To clear IAS Exam, aspirants are advised to have a long-term strategy. Though most of the serious candidates start preparation 9-12 months before the exam date, there are candidates who successfully achieve top ranks with only a few months of dedicated study. So what matters is not the duration of the preparation, but the quality of the same. A disciplined and focused mind with a passion for learning and reading is the basic trait of all successful candidates. The UPSC Civil Services exam is more a test of the analytic and presentation skills along with knowledge gained by the candidate rather than a test which checks candidate's mathematical or verbal skills. To clear IAS, we feel two entities as essential:
I. Right guidance 
II. Right study materials and books.
Before you commence your IAS preparation, you must do a few things. They are:

  • Be thorough with the UPSC syllabus. The UPSC syllabus is considered the bible of the exam and you may rest assured that a comprehensive knowledge of the syllabus' contents will make your IAS journey quite comfortable.
  • Get the past year's question papers which should be the bedrock on which you construct your preparation.
  • Get the UPSC exam dates. Grab a copy of it and mark it in red(any colour) on your calendar.
  • Be clear of the UPSC format and pattern. 
  • Prepare yourself mentally for a rollercoaster ride that will leave you a changed person. Be prepared for hard work, smart work, test practices, a lot of reading, writing answers, etc.

Preparation Strategy: To aspire for this golden service you need to prepare for IAS smartly, persistently, and patiently. The 3 golden tips to Prepare for IAS. The following are the important points that will help you in your preparation.

Work Smart Not Just Hard

Most of us are used to working hard. Our education system is such that unless we cram tens of books each year, whether or not we understand what's inside the book is immaterial, we cannot progress to the higher level. So most of us are accustomed to working hard which in the context of IAS preparation refers to studying 10 hours or more, every day. So much for hard work. Now comes the smart part. Smartness could mean different things to different readers. It could mean reading selectively but reading well, reading many books selectively, mixing books and notes, making micro notes, proper time management, taking mock tests and so on. Smart work is all this and more. In fact smartness is the approach you adopt in a particular situation. To prepare for IAS smartly requires you to be flexible as opposed to rigid, to experiment as opposed to sticking with the familiar, to plan ahead as
opposed to the short term only.
Let's say you plan to appear for the 2019 Prelims. The right approach would be to start preparing for the IAS prelims at least 10 months in advance. 10 months' time is just right to crack the prelims. Neither too much nor too less. With too much time in hand, just like other things in excess, we tend to waste it. In fact, we should always have a little less time in hand to feel some sense of urgency to get things done. Most people tend to work best under reasonable pressure. Neither too much nor too less. The next step when starting your IAS preparation is to get familiar with the Prelims syllabus. Doing this you will know exactly what you need to cover within this time frame
to crack the prelims. The good part about the new CSAT syllabus is qualifying in nature. So you can just concentrate on General Studies. Preparing for IAS need not necessarily mean monotony. The more you enjoy preparing GS the easier the Prelims goal will become. That's smart.
Once you know the syllabus get started with the actual preparation. Obviously everyone can't prepare for 10 hours, particularly working people. But even working people can crack the IAS. The exact time is not important here. Some can achieve in 6 hours what others can in 10 hours. It depends on you. If you're just starting out I'd suggest you start with 4-5 hours and scale up gradually.

Try Single-tasking it's more efficient than Multi-tasking    

Yes I know you need to prepare polity, history, geography, current affairs, etc. Only thing is don't prepare all at once. Chunk it down. Pick one subject, let's say Polity and combine it with current affairs which you should cover for some time everyday. Current affairs preparation consists of reading the newspaper, a good current events magazine and a year book. You can read a good newspaper like The Hindu, The Indian Express etc., and magazine like Yojana, kurukshetra, Down to earth , Economic & Political weekly etc., Schedule a particular time for newspaper reading, but in any case, don't read the newspaper for more than an hour. It's not required. Next, you can continue with the geography or start off with Indian polity. Whichever topic you choose get the right books only. Don't refer more books than are absolutely essential. You don't want a PhD in General Studies, just need to clear it.
But before you start with the topic get the past year's solved question papers and combine it with the syllabus as the question papers and syllabus are your best guide for IAS preparation. Once you have started with polity or any other topic see it through completion. Don't try to multi-task. Mixing polity with history and geography will lead to loss of concentration and lower your output. Besides it will make your progress lower. On other hand, once you've covered a topic in full you will gain confidence as you've pocketed x number of marks beforehand. 

Adopt the Just in Time Approach

The Just in Time Approach says we should seek information only when required at that moment. In this hyper-connected world there is an overdose of information and if you seek to acquire all information and knowledge before starting a task, you can never get started as you will lose yourself in the information maze. If, while referring the past Prelims papers, you come across a new topic you can quickly refer the reference books at hand or head over to the library or internet and find out more. This way you retain the information for a much longer time rather than by trying to read everything at one go.
 

Test Yourself Constantly

Taking the above Just in Time approach further let's apply this to evaluating yourself. Instead of waiting till the last few days to take mock tests you should evaluate yourself right after completing a particular section in a topic. Adopting this Just in Time approach you know exactly where you stand, which topics have been covered well and which require more consideration. But more importantly it removes the uncertainty and anxiety to a certain level, if not completely. Before entering the examination hall you know what kind of questions to expect and this will boost your confidence and calm your nerves so you perform better than expected. 

Make Micro Notes 
Notes help us to revise quickly before the Prelims; the last 15 days that can determine whether or not you will appear for the mains that year. These micro notes can be on current affairs as well as other GS and optional topics.

Shoot then Aim

Most IAS aspirants prefer to wait till the end moment to take mock tests or prepare for 2-3 years before making their first attempt waiting for the perfect preparation level. Unfortunately your preparation can never be perfect no matter how hard you try. The latest syllabus is such that questions will always be unpredictable. Gone are the days when you could rely on certain number of questions from a particular topic. So instead of preparing for 2-3 years during which time the pattern (not the syllabus) could change so many times prepare for a year and jump into the fray. You can improvise along the way. This also holds true for taking practice tests. We suggested constantly evaluating yourself after going through every topic rather than waiting till the end hoping to finish the entire syllabus before going through the question papers. Guess what, we are never able to finish the syllabus completely. There's always something left in the end, some topics that we wish we should have prepared differently. So shoot first then aim.

Read Only What's Absolutely Essential

Your friend tells you to refer THM GS manual because that's the best one around, another refers Unique, while a third one suggests XYZ classes notes. And you unwittingly jump from book to book hoping to cover every source that's considered important for that subject. Stop taking this information overload that you will never be able to process within the limited time at your disposal. Refer the standard books and supplement the missing information from other book for notes. Instead of reading three books for polity stick to one for detailed explanation and one for the bare acts. Similarly, we suggest just NCERTs for Ancient and Medival Indian History. No need for epic titles.
Whether it's books for prelims, or public administration, sociology, political science or geography books stick to the above strategy. You'll discover you can extract so much more by re-reading limited number of books than running after the next shiny book just launched

Want to Know More: