How does UPSC decide Cut off marks for Prelims and Mains exam?

With rumours spread around regarding cut-off marks for the prelims and mains of UPSC exam, examinees are often deprived of having clear data about the marking systems. Since the UPSC cut off structure keeps updating from time to time, it becomes all the more difficult for a UPSC pursuer to be aware of the latest marking systems. So if you are one of them, we are here at your rescue with the latest cut off criteria and other official announcements made regarding UPSC examinations.

How Are Cut Off Marks Decided?

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) decides the cut off marks based on a number of factors. Cut off marks is the lowest score that is obtained by a candidate to qualify various stages of the Civil Services Examination (CSE). In the UPSC exam, one has to go through three main stages – the Preliminary, Mains and Interview, before cracking it. Only the candidates who have met the cut-off marks and other criteria decided by UPSC will be eligible to appear for the Mains.

The factors based on which UPSC decides the cut-off marks include –

  • The total number of vacancies
  • The total number of candidates appearing in each stage of the examination
  • Marking schemes
  • Reservation norms based on various categories like General, OBC, SC, ST, PwBD
  • The difficulty level of last years’ questions
  • Cut-off trends followed last year

Since cut-off marks keep changing from time to time depending on diverse factors as mentioned before, now the question arises, how to outdo your competitors and try to obtain the maximum marks possible? Since there are no fixed rules for UPSC to decide the cut-off marks, this is a popular question that puzzles most of the candidates. It’s often difficult for many to decide which procedures to follow while preparing for the exam and be on the right track, especially when there are numerous tales heard regarding the marking systems of UPSC.

Marking Rules for UPSC Prelims Exam

If you are an IAS aspirant and planning to appear for the next IAS exam, the first thing you need to do is to clear the UPSC prelims. Although the UPSC prelims won’t be too harsh on you as compared to the Mains, however, if you don’t take the preliminary examination seriously, it often becomes very difficult to pass it, especially in a competition level where candidates get knocked out even by a single decimal point.

The UPSC cut off marks, or rather, the ‘minimum qualifying marks’ – a term which is used by UPSC, is simply the marks of the last candidate who is on the merit list as prepared by UPSC – which is displayed in the descending order of the marks obtained.

How Does UPSC Prepare the Merit List for Prelims?

The merit list is prepared on the basis of the number of vacancies available in every category for a particular year. For example, if there are 300 vacancies for the OBC category for a year, then the marks obtained by the last candidate in that list would be the cut-off marks for that particular category in the UPSC prelims exam. A candidate who would score above the cut-off marks would qualify for the Mains exam.

Subject-Wise Marks Distribution for UPSC Prelims

A question paper of the prelims exam consists of a total of 100 questions, each carrying 2 marks. All the questions asked in the UPSC Prelims are objective-type Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs). Here is an analysis of the marks distribution for each category of questions –

Subject Questions Marks
Indian Polity 15 30
Indian Economy 14 28
Science and Technology 7 14
Environment 11 22
Geography 14 28
History, Modern Indian, Indian National Movements 17 34
Current Affairs 22 44

Marking Rules for UPSC Mains Exam

The purpose of conducting this stage of the Civil Services Examination is to test whether a candidate possesses the intellectual capabilities required to be able to present the answers concisely and coherently within a given time frame. So, rather than simply examining the memory skills of the applicant and the amount of information he or she has gained (or often mugged up), the Mains exam is basically carried out to test whether the individual has a deeper level of understanding of the concepts. The UPSC Mains examination comprises nine theory papers, out of which seven are considered while preparing the final merit list. The other two papers, namely English and Indian Language are qualifying in nature, that is, a candidate needs to obtain a certain percentage of marks (25% or above) to be eligible for getting selected.

While the Prelims exam only consisted of MCQs, the Mains require a deeper understanding of the topics and a candidate has to be more subjective on any given topic.

The Final Selection

After a candidate has qualified in the UPSC Mains, he or she would have to go through the next screening stage of the exam – that’s a personality test. The personality, communication and psychometric skills of the qualified candidates will then be examined through an interview of 275 marks, which would include Psychometric Test, Assessment Test and Personal Interview. Depending on the marks obtained by an individual in the Interview round will be calculated in addition to the marks obtained in the Mains for declaring the final merit list, which will be published on the official website.

The candidates will thereafter be placed to the available services based on their final score and their preferences they have chosen earlier.

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