford, and UCL are no doubt among the best in the world, but I’d rate Delhi School of Economics, JNU, and Indian Statistical Institute higher than many other universities in the west

      Why do you think you won’t be eligible for GRE after a 3 year bachelors degree? That’s not true.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you much Sir, for taking the time to respond so briefly.
        Sir,i guess i had been lacking advice from experienced people..Thank you for addressing all question.


  7. Sir, I am finding it difficult to remember, congress sessions, many provisions under different Acts passed by the British government, name of the Viceroys and events connected to them. Did you sit and memorise them or does come by multiple readings?


  8. Sir, I find Bipin Chandra’s all three books very bulky. How should I read it? Do I need to read all? Please suggest the right approach, I am very confused.


      1. Sir, you’ve specified specific portion of book for the time period between 1717-1857, but after that its mentioned the whole book. So for after 1857 do we need to read both the books i.e. India’s freedom struggle and India after independence or specific portions from it or spectrum suffices?


  9. Sir I have been giving UPSC for 3 years but my problem is that I forget most of what I have read in a few months.

    So I tried revising everything but due to this I was unable to complete the syllabus. So I had to fall back on my earlier technique of completing syllabus first and then revise 2 months before the prelims exam but again this has the drawback that I completely forgot most of the topics and had to literally start from scratch (that too 2 months before the prelims exam!!!)

    Sir how did you manage to remember such a large amount of information and also complete the syllabus at the same time?


    1. Hi Sanket, for me, making short questions for all the topics helped. Please try and come up with a way to revise whatever you’re reading, without having to go through the entire text again. Frequent revision is the key, I presume.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Regarding guidance ur and gaurav Agarwal does that, in no other optional such a detail blog is available where notes and chapter wise reading are given


  11. sir,, i just want to know ur strategy for last 2 month or 1 month of preparation- how did u manage all knowledge?? please give detailed reply– this is real problem for most of candidate!!!let me know u r doing it


    1. Hi Mohit, as I’ve stressed at several places on the blog, you need to come up with a strategy for revision. I was on a very tight schedule, and it helped that I’d prepared GS very well before the prelims. I had questions ready for most GS topics, and closer to the mains exams, I just tried revising using these questions.

      I spent about 90-95% of my time after the prelims preparing for my optional paper, so my experience was somewhat different from what I assume most people do. For revision for GS, as I said, I used my notes.


      1. sir, i am political science student – got 160/500(65 in p1(static part) and 95 in paper2 dynamic one)) in political science 2 attempt–now i am confused whether to take economics or not?? i have read 11-12 ncert- looks fine—i am not giving this year paper ,my target is 2017,,,so i have time– i know i could improve more in political science but whether it would be enough to get past 220 score – i don’t know—i religiously followed current affair and love international relation that’s why i took it… though i could still study pol sci(not bored)—- i am inclined towards eco for it predictability in getting marks,limiting memorising,seems interesting!!!1– now utterly confused– if opted for economics i would opt for axiom classes (i have time and money to do that))–please advise!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Mohit,

          There is a google group for people who are preparing for UPSC with econ as an optional. Somebody asked a similar question there, and one of the members of the group posted a response, which I’m reproducing verbatim below:

          “To be honest and blunt it is difficult for non-economics background
          student to handle eco as optional.

          Reasons are:
          1.Vast syllabus
          2. Lack of(good) coaching institutions
          3.(follows from pt 2) lack of information regarding appropriate study
          4. you would be competing with candidates who are from economics background.
          5.Lack of peer group of same optional
          6.Dynamic nature of paper II

          After GA topped the exam, many aspirants have jumped into this
          economics bandwagon. I met few of them who now regret their decision.
          even people with eco b/g find it difficult to cover the syllabus holistically.
          My experience was also not very pleasant to begin with n only in my 3rd
          attempt I could secure xx rank in 2014.

          I might be scaring you but I would advise you to think twice before taking
          it as ur optional.”

          I broadly agree with this. Econ Paper 1 is quite technical. If you still decide to pick econ, please make sure that you have 4-6 months available for this.



          1. thank u sir, for ur quick reply—-i am engineer so i think i can handle technical part(worked in honda)—all other points are applicable for political science — though in political science we have one decent coaching–but i generally study in isolation!!!!— have time–useful in rbi exam(though only 20 selected last year from economics)– but still i am confused i have spent 2 year for political science–does this new facts change ur opinion– i know asking from u about my choice is indecent– still ur final opinion!!!


            1. Hi Mohit, I’m afraid the decision will need to be yours and yours alone- maybe you can take a couple of weeks and read a macro/ micro book, and see if you like it enough to do similar topics for 6-odd months.


  12. Proud of you Gahlaut saab.
    Jaat mara tab maaniye jab teharvi ho jaaye.
    Aapne toh sach mein dhooma thaa diya. Hope you serve the nation wherever you work.
    I got fairly nice idea of UPSC preparation from your blog and shall be writing CS exam in 2017.
    You are my prime source of motivation now.
    P.S. I’m from Jhajjar.


  13. Great blog! Sir, I have two questions. First, what did you do for value addition? I mean what else can I do beside reading standard books? Second, did you attempt those questions about which you had no idea? If yes, what did you write in them?


    1. Hi Niharika.

      1. I tried to stick as closely to the syllabus as possible. Read newspapers diligently; that’s all the value addition you need. The syllabus is, in any case, very large. If you start seeking out other stuff, it might quickly become unmanageable.

      2. I wrote what I knew. Luckily, in GS 1 and 3 I knew atleast a little bit about each question. In GS 2, I left two questions about which I had no idea.


  14. Your notes are excellent, I can see that you’ve put in a fair bit of effort in them. Thank you for making these public. I’m curious, were you working during the preparation?


    1. Thank you, Aditya. Yes, I was working during the preparation. However, I had several things in my favour- my bosses were really supportive, and they let me minimise on fieldwork and focus on tasks that could be done from within the office. They also let me stay back at work after working hours, so I could use my cabin to study late into the night if I wanted to. I moved to an apartment within walking distance from the office to economise on travel time. Also, my significant training in economics meant that I could afford to focus solely on GS before prelims. I think these factors were unique, and might not apply to other working candidates.


      1. I’m in a similar situation except that I’m an engineer preparing from the US and will need to put in some work for my optional (PSIR). Hoping to get this done. Many thanks again and I wish you a fruitful career ahead.


  15. Congratulations sir for your success …Information nd strategy provided by you is veey helpful …and it also proved that strategy makes u win the war ……..
    thank u so much


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