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Preparation Strategy For CDS Written Examination

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Conducts Combined Defence Services Examination (CDSE) twice a year to induct probable candidates as officers in Indian Armed forces. This entrance exam is conducted for entry into four premier armed forces pre-commission training academies namely: Indian Military Academy, Dehradun; Indian Naval Academy, Ezhimala; Air Force Academy, Hyderabad; Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai. The aim of these academies is to train Gentlemen Cadets to become part of a professionally competent commissioned officer corps of the Indian Army. Do have a look at these wonderful academies which transform hundreds of enthusiastic teenagers into the Leaders of tomorrow (Pre-commission training academies).This exam also gives an excellent opportunity to women who wish to join the Indian Army. Women candidates are considered for Short Service Commission and are trained at OTA, Chennai. The first batch of women consisting of 25 candidates was trained by OTA; the training began on 21 September 1992.  In short this examination is an opportunity for young unmarried graduates to join this elite service and serve the nation with dignity and valour. The exam is conducted in the months of February and November twice a year.

The Scheme of the examination:
The CDS is a two-stage selection procedure. The first part is the written examination and the second part is Personality test conducted at various Service Selection Boards followed by medical. In this blog, we will be concerned only with written part of the examination. The written exam has two aspects.
For those applying for Admission to Indian Military Academy, Indian Naval Academy and Air Force Academy:—

For Admission to Officers Training Academy:—

Candidates should note that there is penalty (Negative Marking) for wrong answers marked by a candidate in the objective type question papers. For each incorrect answer, 1/3 of the marks will be deducted.

Note: The question paper is same for both types of entries. The difference is that those applying for Admission to Officers Training Academy have to appear for only English and General Knowledge paper.

Eligibility: – All young unmarried male and female candidates are eligible to apply for this exam. The minimum educational qualification  for I.M.A. and Officers’ Training Academy is a graduation degree of a recognised University or equivalent, for Indian Naval Academy is a degree in Engineering from a recognised University/Institution and for Air Force Academy is a degree of a recognised University (with Physics and Mathematics at 10+2 level) or Bachelor of Engineering.. The various age limits of this exam are given below:-

Indian Military Academy 19- 24 years
Air Force Academy 19- 24 years
Indian Naval Academy 19- 24 years
Officers Training Academy 19-25 years

Your age should fall within this range at the time of your joining the Academy. For detailed eligibility criteria please follow the official notification of latest CDSE examination (http://www.upsc.gov.in/sites/default/files/Notification_CDSE_I_2018_Engl.pdf)

As discussed above the examination has three different papers with Elementary Mathematics excluded for those applying for Officers Training Academy. Here we shall discuss syllabus, type of questions asked, and important books to refer for each paper. The first paper is that of English.
The first paper is that of English. This paper is perhaps the easiest of the three papers in this examination comparatively. In total there are 120 questions for 100 marks. Questions are mostly asked from the following topics:
Ordering of Words in A Sentence
Fill in the Blank
Ordering of Sentences

Spotting Errors
Cloze Comprehension
Idioms and Phrases
Word Substitution

    • These topics account for 120 questions and are of easy nature most of the times. Antonyms and Synonyms depend upon your vocabulary as well as your deciphering abilities. To improve vocabulary you can start reading newspapers and note down the new words along with their meaning. It takes time but eventually it will benefit both your spoken and written English.
    • For all other topics, the best way to prepare is to solve questions related to topics and since the syllabus us limited, one can also refer to guide-books to learn basic grammar about spotting errors, ordering of sentences etc.
    • The questions can be solved from practice set or previous year questions. You can also solve questions related to these specific topics from any objective English book like Objective General English by S.P.Bakshi, Arihant Publication.
    • For me, it was always about solving more and more questions based on the syllabus. Practising questions increases efficiency as well as it familiarises us with the pattern and frequently repeated questions.
    • For comprehension, it is advisable that you read the questions first and then read the passage. In this order, it will become easy to spot the correct answer quickly.General Knowledge:
      The second paper is a test of general knowledge and general awareness. The paper consists of 120 questions for a total of 100 marks. This paper is perhaps the trickiest of all papers in this examination because of the vast topics that it covers. The main topics are:-
      Current Affairs
      General Science
    • Before attempting to describe what to read for the above-mentioned topics, Firstly, please note that this paper requires knowledge of various fields, which cannot be acquired overnight. Secondly, no single book can help you prepare for this topic. These all are specific subjects and are advised to be studied separately. I would be mentioning on how to go about preparing each topic but you need not prepare them all. Just work on topics you are more familiar with instead of aimlessly studying things which you don’t have an aptitude for.
    • For current affairs, you can follow monthly current affairs issued by VISION IAS. Their monthly current affairs book is highly informative, structured and prepared to suit this exam’s requirements. You can also follow gktoday.in; their content along with daily MCQ quiz is really beneficial. In spite of these tailor-made helping materials, it is always advisable to be updated with newspaper.
    • For general science, please refer to old NCERT texts from class VI onwards. These books deal a lot with relevant theories and are written in comprehensible language. In science, there is no particular balance between questions from Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. Sometimes questions from biology get more preference and other time Physics and Chemistry. However, these questions are basic in nature are designed to check basic science knowledge. If you read NCERT, then no need to worry. Give more focus to Bio and Physics.
  • For History, I referred NCERT Class XI and Class XII books on ancient, medieval, and modern Indian history. Earlier questions would come from Modern India only but in recent years, they have started to ask questions from ancient and medieval too. So it’s always better to go prepared rather than be surprised in the examination hall. If you have time and interest to explore the Indian History, better read History of Modern Indian by B.P.Chandra.
  • For Polity, Indian polity by M. Lakshmikant is more than enough. This book is a must to cover polity portion. It’s a bit factual but believe me when I say it that once you read this book completely, you will be able to deal with any questions related to Indian polity. This book is “Magna Carta” of Indian Polity and is a must-read.
  • In economics, questions are mostly related to basics of Economy and fundamentals of Indian Economy. You can refer to Lucent General Knowledge for this or alternatively you can read NCERT of class XI and XII.
  • In Geography, Questions are asked from Physical geography and Indian geography most of the times. Read NCERT books for this topic of class VI and XI. You may also read NIOS material on Geography for additional grip over the subject.
  • Matters related to Defence like defence institutions, military exercises and various ranks and offices are asked in this examination. Get to know about rank and insignia of different forces. Mostly current affairs related questions are asked, so no need for a separate text; just look for defence related news in Current Affairs magazine.
  • Lastly, be aware of things happening around you and it will help if you maintain a personal diary too.These should suffice your preparation for this paper. Focus on your strong areas and try to score maximum in this paper. For those appearing for Officers Training Academy, you would be giving only two papers, so scoring good marks in this paper becomes inevitable to make the grade. I have listed cut-offs of various academies for each year, so you can plan on your targets better.


