5 Effectual Cue To Avoid Negative Marking In UPSC Prelims 2022

negative marking in upsc prelims

Negative marking in UPSC Prelims is an extremely costly affair an IAS aspirant can invite for themselves. It can severely impact your chances of qualifying for your UPSC Prelims Examination. For the majority of aspirants, it is common to encounter questions that they do not know the answer to or are unsure about. This not only brings the morale down but also filters out many hardworking and potential aspirants.

The good part is that you are only required to deal with it in your preliminary examination and not in all the stages of UPSC CSE. Let us discuss the UPSC CSE Prelims exam pattern first and then we’ll see how to avoid negative marking in UPSC prelims.

UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern

The subsequent table sums up the paper pattern as well as the marking scheme of UPSC Prelims:

Paper Objective Of The Paper Number Of Questions Max. Marks Duration Negative Marking Cut-Off Mark
GS Paper I Ranking 100 200 2 hours Yes Prescribed
GS Paper II (CSAT) Qualifying 80 200 2 hours Yes 33%
UPSC Prelims Exam Pattern

Also Read: UPSC Exam Pattern For UPSC CSE 2022

Negative Marking Scheme In UPSC Prelims Exam

The UPSC Prelims are objective in nature. That is the MCQ type of questions used to come in the civil service preliminary examination. There are 4 answer choices to each and every question. Out of 4 answer choices, only one is correct.

  1. If you choose the right answer you gain allotted marks(like 2 marks in GS Paper I and 2.5 marks in GS Paper II).
  2. If you happen to make the wrong choice, one-third mark is deducted as a penalty. It means if you have done one question correctly and 3 questions incorrect then you neither gain nor lose any mark in those 4 questions. For example in GS Paper I, for 1 correct answer, you gain 2 marks and for 3 incorrect answers, you lose 2 marks which implies you got zero in those 4 questions.
  3. If you have made more than 1 choice and among those choices, if one is correct then also 1/3 marks will be taken as a penalty.
  4. If you have left the question unanswered then there is no negative marking.

Many of the aspirants in the civil service preliminary examination try to guess most of the multiple-choice questions which result in scoring fewer marks if you guess them blindly.

Do You Know, In Reality, There Is No Such Thing As Blind Guessing?

Well, we as humans by default use the mathematical theory of probability in every decision making. Even if we don’t know the answer, we try our best to pick the most reasonable and logically sounding option with the help of whatever little information we have related to the topic.

This is also applicable when aspirants try to guess the correct answer from various options. Furthermore, the ways of making logically sound decisions can be enhanced by working on thought processes and building strategies around them to make this decision-making (guessing) more effective. In short blind guessing should be discarded as a practice to avoid negative marking in UPSC prelims.

How To Calculate Final Score After Deducting Negative Marks In UPSC CSE Prelims

For the prelims, every question in GS Paper 1 is worth 2 marks. If a student answers a question correctly, 2 marks will be rewarded to him. There is also a penalty for getting questions wrong. For every question in which you mark an incorrect answer, UPSC deducts one-third of the question’s marks. For every question, you will receive 2 marks and 2/3 penalty marks will be deducted for an incorrect answer.

Now let’s say that the student attempted 72 questions in the preliminary exam. But, even if he or she marked 60 questions correctly, and mark 12 wrong answers. So his expected score would be: 60 * 2 – 12 * .67 = 120 – 8 = 112 marks.

Method To Avoid Negative Marking In UPSC Prelims Examination

There are some useful and effective tips mentioned below that will not only help you to decide your answers but also aid you to avoid negative marking in UPSC prelims.

Go For Certain Questions

Read the questions thoroughly before answering. If you are 100% sure about that question then make the correct choice, else proceed to the next question and keep this one for further re-read.

Choose Between 2 Options (The 50-50 Lifeline

While you are going through the questions and if you come across any questions for which you are 50% certain then attempt it. For example, if you are juggling between 2 answer options for any question then mark those 2 options with a light pencil in the question booklet for further review. Say if question 13 is one such question where you are juggling between options B and D. Put one dot against option B if you think this option has more probability to be correct and hence put 2 dots against option D and vice-vice-versa.

