A Complete Guide On How To Study History For UPSC CSE

how to study history for upsc

History is not a preferred subject among students due to its vastness (been there, done that!).

However, it is an important subject for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Preliminary and Main Exams. A lot of questions were asked in the first paper of General Studies of the UPSC CSE Prelims and UPSC Mains are from historical events, art & culture.

Thus, You need to know how to study history for UPSC!

A Civil service aspirant faces one of the toughest exams in India to be on the list of the country’s top administrators, and in-depth knowledge of national movements and international history is essential for making important administrative decisions.

It can be one of the reasons UPSC places a high value on this factual study. Ancient India, Medieval India, and Modern India are the three sections of the history syllabus in these exams.

To ace the exam particularly with this subject, you must give special attention and prepare yourself for a lot of hard work, so here’s your complete guide on how to study history for UPSC.

Indian History In UPSC CSE: Overview


The UPSC CSE Prelims History section mainly focuses on three sections namely- Ancient, Medieval, and Modern History.

Modern History has a considerable share of questions every year in the Prelims section. A total of 100 questions are asked every year in the UPSC CSE Prelims General Studies paper.

In 2020, 7 questions were asked from the section on Modern History. In 2019, 6 questions were asked and in 2018, the number was 12.

An average of 6-7 questions is asked in this section.

However, there are other sections of Indian History also like Ancient and Medieval but these sections are less asked in Prelims.

If we see from 2013 to 2020 then we see that only 1-3 questions were asked from the Ancient History topics and 2-4 questions from the Medieval India section respectively.

In 2020, 3 questions were asked from the Ancient section and only 2 questions from the Medieval India section.

You can see that Modern Indian History is the most important section that should be taken more seriously in the case of Prelims for Indian History.


General Studies Paper-1

Mains section of the History paper is typical and quite lengthy. GS Paper-1 covers the Modern Indian History, Indian Post Independence, World History, and Art and Culture sections along with Geography and Indian society.

  1. UPSC Civil Services Mains General studies paper-1 will consist of 20 questions that need to be attempted in 3 hours.
  2. Paper is of a total of 250 marks with questions ranging from 10 marks to 15 marks weightage.
  3. The word limit for 10 marks questions is 150 words and for 15 marks is 250 words.

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History has the following subtopics :

  1. History of the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- major events, personalities, issues.
  2. The struggle for freedom
  3. Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.
  4. World History

A number of the questions asked in the past are not fixed as we can see that in 2020, only 2 questions were asked from the Freedom struggle section but 4 questions were asked in 2019, 3 questions in 2018, and 5 questions in 2017.

Only in 2013, 12 questions were asked but the trend changed with time and around 3-4 questions are expected to be asked from this section.

Questions are mainly asked from the section Indian Freedom struggle, World History, and Post-Independence consolidation section.


History is one of the most lengthy but popular optional subjects in the UPSC Civil Services Examination. It is not always easy for a candidate to cover the whole syllabus of History as it has no limits and sometimes a candidate finds it boring.

The topics come from the area of Ancient Indian History, Medieval History, Modern History, and World History.

The main topics which are included in this area are mainly related to Archeology, Archaeological sources, Historical architecture, Culture, and Heritage.

History optional subject has 2 papers (Paper 1 and Paper 2) in UPSC CSE Mains. Each paper is 250 marks with a total of 500 marks.

How To Study History For UPSC

After understanding what to cover and what to skip while preparing for History, here some tips and methods are discussed below on “how to study History for UPSC” so that you can score good marks in History.

Some Points To Remember Before Starting Preparation Of Indian History In Civil Services Exams

  1. History in itself is a very expansive subject covering a wide area of topics ranging from the ancient era to the modern era. People usually don’t get the basic idea of what exactly to read and how much exactly to write.  

  2. It happens because the subject has more reading but less outcome. You have to invest your time in a lot of history books but you may not remember a lot of facts.

  3. However, you can write the answers very well if you have any interest or inclination towards remembering historical facts along with knowing about our past culture, economic policies, foreign policy, European powers, and societies.

  4. Every subject in Mains demands a subjective approach and your opinionated answer along with various facts and figures even if it is a subject like History. History differs in one aspect totally i.e. remembering dates along with facts and figures. Remembering dates and events in history is not an easy task.

Focusing On Different Sections Of Indian History For UPSC Civil Services

Ancient History

The end of the ancient period is marked by the 8th century AD, which encompasses the Stone Age, Paleolithic Age, Mesolithic Age, Neolithic Age, Chalcolithic Age, Indus Valley Civilization, and Vedic Period.

Medieval Indian History

The period of Medieval Indian history ranges from the eighth to the eighteenth centuries AD. Even though it is a somewhat less asked section in UPSC CSE, you can’t skip it.

Modern History

Most of the students find this segment interesting in comparison to the last segments. However, interests vary from student to student.

The timeline of this section spans from the rise of British rule to the Indian independence movement. The majority of the history questions in the UPSC CSE prelims are based on this period of Indian history.

Organizing the topics chronologically and unit-wise will be beneficial.

Some Important Books Of History For UPSC CSE Exam

Referring to the right books and making a detailed plan with the help of these books will surely help you. These are some standard prescribed books for the History part of the UPSC Civil Services Exam like NCERT books by Bipin Chandra.


  1. NCERT Class VI: Ancient India (Old Version)
  2. NCERT Class XI: Ancient India (Old Version)

Medieval Indian History

  1. NCERT Class VII, XI: Medieval India (Old)
  2. NCERT Class IX: Story of Civilization Part-I (old edition)
  3. NCERT Class X: Story of Civilization Part-II (old edition)

Modern India History

  1. India’s Ancient Past: R.D. Sharma
  2. Indian Art and Culture: Nitin Singhania
  3. India’s Struggle for Independence: Bipan Chandra

Make History Fun And Interesting

Being a civil service aspirant is in itself a courageous task and you always run short of time. The exam preparation demands constant productivity and to improve your productivity you always need some short breaks.

Knowing and browsing about different Historical personalities will also help you in the long run as it’s fun and improves basic knowledge at the same time.


Being a Civil Servant doesn’t mean that you need to grasp just book knowledge but you should always follow the latest trends. If you want to score well in the UPSC CSE history paper, follow this guide.

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