UPSC CDS Exam Preparation Strategy For the written exam

In this blog, we will analyze the UPSC CDS Exam preparation strategy. In this blog, we will know how to clear the CDS exam.

The Combined Defence Services Examination ( CDS) is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for recruitment of Commissioned Officers in the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force. Selected candidates undergo training at Indian Military Academy (IMA), Indian Naval Academy (INA), Air Force Academy (AFA), and Officers’ Training Academy (OTA). The exam is held twice a year usually in February and September. UPSC CDS Exam- 2, 2021 exam notification has been announced by the Union Public Service Commission. CDS-2 2021 exam will be conducted on 14th November 2021.

With the help of a proper preparation strategy, it is easier to crack this exam. In this blog, we will provide you with the UPSC CDS exam Strategy, which will help you analyze how you can attempt the exam and what your preparation strategy should be.

UPSC CDS Exam Syllabus & Pattern:

Academy/CourseSubjectsMaximum marksDuration
Indian Military Academy
Indian Naval Academy
Indian Airforce Academy
General Knowledge
Elementary mathematics
2 hours
2 hours
2 hours
Officers’ training academyEnglish
General Knowledge
2 hours
2 hours


  • Only black ball pens are allowed in the examination.
  • Candidates need to carry two ID proofs for the written examination.
  • There will be a negative marking of ⅓ for every wrong answer.

UPSC CDS exam Syllabus:

SubjectSyllabus covered
EnglishThe question paper of English is designed to test the candidate’s understanding of English.
General KnowledgeThe paper tests a candidate’s knowledge regarding Current Affairs. The paper includes questions on the History of India and Geography.
Elementary MathematicsThis paper comprises questions from Arithmetic, Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry, Mensuration, and Statistics.

UPSC CDS preparation Strategy 2021 – paper-wise Approach:

Let us dive deep into each subject separately for the better preparation of UPSC CDS.

General Knowledge: Exam Strategy

  1. The questions asked in the General Awareness section can be single statement or multi-statement based questions. In order to attempt these kinds of questions, one needs to have thorough knowledge of recent events of national and international importance. We suggest you go through at least 6-9 months of current affairs thoroughly.
  2. A number of questions from the General Science section are also asked. These kinds of questions need a good understanding of the subject. So make sure to prepare chemistry, biology and physics thoroughly.
  3. Attempt previous year questions. While solving the previous year papers, make sure to go deep into the options and read everything related to the option as well as the question. It will help you to have a deep understanding of the topic.
  4. While in the examination, make sure to attempt Questions that you are fully sure of. There is a negative marking of 1/3rd for every wrong answer. So do not attempt questions just for the sake of attempting.
  5. As many fact based questions are asked, you can prepare them from Lucent. These kinds of questions can help you secure the qualifying marks in the exam.
  6. Try to solve the questions by striking out the wrong options, it will help you to mark the correct answer.
  7. If you are not able to understand the question in the english language, read it in the hindi language or vice-versa. Many times, we are not able to understand the language of the question, but reading it in two different languages can be a great help. Make sure to try this out.
  8. As mostly all questions asked in the exam are somewhat related to current events, make sure to keep an eye on current events, laws, scientific inventions etc.
  9. In the first reading, try to mark the questions that you are totally sure of. Count the number, if you already know answers to 55-60 questions, then attempt these questions first. After that, you can proceed to questions that you can do with the elimination method. Attempting too many wrong questions will reduce your chances of succeeding in this exam. Keep that thing in mind. 

