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All about NCERT for UPSC

  • 24 Nov 2021

The UPSC Civil Services Examination is arguably one of the toughest and the most rigorous examinations conducted in India and possibly, the world. Every year lakhs of aspirants take this prestigious examination. Apart from being one of the toughest exams, the UPSC Civil Services Examination also has one of the most elaborate selection processes among the various competitive exams conducted in the country. This exam has primarily three stages.

Stage 1: The Preliminary exam comprises two papers, the General Studies Paper I and General Studies Paper-II or the CSAT. The questions asked in this stage are MCQ-type questions.

Stage 2: Mains, comprises two language papers (qualifying only; marks not counted for final rank), one essay paper, four general studies papers, and two optional papers.

Stage 3: Personality Test, commonly called the interview round.

The vastness of the syllabus, intense competition, and availability of a plethora of resources for the exam have contributed to the perception of the UPSC Civil Services Examination as being very tough. Though there is substance to this perception, it should also be kept in mind that in the end, it is just an exam that can be cleared with a structured approach and consistency.

Elaborating further on the topic of structured approach and consistency, the effective and efficient use of available resources is critical for success in this examination. One such resource that plays a significant role is the NCERT books. These books are considered the foundation on which an aspirant’s successful preparation strategy and eventual success are built upon. Every successful candidate vouches for their efficacy and utility for the exam.

This article will discuss the popularity and utility of the NCERT books and will also touch upon the perspective of the toppers on the NCERTs vis-a-vis the UPSC Civil Services Examination.

Why are NCERT books popular?

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is an autonomous organisation set up in 1961 by the Government of India to assist and advise the Central and State Governments on policies and programmes for qualitative improvement in school education. The major objectives of NCERT and its constituent units are to undertake, promote and coordinate research in areas related to school education; prepare and publish model textbooks, supplementary material, newsletters, journals and develop educational kits, multimedia digital materials, etc. organise pre-service and in-service training of teachers; develop and disseminate innovative educational techniques and practices; collaborate and network with state educational departments, universities, NGOs and other educational institutions; act as a clearinghouse for ideas and information in matters related to school education; act as a nodal agency for achieving the goals of Universalisation of Elementary Education. In addition to research, development, training, extension, publication, and dissemination activities, NCERT is an implementation agency for bilateral cultural exchange programmes with other countries in the field of school education. The NCERT also interacts and works in collaboration with international organisations, visiting foreign delegations, and offers various training facilities to educational personnel from developing countries.

One of the primary reasons for the popularity of NCERTs is that they are fairly simple and cover the basics quite well. This allows candidates coming from different backgrounds to build conceptual clarity as well as understand the subjects better as they proceed further with their preparation. The use of simple language, orderly & chronological arrangement of information, use of engaging illustrations, and availability in multiple languages make the NCERTs popular among aspirants.

Another reason that makes the NCERT books popular is the fact they are easily available and accessible. Apart from being available in different languages, NCERTs are easily available in book shops online and offline. The affordable pricing of the NCERT books plays a huge part in enhancing their popularity further.

As mentioned before, the importance of NCERTs can be gauged by the fact that almost all successful candidates vouch for their importance in clearing the exam. They describe them as an unavoidable resource and step while preparing for the exam. The authenticity of the information provided in these books is often cited by the toppers as one of the major reasons for referring to NCERTs throughout their preparation.

Why do aspirants/candidates prepare from NCERT books for UPSC CSE?

This section will take an in-depth look into the reasons behind the use of NCERT books by the aspirants in preparing for the UPSC Civil Services Examination. Though, some of the following reasons have been discussed above. Nevertheless, they require a more detailed discussion.

The NCERT books contain simple language and are devoid of any complex terminologies making them easy to understand. This allows the candidates to build conceptual clarity and clear their basics. The information in these books is presented in an orderly manner and the use of interesting & attractive illustrations further enhances the engagement value of these books.

The NCERT books are prepared by a team of well-qualified, experienced, and distinguished scholars, experts, and academicians. Thus, the information provided in the NCERT books is authentic and reliable, further enhancing the importance of these books for UPSC CSE preparation.

Another reason why the NCERT books are extensively used by aspirants/candidates is the fact that a lot of questions in the UPSC Civil Services Examination are directly asked from these books. For example, in the recently conducted UPSC CSE Prelims 2021, several questions from the topics of polity were directly asked from the NCERT books. Questions were on the topics of Constitutional government, Constitutional status of India in 1950, Devi Lal, and essential features that indicate India's federal character, etc.

A prominent reason why the NCERT books are used extensively by aspirants during their preparation for the UPSC Civil Services Examination is the overlap of the content and information present in these books with the UPSC CSE syllabus allowing the aspirants/candidates in streamlining their preparation strategy and the preparation itself. The importance of a streamlined and structured preparation strategy is the key to success in this examination.

What do toppers recommend while reading NCERTs for UPSC CSE?

NCERTs have always been held in very high regard by aspiring civil servants and toppers alike.

This section will discuss the experience and insights of successful candidates regarding the effectiveness of NCERTs while preparing for the civil services examination.

Preparation technique and strategy varies from person to person however, there are a few common elements. First, the NCERT books should be read before moving on to the standard books and thereafter advanced books for any given subject. Second, the NCERTs should be read at least twice before moving on to other resources. Third, copious notes should be made since a lot of questions are asked directly from NCERTs in the Prelims.

One of the major points asserted by the successful candidates is the selective reading of the relevant NCERT books for the UPSC Civil Services Examinations. Not all NCERT books hold the same level of relevance for the preparation. You can download UPSC relevant NCERTs for free from here.

Adding to the above-mentioned point, toppers also suggest focussing on a limited number of resources both with regards to NCERTs and in general. It is very commonly seen that aspirants/candidates go on amassing a lot of resources which ultimately leads to confusion on the part of the candidates.

Mr. Amit Verma, IPS (2017 Batch), writes on Quora that the key to successfully using NCERT books for clearing the UPSC Civil Services Examination rests on continuous reading and marking the important sections. He further adds that it is very important to make notes for revision.

Mr. Divey Sethi, IRS Customs & Indirect Taxes (2014 Batch), stresses the importance of the NCERT books as a reliable and authentic source of information. Further, he also focuses on the critical role that the NCERTs play in building the foundational basics of nearly every subject that forms a part of the CSE’s syllabus. He also states that NCERT books allow aspirants/candidates belonging to different academic backgrounds and training to build conceptual clarity and clear their basics, something which is essential for clearing the highly competitive UPSC Civil Services Examination.

Mr. Bhavesh Mishra, IAS (2015 Batch), while responding to a question on Quora, suggests dividing the NCERT books into two categories. In the first category, he puts books on those subjects that require a thorough reading such as, history (class IX-XII) and geography (class XI and XII). In the second category, he puts books that require 2-3 readings such as political science and sociology (class XI and XII). He strongly advises against referring to all the NCERT books from class VI to class XII and considers this approach impractical and unsustainable.


An attempt has been made in this article to provide some clarity to the aspirants regarding the use of NCERTs for clearing the UPSC Civil Services Examination.

There are several other associated aspects about the NCERT books that have not been covered in detail in this article such as the difference between the new and old NCERTs, specific NCERT books that need to be covered from the point of view of the examination, and specific topics that require a much more in-depth coverage than others among others.

It will not be wrong to say that the NCERT books form the cornerstone of the UPSC Civil Services Examination. They provide an entry point into the complex process of preparation for the exam and allow the aspirants to proceed ahead in their preparation journey in a structured and organised manner.

 Arjit Sharma 

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