Academy Indian Military Academy Indian Naval Academy Air force Academy Officers Training Academy(Men) Officers Training
Academy (Women)
CDS(II) 2015 105 (300) 99 (300) 138 (300) 84 (200) 84 (200)
CDS(I) 2016 72 63 123 68 68
CDS(II) 2016 105 90 135 72 72
CDS(I) 2017 125 118 144 82 82
  • *These include at least 20-25% marks in each paper.

    Elementary Mathematics:-
    The third paper is that of elementary mathematics. In this paper, 100 questions are asked for 100 marks. The standard of the papers in Elementary Mathematics will be of Matriculation level. As mentioned above, this paper is not for those opting for Officers Training Academy. The questions in this paper are asked from the following topics:-

    Algebra:- Basic Operations, simple factors, Remainder Theorem, H.C.F., L.C.M., Theory of polynomials, solutions of quadratic equations, relation between its roots and coefficients (Only real roots to be considered), Simultaneous linear inequations in two variables. Set language and set notation, rational expressions and conditional identities, Laws of indices.
    Arithmetic: – Number System—Natural numbers, Integers, Rational and Real numbers, Fundamental operations, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, Square roots, Decimal fractions. Unitary method, time and distance, time and work, percentages, applications to simple and compound interest, profit and loss, ratio and proportion, variation, Elementary Number Theory—Division algorithm, Prime and composite numbers, Tests of divisibility by 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 and 11, Multiples and factors, Factorisation theorem, H.C.F. and L.C.M. Euclidean algorithm, Logarithms to base 10, laws of logarithms, use of logarithmic tables.




Broadly, these are the main topics covered in this examination. It is aptly said that “the only way to learn mathematics is to do mathematics”. Here you will have to practice a lot. There is an awesome book available for this portion namely: Mathematics for CDS by R.S.Agrawal. If you want not only to pass but to score well in this paper then you must have this book. Buy this book from the local store or online and practice every possible question from the book, you will definitely succeed. It is tried and tested formulae. This book has all that you need for this examination. Apart from the book also solve previous year question papers and test seires.

Important Points to remember:-
By this stage, you know about the scheme of examination and which books to refer for what subject, but before you start preparing, I advise you to first download the previous year questions, link given below:- (http://www.upsc.gov.in/sites/default/files/QP-CDSI18-Math.pdf)
After downloading these question papers, first of all, go through them to understand what type of questions are really asked and then start preparing.

  1. Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice. Since this is an examination, you are bound by several constraints like the time limit, cut-offs etc. And that’s why practice is so important. Buy any publication’s practice set and then solve it.
  2. It is not at all a difficult exam to crack (written part), if you put your heart and soul into it. To be amongst the best, you have to be best too.
  3. In the last stages of your preparation, try to solve a model paper/ previous year question within time limit to get used to time bound conditions. Time management is important in English and mathematics paper.
  4. Current affairs have a major share in general awareness paper and they should be given importance. Instead of reading a monthly current affairs magazine, It’s highly profitable to read newspaper daily and make own notes of current events.
  5. it’s important to keep track of your preparation and best way to do it is by taking tests. Your score in the test can be indicator of your level of preparation and accordingly you can plan next step.


Best Wishes

Raubinsh Kumar

May 16, 2020