English: Exam Strategy

  1. First of all clear your basics, you can refer to the books mentioned below in the table.
  2. Reading newspapers on a daily basis will help you immensely. If you are in the habit of reading newspapers daily, you can easily build your vocabulary, attempt even the toughest of cloze tests, reading comprehensions, idioms and phrases, spotting errors and so on.
  3. While we read newspapers for a long period of time, our mind can automatically eliminate wrong use of words, which will be very helpful in cloze tests.
  4. Practice mock tests, analyse your areas of improvement.
  5. Memorise vocabulary on a daily basis, slowly slowly you will build strong vocabulary.
  6. For idioms and phrases, write all possible idioms and phrases in one notebook, keep reading these on a daily basis for 5 minutes. 
  7. Memorise rules of grammar for better understanding.
  8. Practice the sentence rearrangement type questions, because a lot of them are asked in the exam.
  9. English is a scoring subject, which will immensely help you to clear the cutoff. Make sure you are able to attempt 90+ questions in this section.

Elementary Mathematics: Exam Strategy

  1. Build Up rock-solid concepts by practicing enough.
  2. Practice each topic in varying difficulty levels to establish a comfort level.
  3. Take full-length mock tests to build and refine your exam attempt strategy and understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Start with the practice of basic concepts and topics like Percentage, Profit & Loss, SI & CI, and average.
  5. Attempt previous year papers to get the idea of the level of questions asked in the quant section.
  6. While in exam, you can save the questions that are calculative for later. Wasting too much time on a single question is not advisable.
  7. In order to increase your speed of solving numerical problems, you have to practice hard.

UPSC CDS Exam Preparation: General Tips and Tricks

Here are a few tips and tricks to clear the UPSC CDS Exam. 

  1. Make Time Table- Many students apply for any exam but then do not study systematically. For systematic study you need a proper time table. So first of all prepare a time table covering all the topics asked in the exam.
  2. Read good books: There are plenty of books available in the market, but reading all of them will be of no use. Refer to the standard books only. If you have notes from your coaching institute then refer to them for your preparation.
  3. Current affairs: For the current affairs section, you can either refer to a newspaper or a monthly magazine. Every year, a lot of questions are asked from the current affairs section.
  4. Revision is the key: One thing that sets toppers apart is the habit of revision. For this exam, revision is the key, you have to remember whatever you are reading.
  5. Mock Tests for Prelims: Join a mock test series for better understanding of the actual exam level, test series can immensely help you in acing this exam.
  6. Previous Year Question Papers: Go through the previous year question papers, It will help you to get a better idea of the level of exam and the kind of questions asked. Check UPSC CDS previous year question papers here.

UPSC CDS  Exam preparation: Books and Resources:

Here is the compiled list of books and resources for the UPSC CDS Exam preparation:

SubjectPrep Sources
General Awareness and General KnowledgeManorama Yearbook
Lucent General Knowledge-latest edition
MathematicsQuantitative aptitude for competitive examination by R.S. Aggarwal
Textbook of Quickest mathematics- Quantitative aptitude and numerical ability by Kiran Prakashan
General EnglishObjective General English by S.P. Bakshi

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

How should I start preparing for UPSC CDS?

Start by making your fundamentals clear. You can refer to the preparation strategy given in the blog.

Is UPSC CDS tough?

As the CDS exam is conducted by UPSC, the level of the examination is of moderate level. It is neither very hard nor very easy.

Do CDS repeat questions?

The questions in the examination may or may not repeat over the years, but it is always advised to go through the previous year’s questions.

Is Ncert enough for CDS?

NCERT Books are essential for the preparation of all competitive exams. When it comes to CDS, if you have covered all NCERT books, it is enough. But for Current affairs, you have to prepare either from newspapers or monthly magazines.

How many students clear CDS every year?

Every year around a lakh students appears for the exam, out of which 7000-8000 candidates make it in the written exam.

Which book is best for the CDS exam?

There are some standard books you can refer to, the list is provided in the blog.

How many times CDS exam is conducted in a year?

UPSC conducts the CDS exam two times a year.

What is the UPSC CDS Exam Date 2021?

The UPSC CDS II 2021 examination will be conducted on 14th November 2021 across more than 70 cities in two shifts.

How many attempts are permitted in the UPSC CDS examination?

There is no limit to the number of attempts in the UPSC CDS examination. Candidates can apply for the exam if they satisfy the prescribed age limit.


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