Discover pattern, composition and key features of Civil Services Examination (CSE)

New Delhi, 02 September 2017: Civil Services Examination (CSE), conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), is the toughest competitive exam in India. Each year more than 12-13 Lakh candidates apply for the examination for nearly 1,000-12,00 posts. CSE Exam, a nationwide competitive examination, is conducted for recruitment to various Civil Services of the Government of India, including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and others Central Services (Group A).

A graduate degree from a recognized university can apply for the CSE. The entire selection process of CSE consists of three parts:  CSE (Preliminary), CSE (Main) and Personal Interview. For Civil Services Examination (CSE) 2016, more than 11.30 lakh candidates applied. Out of these, only 1,099 candidates were finally recommended. Applicants to Post Ratio (APR) stands at 1,033. Hence, out of 1,033 candidates, only one is able to crack CSE exam. Here, SkillOutlook presents key points of CSE exam composition and features.


CSE (Preliminary): This is a qualifying test, which is advertised in February–March while the test is generally held in June–July each year. Results are published in mid-August. According to CSE 2017 Notification released by the UPSC, the preliminary examination consist of two papers. Each paper will have 200 marks while the question paper will have objective type questions (Multiple Choice Questions). The General Studies paper II of the preliminary examination is qualifying paper and the candidate need to secure a minimum qualifying marks of 33%.

Pattern of CSE Preliminary 

Paper No. Name Of Paper Marks Allotted
Paper I General Ability Test(GAT) 200 Marks
Paper II English Language & Aptitude 200 Marks

Each paper will have duration of two hours.  Generally Paper 1 is known as General Ability Test. Paper II is known as English Language and Aptitude. There is negative mark system in Preliminary Exam. For each wrong answer, 1/3rd (0.33) of that mark of that question will be counted as negative.

CSE (Main): The UPSC selects candidates for Main Exam from Preliminary Exam nearly twelve times the approximate number vacancies to be filled through this examination. The Main Examination aims at assessing the overall intellectual traits and depth of understanding of candidates rather than merely the range of their information and memory. According to CSE 2017 Notification released by the UPSC, the Main Examination can be divided into two parts: Qualifying Papers (Indian Languages and English) and Papers to be counted for merit.

Qualifying Papers (Indian Languages and English) will have two papers: Paper A and Paper B. In the Paper A, candidate needs to select one language among the Languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the constitution. Paper B will be English language. Each paper will have 3 Hour duration. The pattern of these two papers are as followed: Comprehension of given passages; Precis Writing; Usage and Vocabulary; Short Essays; and translation from English to the Indian Language and vice-versa.

Qualifying Papers CSE Main

Paper Name Description Marks
Paper A One of The Indian Language to be selected by the candidate from the languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. 300
Paper B English 300

Candidates need to secure 25% marks in Indian Language paper and 25% mark in English as minimum qualifying standards in these two qualifying papers.

Papers to be counted for merit consists of seven papers. Each paper has 250 marks. Hence, Main examination has total marks of 1750. The Interview part has 275 marks. Hence, merit list is prepared on grand total marks of 2025.

The paper 1 is known as Essay Writing. The Paper II to V will have General Studiesrelated questions. The questions will be such as to test a candidate’s general awareness of a variety subjects, will have relevance for a career in Civil Services.

Papers to be counted for merit CSE Main


Paper Name

Title of the Paper Marks Allotted
Paper-I Essay Writing 250 Marks
Paper-II General Studies-1(Indian Heritage & Culture History & Geography of the World & Society) 250 Marks
Paper-III General Studies-II(Governance,Constitution ,Polity ,Social Justice  & International Relation) 250 Marks
Paper-IV General Studies-III(Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity,Environment , Security & Disaster Management) 250 Marks
Paper-V General Studies -IV(Ethics, Intigrity & Aptitude 250 Marks
Paper-VI Optional Subject-Paper I 250 Marks
Paper-VII Optional Subject-Paper 2 250 Marks

Sub Total in the written Test

1750 Marks

Personality Test

275 Marks

Grand Total

2025 Marks

The Paper VI & VII are known as Optional Subject-Paper I and Optional Subject-Paper 2.  Two papers on subjects to be selected by the candidate from the list of optional subjects. The scope of syllabus for optional papers (Paper VI and Paper VII) for the examination is broadly the honour’s degee level : a level higher than bachelor degree and lower than master’s degree.

Main examination is held in October every year. Results are usually published in the second week of March.

Interview:  On the basis of performance in CSE Main Exam, short-listed candidates are eligible candidates for appearing the Personal Interview.  The UPSC selects candidates for Interview from Main Exam nearly two times the approximate number vacancies to be filled through this examination.  The Personal Interview carries 275 marks.

The objective of the interview is to assess the personal suitability of the candidate for a career in public service by a board of competent and “unbiased” observers. The test is intended to evaluate the mental calibre of a candidate. In broad terms, this is really an assessment of not only a candidate’s intellectual qualities, but also social traits and interest in current affairs. Some of the qualities to be judged are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, balance of judgement, variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion and leadership, and intellectual and moral integrity.

Final Selection: Based on the CSE Main and Personal Interview, the UPSC prepare the merit list. The merit list is also based on number of vacancies and reservation categories. The total marks of CSE Main and Interview is 2025.

Personality Test (interview) is held in December each year. Final results are usually announced in May .

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