Preparation Strategy for Art and Culture Civil Services Prelims Exam

Art and culture of India is a vast and diverse topic. It is a widespread opinion and view that the Art and Culture subjects are complicated in nature to remember and to cover the entire syllabus – because of its vast diversity. From 2014 onwards, many questions that have been asked by UPSC CSE on Art and culture of India, are very indicative.

Resources for the Art and Culture Paper

The Art and culture of India are primarily linked with the Ancient and Medieval history of our country. And as per the latest trends, UPSC asks the question not directly but related to the ancient, the medieval history of India and current affairs related to those events. So, the first thing a candidate should do is to go through the UPSC Civil Services syllabus for Prelims and Mains exam. After doing so, they should prepare a strategy to cover every single aspect of that topic, and only then they can decide what to study and how to study.

It is essential to shortlist and gather the right study material for art and culture for the UPSC CSE IAS Exam. Just like the topic and syllabus, the availability of study materials for art and culture is also vast and diverse, which can confuse aspirants if they don’t have any professional or experienced guidance. The UPSC aspirants should choose the right books for preparation. So here are a few essential reference book list for art and culture of India for the UPSC CSE IAS Exam.

  • Class with NCERT- An Introduction to Indian Art
  • Class XI NCERT- Ancient India by R.S Sharma
  • Class XII- Medieval India by Satish Chandra
  • Facets of Indian culture –Spectrum
  • CCRT website
  • NIOS materials

Area of Focus in Indian Art and Culture

  • Indian Architecture
  • Indian Music
  • Indian sculpture
  • Indian Painting
  • Indian Handicrafts
  • Heritage sites in India
  • Performing art
  • Indian Dance forms
  • Indian languages
  • Religions in India
  • Indian literature
  • Schools of Philosophy
  • Awards and honours
  • Martial arts
  • Cultural institutions
  • Different movements
  • Revision

Nothing can ever substitute the revision part of the exam preparation, as it gives the overview of your present state in terms of your practice. We all have heard that practice makes perfect, and it is true. For IAS Exam, one has to do a correction to retain the colossal amount of data relating concepts and areas to Art and Culture, History, Geography, Polity, and Economics, etc. Because most of the data in Indian art and culture is factual, so only a thorough analysis and a daily revision can escalate candidates retaining powers. Attending the mock tests answering previous year question papers will also help you to increase memory power.

Solving Previous Year’s Question Paper

Solving the previous year’s papers of the UPSC Civil Services Exam will help the candidate understand the pattern and the nature of the questions asked from the Art and Culture area in the UPSC Civil Services IAS exam. A perfect analysis and thorough practice are required continuously to make your UPSC Civil Services IAS Exam preparation perfect.

The best way to tackle and understand art and culture is to make it enjoyable while preparing/studying. Never try to mug up every concept at once, as it isn’t feasible and you won’t remember it anyway but try building an appreciation for various art forms, try to draw linkages with contemporary happenings if you can.

For example, in last year’s Prelims, a question on the medieval water-harvesting structure was asked, and drought was so much in the news. Similarly, if you analyse recent year trends for both Prelims and Mains, you will see how Buddhism, Jainism and ancient philosophies find favour with UPSC almost repeatedly.

Other Sources

  • Ancient and Medieval India – Old 11th NCERTs. Focus more on cultural dimensions, traditions, philosophies, etc., rather than the battles or dates.
  • Fine Arts Book – 11th NCERT. It is a treasure trove, including the descriptions of famous sculptures and monuments at the end of each chapter. But don’t repeat the mistake of reading it just once or twice. Each page is crucial, keep writing 1–2 lines on each for revision later. Read it four times and Google related aspects if you wish (especially the monuments and architecture).
  • CCRT website: Indian architecture, sculpture, painting and literature portions should be stressed upon.
  • Nitin Singhania Old handwritten notes. Easy reading.

Visits to museums, monuments and art galleries on some break-days! (Please don’t overdo this. 2–3 trips will suffice). Also, a couple of documentaries are available on YouTube.

Few weeks before prelims, just try to consolidate information viz terminologies from the 1st  two sources in a single A4 size sheet. It can be done period-wise and helped in the final days. As mentioned above, mugging has no ROI, but revising puts these things somewhere in our brains!

Note: If you appear this year, don’t rush after the innumerable ‘Must-Read’ notes available in ORN or online, they will only add to panic levels and repeat 90% of the stuff you have already studied before. Now is the time to practise mocks, revise and recall, so try doing that well. Good luck.

Adopt a 3-Sourced Prelims Strategy for Art and Culture

  • Source 1 – Old NCERTs of Ancient and Medieval India – Refer only to those chapters relating to culture.
  • Source 2 NIOS material for culture – For new aspects like paintings, dance, music, etc.
  • Source 3 – ‘The Hindu’ newspaper. Any news or article you find that’s related to culture should be noted down. Eg. 100th anniversary of M.S. Subbalakshmi means Carnatic music becomes essential for the exam preparation.

Note – The key lies in adequate revision of your notes.


In this article, we focused on some smart strategies to deal with art and culture for the UPSC Civi Services IAS Exam. Although Indian Art and Culture covers a huge number of topics, focusing on the pointers mentioned in this article can definitely help you start and be successful in your preparation.

Areas covered in this article

  • Resource papers on Indian Art and Culture
  • Strategies to tackle Art and Culture Topics for the UPSC Civil Services IAS Prelims Exam

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