Keep such questions for reviewing later on. If you have time in the end then think rationally, else mark the option having one dot. This elimination method can work wonders, but remember to not apply it to every question even if you are not sure about your understanding or knowledge of the topic.

Think of yourself:- Since among 15 to 20 such questions, if you solve 16 such questions in this way and suppose 10 are correct out of 16, then for 10 correct answers you will gain 10*2 = 20 marks; For 6 incorrectly answered, negative marks will be penalized = (1/3)6*2 = 4 marks.

The overall score will be 20 – 4 = 16 marks in these 16 questions. But if you leave such questions then you neither lose nor gain. Candidates need to take such calculated risks but one should not make any wild guesses to avoid negative marking in UPSC prelims.

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Focus Around Keywords

Read questions and options carefully to understand the keywords hidden in them. As there are some questions of whom one wrong statement strikes 3 options that ultimately land you on the correct choice.

Illustration of 2019 IAS Question:-

2019 IAS Question

Here in the question stated above 3rd statement, 75 PVTGs are officially notified in the country and not 95. This implies options (a), (b), and (d) are incorrect which means a correct choice is an option (4).

Avoid Blind Guesswork

Blind guesswork will land you on negative marking that ultimately affects your overall score. Instead, do intelligent guesswork where rational reasoning is your base. This will increase the probability of making the right choice.

Remember not to touch those questions for which you have no idea. As there are some questions for which you may have no idea. Leave such questions as you will neither gain nor lose. If you touch on such questions then there is a high risk of making incorrect choices that ultimately affect your overall score due to the negative marking.

Read Every Question Carefully

Understanding what is there in the question paper is everything while trying to avoid negative marking in UPSC Prelims. Being the toughest exam in India, UPSC Civil Services Exam has a reputation for asking trick questions also.

There can be many trick questions that if not read carefully will lead you to choose the wrong answer. These wrong answers will be a factor to affects your score negatively by awarding you negative marks as a penalty. So reading every question carefully is of utmost importance.

Avoid Wastage Of Time

As we all know time is limited in UPSC CSE Prelims Examination. When there is less time for some work we tend to make mistakes by being in a hurry. When you waste a lot of time focusing on a question that you have no clue about will leave you with a shortage of time. This shortage of time can be critical as it can lead you to mark the wrong answer/s or misunderstand a question.

You might also have to leave some questions even if you knew the answer to them. All of these will lead to a bad score and ultimately your disqualification. We need to leverage the time given for the exam as that will help us to avoid negative marking in UPSC Prelims.

Some More Tips To Avoid Negative Score In UPSC Preliminary Exam

Follow the handy tips to avoid negative marking in UPSC Prelims that are discussed below to ace your UPSC prelims exam:

  1. Avoid using a pencil for answer marking, and try to select one option and don’t make more than 2 choices, otherwise, you will get negative marking in such questions.
  2. Mark the correct choice properly else your answer may not be counted.
  3. Think twice before choosing an alternative if you are not sure about it (i.e. think sincerely and don’t indulge in blind guesswork) as you will not get a second chance to make the choice. Otherwise, negative markings may hold you back.
  4. Practice more and more questions on daily basis to train yourself to think around the correct answers. Practicing daily enables you to develop a thought process and approach for decision-making. You can also try Mock tests for practice.


One thing is sure you have to avoid negative marking in UPSC Prelims, or else you will not qualify for further stages. For that, you need to address all issues listed above and practice daily to minimize or diminish those issues while you attempt the real exam.

There are several platforms that you can use for giving tests on a daily basis. One of them is Examarly where you can give daily topic-wise tests, quizzes, and current affairs MCQs. Doing a preparation that is test-based or continuous evaluation-based helps you not only avoid negative marking in UPSC Prelims by doing rational decision making but only optimizes your effort in identifying your weaker areas and working on them.

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